Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 15

22 October 2011 2-7 PM

GESTALT

I have a compulsion for accuracy. The real, actual world is so astonishing and beautiful that I want to document it. Accuracy is not simply a matter of everything being exactly in place, it’s also a matter of mood. Gestalt is a term for something where the whole equals more than the sum of the parts. You know how some people are not particularly beautiful, yet they are fired with charm, radiance, charisma– so that they seem stunning in person. But a bad photo can make them look empty. So it is with buildings. This rendering of the actual present Boukoleon is as accurate as I could make it, yet something is missing. That’s what we’re working on today. Here’s the drawing as we left it last time.

Boukoleon Portals 14: Work In Progress ©2011 by Trici Venola

I’m making this work better simply by blackening certain areas and strengthening certain lines, while looking at the actual Boukoleon. It really helps to look at the drawing upside-down, in a mirror, and from across the room. You can immediately spot what needs to be done. 

This piece is really busy because of the accuracy. In line art, you’ve got two choices: lines and no lines. There’s a kind of code that develops: dots mean one sort of surface, hatching another. In this piece I used stippling for mortar. For brick, I used hatching.  And now we’re going to talk about foliage.

Oh, the drawings I’ve ruined from drawing the foliage wrong. OK, it’s ephemeral, but it’s there and must be dealt with. It has to do with the way the Boukoleon looks. It’s green, and nothing else is. So we have to find a code for it. The code for this foliage in this drawing is white, sparsely detailed, with a few forays into black.

The detail is sparse because the drawing is not about the foliage. You have to say “What is this drawing about?” And you have to keep saying it as you work. What the drawing is about determines everything you do: the amount of detail, treatment of surfaces, chiaroscuro– the light and dark. This drawing is about endurance. It’s about the contrast between red brick and white marble and old stone. It’s about splendor that survives decay. It’s about grandeur. And on a personal level, it’s about 40 hours of my life in September and October of 2011.

The Boukoleon tells us a lot by its age and decrepit condition. We can see how the rainwater fountained down by the way it carved troughs in the bricks. The big stones at the bottom record the thrash of waves in storms. The blackened areas tell us of past horrors of destruction. The layers of brick and stone are clues to its construction. The lines of stress and weight tell us how a building 1200 years old can survive earthquakes, fires, explosions, partial demolition by dynamite, and the constant vibration from the trains running through its truncated guts.

I’ve been drawing this during a time of upheaval and change. While I was working on this, Muammar Gaddafi died on the hood of a car. You probably saw it too, how he put up his hand to his bloody head and looked at in amazement and dismay. Like many of the ancients, Gaddafi was a horrible sociopath who bled his people like a spider sucking out the guts of flies. His end was foul, as were those of so many of the ancients. As I draw, trying to bring out the massive bulky shapes made up by thousands of bricks, I’m thinking of Nicephoros Phokas.

Phokas Captures Halep: from a contemporary manuscript

He lived in this palace, although he was not born to the purple. Emperor from 963-969, Nicephoros Phokas was a great general. His nickname from a grateful populace was Pale Death of the Saracens.   He killed so many of them that he made Christian Constantinople safe from what it perceived as the ravening hordes of Infidels. Then the Emperor Romanos died, leaving two little boys, a gorgeous 22-year-old widow, Theophano… and a eunuch in charge of the country. Probably to save her sons, Theophano seduced Nicephorus Phokas. This would not have been easy. He was four feet tall, with no neck and thick rubbery lips, and he undoubtedly stank. He refused all comfort, being one of those Christians who believed in rigid asceticism. He slept in a tiger skin and eschewed women, wine, and good food. Nevertheless, Theophano prevailed. “The people love you,” she said, “if you want, they’ll crown you Emperor.” And so it was done, with a grand processional from the Triple Gate all through the city to Hagia Sophia, where he was coronated on the great dais there.

Six years later he was killed by Theophano, his head displayed on a pike before an angry mob, his body thrown out of a window, likely from this very palace. He had insisted that the people continue to behave as though they were still at war, practicing rigid economies and prayers, and they wanted to enjoy life. He was Oliver Cromwell. He was soon hated. He forced the people to build a wall from the Great Palace, next to the Hippodrome where the Blue Mosque is now, all the way down to the Boukoleon on the sea, ending at the Lighthouse, cutting the people off. The Wall of Nicephorus Phokas still exists in places. It’s hollow, a great enclosed walkway the size of a roofed street, big enough for an unpopular, grandiose upstart to walk with his army. But it didn’t save him. The people would have killed him–one source says they did– If Theophano hadn’t done the job. From those contemporary physical descriptions I wonder that it took her six years. On his tomb was carved “You conquered all but a woman.”

