Routine Life as Adventure

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There are always flowers for those who want to see them.

–Henri Matisse

On a recent weekday, I was feeling too anxious and antsy to work, so I got up from my desk to take a cathartic walk. My walking led me into a secluded, wooded city park. I thought I was alone, but sensed movement. I look backward and spot a small, petite, furry brown creature transversing the trail. Then, another one emerges. The little mammals seem unaware or unperturbed by my presence. They waddle across the path, sniff the air non-committally, and then amble, disappearing, into the brush. Were they groundhogs? Beavers heading to the East River? Wombats escaped from the Bronx Zoo? Were they half-baked Pikachus that got loose while Nintendo was still working out the kinks on PókemonGO? The true identity of the small brown creatures is yet to be conclusively determined.

On a Friday night, I rolled into a party 2 hours late and breathlessly spilled to my date, “I spent all evening following the news of the coup in Turkey and making sure my friends were all alive. When I had had enough of that, I headed to Brooklyn. But when I got to Brooklyn I put the wrong address into Google Maps, so I ended up at a construction site. I wandered around the construction site for 15 minutes until I realized my mistake. Then I made it here.” The party host then handed me a mug with a hot liquid, which was either a revolting drink or a flavorful soup, and it occurred to me that priming and perception have a lot to do with taste.

The Saturday after that, at a beach in South Jersey, I collapsed, again breathless, onto my towel. Where were you? my friends asked. “I was on an adventure,” I announced. I explained that I had swum far away from the shore, away from most of the other swimmers on the clothing-optional beach. Then I floated onto my back and closed my eyes. When I opened them, I didn’t know where I was and didn’t see anyone around–the shore nearest to me was an empty strand. I put it together that I had floated out of the clothing-optional area, into and then past the clothed beach, and into some closed-off section of the beach. In order not to get in trouble–possibly excommunicated?–from the beach, I needed to swim against the current, back into the clothing-optional section, without landing on the clothed beach or being sighted by clothed swimmers. Thus ensued a desperate, existential swim against the inexorable Atlantic tide, with each stroke seeming to send me reeling further away from my destination–my destination being the bright white sign announcing “Beyond This Point You May Encounter Nude Bathers.” But I reached this sign made it back to tell the tale.

For most of my 20s, I have moved to a different city every year, traveling extensively and having the typically adventurous adventures that I have been writing about over the past 6 years: being tear-gassed, fleeing police, sneaking into castles and abandoned hotels, climbing a mountain on the border of Russia and seeing the moon closer and brighter than you’ve ever seen it. Now that I have been living in the same city for almost two years, and I don’t have immediate plans to move abroad, I have begun to worry that my life is going to become routine, quotidian, banal–in short, I will stop having adventures.

Looking back on my past 2 weeks, though, it occurs that adventure might be more of an attitude, or choice, or state of mind, than an external reality.

Abandoned hotel adventure: Update

Above: central square of the abandoned hotel. Below: cistern located underneath the hotel.

Longtime followers of Pulsations will remember that back in the fall of 2010, I lived for four months in Alanya, a Turkish town on the Mediterranean coast. One of the first adventures I had after moving there was to explore, Lara-Croft-style, an abandoned hotel sitting atop an ancient underground well. At the time, I was deeply spooked by the surreal place but ultimately came away from the cistern disabused of the notion that it was actually truly haunted. However, I recently my fears were justified–it turns out the well does have a ghost story.

Another visitor to Alanya, CB, recently contacted me to tell me about her own harrowing experience at the cistern. While touring around Alanya, CB came upon the derelict hotel, dared to enter the underground well, and was shocked to discover something I failed to notice: the strung-up remains of a centuries-old prisoner, condemned to die in the dark, frigid well water. Her photos of the remains are below; click to experience the full brunt of the creepiness.

According to CB, “A man had been shackled to the wall when the water level in the well was considerably higher and had been put to death there.” At first I was skeptical–these cisterns were constructed as part of the immense Selcuk fortress that still encircles the peninsula, and it seems unlikely that the inhabitants would contaminate their vital water supplies with human remains from executions. However, the wells have remained standing long past the Selcuk civilization, so it’s not beyond belief that they might have been put to more sinister use in the intervening centuries… And there’s something truly creepy about the smeared, tortured, wrathful demeanor of the supposed corpse, which the reader insists was life-sized, apart from the fact that he only has a torso.

So is this calcium and mineral deposits that happen to resemble the shape and size of a human, or is it actually the remains of a tortured prisoner? In the absence of decisive evidence, I think the real question is… What is the better story?

If you know anything about the hotel, why it was abandoned, or why the property remains in a state of decay, get in touch with me! Until we learn otherwise, we will assume that the hotel owners and guests were spooked away by the vengeful spirit of the drowned prisoner. Also, look for resumed coverage of Turkey soon, as I move to Eskişehir in less than one month for a Fulbright fellowship.

All photos by CB. Thanks again for getting in touch with me!

Sounding the depths of our being

For it is not only indolence that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new, inconceivable experience, which we don’t think we can deal with. But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being.

–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (1929)

Blog is on an (at least) 10 day hiatus while I am vacationing in Turkey. İyi yolculuklar (Happy travels).

Photo is from the New York Times “Why We Travel” 2010 gallery.