The translation is on its way
The translation is on its way
The translation is in process
Imagine the following experimental device : a recumbent bike whose steering suddenling brakes, this experience is set in Turkey where the road is flat on 10 meters every 25km, you 've got yourself a great way to pick out 1/ thoses that the Almighty creator has decided to keep alive, and 2/ those that he has rushed to his side... Heads you're dead, Tails you're a bloody lucky guy!
And as the experiment is set in Turkey, what should have been a series of 1/ problems 2/ set backs 3/ , becomes a series of 1) great encounters 2) assistances 3) fun
And I don't care if I'm not credible anymore when I talk about Turkish people, but I have to tell you exactly what happened.
So the direction stick broke suddenly, leaving me, if not dead, on the side of the road around six pm, and I had very little time before sunset to stylishly solve that matter, a little like Arsen Lüpen would.. if you know what I mean.
But I hadn't even started thinking that the people from the only two houses nearby came to me: one, two, three, four, five smiling men. They soon realized that the only Turkish I know are the names of froot and fish, so they talked, I guess about the best way to fix the streering. A few minutes later, a motorcyclist twice bigger than me, who spoke English in the loveliest manner, stopped too and translated for me the first results of their deliberation. My virility was really hurt bad when they asked me if I knew how to solder aluminium and that I had to answer that I handled the sandling iron almost as well as the motor saw and the power drill. No problem, that's the moment where the stylish became the sublime! one man and his son decided to carve a piece of wood to replace the broken tube. They started rough-hewing with a hatchet, planing down, polishing with a file to obtain the perfect diameter and finally replaced the broken part.
I'm a bit bothered by the tone of this article, because it was so beautiful I could have cried, it was just beautiful (homo faber, you know... so much dexterıty, seeing the object coming out of the rough material, the moves so precise, the father helping his son when he hesitated with his tool...) and I must admit it was indeed beautiful. I insist, don't I? I am not subtle enough, am I? but still... They spent almost half an hour working on that piece, trying it on, ajusting it. And once it was done, it was time to brake the fast, the father and his son left. A glance, not a word, no use, they were gone. What can I say?
Always that same question : why? Why are you so kind? There are many possible answers, but my favourit is that you are happily and peacefully proud. When I told that story to Zehra, who welcomed me in Alaplı, she laughed and sayed, "I love my people". Here we are, proud to be dignified and dignified to be proud.
Unfortunately, this piece of wood, all the humanity and craftmanship in it didn't work that well, a few kilometers further I decided it was safer to stop. And then the couchsurfing turkish miracle took place. Zehra, who was welcoming me on that night, and who was 25km further, found in a minute a friend, bike-fixer who had a little truck. After a hour in the dark, surrounding by howling dogs, eating dried apricots, I saw them comming, puting the bike in the truck and taking me in a safe and warm place where a delicious meal and a good night were waiting for us. The bike will be fix the next day.
I therefor stayed at Zehra's for a couple of days. She is a dentist. Her patients at the Alapli hospital bring her everyday kilos of hazelnuts (fındık). Zehra asked me yesterday what I thought of the Armenian genocide (imagine my surprise, all the guides warned me never to pronounce the first three letters of the word Armenia), she also wondered what Turkey would have to gain and to most of all to lose if they joined the Europpean Union.
What can I add? That I saw the Working Class Heroes yesterday, 5000 workers in the steel plants of Ereğlı, 2000 on the shipyard. That I love the gorgian TV and the English Al-Jazeera in the hotels, the bosnian videos, the grilled fish, the kittens everywhere.... That the music here is mostly violin and bagpipes. I think that this weird instrument is a spontanous produce of any rocky coast too often covered by heavy rain... Anf finally maybe, that I love when a shopkeeper thinks I'm Turkish. J'adore!
In my previous article, I decided to face my demons, and to force myself to describe things. This time, even more dangerous, I am stepping out and attempting to recount the real story.
But once again, each day containing as it does so many miraculous moments, I do not imagine for a moment I be able to report them all accurately.
Before anything else let me settle the question of the timescale : since Sunday evening, I have ridden along the Black Sea (Kara Deniz in Turkish), Euxine Sea for those who wish to remember it humanitarian works.
When I say I cycle “along”… once again, it is a question of scale: I stick to the coastline as much as I can, and the road constants winds, to leave then to come back to the coast. Because the coast as it is here is only the name given to the line between the abrupt mountain and immense sea which brutally falls beside it.
