From Greece With Love

A few years ago I spent quite a bit of time in Europe. Not alone: with many other people. And I saw the insides of theatres, for the most part. But there was also a fair bit of Europe in there as well. It was a good time for writing: I filled up a moleskin and a half with journal entries on that trip, and I briefly entertained the thought of cleaning some up and compiling them. I never made it to the end of that project, of course. Because who cares about crappy journal entries?

Me, mostly. Maybe you’d also care to see some; I don’t know. I came across a few I’d written in Greece sitting on a hard drive that I probably typed up a couple of years ago. Maybe gave them a new coat of paint, at one point. Probably later in 2010. Still, there isn’t much embellishing going on in there. In fact, they’re almost devastatingly general. A little sentimental.

When I read them again I very much remembered how it felt to see Greece for the first time but not having the luxury to linger, what with being ceaselessly borne forward by the momentum of the road.

Weirdly framed picture of the Porch of the Caryatids at the Acropolis. Didn't actually go during this part of the trip, but I don't have any pictures that correspond with the journal entries because my camera was broken those days. Yes, I know. You're terribly disappointed.

Weirdly framed picture of the Porch of the Caryatids at the Acropolis. Didn’t actually go during this part of the trip, but I don’t have any pictures that correspond with the journal entries because my camera was broken those days. Yes, I know. You’re terribly disappointed.

5.18.10

There lies an uncommon pleasure in watching the Ionian Sea speed by in a rush of water, plowed aside by our boat.  Our wake trawls hugely, as if someone were dragging an island through the waves.

Right now I’m watching a boy practically heave himself over the side of the ship to get a better glimpse of the sea.  He twists himself impressively in an effort to be both on the boat and in the water, his hair whipping in the wind of our passage.

His friends call him back, and I’m half tempted to take his place. There is nothing wrong with being lost at sea. The ocean is a study in contrast, and watching the dance of gleaming sunlight glazing each glassy, roiling crest brings a tremulous feeling to my chest. I feel as if I were trying to catch a soap bubble on my finger tips, and not have it burst, dispersing that magical ratio of tension and liquid into meaningless space. But the sea as a whole is a ponderous thing: shifting between turquoise, lapis, and and a murky green. Look hard and you’ll understand that beneath the surface there are well and truly fathoms.

Near the end of the deck, a French hornist plays “Amazing Grace.” The song is wrong for the scene. It’s not the melody that comes leaping out of the water, as joyfully as a dolphin, nor is it the groan of the engine, which sounds like a hundred slaves rowing below deck.

But still, the roundness of the horn lays itself thick, enveloping us as we watch the sun dip its warm rays into the sea. The scene is tastelessly majestic: a study in the contrast of dark clouds against violently saturated colors. At that moment, the sun could very well have been a fiery disc drawn along by the chariot of a young god, ready to make its journey under the ocean of the world. There’s inspiration in the history of it; in the unchanging nature of the feat.  Nothing seems irrevocable about this moment. If someone made a mad leap overboard I would expect him to pop up out of the water again, laughing for the sport of his fall.

Every hope, every blessed optimism, is spread out before me like wings of red from behind a dark sunset.  An illusion of an evening goes by in bold yellow and tangerine, bursting out from the blackness hanging over the horizon.  The colors fade, and slowly we make our way below deck, hearts creaking from the magic.

On that ship, and in the small hours, I dream of the sun.

5.19.10

Sunrise.  The philhellenic part of me may have been waiting its whole existence to watch dawn’s rosy fingers break over the Ionian Sea, but it shall have to remain disappointed for now. The mainland is in the east, and once the sun peeks over its crags everything is suddenly illuminated: from the ancient rocks and pines, to the modern, boxy buildings lined up along the shore.  It’s a new day, acknowledged by a dotting of fishing boats on the water.

There’s no time to lose in morning. And so it’s off to climb the crags of Ionia, roadside shrines marking the passage and the passing of people on mountain roads. Churches pop suddenly out of the landscape: round little things in the orthodox tradition, accompanied by towns and villages to worship them.

