One more time with feeling. A journey through Brighton and my own heart

I must confess I wasn’t actually looking forward to watching the documentary about Nick Cave’s latest album. I hadn’t even listened to the album, to be perfectly honest. I knew it was much about the pain of losing his fifteen year old son last year. I knew he’d fallen off a cliff in Brighton. Didn’t know it was LSD. In November, right after I’d been in Brighton after my birthday.

Got on the train from London and I’m feeling so excited taking in the damp landscape as the train is cutting through fields and small towns in a more quiet and rural England. I can’t wait to get to the sea. A Romanian couple are talking loudly a few seats away and I’m feeling so self-sufficient in my quiet bubble, reading, writing and taking pictures.

In Brighton a friend is waiting for me. I met him in Bucharest in a pub one night a few years ago. We had a friend in common and later found out we were born in the same area – the Jiu Valley, Hunedoara, each from his small mining town. I met him once there, on a winter holiday. We went up on some hills together and licked a sweet, clear liquid off some naked tree branches.

He meets me at the Brighton station and then takes me on a walk along narrow streets lined with pubs and shops and I get my green leather bound diary from an antique book shop and my Rumi poetry book from this big fancy book shop. I can still remember the moment I found it and my fingertips touching it for the first time. Such great desire for this book. A lover seeking a lover. A few months later my friend writes telling me he’s found a nice, old, copy of Rumi’s and wants me to have it. I tell him I’ll wait for it till we meet again, so he can give it to me in person.

We make confessions and have a pleasant time as he’s taking me to the sea. Even before I step on the pebble beach and feel her smell, like a woman’s smell when she hasn’t showered for a day, my eyes are flooded and I look away for fear I might look stupid. But the sight of the sea does that to me every time. I suppose I should live next to her for a while to find my cure. Or just let her make me cry like this every time. As if I were meeting an old lover I could never fall out of love with.

“I have a surprise for you”, he tells me and walks me to  what I recognize to be the Royal Pavilion, where a friend of his from the gay community lets us in before the huge crowd queuing at the entrance. You know, everybody knows everybody in the gay community. (Or rather everybody has known everybody. At least once.) Therefore, it’s like a big family, people help each other. So we have this wonderful, quiet and private tour and I am impressed and grateful. Her majesty feels she’s getting what she deserves.

visiting the royal pavilion in brighton

“Do you know Nick Cave lives here?” I ask my friend, but I can’t remember his answer a year later. I’m thinking about Nick Cave as we’re having lunch in this Thai restaurant and then a beer in a queer pub and can’t help admiring the view. I wonder if I could actually recognize him if I saw him in the street. I’m thinking probably not.

Having left my friend in Brighton, after one more pint in a pub on the corner opposite the station, I am smiling alone in my blue seat on the last train back to London. “I love you”, I text my gay friend, but the text won’t go through and I’m left looking at the reflection of the luminous phone screen in the black wagon window. My body would like to lie down in the arms of someone loving and just let go. Still, I must be alert and awake and make my way back to my kindergarten friend’s house in London.

As I’m walking on my own to the cinema in Bucharest tonight,  I pass by this loud tipsy couple speaking English. She’s way younger than him and Romanian, while he seems to be an American. Both are tall and lean and their movements seem a little bit disorganized and careless, zigzagging across the sidewalk and dodging various obstacles.

“Yeah, you know, because nobody’s perfect. Not even me”, she says and speeds up a few steps in front of him.

“Really? You’re not perfect?” he asks sounding genuinely surprised.

And I smile and walk on, checking out the Christmas lights on their first night. I was supposed to meet someone tonight and it got postponed. A long awaited encounter. So my stomach is still not very tense and I still don’t feel like I have anything to lose. It’s just a projection at this point. I’m a silent passenger walking among these people, under these lights, along these streets, in this cold. Nobody’s partner. Perhaps somebody’s dream. Still not met. I am anonymous. I can very well disappear. Only I feel so balanced and confident. There’s nothing that can shake me right now, as I am walking to the cinema.

“Most of us don’t wanna change, really. I mean why should we? What we do want is sort of modifications of the original model. We keep being ourselves, just hopefully better versions of ourselves. But what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that we just change? We change from the known person to the unknown person. So that when you look at yourself in the mirror you recognize the person that you were, but the person inside the skin is a different person.” Kick Cave begins in his serious voice, perhaps a bit coarser and fainter than I used to know it. He’s sitting at the piano and the camera is moving around him and the strong contrast, black and white image infused with high pitched violin sounds quickly hypnotizes me and I lose track of who I was when I came to this place.

