Tuesday 13 September 2011 * 1:00-6:00
Working down at the Boukoleon Palace again, this time drawing those three great portals looking out to the Marmara Sea. For three years I lived on the railroad behind them. I stared at the backs of those portals, through the arcade of arches, in snowy mornings, sunny afternoons, evenings with the occasional festive jeweled cruise ship gliding between a space in the buildings, seemingly a fairy ship in the sky. Nights with a city of ships out there waiting to go up the Bosporus. Once there was a storm, waves so big they flooded the parkway; we could see them crash from my bedroom window. When I moved into the place, it was snowing and I did this one from a pile of cushions on the bed:
So now I’m drawing the portals from the front. From previous drawings I know every bum in the park and all the bus drivers. The biggest problem is that it’s too darn big for the page…there’s enough there for five drawings, pillars and portals and dessicated brick arches and waterstained old stone turning to yellow sand, studded with sprays of grass…what to choose, oh agony…
Clearly I won’t have room for the huge stones at the bottom, just above the grass. They would have been high over the water. This wasn’t grass until 1963 or so, when they filled in the harbor and built the highway. Someone painted his name, Hulusi, with “1945” and a picture of a cowboy hat. Someone standing on a tiny beach? Somebody who used to dive off the ruins, as I’ve been told they did, into the lagoon formed by the right angle of the big arch? Was it painted just after World War II, or was it painted by someone born in 1945? Hulusi is the Turkish form of Ulysses. Ulysses is a form of Odysseus, as in Odyssey, as in The Iliad and the Odyssey, which like most everything else in history took place in Turkey. You think the Trojan War was about Helen? That was a plot device by Homer. The Trojan War was about control over the Straits of the Dardanelles, because to control them is to control access to Asia from the West. Not far from the site of Ancient Troy is Gallipoli, where so many young men died in 1915. Australian, French, British and Turkish, Turkish, Turkish bones lie intermingled all over the ridges under the scrub, punctuated by grim cemeteries with rows of identical tombstones in English: “A strong, clean life, too quickly ended.” “A mother weeps to think of this foreign grave.” As if the parents were contacted and sent their epigraphs to be carved by the Turks. Their commander said “I am not asking you to fight, I am ordering you to die.” And die they did, but they won. They were fighting for their freedom. The Western powers planned to carve up Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but they were foiled by the Turks. Their commander was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Founder of the Turkish Republic, so great that Winston Churchill, who lost at Gallipoli, said “A general like Kemal Ataturk comes along once in a thousand years, and it was my rotten luck to be up against him.” Mustafa Kemal insisted that the foreign bones be interred and monuments built. The Turks said, “Where are our graves? Where are our monuments?” Ataturk said, “Look about you”– all the brushy ridges intersperced with the gleam of water, under a great sweep of sky– “This country is your monument.” What moves me to tears is the monument built to honor the foreign graves. Most of them were Anzacs: Australian soldiers whose descendants still pour into Turkey by the thousands every September on Anzac Day. Ataturk said:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
My client, Donna Perkins of Back of Beyond, Alberta, Canada, is the same person who commissioned my drawing of the Big Arch. We’ll get that blog up as well, stay tuned. I finished the Arch and she said, Don’t Send it, I’m Coming, I Just Don’t Know When. Donna’s been here many times; our mutual friends Jeannie and Rhonda used to bring bellydance groups from Canada all the time, women getting in touch with their Inner Belly, having a ball in Istanbul, and she was up at Kybele Hotel, long blonde hair, big blue eyes, much enthusiasm. When Jeannie and Rhonda opened Modern Sultan Hotel, Donna and her husband Guy came and stayed in it, and I took them around. We stood right there, at the Big Arch and under the Portals and next to the Lighthouse, and took pictures. Every now and then, Donna calls me to hear about the Old City. Last June I was all excited because another friend had commissioned a big drawing of Hagia Sophia. “You mean I can pay you to draw something?” said Donna.
But the best part is that she said, “What would you draw?” And that is how this particular project came to be. I was drawing and sending bulletins to Donna to let her know the progress, sharing them with others, and it grew into this. Since I am not scrounging around elsewhere to make ends meet, I can treat this like a job, with regular hours. What hours? A fine question to ask the obsessed: All of them!