The tarmac becomes more cracked, on the roads down the mountains, and the shrines become fewer.  The morning’s freshness gives way to dust and crumbling brick yards; troupes of feral dogs and signs in both English and Cyrillic that look like they haven’t been replaced since the eighties.

What most captures my attention is an enormous wall of graffiti, which possibly predates my birth. I get the message, I think, even though the only things I understand are the Communist symbols mixed in with the words and painted onto cliff-face by someone with a large, square hand. It’s a dark look into Greece’s tumultuous modern history.

We stop at a gas station with typically outdated English signs. Four Euros will give you a carryout container of potatoes but sorry, he can’t give any change.  The cashier is not used to large bills. The women’s bathroom is a wreck and the small café seems to be inhabited completely by chain-smoking men who regard us silently, a dish of cubed cheese set down before them.

Soon, a youth comes by.  He doesn’t look exactly native. He tries to sell us bootleg videos.  Porn. No one is interested.

I think of the riots we watched on television about a week before we came.  These are hard times.  I wonder what these men speak of, in their low voices, as they chain-smoke and watch us.  Their stares are unreadable, but not angry. Or wary. I don’t know what to make of it.

The café has a selection of packaged ice cream with English names and slogans.  Ridiculous ones. Like “Chocolate Orgy.” There’s a tiresome debate on the merits of fudge over cookie dough, then it’s time to hit the road again.

6.6.10

Greek White

It’s the morning and we think ostensibly of going home.

Everyone longs for home, says Odysseus,

Through the epochs and the ages.

Everyone longs for home—

But I can’t seem to find one in the motion of the world

Or the motion of the waves.

I can only bear in mind the bodies on this windblown deck,

And the gaze of those I’d rather forget.

Every beauty I’ve known is false.

We can only hope in the face of the inevitable.

Odysseus thinks I accuse him.  I can’t tell him I do not.

Greek white, Greek white.  Every one longs for home.

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Mixed Messages

Mixed Messages

Snapped this back in May. From other pictures in the same upload, I’m going to hazard a guess that this was in the Village somewhere. My friend had gotten sick the night before his graduation, so I was headed out that way with a sack of comfort and my own damn self to keep him company. In retrospect I wouldn’t actually say that I was good company, seeing as I was dead on my feet from the end of finals.

Anyway, In Pursuit of Magic are street artists, and I quite like this section of brick they chose to stencil. Their work gives a new context through which we can re-interpret the wall’s  previous messages in a different light.

Seeing things like these are why I like to live at street level. You’ll see me ambulating by on the slow path: one that doesn’t take me as far or as quickly as a longboard or a scooter would, but it does allow me to experience the world as more than just a passing blur. Magic, indeed.

A Brooklyn Adventure

"Make art?" You've got the right idea, old newspaper bin at a random Bushwick gas station.

“Make art?” You’ve got the right idea, old newspaper bin at a random Bushwick gas station.

I went down to Brooklyn last night to hang with the J-Bird, because I haven’t seen him since the end of the school year when we were both strung out on stress and a myriad of other, less tangible things; he maybe even more than I.

The original plan was to head down to SummerScreen in McCarren Park to maybe watch The Goonies or maybe not watch The Goonies (J-Bird doesn’t like The Goonies…can you even imagine?), but I’m a moron who can’t get on the right train, apparently. And getting anywhere in Brooklyn is always needlessly involved. So by the time we entered the park the ground was completely covered in a blanket of Brooklynites sitting on bedsheets and newspapers, beer and picnic spreads within reach.

We stayed for a while anyway: no one minding that we were shouting over the dulcet chords of Hector’s Pets because everyone else was also there to shout over the band and just hang with each other. I should have gotten a picture of that I guess, the crowd of people and a movie screen that was about as big as a thumbnail in the distance, but I often forget to take pictures when I’m around J-Bird. It’s a thing.

We ended up leaving for Bushwick pretty early on, anyway. One of the previews was completely in French and my companion couldn’t tell because he couldn’t hear so…

I’m writing this, by the way, under the assumption that no one I met last night will ever read this, and by and large I feel that this is a valid assumption. Internet: don’t fail me now.

