Once more, with impetus from the Baltic, I will leap wholesale into my natterings. Kristina has written a few lines on Istanbul and after. She requests my comments. To date my comment has been, in main, that I don't quite know what it is she wants to do. She mentions a discourse with commentary, the root of it all being a narrative on her/my/our travels. It is difficult for me to know just what, in practice, this will mean, but I think I am finding out rather quickly. And it can be as pleasant as a trip to the dentist. Hoping to climb the learning curve with grace I have been to the library for two books she recommends; she mentions them below. These will, I hope, shed some light on what 'we' are about; 'we' can be such a tenuous construct.
I say 'what we are about' because by turns we are writing something together and then we are on hold due to jagged corners that don't quite fit, or am I just being irrascibly obtuse? Why do I sometimes feel that I am in a contest which I cannot win? The rules, or what I think of as rules, are a spiderweb of lost cross reference, moments slipped into the abyss, an emptiness of forgotten faces, and long-buried pain. There is no criticism implied in this comment; Kristina may well be as 'at sea' with this project as I. But since it is her idea I feel I can at least toss the occasional clod and mutter under my breath.
Much of what impels, or hinders, her lies within her own social and family situation and is unique to her. At times it is as if we are from opposite sides of the moon, not that this will necessarily stop the juggernaut that is in her brain. No; it certainly won't. For my own part I have so little in the way of societal inhibitors that I am pretty well free to write whatever I please. As for family, well, that is comprised of Pat and my kids, and they are all either interested in what I have to say, or will, at least, not be unduly offended or embarassed. All three of them quite believe in the freedom to be a wrong-headed ass and will accord me the privelege without rancor.
I will append Kristina's 'Istanbul' document, as much of it as yet exists, here:
I liked Istanbul from the very beginning; sort of love at first sight. Maybe partly because it offered solid ground to stand on after our remarkable boat trip... As it was in the middle of March (it's a luck we don't see into the future, isn't it? If I had known what a hell I had to go through to the middle of March the following year I'd have had less reason to feel so comfortable), the air was still pretty chilly. The smell from the small coal fires (where you could warm yourself) and fresh bread (I used to buy a half one, 'jerum eckmeck'). White bean soup! The bazaars; Hagia Sofia; Top Kapi... Small nice hotels. Wonderful bath houses... And all the time I was thinking of, and strongly felt the wingbeats of, History! That's actually something I felt also in Israel. And, I didn't know it at this point though, I was going to experience it on my travels East in the time coming. (I will not presume to relate to my little knowlegde concerning that, but I've recently read Umberto Eco's 'Baudolino' and Robert Byron's 'The Road to Oxiana', both of them greatly dealing with the subject. Not to mention 'DIWAN over the Prince of Emgion' by the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelof.)
I quite liked the first place I was staying in, but as Don and Michael had found an even better little hotel I moved there too. Very close to the Blue Mosque. My room was on the top of the roof , windows all around - almost a little tower! Pretty dirty, but anyway! I had got some money from Sweden; I had my glasses and clothes somewhat fixed and was waiting for my Danish friend Lisa. We had met in the Kibbutz Ein Dor. She went back to Denmark around Christmas, shortly before I left for Eilath. We had a lot of interests in common, not the least Hinduism (sic!) - and were both very much dreaming of going to India.
You guys had also picked up a half-dead little puppy in the street - and you gave him to me. I (or you?) named him William. He accompanied me everywhere. I even brought him to Afghanistan (it caused me a hell of a lot of trouble) and back...
Lisa and I found out there were some nice islands in the Marmara Sea and one day we went by the ferry to visit 'Kinaliada'. I think we'd been invited by some guys who'd rented a little house (shed!) right on the top. Or we just happened to meet them on the ferry - I don't remember. Anyway, we decided to move there. From considerations of convenience it wasn't the best choice. I slept on a three-legged table, sort of unsteady. Besides an unhappy always-screaming donkey and a big love-thirsting dog lived in the 'garden'; indubitably most disturbing. But the place was situated close to a lovely little sea bay! And the view was marvelous.
My perspective was strictly romantic. I knew nothing about people's stuggle to survive, not to speak of political complications. I guess I didn't want to know either. During our walks in the harbor we sometimes met a sophisticated gentleman, and one day he invited Lisa and me for dinner. He spoke good French and some German but no English, so our conversatioin was bounded to a strange mix. At some point I anyhow understood that he thought us being not half as dumb as we actually were; in some way he asked us to help him in some important and serious, probably political, business... And we, at least I, just pretended to understand. How embarrassing! What a shame!
