The last free American – The Bywater, New Orleans, Louisiana

Posted in America, Articles, Avant Garde, Culture, Life, Louisiana, Top Stories, Travel, Uncategorized, World on September 26, 2013 by wildearthtravel

Thursday night at an old beaten up bar, down in the Crescent City Bywater, was just another showcase of the drunk and the dissolute. Cars all sticky peeled past along the potholed streets whilst bodies staggered and stumbled down the bombed out sidewalks. A couple of old negro drunks were loitering out front, making the most of a bottle of rye for which they’d barely scraped enough change together, by panhandling on the neutral ground off of Claiborne and Elysian. They’d taken to squabbling and fussing over the last filthy suck from the sloppy dog end of a shared cigarette, the last of many they’d gleaned from the streets that afternoon.

homeless-and-addiction

‘Gunna drop a terrible gris gris on your ass Cleveland,’ said Wilson as he slapped at another mosquito attempting to draw from his neck whilst four more were going at it on his ankles, ‘gunna drop a gris gris on all y’all asses.’

‘Oh yeah?’ grumbled Cleveland, his untrusted partner in grime, ‘you bin mad-doggin’ my shit all af’ernoon, axing me fa smokes, axing me fa beers. You bin fixin’ ta swoop down on my treasures like a dog gawn seagull since sun up, and I’m tellin’ you I’m a fixin’ to get hog wild on your black ass.’

‘Oh yeah?’ replied Wilson, ‘How ‘bout my lettin’ you have my spot under da tree out tha on Claiborne! Dog gawn sun nearly scorched another hole in my ass dog gawn!’

‘Lurd knows Willy, you do not require another asshole!’ said Cleveland.

‘So you gunna pass that bottle over before I gets to gettin’ crazy up in here?’

‘Stimulatin’ as it is to entertain your request Willy,’ said Cleveland as he pouted his lips and sat up straight, ‘it appears you got nuthin’ to exchange in this here transaction.’

‘Oh there you be goin’ again with that fancy talkin’, like some Park Avenue attorney or sumptin’, whilst all the time ol’ Willy be dryin’ out an gettin’ ta shakin’ an sweatin’. It’s some kinda heavy heart you be carryin’ about there,’ grumbled Wilson.

At this point a fully grown man with a shaved head walked past wearing nothing but a diaper and entered into the bar, the muffled sounds of blues suddenly poured into the street more clearly, then quickly dulled once again as the knackered old door snapped shut behind him.

Over by the street corner a sinewy old lady pulled up riding a three-wheeled bicycle all fixed up like a rickshaw, with a plethora of adornments and trinketry. The canopy was battered and torn with tassels festooned from all around to a sign on the back saying ‘The lord will pick you up, rise up to meet him’. There were speakers rigged up to the handlebars where more tassels were hanging, and fixed atop of the bars in the middle was some macabre animal skull of an unknown genus.

TR-TREME

The old lady climbed down, clutching at a bottle of Colt 45 to sit on one of the benches. She laid out a cover of purple velvet upon which she got down to the business of laying out a deck of tarot cards.

The minutes slipped away into the night, perhaps even an hour or so, with people coming and going to the persistent rhythm of cicadas rising and falling in the live oaks overhead. Roaches would be ripping and running across the sidewalks, unmolested by anyone, not even the younger cats sleeping on the flagstones. The very bar itself seemed to inhale and expel patrons to where you could almost believe the stud walls and gabled A frame roof itself were flexing against their fixings.

‘Oh yeah!’ screamed Cleveland, ‘what’s that you got there Willy boy, you bin holdin’ out on me!’ Old Wilson had pulled out a bottle of his own to which he’d now been rumbled, although he’d made little attempt to be discrete about it.

‘Oh, see now, this here be somethin’ from my personal stash I got from the other day now.’ said Wilson without a trace of humility.

‘Personal!? You be shittin’ with me?’ grumbled Cleveland. ‘Guess it’s your dawg gone retirement fund huh? You see this is what’s fundamentally wrong with this here country, when a man can’t be trustin’ his own shadow for his so-called buddies to be holdin’ out on him with the fixins of a day’s work.’

‘Now stand down Cleve, this there here’s the fruits of my very own labours, and therefore be representin’ what is by rights my private property now.’ said Wilson as he painfully raised his dirty old ass from off of the sidewalk. ‘It’s unfortunate you had to hold out on me with our shared whiskey from today.’

‘Shared? By gawd that there’s a tall tale of hog shit by gawd,’ said Cleve as he found his own feet. ‘Alls I recall is you sandbaggin’ it all day under the tree or droolin’ all over car windows at little school girls. Damned near got your sleazy ol’ drunken ass pinched by the bulls for harassing the traffic. I don’t seem to recall you makin’ dime one for this here rye whiskey.’

