From My Window

WP_20141016_008

Nana L died this summer. No no- you don’t have to screw your face into that expression and you can uncock your head and stop murmuring but thank you, I appreciate the sentiment. I grew up with Nana L, and when I said “my parents” I meant her and my mom, but as a late adolescent our relationship became fraught and difficult, and eventually as an adult settled into distant and polite. She became ill very suddenly and died within a few months. When I left for Alaska I was reconciled to never seeing her again, and spent the months between my arrival and when I flew home for the wake dealing with that, and all the other complicated emotions that arise when a difficult parent dies and you are far from home, and when she died I didn’t feel surprised or socked in the gut or anything like that, just a wistful relief that she wasn’t in pain or confused any more, that her anxieties were finally put to rest.

Grief often doesn’t come at once though. Weeks or months later it has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you and walloping you over the head.

Among other things that I’m doing, and other grand schemes I’m trying to realize, I have a house sitting/dog watching gig at a house right down by the water, and every day it affords me dozens of observations she would have loved, and which would have been safe topics of conversation.

For instance, almost every day when I’m walking the dogs I see a blue jay that seems to favor a particular bank of bushes. The woman, though an ornithological bigot, dearly loved birds (as long as they were not pigeons or crows.) I can hear her asking about the blue jay years later, and a lump rises in my throat.

I thought it would be nice, then, to write some observations she would have enjoyed, and hope that you, (or your nana) will enjoy them too.

I am sitting at the dining room table and to my right is a big picture window. The day is fading from dusk into gloaming so nothing is very distinct, but I can still make out the white caps on the water, and where the water meets Gravina Island, which is directly across the channel. The tops of the hills on Gravina are more or less obscured by fog and the sky is gray. It is one of the enduring mysteries of this place that it can be both blustery and foggy at the same time. A jetty pokes out into the water; it’s low tide and the bottom rocks are covered with a yellowy-brown seaweed called fucus. Tide differentials are commonly 15-20 feet in this part of the world, and since land drops sharply into the sea, quite a lot is exposed during low tide, and it’s a good time to go starfish spotting. It would be too dark now, though. As I write it’s gotten so dark the only things I see clearly are the tree in the yard- the wind is gusting at 30-40 miles and hour and the branches look in danger of ripping themselves off- and a lone gull playing with the thermals, who’s been going up and down but not forward or back for the past minute or so. In the gloaming light the gull seems to glow.

Sometimes from this window I’ve seen humpbacks out in the channel- a blow, or a fin- or what could be a sea lion or seal head. It’s hard to tell and I am not an expert.

The dogs I’m watching are a Husky bitch and some kind of Australian herding dog. They’re both rather elderly for their size, but, especially the herder, have a lot of energy and need long walks every day. The Herder, we’ll call him, should be given a small flock of ducks or something to tend, because he spends his days in a state of frustration, trying to herd me and his sister. He won’t let me out of his sight- I have to be quick with the door if I was to go to the bathroom by myself. As for the Husky, the other day I was quietly reading on the couch and I heard an unholy racket in the basement. My immediate thought was “Intruder! No, drunk intruder!” and I ran downstairs. An improperly closed door had flown open in the wind and a bird had gotten in, and the Husky just sat there on the floor, surrounded by feathers, with bits of bird smeared all over the room.

I walk them down the street once a day and around a lake once a day. At least, that’s the plan, but it’s all weather dependent. The trees that turn are just starting to turn and are very pretty, but fall colors are few and far between as Alders, Spruce and Hemlock are the dominant trees. I noticed as far back as September, though, that certain mosses turn orange and brown in the fall. There is a Japanese Maple in front of a house down the lane that makes me think of home. The days are mostly very grey and dark now, and against the dark green shrubs that surround it, under a low sky and in underwater light, its red leaves seem to be lit from within.

It’s dark now, and all I can see from the window is my computer screen, and a desk lamp under a bearskin on the wood-paneled wall behind me, and the Herder on a couch he knows he’s not supposed to sit on, so I’ll go.

