Sunday, March 31, 2013
March 31, 2013
Easter morning quite early. Last night’s sleep was turbulent, as I suppose it should have been. I pray constantly “Lord, allow me to love you.” That’s the one prayer one shouldn’t have to pray. Yet, it is morning, before any birds have sung, and anything is, yet again, possible.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
March 29, 2013
Vivid dreams, remembered for days after I had them. In one I was back at Hiram, as either a student or a teacher, and in agony because of it, as it made it seem that I had not progressed one iota, and was back where I was when I was twenty. In another I had a job in a gallery. I was proud of my expertise in art history. There was a complicated modern painting, done partially with wax, and I won praise for figuring out how to analyze the wax to get at the secrets of the painting.
Holy Week marches on. The Maundy Thursday service was moving, and the bishop preached a brilliant sermon, which is in my head even now. Good Friday service this afternoon, the men a cappella, which I find to be a thrilling sound when I’m listening, so I hope it is when I’m singing as well.
Getting off the table after Zach’s massage. I found that I was afflicted with terrible vertigo. I couldn’t walk straight, and the disorientation was making me sick to my stomach. This continued. I was afraid I’d stagger and fall when I got up to read the Old Testament verse (Isaiah), but I didn’t. The vertigo dissipated slowly. DJ and I decided to eat Mexican, and the fish tacos tasted so good and evaporated the vertigo so completely, that I wondered if I had simply been hungry. I had been fasting for Holy Week, and had reached that point where one isn’t even hungry anymore. The food gave me comfort as food seldom does.
Slept profoundly through the afternoon, then bestirred myself and went to a student play at the university. It was student written, directed, and produced. I chatted with the sweetly anguished director before and during intermission, trying to convince him that everything was right, whether it was or not.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
March 27, 2013
Went to bed just after 9, so I was up quite early, when the full moon had just passed the center and was easing down the west. He was with me in the Y parking lot. As I sipped my coffee in the Starbucks lot, he stood on a staircase of dark cloud, shedding silver mist around him.
Monday, March 25, 2013
March 25, 2013
Received Ruminate Magazine, with Mark Richard’s kind and interesting comments about my story.
This is the longest dark morning ever. I woke from petulant dreams, which is to say I was petulant in them. I think they were sort of set in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, which would make anybody petulant.
Palm Sunday come and gone. I had a horror of it, but that was from when I was doing two services and the passion reading. It seemed doable yesterday. I wanted to write poems for every day of Holy Week, but I am dry.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
March 24, 2013
Vicious blast of wind and rain against the eastern windows.
Pretty spectacular Saturday: Rose early, went to the café where, against expectation, I broke through conceptually in my Celestine V play, and wrote the second scene. Later, I felt I had to wait at home until the last of the carpets came, so I busied myself with sorting out tchotchkas and filling a box for the Goodwill truck. The carpets came before noon. Realized I had spent half again as much on rugs in Istanbul as I did on a down payment for this house. Life changes. I went to the studio and had one of my truly great days there. Pawing through drawers, I found boxes of slides that I’d taken of my own paintings long ago. Some of the paintings were quite good, and I have no idea where they are. But what I hugely learned is that I was on a path as a painter, distinctive and personal, from which I had been lured by something, perhaps Jason and his seductive notion that one could paint like Vermeer. It was a revelation. I went to the studio and took up the native path, and in a few hours I’d created one painting and altered another in a way that pleased me more than anything I’d done in a long time. I recognized myself again.
The Magnetic Field is gone. I knew it was going, but one would have thought I’d get some sort of notification singled out from the masses. What I know of this is what I read on Facebook, and it shouldn’t have turned out that way. One hears stories of how making it up as you go can lead to spectacular success. It probably doesn’t very often. One never reads those stories.
Holy Week almost ready to begin. Trying to find some way to make it meaningful, or to stand back and allow it to be meaningful, this year. I think that God makes me war on him. What God thinks I’ve stopped trying to guess.
The plumber’s restored wall collapses in the rain. I had a premonition that it would. Oddly, I don’t even care. He’s freed from further responsibility because I never want to see him again.
