Posts Tagged ‘tea’

Unfathomable Web of Verbs

January 6, 2013

What Moves


emergent subject

My former student, J, to whom I taught Latin years ago when he was a totally bewildered but well-meaning (as they say) 8th grader who would spend most of the class cooing at the pigeons on the window ledge, writes to me:  I love your writing.  I would buy your book!

these be the messengers

these be the messengers

J, do you mean my invisible, incipient book? The one I feel in my belly like a prayer searching 

 for muscular wings?  For a few weeks in the fall of that year, I was very sick with mono, which is only supposed to afflict you from sharing Dr. Pepper sodas or callous, drooling make-out sessions when you’re 14, but I guess Mono didn’t get the memo.  One day my headache was so intense that another nail-bitten student asked me if he could go to the bathroom and then came back after fifteen minutes with a half-steeped Lipton black tea in a Styrofoam cup.  Here, he said, handing it to me.  I got this for you.  He had taken note of my habits, if nothing else.  I could see where he had drawn on his hands with his pen.   And, he added.  I didn’t do my homework.

 Sometimes one accepts love in any medium.


leaves i love

leaves i love

Plus, it was Mono that stopped me in my tracks enough to show me the potency of yoga, what yoga was really up to, the face it only reveals once you’ve drawn the mental hospital curtains and signed up for the spiritual blood transfusion, come what may.

So all these years later, to have an attuned, adult-ish J praise my work is just the right medicine for a different kind of disheartenment.

Moved by his profusion, as any writer would be, I say: I think I have a book in me, but I don’t have a subject!

He returns:  If you cannot find the subject, look for the verb.

This is exactly what we instruct young Latin students to do when learning to read the language.  It’s not how literate Romans thought or operated.  But the verb is kind of the boss of the sentence, and it can be useful to take orders from a boss when confused.  Once you find the verb, most of the mystery of the subject is removed, for the verb’s inflection fixes its pronoun correlate: if the inflection is a he-she or –it (shit, for short), the subject cannot stray, nor escape the tyranny of the verb’s decision making.  It bows and complies.  If you didn’t understand any of this paragraph, count yourself in good company.  Now you know or remember what it is like to be an 8th grade boy.

So there is a correlate in writing: when you find your action, the movement, you also know what or who is moving.

The maxim is kind of Taoist-sounding, when it isn’t just irritating.

what moves

what moves

And when you are an 8th grader, you take the issue of grammatical agreement personally.  As if the Romans set out to make things complicated for you.  And did a damn good job.  I’ve heard many a middle-schooler whine this whine verbatim: Why did they make Latin so hard?  The legacy of the Romans was hair-tearing grammar.  The aqueducts were really a second-tier invention besides their puzzler syntax.  And for this contribution, no one can forget them, wish as they might.

And the subsequent frustration can cause weird, reactionary behaviors (I’ve seen them firsthand)—again, mostly in males: photographing your own eyeballs, seeing how swiftly you can stab a pencil point in the spaces between the fingers of an outspread hand, before you miss and stab yourself.  OopsmayIgotothenurseIjustpuncturedmyfinger?  No.  She’ll just stuff a cracker in the wound.  Conjugate this verb first.

not eight grade boys not learning latin

not eight grade boys not learning latin

But as a rule for writing, as for living: do you know, really know, what moves you?  And if you only sense it, down deep in the pre-syntactic zone of embodiment, can you dare to eff the ineffable?

Because once the prayer comes out of your mouth, its wings take it where it pleases.  You cannot author a bird’s whim.

Bummer Marriage

I rush into the train station as best I can in my air-cast.  It’s a hobbled rush, really. O.K., so not a rush at all—more like a heroic limp.  The time remaining until the train arrives, displayed on the digital screen, is increasing rather than decreasing as I stand there, helplessly late for work.  The trains are cryptic and uncompassionate on Saturdays.

A bum sits beside me on the platform.

