Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Holy Istanbul

Last week for various reasons five people from Spain moved into my house and Larry and I moved downstairs into Kate's apartment and Kate moved somewhere - a friend's, boyfriend. I'm not sure. She's roving and we are displaced, though it isn't upsetting me as much as it normally would. But the other night, our first night in Kate's somewhat discombobulated apartment (for her standards are different than mine, though I think she has more fun), I couldn't sleep. Normally this wouldn't bother me so much. I often can't sleep. And when I do I roam the house, but now my movements contricted, my wings clipped. I had a pile of books I wanted to read, but I was too restless to focus on much of a story, when I saw Kate's copy of HOWL, lying on her desk. It's her favorite poem and one I hadn't read in a while so I figured what better late night reading, especially as I was also reading ON THE ROAD for my writer and wanderer class. I started reading and found myself once again caught up in Ginsberg's incantatory poem when, somewhere around dawn, I came to this line: Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria & Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow Holy Istanbul! Holy Istanbul. What was it that made Peoria and Istanbul both holy? What was it that made cities holy at all? And reading Ginsberg made me flip back to Kerouac to whom Ginsberg in fact dedicated HOWL. And I recalled how Kerouac referred to Dean as the Holy Goof as opposed, I am sure, to ghost. I was thinking about this also because Kate's best friend, Sonia, refers to herself and Kate and their third friend, Paul, as the holy goofs and they plan to walk across America) and I started to think about what these guys, that is the Beats, meant when they made a place, and in this case, or my case, Istanbul, holy. Was Holy sacred to them, the way the Bible and the cross are holy? I was pretty sure not. This was a different kind of holy. A palpable, you can touch it, feel it holy. It wasn't the kind of holy that comes from God and above, but from men and below, not from heaven, but from earth. From the here and now and the gritty and the dirty and the chaotic and all the things you can't quite put your finger on. And then I put Ginsberg down and flipped back to Kerouac and I think it's Dean talking here "reaching his Taoist decisions in the simplest direct way." "What's your road, man? - holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It's an anywhere road for an anybody anyhow." And then a few pages later where Sal Paradise says "I was back in the soft, dark Denver night with its holy alleys and crazy houses." And this brought me back to Ginsberg because he wasn't chanting about holy cities in the God sense, but in the sense of all the back alleys and whores and drug addicts and drunks, and bums and saps. What to another writer might be god-forsaken streets to Kerouac and Ginsberg were holy streets and holy cities because they were alive and full of life and neither writer was afraid to take them on or be hurt or messed up on those holy streets in the holy cities. I recalled one dark night in Istanbul as I wandered alone past social clubs where men, only men, played cards and smoked. Past barber shops where barbers, razors poised, glanced my way. The winding streets whose direction eluded me. Coming upon the Grand Bazaar, its doors locked, its darkness impenetrable. I recall a story I once heard of a young woman, on her honeymoon, who disappeared inside of there. But I think it was a lie, but still I walked with a feeling that I could be taken, that I could also disappear down these uneven, circular roads. And as dawn rose in my daughter's apartment where we were camped out for a while, I thought that this all made perfect sense and if five Spaniards weren't sleeping upstairs and if I wasn't having a sleepless night, I would never have understood any of this.

Holy Istanbul

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Chicken Told My Fortune

I'd been in Turkey for two weeks. In Istanbul on my own for four or five days and this day was to be my last. It was a gray, cold morning. Not at all what I'd hoped for. I was planning on spending my day, writing and painting around the area of Topkapi. I had several vistas I wanted to explore. Things I wanted to see. But it was too cold out. Instead I went to the archealogical museum and spent several hours there until lunch time and I was hungry and ready to head back to my hotel.

It was a gloomy day, but as I left the area of Topkapi and the museum I came upon a vast and beautiful garden. It was in fact the gardens of Topkapi and somehow Larry and I had missed it in our wanderings. It had narrow, long paths and I began to walk slowly, admiring the primrose that grew along the paths, the tall pine trees.

Men walked arm in arm. Children played along the pathways. It was a cool, quiet, peaceful day. In the sky I became aware of birds. Something large like vultures and huge nests that I think were magpies or crows. And parrots!!! A small flock of green parrots was nesting in the trees.

I paused to admire the birds. It wasn't the day I had been hoping for - a beautiful last hurrah of photos and pictures and words - but I was happy to wander in it. Still I was a little lonely. And there were things that were plaguing me.

Doubts. Worries. Some things that hadn't worked out. Some opportunties missed. The tape in my head was going around and around.