I always wanted to be right in the center of things. It seems my fate to be drawing the center of things 1042 years after the fact.  As I put the last stroke on my signature, three people walked up. We started talking and I met Trevor, who is studying archeological preservation of Byzantine antiquities here in Istanbul. He told me some hopeful things about the Boukoleon, such as who has an interest in it and who put the fence up. These are people I’ve some acquaintance with. They do things well here in Turkey and have a great appreciation and understanding of antiquities. Trevor has an impressive amount of information about the Boukoleon and much more access than me since he is working from within the Groves of Academy. I explained that I’m doing this entirely on my own hook, with no organization or funding save the commissions from fascinated clients, and he made some suggestions as to people I might look up, people who would be interested in my Drawing On Istanbul project. So I’m going to do just that, and I’ll let you know what happens.

I am drawing for those who will never see this palace in all its rotting glory. I am hoping that it neither falls apart nor is rendered unrecognizable by Restoration, where one must be told how old it is since it looks brand-new. Why is visual antiquity good? It’s interesting. It tells us things we can’t learn from looking at the same thing new, or made to look new. Today I wore my go-to-hell jeans, which have been with me after a laundry mix-up in West Hollywood in 2001. The original owner was a fairly tall man who wore his 501 jeans until the knees split crossways and the hems were ragged, the backs of them torn clean off. The fronts of the thighs are worn white, and the left one is beginning to fray to white crosswise threads. On either side of the knee splits, the torn threads hang down in an interesting manner. What does this tell us? The wear over the knees tells us he was active. The worn left thigh is a clue as to his behavior, like perhaps he wore a tool belt that rubbed that spot. The ragged bottoms tell us that he was in rough country and wore his boots on the inside. Or perhaps he tucked the jeans in so many times that they tore. Now to buy a pair of jeans like this in LA costs an arm and a leg, because it’s impossible to create a pair of jeans worn out like this from scratch. You can stone-wash jeans, you can artificially distress them, you can put cutesy little tears and frays on them and charge up the yingyang for them and the designers do, but all they are is kitsch. Fake and common. But their pricey existence points up the value of the real deal. The high value of actual worn-out jeans is tribute to the years it takes to make them and the stories that they tell. Tribute to the human experience of those actual jeans, made visual. For this reason they are infinitely more valuable than they were when new. And so it is with antiquities. I can’t preserve them so I draw them.

So we come to the end of the Portals Drawing Experience, and here is what we have to show for it:

Boukoleon Portals 2011 ©2011 by Trici Venola

Gestalt? You decide. Thanks to Donna Perkins, in the Back Of Beyond, Canada, for making this Boukoleon Portals project happen, and I sure hope you and Guy love the original.

Samaver Cafe ©2011 by Trici Venola

Thanks to Samaver Cafe, just on the other side of the parking lot from the Boukoleon. Thanks to that bus driver who gave me a pencil, to Gabrielle for getting me, finally, up on a blog. Finally, thanks to all the people in the park, people who will likely never see this blog, but who have either ignored me so I could work, or looked out for me while I was working, made me welcome, and made it possible.

Drawing the Boukoleon ©2011 by Trici Venola

Ahmet and a few nameless guys and that shy fellow, the Ghost, who I tried to draw from memory. All the neckers, a different pair every day, now gone to warm cafes. It’s all sad and strange now, the weather has turned to winter, and today will be short. My best friends are leaving Istanbul, off to new adventures. I don’t know what I will do without them. But working all day today on this I am comforted. Part of the expatriate experience is that people leave, and it tears your heart right out when they go. But the drawing is always there. I don’t know why it makes me happy, but I’m very glad it does.

photo ©2008 Donna Perkins

Donna took this picture of me back in 2008 down in front of the Lighthouse. I’ve drawn the Window there, but there are some pillars up top on the wall, in front of desiccated arches and partially behind the remains of an Ottoman stone covering. Fascinating. I wonder how long the rain will hold off?