In any case, woke in the wall-undermining, window-rattling storm with a sense of well being, as though the doors were open, the lights of the way lit.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
At the meeting Tuesday night, the boys were using a curious phrase. The were using the word “Asheville” to indicate a certain complacency–even shoddiness- in endeavor. Of some artist or arts project they would say, “That’s so Asheville.” As context built, I realized by “so Asheville” they were indicating the local state of mind where everything is uncritically OK, every half-assed stab at art, every second-rate self-congratulating theater troupe or experimental artist or too-chic exhibition space. They were indicating the state of mind where criticism–other than the rosy gush of praise–is taken as an affront and a violation, where everything is equal, where the truly excellent is to be mocked and the truly ordinary is to be taken in the exact light its originators intended, until all may be seen on a single undistinguished plane. Those things which are worse demand to be called better. Those things which are excellent are an embarrassment to mediocrity, and therefore must be, to whatever power available, undermined. Real achievement is a kind of insult. All are meant to stay with the pack. It is at once an excellent city for art–being accepting and open-minded-- and a terrible city for art-- being self-protective, complacent, and envious. This is the one town in the world where you must assume, with a straight face, equality between “craft: and “fine art.” I would guess this is the only town in the world where theaters reject their reviews and write “anonymous” letters to the outlet claiming to be the public standing up for them, and even when this is known it doesn’t seem to cause much embarrassment. This is a town that crows about its status as an “arts destination,” but doesn’t seem to give a damn whether that art is any good or not. Everything is wonderful, except that which really is. That’s So Asheville. I have sung this song for twenty years, yet they didn’t learn it from me, for I have mostly sung it under my breath, or in the hidden places of this journal. They saw it on their own. They are, if anything, more vehement about it than I ever was, for they have strength in numbers, and I felt always pretty much alone.
March 23, 2013
Flashed back to a moment on the airplane returning from Turkey, a dream in one of those interrupted airplane sleeps. There was a huge, tilting, snow-covered field. It started low at a road which could no longer be seen, and climbed high up the side of a mountain. It ended in a line of trees, the beginning of a great forest that climbed the rest of the way into the wilderness. I had climbed the whole field, and was now at the rim, beyond which there was nothing but the dark forest. It was evening, the last light. I looked behind me, and though I knew I had climbed the whole hill, there were no tracks in the snow. I didn’t know what to do. The light was failing, and I couldn’t remain on the field, couldn’t go back, was afraid to continue on into the trees.
The wall is replaced, shoddily, but, I hope finally, and if finally then I’ll utter no complaint. The depression of bad things dragging on and on is hard on me.
Friday, March 22, 2013
Took something to the Mass Comm secretary, and she said, “Are you still teaching?”
“Yes,” says I, wondering why everyone, without fail, asks me that question. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, we haven’t heard any uproar lately. You must be laying low.”
People say that sort of thing, too, and though I don’t answer, in my heart I’m dealing with the fact that I-- honestly and truly-- do not remember causing any uproar, ever, and certainly that I never intended to. What on earth is meant I honestly can’t say. Probably, if I were told, I would respond, “You can’t be serious.”
March 22, 2013
Curtains of snow greeted the Equinox. The snow didn’t stay, but the weather has been cruel to those who’d had a taste of spring.
Woke from a dream wherein I was running the local arts council from a gigantic summer camp-like campus. We even had a dining hall and a commissary; I suppose the artists were actually in residence there. One building was a worry because under it was a dome of clammy black mud rising from the earth. It had already gobbled up the basement, and we feared it meant to rise blob-like and consume as much as it could. At that time our new director arrived (I guess I was the interim). He was that actor who plays the boss on Warehouse 13. He irked me in the dream as he does on the show, and I and the other workers were conspiring to show him as little as possible when he came, and above all to keep the dome of black mud secret.
Coffee last night with students Jon and Dayton and Jessie. There was confusion about the meeting, and I almost gave the evening up in disgust, but it did happen, and we had a merry time, closing the café around us. It’s a surprise and a delight when students want to spend time with me. E from Humanities came to my office to thank me for giving his life back to him. It seems that he had always wanted to be a writer, but his Lang 120 teacher had been so discouraging that he doubted his capacities. I gave his Humanities paper an A and praised especially the style, and he said that allowed his confidence to come flowing back, and now there’s “poems and stories all my free time.” There is something wrong with our starting writing class, which allows certain teachers to be damaging rather than helpful. What to do? The culture does not allow much probing into other professors’ methods.
Steve has not finished the wall (though he did poke at it a little one day) and Hussein’s carpets have not arrived. My chunk of Troy sits proudly by Lawrence’s tank, my iota of Troy rides in my pocket, to be shared.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
March 19, 2013
Re-entry. Oddly, not even the slightest jet-lag on this side. Perhaps my marathon, almost unwilling, sleep on the airplanes fended it off. Second carpet has arrived. Hussein’s, which were mailed first, have not.
Steve the Plumber read my lamentation on Angie’s List, phoned to say it was wholly just, even rather forgiving, and to say that he would WITHOUT FAIL (his words) finish the job on Monday. This is the dark of Tuesday morning and nothing was done. I would be so angry if I thought on it that I cannot think on it. I try to discover what in my life would warrant this, but I suppose karma doesn’t work necessarily in so direct a way. Perhaps it is meant as a cure for impatience. The Great Doctors of the world are at cross purposes, then, for I mean my impatience as a cure for neglect. God and I waste so much energy each other lessons.
My mind was not engaged the first day of class, and I taught badly. The ringing in my ears worsens. I can hear the difference in my hearing most clearly in rehearsal, where I can hear myself better than I ever have, but what I hear from the room is unsure and–odd.
