Saturday, November 15, 2014

Adventures in the Emptiest Part of the World Map

"What are you in Russia for?"
"We are tourists, and we are on our way to visit a friend who lives in Tomsk."
"And you are in Tomtor? Are you kidding me?" the man shot me the dirtiest look. "Tomsk must be thousands of kilometers away to the west from here. Did you come on a boat of North Korean defectors? Are you going to walk all the way there?"
And with that, he shook his head derisively and left.

Despite this act of mercy, my heart was still pounding like a bell for minutes afterward. The man had cut too deep in for comfort. To our defence, it was not until the cruise ship had departed the port of Sinuiju when we realised that the posh-looking official types on the boat with us were actually refugees and political dissidents in disguise, eschewing defection to China and Southeast Asia in favour of reunion with long-lost family members in Russia and Kazakhstan, and that the kindly Malaysian man running the entire venture was a Christian missionary who had made this smuggling his life's work.

Then again, why would any leisure cruise ship land in such a place as Magadan? That must have raised a few eyebrows.

In any case, the story of us visiting our friend was obviously not going to convince anyone, despite it being true. We decided to pretend to be Russians and each adopt an alias. I decided to adopt a name that could pass me off as someone from the far eastern districts, and took the name Vassily Shatirev, after the Turkish poet. Timothy spoke a little German, and probably looked a little like one himself; he became Boris Gyurman, whose Great-great-grandfather had been invited from Prussia by Queen Catherine to settle by the Volga. Quite naturally, Sultan became the Kazakh Nursultan Abdullayev, which he then gleefully shortened to Sultan Abdullah.
And, with this, the adventure continues.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gönül Arsızı

Kendi ettiğine kendi ettiğine
Kendi ettiğine zaman zaman ağla

Ay güneşe küsmüş dalların çiçek açmaz mı?
Sevdiğini eller almış, eller almış acımaz mı?
Mevsim bahara dönmüş, bülbül ötüp uçmaz mı?
Arsızı gönül arsızı var içimde sızı
Arsızı gönül arsızı var içimde sızı
Geçmedi kalbimdeki sızı, gelmedi gönlümün hırsızı
Gönül arsızısın sen gönül arsızı

Kim sana bakar söyle kim sana bakar?
Bundan sonra böylece bilde, söyleme, tadın tuzun kaçar.
Hangi göz ağlar sana, hangi göz ağlar
Geri dönüşün yoktur ki aşta, zaman zaman ağla
Kendi ettiğine yanda, zaman zaman ağla
Kendi ettiğine yanda
Kendi ettiğine yanda zaman zaman ağla

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Elusive Perovskite

How to obtain the elusive perovskite:
The purest mineral perovskite is found in the Urals, where the first samples were found by the eminent Dr. Gustave Rose in 1839. The location of this deposit is secret and is held privy to a crazy old Mordvin lady living in the outskirts of Perm, who is conversant only in broken Russian and an obscure sort of Magyar. To reach it, you must first find her in her abode. Then, you must ask said lady in her own language whither the perovskites be found, to which she will reply, "Кто ты, и ты можешь говорить более четко, пожалуйста, я слабослышащих. Также почему все спрашивают меня о скалы. Я ничего о таких вещах не знаю. Могу ли я пойти и кормить кур сейчас." At the exact location that she describes, you shall find the most delightful outcrop of the purest calcium titanate, each crystal as vitreous as a million cabochons of agate and jasper. Polishing and mounting of this gem demands the most accomplished lapidaries in this wide world, and a mere glimpse of this material is widely hailed as the stuff of their wildest dreams.

How to obtain diamonds:
Diamonds can be found in any old country that has an excess of corrupt officials and warlords.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Postgraduate Journal 1.9.4

A small bottle of water from Lourdes, a gift from Jonathan

(Semester 1, Week 9, Thursday)
It has been six weeks since I took off on a path to myself. People have joined the path and branched off since then, and now is a time when I see no one on the path. I am alone again. A Greek dance plays on my phone, in a language that the world has forgotten, a tongue that no one understands. In my mind I dance again, lonesome as a hermit in the wastes, trotting, toeing, the fine line between rapture and insanity.

