Sight had been eclipsing my other senses. Things like a smell-face.
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The same goes for a city, a village, a country. Each new place was an evocative world of new odors. He asked me to imagine the wave of color The Seeing might experience when they go to India for the first time. It was the same for him, but with sounds and smells. Each place had its own smell-and-sound-cloud. He held his breath. I can hear you breathe, and maybe even your heartbeat.
And food in my beard. Want one? What if you fall into a canal? The crosswalks make beeping sounds, and the Euro comes in different sizes, so I know what bill I have in my hand. Then I tried it, I shut my eyes. Outside through the window the Bosphorus gleams like a mercurial ribbon, and beyond its waters the sun is falling behind Sultanahmet hill, raising like dark swords the silhouettes of a dozen minarets. No clocks hang on the wall. It takes about an hour to smoke a pipeful of tobacco from my nargile. The smoke is cool and elating, and I would like to reflect upon this memory.
It was four years ago I met him.
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In my memory he is larger than life, something akin to Odysseus. After that conversation I realized I could never again whine about the hardships of travel. He went through all that ages ago, alone, without sight.
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The most important thing he showed me, however, was how to slow down, to widen my awareness, to experience the world in an imaginative way. Their artificiality was obvious to him.
Now that I do I find the world awash with odorant molecules the average human can recognize up to 10, of them emanating from trees, flowers, earth, animals, food, machines, and other humans. From the mild-eyed Turks smoking like woodpiles nearby I smell cherry licorice and what seems to be cappuccino and foamed cream smoke. The room itself has a distinct scent, the dusty smell of an old book.
The beanbags scattered across the floor like fat teardrops smell like human sweat and smoke, chemicals shed off living bodies from Turks, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, Germans, Iranians, Iraqis, and catapulted back into the air every time someone plunks down on one. It smells like Christmas Eve night, in a log cabin, in the Orient, a thousand years ago.
Startling to think these chemicals are swallowed every moment by my nose. The girl in the headscarf a few beanbags down has a bouquet of odors evaporating off her as I write this. The waiter passes, stirring a light breeze, and her molecules fly through the air like lock-armed skydivers and are engulfed by my nostrils.
She becomes a part of me. This activity, nargile smoking, slowing down, lounging in a salon for hours, smelling things, reflection—in order to understand and feel the concept of time behind these acts one must understand how they are woven into the fabric of the Turkish culture that has been inhaling me for a year now.
There are many other aspects of modern Turkey. Look outside and you will see a bustling market where fake brand name shoes are being sold alongside a panorama of locally grown fruits and vegetables. Headscarved women will be shoving between the aisles, squawking at one other like hens. A parade of cars might pass, with bearded men hanging out the windows, honking, waving Turkish flags and calling for the liberation of Palestine.
This is a sense of time that has often been associated with the Orient. The nargile I hold in my hand has long been a symbol of this Orient.
This Nargile has long been an object of mystery. It has the ability to combine in one piece of equipment the ephemeral nature of smoke, often associated with the spirit, and water, a symbol of the unconscious mind. The smoke is one vast ethereal unity until the lung heaves it through the water, where it becomes an encapsulated unit, a bubble, a soul, which is inhaled by and inhabits the body for a time before vanishing back into dispersion. I hear the gurgling smoke of a dozen nargiles.
Here and there dice clatter across a backgammon board. Conversation is hushed and only occasional; sometimes a gentle wave of laughter. A fog horn moans from afar as a ferry tugs down the Bosphorus. The government recently attempted to combat this stereotype by banning smoking in most public places, including all forms of public transport, but I have yet to enter a single bar or restaurant where this law is actually enforced.
In nargile salons patrons continue to puff away. The tradition will not go dying lightly. Last year a man, enraged at having his cigarettes confiscated because of the new law, shot and killed the owner of a restaurant in Saruhanli. It all began with nargiles. Tobacco arrived from America in and thousands of nargile salons like this one sprang up in Turkey. Turks adopted the pastime with passion. Nargiles soon became important status symbols. Offering your nargile to a guest became a symbol of trust, while not providing one was a serious insult.
For many years, after the introduction of cigarettes, they disappeared almost completely. Nowadays they are for those few who have the patience and tolerance to pursue a more balanced approach to living, for Turks who want to reach back to something valuable in their heritage, who want to become heirs to a centuries-old tradition and experience an alternative mode of time, one that contrasts greatly with the frenzied chaos of modern Turkey. I look up from writing and see a group of western backpackers with blonde dreadlocks has entered the salon. They sink into some beans bags in the corner.
A waiter approaches, holding a nargile out like a giant flower, but they shoo him away. They remove their eyes from the surroundings and bury them in a guidebook. They seem to be planning the next move. They snap photographs of one another from different angles and leave. I also prefer to use overland transportation and only fly when I absolutely must.
ldi.mx/includes/children/demons-pass-ralph-compton.php There is nothing beautiful to me about an airplane, nor about the way it has made the world so small. But not many of my beginning philosophies were admirable. When I began to travel I had the adolescent desire to visit as many countries as I could, to rack them up as though they were poker chips. I believed each country I visited somehow imparted to me its power and mystery, as though I too had in some way been engaged in the struggles of those indigenous to the land when in truth I had passed through them like a child through an underwater aquarium, watching whales and sharks pass over me from behind the safety of thick glass.
I often inserted my travels into ordinary conversation, trying to inspire admiration and respect. The more dangerous sounding the country the better. I remember an American girl in Athens one summer who rushed past me in the street wearing a fanny pack. They were already on their way back to the airport. I contrast this way of traveling with Brianna, a girl who requested to stay with me through the hospitality network couchsurfing.
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She was a Louisianan who pedaled up to my home in Oklahoma one day, on a bicycle loaded with luggage. I might have been the only one to see it. She had the sort of calm about her that a forest evokes when there are no humans in it. She sold me on the idea of traveling on a bicycle. You get to know the land intimately, she said, you see how slowly it changes, how the plains dry out into desert and then slope into mountains out west.
You feel that elevation rise in your hamstrings. You can stop and stare at a valley for a long, long time, or even a particular tree if you want to. You rise with the sun and eat and sleep with the earth. Time blows away.