Love and Time

I’ve been thinking a lot about time travel lately. Not in the personal sense, but as a device in stories. How to facilitate it, how to make it believable, interesting. I’ve always liked stories where a person is living in one world and somehow crosses into another. Perhaps I crave these tales of crossing over because I have never felt I belong in this world. I’ve learned its ways, to some extent. But so much of living is navigating between the inner and the outer spheres – how do we let out what we experience on the inside? Do we?

I met a woman at a campground where I stayed in southern Crete a few years ago. She was friendly, smiling, traveling alone as I was. She came from northern Greece – Thessaloniki – but she talked about how special Crete was, how the water, “Kriti water,” was good for your teeth. The campground where we both stayed was just across from a pebble beach and we would lounge there in the heat of the day, sipping orange juice or the iced coffee slushies they like in Greece. In the shade of the trees which grew along the beach, we would talk about our lives, about our interests, about traveling, about love.

“Have you heard of this story, “The Valley of the Roses?” she asked me. I told her no, I hadn’t. She told me the story in her pieced together English: a man in Switzerland in the 1920s fell into a coma-like sleep and awoke in a different body, at a different time – about 1500 years in the future. The people spoke a language he didn’t know, but they recognized his German as one of the “old languages” and soon they put together that this was someone from a different time in the body of their friend and colleague.

I googled the story, but didn’t find much on the internet. Eventually I figured out the name of the man who had this experience and documented it – Paul Dienach. While he was in the future, he could not sleep, instead staying up every night to write down his experiences and thoughts, what he learned from his conversations, what he remembered from his own time, how different the world of the future was.

Last summer when my parents visited me in Seattle, I told my mother about the story and we discovered it had been published in English. Then I got so swept up in moving to London and starting school that I forgot all about the book, until Christmas this year, when my mom brought along the copy she purchased and passed it along to me.

It is one thing to do what I am doing in my studies of archaeology and look at the past. The past already has patterns we can analyze and interpret – it has lines to read between. The future is another matter entirely, where the lines are not yet drawn and we have little to draw upon but our hopes and fears, our desires and dreams of what the future might hold.

When I read Tarot cards, I always tell people that the future cards will make a lot less sense than the cards representing the past and present, matters we are already familiar with. We can think back to the past, reflect on the present, but the future is conceptually impenetrable – opaque.

These days I can’t seem to get beyond the three of swords. Whereas 3’s are normally a lucky number of growth, the three of swords is different – it bears a red Valentine-looking heart pierced by three swords, a rainy sky in the background, viscerally representing pain, shock, surprise, love-triangles. This card has been showing up in my readings for at least the last month, if not longer. It isn’t the sort of card you want to see in a reading, least of all in the future position.

It is a card I have gotten twice when I was blissfully happy in a relationship. Both times, I was riding a high of love and sex and believed no clouds were on the horizon. And then I read the cards, and the three of swords said something was being hidden from me. Neither time did I think to ask my beloved if there was something amiss. I preferred to dismiss the meaning, obvious though it was – to hope that it could mean something else – that the cards were wrong. Both times, I soon found myself out in the cold, the blissful feeling gone, along with my beloved, and my heart. It sounds melodramatic, but I do not love lightly. Perhaps that is part of my problem.

Paul Dienach was like me, though. A person who’s soul cries out for love above all else. A romantic. A victim of longing.

Paul had loved a young woman who was forced to marry another and died in childbirth. He held onto the sadness of losing her for years, never seemingly attempting to replace his dead love, but mourning her loss in perpetuity. Now, living in the future, he finds love again. The people of that time are more true to their emotions – they do not deny them, hide them, fear them as we do. The people there were guileless, accomplished at a young age, childlike in their fascination and appreciation for nature, beauty, and deep emotions. People love and admire each other for their capacity to feel and show love. That desire to merge with another is held sacred – people do not conceive of themselves as automatons or robots, following blind desire, trampling hearts. The basic starting place of all relationships is respect and empathy.

The Greek woman who told me about the Valley of the Roses was in the throes of new love when we met. She had found a “very handsome man” several years her junior, with whom she’d fallen madly in love. She had the gleam and excitement, the magic one exudes when everything seems possible. I hope everything worked out for her.