Then at the exit of the palace grounds I passed through a gate and on the other side stood an old man with a white beard. He had a funny stand that consists of perches and stands and on them were rabbits and a mouse and a very interesting chicken. A beautiful chicken in fact.

For ten lira the chicken would tell my future. Okay life hadn't been exactly what I'd wanted lately so I figured why not put down the equivalent of eight bucks on a chicken to tell me what to do. I handed the man my money.

He asked me my name and I told him. The man took out a small box that contained colors slips of paper and he told the chicken in Turkish to do whatever it was the chicken did for Mary. The chicken began to cluck and pretty soon it cocked his head.
The chicken picked out a piece of paper and the man handed it to me.

The paper told me to stop dwelling on the past. I had many opportunities but I kept missing the boat because I thought of what had not been.

This seemed like excellent advice. I knew the chicken was right.

I continued on, quite happily, found a nice restaurant that served meyhene - very good Turkish tapas - and I enjoyed my lunch.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Cappadocia

The other day I was at Plum Farm, visiting my cousins, Mike and Donna. I was writing in my journal when Mike said, "I love your journal." I can't really explain why, but this statement meant a lot to me. Not that many people really notice the things that matter to others, but Mike noticed this.

I decided to share with them some of my favorite pages from my recent trip to Turkey and I came up with this page which I am posting above. I thought how it is one of my favorite pages in this journal, and perhaps in any journal I've done. There seems to be a direct correlation between my level of happiness and my ability to express myself visually. Words always come - ad nauseum.

But a painting or a really good photo, these seem to come from another place perhaps (again I'm thinking of Henry Miller as I often do in this blog) because I don't really know, or care that much, about what I'm doing. I have almost zilch ego investment in this. I do it because I love it. I love to sit and draw and paint and write in my journal. And, as I've said before, I can almost only do this when I am traveling because when I'm on the road I'm in the moment.

This particular moment, captured here, was our first night in Goereme. It was quite cold out actually, but we were sitting on the terrace, having a glass of very good Turkish wine, and watching the light fade behind the hills. I had my journal and one of those thick waterproof pens and I just began to draw the shapes in front of me. I decided to let it go across two pages, something I haven't done enough of, but I have seen other journals that do this and I like the space it allows. The drawing was very quick. But then all of my drawings are.

It got colder out. We went inside and ate our shish kebab or whatever we had that evening. In the night as is often the case with me I couldn't sleep. It is not that I am tired and can't fall asleep. It is that I actually don't get tired. When something is going on inside my head, I'm up until dawn.

Larry soon fell asleep, but I walked out onto the patio attached to our room. It was a cold, crystal clear night and I could see the ferry chimneys, the hills beyond, the lights of the town. Gulls soared and somewhere a rooster crowed. I was shivering and went back inside. I took out my paints and began to paint what I'd drawn that evening over cocktails. At some point I decided to use blue. It was quick and spontaneous and left me very satisfied.

Perhaps an hour or so later I did feel tired and soon fell asleep.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Boats...

Being back from Istanbul, I am longing for boats. Journeys by water. One funny anecdote. As we were ferrying up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, I heard a man next to me say in Italian. "Istanbul reminds me of Brooklyn." I couldn't resist. "Brooklyn?" I asked him, laughing. Here I was in the most exotic place I could imagine and the guy next to me says it looks like Brooklyn. But then we chatted and in fact it does with its bridges and waterways and ferry boats. Istanbul did remind me of home. And if I could, I would only travel by boat. There is a wonderful passage by Henry Miller in the Colossus of Maroussi when he flies to Crete and has deep regret. He wishes his journey had been longer. He wishes he'd traveled by boat. Below I'm sharing several images of boats. I especially like the last one, not as a photographic image, but for its content. Two horses are being transported on a small Turkish ferry. You can see modern-day Istanbul, looming in the background.


Friday, April 9, 2010

A Free Day

Yesterday was a free day. I don't only mean that I was free, but the whole day was, it seemed. The weather was beautiful, and, the truth is, I've got a serious case of spring fever. I haven't gotten a lick of work done in the past week and I'd been spending most of my time, wandering the city, sniffing the daffodils, planting windowboxes of my own. Dreamy, restful, but not very productive stuff.

So when my beloved, and outstanding, travel agent (who definitely belongs in this blog because she had literally gotten us around the world), Susan Levine informed me on Wednesday that she had free tickets to see the Magic Flute the following night and she couldn't use them, I said sure, I'd take them. Actually it turned out there were four tickets and I spent what little free time I had on Wednesday, calling friends and trying to give them away. With no takers.

