Monday, May 31, 2010

Within the Sands of Time

Time is pouring through the hourglass of our lives and every grain of sand that trickles past the narrow space of the here and now is a moment slipping away that will either contain a treasured memory or simply be lost in the shifting passage of current movements as a missed opportunity ..

Monday has come around again
I’m in the same old place
The same old faces always watching me

Who knows how long I’ll have to stay
Could be a hundred years of sweat and tears
The rate that I get paid ..
Sometimes I slowly drift away
From all the dull routines
That are with me every day
A fantasy will come to me ..

They’re what I really need
Think I’ll rob a store, escape the law
And live in Italy ..
But, I guess I’ll always have to be
Living in a fantasy ..

I was on a back road leaving a dust trail behind me that startled rope-pegged donkeys out of their sullen afternoon doze, the way before me stretching into the distance as infinite space .. I had traversed miles of nowhere, taking in the lowland marshland of rice paddies and egrets collecting minnows for lunch and the high mountain passes bordered by cliffs, one side a vertical wall with jagged protruding stones threatening to shred the car like a tin opener if I ventured too near, on the other side a sheer drop of a thousand feet where I would’ve tumbled over boulders the size of houses ..

Now I found myself back on the flat of a fertile valley under a canopy of willow, high pine and hanging moss .. bumping off the tree lined avenue onto a two laned concourse at the next narrow turn I hit tarmac and a wide-open avenue where the sun caused ripples to rise from the burning pavement .. as I rounded a bend in the carriageway a man in white shirt and black trousers stepped to the edge of the embankment and waved me towards the arcade of restaurants that sat back under the palms as an oasis from the heat of the afternoon sun ..

I had spent the afternoon trekking trails where usually only the sure-footed pack animals and lizards dared to venture, reaching the pinnacle of an ancient isolated outpost, peering into the canyons and across the verdant vale to yet another range of high hills that reminded me more of the high points of Wyoming and Utah than any other place I’ve been .. so, hunger rumbling in my belly, I hit the brakes and slid across the gravel drive, kicking stones out across the grassy verge and skidded to a stop under an awning that covered a small parking area. In front of me was a sheltered terrace where tables were laid for dining in a setting of comfort and serenity, and I thanked the Lord for small blessings of potential nourishment .. another well-dressed man appeared and opening my car door welcomed me into the peaceful relief of the shaded patio .. another gentleman handed me a moist towelette to wipe the fine sand of the road from my hands and face; it’s amazing the accumulation of dust that settles over the skin attaching itself to the sweat that acts as magnet to the fine sandy particles that swirl around in the car when the windows are open .. a bottle of cold water was proffered and fresh brewed tea was on it’s way ..

There was no menu here – instead, pictures high up on the wall illustrated the type of food available, and it looked like meat was the main item on all of them .. asking about vegetarian pizza only got me blank looks and a stream of various halting languages to determine which part of the world I had rolled in from .. once their television learned English and my stuttering dictionary Turkish was established as the currency of communication we began to exchange pleasantries and make references to commonalities between myself and the friendly group of waiters that had gathered around the table, and then moved on to the business at hand ..

Accepting that when in Rome one does as the Romans, and in the middle of nowhere one does as local custom demands, I acquiesced to the suggestions of the attentive huddle of smiling servers and cooks, taking my chances with what would be my evening meal .. first up was a large salad of shredded lettuce and sliced tomatoes, three varieties of olives and sliced cucumber (not like in the UK and US where we chop little circles end to end, but lengthwise, skin peeled and dusted with a layer of sea salt), red and green peppers cut as thin as strands of spaghetti were liberally sprinkled on top, and bread – oh, wonderful fresh from the oven pide (a cross between pita and nan) all puffed up with bubbles of steam trapped inside waiting to be pierced with a fork and ripped open in hungry delight, it’s marshmallow texture melting in the mouth accompanied by the cool crisp garden vegetables and creamy mint yoghurt dressing ..

As I sat drinking cay with fresh lemon slice (my own personal habit), tearing into the warm bread and scooping olives from the bowl, two young men in overalls began washing the dusty day's debris from my car – first hosing it down, then squirting on bubbling suds before using a big soft brush on the chassis, scrubbing the dirt from the wheels and cleaning the windows with a soft cloth, they were particularly conscientious in their job, and the car began to gleam in the shafts of sunlight streaming through the foliage of the overhanging tree branches ..

