On this Monday

December 22, 2014

My head full of Maupassant mixed with the fading lacework of dreams, thoughts, feelings and bodily discontent from lack of sleep I am up for yet another day. It’s Monday morning. Right now Dhafer Youssouf is playing over the Chillout speakers, beautiful, haunting, mysterious. The light inside, permanently reddened by the “Chillout” neon sign, is wrapping itself around my cup of coffee and my skin as my fingers type. I went out a little earlier to the grocery store to get some provisions for the hostel. The cold bit me right out of the door but I continued on despite not wearing the proper clothes, I’ll warm up, I thought.

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On the street, it’s an interesting conscious-unconscious stance, not looking at people in the eyes, a skill I now mastered, but inside the grocery store I am greeted with a warm “Gunaydin” from the clerk who by now knows me. Long skinny green peppers, tomatoes, onions, eggs, salt and a few more words to the cashier and I head back out. The wind has favorite street corners, it waits for us humans to come by unawares and he then grabs us by the ribs, leaving us shivering as he continues his swift course.

I raise my eyes, and I am once again, taken by the sights this city gives, the views, the character of this city. One only has to look up to forget all their inner-thinking vagabondage and remember how the tiniest moment counts. The sun is there, hitting some walls with its gold. All around at this time there are few if no tourists out but the locals are all there, hurrying to get ready for when they do come out. Deliveries, setting up of food in the Locantasi, unlocking, opening of business doors, the butcher is getting busy inside his shop.

After bringing my purchases back at the hostel I decide to go out and get simit. I make my way to the end of Istiklal, still a line up at the Swiss embassy. The street filled with thick hope. Drivers hurry in and out of Istiklal at Tunel, as the road will close to car traffic soon. Cats, many of them. One is shivering with pleasure as a poor man talks and pets him. The cat quakes from head to tail, eyes half-open in the thrill of the caress. Oh the poetry of this place.

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Life, life, life.

For some reason, because of some trigger I have been pondering my own life these last 40 hours or so. Sometimes the seemingly complete meaninglessness of it all is too obvious. When one realizes that this idea of self-importance is a conceit, a creation, when we see that our lives, our selves are not the center of the universe, that there is no special purpose, task where we will shine and finally justify our existences through achievement (oh the Western illusion) a calm mind can see that this life we live with such gusto with all its rules and terms is something that we could do without. And the same with Love. All is construction, co-creation, a game played with such zeal and conviction, but when the soundtrack abruptly stops because of a different or a loss of affinity, in the sudden silence, vast chasm allowed by the absence of music, how clear it is then, that all, is a fruit of our rich imaginations.

I am about to leave for Amsterdam, then head south all the way to Portugal. Why? There wasn’t really a reason to decide to do this. There was a cheap ticket to Holland, a friend asked: “Would you go to Amsterdam?” and I said yes. Then we let our imaginations (again) run and created this vision (Yet again and always the imagination) of hitchhiking through Europe in the heart of winter.

My only wish is to stay very intensely sensitive and tuned in each of every instant of this upcoming journey. Be thankful for all the pure blessings and human gifts. Not expect anything. Give everything and not ever count or expect.

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From Berlin to Istanbul

December 16, 2014

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“Write more!” She asked me. I was fumbling some sort of excuses, reasons for not posting on the blog so much.

“Then I know what happens to you…” I have really been meaning to write these last few days, in Berlin, about Berlin but there was so much to see and do in too little time. Millions of impressions, sights, thoughts coursed through my mind. Berlin is so alive, it talks through its everything. Buildings, pavements, patched bullet holes, radiant galleries, ubiquitous tourist attractions, small cafes, the people… and on and on and on.

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I had been in Berlin when the wall was still there dividing the city into two worlds. I remember the contrast between the lights and vibe of the west and the grayness and forbiding of the east. The sight of soldiers with machine guns, barbed wire. I remember going through an underground passage where one had to get DDR money and spend it and that we were not allowed to take it back with us. The ominous feeling that life was not worth much in the hands of that system. Maybe it was my over-excited mind back then but it really had in impact on me.

So I went back to see the Brandeburg gate, which I you could not approach then, I saw Checkpoint Charlie, there was an interesting inner bubbling.

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There was the frog… We saw it in one of the S bahn stations(Prinz something station) a frog wearing a golden crown, sitting on a white globe of a light. It was the only location where I saw such a thing… why? why this frog here? the conclusion was that it is because it is the Prinz station, the prince who had been turned into a frog and needed a kiss to revert to his human shape? seems likely.