Then my dear friend, Nancy, emailed to say that a former friend of hers, a film make named Mark Wexler, was screening his new film at the Director's Guide which was not so far from Lincoln Center in Thursday from 6-8, and it too was free, and, if I was free, which I was, I could see Nancy to boot, so why not make an evening of it? Then Nancy told me that Mark Wexler is the son of the great cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, who coincidentally is the best childhood friend of my cousin, Barney Rosset, and who also stole Barney's high school girlfriend away and married her so, given all of this, I felt I had to go.

That morning, knowing I wasn't going to get much done, I met another friend, Susan, for a morning walk along the Battery, that turned into lunch and the early afternoon so I rushed home, showered, changed, headed out, went to pick up the free tickets to the opera, then met Nancy at the Parker Meridian Bar which is decorated with silk curtains and lounge chairs that reminded me of the Topkapi harem I'd visited just weeks before (more on the harem soon).

Nancy and I found a nice table for ourselves, but as the waitress came to take our order, Nancy had a lot of trouble deciding between the smoked salmon sandwich and the vegie sandwich and the waitress didn't really know what they had so she said she'd check. Meanwhile she brought us our water and me my glass of wine.

Just then a handsome man with a shock of gray hair, dressed all in black, asked if we were going to see the film and if we were with meetup.com which we knew nothing about, but it turns out that it was a kind of single's way for meeting people, but we infact were not part of the meetup.com group. Still the handsome man wanted to join us, but we had to rebuff him as Nancy and I had stories to share. We began tossing around tales from our love life, our health issues, our money and the lack of it. our friends, everyone we knew in common, her brother, my daughter...

Maybe I'm free associating here. But next thing we knew our waitress returned with not one, but both sandwiches saying that since we hadn't really been able to decided she brought us both and one was on her. Meanwhile I'd given Nancy a free copy of a friend's book because I'd gotten two in the mail and told Nancy that it was all a part of my free day.

The movie which I loved is called How to Live Forever. You have to see it and laugh, but I had to leave early because I had these tickets to the Met and I also had two that I couldn't give away to friends, though I'd tried. Karma seemed to be working so I decided to get the extra tickets to someone who wanted them, but I got to the Met at 7:55 and held up my tickets, and an elderly woman with a West Indian accent approached and asked how much and I told her they were free because they'd been free to me. "A gift," I told her as she looked at the tickets. "Orchestra," she cried, tears in her eyes.

I sat next to her (since I'd given her those seats) with Larry beside me and we loved the Opera, though I had to a lot of money for two glasses of rose champagne, but who cares because nothing else had cost anything.

As the curtain came down, Larry and I headed to the subway, the spell of the Met still in our minds, the wonder of dancing bears and flying food and a mythic bird with three spirit children on its back, a birds who come to life, and find love and a magic flute. A Chinese man ahead of us stroked his metrocard, then he stepped back from the turnstyle. He spoke very little English, but enough to say, "Go."

Go? He made a grand gesture with his hand.

For whatever reason this man decided not to take the train. So we even got a free ride home!


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Turkish Bath

I was told I couldn't leave Turkey without having a Turkish bath. I was resistant. I had more things I wanted to do and see. I wanted to walk through Topkapi once more. Besides I wasn't even sure I wanted a Turkish bath. It would mean a scrub and a soaping and I am more a massage oil kind of girl, but who could resist a 700 year old hamam (ie Turkish bath), built by the architect Hayreddin in 1475 that had been in continual use every since. It seemed like one of those things you had to do. And it was right near the Grand Bazaar where I'd had yet to venture.

So on my last day, at the last hour, really, I decided to go. A driver picked me up at five o'clock at my hotel. He was young and unshaven and he tossed his cigarette away as I got into the car. I was starting to have more doubts even as he explained that he was late because traffic was so bad and he'd take the back roads. As he wound his way through the narrow streets of Istanbul, I plied him with questions until he told me that his family had owned the hamam for generations and that now it was his father's and soon it would be his. But he seemed disaffected. His car smelled of smoke and something else and he was hesitant to talk to me. I suspected the worst, but Fatih at my hotel had told me that the Gedikpasa Bath was one of the best.

As we drove we negotiated a price. I didn't really want the scrub/soap thing. I mean I bathe daily so what was the point? What I wanted was a nice oily rub, the kind I was used to. Besides I had fallen flat on my face in Istanbul just days before so I just wanted someone to make me feel good for the flight home. Oil massage alone, 30 Turkish lira, plus use of the bath, so many lira, but with soap and scrub...etc. Well, when in Rome, I told him I'd go for the soap and scrub, and then maybe we could end with an oil massage. Agreed, he said as we pulled into a narrow street. Then he pointed to a flight of stairs that disappeared into a darkened building. You go down here, he told me. And he was gone.