Bought topsoil to heal the gashes in the garden. Bought two sad roses which liked like they could use a home.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
March 17, 2013
Blessed Saint Patrick. Except for that part about the snakes. It is dark, but the darkness is emerald.
Woke with a feeling of supernatural well-being. I’ve recovered from this voyage faster and with fewer consequences than any one before.
Woke from detailed and extended dreams. They were of my high school crowd, and how each year we met to put on a sort of race/talent show where we showed off our various hobbies and expertises. We raced around a very large track, part of it in the woods, part of it in a sumptuous hotel, cooking or declaiming poems or doing some favorite trick at certain points on the track. I seemed to be teamed up on one occasion with Bobby May, and in the dream there was a sidebar about the origins of our relationship which was really quite accurate. I saw him on a tilted street in Akron on a day when we walked from East High to Goodyear for a field trip during summer school. The image is exactly what happened, exactly what I remember, as though there were some direct route of access between dream and memory. It being my dream, I generally won the contest, and then there would be a big communal dinner. In life I am the slowest runner in the world; in my dreams I am often swift and weightless, consciously rejoicing in my speed.
Put down one of the carpets (the one I brought with me in my luggage) in the bedroom. The cats test it out, padding around on it. They try sharpening their claws, and I bellow, and they disappear. Then I come in again and they’re standing on it, tensed for flight, looking up at me to determine what the boundaries are. Curling up, yes; clawing, no. They good at this, as the few and early claw marks on the leather furniture attest.
Except for chili at O’Hare, have not eaten since I left Istanbul. Since octopus salad at Osman’s.
March 16, 2013
Trying to recreate the Turkish experience, made apple tea this morning. It’s nothing like their apple tea, which is clearly heated juice called “tea.”
Home before March 15 was over, having traveled almost exactly 24 hours. Two solid days of travel for five of being there comes close to being a bad proportion. There was no trouble this time– oh, some displays of almost endearing incompetence on the part of United, Chicago Customs acting as though it had never gone through the process before (there were no agents working when we arrived)–but all in all, only a very long continuum of time, through most of which (blessedly) I slept. The bad thing was that my favorite bar at O’Hare closed, the one at which I was actually looking forward to spending some time. Steve the Plumber still has not finished the job begun February 13. The guy who fixed the stoop dumped the dust and broken stone in a big heap on my front garden. My Mr Fix-it karma used to be fair; now it’s in the toilet. But the bloodroot in its little family cluster is abloom. Nothing is sad in the face of that.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Afternoon, leaning toward evening. I eased down the hill toward the sea. The narrow streets skirt the hill, so it’s not easy to find the water, but I did, through a narrow portal where I had to squeeze past backed-up cars. I snapped many photos of the OTHER Istanbul, shambling houses on ancient streets, hardly more than stacks of old lumber beautified by pots of flowers, but again my camera went awry, and this time there was no restoring it. I took no shots, then, of the Sea of Marmara and the great ships upon it, which needed no horns for the deep roar of themselves upon the water. I got no shots of the bearded hermit who’d built himself a shelter out of the huge gray shore stones. He had a little fire and companion cats, and salaamed me as I passed as though it were old times. When my camera failed I stood on the shore fussing with it. The cat I was trying to photograph came over and rubbed against me as I fumed. I was, as he had hoped, comforted. I walked into Guilhane Park along with about a billion schoolchildren. When they had passed, there was quiet enough to hear the squawking of the jackdaws and the screaming of the long-tailed parrots, The ground between the plane trees was littered with early spring flowers. Up against the palace wall, lovers danced hand-in-hand, and then he knelt and kissed her hand. I tried not to watch, but perhaps they didn’t care. I found a bench and I wrote poetry. The poetry was as if I had never read a poem, fresh and young and new, and for the third time this week I wept with joy. Long walk through the town. I surmised that if I kept sight of the trolley tracks I could not get lost, so I wandered in peace many of the same streets I ran in apprehension yesterday. Got as far as the university, where I sat for a while as the sky decided whether it was going to rain. I think I suffered seven incursions by handsome young men eager to help me, showing me what I had already found and telling me facts I already knew. All those relationships were going to lead eventually to an uncle’s rug shop. I wondered if I had “sucker” written on my forehead. When I have asked I was told that I have an open and generous face. It seems rather low to take advantage of that, should it actually be the case. An older man in the shadow of Ayasophia–almost on the exact spot where I met Julie-- said, “You are a writer. I see you have great potential to write many books.” That stopped me in my tracks. He went on to say that was a student of philosophy– Locke and Hume and Kant–but that there was no honor for that sort of thing in Turkey. “It’s a hard country for the life of the mind,” he said. Nevertheless, proving his point, the conversation was leading inexorably toward his rug shop, where I did not go. Embraced–literally–by Osman and his brother when I approached my hotel. It was sweet. I checked for my wallet afterward.
