ROCKING THE CRADLE OF CIVILIZATION: Drawing On The Hasankeyf Train

The Face of HasankeyfPRECEDENT

Around 1830, beloved literary giant Victor Hugo learned that the old Gothic pile in the middle of Paris was to be pulled down. A crooked filthy church like a brokeback dragon, built piecemeal over centuries, it had been badly damaged in the French Revolution and blackened in great fires. The government planned a big new development there on the Seine once the eyesore was gone. The eyesore was Notre Dame. Horrified, Hugo set about creating something that would make everyone love the place as much as he did, enough to let it live. He wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and saved the cathedral. He told it as a story, and afterwards there was no question of its being destroyed, for all the world had come to love it.  Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, is one of the most visited places in the most visited country on earth. Oh would to the gods that I could be as Victor Hugo, as influential in his time as Steven Spielberg is in ours. There are so many things I would save. I would start with Hasankeyf.

Hasankeyf 3

THE CRADLE Imagine a place in the land of beginning. A place shaped like a cradle, in the Cradle of Civilization. All civilization, not just Middle Eastern. This is the Fertile Crescent; Sumeria, Mesopotamia: the birthplace of writing, cultivation of food, domestication of animals and other cornerstones of life as we know it. Earliest examples of writing are from the third millennium BCE, in nearby Ur, just across the border in Iraq. Cities then looked like this.

CGI of Ur

But people were much the same. Writing was invented to keep track of temple contributions, and there was undoubtedly some poor schmo accountant working overtime in some ziggurat, as shown here in Mac clip-art as comparatively ancient in computerdom as the scene it shows.

Overtime in Sumeria

Overtime: A Palace in Sumeria c2600 BCE ©1989 Trici Venola. Mouse-built Mac clip-art.

Thinking in these terms, it’s only yesterday: In a vast golden valley the road winds through gentle hillocks, many pierced with ancient caves.

Houses on Way

Sumerian Village

Sumerian Village ©2007 by Trici Venola.

Soft swells blend upward into one horizon. The other horizon is a fantasy landscape of canyons and cliffs carved by the Tigris over hundreds of thousands of years. At its most spectacular point sits Hasankeyf.

Hasankeyf 1Ur was a great trade center of the plain, buried for centuries. Hasankeyf is  a small lively hill town of caves and artifacts that have accumulated over time through many civilizations. Nothing prepared me for the jaw-dropping sight of the massive monolithic ruins rising out of the green water, caves and arches and one enormous rounded tower next to sheer cliffs soaring up from the edge of the river, everything ruddy gold in the  late afternoon sun.

Hasankeyf 2

I first saw Hasankeyf in 2007. I was the only foreigner on the Hasankeyf Train, a four-day excursion to protest the drowning of this cherished spot by the Ilisu Dam Project.

Hasankeyf 4

Do you know who took this photo? Tell me so I can credit them!

Hasankeyf’s execution has been stayed many times, yet the dam has begun and progresses. People must have their electricity, and dams are the mode of the day in Turkey. This dam will last about forty years. Hasankeyf has likely been around for about 9,500 years, according to testing of artifacts found last summer in a Neolithic mound at the end of the ancient bridge.

Houses on Way 2This means that Hasankeyf, an ancient town on the Tigris River in the southeastern corner of Turkey, has been around, and likely occupied, through the various reigns of Sumerians, Assyrians, Hittites,  Mesopotamians, Arabs, Byzantines, Romans, and everyone before and after and in-between. At present, it’s of particular significance to the Kurds, and most of the present inhabitants are Kurdish.

CIMG0180

That jaw-dropping initial sight of the town has been mitigated in recent years. New highway and bridge constructions mar the pristine setting, with a huge dirt pile dumped in front of an ancient tomb. This zigzag staircase I so loved has, I am told, fallen off the cliff.