‘Gawd damned you Cleveland, I’m the last free American!’ screamed Wilson as he swung a haymaker which barely glanced the swollen red nose of Cleveland.

Inside the bar the band was whipping up a storm, the crowd dancing and drinking on the floor, asses getting grabbed and glasses spilling in the smoky air. Nobody noticed the bar door swing open and two drunken old men tumble in tearing at one anothers filthy old clothes. Indeed no one noticed when the pants fell down on one of the men as he picked himself up from the floor, exposing his unmentionables to all of creation. It is possible that somebody thought they’d seen something, when the two men grappled once more and tumbled straight back out the door into the street, but that is uncertain.

Under the moonlight the nervous chatterings of the cicadas began to crescendo, as the fight took its course in the street below. What an inglorious sight to behold for such creatures whose life had been marked by thirteen to seventeen years underground, to now bear witness to this unholy spectacle during their all-too-brief time above ground. What else to do but gaze into the infinite canopy overhead, as the stars glimmered in the great blue darkness.

The death of Dirt Town – New Orleans, Louisiana

Posted in America, Fiction, Life, Literature, Louisiana, Stories, Thoughts, Top Stories, Travel, Writing on July 12, 2013 by wildearthtravel

Carson licked the blood from his finger then took another long draw from the bottle of beer on the table in front of him. The taste of blood felt menacing and he had a curious like for it. Once more he squeezed the end of his finger forcing more blood to run into the traces of his fingernail before sucking it clean. Grinding feelings of longing were lumbering into the afternoon – muted hours of tapping, pacing and chewing dead skin.

St Claude2

These moments marked the days and weeks that were to follow as they had the months that passed before. There grows a violence in the mind, one that gestates in the drawn humidity of New Orleans in June, playing the waiting game. Something must mark the permanence of the days but nothing came. Notions of better times played havoc in the emptiness and again the violence grew to meet the pain of his existence. Waiting on the edge of the bed or in the small chair by his desk, Carson contemplated the silent din of his life expiring in slow motion like muddy water slipping through his fingers.

It was Tuesday and whilst walking the narrow streets of listing buildings, the evening’s twilit golden glow dashed across the red bricks and crumbling masonry of the old town. The smell of food and beer from the corner bars distracted Carson from his thoughts as he crossed Elysian Fields into Washington Square, where the nickel and dimers saw out their shortened days hopped up on malt liquor.

Children danced and played on the swings exuding a promise and vitality in stark contrast to the delirium of the bums. To Carson, just looking at the drunks was oftentimes exhausting. It sapped his strength like the paralysis he felt sitting in his cheap apartment off Saint Claude. At $400 a month it was a small flophouse of sorts in a depressed black neighbourhood. He tried to pay no mind to the roaches ripping across the floor or the screaming and banging that came through the partition of the duplex shotgun. Poor enough and taller than some, he was mostly overlooked by those who may seek to roll him for a few lousy dollars. He guessed many thought him to be some kind of crazy cracker down on his luck and there was nothing to be gained by messing with that.

He found work at a lumberyard and some weeks passed before a fight with some hard-up off-shore type saw him bounced back into the street with just another bad memory from the world of the hand-to-mouths. In his experience, when working a shitty job to pay the weekly bills on a shitty apartment, getting his ass cooked over a stupid brawl was a reason to celebrate and court the ephemeral and fleeting traces of freedom that lie in waiting all about the place, if only for a moment.

For Carson, these events were the defining measure of a life well lived, a period of recovery from the maddening hostility of the society of bosses and iniquity of trading blessed time for just enough to cover the cost of the struggle. Never really enough to lift himself out of the cycle of poverty.

trains

Throughout the sultry closeness of the night’s heat, freight trains blared their horns as they slowly winced and rumbled their way through the city’s neighbourhoods, in and out of the depots that feed the trade routes of the mighty Mississippi and out into the arterial networks that supply the Union. In recent years the river level had dropped and in the slowing of the waters, the river was dumping more sediment along its channels, causing the freight companies concerns over the future of the trade routes up towards St Louis. Droughts across the Mid-West have seen conditions harking back to the times of the great dust bowl. It all just added up to more jobs going by the by and Carson was contemplating it being time to leave the south.

It was the following spring that he was to once more pass through New Orleans after a spell working for a carpenter out in Santa Fe called Bamboo Bobby, derived from his preferred material to fashion furniture and kitchens. During this time he’d shacked up with a young girl not long out of high school, a troubled sort who’d seen in Carson an opportunity for some excitement.