March 14, 2013
Arrived back from my wanderings last night in time to watch Francis I announced as Pope. My hotel in Rome was within five walking minutes of St. Peter’s Square, and I imagined myself in that jubilant crowd. I’d actually guessed that Francis would be a possible Papal name, depending on whom was elected. I also guessed John XXIV. A strange electricity of hope passed through me when I heard the name announced. Maybe this will change the world.
Yesterday was, maybe, too much, but in retrospect very good. I rose early and saw Hagia Sophia. Trying to think of a one word to describe the experience arrives at “overwhelming,” but even that word falls short. Overshadowing. Annihilating. When I stepped under the great dome–despite the crowd and the scaffolding and the din of workers’ hammers-- I burst into tears. I am standing in Hagia Sophia! It was one of my holy places before I ever saw it. I don’t know what to add to the chorus of description, except that everything said is true, and added to that its stupendous antiquity makes it an experience unlikely to find the equal. It was eleven centuries old when St. Peter’s was built. It was three hundred years old when Charlemagne was crowned. The mosaics are ruined, but the fragments reveal that in its glory it was the largest jewel box anyone ever conceived. I will return sometimes to explore, but the first impressions are still vibrant.
Japanese kids raced around, striking silly poses and making faces for one another’s cameras in the holy place. The Japanese are the new Americans, heedless and selfish and clannish and contemptuous overseas, at least in groups.
From the great-grandmother of churches to Topkapi Palace. Unlike Dolmabahce, it’s elegant and liveable, if vast, full of blue tiled pavilions and exquisite prospects over the blue sea and minareted hills. I could live there happily, though I’d need a guide to get me from one place to another. It’s very much a nomad’s palace, a series of gorgeous stone tents under the open sky. The treasury holds, among other things, a diamond as big as a robin’s egg. Had coffee in the garden, and fed the un-chocololated half of my eclair to two noble cats. Parakeets screamed in the trees in front of Ayasofia, and in the Sultan’s garden. For some reason, this has made as sharp an impression as any human artifact. I sat in the Sultan’s garden and poems began to ease out of me, the sure sign of being at home, the sure sign of the success of a journey. I continued writing in the Sofa, waiting for my meeting with Adem. As I half expected, Adem did not come. Being stood up by the 2nd or 3rd handsomest man in Istanbul is not much of a surprise. So I sought out the Grand Bazaar, which I did not find very pleasing. I left by the wrong exit and found myself in what British novels would call “the native quarter.” Colorful, chaotic, crowded, no English whatever. I was absolutely ignored, which was wonderful for a change. It would have been fun except I had to piss so bad. I found a mosque, which has a place of ablutions, and, as I had hoped, toilets. Nobody looked at me. Perhaps they thought I was one of the Faithful–which, in a way, I am.
Julie Perry from Sydney (now working for a jewelry store here) chatted me up on the walk from Ayasophia to the Palace. She wanted to have coffee. I invited her to the Palace with me, but she begged off and we made a date for beer later. I was not deceived. I knew that she, in the miraculously laborious and patient way people have here, wanted to sell me something. I had no intention of keeping the date. But as I crossed the square heading toward the bazaar, she located me again, and we had beer and a truly nice chat, at the end of which she did, despite my insistence that I would buy nothing and please do not violate my trust by trying to trick me into it, lure me to her store and into the clutches of her manager. I turned on my heel. Later a boy named Ghengis befriended me, saying that he wanted to talk with me to practice his English. He found me trying to but a Turkish cap, and he said he knew where there were excellent Turkish caps, so I went with him– to the very jewelry store where Julie had brought me before. Angrily, I showed him her card. He had the decency to be abashed.
The task is to find a medium between the cynical belief that everyone is trying to take advantage of you and the folly of thinking they’re not.
Returned to the basilica cistern, wanting those photos back.
Ate supper at Somazen Restaurant, Kebap and Grill on some incredibly narrow street above the Blue Mosque. Cars were all the time backing each other up and down the street, for a car was parked in it, and in even if there weren’t, two cars could not pass each other in the strait. One of the waiters jumped up and down on the car’s bumper, to punish it for being in the way. As I ate, the restaurant received delivery of a new range. The range was too big to go through the kitchen door, so, as I was leaving, the men were disassembling the bar in order to get the equipment into the kitchen. It was a good meal, but in less than an hour I was violently ill. I found a quiet hill behind some billboards–perhaps the only isolated place in this teeming city–and vomited copiously. Having vomited, I went out on the street and found the cap I was looking for. Osame quizzed me about my activities of the day, and so to the room, to watch the Pope.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
March 13, 2013
Was not wakened by the muzzein this morning. Inured already.
Downloaded my photographs, and found that of the hundred or so I must have taken, 24 were in the camera. The memory card had been faulty. A the pictures left were in the camera’s memory, only the most recent. Lost are the basilica cistern and grand shots of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and street life and faithful Armagan. Lost most considerably, irretrievably, agonizingly is Troy. The spirit went out of everything. Once again I congratulate God on his aim.