(I have had a similar experience in Israel where I met an old Jewish man on Carmel. He spoke German, and I listened to him for hours as he told me all his tragic life-story. He was a very intellligent and gentle man, but so desparately disappointed in, among other things, the way Israel treated the Palestinian people. He was completely clear over that despise and hatred could cause violence and vengeance in the future. How right he was!)
After a week or two we learned to know some other guys, on the ferry I guess. They lived on another island, Burgazada, in a much nicer house and it didn't go a long time before we moved there. It just suited us perfectly well as they were heading East and didn't mind us as company. Well, here we go ----
The house was situated just on the seashore. You had to walk from the little harbor to the opposite side of the island. It was a nice walk and the strange thing is there were several houses that very much reminded me of a special sort of Swedish woodhouse, 'wholesale-villas' (with a lot of carpentry). You often see them in the archipaelago off Stocklholm. Much later I was told that they long time ago had been imported from Sweden as sort of semi-manufactures!
Anyway, the guys were Pat from S. Africa, Robin andTommy from England, and Rodger from California. Their plan was to drive some cars, new Mercedes from Germany, to Teheran, i.e. sort of smuggling. There used to be some more or less shady Iranian individuals hanging around in Istanbul to get in touch with people who were willing to fix this 'transaction'. It would be a comfortable way of traveling -- and you should get paid for it. And with the help of that amount of money these smart guys had the intention to go to Afghanistan, buy some hash, go back to Europe and get very rich. - A very brilliant vision, wasn't it?
One of them had to go by ferry every day to 'town' to find the suitable contact, opportunity and so on. It turned out to be sort of lengthy negotiation. I didn't mind the least. We had a good time: smoking, talking, laughing... living on lemon-tea and bread with grass-onion and sort of chocolate paste. And quite a practical thing when you don't quite understand the language people around you talk, is that you just hear what you want to hear.
In the end of April another gang arrived from Eilath to Istanbul, among them Dave and Terry from London if you remember them? And 'Mr. X': We had the most strange and destructive relation. I still can't understand it. He sort of hypnotized me. I understood that he was deeply wounded in his soul by his experiences in the U.S. Marine Corp, I pitied him. Too bad for both of us. Clearly it had to do with all that shit-smoking; I don't know how other people react getting stoned - I myself get 'clear-sighted'. Believe it or not. It's just like when you get the 'pling' for incoming mail on your computer _ sometimes pleasant, sometimes annoying, sometimes scaring. It makes you feel very naked (I should have had my bodyguards around!), even skinless. All normal defense ruined.
I went to town to see them. When I got there Dave had just died. DIED. An overdose. It was all entirely too much. I think it was on the 25th of April. The last time I saw him we happened to meet in Beer-Sheeba when I was leaving Eilath. I remember him saying "well, Kristina, see you in Stockholm in the autumn then..."
On the first of May, Lisa's birthday, we left in two cars for Teheran. Lisa, Rodger and Robin in one of them, me, Pat and Tommy in the other one. I think Lisa and Rodger were already a couple.
We crossed Turkey: Ankara, Adana, Erzurum, Mt. Ararat... We (i.e. Pat) drove and drove. We passed through small towns and villages. Ancient monuments. We crossed high mountains. And the biblical rivers Euphrates and Tigris. I was most excited!
The roads got worse and worse. Sometimes they were non-existing. We had perpetual punctures; Pat's business. Tommy wasn't the practical type, nor was I (at least not concerning cars or anything of that kind).
Pat and I quarreled all the time. About apartheid and about anything we could find out. Tommy and Pat on the front seats, me and William in the back. I remember Pat putting the mirror so he could see me angrily disputing in my bad English. I guess he in some way found me both amazing and amusing. He got on my nerves. I got to know he had been a soldier in the Congo, and I wasn't late to put my conclusions to rights. -- After some week we were lovers.
Tommy mostly said nothing I remember him as very kind, sort of sensitive and shy.
The agreement with the Iranian guy was that we should meet in some places. He himself drove a third car. He got awfully nervous as we came nearer the border... He was hard trying to incite us to drive faster and so on: He desperately shook his head, turned up the whites of his eyes and rended himself in his hair every time we met. Telling us he was going to soon be ruined because of us. And he absolutely couldn't understand "why I in fucking hell cared about a fuckin' dog."! He had to pay our food and hotel so of course he wanted us to hurry up. I guess his original plan was to swindle us. But there was a problem: he couldn't help liking us in some fatherly way! And the more worried and confused he got the more he turned the whites of his eyes up...
So, this is as far as Kristina is taking me, us, in this installment. And she wants comment. I have a comment! I am appalled at how jealous I feel reading this! It washes over me on first reading like bad juju sliding down my spine.