Zigzag Stairs Across the valley they’ve begun the new town. Everyone in Hasankeyf is to move into it. I’m told it looks like a college campus or new projects; in short: generic group housing. It’s probably okay. It just doesn’t look like this:

Doors on a Street

ArtifactDusk on the Town

Pier from the Castle

Pier from the Castle ©2007 Trici Venola.

A Street in Town Rocks in TownYes, despite all the upheaval the old town remains a place of immense charm. Three elements: green trees, carved golden stone, and the reflections in tranquil water.

Ancient Bridge PierPeople have left part of a  castle, piers of a bridge, a giant cave, a zigzag staircase, a huge Muslim minaret, carved writing, tombs and many, many caves. Most important, the place is still alive. This isn’t Aphrodisias or Ephesus, resurrected from the sands of time. Human beings live and work here.

In Town Kids CUIt’s a functioning town, which ebbs and flows around visitors in a jocular manner. Children cavort at the waters’ edge, near the two great piers of the ancient bridge. There’s archeology going on at that 9,500-year-old site. Young pine trees shoot up to the sky. Below a rock face like a giant griffin, topped with a ruined Byzantine castle, shops are full of business, and excavations prove they always have been.

TV Drawing Platform

Excavated Street

The Tigris, snaking along the edge of the valley as it has from time immemorial, has carved the rocks into fantastic sculpture. Streams run down through it from the mountains to the river. So Hasankeyf is naturally protected and watered.

River Photo Op

A  place of topographical geological magic, inherently attractive and inviting to human beings, to quote my friend John Crofoot. A longtime fellow-advocate of saving Hasankeyf via Cultural Tourism, he came over today to update me on Hasankeyf. He was there all last week. We are hoping, all of us, that the Powers That Be can find a way to have their dam and preserve Hasankeyf. I believe they can do this. I have faith in their ability.

THE HASANKEYF TRAIN

Getting Ready Yes ©2007 Trici Venola.

Getting Ready Yes ©2007 Trici Venola.

Last week there was a court order to save Hasankeyf. There have been many stays of execution, followed by more development, so people are wary. Atlas Magazine and Doga Dernegi organized a protest train in 2007, the one pictured here. Hasankeyf continues to quiver on the edge of destruction, absolutely unique, a monument to the past, a hope of the future. But Turkey is about right now, and dams are the order of the day. Dams are sexy. Lots of water, lots of electricity, lots of jobs, and fast. Detractors say solar power is sexier, that dams dry out the country. There’s a lot of pro-dam noise right now. Articles sing the praises of the many dams and say they’re creating all kinds of great sites. I dunno. I sure saw a lot of dead rivers.

Another Dead River ©2007 Trici Venola.

Another Dead River ©2007-2013 Trici Venola.

A Real Trouper ©2007 Trici Venola.

A Real Trouper ©2007 Trici Venola.

Dam detractors argue that river valleys would, if cultivated, provide more money than the dams, prevent more overcrowding in the cities,  and the most fertile and beautiful country in the Middle East would continue to provide plentifully for its people. In Mesopotamia, the origins of civilization would endure as they always have. This dam will cost over a billion dollars. It was the approval of the loan of this sum by European banks that inspired the 2007 train trip, one of several. Three hundred and seventy-four Turks and one American traveled with little sleep and no showers to celebrate this diehard ancient town.

The people on the train were educated hip Turks who love antiquities and nature enough to give up a four-day beach weekend for a rackety train with smelly bathrooms, intermittent air-conditioning  and only a brief overnight in antiquity before the return. But did we care?

On the Hasankeyf Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

On the Hasankeyf Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

Not a harsh word, and on the next-to-last night, a raucous party stretching through both dining  cars with loud singing  and people dancing  in the aisle and everyone screaming with laughter.

Party On the Train

Party On the Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

I never met nicer people.

Three On the Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

Three On the Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

Sun Face

Sun Face ©2007 Trici Venola.

Spoon-Dancing

Spoon-Dancing ©2007 Trici Venola.