Armagan picked me up yesterday and we strolled the city. The plaza between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque is breathtaking, one of the great spaces in the world. I entered the basilica cistern not knowing what to expect. It is a masterpiece of Roman art, and full of apparently gratuitous architectural playfulness (now lost in the hell of cameras) such as sideways Medusa and shimmery free-form columns among the rhythmic identical ones. The water is haunted by gigantic carp and goldfish, gliding through the near-darkness. They were there in Byzantine times, for the Ottomans didn’t know the cistern existed until they discovered people were pulling water and fish up through holes in the pavement. The atmosphere of the place is otherworldly, dark, holy, beautifully lit by the municipality to make the maximum effect. The Blue Mosque is light as sea-foam, all pale and blue and happy, youth itself. It must be a joy to pray in. The crowd was too thick and Armagan too visibly patient for much contemplation. He took me to the archaeological museum, where there is a wondrous bounty of sarcophagi. The day was glorious. Armagan took me to his favorite kebab restaurant.
He mentioned Hussein, from whom I, after being delivered by Armagan on Sunday, had bought carpets, wanted to have wine with me. “Fine,” says I, thinking it some sort of tradition, “but I don’t want him to try to sell me any more rugs.” We did have wine, and I heard about his wife’s cancer treatments. And then, lo and behold, he tried to sell me another rug. I was polite as long as I could be, polite to the end, I think, but I did stalk out leaving the wine undrunk and Armagan walking the street beside me, trying to make a date for the next day. “I enjoy your society,” he says. Does he? It’s hard to see our relationship thus far as much more than a prelude to exposure to Hussein, whom A describes as “his friend,” but who is probably a patron or a kind of godfather. I turned these things over in my mind as I prepared for what turned out to be an oddly un-relaxing Turkish bath.
I went out in the evening. When I step out the hotel door I’m accosted by Osman, who quizzes me on where I’m going and with whom. I answer, thinking it’s kind of sweet, and he warns me against the dangers of the street. I tell him where I’m going and he wrinkles his brow, assessing, finally giving grudging assent. Am I his little brother? His mark? A random target for his overflowing energies? Istanbul is a curious place. The people are far more open then the Maltese, far friendlier, but the intricacies of the relationships built even in a day here are too complicated for me– in fact, byzantine.
Last night I walked out and was for the first time on my own. Walked the streets past Ayasophia, took in the sights. I looked at a young man, because he was so strikingly beautiful and it could not be helped. He looked back and called to me. He tried to guess where I was from and settled on Canada. Angelus is from Cyprus, half Greek and half Turkish. His beauty was incandescent, almost ludicrous. Angelus is 22. He asked what I was doing, and when I told him (essentially “nothing”) he said that I should go to a club with him and pick up some Turkish girls. Laughing inside, I said, “sure.” We went to his hotel so he could get something. Angelus did not want to go to a club and pick up Turkish girls, at least not at the moment. I was grateful. Happy and grateful. Satisfied and happy and grateful. But I told God, “Nice try, but if you think this makes up for the Troy photos, you’re wrong.”
Caught myself walking down the night streets of Istanbul singing “For He’s Going to Marry Yum-Yum.”
March 12, 2013
The female hotel employees rise and disappear when I come into a room.
At Osman’s Turquoise Restaurant, the background music is Christmas carols. The female voice is plaintive and modal–not unlike the cry of the muzzein-- and there is little in the words to give their origin away. I wonder if anyone paid any attention.
Rose at dawn yesterday and went to Troy. My company, beside the driver and the guide, were four women, a mother and daughter (mom, Anna Liew, was born in Singapore, married a Dutchman, and now lives near Milan; daughter lives in the Hague) who talked to each other alternately in Dutch, Mandarin, and English; Merlin from Las Vegas, and a Latin American woman who lives in Trenton. Merlin and the Latin American woman had met in Costa Rica and have traveled together since. The road to Troy is very long indeed. At lunch the guide apologized for everything’s being so tedious, and for the fact that everything at Troy was under restoration and we wouldn’t be able to see anything, and she hoped we wouldn’t end the day by thinking it was a disaster. Istanbul stretches on for miles–it’s quite horrifying, actually– but when we got to the actual countryside, it was lovely, with its moundy hills and fresh streams. The European side could have been Ireland, could have been Ohio. We took the ferry and were in Asia. Yes, yesterday I, like Alexander before me, first crossed into Asia, and likely at the same point. Asia looked different, even when it was only the narrow Dardanelles that separated it from all the world I have known.
