There’s nothing really old in Los Angeles.
Maybe that’s why there’s a Youth Cult. Hah! They don’t know what old is. Awhile back, a friend from my squandered flaming youth sent me an iPod stuffed with 566 live performances of Classic Rock he’s been personally recording since 1966. He’s standing right there in all of them, and now, so am I. I feel like the Ghost in the Machine. I always wanted a guy who would take me to concerts.
So I’m listening to The Beach Boys, circa 1973. Talk about old!! Songs of youth in safety and privilege, so simple and lovely. A song about being safe in your room. A song about a girl who rode a surfboard. A song about how all the girls in the country are so beautiful. A song about making money and being popular. A love song to a car. A song simply about feeling good. Once I thought them vacuous but now in the turgid Middle East present they sound soooooo beautiful, sugary harmonies going up into the stars over the unhurried nonchalant Surf Beat . And I’m remembering a Russian kid I met at a college here in Istanbul telling me how his father got sore at him, said he was the Russian equivalent of clueless, that he, the father, had risked his life to listen to Beatle records back in the ‘sixties, because there was a death penalty for possession of Beatle songs, symbols of capitalist extravagance, and his son didn’t appreciate his freedoms. We took the Beatles pretty seriously, but a death penalty? From this perspective The Beach Boys are singing the dream of the world. A youth in freedom, safety and privilege, and I’m grateful that I had it.
But … there is nothing old in Southern California. This is one reason for my passion for visible antiquity. You can always tell Californians in Istanbul. We’re the ones staring in disbelief at the walls that are really as old as they look and not the product of a set designer. Astonishing, that there are really such things in the world. So when Dan DiPaola sent me this camera I set about taking pictures of the old Boukoleon Palace walls to send him in LA, where there’s one fireplace down in Olvera Street supposed to be from the late 1500s, wow man. Above is the drawing I got last session. Check out the section at the bottom right:
I drew all the way to the lower right corner of the paper, which is the corner of a window. Not being able to include the whole thing would have made me crazy, except that I spent 13 hours drawing this very window back in Februray of 2008. Here, take a look:
Notice how there are things buried among the rocks of the outermost layer of the wall. You can see one pillar showing through at top left, and toward top right is a bit of carved marble. At left, just above the lintel arch, is a section of the marble balcony clearly showing through in our present drawing. The window itself is bare to the elements. Once high over the sea, it clearly had something attached to its marble sill, look at the three holes. I’ve taken lots of Americans to see this window, and we just stare at it and darn near cry, it’s so old and so beautiful and so…authentic. Back in 2008, 13 hours was the most time I’d ever spent on a single sketchbook drawing. It was important to draw every brick and stone exactly as I saw them, and am I glad I did, because there’s a fence there now and you can’t see as clearly, but I can still see that the rocks are different now. I never feel comfortable showing this drawing without its companion, Eager Student, a portrait of Ahmet Dal, a guy living in the ruins who made store runs for me and kept the creeps away. He’s reading my copy of Tayfun Oner’s book Walking Through Byzantium, with mighty enjoyment of the CGI of his home the Boukoleon.
Back to the section of the present drawing: Just to the left of the window is a section of original Byzantine brickwork eroded into a roll. This is where the newer layer has fallen away. Can you see the edge of the newer layer? It’s that vertical zigzag at the bottom left. Here’s what this wall tells us: First, early in the ninth century, Theophilus the Iconoclast Emperor built the Boukoleon Palace right into the City Walls rising up on the Marmara Sea. Then in 1204 came the Fourth Crusade, Roman Catholics mostly from Italy, and they burned the Palace, flames wreathing the crosses carved over its windows. People moved into the burnt-out husk and lived in it for centuries. All this time, this wall was right on the water, which gradually receded as the harbor silted up. In 1871 the Sultan ran the railroad through the Palace, and someone built wooden houses next to it, which filled in the windows with dirt and debris. Water dribbled through from the plumbing. Then in the early sixties the highway and park were built, raising the ground level by about twenty feet. At some point, possibly around the time that 16th-century fireplace was built in LA, the wall was reinforced with an outer layer of stone. That’s why the pillars are partly concealed. The edge of this outer reinforcing layer is that zigzag. In the last blog, I described finding one lone pillar, to the left of this arcade of pillars, with a filigree capital intact. It’s likely that there are other capitals buried in the wall.
There have got to be other windows as well. Drawing this stuff, I see all sorts of things I never noticed before, and now I can take pictures.
Here’s some sort of ledge sticking through the newer layer of wall. The gray vertical stains are from water draining out from the wooden houses above.
And there’s a Ghost Window. See how the more recent layer of wall sticks out much fartherthan the layer to the right. The innermost layer is original Byzantine brick.
In the longshot at the bottom of the page, we can clearly see the window.
See it there, at the bottom of the picture? There’s yet another window that just sticks up from the ground, over in the corner next to the Lighthouse. You can just barely see the desiccated scored window lintel above the ground.
Suddenly I’m cold to the bone. It’s time to pack up the drawing board and trek down the highway. Gulls shrieking, distant tankers out on the horizon, a row of battered fishing boats, and the looming grizzled hulk of the Boukoleon and the City Walls. A far cry from the soft white sands of Southern California where 30 seems old, lavender sunset light lying in little pools in the tromped-in sand, one great continuous Pacific wave, and those soaring falsettos. Thank you Randy Harris for sending them to me, and for being in touch all these years later. The Beach Boys would have sounded like angels to the Byzantines. Shoot, they sounded like angels to us.