No Hay Camino

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Caminante no hay Camino

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.

Poem by Antonio Machado. Referenced in the novel Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.

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Jodhpur and Astonished Bewilderment

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Jodhpur, a city in the state of Rajasthan, was a highlight of my 1.5-month-long trip to India. Jodhpur and its people delighted and astonished me, right up until the final hour before departing. This is about that final hour.

The morning of my departure from Jodhpur, I was rushing to grab my luggage from my hotel in an effort to catch a bus to the next town. I was taking a familiar route through the “Blue City” and passing through familiar streets. But this time, something caught my eye. Or rather, the absence of “something” caught my eye. Real estate and living space were valuable in this historical, touristy part of the city; where there weren’t commercial and residential buildings, there were temples and shrines galore. Yet here was a space, a gap in the urban sprawl, with no low rises or spires piercing upward.

Even more puzzling, stone steps beckoned up to this negative space, as if to a pedestal–but evidently with nothing on display. So, somewhat automatically and unconsciously, I ascended the stone steps, not expecting anything at all. And I gasped out loud.

Beneath my feet opened up a yawning, massive trench, so deep that its darkened bottom could not be discerned from my vantage point, its vastness so shocking that I experienced vertigo. The sound of flowing water, which I had not even registered before, rushed into my ears. Streams poured out from innumerable spouts–some animal-shaped, some seeming to seep from the rock itself–trickling down along dozens of dizzying stories of exquisitely carved tiered levels and stairs and collecting into a pool at the bottom of the trench. This pool sat at the base of a massive, monumental stone archway several stories tall. The stone at the bottom of the structure was dark with discoloration, giving the impression that the watery opening in the earth continued into infinite blackness.

I once described being “surprised” in Thailand, but surprise connotes that you have at least a minimal level of expectation of events to come, which are then contradicted by reality. Here, I could not say I experienced surprise–bewilderment would be more accurate, as I had no reference point for what I was looking at, no expectation for what it could be. Taking in the entire monumental sight of it, in that moment, the only corresponding image my mind could muster was to a Legend of Zelda video game I played as a child–which says something about the mysterious and mystical aura of the place. There was no signage, was no one around to inquire, and my guidebook had made no mention of this massive architectural trench.

Of course, I did not give up, but began exploring, walking along the edge and descending as far down as I could go without being fearful of falling in. My exploration revealed some clues. An old sign requested visitors to “remove shoes,” suggesting religious significance. Yet the place was in a state of abandonment, the grounds were too gravely and dirty to possibly walk on barefoot (even by local standards). At the same time, the water and the structure were not actively dilapidated or polluted with refuse–this fact being quite remarkable as all other negative spaces in the city were filled in with makeshift landfills.

My exploration yielded few answers, just more extreme bewilderment–and twinges of fear, as the deeper I descended into the trench, the more I felt that the inexorably flowing water and vertiginous depths were drawing me down into their subterranean maws. I climbed out and eventually caught my bus, leaving Jodhpur without solving the bewildering architectural mystery. In fact, I did not find what I had seen until long after leaving India and returning to the U.S., when I spotted an article in one of my social media newsfeeds.

Of course, many readers will have known, without my exhaustive narrative, that I had stumbled onto a bawdi, a “stepwell.” They have a long history in India serving dual purposes as water storage and sites of worship, but today they are neglected and under-appreciated in all their functions, even tourism. As photographer Victoria Lautman said, “They could be next to a shopping mall or at a popular tourist spot, and you wouldn’t know about them.”

It is truly unfortunate that stepwells are undervalued by locals, that they are falling into neglect and disrepair, that many visitors leave Jodhpur and India without experiencing the awesomeness of a stepwell. But the one small upside is that, for now, stepwells are capable of truly astonishing and bewildering those who are fortunate to stumble onto them.

Iranian Mirrorwork: Contemporary and Historical

Two years ago, I traveled through Iran for 10 days, and parts of the trip still jump out at me at unexpected moments. I recently visited “Infinite Possibility,” a retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum of the work of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, a distinguished artist with a career spanning over 50 years and the first Iranian artist to be featured at the Guggenheim. When I arrived and I gazed into one of her shimmering wall-mountedsculptures, I had an irresistible flashback.