The night prayer is written on my wall, serving as a rough template for my prayers for each night. It is a short one, each line written down after a meditative session at a retreat or a cell group meeting:

Lord, take me, break me, feed me to the crowds
Put me in the path of all in need
Let me be there, let me bear everything gracefully
I must decrease; You must increase

It's time to be serious about being fed to the crowds now.
Work has limited my contact with large groups, thinning down my social contact to one person at a time, sometimes even less. Old graduate friends become less responsive over messaging services. "Put me in the path in need" seemed to have put less people on my path, not more.

"Let me be there, let me bear everything gracefully." Maybe I haven't been there, maybe I haven't borne anything as gracefully as I imagine I should.

"I must decrease; You must increase."
So it's not about me. If only it was all not about myself!

All these will take time to sink in.

Tomorrow morning, hopefully, I will wake up as usual. My morning prayer is written on the same wall, and consists of a single pious ejaculation:

Lord, I am overjoyed to find myself still breathing. Take my day: it is yours!

Some days I strike out "overjoyed" mentally while making this prayer. Some days are just like that.
Time to sleep.

[Bedtime reading: Evangelii Gaudium]

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The final notes of Igor Stravinsky's "Petrushka", first tableau, and also of "The Rite of Spring", visualised in text

1. Petrushka, Russian Dance

2. The Rite of Spring
rrrrrrrrrrrrr........ (gliss.)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Uzun İnce Bir Yoldayım

Uzun İnce Bir Yoldayım
Gidiyorum Gündüz Gece
Bilmiyorum Ne Haldeyim
Gidiyorum Gündüz Gece
I'm on a long and narrow road,
I walk all day, I walk all night;
I cannot tell what is my plight,
I walk all day, I walk all night.
Dünyaya Geldiğim Anda
Yürüdüm Aynı Zamanda
İki Kapılı Bir Handa
Gidiyorum Gündüz Gece
Soon as I came into the World,
That moment I began my fight,
Through an inn with two doors,
I walk all day, I walk all night.
Uykuda Dahi Yürüyom
Kalmaya Sebep Arıyom
Gidenleri Hep Görüyom
Gidiyorum Gündüz Gece
I walk in sleep - I find no cause,
To linger, whether dark or light,
I see the travelers on the road,
I walk all day, I walk all night.
Kırk Dokuz Yıl Bu Yollarda
Ovada Dağda Çöllerde
Düşmüşüm Gurbet Ellerde
Gidiyorum Gündüz Gece
Forty-nine years upon these roads,
On desert plain, on mountain height,
In foreign lands I make my way,
I walk all day, I walk all night.
Düşünülürse Derince
Uzak Görünür Görünce
Bir Yol Dakka Miktarınca
Gidiyorum Gündüz Gece
Sometimes it seems an endless road,
The goal is very far from sight,
One minute, and the journey's o'er-
I walk all day, I walk all night.
Şaşar Veysel İş Bu Hale
Kah Ağlaya Kahi Güle
Yetişmek İçin Menzile
Gidiyorum Gündüz Gece
Veysel does wonder at this state,
Lament or laughter, which is right?
Still to attain that distant goal,
I walk all day, I walk all night.

Lyrics: Âşık Veysel Şatıroğlu
Translation: Nermin Menemencioğlu

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Abun d-bašmayo

Abun d-bašmayo - The Lord's Prayer
Syriac Orthodox liturgical music
Arr. Andy Paul Chen for guitar, vocals and bowed psaltery, after Gareth Hughes [source]

ܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ
Abun d-bašmayo
ܢܬܩܕܫ ܫܡܟ
Nethqadaš šmokh
ܬܐܬܐ ܡܠܟܘܬܟ
Tithe malkuthokh
ܢܗܘܐ ܣܒܝܢܟ
Nehwe sebyonokh
ܐܝܟܢܐ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ ܐܦ ܒܪܥܐ
Aykano d-bašmayo oph bar`o
ܗܒ ܠܢ ܠܚܡܐ ܕܣܘܢܩܢܢ ܝܘܡܢܐ
Hab lan laḥmo d-sunqonan yowmono
ܘܫܒܘܩ ܠܢ ܚܘܒܝܢ ܘܚܬܗܝܢ
Wašbuq lan ḥawbayn waḥtohayn
ܐܝܟܢܐ ܕܐܦ ܚܢܢ ܫܒܩܢ ܠܚܝܒܝܢ
Aykano doph ḥnan šbaqan l-ḥayobayn
ܠܐ ܬܥܠܢ ܠܢܣܝܘܢܐ
Lo ta`lan l-nesyuno
ܐܠܐ ܦܨܐ ܠܢ ܡܢ ܒܝܫܐ
Elo paṣo lan men bišo
ܡܛܠ ܕܕܠܟ ܗܝ ܡܠܟܘܬܐ
Meṭul d-dilokh hi malkutho
ܘܚܝܠܐ ܘܬܫܒܘܚܬܐ
W-ḥaylo w-tešbuḥto
ܠܥܠܡ ܥܠܡܝܢ
L`olam `olmin