“Ah, Brighton! I was there. Right there. Brighton peer. Last year in November, after my birthday.” I lean and whisper in my friend’s ear and she looks surprised when she turns smiling to me.

brighton peer at night

And that sensation of being torn and shred to pieces comes back. Or the memory of it, rather. You know, when you feel you’ve freed yourself to the point of becoming nothing more than a piece of rag being blown by the wind and drifting aimlessly, unable to grab hold of anything stable.

“Somebody’s gotta sing the pain.” Nick says and I finally get it. Somebody’s gotta be here to represent the pain, the darkness, the hardship. Someone’s gotta validate these experiences and honor this part of life so that the darker side can have a voice and therefore can make room for us to perceive the lighter side, too and make the difference between the two. In a world of duality, light cannot exist without darkness. Nor can pleasure without pain. Or happiness without unhappiness. So we need these special representatives that offer creative media for the dark side to come to the surface and feel justice is being done. The same way we need representatives for the bright side. And ways to express both. I just think the darker positions sometimes are harder to fill in. At the same time, I also feel there’s a great danger it might actually be quite on the contrary.

“I shall never love again.” my friend in Istanbul confesses to me after his girlfriend left him. Again.

“Yes, you will, habibi. This is what you told me the day I first met you. And that was when I knew I would love you. You will love again. And it will be wonderful.” I tell him without any shadow of a doubt. “Do you wanna know how I know that? It’s because I have been there. Broken to pieces. Trembling and suffocating, crying and shouting with pain and crawling like a worm. And I will never stop loving. No matter what happens to me. My heart will always stay open. Always. Because it’s wonderful.”

“We decided we would be happy as a form of protest. We decided to be happy and our happiness would be an act of revenge, of defiance. And we would be kind. To ourselves and to the other people.” Nick Cave explains towards the end of his documentary.

And I remember that so did I. So why am I so afraid then? I need to keep reminding myself of the simple things, things I’ve been certain about and that fear makes me forget. My stomach seems to insist on coming down with gastritis. Simply because it finds it so romantic. I am not afraid of travelling alone to remote and hostile places. What if I run? I’m so good at running! I can just disappear. Before things get out of hand. Before I lose myself, before I become too vulnerable. Having nothing leaves nothing to lose. And all the possible freedom. I don’t actually need anyone, do I? No one to complete me. I am whole. Shams confirmed. Yet, I remember my decision. And I’ve decided to be happy. And to be kind. To the others and to myself. Not as a form of protest. But as a way of living. Inshallah.

Istanbul, mon amour

When the plane starts descending and I see the sea and the ships and the the city, my heart becomes so warm I have to remove my scarf so that my chest doesn’t start burning, for fear I might become the first Turkish airlines passenger in the entire history of the company to suffer from spontaneous inner combustion. 

And I find it so hard to stop taking pictures and I don’t even try to wipe the idiot smile off my face as the overweight middle aged Romanian guy next to me scans me in amusement. I feel like Alice going down the rabbit hole. 

Here I come, my love, canim benim , habibi, Istanbul of my heart! Here I come, take me, leave no part of me outside your hug, eat me, swallow me completely, canim benim. Your lover is here, feed on me.

Landing is truly like finally feeling your lovers feet touching yours after a long absence. Well, it is only the third time this year… I let out a sigh of pleasure and finally close my eyes as my head leans back in contentment. Yes, baby, I am bere now yes, evet, evet, evet. He seems happy about the reunion and greets me with my favorite views and with that special pinkish golden light,like honey dripping on my skin, healing all my wounds.

As I get off, I almost run to passport control, forgetting all about my painful knee. I rush through the exit gate and I must look so convincingly happy as I am quickly scanning the crowd lined up at the arrivals, that some of the faces there actually start smiling back uncontrollably. 

I do not see my friend. And I do not sense him there, either. So I fool myself into thinking he must be outside, smoking. I rush out. Still no sign of him. Maybe he’s running late, I tell myself as cinvincingly as I possibly can. So I wait. The possibility that he might not show up, right on my birthday, after having planned and looked forward to our meeting for about a month, seems very remote. Like a thought that comes to sabbotage your peace of mind when you are at your best. So I banish it gently and wait, all the time smiling when someone looks at me. 