Yours as ever,

Agent L.

(What follows are various views from the porch and the yard, and one very naughty dog who seems rather proud of her misdeeds.)

WP_20141016_007 WP_20141014_002 WP_20141010_001 WP_20141006_001 WP_20141005_001

Posted in Alaska | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Appropriate Footwear for Hiking Mountains: the Agent L Guide

InstagramCapture_4617863b-809a-4802-8355-d725486fd611

We here at Agent L headquarters have been rather ambivalent about hiking, camping and other outdoor sports for years, which in retrospect is kind of funny, as we grew up next to Patapsco State Park and spent our adolescence combing the hills off trail, exploring all the creeks and ravines and spending aimless hours by the river, dangling scratched and tanned legs from fallen trees hanging over crevices. One of our most magical memories is setting off in a direction we never had before, crossing a ravine we didn’t remember ever having come across, and finding, literally miles from anything, even any old stone foundations that one sometimes comes across, a midden on a hillside. We picked through it- all oyster shells and delicate bones, and miscellaneous china doll limbs and old broken bottles. We never could find that hill again, though we tried.

As an adult, though, I’ve hiked perhaps half a dozen times.

So when James asked if I wanted to climb Dude Mountain with him, I hesitated for a moment before going, “Yeah, okay.” Then I got excited. I imagined scaling the mountain side with limited difficulty, stopping to take pictures of the vales and views. I was basing this on 20 year old memories of skimming over the gently rolling hills of Maryland. I wasn’t totally delusional. I recognized that I was an out of shape smoker, and imagined there’d be some huffing and puffing, but nothing, I imagined, I couldn’t handle with grace and good humor. So James got in his car to come get me and I got ready to go.

I wore a tunic for the hike, and packed a cardigan and jacket in my computer bag because I own nothing like a backpack, and slipped into my shoes.

A note about that: I have famously worn ballet flats all summer. I wore them to work in inclement weather. I wore them ziplining. I wore them boating. The only shoes I owned all summer were two pairs of nearly identical black flats, which is probably why I was routinely mistaken for a tourist. The footwear of choice here is X-tra Tuffs, a sturdy rubber boot which might be practical in a temperate rainforest, but are awful expensive for being so ugly.

xtra tuffs

So when I say I put on my shoes to go hiking, I mean I put on a pair of black ballet flats.

Dude Mountain, on a side note, is lesser known than Ketchikan’s most famous hiking trail, Deer Mountain. At half the length though, it’s less of an investment in time and effort. James and I did it in a little over three hours, including a good amount of time at the top. Brown Mountain Road takes you about half-way up, I’d say, along a beautiful road that drops off on the side to display mountain after mountain stretching off into the distance. Those who find themselves in Ketchikan looking for a great drive, Brown Mountain Road can’t be beat for views.

We parked where the road ended, and started into the woods along a dirt and gravel path. I was winded after a few minutes, but not terribly, and we took our first water break at a break in the trees about ten minutes in. Perhaps ten minutes later the stairs started. Roughly 2/3rds of the trail is made up of high steps made of wood planks, broken up by wood plank bridges over creeks and streams and runoff rivulets. I handled the first five minutes of climbing up relentless and uneven stairs with good humor. Then my humor began to fade.

We stopped for water at a platform put in for people to pitch tents on. Just when my lungs had stopped burning, James urged us on. That was one of the last breaks I got- I fell further and further behind, and James would periodically wait for me, enjoying the view and his water, and as soon as I caught up he’d cheerfully press on. The stairs went up relentlessly… step after horrible step, corner after dreadful corner. Because they were so uneven and because some boards were loose, I had little opportunity to look around- a glance at a group of wild flowers here, a particularly nice bush admired peripherally there- but had to keep my eyes mostly glued on the source of my torment.

“Nothing is worth this,” I came to repeat to myself like a very negative mantra. “No view could possibly be worth this. I am never doing this again. I wish I’d said no.”