During the trip, we visited a palace in Tehran whose walls were encrusted with carefully cut shards of glass arranged in geometric mosaic patterns–I believe it was Reza Pahlavi Palace. The sumptuous room seemed to glow with reflected light. According to the tour guide, legend had it that one of the Shahs in history had tasked a functionary to safely transport several giant mirrors to be installed in this palace, or, of course, risk execution. Inevitably, in the course of the journey he broke the mirrors. Thinking quickly, he installed the shards of glass in as a mosaic on the walls of the palace. The Shah liked it, the functionary kept his head, and mirrorwork decor became a staple of Iranian decor and art.

During the rest of my trip in Iran, I saw several other mosques and palaces whose walls were decorated with this kind of stunning geometric mirrorwork. In some cases, mirror mosaics stood side-by-side with brilliant stained glass windows, to marvelous and luminous effect.

Farmanfarmaian’s work is a sleek, contemporary continuation of that rich tradition of aineh-kari, “mirror mosaics,” in Iranian artistry. See for yourself–in the gallery above I interspersed photos of Farmanfarmaian’s pieces with photos I took in Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan. For more about Monir and the historical and contemporary context of her very impressive mirror mosaics, the Guardian has an excellent piece here.

Anyone Can Fly

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“…It’s very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.”

–Cassie Lou Lightfoot in Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold, a prominent and accomplished American folk artist, published Tar Beach the year after I was born, and my parents both read it to me when I was child. The large, striking illustrations always stuck with me–especially, for some reason, the whitish-pink ice cream the family eats in the middle of the story–but the book also grabbed me because the main character coincidentally has the same first name (Cassie) and middle name (Lou) as me.

I rediscovered the book earlier this year in one of my literacy teaching courses, and I realized with some vindication that I not only share a name with Cassie Lou Lightfoot, but am now living in the same city as her, near her neighborhood of Harlem. The things that she flies over–the Washington Bridge, the lights of the city–are now part of my landscape too, just as I always dreamed since I was cognizant enough to know what New York City was and know where it was I wanted to fly to in the world.

It’s true, it seems, that when you have somewhere to go, you can fly.

St. Mary of the Mongols: The Last Byzantine Church (Yabangee)

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Nowadays Istanbul is known for its mosques, but prior to 1453, Constantinople was a completely Christian city replete with churches. Many of them exist to this day: Hagia Sofia and Chora Church are the most renowned examples, but there is also Hagia Irene, Küçük Aya Sofya, Fethiye Mosque… In all there are some 40 Byzantine-era church structures still standing throughout the city.

However, no matter which one you visit, one feature in particular strikes the visitor: they all either have minarets, or a ticket box, or both. Astonishingly, of the dozens of extant Byzantine churches in Istanbul, only one of them has never been converted into a mosque or museum and has been in continuous service as a place of Christian worship since before the conquest of Istanbul. This is Church of St. Mary of the Mongols, a.k.a. Kanlı Kilesesi, a.k.a. Meryem Ana Greek Orthodox Church…

Read more at Yabangee: St. Mary of the Mongols: The Last Byzantine Church.

Socially-Conscious Turkish Souvenirs at Nahıl Gift Shop (Yabangee)

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There comes a time for all of us when we have to purchase Turkish souvenirs for curious kith and kin back home. To get them their fix of evil eyes and olive oil soaps, I used to have to trek out to the Grand Bazaar or Galata. Besides these places being crowded and hectic, I always felt a tinge of guilt and unease with the racks of identical knick-knacks. Where are these products made? What kind of working conditions are they supporting? In an era of globalization, I think many of us, not just me, wonder whether our nazarlık were actually made in Turkey or were assembled in a far-off factory.

That’s why I was so glad to find Nahıl Gift Shop…

Read more at Yabangee: Socially-Conscious Turkish Souvenirs at Nahıl Gift Shop.

Meditating aliens: Murakami metaphors II

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I recently finished 1Q84, Haruki Murakami’s three-volume, 1000-page “magnum opus.” Just as when I read Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Murakami’s usage of metaphor stood out to me, so I am once again reproducing a selection of metaphors from the novel. The list is only slightly curated to prune out some repetitive imagery. Having spent a lot of time with (or should I say, “in”) 1Q84 over the past month, I am enjoying revisiting these snippets and trying to recall, or re-imagine, what characters, events, and settings they referred to. Maybe they will spark your imagination, too.