In the middle of valleys and peaks which cover a very dense forest, forest which I would not be able to say if it is Mediterranean, subalpine or océanıque, because it itself does not seem to know. On the gentler slopes there are orchards, and especially hazel trees and during the harvest (as it is now) I see whole families breaking hazel nuts and piling up the shells in a heap. And in the depths of the valleys are wood houses kitchen gardens and cows. It looks like Serbia, or the Pays Basque, or Roussillon but, never having gone, I am not well-placed to chance the comparison. In short, I am not sure what it looks like, perhaps sometimes even Normandy when one comes across a broad plain between two slopes planted with immense oaks, and grazed by cows. I thus pedal forwards with a strange feeling of familiarity, but it is my inability to speak Turkish which constantly reminds me where I am. And then there are the minarets, the calls to prayer and Ramadan to remind me that I am not in Cantal or Dauphine, although...
The minaret, when you see it from afar and when you do not have any more water and have not had time to have breakfast, has the same effect as the bell-tower; it tells you that you will find a drink, something to eat, some smiles.
This is when you remember that minaret means lighthouse, and just like the bell-tower it reminds you that nature is very pretty but that you are not made to remain too long alone in the midst of it, that you are made to be with others be they with cross or crescent.
Be it minaret or Ramadan, one quickly sees here that religion is first and foremost a way of being together, if I may allow myself a bit of kitchen sink anthropology. What is striking is that, other than in Istanbul, everyone fasts, and you really feel that it is a group effort as opposed to an individual one – call it emulation or peer-pressure, according to your mood. Iftar (fitr in Arabic) is the moment when everything stops, the streets empty, and everyone companions and how not to see that apart from any other consideration it is a way of doing body together, the family, the friends, the village, the district? Individualism has little or no place here, autonomous choices are erased, and I find myself eating my biscuits and drinking my water to one side (except in the service station, which I take for enclaves of extraterritoriality, perhaps because it is what seems most like an annonymous travelling place).
The seaside therefore, a few fishing ports, a few rare beaches, nothing which ressembles tourism, apart from a couple of camp-sites belonging to town municipalities. And up to 100 meters from the water they live as if they are inland – you see cows wandering in the dunes, certainly they must produce tasty milk and delicious meat - I will never know...
As for describing the Bosphorus and its outlet in the Black Sea, I shrink from the task, you will have to make do with the photographs and a bit of imagination. I will be content just to suggest word 'sublime', obviously not very satisfactory.
Since Sunday, nearly 350 km have been covered, but it is an altimeter which would give better an account of the voyage. The departure was difficult, because Sunday the Vapör have very reduced schedules. I do not arrive in Asia before 3pm, for stopping immediately indicates the giddiness which overcomes me, because the idea of the vastness to be crossed takes hold of me – athought that I usually keep at bay.
The Translation is on its way
Waiting for my visas in Istanbul, I have time to think over all the things this city makes me wonder.
I am able to ask all those to Serkan, while sharing a beer and a vegetable pilav. Serkan has opened his home to me for the past 10 days and, in turn, has asked me how I find The City. So I tell him: calm yet tumultuous, peaceful yet chaotic, a city full of people and full of beauty. There seems to be a balance in everything. How else could one explain that some drink so much yet never make spectacles of themselves?
Of course, I have seen some of its inequalities, paradoxes, violence, poverty, working children, people dying due to rain. Yet, I don’t find here the fear painted on the faces of the people of Paris.
That’s what I tell Serkan about France. It’s a country focused on its anxieties. Collective and individual fears, public and private fears. He asked me if France had changed since Nicolas Sarkozy became president. I told him that he was the consequence of all the fears, not the cause.
But I want Serkan to tell me his thoughts on the East and the West. Where the sun rises and sets. To answer me, he hands me a mirror. The West means education, technical and administrative competence, democracy, fear of the stranger, leaving old people to die, consumerism, capitalism.
Serkan belongs to the green party, born just last year. He speaks 5 languages. He teaches law at Beşıktas. Basically, he knows what he is speaking about.
The East means youth, poverty, love of strangers, not separating private and public life. Some could see it as fatalism: tomorrow in uncertain, better then to live today fully.
Serenity vs. anxiety, patience vs. rushing, today vs. tomorrow, contemplation vs. projects. East vs. West.
