Faith Flukes

Flight

between neither a rock nor a hard place

Along the sloping Akyol Cadessi, there is a storefront I pass every day, blue like the sky here might be if it tried a bit harder.  Nonetheless, it takes me weeks to notice it for what it is: a paragliding company.  Their sign reads, in Turkish and English: “Ikarus, Sportif Havilicik: Face Your Fears.  Live Your Dreams.”

FYI: Icarus died, no?  Face-plant?

It’s true; his master craftsman dad fashioned some wings meant to facilitate their escape from prison—like most technology, it promised liberation from prior constraints of physics.  Icarus was psyched.  He was just getting his first pimples.

He imagined the Naiads would be agog: boy careening through bird territory!  The ducks on the break-wall shrugged.  The sea detritus readied itself for the inevitable splash.  This son knew where the median was, sure, but like most adolescents, he forgot what he knew easily.

Some say our scapulae are a dim remnant of our former wings– former, as in, former.  At this particular mythological juncture, the sea received exactly what one would expect: an angular body, crisped (pimples dried out), wings singed, showing their inorganic construction by breaking up in the current.  The sea swallowed: Icarus’ first wet dream.

The Bosphorus too has its warehouse of bodies, mariners, bloated planks, casualties of eros’ malformations.  The construction of the subway has interrupted certain of these posthumous potlucks; the Turks, by and large unconcerned, continue to let commerce’s progeny, plastic, fall into the Sea of Marmara, which once glittered from the surfaces of poems.

But wait: “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew,” writes poet Jack Gilbert.

And fly he did.  Ücmak, Ücmak, Ücmak.

Failure

A professor of mine loves to compare the flux of the writing process to water just before it boils.  How the liquid at first grows absolutely still, as if refusing the event incumbent upon it.  Shucks off all.  And then the bubbles begin, and then movement.

And then it boils, hard.

Icarus had a good ride, albeit brief.  And as my dad likes to say, “Caesar’s also dead.”

tutors

Between attempt and failure of attempt, Icarus’ wings worked.  So what, if he only soared for a wee bit?  Even Daedalus must have found in his son’s predictable disobedience something to admire.  Much later, in the early 17th century, when history proper was well beyond its incipience and so certain constraints of rational mind had chiseled away at the fabulousness of stories, Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi (1609-1640) flew across the Bosphorus from the Galata Tower and landed on his feet in Uskadar.

From his ocean bed, doodling pointlessly with the tip of his sole remaining feather, Icarus likely smirked, knowing what was coming.  For the wind that eased H’s passage was ultimately more constant than the sultan, who was at first impressed enough to summon him to the palace, but later grew suspicious.  After all, men were supposed to walk, swim, or ride—flying was for freaks, fairies and sparrows.  H got the axe.

Flirtation with annihilation is quite easy in Turkey—you don’t need to be cracked enough to strap on wings and head for the sun or have a genius dad who will outfit you with your own doom; the rate of automobile accidents is astronomical.  The jokes here are not about poultry and crosswalks, but the more sober conversation-stoppers: hey, man– why didn’t the chicken cross the road?  The punch-line might be something like: well, zanet (anyway,” used as deictic often indicating speaker has no idea what she’s talking about) the chicken didn’t because it was run down hemen– (right away!”)—not even one talon in the shallow gutter!  And then put into a pudding.  And christened “vegetarian dish.”  After all: squashed and pureed chicken looks like an eggplant.  Failure to recognize; failure to fly.

Icarus, it’s true, was a fallen and shoddy hero; no one who isn’t aiming for a nasty rendezvous with social services tells their kid, “Be like Icarus! Take the plunge!  Mis-use what you’re given!”  But he had the unique experience of being distanced from the earth while still belonging to it.  He was not for this made a demi-god but he could see the corns on the feet of the demi-gods where they poked egregiously through the thinning clouds.  At that cloudy crossroads, Icarus wasn’t thinking so much about paragliding, as how parents misguide us when they mean so well.

After a free fall, water must feel unforgivably solid.

But Since I Don’t Have Wings I Float About

row row row your boat merrily up the dream

It’s my main commitment when not teaching school: to sleuth pedestrian-style here on the rolling interstices of two continents, to be the yogic observer of all activity.  It’s the same ol’ Romance but enacted by two land masses, Europe and Asia, leaning in to butterfly kiss and missing narrowly.  This prolonged hesitation has been going on since geography became interesting.   It’s the hub of something: maybe history?  We take ferries in the gap between their pursed lips.  The very same divide that Io, bir katrillion on the list of Zeus’ infidelities and for this transmuted into a heifer, swam across in desperate cow-paddle, a last ditch effort to escape the gadfly, steward of Hera’s entomological retribution.

