Bussing & Dew-Tea-Free

Zeno’s Bus


On Sunday, the bus moves along Istanbul’s congested sea road at less than one mile an hour.  It’s Zeno’s paradox delivered courtesy of public transportation.  The Istanbullis waiting up and down the route cram into the buses as they pull up to the stops; so-called “maximum occupancy” is reached only once the driver begins to move the vehicle, at which point general shouting ensues.  I’m shoved up against the windshield and haven’t paid the price of entry because I can’t reach where one might hand over coins.   The bus snails onwards, the passengers visibly unfazed by the total lack of progress.  They’re just along for the ride– however long the ride may be.  I spot the one other foreigner on the bus because he’s checking his watch periodically.  I sigh loudly to be a good patriot, even if no one is looking.  One Impatience Under G…

By this point in NYC, a Vesuvian eruption would have taken place: an orchestra of peeved sighs, necks craning to ascertain what motherfucking moron was responsible for the delay, watches consulted compulsively, cell phones in heat, and a general ooze of exasperation spreading over the human topography.  Here, the reactivity is absent: the situation is just what is.  And these guys aren’t even Buddhists!  Evening opens its broad wing over the heinous traffic and idyllic water way as one hour becomes two for a ride that should have taken 30 minutes, tops.  Then the sun relaxes its grip on the sky entirely: it never runs off schedule.

I’m moved toward the middle of the bus by the boarding passengers: the will of the crowd is strong.  Beside me, a little girl smacks a fledging colleague, who is asleep on her mother’s lap.  She jiggles the napper’s face around until the child wakes awkwardly and begrudgingly, her eyes attempting to roll right back where they came from.  After ten minutes of general face-manipulation, the triumphant girl announces, “Uyandir!”:  You woke up! The bus lurches about two inches closer to home, and then releases all effort again; it too would rather be napping.

After all this time I see the Good.  Not as Plato would have it, suspended in an abstract and privileged world of Forms—but right in my face, like a baby toy.   And no different from the baby who’s just discovered she has a hand and that it can do stuff, we are still reaching all the time for something pleasing to hold onto.  And here it is–

The water looks more aquamarine to the north of the city, the kind of water that seduces you, makes you think the world is an O.K. place to float your boat.  If you don’t look at the shoreline, where garbage of all varieties congregates in polymorphic blobs, flanked by trillions of translucent jellyfish who show great affinity for it, you might think you were somewhere art would aspire to.  I begin to pity agoraphobic litter: nothing forms ad hoc communities faster than crap in a strait.  This flotsam and jetsam, we’ll call it—because “garbage” sounds so harshly accurate—is the human inflection on this sweat rivulet of Mother Earth.  We were here. This part of the Bosphorus is one big trash bin—and our trash doesn’t so much float away as re-seek its place of origin, perhaps even the person who dropped it in the first place.  And yet alongside the trash is a general vista so pleasing to the eye, so a-bounce with boats of all sizes and purposes, that one can forget what plagues this water as one can forget on the brightest days our common human hangnails.

not hangnails, but gulls (photo by j)

Felici-tea & Complici-tea [A Tea-lude]:

When the rain returns, the only thing that seems to get me by is tea.  My habits always comes back to that cup, the way the ability to see always comes back to the optic nerve.

It’s fortuitous, then, that I find a transcript in Upaya Zen Center’s newsletter [check them out!  They are doing amazing things, especially with end of life care!] of a surprising duo conversing on my favorite topos: Thich Nhat Hanh and Oprah Winfrey chatting together about imbibing happiness, or tea.  My questions about what comprises a happy life keep surfacing like so much garbage in the open water.  Luckily, the internet offers myriad courses in contentment, such as follows:

[from transcript]

Nhat Hanh: Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.

Oprah: With you, the tea is real.

Nhat Hanh: I am real, and the tea is real. I am in the present. I don’t think of the past. I don’t think of the future. There is a real encounter between me and the tea, and peace, happiness and joy are possible during the time I drink.

Oprah: I never had that much thought about a cup of tea.

Nhat Hanh: We have the practice of tea meditation. We sit down, enjoy a cup of tea and our brotherhood, sisterhood. It takes one hour to just enjoy a cup of tea.