Pat makes a similar comment about the things I write, and I tell her not to be jealous, that I wasn't on tour and having the time of my life; I was wounded and on the run. Hobble, hobble, limp, limp, bleed and breathe hard...... I know that sounds histrionic and self-centered. But that is exactly what I was at 21: as self-centered a sorry-ass as walked the earth. My place in the universe was to be a lost soul, misunderstood, a blighted shoot on the tree. Ad nauseum. Brooding self-pity is an extravagant waste of time. But I hadn't learned this yet. See what a waste of time High School really is? And then there was the depression, the bleak overlay, the internally generated chemical overload. That one's a back-breaker, and too often the only exit appears to be self-immolation. The thought of just stopping, just having it all end, stalks you. It colors all else to such a degree that things which might otherwise become apparent never see daylight.
So, I am jealous. Kristina was doing things while I was skulking. She was having an adventure. And I was jealous of her lovers, too. Now, this one doesn't make any sense. We had not had any sort of physical relationship, not unless I came on to her and have forgotten it. I don't think so. The role of rejected suitor was not mine. I had not secretly yearned for her any more than I had yearned for every other bit of fur on two feet that I came in contact with. Always secret yearnings from afar; covert glances hoping to avoid discovery.
Which brings me to my commentary, and it isn't about what Kristina wrote - sorry... but about what I felt when I read it. Still self-centered... I write this for clarification. If you don't need clarification on my state of mind about the sexual tension in a young man's breast, brain and loins, then go fly a kite and come back later.
Let's postulate a contiuum that goes from puberty to infinity. When sex, that rush of orgasm, and the female's possible place in this, all become apparent to a boy at around age 12 or 13, he is captured, body and soul, chained to a merciless imperative. He will not see a sane day for decades. His will is tethered to the end of his dick. The most important thing he can do, and he knows this inherently, in the sub-atomic structure of his flesh, is to screw girls. That is the long and the short of it. Years of servitude follow. I have had cause to consider that maybe eunuchs are not entirely unlucky.
Most boys, at this point, pursue that end with glee. All effort is bent toward getting girls. I was not quite in that camp. The feeling, the need, was as deep in me as in my obviously ready-to-rut peers, but I felt embarrassed by this drive. It was as if I was being watched and everyone could see through me, and they saw a dick fronting as a boy. What I felt was close to shame, as if I were naked and my mind could be read like a sandwich board. Why I felt this way instead of joining in the general lusting is still beyond me. I am certainly not alone in my reactions; not all young men become backseat lotharios. The result was that through my teenage years I eschewed the company of girls. I really stayed strictly away from them. I learned none of the social skills, the small-talk, the flirting, the chest-thumping and boasting, and I became even more isolated than I had been.
How does this happen? I can't tell you. I was always shy and diffident, afraid of being different and unable to contain the seed of separation bent on sprouting in childhood's much-fabled garden. Perhaps my response to puberty was simply an extension of who I had been for years and as predictable as rain on a cloudy day. The gist of all this is that I became an adult, chronologically, without having much sense of how to deal with female persons. I was abrupt, confused, alternately attracted and repelled. I saw that girls had strange minds; they were silly, giggly, frivolous creatures who roamed in twittering packs, and I feared their recognition and the laughter that woud surely ensue, aimed at me, my all too obvious intent.
There is the stricly male side of all this, the manner in which score is kept by youth. Sexual conquests: those are the counters. "More ass than a toilet seat" is the motto. The continuum I spoke of, well, it lasts from that first synaptic-busting blast of jism for as long as the male considers this his finest moment and continues to care what his score is. It is obvious to me that I still care to some little degree about my own particular score, else I would not feel jealous reading of Kristina's lovers. I don't much like that. I am, in fact, quite uncomfortable with that. Why does what happened 40 years ago matter to me? It doesn't. I can say that emphatically, but it does, I felt it when I read what she wrote... Here comes the root canal.
In Israel I pointed out what a flop I had been as an international lover; my score was 0 for 2, or worse if you counted the opportunites presented that I didn't even pursue. An opportunity, a sexual opportunity, must be presented to me about like a hammer meeting an anvil for me to get the hint. The nuances of courtship behavior slide off me like butter off hot cakes. I just don't get it unless my face is rubbed in it. So, yes, there were opportunities offered, and I usually shied away. While I, on the one hand, wanted to my core to have girls, I was suspicious, too, of what this meant - of what happened afterward. Some sense of an 'afterward' seemed to hang over the idea of the act. Was this afterward marriage and family? It appeared probable that having sex with a girl meant a relationship of some sort. What sort? What if I didn't like her? Having sex was quite obviously a trap; no two ways about it. But, oh my!, it was so sweetly baited.