Even if you’re not a cow in a pinch, the Bosphorus is the best place to be.  On the city ferries, the Istanbullians, drinking cay out on the stern, toss bits of simit to the seagulls, who know what’s coming to them and arrive in packs to be served.  Unlike Icarus, they have learned to hover near sustenance.  Everything here heralds the Coming of the Carbohydrate: back on land, the neighborhood cats nosh on macaroni, the seagulls snack on all manner of Manna, and every gate that bears a  “Dikkat!  Köpek Var!” (“Beware, there is a dog!) sign, lies boldly—the dogs are licking littered lavash and lamb from the sidewalk cracks.  They couldn’t care less about the trespasser.

One foot, Then the Other

I think there was a reason the Buddha liked to travel by foot.

It is an impeccable thing, to walk and notice, walk and notice, walk and notice.  I watch a cab do a three-point turn, worthy of DMV conniption fit, into a scaffold so tenuous even an Asthmatic Big Bad Wolf could have knocked it down.  The cabbie doesn’t even look back but tears off down the little street towards the kebab stand, while the scaffold hedges its bets with verticality.

Çihangir resembles Chutes ‘n’ Ladders, minus the prospect of winning anything.  Attention to detail often seems to be of minimal concern here, an oversight in the culture.   Enduring functionality of equipment or indeed all built things—nah, why bother?  Instead, one can proactively partake in transience by seeking out and enjoying freshly made red tea, at any wobbly chair at any wobbly table in any establishment worth its salt.

Nonetheless, the signature of this place, albeit scrawled and somewhat occluded, is traceable.  And so I pace thoroughly our neighborhood of Çihangir, named after the dead son of a Sultan and retaining some architectural aura of broken-heartedness, looking to understand what makes a place itself.  Like learning the inner contours of a lover, this takes some time.

The most exhilarating moments on my walk– as I sing real and invented mantras to myself to stave off becoming a vanity plate and wave honk-prone cabbies away– come as I round the corners and am confronted unexpectedly by a view between two buildings of the Bosphorus’ activity.  These buildings in turn are mostly named for the families that at one time or another occupied them; they exist in a greater or lesser state of disrepair and poor paint choice, many of them striving to imitate a style for which I do not have a name.  In the gap there flows the constancy of this city.

Though one doesn’t normally desire that construction methods be the teachers of impermanence—that, say, a residence collapse to prove the fallibility of all man-made things– there is something about the scrappy nature of all that is not enduringly Byzantine (and those guys demonstrated impermanence by rampantly killing each other) which is almost a relief.  Nothing is made to last, as nothing will.  The vegetable truck almost runs me over as I stand contemplating this fact.  See?  Killed by a fiendish carrot peddler.  Worse fates could await me than to be squashed by what I have so many times, and with so much love, sliced, diced and minced.

case in point

I heart Stuff

Istanbul is filled with stuff and the stuff is in constant motion: some masquerades as merchandise, some does not masquerade at all.  I think of the ambiguous motif with which F tends to end even her most insightful comments: Shakespeare is saying the old rhetoric isn’t going to work and stuff. In certain establishments, it’s nearly impossible to tell what, if anything, is actually sold.

Considering this, it is possible the Great(ish) Roman autocrat Diocletian didn’t so much divide the withering empire, establishing a common liability of all taxes payer hitherto unknown, as he did allocate as systematically as possible which shit went in which spot.  We weasel our way around the Grand Bazaar, the Matron of Stuff whose wide, vascular arms are spread in a matrix of alleys to welcome foreigners and natives alike.  We’re looking for the calligraphy museum which will be closed for renovation, but we’re don’t know this yet, because we’re waylaid by Stuff, which lies between us and the display of exquisite graphic art that has always caught what iconography couldn’t.

On the perimeter of the Grand Bazaar, which is, in fact, both grand and bizarre—so satisfying, when a thing is called precisely what it is!—the tradition continues; men amble past vendors with their wares laid out on a shabby blankets.  These wares, by and large, are actually a “ware”: used cell phones (were you imagining something akin to Gandhi’s homespun clothes?  Nope).  The assembled phones elicit tender gazes of potential ownership from the passerby who pauses, dawdling cigarette in hand, to focus all his romantic attention on one of the schlock electronics.

Less Stuff

Poet Kay Ryan suggests a way to tone it all down.  If I were feeling Martin Luther-ish, I’d post the following language-savvy prayer on all the doors in town with my hammer—including and especially the doors of perception.  As it is, I come back to the poem again and again; it speaks to the inner membrane of abundance and the cytoplasm of creative cynicism.  I include it here, reprinted without permission (formatting not preserved, so look it up!)…

Blandeur

If it please God,

let less happen.

Even out Earth’s

rondure, flatten

Eiger, blanden

the Grand Canyon.

Make valleys

slightly higher,

widen fissures

to arable land,

remand your

terrible glaciers

and silence

their calving,

halving or doubling

all geographical features

toward the mean.

Unlean against our hearts.

Withdraw your grandeur

from these parts.