Before I had a chance to finish this cornucopia in front of me, the main meal arrived .. several plates of delicacies were placed across the table as my salad bowl and plate were whisked away by young men in crisp white shirts .. I looked at the selection of dishes arranged around me, more garden fruit, some of it grilled and some fresh and raw, another basket of bread – this time several different types, and the dozen or more skewers laden with cubes of beef .. having only eaten meat twice in the past 25 or more years, I plucked up my nerve and trusting carnivorous instinct attacked the dish like a starving cannibal ..

Accompanying the meat was a plate of herbs and spices that accentuated the strong braised flavour I was unaccustomed to, but they were delicious – paprika, garlic and chilli, cardamom and kekik (oregano), thyme and turmeric laid out in a colourful pattern were set on their own side plate for liberally rolling the little steak bites into as a stimulating and tongue tingling addition .. with two types of vinegar and light red wine splashed over the fresh vegetables my mouth was alive with flavours unlike any I had experienced for many years .. I don’t have any intention of continuing with a diet consisting of meat products, but I felt neither guilty nor proud of my adventure into the world of animal again, and pleasingly suffered no ill effects from the ingestion of these chewy morsels ..

After consuming all I could eat, and washing it down with spring water and rich dark coffee topped up with cream and (so unlike me) a healthy dose of sugar, I was engaged in conversation by several attendants who were curious as to my mission in the backwoods of this long mountain pass .. we laughed and joked about my American accent when one of the gathering crowd hinted that there was a difference between the way I spoke and the usual English tourists they had met on visits to the coastal areas – they were surprised and excited that a real live Yankee had stopped in their humble hideaway in the far flung Anatolian peak district ..

The talk turned to football and the upcoming World Cup, the arrogance of United supporters, the displacement of Galatasaray as top team in the league and the unfortunate incidents of hooliganism that often marked encounters with English teams .. I asked if any of my audience had ever been abroad and no one had, though one man told me he had a Russian girlfriend back on the Eastern border and that Russian pilgrims would often come through his hometown on bus trips to see Mount Ararat and explore the biblical lands where many a saint had wandered .. he told me she was coming to visit him soon and he was practicing his Cyrillic so they could converse in her native tongue, but that his real desire was to one day go to Japan ..

Finally, I was treated to a lovely selection of cakes dripping with honey from the hives I had passed minutes ago on the craggy towpath down from the mountain .. I love coconut and with a few shavings on top, it was a sweet I needed to give me a boost before driving ..

I paid my bill – astonishingly it cost less than 7 pounds (14 dollars) including bahsis (tip) and car wash and extra bottle of water for the ride; I had not felt so satiated and rested for many days and the few lira tip was worth the extra attention .. hitting the road again, I turned toward the sun and where it would soon set across the Aegean, knowing that I had made acquaintances who would remember me as I would them, having discovered a little about each other and the paths that had brought us together in a moment of compatriotism and shared human interest ..

Several days later as I was watching the news – surprisingly though I receive about 267 channels on the satellite, my only English language news station is the popular 24 hour broadcast of Al Jazeera, when they announced that a bus carrying Russian tourists had overturned in Antalya, a few miles further along the coast, claiming 26 souls, and I couldn’t help but think of my friend and the heartbreak that so many families would feel knowing that such terrible a waste of lives could happen in such an idyllic location ..

Every day in life should be an adventure in learning, exploring and discovering ourselves, the people we meet and the things we see, our journey through this cosmic chaos and our understanding of how we fit into the splendid pattern of being that populates every microscopic entity .. whether you are here or there, rich or poor, alone or surrounded by strangers in the marketplace, or hanging out with the friends and lovers you’ve known all your life, each moment is precious and can’t be recaptured or lived again ..

If only we could all halt the hustle and bustle of everyday life that demands so much our time and take a moment to enjoy simple pleasures, exchange a few pleasantries with those we meet or pass in the street, taste some unique culinary specialities, hop on a fairground ride, smell the sweet fragrance of flowers, read something we might not usually consider, swim in the turquoise sea, learn a few words of greeting in another language, and never forget to tell those we love how much they mean to us and that we never stop caring whether they are near or distant ..

And, of course, to remind ourselves that we live each day through the emotion in our hearts and thoughts in our minds, and that at the end of our time when dust is all that remains, we can only hope to carry with us memories of love, and trust that unlike those countless grains of sand that slip forgotten through our fingers to blow ceaselessly on the wind, the balance of the eternal scales, measured and weighed in stories of passion and justice, tilts promisingly in our favour ..

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