April 26, 2012
A Travel Guide to New Venice (Part II)
by Jean-Christophe Valtat
— This is an occasional series by Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of Aurorarama, which releases in June from Melville House. Aurorarama is the first installment in Valtat’s The Mysteries of New Venice trilogy. Read Part I here –
Largely covered with glaciers and ice, and located at the fringe of the permanent ice fringe, “Northwasteland” may not look at first as the “garden spot of the Arctic” that it sometimes claims to be. It has nevertheless a short but relatively “mild” summer, and its tundra and soggy waterlands can boast a diehard flora of evergreen shrublets, saxifrages, and mushrooms, not to mention a few splashes of yellow poppies.
Its agricultural merits are, however, few and far between. New Venice has therefore developed an ambitious policy of “Greenhouses & Glass gardens” that takes full advantage of the four-months daylight and of “electroculture” through buried tesla coils, to grow all kinds of vegetables on imported turf, including tomatoes and bananas. Each sector has its own greenhouse ensuring that all national tastes are more or less catered to, thus offering the city a rather extensive choice of comestible goods.
It is also be to be noted that, regardless of their income, the citizens can only buy a limited quantity of food daily, so as to avoid waste and inegalities. To be complete with greenhouses, they also serve as botanical and zoological or leisure gardens.
The land fauna include Musk ox herds, Arctic wolves, Arctic foxes, Arctic hares, lemmings, and the odd polar bear. But it is the marine mammals that whales, narwhals and seals, among others who constitute the main food source, even if their fishing is strictly regulated so as to ensure the survival of the species. Likewise, the hunting of fur animals and the sale of their furs is forbidden to anyone but the Inuit, for which it is the main source of income.
Geese , ducks, owls, loons, ravens, gulls and many other smaller birds nest there in the summer, while spiders, mites, moths and bumblebees are relatively busy. Of course New Venetians have either developed local species (musk oxen, sled dogs) or imported animals in the fabled “Arctic Arks” : reindeer, Bactrian camels, or Yakut horses – all species known for their resistance to the cold.
The presence of a human community and the relative warmth provided by the Air Architecture has not been without impact on the natural balance of the whole region. Misdirected polar bears (known in the local parley as « bipolar bears ») are not seldom seen searching for refuse in the immediate vicinity of the city, and have often to be shot or captured by the Gangs of Local garbage-men known as Scavengers. We thought we should mention it to the casual excursionist.
This is one the greatest mystery surrounding the city. The number of inhabitants is estimated to be somewhere around 100 000, which, in surroundings that have never supported more than hundreds of humans so far, seems a bit exaggerated. Some scholars claim that this is an ideal number that has never been reached, and that, on the contrary, the population has been decreasing, especially since the Blue Wild (see below in our “History” section). Some others have further hypothesized that this number takes into account all inhabitants, whether living, dead, or “transphered”.
Unique in human history, the population of New Venice is a chosen people in the true sense of the term. All citizens – or at least their forefathers – have been carefully hand-picked by a mysterious Polaris Guild, a secret agency with missionary branches throughout the northern hemisphere.
Among the qualities that were looked for by the Polaris Guild the “3 Cs” – Courage, Creativity and Courtesy – seem to have been the most prized. As to the recruiting methods, it is generally understood that money and muscle were used with equal liberality.
The indigenous Inughuit Inuit who have settled in the city are a small minority, only numbering in hundreds. The other contingents include citizens of all nations that are generally associated to polar exploration and exploitation : Canadians, Americans, British, Germans, Austrians, Dutchmen, French, Russians, Scandinavians, and a few Japanese whale-hunters. A few other countries are represented by very small groups (the Parsis of the Pale, for instance) or by mere individuals.
If these communities tend to regroup in their own quarters and retain some of their original lifestyle and religious traditions — mixed marriages are not a rare occurrence. Moreover, it has always been a major concern to the founders of New Venice to give the city a specific, unified culture.
To achieve this end, English is spoken everywhere, all institutions freely open to everyone regardless of their origins. Through the year, an impressive series of festivals, parades, celebrations, rituals, and spectacular events aim at fostering a sense of common belonging and pride. Accordingly, the citizens regard themselves, first and foremost, as New–Venetians, and ethnic or nationalist feuds are seldom a cause for trouble (with the possible exception of a fistful of Inuit separatists clamoring for an autonomous “Nunavut” land).
JEAN CHRISTOPHE VALTAT is the author of Aurorarama.