Love seemed to be all around me then, at the camping ground. A cute couple pitched their tent near me: an American guy and a European girl, looking happy and free together, and I couldn’t help but think about the man who’d seemed to be mine just a year before. I had envisioned similar happy adventures with him. I felt jealous of that joyous couple; I imagined that in some other version of events, that might have been us.

I’ve spent so much of my life mourning for the past. Holding onto sorrow because it was as close as I could get to love. Instead, on that trip, I was dogged by men who tried to get close to me, at least in the physical sense. They came on in fast sequence: first, the father of my friends (someone at least twice my age), then the restaurant manager in Santorini, next an English backpacker in Bodrum, and then a Turkish tourist guide in Ephesus. I was mostly left alone in Lesvos, then there was the personal trainer at Delphi, and finally a musician in Istanbul. Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

It all added to the feeling I had that something had gone wrong somewhere. Somehow the magic had left my life and I wasn’t sure if it would ever return. I remember the feeling as I looked out over the harbor below Delphi, the twinkling lights of a distant village, the sky heavy with stars above us, and there I was with some stranger I’d met on the street, who’d invited me to dinner and driven me to this romantic lookout spot on his motorcycle. It was clear he wanted to kiss me next to that ancient sparkling abyss, but all I felt was the deep feeling of loss.

In the two and a half years since I was in Greece and Turkey, I have released a lot of that old sadness. It took time and work and a fair amount of distraction and self-love. Moving to Seattle seemed to help me to leave behind some of the pain of what had happened. New York had become a city of broken dreams and any new place was a respite from those old memories.

Now I’ve returned to London, where once things felt so right. But my presence here hasn’t meant a rebirth of that old love, though it looked like that was a possibility, for a brief moment. On the contrary, it seems to be a sort of final coda, tacked on to the end of an old song.

To return to the idea of time travel, I recently watched a series called The Outlander, in which an English woman is transported from Scotland in the 1940s to the 1740s. She is unable to go back to her own time for long enough to fall in love with a handsome Highlander, and then she doesn’t want to return, preferring to stay with him, in his time, than to return to her life and husband in the 1940s. When the two of them are unable to prevent a battle which they know, historically, led to the death of nearly all Scottish fighters, her husband tells her she must return to her time, and keep the child she is carrying safe. So she does, and twenty years pass, during which she assumes her true love died in that battle and mourns him, raising their daughter with the man she had been married to before her travels. When her child is grown, she learns from some old documents that he survived, after all, and she decides to return to the past, to look for him.

In The Outlander, the time travel is a device to tell a wonderful love story about two people brought together across hundreds of years and the cultural divide that comes with it, but it is what makes the story satisfying for a love junkie such as myself. Even when the two are separated by (apparent) death and time, they don’t let one another go. They can’t. I know it’s just a story, but it resonates with me, because that is the sort of connection I seek.

Of course, the world is full of people, but I don’t enjoy the hunt. I’m too single-minded for the games of love people play. I’ve had my fill of flakes and phonies, philanderers and fairweather folks. I’m fortunate to have found great friends in my life – women and men I will love as long as I am able. All I seek now is that pinnacle friend, a fellow follower of the one true faith: love. For too long I’ve felt myself a stranger in a foreign land, far from  home, even in the place of my birth. I’d hoped by now to have found my fate.

Finally, I seem to have cycled back through all the false starts I’ve made up till now. I’ve learned much about my own faults and fears, grown through my mistakes and felt the depth of my ancient pain. I’m ready to find my own family and to release the failures of my past.

I haven’t learned the secrets of time travel and the future is still a mystery to me, but at least I’ve made peace with the past. The task before me now is simply to feel my freedom in this present moment, and to move forward without fear.

I see in my own family the example of what not to do: in January, my aunt Elisabeth died alone in the shell of a life she might have left long ago for greener pastures. Love for her was found and lost in Miami, and she lived with its ghost for the rest of her life, forsaking other paths and embracing a past full of empty boxes, far from family, focused on her pain and what she’d lost.

After her mother died, she had no one but her brothers, far away and preoccupied with their own lives and families. My sister, Erika, was always the best at staying in touch with her. In the last few years before Erika died, I think she managed to forge a real bond with our lonely aunt. To make her feel loved and treasured. I tried to live up to her example, though I know I wasn’t as good at it as she had been. Dear Aunt Elisabeth, wherever you are, I’m sorry I can’t go back in time and be kinder, more loving, more present for you.