Sometimes the ache upon my heart that mortality yields—I’m Jewish, so I fret that it’s cholesterol ganging up on me—is so deep I wish for precisely what this poem expresses.  Only in Istanbul can the sun come out and the sky remain gray at once: blandeur, indeed.  I suspect God is using my heart as a yoga prop as she twists herself into the last asana of all: confundity.  This occurs when you are so full of source you mistake yourself for a ball of light.  A good remedy for this is a glass of middlin’ Anatolian wine and a poem that unabashedly requests the universe go a little lighter, lessen its contours so that we, in turn, might respect our own.

What would it mean for God to withdraw, anyway? This has nothing to do with the separation of Church and State, or Mosque and Empire. For one, this would be a God who prefers to reside in the armpit of the earth—Flint, MI, anyone?—over and above the celestial throne (even with lumbar support).  A god less ambulatory and omni-available, not so much a luminous candelabra dangling into the dome of embodiment, more of a crevice in the clouds, a hint.  God might, simply put, be the incessant changeability of weather, rather than a Thunderer who declaims absolute reality in the easily misinterpreted language of rain.

But you, like me, might be tired of my God, who haunts this blog like a hall monitor, and sends all the aberrant graphemes back where they came from.

Faith

It is said that the Ka’ba in Mecca was considered by worshippers to be the axis-mundi, belly button of the world.  Those who made Hajj to the little black box spontaneously prostrated themselves, placing their very own belly button(s) atop this metaphorical one.  Is the axis mundi an innie or an outtie?  You tell me, then I’ll tell you.

surely an outtie

After noon prayer on Fridays, I like to loiter near the Çihangir Camii to observe how people look after administering to their faith and communal responsibility to God—a skillful and shadowy boss who has outsourced everything, including his presence.  The men spill out of the gate, in no particular rush, breaking into trios and duos for conversation as evanescent as the efficacy of prayer about the goodness of Allah, bowel habits, wrote concerns.  Old ladies are about, carrying shopping bags that bulge with oranges or loaves of bread.  Their coats are as long as their eyes.  They look at me looking at them, and we exchange the nothing that feels for all the world like significance.

Participation in cyclicality is also a kind of faith.

Faith II

To be passionate is to voraciously learn a city in its entirety, to pass over no part, nor any of its tangled history.  This requires considerable energy which bleeds easily into fanaticism.

To be intimate, however, is to know one part of a place—one neighborhood—exquisitely well, in all its detail, in its mundane resurfacing.  This is the path I have chosen.

There’s a Turkish lady who comes out to smoke her cigarette and watch me do my daily walk up and down, up and down.  She’s bemused, but also finding in me a touch of the suicidal Icarus: are you trying to kill yourself?  It’s as if there is an unspoken fatwa against all but critical exertion.  She points emphatically with her cigarette to the bottom of the stone stairs, where there is an exit to the main traffic street through a questionable construction site.  I try to explain in remedial Turkish that I’m going for a walk; it’s so remedial as to be unintelligible.  She continues to point at the construction, encouraging me to walk in the direction of commerce and tramways.  One doesn’t go for a walk, one walks somewhere.  Apparently the Istanbullian heart does not look to beat fast, when it could beat at the sippishly slow speed of tea.  I take her advice and cut across the street to the short, concrete boardwalk of the ferry port.

an exercise in tea

In the last few days, sorry looking white rabbits have been stationed along here atop hoax boxes. They are meant to tell fortunes via their decidedly un-delphic interpreter: an old Turkish dude in scruffy coat whose cigarette looks more astute, and possibly more closely connected to the gods, than himself.  Will I fly? I ask the rabbits—telephathically, of course.  They huddle closer together.  It’s a shit job, after all, telling people what they do or don’t want to know about what will or won’t occur.

The kids in the schoolyard next door begin their day by chanting—screaming– their national anthem, which blares from speakers.  Verdi could have composed it, with metro-sexual chameleons woven round his wrist.  Their shouts filter into the unremarkable Monday morning, which becomes more and more remarkable as the web of light to the east bleeds into the swath of sky.  When their shouting is done, the kids disband into general chaos.  They spend most of the day in recess, preparing for recess, and recovering from recess.  What kind of self-growth occurred during recess?  We’re not sure.  But who ever is?  Was Icarus?

When I walk on the dirty street below the school I see one chunky boy shove a classmate against the crosshatches of the fence by his throat.  At my destination, the cheapest of the veggie markets, the vendor, patient with me, suddenly turns to the doorway to greet a scarved older woman who has appeared there.  His face splinters, then explodes into a smile; he embraces her and clumsily jumps up and down while she does her best to hold onto the door-frame for support.  When he lets go, she grabs her shoulder, as if he’s done permanent damage by being disproportionately loving.  He points an eggplant at her.  I have no place here but to witness love, as I had no place in the school yard street but to witness aggression. And I am bereft of anything to kiss with joy but another eggplant, and so I do.

faithfully

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One Response to “Faith Flukes”

  1. rickyb Says:

    I love when your substantive simmering comes to a boil, dear Sara. I enjoyed this particular walk immensely– all of its arrivals & turns toward alertness. Lovely. Your words have wings.

    love,

    r

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