He looks like he’s in rough shape.  He’s got a few crumpled and sweaty dollars in his hand.  He unrolls and re-rolls them, watching the physics of it intently, like he is hoping they will turn into a greater amount than they currently are.  The bills are vaguely waxy.   He also looks like he might have just climbed down the beanstalk.  He regards me.  I have dressed for the wrong season—yesterday it was winter, today it feels like early spring.  My dirty backpack and long down coat are on the bench in a heap beside him.   He appears jealous of their heap-ness.

please let it come

please let it come

Will you marry me?  He asks, like a dart protruding from a cloud.

Me: Sure.

Bum: Really?

Me: Sure.

Bum: Hey, wow.

[Considered pause.]

Bum:  So, what should we do now?

Me:  I don’t know, it was your idea.  Come up with something.

Bum: Hmmm.  Could I have your phone number?

Me: Remember this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.

Bum: I have no memory.  [Points to long scar above his eyebrow.]  Car accident.

Me: Ouch.  A long time ago?

Bum: Yeah, when I was a kid…[Regarding me freshly.]  What is your job?

Me: I’m a teacher. I’m on my way there now.

Bum: Oh?  Why don’t you dress up nicer for work?

[F! I’m in my good clothes!]

Me:  Because I’m dressed up on the inside.

Bum:  Damn.

We nod appreciatively at one another.  My subway comes rushing in, like it knows it is late and feels vaguely performative about its compensatory hurtling entrance (This makes me think of when my students are late to class and arrive excessively out of breath, as if they climbed Mt. Washington to get to me rather than walked down a hall).  I gather my things to board.  The Bum looks disappointed, but we have that kind of arrangement—each of us able to go our own way, with respect for the other.  On a scale of 1-10, this marriage already gets a 9: mutual regard, easy conversation, agreement about when to say more and when not to, and effective, even instantaneous decision-making.  Voila.

When the doors close, he is still looking at me, his dollars hanging loosely in his hand.  As the train departs, a spiderthread of affection trails backward, the web of life growing ever-weirder in the fullness of its design.



Deviant Destinations

August 8, 2010

Deviant Destinations

My tea is not hot.  That’s the start of a whiner’s haiku.  It brewed a noncommittal brew, the tempered jasmine flowers keeping their essence to themselves.  Fine. Outside, a steady rain falls, the kind that stops morning from mooring and makes you think, maybe, the world can be washed clean.  Feral pigs have left satisfying trails of poop around the property and the red pines redden as if being complimented by no one.  These are the things that precede the entry.

pendulum of possibility

Go forth and multiply, said the Lord (supposedly), bored of looking at the same limited amount of life.  O wait, I Take It Back!, the Lord objected to himself, as the planet swelled with creatures and episodes.  But alas, it sounded too much like a P.S.  Thus this writing, like the world, is crammed with forms that almost don’t fit.

This post is a blog-slog, deliberately ignorant of blog etiquette on timeliness, growing over the last few months as I was reintegrated from travels into the nest(s) of my family and friends.  In the content that follows, narrative time and chronological time are as unrelated as Applebees and Yellow Jackets: actual sequence is all confused.  Fine: linearity has always had boundary issues with Deviance.

Where in the world is the world?

Long Island, America: On the phone with my J, I walk in the haunted dunes, where the breeze exerts its pressure.  The humidity sits precariously atop the sand and sea, a barometric humpty-dumpty.  The white egret moves in the deep marsh grass as if it was auditioning for a part as an egret moving in deep marsh grass.  Either the grass is sublime or the egret is too careful about very basic things.  People would pay high sums to have teeth as white as that bird’s down.

J says: “What people say about the world being a tapestry, it’s not a metaphor!”

And I say: “I know—you can see it from space!”

From the airplane window: All these blobs draped over the spherical brow of the earth.

And it’s nothing like the map describes.

Sloppy Relativity Theory

Monserrat, Spain: the elevated monastery where Ignatius Loyola rested before undertaking some seriously spiritual exercise.  Initially, when you’re still feeling fresh and Christian, there are stairs that hug the mountainside on the way to open-air chapels that are not chapels at all.  The Information desk, a contradiction in terms like many of its ilk, offers us a visitor’s map that portrays a single varicose vein snaking from the aorta of the Monastery to nowhere in particular.  If the “real” journey is internal, then it doesn’t matter if you get there, right?