The stairs ended at a steep path of gravel, which I hauled myself along with little difficulty. (Though steeper, it was so much better than the stairs.) The gravel dried up though, and the path turned to dirt and leveled became, if anything, steeper. It was fun, though, pulling myself up by tree roots and saplings, until my flats, now slick on the inside with mud and sweat, started to slip off. After I’d stopped three times to retrieve a shoe that’d fallen behind and James was peering concernedly down at me from above, I gave up, shucked them off, and put them into my computer bag.

The path leveled off into a narrow ridge that James said is bordered by riots of wildflowers in the summer. The soil here was nice beneath my feet- drier and loamy, sandy and curiously cool. Best of all, the next hill over was dotted with snowy white mountain goats- a dozen or so of them. We were admiring them when two hikers coming down met us. They both looked at my feet.

“Um, I brought the wrong shoes, so now they’re in my bag,” I said, feeling stupid.

“Right on.”

We chatted, they let us look at the mountain goats through their binoculars, and we went on our way. There was a final push and then we were in grass- on the top! And all of my crankiness faded away. We dumped our things by a rock and went exploring, and stared, just stared at the views.

InstagramCapture_a4a9adcd-199e-48a7-946e-2740da7a570d InstagramCapture_4617863b-809a-4802-8355-d725486fd611 InstagramCapture_320c9284-ab23-423a-95e4-1f7c0d4a8e56 InstagramCapture_7eb0298a-58d8-485a-9922-9f74ebf0ca06 InstagramCapture_2bc83cc0-ab5b-4db3-ac15-2b5c09635c60 InstagramCapture_0ed6613c-a3da-406d-94bb-9989a11bc186 1238111_10152402620916134_3150401059731357175_n

The grass felt wonderful on my battered feet.

On the way down, on the steep bits I went down sliding on my bottom, much to James’s amusement.

“It’s more sensible,” I said. “You can’t fall if you’re already down.”

“I almost bit it here, last time,” he admitted at a particularly tricky turn a bit later.

“You weren’t going down on your bottom,” I said smugly.

At the bottom of the first big dirt push, we found, sitting on a fallen branch, one of my shoes. I looked in my bag. Sure enough, there was only one of my shoes there.

“Holy Hannah!”

“That was really nice of those hikers,” James said.

I agreed.

It took three full showers to scrub the dirt out of my feet.

NB!!!! At the top, stay together. Sound does NOT travel well and it’s very easy to get disconcerted and lost.

Posted in Alaska | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Dealing With The World That Is Rather Than The One We Want

agentlabroad:

Finally some sense beyond the senseless slogans blooming over social media about the Edge.

Originally posted on Ottomans and Zionists:

I’ve been purposely keeping quiet as Operation Protective Edge rages on, which for someone who writes about Israel seems like a counterproductive move. The problem is, I have seen very little to convince me that writing anything will actually be productive in a real sense because everyone is living in a bubble. I have rarely been so disheartened by anything as much as I have by reading what friends and acquaintances are expressing as Israel and Hamas go at each other. My Facebook feed is a good illustration of this, being split between very different demographics.

On group is comprised of lots of Jewish friends from growing up in New York in an Orthodox community, attending Jewish day schools, currently living in a place with a large and engaged Jewish community, etc. and nearly all of them subscribe to the view that Israel is entirely blameless for its current predicament…

View original 1,866 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ziplining!

For my second adventure I chose Ziplining with Alaska Canopy Adventures. WP_20140625_026 Before we go into how this worked out for me, I want to stress that though the day was a disaster, I cannot say enough good things about the company and the tour.

If you do it, this is what you can expect. You’ll be picked up at the dock by a rep, and if you’re lucky that rep will be Earl, a lovely gentleman who’s been doing this for years. If you accidentally get caught up in conversation with a fellow ACA attendee and get on the wrong bus, he’ll be infinitely patient as he tries to find you. He’ll keep up a good patter of information about Ketchikan as he drives you to your location, and you should tip him well.