Oprah: A cup of tea, like this? [ Holds up her cup. ]

Nhat Hanh: Yes.

Oprah: One hour.

[reprinted without permission—but with a lot of adoration]

Hmmm. It takes me about 10 minutes to enjoy a cup of tea, mostly because I enjoy it too much and I don’t like it to become cold, which subtracts some of the merriment.

But sitting here as the blue day tilts its way towards a deeper, drunken gray, I feel unimportant in the grand scheme of the world, and alternately glad or mad about that.  Suddenly, it strikes me that I, too, though just an ex-pat watching the ebb and flow of Cihangir traffic, can be on Oprah—albeit through the authorial prerogative of bullshit.  And so I revise reality to my contentment, and offer you the updated transcript of SN, OW & TNT– TNT whom I love so much that, were I truly in his company, all I could eek out (or in) would be a slurp.

[B-S transcript]

SN [needing attention, off script]: A cup of tea!  An up for me!  A sup of glee!

TNT [kindly noticing]:  And nonsense is also real.

SN [making face at objectionable hot beverage]:  My tea tastes like nothing.

TNT [beatifically]:  Touching nothing, I am happy.

SN:  No, seriously: this is like grade C tea.  They wouldn’t serve this at a labor camp.

TNT [even-tempo]:  The low-quality tea is present, the low-quality present is present.

SN [sitting forward on seat]:  What I’m saying is this tea sucks.

TNT:  Sucking is present, sucking is present.

SN:  I can’t even drink this swill—

TNT:  Swill is present, not drinking swill is present.

SN:  Do you ever not like something?

TNT:  When I am not liking, I know that I am alive.  Then I am happy.

SN:  Oprah, what’s up; do you ever get served bad coffee?

OW [startled]:  I’m Oprah.

SN [face reddening]:  Really, come on.  Sometimes an intern must mess up and make you weak coffee…

OW [beatifically]: I never thought that much about interns.

SN [eye-rolling]:  This is maddening.  Isn’t anyone around here judgmental?

OW:  No, we’re on T.V.

SN [turning abruptly]:  TNT, have you ever flipped out about something?

TNT:  Flipping out, I know that I am alive.

SN:  No, when you flip out, you don’t know anything.

TNT [agreeably]:  Knowing nothing, I am aware I am knowing nothing.

SN [adverblessly]:  This conversation is going nowhere.  Our viewers are probably pill-popping just to endure such pointlessness.  Oprah, this is like thought-spaghetti

OW [insightfully, trying it out]:  When I have spaghetti I know I am having spaghetti.

SN:  Congratu-f-in-lations.

OW [finger-wagging]:  We don’t allow words on the show which contain more than five syllables.

SN:  Give me a cup of tea, please—anything–

TNT:  The tea is present.  You are present.

close to the source


But finally, after entertaining myself with faux-fame for long enough, I “get” what I needed in the first place, and it comes not from Oprah but from Issa, my little hokku genie.  Likely he was also a tea fan, given the culture in which he lived, but I imagine he preferred to take it as I do, with the potency of an espresso shot–

“The world of dew

Is a world of dew, and yet

and yet…”—Issa

And if, after reading this dew-tifully, as a person living temporarily in an urban space among so many other unknown persons, there is still something of thought-trash to wash off so that my inquiry into all this might arise clean yet again, practice and poetry will do that for me:

Caesar Vallejo: “I have scraped what carries me so close/ and I have carefully put away the map that/ was nodding or crying, I don’t know which.” (“Ello es que el lugar donde me pongo…”—Margaret Sayers Peden, trans.)

Our “map of the world” does seems to be both weeping and agreeing, as we poke our way along it, traveling from minor happiness to minor happiness.  Some days, all possible happinesses seem like three legged tables, just waiting for you to lean on them before they give way.  Here, the slight uneasiness I feel because of Turkey’s  susceptibility to earthquakes leads me to PBS’ perspective; “Continents are the ‘scum of the earth’, consisting mostly of light minerals light quartz, which can’t sink into the earth’s dense mantle.”  Hmmm.  From that reasoned angle, our “solid” land-masses themselves are no more than the collective phlegm that rises atop cooking lentils.   The same rich soup always surrounds us.  One ladle under G…

“Oh always, do not ever engage with the never of so/much always!”  (Vallejo, “Oh botello sin vino!”)