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sea of Trees

A sparrow in a tree
In a sea of trees,
It falls from its perch;
It is buried by the leaf litter.
The maggots eat it;
The worms return it to the soil.
The forest stands
The world is proud, the world moves on
Only the Lord mourns.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Excerpts from Report to Greco

1. My father spoke only rarely, never laughed, never engaged in brawls. He simply grated his teeth or clenched his fist at certain times, and if he happened to be holding a hard-shelled almond, rubbed it between his fingers and reduced it to dust. Once when he saw an aga place a packsaddle on a Christian and load him down like a donkey, so completely did his anger overcome him that he charged towards the Turk. He wanted to hurl and insult at him, but his lips had become contorted. Unable to utter a human word, he began to whinny like a horse. I was still a child. I stood there and watched, trembling with fright. And one midday as he was passing through a narrow land on his way home for dinner, he heard women shrieking and doors being slammed. A huge drunken Turk with drawn yataghan was pursuing Christians. He rushed upon my father the moment he saw him. The heat was torrid, and my father, tired from work, felt in no mood for a brawl. It occurred to him momentarily to turn into another lane and flee--no one was looking. But this would have been shameful. Untying the apron he had on, he wrapped it around his fist, and just as the colossal Turk began to raise the yataghan above his head, he gave him a punch in the belly and sprawled him out on the ground. Stooping, he wrenched the yataghan out of the other's grip and strode homeward. My mother brought him a clean shirt to put on--he was drenched in sweat--and I (I must have been about three years old) sat on the couch and gazed at him. His chest was covered with hair and steaming. As soon as he had changed and cooled off, he threw the yataghan down on the couch next to me. Then he turned to his wife.

"When your son grows up and goes to school," he said, "give him this as a pencil sharpener."

2. The priest had placed himself at the head of the grave, where he swung the censer up and down and murmured prayers under his breath. I leaned over the newly dug soil. Mold, putrefaction; I pinched my nostrils. Though I felt sick to my stomach, I did not go away. I waited. Bones? What bones? I kept asking myself, and I waited.

Suddenly the man who was bent over and digging stood up straight. His torso emerged above the pit. In his hands he held a skull. He cleaned the dirt off it, inserting his finger and pushing the mud out of the eye cavities, then placed it on the lip of the grave, leaned over again, and recommenced his digging.

"What is it?" I asked my uncle, trembling from fright.
"Can't you see? It's a dead person's head. A skull."
"Don't you remember her? It's out neighbour Annika's."
I burst into tears and began to howl.
"Annika's! Annika's!" I cried. Throwing myself in the ground, I grabbed all the stones I could find and started to hurl them at the gravedigger.

Wailing and lamenting, I screamed how beautiful she was, how beautiful she smelled! She used to come to our house, place me on her knees and comb my curls with the comb she removed from her hair. She used to tickle me under the arms, and I giggled, I peeped like a bird.

My uncle took me in his arms, carried me off a little ways, and spoke to me angrily. "Why are you crying? What did you expect? She died. We're all going to die."

But I was thinking of her blond hair, her large eyes, the red lips which used to kiss me. And now...
"And her hair," I shrieked, "her lips, her eyes?..."
"Gone, gone. The earth ate them."
"Why, why? I don't want people to die!"
My uncle shrugged his shoulders. "When you grow up, you'll find out why."

I never did find out. I grew up, became old, and never did find out.