No place has dwelt in my imagination longer than Troy. I read The Iliad when I could have been more than seven or eight, and ever since it has represented all things distant and longed-for. The actually moment did not disappoint. The present enterprise is awkward and make-shift, with its silly gates and ticket booth. But there was an ancient dog in the dust of the parking lot, begging to be caressed, and I caressed him, and a dappled cat pretending not to want to be caressed, and I caressed her, and a red squirrel on gray stone, and these were excellent omens. What was under reconstruction and wrapped in sheets was the fake wooden horse, and I didn’t care about that. The ruins are hard to put into any order, one city piled upon another, and what belongs to which, I suppose, primarily speculation. But the impact is gigantic. When I passed between the walls–still formidable–I began to weep with joy. Standing on the edge of the stonework looking down onto the plain, one is certain this is Troy, a high citadel overlooking rich countryside (in this it reminded me of Tara) with a constant wind blowing music in the stones and trees. The ringing plain of windy Troy. I stopped, closed my eyes, to have the sound of the Dardanan wind and, it turned out, a single blackbird in my ears, exactly as they must have been in Hector’s. I sat down and wrote in my diary, “I am writing this on the ruins of Troy.”
I pulled a stone from the ground and put it in my sack. I now possess one of the stones of Troy.
This being the world, the perfection of the moment was battered on all sides. Two of the girls were solely involved in having their pictures taken at various points–at all points, actually– and enlisting the group’s involvement. Our guide, Tugba Bahar, was, though sweet, totally our of her depth language-wise. It took her a full four minutes to express the content “Let’s decide whether we want to go straight home afterward or shop a little,” and when it came to history and archaeology, every phrase was agony. Insecurity and the effort to pull out a near-appropriate word gave her voice a high, carping tone, and at points I found myself willing to exchange anything to get away from that sing-song-y, piercing whine for half a minute and have my own thoughts in the sacred place. The effort to get a little distance, of course, alerted her that something was wrong, and attracted her to my side, to win me over. It was agony. But it passed, and I had some time to sit in the ruins and absorb.
Bahar’s information was not wrong (however irritatingly expressed), as is that of too many tour guides. She did go on about how the “real” cause of the Trojan War was King Agamemnon’s desire for control of the Dardanelles, and I wondered how she or anybody knew that. There is far less documentary evidence for that than for the rape of Helen. It is a modern prejudice to assume a mercantile motivation behind all public action. We played for a while in the pretty town (Its name means “Capital of Pottery”) where stands the Trojan Horse from the movie Troy, then returned in darkness. I thought I’d had myself a day to remember. Well, not all of it to remember, but the center of it one of the four or five days in a life when one comes upon the Sacred Place.
Windflowers blew in the ruins, white and red.
Came back in time to meet Adem at the Sofa. His day off has changed, so we meet tomorrow for his tour of the “real” Istanbul, whatever that might mean. The affectionate friendliness of people here makes an American suspicious. Unlike customary practice, I have not seen a single monument or sight by myself. I have not sat somewhere and marinated in the ambiance. I have not scribbled out a poem. It is an odd and different experience. Drunk on the street last night, being called at by people who knew me. I was happy.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
The muzzein wakes us at 5:15. The call is almost irresistible. I want to climb to the blue mosque, to see if that prayer would change my life. Armand (spelled Armagan) resists it well enough.
After the tour and the gigantic expenditure, met Armand for drinks at a place called Sofa. A French girl named Estelle rounded out the group. Estelle is studying ethno-musicology and will visit some important Turkish musicologist today. Her English was uncertain, but she was charming, and, I thought, brave to be out and about on her own, accepting invitations from likes of Armand. One of the waiters at Sofa is handsome Adam (spelled Adem) , who is a stage star looking for a stage. He laments the lack of interest in Istanbul for live theater. He had an invitation from Michael Mayer, the American director, to take a role in Smash. I forget now why he was unable to accept. Armand failed at getting a visa for the US because he is unwed and unpropertied; maybe Adam ran into the same problem. I told Adam to start his own theater and MAKE Istanbul rejoice in it. We are to meet tomorrow and talk about it all. He showed me a photo of himself done up for a role, and he looked like GQ’s version of Ghengis Khan. The muzzein wakes me a little early for my trip to Troy, but it allows me to bring the record up to date.
