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Monday, July 14, 2014

Where All Promise Lives


If I'd been alive in the sixties, I'd have been on a beach somewhere,
with a reefer and a bottle of Bud"
I'm in Istanbul at the moment.

These stopovers of mine between business trips are increasing. I get a sudden yearning to see this old city.

Taking a breather in Istanbul has become a habit now. This city gets in your blood. She's addictive. Often I find myself dreaming of her streets long before my work is over. Sometimes while I'm (very rarely) at the office back in England, I catch myself smile as she nudges me reminiscently. Scenting her sounds. Walking her waters.

Maybe it's her strength I admire the most. Standing for thousands of years, she has taken everything in her stride. Those who built her, those who conquered her eventually all became conquered by her.

I wrote once that I wished I could pick her out of her setting, and place her apart from the politics she finds herself in today. For Istanbul is part of Turkey, but she is not Turkey. She is not Turkish. She is not Greek. She is not Roman. Nor any majority that has in time become a minority, or vice versa. She is all of them.

Call her what you want. Istanbul. Constantinople. Byzantium. Modelled on Rome itself, on and around seven hills, built by Roman emperors. For me she is a city that has transcended all of them by being part of them, but not completely of them. That fluidity is how you achieve timelessness. It's in the very bricks of her DNA.

It's also how you weather the storm.

Storm is the word. I watched the World Cup final from Istanbul, a tournament that should have been a welcome escape for millions of football fans like me, but the surreality of watching one half of the world playing games while it feels like the other half is at war makes it seem like you've suddenly materialised into a film conjured up by Hollywood.

I feel like the world's gone crazy. Like I'm watching hopelessly as someone I love dearly goes out of their mind.

Since the World Cup kicked off three weeks ago, Sunni Muslim extremists have seized territory in Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic state. Lebanon has been hit by a spate of suicide bombings. Israelis and Palestinians were pushed to full conflict after the murders of four teenagers. Egypt's political divide grew wider as hundreds of people charged with supporting the ousted Muslim Brotherhood group were convicted of terrorism-related crimes - including three journalists for the Qatar-owned Al-Jazeera network.

Tension. Violence. War. But is this really the context of the world?

We are in the billions, I tell myself. Percentage-wise these news stories are not us. The stories that are us are the ones that go past largely unreported. The goodness and kindness, because that is the norm. Families are the norm. Fighting together as a unit to make it through the day.

Plus, there's a reason why it's called the news. Its nature is in its etymology. To tell us what is new in our world. To inform, keep informed, and monitor changes to the status quo. We report what is out of the ordinary, what shocks, what can break us out of the "stupor" that we take for granted.

If the news wires were filled with nothing but real stories of everyday lives, we would get bored or else it would mean the norm of our lives was completely different, and we would feel the necessity to report about them.

This isn't to excuse the horror being played out in different parts of the world. I'm just saying it's not the norm - yet.

And it's that "yet" we all hold on to, otherwise how would we live out lives? What is the use of falling in love, getting married? Is this a world to bring children into?

Because I do wonder how this disillusionment the news generates is affecting the way we view the world. Social media networks - if nothing else - gives us a great snapshot about developed nations. Picture it: A rouge shooter goes on a rampage after a mental decline killing six people in California, and in less than a day a "hero fanpage" appears on Facebook.

With psychopaths aplenty purporting as sane people, what is a parent to do? I'm a person who wants to defend every tree in the world from the fall of the human axe, how will I protect my son from all the danger that lurks out there? With every horror story I read, I do think: Is this the day I run out of fucks to give?

It's been kicking about in my mind a lot lately, more than World Cup football. But I know this is a storm. I know it will pass. What is important is not that it will come and inevitably go, but how you weather it. I know that, too. We all do, in our varying degrees.


German midfielder Mesut
Ozil's trophy lift
It means for those of us privileged enough to have ordinary lives, to get on with living them as best as we can. Even in those war-torn regions people have been trying to watch the World Cup. To get some normalcy in their lives away from the unprecedented sectarian violence and soaring tensions. And it's through such games that opportunities arise for people to come together to get past the superficial barriers we have placed upon ourselves through human time. As with the best of music, the best of art, you don't need subtitles to watch football. Passion speaks for itself.

It brings its own share of tears and joy. Of winners and runners-up, but it also means continuing to make choices, to take chances, to make a difference. To appreciate our freedoms, and to allow the same enjoyment to others. To play our games, to enjoy life, to work hard, and to give back at the same time, and not allow the one percent of our seven billion strong who would destroy our humanity the satisfaction of being more than just today's front page news.

And those who would portray the crazies of the world as heroes are less than the one percent. Out of those billion Facebook users, not even its 1% would in their right human minds open a hero fanpage over the sad story of a boy, so devoid of the knowledge about his own promise in life that he had to take the life of others.

Thus, we weather the storm together. For me, while death seems to hold its own all around us, that means a new life and wedding plans.

For those long-term readers, my views on marriage haven't changed: no ceremony can keep you together if you are divorced at the heart (not even the tax breaks). Wanting to be a family (and waiting for the right time) doesn't require marriage vows, because I see just as much credibility in the personal vows I give. I've been through more than my fair share of relationships to know I don't need a ring, or a ceremony; it's the complement of souls that matter. But I respect those for whom all these symbols are important - and my girlfriend happens to be one of them. I respect her wishes.

The way I look at it, every belief, every opinion is a welcome chance to compromise. The unions formed from compromise help us grow and change. If nature hadn't compromised, we wouldn't be here today. Heck, it's the compromising of our genes that has created what we superciliously describe as our "uniqueness".

So it is, in the nature of that compromise, I continue looking for a wedding venue, but I think she may have found the one. She wanted a holy place; I wanted to get married in a forest. She was sweetly horrified; I told her God's first temples were groves.

Now she thinks Macedonia might be the place for us, with its Byzantine churches and Ottoman-era architecture, and I've already found a venue that is a wooden glen with a pagan site, a church and a mosque being built there at one time or another, so it sounds the perfect compromise.

So it is, I continue working on a book of wedding poems - a special one-off print for our guests as gifts (and I won't even think of the logistics of getting 200 people to Macedonia for now) - and my own wedding vows, of course. It's going to hold some Latin (as a nod to some of the dubious origins of the ceremony, which has been compromised into the modern version we know and love today), but I'm past caring that my verses will sound corny. You need to start worrying if your vows don't sound corny and clichéd, because that's what love is meant to do to you, right?

What a world. Wedding plans and death all around us. But every hope is a newborn child.

And so it is, I welcome my son with a hope for our world that never seems to die. With the belief that whilst ripples will come and go, the water remains steadfast in its flow.

For it's those with the fluidity to understand that they are part of a larger flow, who will allow the current to take them peacefully. That the eventual end of noise is silence. And that is where we shall gather to find wisdom.

It's there where all promise of another day lives.

And where that promise lives, so do we.

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