I decide I am going to wait no more than thirty minutes. I try without any success to connect to a wifi, so I try calling him instead. Only a woman’s voice informs me in Turkish and then in English that this number cannot be reached. Reality forces herself on me eventually and I take the escalator to the underground and come up with a plan to spend my four hours in Istanbul on my birthday today.

I do not worry and, despite the sudden sharp pain in my heart, I do not even fall into despair. I am not even feeling sad. I am thinking rather it must be karma’s way of telling me to let go once and for all. Let go and move on. So I do. 

If before I had absolutely no plan whatsoever about my day in Istanbul except meeting my friend, I now decide I am taking myself out to lunch in Sultanahmet, right across the street from the Blue Mosque. 

I catch the metro and ask for directions and get them in Turkish and then someone offers me their seat. I start talking to the young girl sitting in front of me and she offers to help.

“Come with me, she says, and we both get off and I submit and follow her. Although, I told her I want to walk, she takes me to the train station, pays for my ticket before I can do anything about it, and we both get on the same train and get off together again, this time at the university. 

Nihan (stress falls on i) is a beautiful long haired brunette Turkish girl from Adana, in her twenties, studying political science and dreaming about going to Europe. Loves the UK. ” Are you a student, too?” she asks me. And though I feel flattered, I disappoint her and say I am a teacher. And then I get the same reaction: “Konya?! Why?!”

After we say goodbye, I walk past the university and the Grand Bazaar. Such dear memories tie me to this place. Perhaps it is time to get untied, to cut myself loose from this spiderweb. But now I am here and enjoy the colorful, loud crowd of Istanbul.

As I start recognising places, I remember the bookshop where I bought “The Dervish Gate” by Ahmet Umit, the book that first introduced Konya to me. So I suddenly decide to make a visit and say thank you. I can see the  Blue Mosque in front of me on the right, so I start searching for the bookshop on the left. I remember it is a famous one and only remember the name when I see it: Galeri Kaisery.

I go in and take a look around and when Rhana comes, the bookshop lady, I am so happy I can thank her for the recommendation she made in April. 

“You know, today, because of that book you recommended, I am travelling to Konya!”

“Really?! Today?! You read the book and are going?”

“Yes. And so I felt I should come in and thank you for it.”

“Well, I am happy for you. You know, I feel you need a new book now. This one: “Potrait of a Turkish Family”. Then you will really understand the Turkish people and our history. It is really everything you need to know about Turkish people. After you read this, you’ll be back again.”

She then pulls out this thick file full of feedback from customers about this book, but she really doesn’t need to. I know it makes sense to get it and, even more than that, I know that somehow it is going to change my life. So I get it.

“You know, I am looking for a place with wifi where I can have lunch. Can you recommend one?”

“Oh, go here, on the right, after the kebab.”

We shake hands and I go. And as I get into the restaurant and up the stairs and down at a beautiful wooden table, I am greeted by friendly faces and I remember I was here before and had something sweet.

The waiter, a tall, stout guy in his late twenties, comes and hands me the menu. When I ask the password for the wifi, he simply takes my phone from my hand and keys in the password himself. I feel it is a bit too much, but then I remember I am in Turkey and I relax. Personal space is an overrated form of distance used by smug people in cold, western European countries.

Yalcin, as he later introduces himself, leans over the table, resting on his elbows, takes the pen from my hand and marks our location on my map to show me how to get back to the airport. He is flirting with me shamelessly, totally ignoring my attempts to intimidate him by giving him my most penetrating look. And, even more outrageously, completeley ignoring the bruises on my face. Up to this moment, everyone began any conversation with me by addressing a few words to my right cheekbone, stripped naked of skin now. So, when this guy looks me directly in the eye, as if he were talking to a real person, I finally start feeling whole again.

A Scandinavian would probably have to get himself drunk before even considering doing anything remotely similar. Or would kill himself instead of ever trying.

An hour and a half later, having resisted the Turk’s attempts to convince me to stay till tomorrow morning, I make my way to the tram station. A guy on the tram quickly explains in Turkish what I need to do. Hands free. Smile free. Flirt free. I can’t understand a word, but, miraculously, I know what he tells me, I get the message.

I get to the airport when the sun is setting and rush to the domestic departures terminal. It is so much cosier than the international departures. I feel like I am in a big Turkish home, where everyone loves me.

Next episode: my first night in Konya- missing my airport pickup, taxi driver who speaks absolutely no English, not finding the address of my host and not being able to contact  her. The great adventure begins.