Love is really the only thing that conquers time. It is what binds us together through changes and years, through progress and fears.Wherever my aunt is, I hope her husband is with her; I like picturing her sitting down to a home-cooked meal made by her mother, my Omi, with Erika pouring everyone a delicious vintage. After dinner, they’d have dessert and play gin rummy and maybe even smoke a cigarette like they used to do.

Recently I encountered a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Without love, there is no reason to know anyone, for love will in the end connect us to our neighbors, our children and our hearts.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Love and miss,

Kira

 

 

 

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Athens and Istanbul – The End of My Journey

Since returning to the United States after my time volunteering with the refugees in Lesvos, I’ve been mostly obligated to get to work on the business of paying rent in New York City. I’ve also been able to pick up work on my memoir again, and I’ve made great strides since September, when the world turned and brought me back to this city, this sprawling metropolis of concrete and steel and human desire striving ever upward.

From pouring cups of “haleeb” for wet, frightened children, I went to pouring champagne for VIPs in the Lexus Lounge, for Fashion Week. I was too busy to reflect on how much has shifted in my life since last year’s fall fashion week, when the landscape of my life seemed new and magical – full of potentials that have since withered on the vine, disappeared altogether, like a mirage. I have a habit of confusing endings for beginnings.

While last years deaths (mostly figurative) were difficult veils to pass through, I can look back now and see what I might not have done, had things gone better for me, personally. Had I won my romantic dreams of love, I might have stayed contented in New York, wrapped up in relationship with one man, instead of going into the world and embracing the multitudes of desperate brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons – whose needs are far greater than mine in this life.

I am fortunate to have been able to afford the time and airfare to go to Greece, as I am fortunate to have been born to a financially and otherwise secure family in a country where, at least historically, human life mattered, and no one was getting killed as a mater of course.

I speak in the past tense, because I am not so sure these things are true of our country anymore, but I digress.

My last few days in the Aegean were spent sightseeing in Athens – it was my first visit there, and time was short, so I scampered like my skirt was on fire to see the National Museum and the Parthenon before catching a bus into the mountains to the northwest of the city, to visit the ancient sanctuary of Gaia at Delphi, where the Oracles made pronouncements and predictions since time immemorial.

Parthenon

Parthenon

The Erechtheion at the Acropolis

The Erechtheion at the Acropolis

View from the Acropolis

View from the Acropolis

The Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum

The forested mountains and picturesque towns reminded me of the Alps as the bus wound around the skinny roads till we arrived at Delphi.

The village was very small and I quickly found my hotel, despite my lack of a map, Google or otherwise.

I dropped off my things and set out to explore the city, in search of dinner and water. Lots of water, as I was still dry as a desert from dehydration. Before I’d gone far, I met a local man named Dimitri, who took me down the street on his motorcycle, where we had beer and I devoured half a pizza and drank endless carafes of water.

The restaurant overlooked the steep, impressive mountains, the deep alluvial gorge dove precipitously below us. Dimitri took me to the sacred Castalian Spring, which was below the temple site, spouting into a rock basin before draining elsewhere. I filled up my bottle with the cold, delicious water and drank deeply.

In the morning, I woke early and went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the remains of the temples and dedications built at Delphi over hundreds of years. A friendly local pooch walked with me down the road to refill my bottle at the Castalian Spring.A large rock marked the place where the priestesses used to speak their predictions. A dome-shaped rock, representing the omphalos or world navel, sat nearby. I spent an hour or so exploring the site and the site of the nearby Athena temple before refilling my water bottle at the Castalian Spring and going to the museum. It was full of incredible pediments and votive objects I was lucky to see.

Omphalos at Delphi

Omphalos at Delphi

Delphi surroundings

Delphi surroundings

With a sweet kitty at Delphi

With a sweet kitty at Delphi

Delphi

Delphi – the stone of the priestesses

Moi at Delphi

Moi at Delphi – in front of the Apollo Temple

I checked out of my hotel and got my things before shopping for lip balm for my lips, which were dry and chapped to the point of cracking. I ran into Dimitri on the main street and he bought me a Greek coffee – thick with the grounds. Then my bus came and I headed back to Athens, driving the winding roads down from Mount Parnassus.