  • like a lonely castaway on the open sea.
  • like an imaginary miniature cloud.
  • like a flock of birds swooping through an open window.
  • like a hibernating animal trying to wake up in the wrong season.
  • like the smoke from a bonfire on a windless afternoon.
  • like an old sorcerer chuckling to himself over an ominous prophecy he was about to reveal.
  • like a rock on the far side of the moon.
  • like a frightened little animal hiding way back in a cave.
  • like life-forms stirring in a primordial sea.
  • tantamount to giving a butterfly a skeleton.
  • like a lone planetary exploration rocket that has sailed beyond Pluto.
  • like a female fox cutting through the forest.
  • like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end.
  • like a whale rising to the surface to exchange all the air in its giant lungs.
  • as if some huge, ancient animal were waking itself from a long sleep.
  • like a camera’s diaphragm when the photographer adjusts the aperture.
  • like alchemy or perpetual motion.
  • like sediment in a bottle of wine.
  • as sharp and cold and pointed as a merciless idea.
  • like a player of chess or shogi who could see several moves ahead.
  • Like the unfortunate children in a Dickens novel.
  • like a piece of paper bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell.
  • like the great karmic wheel of Indian mythology that kills every living thing in its path.
  • as if we’re playing a game in which everybody else can move only when I have my eyes closed.
  • as if a small eddy had suddenly begun to swirl inside her and had immediately quieted down.
  • like an oyster clinging to a sunken ship.
  • as though he were trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle without having been given all the pieces.
  • as though he were swallowing some imaginary thing.
  • like someone who has mistakenly swallowed a thick swatch of cloud.
  • like some historic massacre.
  • like a talented accountant who finds deep pleasure in the complex manipulation of figures in a ledger.
  • like little animals from an alien land that were deep in meditation.
  • like an expanse of earth that had been ground down by a glacier.
  • like a vacuum, absorbing all sound waves in the vicinity.
  • like the sighing of a disemboweled animal.
  • like ghosts tied in place by some ancient curse.
  • like vampire finches in search of blood.
  • like souls groping for their eternal resting places.
  • like a mistakenly applied shadow.
  • like someone who’s been thrown into the ocean at night, floating all alone.
  • like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents.
  • like a soldier on guard duty, determined not to miss the next signal flare sent up by the savage tribe on the distant hill.
  • like living in an empty town.
  • like chopping down a rope bridge.
  • like hornets having their nest poked.
  • like medieval village children trying to avoid a fearsome slave trader.
  • like vegetables raised in abundant sunshine.
  • Like a trade imbalance.
  • like a sailor trying to catch the song of a ship’s ghost.
  • like the smell of dew-laden flowers in midsummer.
  • like a vine’s new tendrils seeking sunlight.
  • like two young snakes in a spring meadow.
  • like the distant roar of the sea.
  • as if studying an insect undergoing metamorphosis.
  • like a little animal in hibernation.
  • like arranging the contents of a desk drawer.
  • like transferring a sleeping kitten to its bed.
  • like a snake that keeps going even after its head is cut off.
  • like a fisherman dragging his net, putting the items in order and mulling them over with great care.
  • like a brand-new brushstroke across the sky.
  • like a drop of dew in the morning sun.
  • like a mathematical proposition.
  • as if many souls were gathered, each whispering his story.
  • like something clammy sticking to your bare skin.
  • like fish that live at the bottom of the ocean.
  • like the mouth of a river where the seawater and the fresh water flow in.
  • like a shellfish at the bottom of a deep ocean, maintaining a strict silence.
  • like a secret switch being turned on.
  • like some indiscreet person who had wandered into a wake.
  • like an oyster stuck on a rock.
  • like my brain is a tub of tofu past its expiration date.
  • like musical notes being rewritten.
  • like a fairy in the throes of a lewd dream.
  • like a child hiding in its mother’s skirts.
  • like the coldhearted breath leaking out between the teeth of a person who has lost all hope.
  • Like a map showing buried pirate treasure.
  • like a code waiting to be deciphered.
  • Like Gregor Samsa when he turned into a beetle.
  • like ordinary citizens who had wandered across the front lines and stepped into a minefield.
  • like eyeballing a room to see if a piece of furniture would fit.
  • Like nameless birds returning to their shabby nests.
  • Like birds flying home to their nests at twilight.
  • like a pilot having just landed after a rough solo flight at night.
  • like sea turtles and porpoises poking their faces through the surface of the water to
  • like his head was filled with frozen lettuce.
  • like the skirt of a girl at play.
  • like being handed a pile of damp, heavy blankets.
  • Like a diver slowly acclimatizing his body to a change in water pressure.
  • Like the stone lid of an ancient coffin.
  • Like an image reflected to infinity in a pair of facing mirrors.
  • like listening to lines from an avant-garde translated play.
  • like the fingers of some ancient person shaking out a warning, with a desiccated, raspy sound.
  • like a long skirt whose hem had been accidentally dipped in dye.
  • like people standing beside the Pacific Ocean for the first time in their lives, awestruck at the waves crashing on the shore.

