INGULFED

In Shanghai

Archive for istanbul

The Beggar’s Leg — رجل المتسوّل


The beggar’s leg jutted into the path of clambering metro-riders.

The man sat on the landing between the flight of stairs heading upwards into the cold sunlight and the one that went down under the overhang into the damp, tiled metro. He was situated just so on the concrete staircase that ascending or descending with the crowds, one might not notice a head floating at knee-height.

I saw him as I left the shade of the subway, but I could not see his leg, outstretched. Change rattled around in my jacket pockets, more easily reachable than usual, more valuable. I felt the Turkish one-lira coins with my fingertips.

And then I was beside him, looking down at my own feet as I noticed the leg that bent the flow of traffic in a silent arc. A stifled spasm. My upper half jerked forward and pulled the rest of me with it, shuddering.

The beggar’s leg was but half a leg; not cut off crosswise, not a stump hanging below the knee, but eroded like a rotten log, eaten away from end to end. Yellow skin tinted green and flecked with the red of broken vessels, burst somethings and disease. I saw his leg crumbling like a nightmare I had never faced and I could not look, I could not turn back.

The part of me that feels fear pulled me away, up out of the stairwell by my own legs, around the corner towards home. Turn around.

Inside I screamed— half for the sad science of his wretchedness, half for finding myself so cruelly skittish. Turn around, goddammit.

I walked alone farther and farther away, joining the countless thousands who had skirted his leg and climbed the staircase. I walked towards a me I didn’t like, but who recognized his pitiful shortcomings. To go back was to view something that would live in my mind for days, weeks, I told myself. I had given before. I would give again.

But I had already seen what I would see. I had the chance to redo my actions — a mini experiment with time travel. There was no butterfly effect; there was only the beggar’s leg.

I held the coins, maybe four or five, in my fist.
A choice.


More from Turkey here.

Lentil Paste — معجون العدس

Late on Saturday Nights, Bağlama bars come alive in side streets off İstiklâl Caddesi (“Independence Avenue”) in the pedestrian heart of Istanbul. On a sound recommendation and with a small printed map with an X, we sought and found Havar, the liveliest in a string of bars and cafes in the Beyoğlu neighborhood that advertise with posters of studio shots of upcoming performers and a man calling from the door.

The solo instrument is the bağlama (or saz, as it’s often known — the broader name for its family), oud-like but with a long, thin neck. Drummers and wind instruments support the frontman, who belts out tunes everyone knows. Everyone. Tunes seemed to hit different demographics in the bar — younger guys and their dates or married couples or gray-haired veterans bent at the waist only probably as part of the dance. Some seemed to dip from shared memories as old as Turkish history — if you weren’t singing, you weren’t from there.


Except maybe that wasn’t true. A few tables of men next to us stayed quiet, just listening, hardly ever smiling or talking, but certainly not looking for quiet. A pair of old men danced in deliberate steps, bent and looking at their feet, with one hand clasping the other’s held high in the air. If I’d have guessed, I’d have guessed they were really, really happy. Either way, silent or singing or dancing with fingers entwined — even watching and knowing nothing – it looked easy to get lost gladly in the dark.
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Wonderlust

Or, Vending for Yourself

Thalia read my fortune on the inside of my coffee cup.  It was unpredictable — large, empty white spaces told her that I had a standing date with the unknown, and crinkly dregs pointed to my need for motion.  One thing was sure: facing the figure of a man with big, “heavy” feet and arms lifted and waving were the undeniable letters “A–D” — the first two letters of my name, the initials of the city I live in, and a close misspelling of my favorite kind of arithmetic. Whatever the message was, I think it was for me.

Deep in the underground cistern sixty meters away from the entrance to the Hagia Sofia (street signs are very accurate) big fish swim around in fresh water and their own shadows, just as they have been doing for the past 1500 years.  Wet walkways under the round, vaulted arches lead to two columns whose bases are carved Medusas, one upside down, one sideways.      

"Please, sir, can you spare some Wi-Fi?"

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Feeling Istanbullish

(اسطنبولية (لعبة الكالمات بلغة الانجليزية

Vast swaths of light race towards the city as the plane descends, over something that looks more like a game of Tron than a human settlement. At night, it appears as the sprawling metropoleis of an alien planet. This is the way to Istanbul.

Really, though, underneath the streetlights and after the sunrise, Istanbul is anything but alien: it is a layering of so many things human, bolstered by a settled history a dozen times longer than that of Sharjah — the Emirate I’d flown out of, conservative, but stamped with its own space-age mosque-like Airport.

I found my own history there as well, in friends that have known me for longer than the seven months I’ve been in the Emirates. Not to say that new friends aren’t important — they are. Oh, how much they are. (Not least of all because a desert offers little but the companionship of other desert-dwellers.) But old friends have a history that fuels itself, that needs no input to give back, that runs as a hybrid of trust and shared stories. And as someone who forgets his own stories (hint: why blog?), it often takes other people to remind me who I is. I just counted — I’ve been here eight months.

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