She was a nobody girl from a nowhere town and to her Carson was something altogether exotic, not from the painted desert she’d seen out the window of her mother’s trailer since before  she could recall. Her name was something like Jane or Mary, it didn’t matter. They’d flirted and courted in traditional fashion before exploring one another’s bodies through chilly nights camping out under the clear starry canopy of New Mexico. Out there the infinite universe revealed itself; the great solar system and beyond into interstellar space all unfolding and contracting, taking with it notions of scale all too impossible for sentient minds to contemplate. Within her lonely green eyes were locked all the treasures of the absolute and for the first time since before he could remember, Carson felt the purest of joy as though all the constraints of his self-loathing were washed away by her naivety and innocence.

new mexico

For Carson the time he spent out in the desert over those months bestowed upon him a respect for personal freedom that was entirely lost in the confines of the city. During those weeks abashed and clumsy lovemaking turned into something all the more aggressive and passionate, spilling over into the months that marked the passing of winter before the return of a mutual sense of isolation ate away at all that held it together. For the girl, the pain of the desert took her once more and she retreated into the familiar. For Carson, it marked the inevitable and necessary end to a period of magic and dreams that could only come to pass between two such souls that desired it so. It was beautiful and wild and therefore unstable. It burned out faster than a cigarette paper falling through the air.

Hitching on the highway down through Amarillo and Oklahoma City, Carson finally got down to Jackson Mississippi where he’d narrowly avoided getting pinched for vagrancy sleeping drunk down by Greenwood Cemetery. The two bums he had shared an evening’s drunk with where older and slower and blessed with his sharper wits, he’d managed to evade arrest. Once back in the Crescent City he found himself working as a server in a dingy little bar off of Decatur in the French Quarter. It was to mark a period of senseless indulgence and moral abandonment that for the first time gave him a sense of something worth living for, beyond the inconsequential moments of an undistinguished life.

If true freedom had been found in the desert, where one sustains on the voices within, it must be said that within the city one must rise up or perish under a completely different set of rules. Such are the trappings of the diseased and desperate minds born of a society inexorably barrelling into inevitable destruction. And at the apex of this unsustainable blind rampage into the annals of extinction is New Orleans. The Big Easy. Fat City. Where only the most fortunate get truly torn apart.

The Peacewalker – mightier than the Grand Canyon, Arizona (part two of two)

Posted in America, Arizona, Life, People, Photography, Stories, Top Stories, Travel, World, Writing on April 5, 2013 by wildearthtravel

We passed through Williams to join the 64 northbound, noticing a sign to the Lost Canyon campgrounds, a single bullet hole pieced through the metal. The sky above us was endless blue, the air sweet and clean as it came through the side windows of the car. We stopped to photograph murals on the sides of buildings that lined the roadside.

Within the hour we arrived at the Grand Canyon, during which time Mike had gone on to explain why the planets were arranged in their current order, provided a detailed account of a failed attempt to secure a record contract with Capital Records and given an exhaustive list of reasons why you cannot trust the Chinese.

Arizona Painting

‘Where are you heading?’ he asked ‘Like, at the end of your trip?’

This surprised me as it was the first time he’d actually asked a question which required more than just an invitation for him to continue talking about himself. That said, I was soon to be proven wrong.

Arizona Painting

‘We’re going to New Orleans.’ I said.

‘New Orleans! My god, they have lost the plot down there. Never had it. You know on Bourbon Street they have this strip joint called Barely Legal, and you know who owns it? Three ex-cons from Angola State Pen, though they got it in someone else’s name because ex-cons can’t hold a liquor license. I got picked up for vagrancy and disturbing the peace back in the ‘90s and the pigs took me down to OPP lockup, that’s errm, Orleans Parish Prison, or the house of detention…

Arizona Painting

…Whatever. Talk about irony charging the Peacewalker with disturbing the peace. Anyhow, this Irishman was in there, must have been the only other white dude in the clink other than the pigs, and he starts telling me about the strip joint Barely Legal. Turns out the three guys that own the place; one’s a murderer, the other was in for peddling drugs and the other for embezzlement. Hey, here’s a joke for ya. What do you get when you cross a murder, a drug dealer and a thief. The best damned strip joint east of the Mississippi.’

Arizona Painting

As we entered the main parking lot Mike’s mood changed. It was taking time to secure a space and he demanded to be let out of the car to then disappear into the visitors’ building leaving his pack on the back seat.

‘Sarah. Do you think he’s insane?’ I asked.

After a long pause Sarah replied, ‘I think he’s burned out from something. He might be a veteran, or had an abusive childhood. I think we just need to keep an eye on him but I don’t think he’s dangerous.’

We found a space and locked the car. The visitors’ building was full of tour groups and languages from all over the world were mingling together. If America is a melting pot, then the visitors’ building at the Grand Canyon is the epicentre. We soon found Mike out back, and my heart sank when I saw that he was talking to an Asian man with his family.

