Noulevac: A Canton of Mystery—4E
Every city has its center. Every metropolis, village and town has a “downtown” to call its own, a place said to embody the very traits that the area is known for. For Albeit, this “center” is not just a geographic dot on the map but the cultural heartbeat of the entire place. Its name is Noulevac.
A good chunk of the area within Albeit’s city limits can be classified as “downtown.” Unterwalden, Phoebe, Graupel share that designation, which means an extra subway line and higher-density housing and office space. Noulevac, then, is the downtown of Albeit’s four downtowns. As the only “landlocked” Canton, it’s surrounded by city on every corner and serves as a hub for the region as a whole. This makes it a government and transportation hotspot, of course, but nobody thinks of the Canton in terms of roads or bureaucracy. They see it as the standard by which all other Cantons are judged; the epicenter of the cultural and intellectual earthquake that Albeit has come to embody.
Noulevac was not always as prominent as it is today. At the onset of the city’s development, Unterwalden and Phoebe—the commercial and residential centers of Albeit—stole much of the show. Many predicted that Noulevac, a mixed development that lacked Phoebe’s high-density apartments or Unterwalden’s skyscrapers, would soon become dormant as residents moved elsewhere.
Such claims were based on the assumption that Albeitians are like all other city dwellers: that they care only about tall buildings, skylit shots and fashionable neighborhoods. Noulevac boasted none of these, but what it did offer was the very thing that most Albeitians look for: a place where independence and originality are valued over conformity and the mainstream. Noulevac is famous for its “creative camaraderie,” an atmosphere where writing, art, design and other right-brained activities are valued and appreciated. Unterwalden drew in the businessmen, but Noulevac attracted that odd breed that enjoyed creating over earning. It is no secret which Canton became more popular citywide.
It would be a grave mistake, however, to label the district as “bohemian,” “cosmopolitan” or even rebellious. Noulevac is not the stereotypical “art district” for private college students. 70 percent of its residents are between the ages of 30 and 60; the remaining 30 percent, surprisingly enough, are mainly senior citizens. The people who live and work here don’t follow trends as much as they do their creative whims, resulting in a Canton whose dress and residences seem to belie their right-brained nature. Fashion-oriented? No. Avant-garde? Few “Vaccies” even know what that means. Passionate and committed to developing their creative abilities? Yes, say the Canton’s residents.
At the same time, Noulevac’s 60,000 inhabitants aren’t always prone to share their work with the world. Many describe themselves as introverts through and through, in the sense that interaction takes second fiddle to introspection. Residents can go decades without knowing (or understanding, at the least) the people who live next door. This, in part, is why the area has come to assume the title of “Mystery Canton.” Noulevac is the Canton that started the tradition of secret societies: groups that work together on creative projects while keeping their work shielded from the outside world. Some of Albeit’s most legendary societies base their roots here, although—not surprisingly—few can gauge the full extent of Noulevac’s secret society involvement. All that can be said is that the majority of the residents are affiliated with at least one mystery group, in-Canton or otherwise.
Even the district’s design has generated some interest. Urban planner Bernardo Focelli never did reveal why he gave the Canton its seemingly arbitrary name, or the derivation of the street names for the city’s two crossroads: Ekspiotoc and Ewtenpia. At least one society is said to understand the meaning.
There is no limit to the cultural symbols with which people can define Noulevac: the A-frame houses that much of the Canton lives in; the interconnected buildings (either by skybridge or tunnel) that secret societies have built; or Noulevac Park, a garden whose chief draw is the elaborate wood-wrought castle in the middle. The beauty of the Canton, though, is that all one-dimensional labels tend to fall short. The only way that one can truly understand the district is to spend a little time in the area, to interact with the shyly brilliant inhabitants, to receive a “Letter of Invitation” from one of the district’s secret societies. Then, and only then can they come to see the full cultural and creative extent of the Canton called Noulevac.