I had hoped to visit Eleusis, the ancient site of the mystery ritual that was popular throughout the region until paganism was outlawed and the temples destroyed. However, I learned that it was closed on Mondays, so I was thwarted. I got my things from my hotel and got a text from some of my fellow volunteers, who were also in Athens.

I told them where to find me and waited for them outside the hotel. Maya and Kristof – a father and daughter from Berlin – found me and decided to take a room at my hotel, which was only $25 euros. We caught up and smoked a few cigarettes before I got the subway to my new neighborhood.

I was staying my final night near the Acropolis in a hostel, where I thought I might meet some interesting people, and I was right. As I was at the front desk to check in, a couple came in and got a room.

I found my dorm and encountered a French girl called Lea, who spoke perfectly unaccented English – or close enough. We decided to go out later, and in the meantime I figured I’d do some sightseeing in the area. It was late afternoon when I wandered along the base of the Acropolis, in search of the Agora.

I followed my nose (though I had a map, in case of emergency) and found the Agora, bordered by a large museum on one side and a train track running in front. I wandered through the museum and the grounds in the burning sun. I located the Eleusinian temple, which was only foundation stones, and visited the Hephaestus temple, which was beautifully preserved – even down to the colors!

Hunger pangs clanged in my empty belly and I headed back toward the hostel, stopping along the way for souvenirs for my family.

Once back at the hostel, I feasted on cashews and a tin of dolmas and drank a beer in the courtyard. The couple I’d seen at the reception came in and we began conversing. The man was Dutch and his companion was Belgian. I told them about my experiences volunteering in Lesvos, and they listened with great interest.

The man told me that he was ashamed that he, a European, had not done anything to help the refugees, when an American had. It inspired him to do something.

Lea and I went out for drinks to a place recommended by the front desk attendant. I had a feel for the neighborhood now and we walked back toward the Agora and found the rooftop bar, with a view of the Acropolis, where we talked for several hours about our pasts and our upbringings. Lea and I had a lot in common, though of course I was older than she by a decade, since I’m long in the tooth, I suppose, compared to your average backpacker. Nevertheless, it was one of those meetings that makes you glad to travel alone, so as to facilitate encountering strangers.

We went back to the hostel to find the room had filled with my fellow Americans. I packed my things and got ready for the next day’s flight to Istanbul. Someone in the room had set an alarm that went off in the wee hours, interrupting everyone’s sleep – except the culprit, who just kept snoring. There are definitely downfalls to hostel life.

In the morning, I checked out and walked to a nearby square where I got the metro to the airport. While exiting the train, I ran into Kristof and Maya one last time. We said our goodbyes and I changed some money into Turkish Lira before going through security.

I arrived in Istanbul in the late morning and took the train to the tram to get to my hostel. My Greek phone could no longer help me, but I remembered the directions to find the hostel and managed to make it there. I was out of sorts after the crowded tram, in which a man had inappropriately brushed against me, but there were a couple of fellows at the cafe/reception who shared their lunch with me and improved my mood.

One was a Turkish guy, Baran, who the same age as me, and the other was an English chap called Charley, a bit older. They wanted to see my guitar, so I showed it to them and we took turns playing songs for each other.

The two of them were going to the Asian side of the city that afternoon and invited me to come along. Despite my lack of sleep, I said yes. When in Istanbul. . .

We took the ferry across to this other half of the city and walked to the house of some friends, a couple who received us with hospitality. They had two small dogs and a cat running around their sunny apartment. I was allergic, but happy to be with these friendly people and animals.

We took the dogs for a walk to nearby Small Moda Beach, and I brought along my guitar. As the sun set, we sat on the rocks by the water and performed songs for each other. They were a good audience, and some other friends joined us, so we had a bit of a crowd, all drinking beers and eating chips, talking and smoking and singing.

With Baran, Tuba, and Ali at Small Moda Beach in Istanbul

With Baran, Tuba, and Ali at Small Moda Beach in Istanbul

It was after 10 when we headed back to our part of the city. Baran and I went back to the hostel, where the fellow in reception invited us for a drink before we called it a night.

The next day, I was on a mission to see what I could of Istanbul: I took the tram across the Bosphorus and walked up to the Hagia Sophia – the famous former church and mosque that is now a museum open to all.