Grand Canyon

‘You’re doing really well right now,’ said Mike, ‘servicing our debts and building great cities with flashing lights and super fast trains that run on magnets. It’s great progress from the times you were building our railroads and scrubbing laundry.’

‘I’m not Chinese.’ said the man looking visibly pained but remarkably composed at the same time.

‘Well of course you’re an American I suppose,’ said Mike ‘We’re all Americans these days.’

‘No I’m from Korea.’

‘Oh yeah? Then I guess you’ve heard about the insatiable Chinese plot to stockpile the world’s supply of copper?’

‘Mike,’ I said ‘Let’s go. This man has to go with his family.’ The stranger saw this as his chance to escape and took it. Mike got up but this wasn’t going to go the way I’d hoped.

Grand Canyon

‘I know the CIA is here,’ he began screaming into the crowd. ‘You can get all the pictures you want. When the stock market collapses on Monday your federal budget will be axed and you’ll be tearing the shirts off of one another’s backs the same as everyone else.

Sarah and I got out of there. We walked along the canyon’s edge and tried to take in the enormity of the spectacle before us. It was like a huge screen painting you see on the faces of iconic buildings when they’re renovating the facade. The colours were muted by their vast distances and the midday haze further distorted the real. I recall a lone eagle circling in the valley below and being struck at how small the mighty Colorado River looked from way up here.

It would have never occurred to me that anything could have matched this place, but I was wrong. The Peacewalker had completely consumed me and I struggled to get him out of my head as I observed one of the greatest natural formations of the world beyond my feet below. We sat a while and made of it what we could.

Back at the visitors’ centre, Mike was engrossed in conversation with a man who he was convinced was Tom Petty and once more we saved someone from Mike’s rambling lunacy. In the car we headed out along the East Rim Drive, stopping occasionally for another view. I asked Mike why he seemed little concerned with the beauty of the canyon and he told me he was afraid of heights. It was the most succinct reply he’d given me all day.

The Peacewalker Arizona

There’s something about madness that draws you from your own space and opens a world that is at once both exciting and bewitching. In Mike’s case, the madness was tainted by the clear fact that it’s all underwritten by an unfulfilled relationship with others and the world itself. Perhaps if he met his match in a woman he’d calm down. Indeed, after we dropped him off in Flagstaff I recall feeling completely drained. However, that said, for the amount of energy it took to spend the day with the Peacewalker, in the weeks and months since, he returns to me bearing greater gifts than I would have gained from an afternoon simply staring into the canyon. Sometimes I like to think that the lone eagle I saw that day, in the valley below, also felt the wind on the wings of madness.

Grand Canyon

The stars in spring – Chefchaouen, Morocco

Posted in Articles, Chefchaouen, Life, Morocco, Photography, Top Stories, Travel, World, Writers on March 15, 2013 by wildearthtravel

Four days of sickness had now passed. Any residual traces of my last meager meal were now long since gone from my body, and any strength it may have provided was exhausted. I couldn’t be sure if my current unshakable delirium was engendered by the absence of nourishment, or whether it was sustained by the languishing effect of the fever leaving my body.

Morocco

Regardless, it was known to me that soon I would need to force food into the hollow pit of my stomach, lest I would have it to wither away alone in the dark chambers of my room at the boarding house. Sure, it would be a romantic and timeless death, high in the Moroccan Rif Mountains, after an exotic tarriance in the wilds of Northern Africa. I entertained these fleeting notions as means to cast light into my otherwise prosaic routine, for I was no Lawrence or Livingstone.

Taking a seat on the blue-washed stone steps of a house, behind whose door I conjured up imaginings of patriarchal domestic violence, bathed in a golden flickering candlelight from the kitchen table like some grotesque rendition of a Caravaggio still life , my condition was to take a sudden turn for the worse. It seemed to me that presently, another person should be here, I felt sure of it, but surely I was alone. Hearing a whimper, I spun my head around, but before I could focus on the eyes of the animal before me, it laid down, a quickening of the breath, to then die right there, on the cold stones that were the street.

Morocco

At once I clutched at my ankles, my head forced down onto my bent knees. Images of recent weeks permeated through my mind; visions of Tangiers and the heckles of taxi drivers at the landing dock haunted me. Surely I couldn’t have seen such a thing, I cannot believe it could be so. I raised my head, throbbing with blood rushing into every capillary of my face, to be met by the empty street. Indeed it must have been a dog of some kind, but it was not there where I’d seen it expire. Suspecting this erstwhile creature as a whim of the imagination I became more startled and unsure of myself than before and pulled myself back up on my feet. Superstitious compulsions gave more weight to this portent than I should have rightly cared to consider under better health, and I tormented myself for answers.