You might think that being the only person who couldn’t speak Turkish, I’d feel left out, but no. Drawing On Istanbul had just come out, and people made me feel swell. Several had seen articles in the papers, They stood around and watched me draw, and I only wish I had taken fifty copies with me because I sold every one that I had.

Dark and Light: Ahmet and Cihan with Tower ©2007 Trici Venola.

Dark and Light: Ahmet and Cihan with Tower ©2007 Trici Venola.

Kalamar Tall

Kalamar in Kumkapi ©2004 Trici Venola.

I was there thanks to Celal Ogmen at Kalamar Restaurant in Kumkapi. My first year in Turkey, I designed Kalamar’s logo and drew pictures of the place while eating fish dinners. Never did I pay for one. The art has variously decorated the tablecloths, napkins, walls, brochures, ads, menus, business cards, waiters’ T-Shirts and the packet holding the refreshing towelette.

Celal  ©2004 Trici Venola

Celal ©2004 Trici Venola

Celal and his horde of relative-employees are from Van, to the north of Hasankeyf. He originally wanted me to go and draw his birthplace, but found the trip to Hasankeyf instead and coughed up my fare. It can be easier to get a pubic hair off of a gorilla in a wetsuit than to get cash out of a Sultanahmet entrepreneur. I told the organizers of the trip that if this guy was on the bandwagon to save Hasankeyf from the dam there was a lot of hope. Right, they said, Hasankeyf is one of the most beloved places in Turkey. Covering it with water is considered sacrilege.

Distant Brown Mountains

So I drew and I drew. First out the window, dozens of tiny thumbnails.

Old Woman Pulling A SheepHillock DoorA woman tugging at a sheep, a door in a hillock, a long mud-brick barn, olive trees and grassy knolls and forlorn dusty riverbeds, sad bridges unused, in the distance the bright hard blue of the huge dams. Toward Malatya, known as Turkey’s breadbasket, the land began to look like the Garden of Eden.
Only Bushes Goddess in the RockHillside OrchardI drew sheaves of poplar trees, tiny houses, orchards everywhere. The very air was full of essence of apricots. Here, the rivers have water.

Before MalatyaCinderblock Power LinesRiver Drying UpSunflower HarvestThere was a conference on the train with the two prime movers of this demonstration: Guven Eken of Doga Dernegi and Ozcan Yüksek, the editor of Atlas Magazine. I couldn’t follow the conference but I drew the passion on the faces as the train roared into the gathering dark. In the middle of Apple Tree Offeringthe night, indigestion kept me up to see a full moon on the loneliest train station in the world. Was it called Sapak?

The Loneliest Station

The Loneliest Station ©2007 Trici Venola.

Potato PickersNext day: a row of people standing next to sacks full of potatoes in a field, a flock of turkeys, a flat-topped mound Goat Trainwith a rectangular cut in it and trucks drawn up: an archeological site. A long line of goats walking along the bottom of a cliff, and in the dawn, the full moon showing a different face.

Moon

Tractor

Near Mt. Aegeis, the highest point in Turkey, we racketed past  mesas and ramparts of stone jutting out of the dry grassy hills. A giant, many-pointed black rock loomed near a green hilltop community. Its citizens in antiquity must have believed that the gods lived there.

Mt Aegeis

Goat BarnRed Rock Ramparts

Rock of the Gods

Spike HillsThe mountains grew higher and sharper as we started into tunnels. Spectacular vistas shot past: jagged peaks soaring into the clouds and dizzying glimpses down bottomless canyons covered with cedar trees.

Ahmet Gets a Shot

Stunned, I stopped drawing and just gaped along with everyone else on the train. None of this can be seen from the road, only the rails. A sudden thatched roof on a terraced hodgepodge of brick and wood near some olive trees, and the whole family out taking the sunset air, a little boy and girl up on a cistern, waving.