Istanbul is telling me to stop worrying about tomorrow.
The West is focused on individuals. We are our own masters, we decide, we are who we choose to be, we make our own successes and defeats. We are free.
We are free, yet afraid. That is what defines us.
After that, and in between my 20 calls to the Consulate, we speak of La Boétie, of the Servitude Volontaire Speech, of 1789.
And then we watch le Dîner de Cons, because one can’t possibly speak about France and not watch this beacon of French culture!
All right. But you may ask what is the link with cancer, which is the point of my trip.
Well, it’s quite simple. Cancer has taught me that tomorrow is a probability. Words like “project” or “future” become meaningless. They are only an option. You rethink your role of master. Only your body lives in the present, and will continue to do so until the end.
That body which wasn’t important to you before suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. You remember what Gabriel told you about where the centre of the
human body is (3 fingers under your belly button). You decide your brain can no longer be your master. You fight the temptation to give meaning to your cancer. You refuse the idea it is a sign or a
And you cry. A lot. Each step of the way.
And you remember to love what is rather than worship what should be.
It has been a week now that I'm in Istanbul, and I'm probably going to stay there for another one, waiting for my visas. I had to say goodbye to Gabrielle under Ataturc's gaze at the eponymous
airport, but we did it with class, as in a Turkish film, very romantic! Since then I have consciensciously started my tour of the different ambassies. And not any ambassy, the most extravagant and
"extrafar from the center" ambassies of Stamboul : the Islamic Republic of Iran on Monday, Turkmemistan (dear to anyone who cares about natural gaz, exotic satraps and bizarre cult of personnalıty)
on Tuesday, and the Uzbekistan yesterday. This morning I went back to the Ambassy of Iran to hand in my file in wich I added a photo of Joe the playmo, maybe that is what will help them taking the
So now I'm waiting in Istanbul, I'm not even going to try to complain about the bureaucrats, about how sad are these obstacles to our freedom to cross the world... blabla... It is actually a thrill to be stuck in a such a city, to visit it on my bike, to meet the most smiling and funny people, and to actually take the time to pause.
It has been a week now that I look on the Asian Coast, far away so close, I can see some pretty scary hills. The sun is shining, there was a little rain on Monday to remind me of what I should expect in the coming months. Everyday I meet many people, talk about nothing and sometimes about great things, I stopped counting the numbers of drivers who take their mobile phone out to take a picture of my bike, the friendly klaxons, or the loud laughs as they pass by me.
Thanks to Internet and Couch SUrfing, I'm staying between Taksım and Besiktas at Serkan et Meriç 's who share a lovely appartement where there are a poster of Brad Pitt, a commentary on the constitution of the 5th republıc by Guy Carcassone, Tori the cat, flowers, a photo of Ataturk, a dictionary greek-turkish, the complete filmography of Almodovar, stickers from the Green party of Beyoglu (Yeşıle, the Greens), a balcony, curtains on the ceiling, walls cover with drawings and writings, a glossary of French laws, novels by Elias Canetti, trophees of orientating competitions and some icelandic newspapers left there by a precedent couch surfer.... Could I be happier ? I'm going to cook them a blanquette tomorrow.
Istanbul is not only beautiful, full of history it is also a city which rase in me thousands of questions.
But there is one in particular which maybe sums up my thinking, who are the Turkish?
How can so little space can contain so much energy, movements, work, ways, flows, forms and signs? And by which miracle, all this produces something else than agressivity (you know like in Paris)? It has been a week and I haven't seen anybody getting worked up...
And also another question. What does the Orient and the Occident define here?
(with in the back of my mind the issue of the entrance of Turkey in Europe)
I know that I will have to wait to have crossed the country; I know that I must not reduce the country to that city, but from here the French debate on the question is completely inopportune.
The feeling I had in Bosnia only grows here, it is not a trip to learn or understand, but to widen the fild of questions. I think the time to answer them will come later.
I 'm looking for another definition of Europe, a more romantic one, a Europ where different worlds, cultures, and ideas meet in a light and delicate touch.
The Bosphore or the Dardanelles as a frontiere... crazy idea...
But anyway, those questions are in good and competent hands, I should use my time here to visit and discover this city. Yesterday I went to see the grave of Soliman, the Saint Savior Church, outside the town, just by the walls of Theodosius.
To finish just a quizz : who are the Pomaks ? Clue : Meriç is a Pomak.