A Modest Proposal

This week’s episode is transcribed from my archive of handwritten notebooks.

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A Modest Proposal

Istanbul, Turkey; February 2013

The rock is special.  I found it at Wadi Rum when I was camped alone on a sand dune in the middle of nowhere.  It sparkled in the setting sun and grabbed a hold of my attention.  Its crystal structure bent sunlight into all the colors of the rainbow.  It looked, quite literally, like a droplet from heaven.  I even thought it might be a diamond.  But now I’m not so sure.  In the plain light of day and the harsh glow of fluorescent light, the stone does not look so magical.  It’s still nice and all, but I have my doubts.  It might be technically worthless.

Nevertheless, my plan is to give it to Ms. B..  Ideally, the presentation of the rock should be both dramatic and romantic so that she remembers the experience for the rest of her life.  A spontaneous overflow of emotion would be nice. Perhaps even some tears of joy.  I’m hoping to push the metaphor of our love story long into the future and the rock giving game as a symbol of commitment is a human tradition that goes way way back into the past.  The modern world has, of course, spoiled the narrative with crass commercialization, sentimental clichés and legally binding contracts but the underlying story is still a good one.  Two individuals decide to become a single unit… a couple… a family.  It’s a radical move.  It’s an optimistic bet on the future of the world.  The giving and accepting of the rock is the moment of destiny; the climax of the love story.  It is the moment when the happily ever after begins…

 Welcome to Istanbul!  There is a convenient metro station below ground at the airport.  It is cheap and efficient so that is the route we take into the city center.  Ms. B. is exhausted after 20 hours of travel time from New York via Amsterdam.  Dinner time now in Istanbul is breakfast time in New York and poor Ms. B. has been up all night.  I, however, am as chipper as cricket in a field of flowering clover.  It was a short two hour hop to get here from Amman, Jordan and I had a good night sleep and a healthy breakfast.  I was also here in Istanbul a couple of months ago so I know my way around a little.

The metro journey to the Sultanhamet neighborhood takes a bout 45 minutes total.  We have to switch from tram to train about halfway there.  On the train we have seats.  Ms. B. leans into me and rests here head on my shoulder as we exchange a few words but the train is crowded and the scene is not appropriate for much conversation.  She nods in and out of consciousness as we communicate non-verbally.  Ten thousand miles from my apartment on a subway in a foreign city but with Ms. B. asleep on my shoulder, I feel right at home.  After we switch to the tram, however, we no longer have seats.  It’s very crowded and we are lucky to find space to lean our backpacks against a center pole.  We hold on with one hand each as the tram rumbles slowly through the busy city.  Ms. B. keeps blinking her eyes open.  She looks dead on her feet… like she might collapse.  I look around at the many passengers on the crowded tram car.  Ms. B. and I are both rather blonde and we definitely stand out amid the dark haired, olive skinned locals.  Nevertheless, there is no sense of stress, discomfort or anxiety.  The other passengers pay us little mind.  Tourists with backpacks on their way to Sultanhamet is a fairly common sight on this tram.

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The Tarabin Suggestion

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It’s merely a fine line which separates divine inspiration from a serious mental illness. If Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha, or Moses were alive today and telling stories about their special spiritual powers, they’d be given a diagnosis from the DSM IV,  be prescribed some medication, and probably be committed to a supervised care facility. Thankfully, I personally have no such special spiritual powers. I just like to smoke weed in really awesome places and philosophize about this amazingly beautiful universe in which I live.

It’s shortly after I come down from Mount Sinai, that the dark mood descends upon me. It’s certainly not a severe depression or anything like that. Just some unfocused anxiety. An inner sensation that something bad is about to happen. Perhaps it’s karmic payback for spoofing on the Ten Commandments. Or maybe my biorhythms are on a downward flow. I don’t really know. I only hope it doesn’t last long.