My entire idea of sex was somewhat warped by the fact that the first two years that I was sexually active, starting when I was 18, had taken place entirely in brothels. Everything I knew about sex was based on the impersonal act of exchanging cash for consumation. I spent most of my liberty time in the Navy in bars and brothels. Hong Kong, Yokosuka, Olongapo, Manila: I went into every whorehouse I could find, and they seemed like home to me; I understood the transaction and it was comfortable to me. When we were docked in San Diego I spent my weekends in Tiajuana. For me the downside was that I still, by age 20, knew nothing of how to deal with women, at least not outside of a brothel. My ignorance was deep.
I will stop all this here. The story is not unique to me, but I had to speak to what I felt. Discomfort is a nasty brute that follows you about when you don't turn about and look at it. I do feel better now.
What was Istanbul to me? Obviously more forgotten faces. I remember the little hotel and the minaret nearby and the calls to prayer that echoed over the city several times a day. And sitting for hours in the Blue Mosque listening to the chants of the prayers. How for one American dollar a day you could buy a hotel room and three good cafe meals. The bazaar was another world, underground, more fantasy than could ever be imagined. I recall getting things at the pharmacy and taking them. One day stands out in my mind above all others.
Michael and I had taken some pills. I don't know what they were; they were the pills others took and recommended. "A great high, man!" We set off on foot with Kristina bound for the train station. I think we were going to meet her friend Lisa who was due to arrive sometime that day with a violin. By the time we got to the station Michael and I were pretty blitzed, so she sat us down against a wall and told us to stay there and went off to do things. Feet were going by. I could no longer move my head volitionally but was able to roll my eyes up enough to watch these feet, and I watched them with a detached interest Then a pair of shoes stopped, turned and pointed directly at us. They stayed there, unmoving. My eyes kept coming back to these stationary shoes. I was uncomfortable with them. Who was in these shoes? What sort of person might be, probably was, watching me? Or was he looking at the wall behind us? Doubtful... Another pair stopped, lined up with the first pair, also pointed toward us. More pairs arrived. They were lined up like rows of soldiers, all aimed at us, so many pairs of shoes now that they formed a semi-circle which enclosed us. An energy came towards us from these pointing shoes; it disapproved. I strained to lift my head, but I could not. As if I were encased in iron I could move nothing but my eyes. I rolled them as high as I could get them, until they ached, but I could see no more than a few inches of pants cuffs above the myriad shoes. I was dying there. The shoes were not moving.
And then Kristina arrived and lifted us to our feet and walked us out of the station, and the shoes all melted away. I was so happy. What a relief! I wandered out into a parking lot, a bird taking wing. I spent forever feeling the cars. The metal was so warm and comfortable. The smooth glass, chrome pieces, plastic bits, It was so engaging and the colors were charming. The cars were all lined up so neatly in lines. I loved it.
Then I noticed that there was someone in one of the cars, sitting behind the wheel, watching me. I looked more closely and saw that there were people in other cars, all the cars! I froze. All of these people were watching me. And then the light changed and all these people began to honk their horns and drive toward and around me. I was terrified. Kristina came out into the intersectiona and got me and she took us back to the hotel, holding our hands.
That was Istanbul for me. Kristina was making friends, seeing new things and being excited, taking lovers, hauling a puppy about. I was none of the above, and I am jealous.
State of the Union
My proof-reader, Patricia, says: "Get a metaphor, Buddy!!" She is referring to the ever-so-brief passage some ways above the alludes to my depression. Ok, fair enough. My depression is not something you want to read about. As she says, "tell me more stories about the shoes."
If something is overemphasized it is blunted. When properly understated it is sharpened. I don't know how to understate depression in such a way that those who have not suffered depression will get the point; maybe they won't anyway, except in some theoretical sense. Do I know what it feels like to be dying of something intrusively incurable? No. But if you tell me about it maybe I can share your grief to some small extent. Beyond that we may be talking apples and oranges.
"The years, the rutting years, are also the years when the learning curve is the highest, when one's sense of immortality is strongest, when strength and energy are boundless. Most of us manage, at least to a degree, to multi-thread. Sturm und drang is just the dance."
"Perhaps you just weren't paying attention. Maybe you need a hypnotist to regress you thru your present life so you could get hold of the joy and wonder that you must have had in some part of your soul but weren't cognizant of at the time. Then it (joy'n'wonder) would burst in you like a pinata (or a cyst)."
The metaphor that comes to mind is a house that I walk about in. The is floor durable old concrete, and here and there it is alternately covered in wondrous patterns of tiles, delightful oriental rugs, lovely wooden parquet, and these surfaces certainly give me pleasure, times of joy and happiness. Yet everywhere I walk I can constantly feel beneath me the acid layer of the subfloor, the foundation of this house, eroding my footing.