March 10, 2013
Armand picked me up quite near the appointed hour, and drove me about, seeing some of the sights and most of the lay of the land. The Dolmabahce Palace is exactly what one thinks when somebody says “palace.” It is also dusty, down-in-the-mouth, and maybe just a little tawdry. Can I use that word when the tinsel is real gold? A Sultan of the Lingering Autumn built it in the middle of the 19th century to emulate the palaces of, I suppose, France and Germany. In some ways I’m sure it outdoes them, but the effect is a little overblown, like a puny man standing on lifts and thinking nobody notices. More crystal on the ceiling than one could imagine. Haven’t see Topkapi yet (Armand didn’t take me, because he said it is close and I can get here myself) but I’m certain to like it better. Three American girls were in my group, constantly correcting each other’s pronunciation and critiquing each other’s reason. I wondered why they were friends. Then on to the church called Chora (the Kariye Museum), a masterpiece, a gem. I had never seen mosaic in mass splendor, and it is breathtaking, even in its ruined state and its always small dimensions. I longed to be there by myself to wander and stare, and stare. We went to have tea at Armand’s friend’s rug shop. I did realize at that moment that part of the operation had been, since the random meeting at the airport that set it up, toward the end of getting me to buy a rug. I did, too, so it worked. I bought two beautiful rugs, and weighing my delight in them with the irritation of being played–even when I was fully aware–leaves me on the sunny side, if not by a wide margin. On then to a famous fish restaurant, which was wonderful. Gulls flew overhead and the feral cats of Istanbul prowled in the shadows. Armand is going to meet me tonight for drinks, and as I can’t imagine he’s really that interested in me, I’ll be alert for the next gentle scam. I did get them back by not paying them for the tour. Not doing so was entirely a matter of forgetfulness, but I smiled a little when I saw the preferred euros still in my wallet.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
March 9, 2013
Fourth floor of the Best Western Hotel, Akbiyak Cad #46, Sultanahmet, Istanbul. It is a turbulent, lively street, exactly the kind upon which I want my windows to open. It reminds me of Trastevere in Rome, except that the commercial life here is a little more aggressive. The room is fairly luxurious, with plates of dried fruit and nuts waiting for me. The hotel personnel is helpful and friendly, or obsequious, depending on how you look at those things. Everybody is darkly good looking. It was interesting to give the bartender a tutorial in making a vodka tonic, him with no English. . . or German. . . or Italian. . . me with no Turkish. Except I can say “Stop!” from looking at all the traffic signs in the drive from the airport. The drive from the airport was a solid hour, all of it through the city, which turns out to be colossal. The screens on the airplane suggested 13 million inhabitants, but the desk clerk said it was 17 million normally, and 20 million when the seasonal workers come in from Anatolia when the tourist season abates. Istanbul is “Europe” and the rest of Turkey is “Anatolia,” says what’s-his-name, the uncle of the second man last night who tried to sell me a rug. Osman dragged me into his restaurant and set up an appointment to see his carpets. The sell here is hard, and repetitious, but also buffeted by courtesies and delicious Turkish tea. I didn’t come with any idea of buying a rug, but I may, since it appears to be the thing to do.
Strolled about after my Osman dinner, and blundered into the Blue Mosque, its minarets stabbing up into the night, lit and all thronged about with wheeling gulls. The gulls and the jackdaws here remind me of Ireland, and settled what apprehensions I may have had. The was I gaping at the Blue Mosque when I happened to turn in the little parking lot where I stood and saw, in the distance, but not too far, Hagia Sophia. I burst into tears. Byzantium was one of those places I thought was too exotic for me ever to see in the flesh. What a sacred place the land between those holy places is, and there is my little hotel! In a café I saw a dervish begin to dance. You’d think that would be a kind of sacrilege, but it wasn’t. The dervish was so beautiful and so beautifully transported that he blessed the occasion, whatever the thousand occasions in the café were. It rained all evening. I didn’t notice until I looked up where the gulls were flying in the lights.
Swissair is always giving one chocolates.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
March 7, 2013
Music from the Court of Emperor Charles V.
Spent snow day preparing manuscripts to send to contest and the like. The internet makes that –if nothing else– far less bulky an activity than it used to be.
Fixating on the things which can go wrong with my flight tomorrow. Unfortunately, the proximate international experience is the multiply disastrous pilgrimage to Ireland this summer. I’ve lost the notion that one can just go to an airport, get on a plane, and after a certain passage of time arrive at one’s destination. On one level I hope that the flights are either canceled or not when I get up tomorrow morning. United, however, is perfectly capable of getting me to Chicago, canceling or causing me to miss the Zurich leg, and then telling me it can’t get me on a flight to Asheville for two or three days. That is not only the worst case, but the likely one.
Received in the mail a magazine called Fence. It is beautiful to look at, beautifully produced, so with some anticipation I took it to the café to browse. The contents turned out to be dramatically bad, bad in a way recognizable from some of the work my students brought into class last semester. All observations are random and equally valid, or equally perverse. If a good or telling line breaks forth–well, that’s just what happened; one should not pick at it hoping that it be a thread either into or out of the labyrinth. The poems mean nothing, nor intend, I think, to mean anything. All that’s offered is a fragmentary moment, which one takes or leaves as one does a passing sight on the street. It is a kind of Imagism, I suppose, but with the anticipation of larger meaning knocked out. One admires the work image by image or not at all. I took a nap one day and woke up with this being the new poetry of the world. Unlike the other new poetrys of the world I’ve witnessed, this has nothing to recommend it except, perhaps, truth to the fragmented experience of the smart-phone, twitter, shattered and scattered world it represents. It is ensign poetry for the kids I see working their laptops, texting, reading a book, gossiping to their living friends all at the same time–thus doing nothing at all, taking in no unified impression or usable data. It is the poetry for a world in which nothing has meaning but the brute generation of text. Books and books of this detritus are on the shelf now. Was nobody watching?
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
March 6, 2013
At my prodding, Akron U Press seems willing to allow A Childhood in the Milky Way to be an e-book. Exceeding good news.