And eventually, from so much floating like this, we need a place to rest body and mind, which is the excuse of tea:

“My eyes, which had seen all, came back,

Back to the white chrysanthemums.”–Issho

Some Things Are Worth Shoving J on a Bus

And so I shove J onto the bus a few days later for a test run, and a few days after that we make it up the coast to Rumeli Hisari, the defensive towers.  This place is actually breath taking—an epithet I normally reserve for cloudscapes.  Built by the intrepid Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1452, its magnitude signaled to Constantinople that the end was near.  The pre-Enlightenment signum was appropriately blunt: my-fortress-is-bigger-than-your-fortress.   And it was.  And the end of one thing was near, so the next thing could begin.

fortified with vitamin C

“1452” thus became an important date—which now is writ large on Rumeli’s hillside in raised gold letters, tipped toward the sky— with some of the same triumphant snazz of America’s “1492”, the year Columbus tripped on our continent and blurted out “India!,” all modesty and shame chucked out to sea with the bilge.    From the outside, you can’t ascertain the intelligence of Rumeli’s shape and design. From within, depending on where you stand, your perception of its architecture, hugging up against the hillside, nonetheless continues to change.  It’s weird and weirdly reassuring: this is exactly what happens with history.


And the irony intensifies: the inside of the fort is the closest thing to the Botanic Gardens we’ve encountered so far.  Safe from the wind, the old stones hold the heat and, because they’re stones and not so greedy, give it right back to whomever is in their company.  Plants have the run of the place.  It turns out this genius creation of war, the Conquerer’s Ace, is the most peaceful spot of all.  Nothing, it seems, is so good for peace as war itself.  The walls rise steeply, mountable via a series of staircases that would give Escher a complex.   And though one risks a plummet to the fortress floor on one side of the defense and to the seaside (and a graveyard) on the other, there are no guardrails anywhere.  The stones are as slick as they are old.  Much impersonal death has happened here already and yours, nice lil’ tourist, will be no exception.  Safety first– by which I meant, last.   The guards in their uniforms are taking photos of one another from the highest turret.  You can’t help but feel like a Conquerer In Training, looking out at the Bosphorus from above, lording it over the tankers that pass below you, as if they mean to go quietly.  The cars travel back and forth at eye-level on the elegant suspension bridge as if trying not to wake the history of cruelty from its nap.  But cruelty, I imagine, sleeps with its eyes open.

almond joy

This place makes my heart turn soft.  It’s good to witness it with someone else.  I think J and I have had our fill of one another—but when you look into your partner’s eyes while leaning against a tower that has withstood so much falling apart, the things that trouble you from within are anaesthetized.  Plus, there are so many healthy trees here, wisdom-carriers.  The almond blossoms are out, these nuts that have fed me so much; their abundant flowers are white and delicate, with purple eyes in their centers.  J even spots a lady-bug, doing her thing near the buttercup crop.   There is enough green here to assuage whatever the heart wants to clench against.

Eventually we board a bus back on the coast road.  The driver seems to have just graduated intensive “asshole training for amateurs” at the Asshole Academy, and shows his credentials by demanding five lira from us instead of three—while the sign over his head states clearly that the fare is 1.50 per person.  Only by aping that he should give us our money back, we’ll just get off his stinking otobus, does he surrender and wave us in.  He doesn’t really have the stuff of a Conquerer in him after all, even though his bus stops every day near to the Fortress.  But it was worth a try, really; and, true to his calling, his resentment is expressed all the way back to Taksim by sloppy staccato braking.  One idiocy under G….

The world of dew is the world of dew is the world of dew…

Plus, it’s spring.  Really.

yellow testifies


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2 Responses to “Bussing & Dew-Tea-Free”

  1. rickyb Says:

    I especially love the imaginary conversation with TNT & Oprah, Sara Nolan. A native New Yorker enters the buddhist fray. Hysterical. The bus ride is also instantly gratifying, unlike that tepid tea-cup after an hour of nursing what’s in it. As usual I love this piece, Sara. Another chapter in the book…

    much love,


    • saraknowsyou Says:

      you think oprah will visit massive missive? all in good fun….rick, you win the serial responder prize for this blog. the committee will contact you shortly regarding this matter.

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