Family Waving on Roof

Mountain VillageNear Diyarbakir, the copper in the hills shadows blue into the rust of the mountain towns. We had been warned that malcontents might attack our train in this area, and they did: several windows were hit with rocks, the shatterproof glass spiderwebbed behind the posters that said THE HASANKEYF TRAIN.

Malcontents Hurling Rocks

My new friend Buket (pronounced Boo-Cat) saw the malcontents: three little kids. In the dining cars everyone drank coffee and tea and ate kebap and grinned at the waiters and charged their telephones at the outlets. By now many of us women had bright scarves over our flat sweaty hair. By the end of the trip these had bloomed into fantastical headdresses.

Boo-Cat (Buket)

Boo-Cat ©2007 Trici Venola.

Flock of Sheep

LITTLE GIRL DRUM

Little Girl Drum

Little Girl Drum ©2007 – 2013 Trici Venola.

Although the very Minister of Transportation had been involved with this journey, the train was all-day late. The railroad town of Batman, adjacent to Hasankeyf, waited seven hours in the thick heat to welcome us with brass bands, banners, crowds of shouting children, and the mayor himself passing out red carnations to every woman on the train.

Bright Face in BatmanIn the fierce heat I wore a small black shirt, a huge black hat and shades. Where are you from? The little boys screamed in Turkish. I was never so glad to be from Los Angeles, because it is so far away. And because of the movies everyone knows what it is. So I screamed back, Merhaba from Los Angeles, Hollywood, California, USA!! The head of the brass band put down his trumpet, stuck out his hand and said ON BEHALF OF THE CITY OF BATMAN WELCOME, and gave me two red carnations.

Arrival in Batman

The kids made us cry, singing and wringing our hands. Little boys pressed sweaty wads of salted watermelon seeds into our hands and kissed them.  Little girls in tribal dress banged huge tambourines. I thought of them out there in the searing sun all day, dressed up and waiting. We were hustled into buses and half an hour later we were winding through Mesopotamia when the bus slammed to a stop and there it was, Hasankeyf, the fantasy in the late afternoon sun.

Buket at Hasankeyf

Buket Sahin, sleeping in the next seat on the train, translated everything and has been a friend ever since.

Buket and I wandered as much as possible in the time before sunset.

IN THE TOWN

Hope and Hasankeyf

Hope and Hasankeyf ©2007 Trici Venola.

Three young men, students from Izmir, held still on the edge of the castle for portraits, staring down into the vista of caves and lantern light. “We read Atlas,” they said, “and so we travel Turkey this summer and learn our history.” Buket and I climbed down the slippery stones from the top of the Byzantine clifftop castle to dinner on the beach below.

Protest Tower Composite

Dinner was river trout barbecued and served at tables set up in the shallows. A jolly crowd sat at a tilting table with our feet in the Tigris, eating the fish caught in the river and throwing the bones back in to repay the river. Girls in trailing headresses waded out into the rushing water, legs glowing in the gloom.

Dinner in the Tigris

Dinner in the Tigris ©2007 Trici Venola.

We were going to sleep on railed platforms set up in the river. I hiked across the rocky beach toward the vast sheer cliff with the zigzag staircase and the castle on top, to use the pay restroom set up in a cave and manned all night by two hardy kids.

Griffin Rock

The cliff shone pale in the moonlight, impossibly high and huge, like something from another planet, like something glimpsed near sleep. Near the bottom of the zigzag staircase was a huge natural arched entrance all lit up and hung with tapestries. I peeked in: a vast multistoried cavern fitted out for lounging. Reaching all up inside the cliff, natural stone passageways and staircases and wooden platforms covered with cushions and little tables, halogen lamps hanging here and there showing the top of the cave high above and the water sluicing down the far wall from the natural cistern. They called it Transpassers’ Cave. Hmph. It’s Ali Baba’s cave from Arabian Nights– Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

Ali Baba's Cave

In Ali Baba’s Cave ©2007 Trici Venola.