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 14

21 October 2011 1:30-5PM

PERSPECTIVE THROWS A CURVE

Well, I blew it. Hoo-boy. After all this drudgery, a mistake I can’t fix. But the piece will still work.

It’s the perspective in the top left corner that’s off.

I was an illustrator in the recording industry for years and years. One-point perspective creates drama when you’re drawing something like a recording console or piece of equipment, like this:

and you can easily apply forced one-point perspective in Photoshop with the Transform command, like this.

But of course, it looks like hell. Flat. Fake. Real perspective is much more interesting.

Here’s the piece entire.

Boukoleon Portals.WIP Three & One ©2011 Trici Venola

All this talk about invoking the Cross– well, I should have STARTED with the Cross.

I did, from the left to the right. But at the very beginning, from ancient habit I laid the piece out in forced-perspective. I ran the perspective lines from high up down to a point far to the right of the edge of the page, and I slightly tilted the vertical plane. Why? For drama. Artistic license, if you will. Now some of this is allowable. We are attempting to convey mood and accuracy, and we have jettisoned color, mass and one of the three dimensions. We have black and white and we have line. So there’s got to be some compensation. OK, so now it’s dramatic, but  I forgot something about perspective. I can’t believe it, but I did.

I used to be married to a guy with the best natural perspective sense I’ve ever seen. I remember seeing him lay out the perspective lines for the backgrounds to a comic program we collaborated on. Here’s part of his Main Street background, which he based on Cannery Row and built, as we did back in Paleolithic Mac times, with a mouse in SuperPaint:

Main Street ©1986 by Kurt Wahlner for Comic Strip Factory

You see? The lines aren’t straight. They bulge out when they are close to you, like a fish-eye lens.  Here, I’ve scored them in red:

See? Curved. Just like the eye sees them. And, dammit, when I draw ONLY using the Cross and the Unit, I never make a perspective mistake. That natural fish-eye effect shows up. But no, I had to run those stupid perspective lines straight out and up and off the page like I was drawing an ad for a recording console. Damn!! I should have done it like this, if I was going to do it at all:

All is not lost. You see toward the bottom, that slab of marble below the PopUp Kitten hole? That angles off almost flat. That is correct. Because I was using the Cross. But up above, the white rocks, oh dear, such proportion problems. If I’d stuck to my forced-perspective the bricks would have been taller than they are wide.

So I did what all artists do, and I’m telling you about it: I faked it. That’s pretty much what it looks like, at the top left, but it’s not accurate. There are a whole lot more bricks drawn than are actually there. I had to make up the difference between the forced-perspective left top corner of the Left Portal, and the stuff below it, which I built on the Cross. So if you’re looking to rebuild the Boukoleon as the Byzantines did, don’t look at this part. Look at the rest.

Boukoleon Portals WIP.Three & One ©2011 Trici Venola

The Cross method is a way of creating, exactly, what the eye sees. If you’re trying to draw something that you are seeing in your imagination, one-point won’t do. Back then I didn’t quite understand what my former husband was doing with those bulging lines, but I sure do now. I’ll never forget it. And I hope you don’t either.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 5

Sunday 25 September 2011 • 12:30-5:30

GABRIELLE

Success! Down there and drawing by 12:30 and tackled that center portal. There are those times that it all just draws itself– you don’t hurt anywhere, you can see, you don’t need anything, the pen is right, the paper’s right, and blessed concentration. Spent five hours and got to this point:

Well, I fell in love with the way the brick has eroded between those portals. With a little more work, it’ll be clearer, how fountains of water have washed down the surface of that brick in thousands of storms. Now as you can see, if I don’t start pulling back right away on the detail, the whole thing will be one busy texture and all the structure and drama lost. So next, it’s concentrate on the dark arches above these portals. And I’ll have to sacrifice. The inside areas may have to get a whole lot darker.

Gabrielle called. I like this girl. She read yesterdays’ note, and asked me if I’d like some time to myself first. So I had awhile in the zone, and then companionable work silence broken by grunts and the occasional profanity. She showed up in shorts, which made me yell at her, but quickly produced a large shawl and wrapped it around ’em. We made a pact to concentrate and natter later.  Her ink-wash is coming along very well, but it was dicey there for awhile. Even so, her marble is hard, her brick is old, the structure has weight and strength, no mean feat with ink-wash, one of the most difficult mediums.