Lavinia

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Sana gitme demeyeceğim.
Üşüyorsun ceketimi al.
Günün en güzel saatleri bunlar.
Yanımda kal.

Sana gitme demeyeceğim.
Gene de sen bilirsin.
Yalanlar istiyorsan yalanlar söyleyeyim,
İncinirsin.

Sana gitme demeyeceğim,
Ama gitme, Lavinia.
Adını gizleyeceğim
Sen de bilme, Lavinia.

I won’t ask you not to go.
You are cold, take my jacket.
These are the loveliest times of the day.
Stay with me.

I won’t ask you not to go.
Still, you know.
If you want lies, I will tell you lies,
You’ll be hurt.

I won’t ask you not to go.
But Lavinia, don’t go.
I will keep your name a secret
Even you shall not know Lavinia.

–Özdemir Asaf, 1957

Years ago, a friend recited this poem to me. He himself heard the poem from another friend, who in turn must have learned it from someone else before her–a teacher, a professor, a romantic interest. I forgot about the poem until yesterday, when the first lines jumped out at me from a wall near Galata Tower. Now, I am posting it here in the spirit of passing on what was passed on to me.

3 Places in Istanbul You’ve Never Been To

Below are three places I’ve recently visited during my wanderings through Istanbul: Aynalıkavak Palace, the Crimean Memorial Church, and the Zulfaris Synagogue Museum. There is no connection between them besides the fact that I had never heard about them in any guidebook or visited them on any tour: I stumbled upon or passed by them by chance, and happened to be pleased with what I found. Maybe you will be, too.

1. Aynalıkavak Palace

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There are few places in Istanbul where one can hear only the sounds of birds chirping and the hush of wind through the leaves. I was pleased to find Aynalıkavak Palace is one of those peaceful places.

Surprising to say, but Ottoman-era palaces in Istanbul are pretty much a dime a dozen. There are particularly famous ones, like Dolmabahçe, which were an obvious choice to become museums in their post-imperial lives because something made them famous (in the case of Dolmabahçe, it’s the place where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk spent his last days). But not all were that lucky. After the end of the empire, the palaces no longer served a purpose and they faced different fates–some of them became museums, some of them were converted into hotels or convention centrers (like Çırağan Palace), some of them sold to the highest bidder, and probably some of them are now gone. It would be an interesting historical exercise to survey the fates of various Ottoman palaces and what became of them over the decades after the end of the empire.

Anyway, Aynalıkavak is one of the lucky ones–it is an early 17th-century Ottoman palace-turned-museum in the Hasköy neighborhood of Istanbul, near Kasımpaşa. The building itself is a pavilion-style structure with a graceful sloping roof, topped with a dome. As I’ve mentioned, many of the structures we associate with the Ottomans are actually Byzantine designs (including Topkapı Palace) so it’s fascinating to see purely Ottoman architecture. The interior is gorgeously preserved and tastefully decorated with beautiful silk divans, inlaid-pearl furniture, chandeliers, stained glass, marble, and of course the eponymous mirrors (“Ayna” means “mirror” in Turkish). The basement floor is a museum of Turkish classical instruments.

In the backyard is a garden with a little tea shop next to a fountain and pond overlooking the lustrous Golden Horn and an expansive view of the Fatih and Balat neighborhoods–St Stephan’s Church is directly across from the palace grounds. Unfortunately, the palace’s view of said Golden Horn is almost entirely blocked by an old abandoned shipyard, an ugly development I’m sure Sultan Selim III, who restored the pavilion to its current glory and whose instrument collection is housed there, would disapprove of.

2. Christ Church (Crimean Memorial Church)

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Normally I try to be tactful, but I won’t mince words here. Tophane (the intervening neighborhood between Karaköy and Cihangir, named for the historical Tophane-i Amire structure nearby) is not a fun place. It’s a place where people can get death threats from their neighbors for throwing parties (true story). Last year during Ramadan, some locals attacked diners who happened to be eating lunch in the neighborhood. And remember those reports of pro-government gangs wielding knives and chasing down Gezi protesters? That happened in Tophane.

