Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sparks in the Darkness

Not long ago, I sat across a table from a young Turkish man with a serious face who was curiously wise beyond his years. He looked at me for a long time without saying anything. Finally, peering intently into my face, he said, "You're not happy. You are afraid of something, and I have no idea what it is, but there is a fear there. You live your life..." Here he paused, and then corrected himself. "You don't seem to actually live your life; you observe it like a film, but you don't participate. You need to get in the ring, roll up your sleeves, get dirty, or you will always be an outside observer, and will never escape this lingering unhappiness." I thought for a long time about what he said. As I mentally flipped through the events and circumstances of my life, I realized he was on to something. Even the very nature of this blog gives it away. The experiences it recounts are observational, not interactive. No one had ever put it to me like this, and I spent several days mulling it over, slowly sinking into a depression out of the sudden sense that my prospects for happiness and fulfillment were doomed due to an inherently flawed nature. This was not what my friend had intended, of course; he was merely nudging me to get out there, but my knowledge of self combined with an at-times fatalistic attitude were leading me to believe that there was no way out of this...

Such are my dark thoughts as I sit home on yet another solitary evening, gazing at the lights across the bay, thinking of all the people I could call, but don't; wondering why I don't, asking myself if I have the will to change, fighting a rising sense of panic at the slipping away of the years -- years that I will never get back -- and this persistent refusal to engage. Suddenly the house seems suffocating; I have to get out. I slip on my running shoes and am out the door into the cool evening.

If you have never been in Izmir on the Karsiyaka waterfront on an early summer's evening, then you have probably missed something magical. I say 'probably,' because the universe is capricious about when she doles out her magical moments. If there is one thing we can count on, it is on not being able to count on getting magic on demand, whatever the conjurers with their rabbits may lead us to believe. Predictability at any rate defies the very essence of magic, doesn't it?

There is the briefest of periods in Izmir every year when the capricious winds of Spring throw their tantrums and wreak havoc with the world. They stomp and twirl, tug and pull, and then, childish passions exhausted, they make way for the gracious gyrations of the imbat, the unique summer wind of Izmir, so seductive and soft.

Out on the waterfront where grassy strips extend as far as the eye can see, it is late evening, and the sun has become a fireball crash-landing onto the distant Karaburun peninsula. The sky is splashed with variegated shades of lavender, rose and amber. In the gathering darkness, humanity teems. Kids on skateboards and bikes swoop and swerve in the dusk. Little girls kick a football with their father in a pool of lamplight. Fathers tote saucer-eyed babies while their wives amble and chatter, catching up on the day's events. Outrageously lanky young men shoot hoops, while children with gleaming eyes run madly after the remote control monster trucks that their fathers pilot with diabolical laughter, swerving them in and out amidst the errant footballs, the serious cyclists with their iPods, the perambulating housewives, the lawn gymnasts, the recumbent families on the plaid blankets with the grills with hot coals and the samovars simmering tea...and always, always, this silky wind gliding all around, caressing the skin like a lover, giving life to inanimate objects. Overhead hangs a perfectly circular pumpkin moon; in the foreground, silhouetted against it, is a cluster of multicolored kites, only their tails belying the presence of the wind. They remind me of fish I have encountered in tropical waters, which are not swimming but simply bobbing gently in the current, a wall of undulating color and light.

There is a dizzying array of activity. A young cotton candy seller totes his odd tree of pink blossoms, and another peddles those bendable glow-in-the-dark sticks that contribute perfectly to this shadowy funfair atmosphere. One gray-haired man strolls the waterline, hawking inflatable squeaky toys, squeezing them as he walks to show that they really work. Your choice: dog or chicken! Get 'em while they're hot. The nut and seed vendors wait patiently on low stools, their bins brimming with roasted sunflower seeds (whose main selling point, it must be said, is the salt), water sold on the side. These are destined for the couples deep in conversation who settle themselves on the waterfront benches or the boulders that hold back the sea, away from the melee, or perhaps for solitary individuals with no one to talk with and much time to suck on these kernels, separating shell from seed with the tongue and expelling the husk out of the corner of the mouth in one casual but perfectly calculated move...At the corn vendor, the scent of charcoal-grilled corn tempts my nostrils. I look in his direction, and am momentarily distracted by the stunning backdrop of the glossy purply waters of the bay and the golden lights that ring it like a precious necklace. Then there is a sudden gust of wind, and the scene that follows seems like one manufactured in a surrealist film one fluid movement, the embers from the corn vendor's grill are borne aloft and towards me; at the same time, the bubble blower's bubbles are carried off, mingling in the breeze with the embers. For a moment I stand rooted as this fabulous sea of light and texture sweeps toward and around me like fairy dust. The tiny pinpoints of fire are reflecting off the bubbles, rising and falling on the air currents, floating around me like a hallucination. The poetry of the moment is stunning. I am awed and humbled by a world that can conspire to create such divine moments without the slightest forewarning, and that these moments are as unique and unrepeatable as fingerprints or snowflakes. This is all the indication I need of something greater than ourselves, some magnificent force that surrounds us. Call it what you may; on this evening it leaves me awed, and I return home feeling that rarest of sensations -- happiness. The kind that originates from the very core and radiates outward into the limbs, and from there, into the universe. For tonight, at least, I can hold on to this image, can forget that I do not know any of these laughing people, can enjoy my role of the observer, be glad, even, that I don't have to go home with any of these families and discover the tedium of routine and quarrels and work and all the tiresome patterns that crush creativity and zest for life.

Perhaps therein lies the fear that my friend saw -- a fear of becoming the prisoner of tedium in a world stripped of its magic. I suppose it is true. And yet even as I begin to accept this, my inner devil's advocate pipes up: Really, Kate, don't you think that if you're the kind of person who is inclined to see prisons wherever you look, you will eventually wind up in one, perhaps even while escaping the one you thought was the most to be feared? What I'm saying is that the prison is in the soul, man; it's a question of outlook. Freedom, or lack thereof, is mainly a question of attitude, isn't it? Come on, admit it. Then a line from an old Eagles song comes to mind:

Freedom, oh freedom, well that's just some people talkin'

Your prison is walkin' through this world on your own.

There is a sudden, momentary sense of letdown, the old depression creeping back in. And then I brush these thoughts aside. I want to hold on to my happiness tonight. On this soft evening, the role of observer is one that I am happy to have. I stretch out in my soft bed in the quiet house, glad that the portly housewives and the samovars and the running and laughing children are somewhere else, and I am willing to leave the philosophical questions for another day...the wind whispers through my window and I close my eyes, lulled to sleep with visions of floating points of light, the gloss of bubbles, and a marvelous sense of freedom.


At 11:17 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:20 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

"il faut choisir, vivre ou écrire"...
was that Céline or Sartre? Anyway, one must chose, to live or to write - perhaps it is true, and you write well.
(Sorry previous was me correcting a typo)

At 12:05 AM, Blogger Kate's Occasional Blog said...

I like that! Thanks, makes me feel like this life might actually be a valid option. :-) And where do your international wanderings take you these days, and how's the little one? Hope you are well!


Post a Comment

<< Home