TV Tower I don’t know if the cave is still accessible, so I’m very glad that I ran and got Buket and that we slept there, along with a litter of flea-free month-old kittens, up on the second platform high above a slumbering company from the train. I expected to dream of Ali Baba or to channel the ancients, but all I heard was Celine Dion on the sound system until they shut it off around dawn. No matter! Stiff from sleeping doubled up on the train, I sprawled in bliss on the cushions. A night to cherish, and in the morning they only let us pay for our breakfast.

Iz TV and Demonstrators

Iz TV and Demonstrators ©2007 Trici Venola.

These kids interviewed Buket and me for a show on Hasankeyf to run on Iz TV. In the background, three young guys and their grandmother held a sit-in.

From the Castle

Most of the people  of Hasankeyf aren’t happy about losing the cave homes they’ve occupied for generations.

Houses in TownThere’s a fatalism about most of the town. Still, there were townsfolk protesting with us. Ozcan Yuksek, editor of Atlas, climbed up a radio tower and got a photo of all 374 of us cohorts standing around a huge sign: HANDS OFF HASANKEYF.

Hands Off HasankeyfTwo guys sitting under a protest sign said in Turkish We will live under water if we have to. There are now scuba tours of the fabulous mosaics at Zeugma, the ancient trading port now covered by Turkey’s damming of the Euphrates years ago.

Faces Like the Rocks

Faces Like the Rocks ©2007 Trici Venola. Ozcan Yuksek, Guven Eken and the Mayor of Batman.

IMAGINE

Turkey wants to be one of the most visited places on earth. Right now it’s Number 7. The most visited place is France. Hm, I wonder why. Perhaps it’s the presence of exquisitely preserved cultural treasures–  Notre Dame!– and the absence of billboards, trash and Walmarts. People don’t cross oceans and continents to see what they can see at home. Sure, people shop. But cultural tourism combined with shopping is huge money, and it doesn’t destroy your cultural heritage, it preserves it. Turkey has absolutely unique places, important to the whole world, for Turkey is geographically and historically in the center.

Tree-Shaded House

Imagine six years later. Buket and I are still great friends.  Iz TV interviewed us both back in Hasankeyf,  and the show has been aired about a hundred times on public TV in Turkey. I know because delighted strangers stop me in the street and tell me. Hasankeyf seems to bring out the best in people.

Lon Chaney Sr 10

Lon Chaney as Quasimodo, 1923.

Trying not to think about Hasankeyf being flooded or ruined with bad promotion, I imagine Victor Hugo’s vexation about Notre Dame. It created Quasidmodo, gibbering in hideous rage on the tower as he pours molten lead on the mob hammering at Notre Dame’s doors, trying to get in and destroy the unique and exquisite Esmeralda. Snatching her from the moronic maw of the ravening mob, bearing her into the church, screaming Sanctuary! Sanctuary! That’s just how I feel: Lon Chaney as the fearsome Hunchback, and how I wish I was strong enough to ring his bell. Rage can make Quasimodos of us all, but he did save the church.

A Street in Town
Hay Piled Behind BarnsNow imagine Hasankeyf as the center of a cultural tourism Renaissance in the troubled Southeast of Turkey. Chronic upheaval makes for fascinating history, which can mean great tourism. Imagine a fine life for the poverty-flattened people of Hasankeyf, with government sanctioning of their town as a regular tourist destination, with UNESCO backing and with the kind of money that educated tourists are willing to spend to see something unique and irreplaceable.

Hasankeyf BlueThere’s that great big highway they’re building, there’s that great big bridge. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it led to a  better life for all. In situ. Just imagine! As they say in Hasankeyf, the rose is most beautiful on the branch.