At the spot they’ll invite you to go potty multiple times at the base, and then you’ll be taken up to the head of the ziplines in this thing: WP_20140625_022 which is apparently designed to go up really steep hills. Anything that might attract bears is locked in a box. You’ll be invited to go potty again. When everyone is satisfactorily evacuated, there are all the safety speeches to get through, and then you’re hitched into your seat harnesses.

Before. So excited!

Before. So excited!

You follow your guides- two per group- outside and see a marvelous view not unlike this: WP_20140625_014 and pretty shit all around you not unlike this:   WP_20140625_012   Then there’ll be a demo, in which, if one of your guides is Tyler, you can admire his guns as he explains what to do/not to do. WP_20140625_010 Then off you go on the first, baby zip! WP_20140625_011 You’ll spend the next couple of hours going through longer and faster zips, from platform to platform. The platforms are attached to the tops of spruce trees. You can see for miles. The ocean and further islands are visible through the trees. It’s breathtaking. You might see a bear! As you gain confidence you can try cannon-balling to go faster, or holding out your arms. You can take pictures if you want- they’ll secure your camera to your harness so it doesn’t fall. In the downtime on platforms while waiting for everyone else to complete the last zip you can take pictures that will make all your facebook friends jealous. At some point if you do my course, you’ll walk across a few swinging bridges that will make you shriek, probably. And then you’ll be at the bottom and you’ll high five and probably buy the photograph that the professional photographer takes of you, massive grin on your face, as you give a thumbs up on the last zip.

And those of you who are afraid of heights, as several of my friends profess to be? Don’t worry. You’ll get over it. At no time do you feel unsafe. At no time, up in the canopy, are you not securely fastened to something. There is no way to fall.You’ll soon be feeling confident and having the time of your life, says even my friend Angel, who is afraid to stand on chairs.

But then was me.

I’ve always been moderately afraid of heights. I dislike ladders, but can cope with them. Airplanes don’t bother me, though, and I don’t panic at views from tall buildings.

I also dislike the feeling of falling. No roller coasters for me, please. Dropping is an unpleasant and profoundly unfun sensation that no amount of adrenaline-fueled endorphin rush can make okay.

I knew I’d be scared my first few zips, but I figured the scenery and the fun of it would get the better of me, and that as we moved from zipline to zipline I’d get more confident, and as I was waiting for my first zip I was debating whether 20 bucks was worth it for a photo of me in the tree tops and thinking, yeah, it probably was.

First zip- awful. Oh god I hate that feeling of dropping. Dying from a broken elevator cable rates only somewhat less than being tortured to death by Assad’s thugs, in my book. But I got through it and made it to the platform! It could only get easier, right?

The platform seemed about the size of a postage stamp, and had no railings. Worse, the tree was MOVING… swaying in the wind.

Rational brain knew I was securely latched onto the tree and nothing was going to happen to me. Lizard brain was sending out rather strident alarms. I looked at the wooden pathway back and wondered if I should consider going back? No. Agent L is many things, but she is not a pussy. It is healthy to conquer your fears! Onward!

Still, I clung close to the tree til it was my turn and looked at the next zip- intimidatingly long- with growing trepidation.

The zips got longer and faster and instead of getting less afraid, with each one I somehow grew more afraid. By the third one I refused to look at the next, and had to be led to the block to stand on before I zipped. Every time I jumped off I HATED it.

By the fifth I refused to open my eyes on the platforms and just stood there, shaking, and holding the tree trunk in a death grip. I have never been so frightened in my life.

I cannot at this point stress enough how good the staff were with me. Makenzie was great at speaking to me soothingly, congratulating me on, well, trying to conquer my fears, and getting me through zip after zip. At one point in the middle there were three swinging bridges to navigate, that were careening alarmingly side to side, and the ground was so very, very far away. Probably. I couldn’t look. Might’ve actually been a few inches for all I knew. The first had the steepest slope and I felt, a quarter of the way down, that I couldn’t take another step. I had on overwhelming desire to sit down and clutch the slats for dear life. Makenzie was walking backwards so she could face me, and was keeping up a patter of questions so I kept talking.