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I must thank my hosts… Levka and Gesine who offered their hospitality. THANK YOU!

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So right now… Istanbul. Yes I am back. I felt great joy when, below the clouds,I saw the land and the light. In the morning, I had made my way to the airport early, I had too much luggage to consider having to run for anything so for my 13:30 flight I left around 10:30. But when I arrived to Tegel airport and went to the Turkish airlines desk something was in the air. First the check in counter was not open and I was sent to the sales desk where I lined up and watched the attendants emphatically talking on the phone and running back and forth… they offered me to take an earlier flight as my flight was delayed because of fog in Istanbul. Yeah, sure I said. But that meant that I now had to run to the other check in desk as the flight was to take off in 20 minutes. I made it to the gate in the last moments of the load in process. I expected to gate check my guitar, but when I asked, I was told to take it in the cabin. Inside the cabin flight attendants with reproachfully raised eyebrows asked me I twice if I had purchased a seat for the guitar, to that I could now answer that I had been instructed by the gate attendant to take it inside the plane… so the guitar got a warm flight inside the plane, yea. I realize that the best way to go about avoiding to have the guitar loaded with the luggage is to just inconspicuously take it with me all along, all the way to the plane and worst case scenario, it goes in the hold but from the gate so it doesn’t get smashed around.

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Upon landing in Istanbul, it’s warm, smell of cigarettes, excited voices rising, people running around… passport check was a breeze, at Ataturk airport it can be horrid, with huge line ups, but this time it was fast. The luggage came out fast too. I removed my down jacket, now too much for the temperatures. I got everything on my back, human donkey, and headed for the exit. When you come out of the security zone at this airport, you get what I believe would be the feeling of being a horse coming into an auction ring… a low wall barely contains the hundreds waiting for their friends, guests and family with signs, flowers and expectant eyes. There they are piled up, at least 10 deep behind the wall, overflowing at both ends in a human wall. I come alone, so I don’t have to find anyone in this crowd and walk by quickly. Outside, I get to the Havatas bus stop only to see it take off. I have to wait 30 minutes. I stand there, watching the people run this or that way, the taxi drivers hustling for fares, they look hungrily at the line of us waiting for the bus hoping for someone to change their minds. “Taxi! Taxi!” Three men greet each other, hugging then kissing on the cheek. The music… yea, it rolls out of car speakers, baglamas, rhythms, voices that vow to love each other forever.

In Taksim, I grab once more all this luggage and head towards Chillout. I feel good. I feel at peace. The crowd is thick but I make good progress unheeded. There is an intelligence at work in this crowd. Everyone avoids me nicely, despite my width and length with all this stuff. I am incredibly tired, I didn’t sleep much the night before, but I feel so good to be here. The guitar and the suitcase pull my muscles, my clavicles braced, unhappy about the load, I switch the guitar from right to left from time to time. I have a little over 1 km and I’ll be there. Balyoz sokak, turn right, from the distance I see Erdem, then Talat, as I walk those last steps I smile more and more as I now see Orcun, Pelin. Warm embraces. “Come in!” they help me grabbing each piece of luggage. It’s a beautiful moment.

They ask of America, of my family, of where I’ve been and how I feel. To rewind back two months earlier, the desert of California where my friends are, riding the bikes, doing the job I went to do, the new friends I made, the flight to Montreal, always a place of memories, to be into the fold of security of my family. A snow storm, then some 40 hours of travel from Montreal to Poland, then from Poland to Berlin, then back here… It suddenly looks like an odyssey.

The wild thing is that I will leave again on the 23rd. Only a few days away really. I’ll go to Amsterdam, a trip I had booked before I knew I was to make this journey to North America, or go to Poland and Berlin… the plan is to hitchhike from Amsterdam to Porto, Portugal, stopping to see friends on the way. I need to start preparing for that, I must get some thermal underwear, a poncho for the possible rain and maybe a sleeping bag.

Last night Pelin gave me a private room with bathroom for two days, until the week end customers show up, and that is absolute luxury to me. I really enjoyed it last night and will again tonight. I have to be reasonable this week and keep resting and getting stronger to be ready for the upcoming journey.

In the mean time there will be two concerts with Baris this week and I’m very much looking forward to that.

All is well. Hugs all around.