Morocco

Making my way onwards through the narrow streets, I searched in earnest for a place to eat. A part of me felt more inclined to acquire some food and return to my room to eat in solitude, away from the unwelcome eyes of suspicious strangers. I had no desire to be regarded as such a prodigal curiosity given my state of affairs, and I considered my immediate condition within the context of my general appearance and concluded that it would be better for me to eat in seclusion. It would always be assumed that one with western eyes and the means to travel was accustomed to limitless disposable wealth and blessed with the time to spend it, and to grovel about in such an irresolute and desperate state must only be viewed as rapaciously self-indulgent. The attention my sickness demanded only chided me further along my way.

Onwards I ambled across the stony paths that threaded between the listing blue houses, occasionally passed by townsmen in full body thick-weaved hooded woolen burnooses. Between the glances of these old men of the town, my self-awareness grew more manifest, simmering forthright, doggedly searching for the ripest fruits of disharmony within my mind. Another sudden bout of nausea compelled me to stop and stoop by a side alley and dry-wretch into the gutter. A little boy looked on as I composed myself. He smiled and scraped a stick down the side of the house and then turned and ran inside. I hurried away before someone older should appear from inside the darkened doorway and see me in this terrible scene.

Morocco

Finding my way back up into the main square of the town, I secured a place sitting on a step beneath the looming walls of the old citadel fortress. The warmth of the morning sun gave me comfort, giving sharp relief to the chilly February air. Up here in the mountains it served you well to grab these moments in the sun, a chance to get the blood back into the extremities.

All of a sudden I felt a sustained sense of peace, forgetting myself almost entirely. A vibrant scene of a bustling town was playing out before me, acting like a panacea and recharging my vital senses. Two dogs met hesitantly before sniffing over one another, only to scatter as a cart full of fruit rumbled across their path. Madness running through my brain, I acutely picked up on every subtle nuance in the conversations around me, leaping to assumptions about the nature of the exchanges, regardless that I had no sensible way of discerning their local dialect.

Morocco

Two old ladies spat words back and forth between them and it seemed like one had broken a promise to honour an outstanding debt for some groceries. Yes, it was her husband’s fault of course, that was plain to see to everyone in the square. I noticed a couple of tourists standing out from the throngs of shepherds and vendors. They were looking over some baskets, which I doubted either of them had any intention to purchase, and a sense of frustration overcame me on behalf of the stall holder. This was short lived after I recalled the sustained harassment I’d received the day before, walking through the garment district that led from the old city gates into the centre of the town.

I recall being struck by the idea that perhaps I wouldn’t return to Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar. Perhaps I could continue across the Altas Mountains and find my way through Algeria and Tunisia and on into southern Libya in search of the far flung outposts of the Roman Empire. Maybe from there join a camel train across the great deserts of the Sahara. The de facto borders of these countries were meaningless lines on a map when you came down to it, the porous trade routes and territories of nomadic peoples observed no such conventional realities. Do the Tuareg get passports stamped as they cross from Burkina Faso into Mali and Niger? Such a notion is absurd.

Morocco

I could faintly make out the stars in spring, shining through the failing blue of the sky above. It would be evening soon and I had no idea what to do with myself. In solemn disquiet, I withdrew from my bag a small vase of red wine, which I’d procured a few days ago, and removing the cork, took a long deep hit. I gagged at the bitter taste against the back of my throat, before settling down once more and returning the wine to my bag. Riding the coattails of the fever and on an empty stomach, the wine took quick effect to draw the senses. I made peace with myself and walked on into the fading evening. The shifting sands of Africa laid before me and a journey perhaps as old as the stars themselves.

The Peacewalker – somewhere outside of Ashfork, Arizona (part one of two)

Posted in America, Arizona, Articles, Life, Photography, Road Trip, Stories, Travel, Writers on February 19, 2013 by wildearthtravel

Route 66

Sarah and I finished our coffee, left the change on the bar and returned to the car. We’d decided it was time to abandon the old Route 66 and make up some time on the interstate. A few miles out of town we passed up a man fixing for a ride.

Route 66

I pulled the car over on the on-ramp, kicking up dust from the side of the road. The figure in the rear view mirror was of a tall heavy set man with a white beard and walking stick. Having hitched many rides myself I was not averse to returning the favour whenever the opportunity arrived and this guy seemed harmless enough.

‘Hey thanks for picking me up I never thought I’d get a goddamned ride out here. You’re my angels.’ said the old man as he approached the side of the car. Taking plenty of time about it, he finished his cigarette and climbed in the back.

‘What’s that you say?’ he said.

‘I didn’t say anything.’ I said pulling away onto Interstate 40.

‘Eh?’

‘I didn’t say anything.’