Waving Kids

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All road drawings, spot illustrations and portraits Plein Air. All other drawings Plein Air with some augmentation from photos in places due to time constraints. All art, including most photos © Trici Venola. These drawings are part of the Drawing On Istanbul™ Series by Trici Venola, produced  with drafting pens on rag paper in sketchbook format. Large drawings are 18 cm X 52 cm.  Special thanks to John Crofoot, Buket Sahin. and to Celal Ogmen and the staff at Kalamar Restaurant in Kumkapi. We love their fish, and we love your comments. Thanks for reading.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 8 and 9

September 29 & 30  about 6 hours total

THE WHITE PEN

Yesterday was spectacularly beautiful; intense blues in sky and sea, brisk winds, hot light over all. I showed up an hour before Gabrielle. Here is where we left it last time, when I left the bottom of the RIght Portal undone because it looked too tall and I was tired.

A good thing, since I discovered to my horror that not only was it not too tall but the Center Portal was too short. By a good quarter of an inch. God in Heaven.

So I performed major surgery.  I moved the threshold of the Center Portal down and touched it with (gasp!) white pen. White pen is a big de-valuer in line art, if you look at stuff for sale they always say “a small amount of white,” or “some white” or “absolutely no white.” Well, they can sit on it, sit right on my white pen, because I’d rather offend the purists with it than offend the laws of God and Nature and Archeology and have the drawing off by even a hairsbreadth if I can avoid it with a dot of white. Yeesh. Still it was nip and tuck there. If you have to do this, know that the white comes last. Move everything first, because it’s amazing how little white you’ll really need. See that big black line where the threshold used to be? That will nearly disappear once I put in the bushes waving behind the threshold.

I’d gotten to this point when Gabrielle showed up. Her wash drawing is looking more exciting, with depth and mystery. She no sooner sat down and got out her ink wash when Nazan called. Normally callers during a drawing session get savaged by the Art Demon, but Nazan is something else again. Fabulously unique, a sculptor and jeweler and a woman capable of rebuilding an entire house, floors, tile, stairs, everything… So we conferred and invited her. She showed up, and I am sorry I did not draw her that minute, sitting there with her white shirt and vest and cheekbones. After a few minutes conversation Gabrielle and I both realized we didn’t WANNA draw, we wanted to amble about in the glorious golden afternoon, so we did, all three of us, over to the tea garden and then up the highway, along the water to Kumkapi. Tourist restaurants all around, but tucked in amongst the stalls of fresh fish is one tiny one we love. The rule holds: most food here is pretty good, but for sublime food that Turks eat, look for bad halogen lighting, ugly walls, zero ambience and Voila! Great food, not expensive. We stuffed ourselves on leveret (sea bass) and salad and fresh bread. By the time we finished the sky was so gorgeous that we asked them to bring chairs outside so we could look at it with our after-dinner chai. Peachy clouds, a golden sun getting ready to set, all the sky pale blue washed with gold. We walked back along the water, looking out at the fishing boats. Many adorable kittens played on the rocks of the quay. Little tables were set up down there, and the men drinking beer with their backs to all the glory, staring at the walkway. I said Are they blind? Nazan said, They are hoping to see a leg or a breast walking by, nothing like that in the sea!

A huge grey cloud, edged with gold, hung over the water. We looked back for some reason and stopped dead. The water was  shimmering silvery grey fading to gold and back again, like rippling changeable silk, you could comb it with your eyes. And the little fishing boats, solid and deliberate, rocking in that light. We walked backward, laughing, telling stories, while the gulls screamed and the whole windy world turned gold. Over at my place, Gabrielle showed me more about blogging, we watched The Man Who Would Be King, which she had never seen, and that was yesterday.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 9

POTATO CHIPS AND THE GRAND GESTURE

When I first lived in Sultanahmet I fed two cats on my roof, a wide-faced grey tiger and an orange tabby. I called them Peachy and Danny after the two heroes of that movie. It always leaves me with a fine afterglow of adventure and friendship. I love that their lives were saved by an avalanche caused by their laughing in the face of death.  There are two fine bronze tabby cats down here at the Boukoleon I call Bobcat and Little Mama. Many cats come out of the house above, sit sniffing in the Right Portal before descending like liquid from crag to crag of the broken stonework, down to frolic in the park below. But Bobcat and Little Mama are particular denizens of the Palace park. I always take potato chips down there with me. Both the cats love them.

