Thursday, September 27, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 6

And this, my last excerpt from Ottoman Beachcombing:

...On to Sivas (SEE vas) where we remained a great attraction to the people. We were blatantly stared at, constantly approached. One after another, people asked, in German or in Turkish, whether we were German. This is the heart of the worker exodus to Germany. Even the gray beards who wear the skull caps and tattered gray sports coats and old woolen pants, the ones who go to the mosque at each call, even they came up and spoke in broken German. Not once have we been approached and asked if we were Americans. Always German or English. Sivas seemed rough and outpost-like, a large town with few cars, but lots of horses and carts. The line-up of push carts at 7:30am, at least 50 of them, waiting at the central warehouse to buy fruit and make their rounds, many with wheel-spokes painted blue, red, and white, with rural scenes painted on the sides. We loved it there, the smells like Afghanistan, like times when we were wilder.
From there to Tokat (toe KOT), and instantly we knew this place was better still, magnificent, untouched, prosperous but old. Sometimes it looked Alpine; other times smelled like Darjeeling. The stark stone mountain and kale (CALL ay; fort) behind, and the Afghani women begging (refugees from the Russian invasion), sitting on the street corners. Not Sivas, but Tokat was the place to come for a month or a year to do research. Tokat even surpassed Bergama in quaintness, beauty, livability. The children, who in groups, would call out "How are you?" as we passed, a chorus that crescendoed when we'd call back, slowly, clearly, "We are fine," repeated and repeated as we walked away. The children who'd giggle when we'd say "Merhaba" (MARE ha BAH; hello), and excitedly whisper "Merhaba sogledi" (SOY led eh; he said 'hello'!). The parading escort of children when we explored the back streets and saw the women spreading wheat on blankets in every open space. The friendly smiles; the curious "Merhaba's" when we'd say "Merhaba" or "Iyi gunler" (EE yee GOON ler; good day). Sometimes five or six would gather round, and we'd chat in Turkish awhile. The boys who held my hands as we walked and explored. Once they asked my age and I said "12 years old" and they laughed and laughed....

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 5

As a reminder, you can find the complete text of this unpublished book on my website, in the Reading Room, in the bookcase marked Ottoman Beachcombing.

May, '83, "Riding a trail to who-knows-where" (Maverick's theme song)
...As the plains slant imperceptibly into lowland, the thirsty vegetation grows greener. The fields are divided by narrow paths or winding gullies. Though the creeks are dried or are barely trickling, deep green reeds crowd the banks. Poplars and cypresses line the roads and are scattered in ones and twos elsewhere, like proud and stately sentinels. Or, you pass over a rounded ridge and see lone cypresses marking the corners of fields, deep green spires against dry soil and grey green crops. This is the epitome of a Turkish valley.

And then there are the other spires, the minarets of ruined mosques and new ones. Where their tops are flat, by choice or by decay, the giant nests of storks can be seen. You see one and you will want to see more. Scan the roofs. Each village has a few storks as residents. Lucky the family that is chosen by a stork to build its nest on their roof, for they are believed to be omens of prosperity and happiness. And I am sure it is true! These birds are truly lovely, and yet awkward in their elegance. Sometimes they can be seen standing on one leg in their nests. Other times they appear, gliding lazily with their legs stretched behind them and their long wings extended casually, black in front and white behind. Or else they are wading in the marshes and stream beds, picking for food with their pointed beaks. You stop. You watch, as if savoring good news. And it will happen to you as it did to me: you will forget what you meant to do. I meant to speak of mosques!...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 4

Continuing in this series, this excerpt from Sketch the Eighth: a letter to friends back in Provincetown.

Summer '83, on the road in Turkey and elsewhere.
...And to Beachcombers in Provincetown, Wellfleet, Beach Point, and places far flung and far fetched, you wanderers, outcasts, mindless laborers, sailors who have taken one too many voyages, and you who stare in wonder or terror at the changes that swirl around you:
Hail! As you eat your steak and potatoes, and smoke your various plant-stuffs, and imbibe your murky liquors and your clear ones, consider us in foreign lands, wandering on strange and rocky beaches; following muddy alleys till they end in ruins or in ancient monuments; no more at home here than anywhere, and no more lost, either; sharing our meals with hobos who know no English. Remember: a cup of liquor is only a cup of liquor, but a moment of pleasure is always a moment of pleasure....

Friday, September 07, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 3

I was living in Provincetown, renovating my family's cottage before I began this adventure into an ancient modern myth. My wife had gone off to Turkey on a Fulbright seven months before, amidst our floundering marriage. It was now early April. Evening began to streak the sky, so I went out to the dunes of the Provincelands. As was not uncommon in those days, in that place, I entered into an elevated state of consciousness. The sun was setting, and directly opposite in the sky, a full moon was rising. Standing between them, a series of profound visualizations cascaded across my mind. At the same time, I realized that I needed to make another effort to save our marriage. I wrapped up my work and was on the road a month later.

The following excerpt continues off where Part 2 (posted 9/5/07) ended. The moment of reunion...

Edirne, Late April

...After I had walked about two k's in complete silence, a car passed. The driver stopped and opened the door for me. I shrugged and got in. My Turkish was very rough, but I understood that he worked at customs and was driving back to Edirne (eh-DEER-neh). Perhaps he was going for lunch, or perhaps he was curious about the crazy American who didn't mind walking all morning. I tried to explain to him that I was looking for my wife who was somewhere in Edirne. No, I didn't know the hotel. No, I had never been to Edirne before. Actually, no, I wasn't even sure if she was there. For the sake of my self-respect I hoped he assumed I simply could not express myself clearly. Surely no one would travel halfway around the world to meet someone they claimed was their wife, in a town of over 100,000, relying on nothing more than a chance encounter on the street. Until I tried to explain my intentions to this man, my plan hadn't struck me as being utterly absurd!