A couple of the bums were down there, the affable one and a new one, who sat and drank his beer and stared over hungrily. Finally he came over and, touchingly shy, asked to see the work, made some conversation, wandered away. The guy off in the corner is still there from yesterday, eating, drinking and reading his newspaper. He never moves, he’s like a projection.

Around five-thirty my eyes were fine but I couldn’t sit anymore despite the cushion I haul down there every day. Coffee in the tea garden and then up the hill and over to the Corridor of Lord ruin under the carpet shop, which Garbrielle had never seen. More arches and domes, can’t get enough of ’em. We went out with Huseyin for fish dinner in Kumkapi, had a fabulous time, stuffed ourselves with fish, Gypsy musicians banging the tambourine and whining on that violin right in my ear. It hurt like hell. But the working girls down there were so draw-able that I had to pull out the sketchbook. Never have I seen so many intriguing bodies in such tight spandex. The drum still stabbed but it didn’t hurt anymore, I was in the paper, and so were they.  I’m falling asleep, I’m saving this as a draft, or not, it’s 2:45 AM and I didn’t do my exercises for the second day which means I’ll be flabby and die no doubt, but the hell with it, goodnight. A happy day.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 2

Friday 16 September 2011• 2:00-5:00 

STARTING OVER

Today we had no dogs at the Boukoleon and the bums’ tent was empty. It’s made of a blanket hung over a cord tied to the ancient wall and a little tree, with a teapot set up next to it, trash everywhere and wadded up against the fence. Away over in the corner near the big arch a guy sat scowling and reading. A pair of teenagers showed up, spread a newspaper on the brick pavement amid the blowing trash, and started necking. They were there for three hours. I felt like a duenna. Re-drew the left portal, and am I glad I did. Now it works, it’ll carry the whole thing.

Had a time as I couldn’t find my pencil. Knew I’d put it in with the pens. The page I prepared at home, up against the window, tracing the layout with pencil from what I”d done before, turned out to be cut too short. I had to prepare another. And. No. Pencil. Trying to hold two huge flapping papers up to the light and keep them from sliding out of place while I made pen dots on the perspective lines.  Then I packed up, went down to the bus stop and asked one of the drivers. He gave me a fine art pencil and I almost kissed him. Oh bliss, to safely delineate the basic block-in of that blasted portal. Here’s the hash I made of it yesterday. Notice the point on the dark negative space at the top of the inner arch. It doesn’t look like that, it’s rounder. The whole proportion is off:

Far Left Portal Misfire ©2011 by Trici Venola

The problem yesterday came when I drew the entire rectangle of the portal in ink and then tried to put all the arches inside, and they came out squeezed. This time I penciled only the left post and the top, the main horizontal perspective lines and some of the inside. Then I started drawing in ink, the inside of the portal, all the arches and twisted burned brick. This worked.

Far Left Portal For Real ©2011 by Trici Venola

It may not matter to you, but it sure matters to me. Sometimes you just don’t have time to start over, but this time I do. Also, a proportional problem this early on will only lead to grief, since as I draw I measure against everything that has already been drawn. Here they are side by side. See?

Far Left Misfire

Far Left for Real

Started sneezing but didn’t care, it was going so well at last. High above my small shady cypress tree is an enormous Sycamore, and something up there is crapping on the page from time to time. I have to be quick  with a tissue or it soaks into the page. Those neckers hung in there and I got a surreptitious drawing of them melted into each other.

They felt it, her suspicious little face glancing over at me past the sheaf of black hair. A kid with braces from Iran asked me the history of the palace, said he was stuck with his mother and grandmother who only wanted to shop. I gave him a card for the website.  A guy crawled out of the tent, scratched himself, waved.  An affable face. Said he knows me, I’m the artist, I could draw there as long as I liked and he would keep off the riffraff. He works long hours at the gas station across the highway, was catching some sleep.

End of the day an ebullient Turkish guy came up and said he could feel the presence of the ancient Byzantines. I said I could too, they blow in with the leaves and watch me draw. He said he could also feel the spirit of Jesus Christ. I let that one go. The Boukoleon was built in 817, lived in for four centuries,  sacked and burned in 1204. Byzantines built it and lived and prayed in it and Crusaders destroyed it, and all of them in the name of Jesus Christ. While I was drawing the portal I saw dark and blood and flames,  Crusaders in armor stalking through the arcade of arches, one standing there with drawn and dripping sword, the red cross on his chest visible through the smoke, over him the same cross carved in the blackening marble lintel, the flames fluttering like Crusaders’ flags.