‘Do you know how to read your money?’ he said. ‘Never mind, we’ll get into that later. What if I was to tell you that the stock markets are going to crash on Monday. Fact. You heard it here first. Do yourself a favour, take all your money and invest in copper, the Chinese love it.’

‘The Chinese?’ I said giving a weary glance across to Sarah in the passenger seat.

‘Did I stutter, yeah the Chinese! Look I got this information on good authority. Just last week I was out at the Salton Sea with a bunch of archeologists looking for ancient remains of water purification systems used by the Quechan or Yuman Indians and Bill Gates was there looking to invest in the scheme as a tax write-off. I knew it was him because of the red goatee and those piercing blue eyes.’

‘Bill Gates doesn’t have a red goatee.’ said Sarah.

‘He does when he doesn’t dye it little girlie.’

‘He doesn’t have a goatee period.’ I said defensively. ‘What’s your name man?’

Peacewalker - Michael Oren

‘I don’t even know how I came to be out there.’ the man went on. ‘I’ve been walking from LA as part of a separatist faction of the Occupy movement. We got closed down by the corporate fascist pig dictator authorities, screwed up our whole outfit. So five of us took to the road in a new organsied protest. Can’t move on what’s already moving on. Anyhow, we’re on our way to New York, however the group has become fractured. A big negro named Old Truly Cotton Wilson started getting upset at the pace and direction of the walk. He’d also started accusing Dan, who’s been managing the donations and funding for the walk, of withholding his fair share of the money. It got me to thinking he might be onto something but then he starts getting all crazy with this big knife he carries in his pack. How are you supposed to camp down with a guy who has wood for the steel? Dude did time in Attica for sticking up Seven Elevens and I got to thinking this guy’s gonna knife one or all of us in the night for a lousy $100. Did I tell you where I got these sunglasses? Do you mind if I smoke? Did I tell you how to read your money?’

‘Where are you going to?’ I asked before the next salvo of mindlessness.

‘Flagstaff. I’m meeting Neil Young and some people to discuss the next stages of this thing. Seems it all went to hell and gone. Infighting and bad energy has prevailed.’ said the old man.

‘We’re not going as far as Flagstaff, we’re heading up to the Grand Canyon. Then Sedona. I guess we’ll drop you before we hit the 64 north out of Williams.’ I said.

‘You’re not going to Flagstaff? I need to get to Flagstaff.’

Peacewalker - Michael Oren

‘I thought the purpose of your quest for the Occupy movement was to walk from LA to New York?’

‘Clearly that is dead in the water at this point however the movement is still solid. It’s just a minor setback. The others are still on the road a couple of days back, I just couldn’t stand any of them complaining any longer. Last night I slept alone in the desert by the side of the road. The trick is to run a circle of rope around your body and snakes won’t cross it. You get bit by a rattler out here and it’s game over. I spent a night in some guy’s camper once who kept them as pets. I’d have been better off sleeping under an overpass for the sleep I got that night. You know I got these glasses from Woody Harrelson’s wife at this protest rally back in LA. This was three years ago when we were protesting the early use of drone strikes in Afghanistan. Did you know the US government classifies any kill who is both and between the ages of 16 and 70 as an enemy combatant. They’re mostly just peasant farmers. Did I mention my favourite film is Forrest Gump?’

‘We’ll pass through Flagstaff on the way back from the canyon but it’s a big detour for you, we’ll be up there most of the day, I don’t know if you’ll want to go along with that.’

‘I never saw the canyon.’ he said.

‘Okay, but tell me your name.’

‘Mike. Mike Oren. The Peacewalker.’

Something to do with death – the aimless days of Istanbul, Turkey

Posted in Istanbul, Photography, Stories, Travel, Turkey, World, Writers on January 31, 2013 by wildearthtravel

Istanbul

Slightly disorientated and a little unsure of myself, I ambled down the anonymous weary streets by whatever fashion they chose to present themselves, back towards the square where I’d seen the old men of Istanbul gathered under the Judas trees. Those October trees now stood silent, naked and frail.

A prescient notion of vacancy to the promise of such a sight as lovely as the plum and cherry blossoms of Japan, that is, to fill the city with a fragrance so sweet as to exalt both sides of the Bosporus, was to impress within me a deferential consideration toward the passing of the seasons.

The frigid glassy morning had been spent joyfully eating insipid fish fillet sandwiches down by the Galata Bridge surrounded by what appeared to be either men of leisure fishing over the side of the bridge, or listless bums of whose wives were longing impatiently for their feckless husbands to go and find more significant and gainful employment.

Either way it didn’t change the curiously muddy taste of the fish. I recall looking down from the bridge into the cold dark blue waters and for the life of me couldn’t be sure whether the water was flowing down from the Black Sea or up from the Marmara. But then what did it really matter?