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Visits

December 9, 2014

The man with the hat, round, smart edge, ¾ length coat, looks brown in the dark, crosses at the crosswalk, makes a 90 degree turn and waits for the next crosswalk light to change. He is so impeccable, irreproachable, upright. What is his life like? Brownish yellows, from the street lights, all is smart, proper, clean, reserved, demure. I look out the back of the tram and the next wagon is also following us dutifully, taking the curve after we did, without protest, its narrow frame gives it a toy like look. Green with the yellow line. The driver slams on the brakes at about the same distance to each stop. One slam then another smoother second one, everyone jerked back and forth in silence, then we slow down, and stop. Out we go. The click of the heels, the swish of the winter coats, the zip of the cold as we all walk up the stairs out of the station. Grand Teatrale, trams in all directions, some run to catch a connection, I walk, over the beautiful bridge, a cyclist coming towards us, in the dark making himself known with a single round headlight to pierce the night, his body’s shadow weaves from right to left as he tackles the slight incline. The theater is there, a line up, a bell resonates, then the sounds of construction, the thunderous passage of the trams. People make few noises. Girls in tight waisted winter coats, long boots, smartly tipped tuques, their long hair coming out in disciplined strands. The men, mostly wearing black, are scarce.

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A car pulls over the sidewalk to park, red Honda, small model, full of bodies, likely going to the theater, the driver pushes his door open forcefully, without looking, I sidestep, head of white hair, slightly harried eyes, the only light among the lines of his face, I continue. Kids, one with an white animal looking hat, ears and tail in a fuzzy fake fur, he runs his body loose and free, his light blue jacket against the dark bricks of the church, he grabs the tail of his hat, while his white scarf with blue stripes comes undone, starting to fly but the boy catches it with his left hand, he looks back, his cheeks reddened by the cold, his face stretched in laughter, his friends catch up to him, they excitedly head inside the church.

A woman in a green coat, sings softly as I walk by. I think about the fact that I am here, stranger, invisible, in this place, I came, I will leave and no one will know me. I think I will remember this place as a city for humans. I am in love with the architecture, with the beauty of the details, if I lived here, I would stay in the heart of the city, in one of the old buildings, they speak of much care and love and pride in the beauty and the craftsmanship, Something I feel we sorely miss in today’s constructions.

Today, I did a touristy thing. Found a place recommended in a tourist guide and went for it. The Poznan croissant museum. Yeah, I thought the same: Croissant museum? Turns out there is a type of croissant that was born 300 and some years AD it goes like this: Once upon a time was a warrior born in what is today Hungary, his father was a solider and he became a soldier too. One day he decided he was going to be an army soldier no more and become soldier of God. He did many good deeds that granted him saintly status while he lived, one of them deeds was to cut his cloak in half to clothe a needy man.

One day his horse lost a shoe…. in the mean time, a baker in Poznan wanted to do good deeds too… one night he went to sleep and had a dream of a croissant… the shape of a horseshoe. In the morning when he woke up he found St Michael’s horseshoe in his bed and he decided to follow this vision and make the croissant to feed all the poor people in the city, bringing his baking to the local church, soon all other bakers followed suit… hence was born the wrogalowi Świętomarcińskich, the St Martin’s croissant… the tradition still lives and on November 11th, Poland’s independence day, they bake more than a million of these to feed all in need…

The museum experience was to show us how this croissant was made, we attended along with a room full of Poznan kids. We learned of the history, the how to, and in the end, got to taste the famous croissant. Awesome.

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Today to the citadel park, we went again.

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Spirits. In this park they dwell, they speak of lost youth, of violence, of turmoil and confusion, why? Why? Why? They ask. Bits of fortresses erupting from the ground, carry still, menace in their stance, the foreboding. Rectangular slits allowed in the 10 feet thick walls, stare back malevolently. Black holes made to let a gun speak through. I get restless, I sense a horse under me, we walk through, among the winter trees, leafless lanky, their dark shapes cutting towards the skies, their arms cut at angles as if to hug themselves against the cold. The fortifications built into a ditch like depressions, forbidding. Citadel. When we come out of that, the wide open spaces hold tall, thin, sky-reaching monoliths, “Oh God, they ask, Will you give us the courage, the strength?”

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And if we could, not invade, not envy, not desire?

And if we could just trust, let the waters flow ocean wise?

And if we could let it be?

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What if the food and the drink, the warm fireside, the work of the day, the smiles of our kin was enough? What if nothing really mattered, what if nothing was that serious? What if faith, in stead of bringing us to war, made us patient?