Normally I eat my chips right away since I find them impossible to ignore, but today the drawing started by itself. I put in a good hour first, finishing the bottom of the Right Portal, segueing over to the left and up the entrancing surface of the wall between the Center Portal and the Right.

I stopped and ate my chips, staring at the Portals, looking at their totality. It’s important to stay in touch with the grand gesture. The details are wonderful, but that grand gesture– the bone structure of the drawing– has to be right, be there first, and stay there. You can’t get hung up in the details. It’s easy to do as each tiny section of brickwork is its own world. If the drawing has good bones, the details take care of themselves. If you lose that grand gesture you’ve got a bunch of meaningless squiggles, and the thing looks chewed because you’ve hacked away at those details trying to make them look right and they never will.

I learned a lot about this doing computer art. I had to sustain the sense of the grand gesture in the painting I was doing even though I couldn’t see it anywhere but my own mind, since the section I was working on was all the computer would let me see. There was awhile there around 1990, the program I was using had no Zoom Out capability, and that was really hell. It was a painting with figures, I copied a head and pasted it into the section I was working on and measured against it, a real pain since the program also had no layers. People think digital painting must somehow be easier, don’t you just push a button? But it’s infinitely harder. And boy, did it teach me to appreciate the utter simplicity of drawing from life with a pen and paper. Grand gesture? Duck soup…but I still have to remember it.

So I’m eating my chips and feeding some to Bobcat. He leaves a few crumbs, and I watch the ants. Amazing creatures, ants. So organized! These are big fellows trundling about, almost a centimeter long, two of them tackling some shards of potato chip. They hustled it over to a crack in the bricks, wrestled it around, turned it sideways, upended it, and down the hatch. Wow! Where did it go? There must be a big passage down there, that chip was not small. Then they tried another. This one wouldn’t fit. Gangs of ants scurried around it, pulled it in all directions, it just wouldn’t go down. Finally I broke it, and what excitement. Oh, they were all tearing around, some with tiny crumbs– I think they’d been eating it smaller– and some pushing the big pieces. They quickly disappeared into the crack.  Meanwhile, two feet away, an entire potato chip was surrounded by ants half the size of the big ones. I broke it. In the time it took the Big Ant gang to move that second shard down the hole, the pieces became edged with solid black. Rows of munching ants. It was upsetting, some primal revulsion to insect infestation, but I watched anyway. Finally I couldn’t stand it and knocked them farther away with a stick. Talk about getting lost in details!

When I looked up, I saw the arch, the great dramatic slashes of bricks, and began drawing as fast as I could, shards of brick worn thin, sticking out like the seeds on a pine cone. From down here some look as thin as wafers. Hundreds of thousands of bricks, millions of individual gestures by hundreds of workmen back in the ninth century, what did they look like? Feet in leather wrapped around and laced across the top, sandals laced up the leg, tunics, hose, beards, caps. Leather trusses. Jerkins. They saw that sky, with those peachy clouds at sunset, they saw that silver sea. What did they eat? Bread and fish most likely, cooked on fires much like the bums cook on now, down here in the park. But no grass. When this Palace was built it rose up from the sea. The workmen hung from ropes, leaned from ladders with bricks on slings and pulleys, trundled about on the growing walls, swinging wooden buckets of cement. Whatever mortar they used, it turned to rock, good for 1200 years. I can see it quite clearly, coarse-grained pale lumps as opposed to the flat dark red brick. I use stippling for it, nothing else will do. I have to edit a lot out, or lose the grand gesture, the great dramatic sweep of this place built of so many tiny actions, so many little labors, so many breaths in and out, under the great gold sky.

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.