In no time we had entered the confines of Edirne's narrow cobblestone streets. I had no idea where my driver was going, or where he intended to drop me off, but in short order it was clear that he planned to drive around until we found my wife. Thinking back on it, the man must have been utterly fascinated by my madness. We passed over a muddy river lined with trees and parks. Ignoring my mounting excitement, he played the tour guide, explaining that this was the site of the famous Turkish mud-wrestling contest, a yearly event that determined the best wrestler in Turkey. Indeed, the contest was due to begin in less than two weeks, so I gathered. I, on the other hand, was more interested in the bridge we drove over, a beautiful series of stone arches hundreds of years old. He then turned down a narrow street crowded with pedestrians and little shops, and as if it were meant to be (and perhaps it was) I SAW HER! She was thinner, prouder, more aloof than I remembered. I shouted "There she is!" forgetting my driver knew no English, but I think he understood. He quickly stopped and I burst out of the little car like a meteor, shouting "Nancy, Nancy!" She turned, and with a smile like Mona Lisa's (I swear that's how I remember it) we embraced briefly.

How can years of resentment, anger, suspicion, unhappiness, and all the things that can make marriage hell, how could they dissolve so effortlessly, so utterly? We went back to her hotel. I could still hardly believe that she had actually decided to come to Edirne to meet me after all. We made love, quickly, intensely, surprised, then went out to explore this gorgeous town, once the capitol of the Ottoman empire. (We have been back since, and it really is a little pearl.)In the following weeks I kept waiting for the ax to fall, but it never did. After two days in Edirne we returned to her apartment in Istanbul. Day by day, being together got easier, not harder, and we began to believe what we were feeling: restored love. Somehow, between the polarity of a setting sun and a rising full moon a world of negativity had been reversed, and I can explain no more today than I could when it happened.

So we prepared to travel together. Again.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 2

Continuing from my previous post, this excerpt was written a few weeks later. As a reminder, you can find the complete text of this unpublished book on my website, in the Reading Room, in the bookcase marked Ottoman Beachcombing.

Edirne, Late April
...Nine a.m. and the day was brilliantly clear, and already warm. I found the bus to the border, though I forget how. On the Greek side, the guards harassed me a bit, then let me go. I love walking across borders, and this is both a beautiful, and a very intense one, with Greek-Turkish relations being what they are. Crossing the long, empty bridge, I could hear the sparrows and crows, the frogs and insects, the river bubbling. The banks are marshy and lined with poplars, willows, and dense reed beds. They trembled in the slight breeze. Behind me a Greek soldier glowered. At the other end of the bridge, as I passed, Turkish soldiers saluted playfully. I was laughing, dancing inside. Freude, Freude!
Turkish customs welcomed me. How could they not! Stamp, stamp, and I was thru. I was told that Edirne is seven kilometers, there was no bus, but by my good fortune there was a taxi.... [But] I had already decided to walk, to savor every moment and every image of the beauty around me. I set out, wrapping a turban around my head to be all the more outrageous.
The land was deep green and fertile, and as silent as on the other side of the river. I passed a few groups of women in the fields. In the Turkish manner, they worked together in a line, all bent over, legs straight and spread wide, picking weeds, or planting seeds. They wore baggy pantalons, baggy blouses, and head scarfs, all in bright mismatched floral prints, and they slowly moved in unison down the rows.
After I had walked about two k's in complete silence, a car passed. The driver stopped and opened the door for me. I shrugged and got in....

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Some personal remembrances from lives past

In ancient days I traveled thru a country that has ceased to exist. It was an exotic, multi-ethnic land of peaceful people and travel demons who liked the fresh taste of my thin skin. This mythical land was known as Yugoslavia. Now all that is left are the shattered pieces of its myths lying in the arid earth east of the Adriatic. In coming days I will post some trinkets I collected as I passed thru, on my way to another mythic land, the Ottoman Empire. BTW, you can find the complete set of trinkets on my website, in the Reading Room, in the bookcase marked Ottoman Beachcombing.

Sometimes, moving fast is the only way to stop feeling lost. You outrun it.
I'm going as fast as I can go. As the scenery around me keeps changing, a delusive thought swirls: "I must be getting closer to where I want to be." But that place is always one town out of reach. There is a demon chasing me, or a siren singing, imploring. I have to keep running. The dirt road is shaking this bus to pieces, but it only lulls me. I must be losing that demon in the dust. I must be getting closer!
I am headed for Kraljevo (crawl-YAY-vo), three hours out of Beograd, due south. I imagine it to be quaint, simple, untouched, with plenty of cheap hotels. I'll lay over for a night, catch my breath, and then hop a bus to Pec (rhymes with wretch). Pec is a village 20 kms. from Albania, in the Mokra Gora Mountains, and I'm sure the sirens are singing from there. I passed through it in 1970 on motorcycle and I don't remember the first thing about it. I was running to Afghanistan then, and Pec was nothing more than a dot on a map to me. But since then it has been intruding into my fantasies. So I did some research, read some history, discovered some pictures. It's architecture has been untouched for hundreds of years. Deep gorges, waterfalls, forests, and mountains sculpt its landscape. A medieval Serbian monastery broods just outside the town. Sirens are definitely singing there....