There is a warrior that existed in my soul, there is a warrior that bled and killed and hated and fought relentlessly for his Lords. There is a place in my heart that knows what is the feel of the blood drenched soil under feet. There are muscles in my shoulders that know the weight of the sword and the smell of reddened steel. There is a deep knowing of what the stiffness of conviction for a cause is like. There is a cognizance of the feel of long days in the saddle, the smell of the horse sweat, the clicks and clangs of the armor, the feel of the stirrup under feet, the four beat tempo of a slow walk resonating into enemy territory, of the sound of the bright pennons flapping in the wind on the hillside on a grey fall day.

I wish for a free humanity, I wish for hope, I wish for thirst for truth and hunger for fortitude. Safely walking barefooted on an unsoiled earth, drinking the pure water of knowledge, always humble, unshackled from rigid theorizations.

Like the leaves we live our lives, the seasons passing us by. After the summer kisses and love from the sun, the frost takes a hold, undoing us slowly. Winter is coming. Will there be rest inside the quiet underside of accumulated white snow? Or will it be exposure to the winds, the cold nights, freezing rain and the remorseless ice? Crossroads, crosswinds pushing us this or that way, opinions, the wavering, vacillating, the crumbling of convictions while facing hardships.

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“Come, come and drink with us”, he said. I had walked into a dark inn, the cold eating away my last bit of strength. A fire burned in a large fireplace. The smell of food. Potatoes, meat, the smell of the burning apple tree wood. I closed the door on winter and sat down, ate, realizing the goodness of it all, in a few bites of warm food.

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Poland

December 6, 2014

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The cold bites our faces, it’s the wind outside the door of the building, it always lurks there, waiting for you to turn the corner then run at you with it’s greedy hands out. Skies are gray, gray, gray, with clouds or with fog. If you look out the window from the bed and just see the sky, it’s like you’re in some sort of other world, floating in this soft gray calm, endlessly. Today I made crepes again, we are enjoying them too much. The reason for the crepes is that I brought back maple syrup. I hadn’t had maple syrup for a long, long time. I had some in California but somehow it wasn’t quite right. Two things I brought back from North America; Peanut butter and maple syrup.

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I’ve been here for 17 days already… it’s hard to grasp. The peanut butter is gone and the maple syrup just about vanished too. At first I just tried to recover from my 40 hours plus of travel from Montreal to Poland. Then I took a slow pace, not purposefully, it just sort of installed itself.

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In a park, the ground is littered with the fallen leaves, orange. The grass still green. The earth is soft and gives easily under our feet. I feel a great sadness in the air, lost souls wandering. As we proceed, we see walls built in the hills… small windows pierce them. They must be 7, 8 feet thick. What is this? It looks military. Later we run into sculptures and monuments. The park is a war memorial. Poland has been caught in the middle of wars for most of its history I read. A cemetery. The Russian side, with gray and black stone heads holds no flowers to grace the tombs. The British side with it’s beige stone heads extending narrowly and somewhat purely out of the ground bear various pious quotes, or quotes from the ones who try to justify those deaths. The Polish graves, adorned with many fresh flowers.

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It’s chilling. The horror of it all. Nothing to boast about. I can never agree with war. That is the true end result. The pain that lingers, brutalized souls still in shock, the search of a reason, a why. This is the kind of reality we do not witness so clearly in Canada. Of course there are war veterans, there were two big wars, but we’re too new a country and we’ve not been pounded by enemies on all sides as this country has. Canadian soil has not drunk as much blood from its people.

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Poland now, in this city, Everything is so clean. Orderly. Spacious. Humanism I am told this design is called. Large streets, sidewalks, space where it feels good to be. I am told most of the downtown square was rebuilt after total destruction.. There are sculptures gracing buildings everywhere, I am really amazed at the craftsmanship and the art of it. Many Art Nouveau buildings that are just like jewels, every detail crafted with such care. The public transport is very good. People very well behaved. And… so many women… After Istanbul it’s kind of shocking. As I would ask: Where are the women of Istanbul? I now ask: Where are the men of Poland? And the girls are so fashionable, proper, few blue, green, red, haired girls, few visible signs of rebellion. I’m not sure it’s something I like so much.

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The air is cold, your hands freeze so quickly. Not one single car horn resonating… when they do it’s actually weird. I took a walk. The horizon where I am, slightly outside of the city center, is a long flat expanse with the protruding apartment buildings. I am taking it easy these days. I miss Istanbul, but I don’t mind this for now. In so few weeks I covered so many miles. More to come too, so now it’s gentle, peaceful.

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