3. Pateropoulos in the first grade: a little old man, very short, fierce-eyed, with drooping mustache, and the switch constantly in hand. He hunted us down, collected us, then set us out in a row as though we were ducks and he were taking us to market to sell. "The bones are mind, the flesh is yours, Teacher," every father instructed him as he turned over his wild goat of a son. "Thrash him, thrash him until he becomes a man." And he thrashed us pitilessly. All of us, teacher and students alike, awaited the day when these many beatings would turn us into men. When I grew older and philanthropic theories began to mislead my mind. I termed this method barbarous. But when I came to know human nature still better, I blessed, and still bless, Pateropoulos's holy switch. It was this that taught us that suffering is the greatest guide along the ascent which leads from animal to man.

4. One day while reading the legend of Saint John of the Hut, I jumped to my feet and made a decision: "I shall go to Mount Athos to become a saint!" Without turning to look at my mother (Saint John of the Hut had not turned to look at his mother), I strode over the threshold and out into the street. Taking the most outlying lanes and running all the way for fear that one of my uncles might see me and take me back home, I reached the harbor, where I approached a caique, the one which was ready to weigh anchor first. A sun-roasted seaman was leaning over the iron bitt and struggling to undo the cable. Trembling with emotion, I went up to him.

"Can you take me with you, Captain?"
"Where do you want to go?"
"Mount Athos."
"Where? Mount Athos? To do what?"
"Become a saint."

The skipper shook with laughter. Clapping his hands as though shooing away a hen, he shouted, "Home! Home!"

I ran home in disgrace, crawled under the sofa, and never breathed a word to anyone. Today is the first time I admit it: my initial attempt to become a saint miscarried.

5. Early the next morning my father took me by the hand.
"Come," he said.
My mother became frightened. "Where are you taking the boy? Not a single Christian has left his house yet."
"Come," my father repeated. He opened the door and we went outside.
"Where are we going?" I asked. My hand was trembling inside his massive palm.
I looked up and down the street. It was deserted except for two Turkish women at the corner who were washing at the tap. The water had turned red.
"Are you afraid?"
"That doesn't matter. You'll get used to it."

Turning the corner, we headed toward the harbor gate. We passed a house that was still smoking and many others with broken doors, blood still on the thresholds. When we reached the main square with its lion-scupltured fountain and the huge old plane tree at the edge, my father stopped.
"Look!" he said, pointing with his hand.

I looked up toward the plane tree and uttered a cry. Three hanged men were swinging there, one next to the other. They were barefooted, dressed only in their nightshirts, and deep green tongues were hanging out of their mouths. Unable to endure the sight, I turned my head away and clung to my father's knees. But he grasped my head with his hand and rotated it toward the plane tree.

"Look!" he ordered me again.
My eyes filled with hanged men.
"As long as you live--do you hear--may these hanged men never be out of your sight!"
"Who killed them?"
"Liberty, God bless it!"

I did not understand. Goggle-eyed, I stared and stared at the three bodies that were slowly swaying among the yellowing leaves of the plane tree.
My father swept his glance around him and pricked up his ears. The streets were deserted. He turned to me.

"Can you touch them?"
"No!" I answered, terrified.
"You can!... Come!"
We went close; my father crossed himself hurriedly, repeatedly
"Touch their feet!" he commanded.
He took my hand. I felt their cold, crusty skin against the tips of my fingers. The night dew was still upon them.
"Kiss them! Do obeisance!" my father now commanded. Seeing me try to make a break and get away, he seized me beneath the arms, lifted me, bent my head downward, and forcefully glued my mouth to the rigid feet.

He put me down. My knees could not support me. He leaned over and looked at me.
"That was to help you get used to it," he said.

Once more he took me by the hand. We returned home. My mother was standing behind the door waiting anxiously.
"Where in God's name did you go?" she asked, seizing me avidly and kissing me.
"We went to do obeisance," answered my father, and he gave me a trustful look.

Tresha Remembers

Tresha remembers.
Tresha remembers the time before the two hurricanes swept across the country, bringing houses and driving people, Down-down-down.
Tresha remembers the day when she met her own angel, an uncommon honour for one before their time is due.
Tresha's angel came with a host of many others, who descended upon the homes in the shantytown, filling each one up, reciting strange prayers. Presently, they were about to take leave.
Tresha's angel followed them. She was tall, slender and noble. She was decked in simple clothes, but her face shone, Shone, more brightly than all the rest.
Tresha followed her, ambling along the dirt path, her neighbours' doorsteps. She walked by her side as the host left the town.
Tresha reached out for the angel's hand, and her fingers closed around her own.

Down, down, down the slopes to Batangas, Tresha remembers.