Anyway. In J-Bird I’ve found someone who navigates very much like myself. We both use the Google Maps app like it’s a game of hot and cold, staring at our dots to see if they’re going in the right direction and doubling back more often than not. We miss turn-offs and subway stops and always find the most convoluted way to trace our steps back. If I weren’t us, I’d be worried about us.

I’m worried about us.

Eventually, we did make it to Bushwick. And I think I may have fallen in love with that neighborhood. J-Bird’s cousin bumped into us by the food carts, which in retrospect isn’t that surprising considering we were just outside the L stop,  and he now makes three people I know who work at the same tech start-up. Obviously, this is a sign from the gods; I’m just not sure what it’s indicative of yet.

We walked together on the shuttered streets: houses cluttered against warehouses littered against stores with their doors and windows locked away tight. It’s dark down there, compared to Manhattan. Compared even to when I’m the only one walking down Mott at three in the morning. Sparser, when you move away from the main roads. And maybe the street lamps even carry more of an amber hue, diffusing their light more dimly in the darkness.

J-Bird and his friends found a really nice place. A two-story walk-up with white siding and a mural of a girl despairingly turning her face up at the light pollution sky pasted all down one side of it. Her face looms along a rooftop balcony that looks out onto the tracks of the M train, elevated high above the streets.

The house itself was full of crazies when I got there. J-Bird and our friend (and one of his roommates) the Philosopher were already confirmed as mild-mannered sociopaths, but I finally met the third of their trifecta and now I understand the dynamic. I met a dancer with no inhibitions: not even the ones that are instinctual and are never taught. I met a Russian girl who was almost unnervingly earnest, and taking time off to get her life together. I met another girl crashing in the living room on a futon who, by description, apparently was more married to her boyfriend than many husbands are to their wives, and a final sandy-haired boy I didn’t speak more than a dozen words to. He was fast asleep by some normal time: dead to our inconsiderate loudness.

New York is a vertical city. And I guess that’s true even when you’re way out of the way in a place where the highest structure is the subway. Because even then life happens on rooftops, where cigarettes are currency and conversation is smoke wafting away like so many words to the wind.

And so we laughed and spoke of many things. Music, obviously, because so many of us present straddled that weird divide of aesthetics and technology. But also of more obscure things. The Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus plays the part of a bodhisattva. Of monastic life and sweeper monks and the almighty janitorial service. Of what it means to want to create art for the rest of your life but having no idea yet what to do about it. And then came the lull when I watched the other girls dance: unselfconsciously sure of their bodies in a way that was at once completely foreign and also a reminder of what I’ve lost.

I’ll be fascinated to learn what everyone on that rooftop will become. It was a strange brew of the casual insincerity that I’ve become accustomed to and am an active participant in, of probing questions that were at once innocuous and unmasking, and of the sheer force of utter insanity packed into tight spaces.

I stayed late with them there. J-Bird saw me to the door in the small hours, a sloppy smile hanging crooked on his face. He’s always happier by the time I’m leaving, which always leaves me to ponder what kind of terms I’m on with him, as a friend. Whether he’s happy to or indifferent to see me. He promises we’ll hang out again, this summer. I hope so. J-Bird is chill. I want to get him to make music with me, but he seems to like the idea of the thing more than the thing itself. I respect that. I do that a lot, too. But I always want to make music with my friends. We’ll see.

He sent me off by telling me just to follow the M tracks until I got to a station, without indication of how far I would walk until I found one. Which was fine, because the unknowing leant generously to the eerie splendor of that evening. The huge, rusting stilts of the subway tracks bit into the pavement like the legs of some monolithic creature with the body of a segmented worm that snaked high above the streets. The B buses passed beneath it, their low-hanging maws scraping the pavement with screeches that echoed off of steel-shuttered storefronts. And from the sidewalk, the road blurred into a dystopic dreamworld of graffiti tags and solitary walkers, each going their own ways.

The path was interminable, and so was the wait for a late night train. I didn’t mind much: it was like walking in Blade Runner without the rain. It was like sitting in my own imagination. It was the infinite pleasure of seeing train tracks in the night, and not quite being sure where they lead.