But during a typical day there’s no harm in strolling through Tophane, particularly because this neighborhood contains another one of those rare places of peaceful urban respite. Uphill from the waterfront and tram stop is the active Crimean Memorial Church, an Anglican church built in memory of British soldiers who perished in the Crimean War–you can read the whole story behind its history and design here.

When I visited, the building was almost entirely invisible behind the swells of nearby apartment buildings and a dense camouflage of tree covering. This makes it hard to catch a decent glimpse of the handsome Neo-Gothic stone facade. However, the upshot of its seclusion is that upon passing through the iron gate and stepping into the grounds, you feel you are in a different world. Inside the church there is a stone baptismal font, long stone inscriptions loquaciously honoring various British dignitaries, and a huge organ. On the grounds surrounding the church birds sing, cats wander, a bizarre gaggle of geese meander around with an odd sense of purpose, and groundskeepers and church clergy murmur in indistinct foreign tongues.

3. The Jewish Museum in Zulfaris Synagogue

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You would be forgiven for not knowing there was either a Jewish history museum or a synagogue in central Karaköy, down the hill from Galata Tower. I myself did not know, until one of my former professors came to town. She pointed out a nondescript salmon-colored edifice (see top left photo) and explained that the entrance to the museum is through an alley around back. I returned to the indicated spot during museum operating hours and was pleased to find she was right. The much more attractive front face of the museum (see bottom left photo) is hidden behind a high wall, a guard desk, and a metal detector–the museum keeps a low profile and tight security, I assume, due to a regrettable history of terror attacks against synagogues in Istanbul.

The Jewish Museum is housed in Zulfaris Synagogue, built sometime around 1671 and an active place of worship until being converted into a museum in 2001. The museum has three floors–the bottom contains ethnographical displays. The second, main synagogue floor (see photo on right) has a mixture of chronological and topical information about the presence and influence of Jewish peoples in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic. With the stained glass window, chandeliers, starry ceiling, and Ark, you also get a sense of the beauty of the synagogue itself. The third floor, which is a balcony area overlooking the main floor, contains info-panels going in-depth about some topic of Turkish-Jewish life and history.

The exhibits are informative and up to date with recent research and relevant artifacts. The displays are in Turkish and English, and the English translations are, mercifully, excellently grammatical and comprehensible (an issue in every Turkish museum I’ve been to). It was also striking, and a bit refreshing, how positively the museum regards the influence of Ottomans and Turks on Jews. It is easy to get caught up in the recent decades of populist anti-Semitism in Turkey and not recognize the positive contributions Turkish groups and individuals have made, from Ottoman sultans welcoming Jews during the anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe to Turkish diplomats furnishing Jews with Turkish ID cards during the Second World War (thereby protecting them from harm because Turkey was neutral). I also learned the extensive impact of Jewish families, commerce, and culture on the Karaköy neighborhood, and the next chance I get, I plan to take a walking tour through the area to find Jewish places of interest in Karaköy and Galata.

Poetry Pilgrimage and Dover Beach

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My two favorite poems are “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats and “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold. Though they are both by British authors of the Romantic strain, they are almost complete opposites in terms of their message. The former poem, which I call my life insurance, insists that the pains and indignities of life are transitory, and the real nature of reality is truth and beauty. It was one of the first poems I memorized and it appeals deeply to the philosopher, artist, humanist, and optimist in me. Arnold’s poem, with its progression from a serene coastal evening to a chaotic field of war, claims that the essence of the life and the world is pain, confusion, and suffering. “Dover Beach,” therefore, speaks to my cynical side, which thinks that truth and beauty are convenient constructions and that the best we can hope for in life is to find some shred of solace and refuge in one another. Together, these two poems encapsulate the extremities of my worldview.

So naturally, when I visited England in the spring of last year, I wanted to make it a poetry pilgrimage. I would view the Greek pottery that inspired Keats’s verse, and I would see in-person the cliffs and beaches of Dover which inspired Arnolds’ pessimistic lines. The Greek pottery was easily checked off with a stroll through the British Museum’s antiquities collections. Dover took more time and effort–a couple hours’ train ride from Waterloo station, a brisk walk through the town of Dover, an entertaining detour through Dover Castle, an hour of being lost between the castle and the coast, and then some wind-whipped hiking to reach the best viewing points of the cliffs and beaches.