I made my way down the dingy staircase, not sure of what lay at the bottom, but, opening the door, I walked into a large, warm, steamy room where I prepaid for my services and then was taken to a door. This was perhaps the lady and the tiger moment, but the door opened and a woman wearing a long gray sweater (and it was very hot now) took me by the hand as if I was her long lost daughter. She led me into a large room where two enormous women were sipping chai. No one looked up at me. The woman, whose name was Fatia (perhaps female for conqueror???) gave me a plaid Turkish bath wrap and showed me to my dressing room where I took off everything, wrapped the plaid thing around me, and as I emerged was led once again by Fatia into a very very warm, steamy room.

In the middle of the room was a large marble slab where an opulent woman was being slathered in soap and rubbed down. She lay completely naked and exposed, and her masseuse wore only a thong and very skimpy bra. The room itself was a very tall, dingy domed structure with lots of sinks around the periphery. Before I could turn around and leave, Fatia took me to the sauna, told me to relax for ten minutes, and left me.

Ten minutes can be a long time if you don't know what's coming next and I certainly didn't expect what I saw. But after what seemed like an interminable wait a very large almost naked woman, dressed only in a thong that disappeared beneath her rolls of fat, came to get me. She was braless and her enormous flowing breasts hung from her mother earth body as she took me by the hand.

"Come," she said.

I followed her to the marble slab where several women were now being scrubbed and soaped. "My name is Nazia," said my guide. And with that she removed my bath towel which she placed on the marble slab and motioned for me to lie down. What choice did I have? A goddess was commanding me and I obeyed.

I lay face down as Nazia, who had now put on some kind of a bra, proceeded to scrub every inch of me with a rough glove. From and back, face, feet, underarms, you name it. Nazia turned and twisted me and when she was done, put me back on my face and proceeded to wash. With what seemed to me some kind of oily soap that somehow comes out of what appears to be a pillow case, Nazia slathered me and washed every inch of me. She didn't miss a crack or cranny. She gathered me in her arms and, with my face sunk into her ample breasts, she washed my back, my thighs and the rest of me. Whenever she wanted me to turn, she made a high-pitched kissing sound (all the masseuses did) that I later learned is how a Turkish mother kisses her baby).

I relaxed in her arms. We had no language between us, but I honestly don't think I've ever been this close to a woman before. Not physically at any rate. But it was more than that. I melted in the heat in her arms. I was completely comfortable with my face pressed against her breasts. Then she made that strange smacking sound and once more took me by the hand and led me to a sink by the side of the hamam. "Douce," she told me.

I wasn't exactly sure what was expected, but Nazia sat at a nearby sink where she took a small plastic container and poured water over her breasts and down the front of her thong. She had been sniffling during our treatment and I watched as she blew her nose into her hand, then rinsed that off as well. Normally this would repulse me, but I loved her. What more can I say? I really loved her.

When we were done, she took me once again by the hand back to the marble slab and told me once again to lie down. And then she disappeared. I had no idea where she had gone, but I was cold and wet and lay for what seemed like a long time to me on that marble slab. Other masseurs were working on other women (I should add that this was the woman only part of the bath), but no one paid me any heed.

Then the door opened and Fatia appeared, out of her long gray sweater, transformed into a leopard-skin bikini with Nazia no where in sight. I had no idea really what was happening, but suddenly Fatia was pouring hot oil all over my body and rubbing me and Nazia returned and for an all too brief moment the two women worked on my back. For hands swirling over my muscles. This must be heaven, I thought, until Nazia withdrew. She blew a kiss to me on her hand. "Bye bye," she said.

"Where are you going?" I asked her for I had become unnaturally attached. She was now my mother.

She made the international gesture of going home to sleep and once more blew me a kiss as Fatia continued to massage and oil me and then when she was done, much to my chagrin, she did another one of those soapings again until I was cleaner than I'd ever been since I was perhaps two years old. Then Fatia took me to the sink where she washed and scrubbed my scalp and poured water over me until I thought I would just lie down on the floor of the Turkish bath and rest.

But that was not to be. When she was done, she dunked me in a cold bath and left me there. Then stuff me into the sauna one more time for good measure until like a roast in the oven I was done.

When I left the bath, it was late. Dark out already and the Grand Bazaar was closed. I wasn't hungry so I took the tram back to my room where I watched Harry Potter in Turkish and, somehow understood every word, until I drifted off to sleep.