My original plan was to head immediately to Jordan after the mountain because I’m running short on time. Yeah, I know, it seems crazy for a guy who takes four month vacations to complain about a shortage of time. But the fact of the matter is, I am meeting Ms. B. in Istanbul on the 20th of February, it’s already the third and there are a whole lot of things I want to do in Jordan. Nevertheless, I hesitate. For reasons I can’t explain, I feel strangely compelled to stay in Egypt a few more days… Perhaps, I just need some serious beach relaxation time. I’ve been going and going; visiting ruins, hiking and doing stuff non-stop ever since the moment I arrived in Istanbul a month and a half ago. Dahab was good for snorkeling and fun to hang out in but it wasn’t exactly the laid back world of sand and sun that I was envisioning. The ferry for Jordan leaves from the town of Nuweiba. The guidebook mentions a few hippie beach places in a suburb of Nuweiba called Tarabin. Maybe I will go there for a day or two and recharge my batteries.
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Playing the Travel Game

image image Trying to navigate my way around a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and almost no one speaks English is more fun than any video or board game ever invented. There are challenges to overcome and prizes to be gained.  Every time I make it to a new destination, it’s a bit like getting bonus points or advancing to the next level of play.  Of course, there are occasional scoundrels, good fer nothing’s, and troublemakers I have to deal with and I do sometimes get ripped off.  That’s like losing points or getting hit with a penalty… All part of the game.  But more often than not, people I meet are helpful and they assist me in my movement through the complicated maze of the foreign country.

I arrive in Istanbul without luggage thanks to my missed connection in London.  That’s a minor setback but nothing to get upset about.  Who needs luggage anyway? I speak with the friendly folks at Turkish airlines and fill out a form so they can track my belongings down.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a room reservation to put down on the form because I’m winging it, so they won’t know where to send my stuff if they do find it.  “No worry” they tell me, “just call us with claim number after you find a place and we will send it where you are.” So here I am in Istanbul with no luggage or room reservation.  Now what?  Let the game begin…

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A Clash of Cıvılızatıons?

image image Istanbul… Constantınople…  Istanbul… Constantınople…  Istanbul…  So, here I am, standıng on the fulcrum of the cıvılızed world.  Where east meets west and west meets east.  The Bosphorous Rıver, quıte lıterally, ıs the natural dıvıdıng lıne whıch separates Europe from Asıa.  At thıs moment, I am standıng ın the mıddle of a brıdge whıch spans that rıver.  If I look to my left the road leads to Greece, Bulgarıa and onwards ınto Europe.  If I look to my rıght, the road leads through Turkey and ınto Syrıa, Iraq, Iran and onwards to Asıa.  If the Mayan prophecy ıs correct and the world ıs about to end (today, thıs very day?) ın a fınal epıc battle, then thıs partıcular spot could be the center of all the actıon.  Indeed, some of the grandest battles ın the hıstory of the world were fought here.  As Constantınople, thıs cıty was once the center of the Holy Roman Empıre untıl that world ended  As Instanbul, ıt was once the capıtal of the Ottoman Empıre untıl that world ended.  Why not one more bıg one to brıng thıs crazy experıment called humanıty to ıts fınal dramatıc conclusıon?  Because my frıends, the apocalypse ıs not comıng  Despıte all the evıdence to the contrary and the drumbeat of an ınsane mass medıa that profıts from war, love ıs stronger than hate and ın the long run, humans can learn to lıve together ın peace…  or at least, that ıs what I lıke to belıeve.  And this particular city seems to support my belief.

Just look at these two buildings that stand across the plaza from each other.  One is the Blue Mosque built by the Ottomans.  And the other is the Aya Sofya built by the Romans.  They are so close together that I can photograph them both by standing in the same plaza.

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image If two buildings of such awe inspiring magnificence can live together in harmony in the same plaza, why can’t the two cultures who who created these masterpieces live together in harmony on this great big planet? Continue reading