Grand Bazaar Istanbul

More hours had been spent hopelessly lost in the Grand Bazaar smoking water pipes, carefully sipping Turkish coffee down to the hell and resisting the incessant invitations of a hopeless cliché, in the form of an affable old man in a faded fez, to purchase a rug of the finest quality. Needless to say, a thousand nos were not enough.

Grand Bazaar Istanbul

Not only was the bazaar difficult to find, but once inside it was damned near impossible to escape, and such is the grandeur and beguilingly arcane confusion of the enigmatic aromas, colours, labyrinthine passageways and crumbling vaulted ceilings, its treasures will be long to escape my imagination.

I Arrived at the square and a fair sense of supine peacefulness was to mark the time I whittled away sitting on a wall as I watched the various games of chess and backgammon being played out by old men drawing on their shisha pipes. Fairly enough, as the minutes melted away, it was becoming ever more difficult to couch my ideas into concrete aspects of real time, as my thoughts drifted into the fragmented recesses of moments long passed. I simply wouldn’t be able to tell you how much time was lost in this disassociated state of inertia which, as memories of gilded times and childhood innocence played havoc on my tolerance with my current self, slowly made the inexorable creep into troubling discord.

Istanbul

Some time there about, an old man as short as his hair was thick and grey and wearing a pinstriped suit shuffled over to a vacant table and opened a board of backgammon he’d been carrying under his arm. He set about placing all the pieces into their respective positions before inspecting the lines of the dice. Meeting my gaze he motioned me over and gathering up my senses I obliged him. Little was said and the game began, though soon after I was to be taken aback by the amount of personal disclosure my new friend was willing to impart.

‘My name is Hasad. For thirty years I was a diplomat for the Turkish government, traveling to many places around the world. Now I am nothing more than an old man with his memories. I don’t even ride my bicycle anymore because of an old leg wound I picked up during the Cypriote summer campaign of ’74.’ he said.

‘You fought against the Greeks?’

‘No I fell from a ladder painting the side of my house. I’ve never been to Cyprus.’ he said without a hint of irony. ‘I have to use the bus, but the buses in my part of the countryside are few and it can be some time before I can get into town to walk freely to the places that I like to frequent. For me it is essential that I come down here and sit in the sun with the other old men of the town, playing the games that I love. It’s one of my greatest enduring pleasures.’

Istanbul

‘I enjoy these games too.’ I said.

Behind Hasad’s chair I could see a group of sparrows foraging for morsels in the gaps between the flagstones. They were soon joined by a couple of churlish finches who jostled and parried between them with seemingly little success.

‘It’s not bad for me.’ said Hasad.

‘Come again.’

‘This life.’ he said looking up at me across the table. ‘What is hard for an old man is losing his family and I have lost mine, like pieces on a chessboard stripped away, within your influence but not to your design.’

I felt immediately sorry for the man, met by a curious sense of responsibility towards him.

‘Do you think about them, your family? I mean, does it make you feel… regret?’ I asked hesitantly.

‘My life is full of regrets. Isn’t yours? It’s all part of life’s fabric, but these are tough things for me to think about. I miss my wife. I miss my daughter. My wife died ten years ago. She was a brilliant doctor of children here in Istanbul. Her father was a doctor and his father a doctor also. One day she found a lump but by then it was too late. We buried her that summer in the pomegranate grove behind her parents’ place.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘It doesn’t make much difference, we buy into love and life and then when it goes away from us it must be accepted for that purpose. It is not the same as having to bury a child. This is not the natural order of things, no parent should have to bury a child.’

‘Your daughter died too?’

‘It feels that way. We haven’t spoken since my wife’s funeral.’ he said. ‘She was always a difficult case. She resisted everything we ever did for her, somehow lost in an unhappy place, wanting more from this life but unable to determine what that should be. She always carried this, how do you say, palpable sadness. When she was twenty six, two years after the death of her mother, she attempted to take her own life with medicine she found in Sanaz’s old office but only succeeded in poisoning herself and having her gall bladder removed.’

‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘I don’t know.’ said Hasad with august candor in his voice. ‘I don’t mean to offend you but I see something like this in you. Something to do with death. Sometimes I really don’t care about any of it. I truly don’t care about it because you can stare at the madness of it all for only so long before you want to tear out your heart and give everything to the passing winds as though you were not for this earth.’

Istanbul

We continued to play for another hour, winning and losing games in equal measure. As we parted we exchanged addresses, it seemed the right thing to do after sharing such an intimate evening, however I honestly thought we’d never meet again. Not in this life.