You still need enough snacks to carbohydrate yourself along the steep ascent.   Closer and closer to God’s undergarments, so form-fitting it is hard to recognize her lap until you’re in it.  Even then.  You might think you’re out of breath because of thinning air.  Loyola was into protocol and walked with a limp.  Asceticism (and mobility!) was his punitive, cellular aesthetic. He had not the advantage of REI sneakers or sweat-licking fabrics.  He had robes and determination.

If it was supposed to take Your Average Shmo 1.5 hours to ascend, it was going to take us 1.  After all, we were young and fit and had a train to catch on the downside of things.  Revelation would also have to occur on a timetable.    The mountainside was worn like a comfort object.  There is something weirdly heroic in climbing—even and especially pointless ascent.  We trust that by going upward, we are getting somewhere, surpassing ourselves.  Other heroes have decided hell is the place to look: Dante, Orpheus and the like.  They chose the hole over the hump.  They were undeterred by the fact that literature is flammable.

But those of us who like a triumph that involves quadriceps and oxygen debt and sagebrush and crumbly footfalls will be inclined to seek exposure on peaks.  There, the sky proves to be the same sky it was from the Malo valley, and the valleys show their boundaries like seams in a cloth.  Up here, you’ve come to wager it all on your smallness; and yet your relative size makes water towers look like M&Ms, and infrastructure like a doodle or a sloppy tattoo on the ground.

which way lies the way?

Taking It

In the old growth forests that stretch from Colombia to Costa Rica, the Tachigali Versicolor, or “suicide” tree, flourishes.  This species of tree flowers and fruits once in a life time, after which it dies.  It’s a monocarpist: its purpose is clear.

East Coast, USA: J & J have an old friend, A, who just shot himself in the head.  He had once come to our home as a college boy and eaten a flock of chickens, a joy to the feeding instincts of my Ashkenazi Mama, who observed him in amazement.  His metabolism was mythopoetic.  It was hard to tell where he ended and food began.  His smile endured throughout the day and the meal like a sideways question mark.  Do you take this chicken with this lawfully wielded knife?

I would like to be able to ask gregarious A what it feels like when a self is blown to bits.  In Dali’s Theater of Consciousness in Figueros.  J & J & J & I saw D’s portrait of his wife and muse, Gala, her bust breaking up into sphere-shaped shards: Galatea de las Esferas. The illusion is that her skull is exploding gently, her face represented in eccentric geometries-in-motion.   Soon you will have to look in the margins for her central nervous system.

When my sister and her fiancé come back from the memorial, where an empty urn was placed in lieu of the body, we drive together to Maine with cold Brooklyn pizza and garlicky kale that smells like feet and plastic bags filled with hand-washed stones from the beach in L.I.   Who shall cast the first one?  These are not yet slimed with Vaseline to keep their sea-glow awake.  How to know the depth of another’s suffering?  That is the question that fills up the car like loud music.

Heraclitus said you cannot step in the same river twice, but where loss is concerned, the river circles back on itself, and back and back and back.   But because one can only talk about grief for so long, we start trying to remember the name of favorite junk foods from decades past.  In Middle School, this issue of suffering came with a convenience: Candy.  Candy seemed the only solutions to a mammoth problem, as un-nameable as it was obvious: the bomb of sugar and synthetic tastiness told you right where your tummy was in a world that was otherwise unreliable.

sugar pyre

Now, Elektra didn’t have Mars Bars— she could only say OIMOI OIMOI OIMOI in the face of unchecked horrors.  Nobody in Sophocles got Twinkies for their troubles. When you take your own life, there can be no avenger.  You leave behind others to eat the foods you might have eaten, to subtract your life from the census of things that make sense.

We open the popcorn.  It falls all over the car as tears do.

Flat-line & Fruit-Bearing

Keliki, Bali: Our guide, Dewa, draws a flat-line with his index finger in the dirt:  Life for us in Bali is like this, he says.  Flat.  Not so up-and-down.  Some people say: boring!  But for us, flat is good.  We have it easy!  We have everything we need.

fertile fingers

Everything you need: a phrase that speaks to an ineffable yearning on my part.  The worst part of Dewa’s summary is that he seems to mean it.  He can’t even condemn the Dutch colonizers: rather than bad, they are not so good. After all, they brought spices.  And this is not just garden-variety self-contentment or a good pitch; it’s the Big Bad Wolf of the Capitalist’s fairy tale.  It’s the thing that underlies all other things and one’s ability to face them.