In front of the Hagia Sophia

In front of the Hagia Sophia

However, the line was huge, so I decided I’d come back around lunch time, when I hoped fewer people would be there. I visited the famous underground Basilica Cistern, leftover from the time of Emperor Justinian (and a pleasant respite from the hot sun).

The Blue Mosque - Istanbul

The Blue Mosque – Istanbul

From there, I went to the archaeological museum, which had a great section on Cypriot and Syrian ancient history.

After that, it was time for the Hagia Sophia, which was finally relatively easy to get into. I wandered around the cavernous, domed building, exploring its nooks and crannies. From there, I got lunch in Sultanahmet before going to see the famous old bazaar. It was a beautiful sprawling network of hallways will high, vaulted ceilings, full of stalls and people buying and selling, bartering and bargaining.

I made my way back to the tram and back to my side of the Bosphorus. Baran was waiting for me, as he hoped to record me playing music in a nearby cafe. However, it was not to be: I discovered I’d lost my credit card and went into panic mode.

Once I’d settled things, we got dinner and took it up to the top of the hill, overlooking the water and the lights of the city. There, we sat playing music and talking till it was almost 2, and time to turn in.

In the morning, I went to the beautiful old Cemberlitas hammam, to get scrubbed clean of the dirt that had been building up since the archaeological dig in Cyprus, and no doubt increased exponentially while I was volunteering in Molyvos. The building was beautiful: a tall marble dome covered the bathing room, a large heated slab of marble was dappled with circles of sunlight, filtering down.

I rinsed off with soap and warm water from marble basins and went to lay on the slab, enjoying the serenity and silence. I had the place to myself, until a woman came in to scrub me. I recalled my visit to my first hammam, in Morocco in 2012. A visit to the hammam is many things: it is about cleanliness, of course, but it is also a ritual performed before praying or religious holidays.

She used soap and warm water to cover me in lather before commencing to scrub me with an exfoliating mitt. My favorite part of going to the hammam is watching the dead skin appear as if by magic.

When the scrub was finished, I rinsed off and returned to sprawl on the warm marble slab for a bit before showering and getting dressed. I tipped my scrubber and headed off toward the hostel on the tram. It was a beautiful blue-skied morning and the Bosphorus was full of boats.

I packed up my things and had one last breakfast with Baran at the cafe. Charley joined up and we walked down to the tram together. I said goodbye to my new friends and headed to the airport.

That afternoon, I flew to Zurich for a long layover and took the train into the city. I had a bed at a New Zealand-owned hostel in a nightlife district only about 15 minutes walk from the central station. The glowering sky let fall its cargo of gentle rain as I made my way across the bridge and past the military grounds.

The hostel had a bar/cafe downstairs and after I checked in, I sipped my glass of complementary rose and wrote about my experiences in Lesvos. A band set up to play a concert and I stepped outside to smoke and ended up talking with a couple of locals about my trip and the refugees. They told me about conservative political views in Switzerland, making it sound not unlike Texas in its stance toward guns and immigration.

I had a few more beers (and a falafel from a nearby Lebanese spot) and chatted with people who came for the concert. Finally, it was time to retire to my upper bunk and get some sleep before heading home to New York the next day.

I flew back to the city on the fourth anniversary of my sister Erika’s death. September 4th is a date that will always have significance for me, though this year the end of my journey had to suffice to mark it, where in previous years, I drank pink bubbles, at the very least. But I think my volunteering also was something I did to honor her, in a way. I try to honor her by living.

My return to the city has been both easy and odd. It is the same old city, but I don’t feel like the same old me. Lighter somehow. Happier with what I have and more grateful.

As my birthday nears (it’s tomorrow!), I’m reflecting on this year and what I’ve gone through. I feel in some ways that I’ve skimmed over the waters of loss without getting pulled in, which is a considerable feat for a Scorpio. I don’t love lightly, and letting go isn’t easy. But I have evolved through change and pain and my perspective is different now. I understand myself better through the difficulties I wouldn’t have chosen to face. The earth must be plowed before it is planted. I hope this next phase will be about that fertility – that loss is behind me for the time. But time will tell.

To quote Casablanca, the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

All for now –

Love and miss

Kira