Dog In the Ruins ©2008 by Trici Venola.


Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 1

 Friday 16 September 2011 *  3:00-4:30

INTERLOPERS

Showed up at the Boukoleon today where I was greeted by barking dogs. Awful, trash everywhere, weeds, and a new bum lean-to at the wall under the high Byzantine portals I’m drawing, rowdy guys in there. Police showed up, said Be Careful but don’t seem to care about the tent or the trash, nobody seems to care about this palace but me, drawing like a fool. A dramatic frenzy of brick shards radiating around the arches, marble posts and lintels bowed with age, muscular blackened spines of brick arcing up behind the portals. Then a shock, tourists actually walking around up in there. Had to be tourists, nobody else wears those bright machine-embroidered satin pillbox hats. One girl stood right on the threshold of the Center Arch. Right where I’d dreamed of standing. She probably never even heard of the Palace before today.
How dare they? Spent years! Staring at that arcade of arches and could never get in, days and nights imagining what it looked like from there.

Here’s my litte rescued cat Callista in the old apartment with the Boukoleon in the background.

Here’s winter and summer, hours spent staring out my windows at that arcade of arches, wondering.

And here are pages from an entire childrens’ book I set there back in 2005, months visually speculating what the Palace would have looked like if things had been a little different and people had fixed it up, lived in it in, say, the 1920s–  A place, a Palace, so

ingrained in my consciousness for so many years– how DARE they? I wanted to rip them right out of there. Of course, feelings like this are best not acted on. What I did instead was to

From "The Princess And The Pea" ©2005 by Kieran McGovern (words) and Trici Venola (art)

pack up all my paraphernalia, hoof it up the hill and around to the property adjacent to the Palace which has always been blocked

esolebooks.com/easyreads/princessandthepea.html

off by the owner of the house there. It’s open now, but I had to walk over a broken gate and someone’s garden. It’s forbidden to block off these places, but they didn’t exactly put up a sign either. But finally there I stood at last, high in the center portal looking out towards the sea, just where I’d drawn and dreamed so many times. The marble on those portals is ten inches thick, the mortar still holding over a thousand years. Back in 2008 around this time of year I sat on the table-sized balcony of my old apartment, hanging over the railroad, and drew this. It’s sheer bliss to know I’ve stood there at last. The view is the same, only closer, with the huge marble presence looming all around. A flat pounded dirt floor, sprung filthy couch, big pile of construction materials. I’d rather see it like this than turned into kitsch with “restoration.” Nobody can build like the Byzantines; ruins should be fortified, yes, but left as ruins. I want to know that what I am looking at is what was placed by fingers like mine. Built by hands now dust, like the place where there once were marble floors.

Boukoleon Twilight ©2008 by Trici Venola

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 0

 Tuesday 13 September 2011 * 1:00-6:00

ULYSSES

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!

Rolling the Boukoleon Bones

How strange to know exactly where you will be and what will be happening with the weather. This seems an incalculable luxury to me, but that was part of what I signed up for when I moved here. Something in me has always wanted to crouch on the edge of an alien civilization, making art. Just now I’m looking out over dull silver drifts of sea fading into the mist, peppered with minute black birds in an erratic line. The entire bottom of my view is crusty Byzantine brick ruins. It’s all that’s left of the Boukoleon Palace, built in the ninth century as the First Palace in Christiandom, burned by Crusaders in 1204 but spared by Mehmet the Conqueror 250 years later, when he wept to see, as he wrote, the owl flying, the spider spinning a tapestry in the House of the Caesars.

In 1873 the Sultan ran the Orient Express through the remains of the Palace, bisecting it and leaving a considerable chunk of the Palace facade facing the sea. What remains of that is one huge arch, some piles of rubble atop a honeycomb of arcs and mysterious wells going down to Byzantium, and one magnificent double stand of arches surmounted by marble portals on the sea side. The top row was torn off, presumably when the government filled in the area between the harbor and the seawall, and built the highway. I live on the other side, across the tracks, looking out over the arches to the sea.