But really, what does it entail to have everything you need?  Maslow’s hierarchy: shelter and the like?  I still pack my bags to bring my needs with me, even for a mere over-night excursion, the “just in case” drive that begins somewhere in the Achilles tendons and ends in the widow’s peak.  Thus, I fortify myself against the vulnerability of Situations by burdening my muscular-skeletal system beyond what is practical.  As a result, I always look as if I’m running away from home on a treadmill.  I am coextensive with my stuff.  It’s a poor strategy.

But in Bali, I get another feeling, one that tells me that knowing our own core and its requirements involves a lot more than understanding ourselves. The Balinese exist in a highly-ordered universe, one that ritually pays homage to nature and the Gods: you always know where you are in relation to all realms.  It’s better than GoogleMaps.  And if you’re Balinese, you acknowledge these realms by making offerings that appeal to the senses—incense, food, and music.  As luck and physiology would have it, it is the senses that mediate between, and also therefore blur, the extant material world and one’s edge.

this too

Dewa throws down fat seeds from the cacao fruit he’s just broken open.  Here, things grow almost against their will.  Volcanic soil means Fertility is a given.  The green punk top-hat of a pineapple need only nestle loosely in the dirt, hardly looking in the mood for reproduction, and—bingo!—offspring spring off.   Given that guarantee, what do you really need to carry?   One feels that the soul walks knowing it will encounter what is needed, rather find itself lacking.

matrix mundi

A life in balance is a life that doesn’t crave to be something it is not.  Such a life recognizes the conflagration of forces, inner and outer and a mish-mash of the two, in which we have come into existence.  When your neighbors all have the exact same things as you, your homes are architecturally identically, and cross-eyed gods in checked towels are keeping watch, what is there to want?  An old man rides his bike down the dirt path into which the rain has driven deep crevices.  The bike seems to have no brakes on it, as his mouth has no teeth in it.  His smile erases all question marks. I think I can see through the gap all the way down to his geriatric gastric juices.

Dewa points at the ducks navigating their way through the pure green of the maturing rice fields, as he walks us towards his village, where kids fly kites tied to empty soda bottles.  It’s the kind of place where Netflix isn’t.  The crew of ducks diligently follows the white flags laid out for this purpose, eating the invasive algae and pooping the grain into vitality.  Like a vacuum cleaner in your country, Dewa says.  Show them once and they do it by themselves. Thus, only the appropriate amount of effort is given to any one task.   Why do things ducks would happily, if not inadvertently, do for you?

viveka vista

One Plus One

On Thai Airways, leaving Indonesia.  A very young girl in our row is amusing herself by pretending to barf into her barf bag.  Her father squirms in embarrassment, tries to crumple the bag in her hands, but she’s a resilient emetic:  BLEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHH.

She eyes her Dad, flirting.  My, how our tactics change as we grow.  Opens the bag, faux-barfing louder.  Her hair is a scraggly mess and her skin the olive color tanning salons sell.  The older boy in the row behind her takes notice and pokes her.  For the rest of the flight, he instructs her on how to suspend herself in the gaps between seats and flail her legs in the air.  BLEEEHHHHHHHHHHH.

For these two, romance is just beginning.  They are high above the world that they will have to navigate.  Whether they will be more confused by their own boundaries or their own centers is unknown.  They didn’t watch the animated safety demo because they don’t give a flying fuck: there is too much puking and martial arts to attempt.  And—and!– they are fucking flying.

eternal play

Coda for a Fuzzy Picture:

Sometimes the less things obviously fit together, the more they make cohesive sense.  I trust life is like this, but I defer to my poetic predecessors with the last word, which is never really the last word:

“It does not have to fit together.  Like the pieces of a totally unfinished jigsaw puzzle my grandmother left in the bedroom when she died in the livingroom.  The pieces of the poetry or this love.” – Jack Spicer, A Textbook of Poetry

purna paraphenalia

Bussing & Dew-Tea-Free

March 20, 2010

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