by guest contributor, Veronica Martin*
In Turkey there is a hotel on the edge of summer, on the edge of the sea, that seems to hold its nostalgia as if it is holding its breath.
The Kismet’s walls are covered in black and white photographs of former clients – royalty, movie stars, politicians, writers –, a parrot wheezes in the corner and, if you have the chance to stay there in May, it holds the particular delight of lodging in the faded grandeur of a formerly haute hotel during its off season. The place agreed with me terribly. When I was twenty-five, riding on my own edge of sorts, that of longing and then catching up to that longing, for life to start and searching for its catalyst, I stayed there with my mother and with our friend Marcia. Marcia who didn’t jump into the Aegean sea.
Marcia felt older and younger than me all at once. She kept this, whatever exuberance it was, just beneath her thick, sun spotted skin. One night we wandered out to the hotel’s farthest dock. She poised to dive into the dark, roiling sea, dedicating the act to her granddaughter, fingers curling around the salt slick coating the thick metal railing. It caught my breath.
I wanted her to jump in that night, and I wanted to follow. But the wind picked up and Marcia turned away from the sea, coming back through the darkness to join us, back from almost abandon, retreating to the white sheet world of her hotel bed. I wanted to stay on the dock, in that vacuous, breathing wilderness, but there was a heavier part of me that also wanted to run back inside to sleep and wake for the next day. It was the same part of me that craved comfort over recklessness, weighted stability over change, rebelled against a kind of life-is-too-short-to-unpack existence. Each side tore at the other: the part that held a nostalgia for what hadn’t happened yet and the part that held a nostalgia for what was past and couldn’t be repeated.
It was in the startling moment of quiet like that night, eye-of-the-storm calm, before my own battle had begun, still a possibility of following Marcia into the sea, when I began to understand what I was fighting for: fauxstalgia. The outline of the life I wanted to be living, a kind of falling in love with uncertainty and abandoning yourself to it at all costs.
And there it was when I least expected it, out in the dark, coming close to old impressions. This life I was after, never solid or material but built on intuition. There was the night and there was the sea and here were the people. It was cinema, it was gradual and I could feel whatever it was slipping so that with the decision to abandon the sea’s edge for a nights sleep it would disappear completely by morning. I didn’t yet know how to find my way back. I still don’t.
The next morning as I sat with my mother, picking through Turkish apricots and soft cheese, I noticed my spoon said OK. The letters were carved into its elongated, silver handle, perched on the edge of my breakfast bowl, careening up at me, pleading with me. We were visiting our first ruin that morning, among which was a littler known site, Didyma, where a temple to Apollo still stood.
I looked forward to each ruined city as if there would still be some remnant of oracle there. The ancient Turks and Greeks believed so deeply in a family of gods protecting and procuring their lives that it seemed impossible for the belief to simply vanish with the people. I didn’t want to believe things left so suddenly after a life had been lived. I wanted to think some indication of force prevailed after death, some vestige of knowledge. It seemed wrong for there to be nothing but hard stone and burned out temples. And I wanted to take something from those lives to infuse my own. I wanted answers. But I wasn’t yet sure how to ask the questions.
Turkey was once a place to find one’s purpose, one’s future, written in the stone and deciphered from the wind chime of the goddess. Or perhaps found carved into the handle of a spoon. As I ate my honey-sweetened muesli with the spoon that said OK, I let it tell me something I couldn’t quite hear, something elemental, that I wouldn’t let go of. So I slipped the spoon into my day bag.
We arrived at Apollo’s temple late that afternoon. There were only a few people in the small coastal town and no one guarding the ancient structure itself. Here we could weave among the pillars and the statues, brush up against them, walk the way the ancients must have as they came to the inner well to pray.
And so I did. I took my uncertainty and I held it as close to the surface as I could, carried it in my throat as I ran my fingers along scaled pillars and into lion’s mouths. I walked in the smooth dip worn into the marble floor, and I walked where it looked like fewer people had, wondering who else had strayed from such a purposefully worn path.
A covered archway led into the inner chamber where a deep well still yawned from the ground. The edge was raised with more smooth dips worn away from ages of sitting on its wide rim. Here, prophetesses would gaze into the water to see the future, to draw answers, outcomes. There were signs all around us, at the base of these once great columns: ascent not allowed. Those old pillars, stalwarts of the ages, yet not destroyed. Those ruined stays of a great weight, leaning on the angle of the future. A forest of stone slashed and crumbled and burnt, the columns reaching as they always had, up into the primordial sky.
I sat on the edge of the well. There was water pooled at the bottom. It was gilded with hundreds of coins on top of which I could see my own outline, a shimmering ghost above all those wishes. I felt I was looking into the heart of the temple, the well an artery leading straight to its core, and that the temple was staring right back.
I took the spoon from my bag. It would look so out of place down there, at the bottom of the well, among those round copper orbs. I still wasn’t sure what I was asking, and I didn’t know what kind of answer I expected or even wanted, but the spoon with its sentiment, at once answer and question carved into its handle, felt like enough for an oracle to work with. And because Marcia hadn’t jumped into the sea that night, and because I hadn’t followed, because I held my nostalgia like I held my breath, I held the spoon over the well’s mouth and let it fall.
*Veronica Martin is a writer who has lived in Grenoble, Siena and Mumbai. You can find her photographs at veronicamartin.tumblr.com. She lives and works in Portland, Oregon.
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