A couple of hours later I was sitting down by the river with a bottle of vodka and some Schweppes. A few boisterous seagulls were having it out over the bread I’d discarded from yet another cheap fish sandwich. Something to do with death… whatever could this mean? I had more lust and desire than any of the pencilheads working downtown, or those blind maggots in the factories begrudgingly yet dutifully punching the clock and shaving off another eight hours of their too short lives for no goddamned good enough reason. I’d always wanted more. This is why this night I’m slumped by the river which separates the great continents of Europe and Asia with a bottle of lousy grog.

Istanbul

Upwind, boatmen could be heard in the distance, ushering tourists onto the ferries shouting ‘Bosporus, Bosporus, Bosporus, come, come, come.’ I then imagined the great mosques of Istanbul and all their surrounding neighbourhoods crumbling into the night as all the great oceans’ tides converge upon this place, because unlike Jim Stark, I have always known that the world will indeed end in the nighttime, not the dawn.

Is it really the place’s fault Mr Hobsbaum? Hardknott and Wrynose Passes, Lake District National Park, England

Posted in England, Life, Literature, Philosophy, Photography, The Lake District, Travel, Uncategorized, Writing on January 3, 2013 by wildearthtravel

Lake District

Expatriated now by two summers and Christmases, I’ve found myself seeing in my second new year in exile from the land of my birth. My dearest Albion reduced to recessive nostalgia.  This scepter’d isle but a figment of a life lived and abandoned like the shedding of a skin that restricts the blood from nurturing the vital organs. The viscera a Gordian knot that I fumble somehow unable or unwilling to untie.

You’ll likely not understand this feeling but you will most probably sympathise, unless you too have taken leave of your home to become a stranger in a strange land, from being a stranger in your own. And the older you get the further into the furnace you reach, to where you somehow become unrecognisable, for you have now truly crossed the Rubicon, a relic of the life that once was.

Lake District

I find myself reminiscing as I review pictures taken from an autumnal trip through the Lake District four or five years hence. From Eskdale to Ambleside we climbed the steep Hardknott Pass through the Duddon Valley to where the Wrynose Pass continues, taking the road to the Langdale Valley and on to our destination.

This minor country road carries us up the steepest gradients in the country, on a road which at times is barely more than a car’s width across. The time of year is perfect for this undertaking as the numbing throngs of the summer tourists are now absent to where good fortune can still bless you with clear skies and moderate temperatures.

Lake District

I recall this day being such, as I further wonder to myself what kind of person should want to get away from it all in such a place when everyone else has already come to the same conclusion and beat you there. Having attempted both, I’d even go so far as to wager that coming to the Lake District in the summer is much like going for a relaxing drive around Manhattan Island at five on a weekday.

Thinking back to trips such as these, there comes an ineffable longing for this country and more so when absent from its shores, yet it can visit such a profound melancholy upon the ones who stay behind. Indeed, as a young man, common sense and a restive disposition have moved me to resist an existentially moribund condition brought on by such poisonous inflictions as inhibition, reticence, guilt and indolence to name but a few.

Lake District

As I fight these misgivings most foul, some with great success and others with little, so too have I fought the compelling brutality that Britishness in all its prosaic and desultory guises can visit upon a sensitive soul, and circumstantial personal experience has seemingly left me little other choice.

Forced up and out it seems, through formative years of propriety and decorum where so-called sensible men surreptitiously opine thinly veiled judgements behind a carefully metered composure, all against a backdrop of my darker liaisons with the salubrious facets of misadventure and a joyful inquiry into the darker recesses of self-abandon.

Lake District

Somehow I remain unable to secure purchase between the competing forces of romanticism and liberal radicalism on the one hand, and a more cynical, enlightened and analytical rationalism on the other, though I have most pompously and self-indulgently managed to fashion a flimsy explanation as to why the confounding situation I now find myself in is somehow the fault of the country to which I was born.

Lake District

If not the country then it most certainly must be the insufferable privileges I underwent as a child. Failing that, I doubt it so unreasonable then to locate the tipping point as the recklessly irresponsible exposure to reason that a red brick university degree in philosophy afforded, along with the voluminous cheap or free alcohol to scupper whatever remained of adroit social dexterity and personal vaulting ambition.

Lake District

Whatever it is that remains of these circumstances, it is beaten and hollowed through, compounded by the annihilation of self through self-revelation. The inability to exist in one’s home might be England’s fault or it might not, but one thing is most certainly axiomatic – the infernal corporeal experience pivots on these notions of national identity and as such we are damned to be assigned.

Lake District

Abandoned Kansai

All abandoned: Chernobyl / Pripyat, Nara Dreamland, Anti-Zombie Fortress, Japanese Sex Museum - and many, many more! Plus: North Korea Special - 2 trips, 16 days / 14 nights! As seen on CNN...

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