But I knew it would be worth it, as I had high hopes thanks to Arnolds’s scintillating description in the first stanza of the poem:

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

I had in mind a tiny town perched directly on an endless pebble beach, kissed by ocean waves, the water in turn wrapped in a gray sky. I would hear the “eternal notes of sadness” in the “grating roar of pebbles.” Since it wasn’t nighttime, I wouldn’t see the “fair” moon or feel the “sweet night-air” but I would see the gleaming light on the French coast beyond the straits. And I would witness the cliffs of England “glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.” I would be able to experience being inside one of my favorite works of art.

The reality was quite a bit different. The cliffs were not nearly as glimmeringly white as Arnold suggests. Sometimes they were chalky white, sometimes a grungy brown. There was no grating roar of pebbles; when we descended to the bottom of the cliffs we found the stinky beach too clogged with seaweed and mildew to whimper, much less roar. There was no light gleaming from the French coast; the sky was so overcast we caught only a momentary glimpse of France. My travel companion who accompanied me to Dover was quite amused at how far art and expectation diverged from reality, but I was devastated.

In retrospect though, I realized that this divergence was perhaps the most fitting homage to the spirit of the poem. Isn’t disappointment and disillusionment the over-riding theme of “Dover Beach”? And in the end, apart from the expectations set up by me and my poetry pilgrimage, we had an entirely enjoyable day in Dover. We drank mead and ate seafood, wandered through the castle, hiked through thoroughly impressive and expansive landscapes, managed to see France (a rare sight through the coastal fog), explored a shipwreck and odd WWII-era fortifications on the beach, and then anointed our late-night return to London with a fish and chips dinner. If you don’t go to the town expecting the Dover of 1851–when the poem about it was written–it’s really a pleasant day trip, much more optimistic Keats than pessimistic Arnold.

Bring me everything

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Bana insanlar getir,
Her biri geldiği yerin tesellemecisi olan.
Bana hayallerini getir,
Yaşarken beni baştan ayağa sen yapan.
Bana kendi belleğimi getir,
Hasretle karşılaşmayı beklediğim.
Bana her şeyi getir,
Her biri bir başka şeyin her şeyi olan.

Bring me people,
May each be the storytellers of their home towns.
Bring me your dreams,
These dreams that turned me into you, head to foot, as I lived.
Bring me my own memory,
That memory I yearn to meet.
Bring me everything,
Each thing the everything of something else.

–Handan Börüteçene, 2008, extract

Striking poem on memory, time and the interconnectedness of life that I found displayed alongside an installation at the Istanbul Modern. The full poem is below: Turkish text provided by Evrenin Dunyasi, translation from Istanbul Modern.

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Real Life

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It happened again.

Each time I come to Turkey, I come expecting that the worst I will go through are physical and logistical inconveniences– excessively long bus rides. Lost wallets and credit cards. Worn-down shoes and pants because European sizes are too small for me. Inability to communicate properly. Skeezy male attention. Choppy Skype calls with family in the distant land of America. The kind of practical complications and discomforts you expect with living abroad.

It’s always worse than that.

Life gets real. I make friends. I fall in love. I make mistakes. I break the rules. I work too hard and get too invested. Network with the kind of high-level people I’d never imagine to meet in the states. Every day find out a different way I’m naive. Realize again and again about how all the dry politics and history I read about in policy papers and learned in stale classrooms are actually alive and breathing in the stories and lives of the people around me.

And then things happen that I can’t say or write, because if I say them I am giving too much of myself and others away.

It’s real life in a way that my life in the states hardly ever was or is. It got so “real,” in fact, I had to get away and escape to London for a few days! But more on that shortly.

Photo: BB and I posing in Aegean waters in Akyaka.

Exactly how it is

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When Mount Everest was measured in 1856
it was discovered to be 29,000 feet exactly.
But since no one would have believed the figure,

sounding as it does too much like something
rounded off, two extra feet were found,
invented out of thin air, the thinnest on earth,

and added to the mountain’s top
to provide the appearance of precision.
Twenty-nine thousand and two.

So too, tonight, a cloud has passed
before the moon in such a way
that were I able to describe it

exactly how it is, no one would believe me.
Which is why I need two extra feet of moonlight,
or dark cloud, or to be fair, one foot each.

Taylor Mali, “The Moon Exactly How it is Tonight”

This poem feels like how I’ve felt in the last month–like were I to describe everything that happened and is happening, exactly as it is, no one would believe me. So I describe bits and pieces of it to different people, rounding off the truth to make it more believable and digestible, which is exciting and lonely at the same time.

Poem: via Orpheus Melted the Heart of Persephone.

Photos: Trinity Church on Kazbek Mountain in Georgia, and a full moon rising over Mount Kazbek. Both photos by me.