Below my balcony in the weeds of the railroad bed is a huge ziggurat-cut chunk of marble, carved around the sides and scored across the surface with holes for fixing a bas-relief, or perhaps a sheet of marble in contrasting colors. There’s also one pillar and its capital, and some smaller chunks of the ziggurat-cut piece, all decorated with spray-paint graffiti. Computer-generated concepts of the Palace show it as a vast bald grey expanse rising out of the sea, but I have seen dozens of chunks of multicolored marble from all over the Palace site. They’re grey until it rains, and then they are a rainbow: wine-purple porphyry, speckled green malachite, white flecked with carnelian, saffron, deep emerald green veined with black, glittering white, translucent pale amber. I think the Palace looked like a painting of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s, now in the Getty, entitled Spring. Brilliant colors juxtaposed with statues and frescoes, a painting in polished marble, and a porphyry birth chamber, giving rise to the expression born to the purple. Sir Lawrence painted this in 1901, and I will bet a Byzantine brick that he visited Istanbul first and saw what was left of the Palace. The layout is the same, and so are the colors of the marble.

Whatever we have most of, humans seem to take for granted. When I first moved here I was horrified to see three guys hauling a wheelbarrow of marble fragments out of the Palace to decorate their cafe. I called the Tourist Police and got an embarrassed reaction, but despite all those stories about dire consequences for removal of souvenirs from ancient ruins, there simply was no provision made to keep such things from happening here at the Boukoleon. The Palace has been left to rack and ruin for decades.The good part was that, for years, we could walk up into it, but the bad part was that homeless people, some of them drug addicts, lived in the ruins and made it risky to go in there. I used to get along with most of them, but never sat and drew in the ruins as I longed to do because one never knew when some glue-sniffing idiot would show up dangerous.

But many a time I went in there, alone or with friends, to marvel at the rising walls of brickwork, the piles of marble rubble all around. One massive malachite pillar lies in there, its thickness up to my hips. Weed-fringed holes go down into the area below, peopled by denizens of the dark amongst the trash. The one remaining sea gate, the sides of a marble keyhole shape rising from vast marble pediments carved with egg-and-dart borders, was choked with trash, dumped furniture, garbage and dead things. There had been a fig tree, but the Belidiye- the local government- lopped it down, the dead branches rotting on the edge of the track leading up over the marble pediments up into the ruin.

We would clamber from the gate over the pediment and up through the weeds along the ridge of masonry, and suddenly be looking down into exposed rooms and arched portals and mystery.Up top was a toothed ridge over the big arch, one lone standing pillar marking the airspace of an entire colonnade. We’d jump down past more shoots of fig saplings and over a massive pile of potsherds and into what had been a sort of hall, open to the sky, with the remnants of walls and arched doors and windows all around. The ground surface was rubble and weeds, punctuated with the remains of campfires. Once I saw a carved piece of alabaster, burned on top and littered with mussel shells. Once we found an empty purse, still where it was tossed long after the thief had run into the ruins. Once we walked in to see somebody huffing fumes out of a sack, and left in a hurry. More often, friendly bums would show up to watch out for us. Then

last spring, one guy, Mehmet, set up his mattress on the marble fragments right under the huge arch, keeping dogs in the ruins and stringing his laundry up on the top, a fine sight for tourists. “I may be poor,” he said, “but I live in a palace.”Mehmet was friendly but his dogs were not. They prevented my forays into the Palace, and interfered with my walking through it to climb through a hole in the wall to the railroad bed. I would go down there with my friend CJ and huge plastic bags and pick up the trash, something the railroad only did about every three months, despite the fact that every housewife in the houses overlooking the railroad would throw plastic bags of trash down into the train bed every single day. We had a fine time cleaning it up. People thought we were crazy. Having braved Mehmet’s dogs to climb into the railroad, we would not be able to alert Mehmet before getting bitten on the way back through the wall, so we had to leave our huge bags of collected trash under the bridge– where the railroad could find it– and walk the rails until we came to an exit and boost and pull each other out. After CJ went home, I did it alone but couldn’t get myself out. I walked forever past bewildered scarved housewives and screaming children, under the arc of a hurled garbage bag flying out of a window, at last coming to a low railroad bridge over one of the innumerable streets through the city wall. There I was able to hail some local guys who produced a ladder and a cup of tea. I pantomimed trash pick-up and we went through my sketchbook and several more cups of tea and that was a good Saturday. One reason I live here is that you never know what’s waiting outside the door. It’s also the reason I think about leaving here every so often, when the thing outside is a butchered tree or some other atrocity rather than a pleasant adventure with friendly working stiffs remind me of my dad, only in Turkish.