Enough snow to close school but not enough to impede activities very much. The porch was overrun with birds this morning, just about every local species seeking the one source of seed yet above the snow. I enjoyed going out in it for my morning coffee. I say “my morning coffee” as if it were a tradition. I actually sit and have a quiet hot drink maybe once every fortnight. The café was full of snowy people, men chatting together, fathers taking daughters out to breakfast on a day of closed schools. The owner was present, so the café muzak was light classical rather than gawdawful cheeseball jazz; one takes every occasion for gratitude.
Playcafe, a theater group in Massachusetts, will be taping “16th and Curtis” in May.
Remains of gigantic arctic camels found on Ellesmere Island. We are to imagine them wandering through the boreal forests in a lull between the ices. I do imagine exactly that.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
March 5, 2013
News is that the Sequestration, so far, affects only TSA, which means that the wait at airports such as O’Hare can be twice as long as normal. Of course, this is the one place where it can affect me just now. Bye bye Byzantium. . . .
Excellent poetry workshop, three women with great talent and genuine application. One who is clueless, but charming.
Monday, March 4, 2013
March 4, 2013
I discover that my cable TV has channels which broadcast music, all kinds of music, even one called “Classical masterpieces.” Right now it’s “William Tell,” but before it was Lully and Rameau, and I was amazed and overjoyed.
Reading a book called Tolkien and the Great War. At one point a soldier’s letter is being censored, and suddenly, when my eyes were on that line, my mother’s voice was in the room, clear and certain as life. She was recalling, as she did once to me long ago in the kitchen at Goodview, a letter she received from the censors in the other Great War. All the soldier’s handwriting was blacked out, and the censor had written, “Dear Marion, your boyfriend loves you, but he talks too much.” What boyfriend? Did she keep the letter– oh, the longing after lost music!
Mikado ended on a joyful note. No memories but good ones, though having evenings back for a while is a delight. Rushed to Cantaria rehearsal, to find it oddly depressed and ragged. I’m sure it was for lacking me. Convivial supper at Avenue M afterward.
Jamaica Kincaid on the radio spoke of a photo of her three year old self, and wondered, “Where is she?” I was driving to Biltmore from Arden when I heard this, and it was helpful, deeply helpful, throwing me back to the red headed kid in the dapple of the trees in a photo which is lost but which I remember. He knew who he was. He knew what he wanted. He saved me, as he must have in times past. I remember Jamaica Kincaid mostly for a rejection slip I got from The New Yorker for “Bonhanno’s Death,” which said, “We admired this very much, but we are afraid Jamaica Kincaid might want to submit something like this someday, and it is her territory.” Wish I’d kept and framed that. But, yesterday paid me back.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
March 3, 2013
Gray Sunday dawn, me slamming down cranberry juice as though I had just crawled through a desert. Desultory snowflakes wait for a wind to guide them.
Grabbed time to go to the studio yesterday. It was in such disarray that I could not paint, could not so much as find anything until after a thorough rebuilding. I called Jolene to see who had been in my space, and it had been herself and Mitch, responding to yet another deluge and yet another flood from the roof by hauling my most imperiled stuff to places (I wonder how they decided?) where they would be more safe. I felt embarrassed because I snapped at them for the good deed of protecting my work. On the other hand, the floods come five times a year and five times I year I’m told it’s fixed and it never is. I ruined a pastel by spraying it with varnish, and had to repaint it. So, with getting the space back into working order and repainting a work I ruined, I left the studio at exactly the same place I left it the last time. Zero gain.
Fixated on the unfinished plumbing, I had to lie down, as I do under stress. When I woke, Steve had at least cut the access pipes down to the size of cakes, which had been towers before. The ruins are still ruins, but my repeated phone calls have kept me alive in his remembrance.
Feeling that The Mikado is a success. Opening night went quite well, and last night–so far as I’m concerned–was flawless. Came blasting in on the parts I was unsure of before. Laughter from the audience, lightheartedness from the cast. The men’s dressing room nothing but conviviality. J and L and DJ and G came last night, and though my time with them was brief, they seemed to have had a great time. You want to beg, “But how was I?” knowing that if they were paying attention to you, the leads were not doing their jobs.
Strangely divorced from the things I do– distanced in a way I can’t explain. I scurry away from the theater as if heading for some important activity. I rush from school after class as if now my real efforts can begin. I hoard and protect my time as though some great incipient deed needed acres of it. When I sit down to write, I think, “Let’s get this out of the way so I can get back to my real task.” But what? I’m like the snow outside, waiting for a wind to condense me, blow me some direction or the other. This began in Sligo, the darkness of which I have avoided setting down in words. Perhaps that’s what I must do. Lincoln in New York should be my lodestar, but it isn’t, not yet. I expect it to come to nothing, and one of the voices in the brain says I will make it come to nothing by expecting it, while the others try to shout the idiot down.
Snow thickens. It knows one direction, anyhow: down.