I dreaded renovation since the prevalent attitude is to sandblast everything into looking like bad CGI, destroying the integrity of the antiquity in the process. Well-intentioned idiots, mostly liberal Americans married to Turks and living far from the Old City, contribute to this by calling for trash cleanup, little dreaming what the powers that be consider “cleaning:” sandblasting the entire surface, replacing the third-to-twelfth-century surface bricks, sharpening every corner and re-grouting with a hideous pink compound probably made by grinding the original bricks into dust and mixing it with cement. Experts are available from all over the world and financed by UNESCO, yet things continue to be badly restored. Kucuk Ayasofya Camii (Mosque), built onto the remnants of the Church of Sergio & Bacchus 1500 years ago, was stripped and re-surfaced. The carved capitals on the interior columns, which were so old as to appear melted, were actually re-cut and sharpened by workmen far less talented than the original craftsmen. The Byzantine Christian mosaics were covered with cement, impossible to remove, which infuriated educated Turks powerless to stop it. The magnificent Triple Gate of Constantinople, out at the city walls leading to the rest of Europe, was one of the most important sites here, and the restoration destroyed it to the point where, I am told, UNESCO threatened to revoke Istanbul’s World Heritage Site status if it wasn’t stopped. Too late to save the Gate or the mosque, but perhaps they listened with the Palace.

Surface age can be removed in a day, but only God, in the form of time and all its effects, can make something old. New-looking antiquities are all over Europe. Fake antiquities are the province of Disneyland and the movies, but no amount of money can create something old that looks old. That’s why people like me cross oceans and continents to see it. When they fence off your favorite ruin, it’s an emotional challenge, a real crapshoot, because while it might get wrecked, there is hope. There is intelligent restoration going on in Turkey. There’s the massive ongoing dig at Aphrodisias, arguably the best in the world. There’s the work being done at Çatal Hoyuk and cities even older. There are individuals and financial institutions funding digs and beautiful restorations all over the country, there are magazines and preservation societies and museums fighting to preserve without destroying. So I watch, and I pray.

Last week men in yellow hardhats swarmed all over the Palace and hauled out the burned mattresses, the mounds of trash and garbage choking the ruins. They fenced it off, presumably after re-locating Mehmet and the denizens of all those dark doorways leading under the railroad. Last year I tried to get the History Channel interested in exploring the Palace, but one of their people is Turkish, and he flatly refused to go anywhere near it. Addicts and murderers, ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties, he said, or so I gathered. I admit that looking into the blackened, trash-strewn foundations of Western Civilization can be pretty damned daunting, but I was dying to explore. Now I think that the mysteries in the dark should stay there. They give a resonance to what’s happening on the surface.

Back to my view: the top of the stand of arches was covered in bushes, grasses and vines raining down over the portals, the colors marking the seasons. Very romantic, but the growth does tend to turn the bricks into dirt. Now the top is exposed, a bony, crusted ridge of brickwork like a dragon spine lying below the expanse of the Marmara. It’s absolutely magnificent, and just for the moment it is too wet for the restoration to proceed. Meanwhile, my rent is going up, so I may leave this place. I don’t care to watch what they may do to this precious irreplaceable thing in the name of improvement. I ask for guidance and tend to my drawing. I look out at the sea and the lovely lorn bones of the Boukoleon and love it as much as I can, while I can. I look out at the sea and try to see my ship coming in.

Last night I was so scared with all this change, I said to an old friend, a writer, Please tell me it will all be all right. “You’re living on the heroic plane,” he said, “God looks after heroes.” I’ll say: God sent me a hero like that.

Trici Venola, Istanbul, Christmastime 2009

Art from top: Sea Haven Morning, The Inheritors, Boukoleon Arcade, Brokedown Palace, The Sea Gate, Ahmet Dal: Eager Student, Boukoleon Window, The Little Door, Boukoleon Manzara OneShot, Dog In the Ruins ©2008, 2005, 2009 by Trici Venola.