“Can you just stop a minute so I can walk closer to you?” I pleaded, feeling the beginnings of a panic attack creeping around the edges. The trees in my peripheral vision seemed to be spinning.

“Sure,” she said. “Anything else we can do to make you more comfortable?”

Get me the fuck out of this nightmare.

“Nope. That’ll be good.”

“You can DO this, Sarah!” she said.

“Uh-huh.”

In the last segment the zipline went across a glade and in the glade was a black bear, rooting for grubs in the undergrowth. I was hugging the tree with all my might, my legs already starting to ache from the effort of trembling so hard for so long, eyes squeezed shut.

“Sarah can you just turn your head a minute? Just a minute? To see the bear?”

“Nope, I’m good.”

“You don’t want to see the bear?”

“There will be other bears.”

A lady on my tour kindly asked if she wanted her to take a picture of it with my phone. I fumbled with my pocket zipper and then finally said, “My hands are shaking so hard I can’t get at it, and if I DO get at it, I’m afraid I’ll drop it. Thank you, though.”

On the last zip I opened one eye for a moment and saw the bear in the glade, nosing something in a hillock and thought how marvelous this would have been had I been able, somehow, to keep my goddamned lizard brain from flooding my body with FLIGHT!!!!! signals and adrenaline.

Oh well.

Reaching the ground was the best part. There was a bear across the field from us that I attempted to take a photo of but my hands were too shakey, and I got to see a reindeer pen, or as they call them here, sausage pens.

WP_20140625_017 WP_20140625_021 Am I glad I did it?

I don’t know. I was pretty miserable.

But others I’ve spoken to who are afraid of heights swear they love ziplining. You never know until you try, and one way or another- this company takes safety very, very seriously- you will survive.

Experience: 0 (for me.)

Facilities: 5

Staff:4 (Guides outstanding, those in the shop and in charge of getting you onto a bus home, a bit disorganized)

Cost: $$$189

Bathrooms: 5 (spacious, plenty of stalls, clean)

Snack: 2 (salmon dip on a cracker and bulk cookies, plenty of free coffee and hot chocolate)

Retail: 5 (thoughtfully chosen gift store chock full of stuff you won’t find in town, ACA specific postcards, bunch of great children’s books)

Posted in Alaska | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Adventure Karts!

WP_20140618_012

It’s fun fact about Ketchikan time: tourism is the leading industry in this town, followed by fishing. Downtown is mostly comprised of a few streets that snake around the cruise-ship berths that are lined almost entirely with souvenir and jewelry stores. It’s an area of town where a bottle of water starts at two bucks. Also, caveat emptor, most of the shops are filled with imported crap, totem poles make in Thailand, native-style jewelry made in China, etc. Most of the jewelry stores and quite a few of the souvenir stores are actually owned by the cruise-ship companies which is why in every port of an Inside Passage cruise you’ll find the same things in the same stores. If shopping is your thing, look for stuff that’s actually made by natives. Ask which jewelry stores are locally owned. Walk an extra three blocks south to buy your water at Tatsudas.

Or don’t. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.

Anyway, if shopping isn’t your thing, there are tons of other tours and activities you can do with an afternoon in Ketchikan. One of the perks of my job is a lot of the tourist excursion companies trade with ours, so on my day off I’ll be trying them out and telling you about them.

Our first was Adventure Karts. It was really ridiculously fun.

At the dock, reasonably clean

At the dock, reasonably clean

We all met on the dock in the morning, and were collected with the other Adventure Karters onto a bus. The bus driver gave us a running commentary of little facts about Ketchikan as we drove north out of town to the spot, which is the remnants of an old logging camp. We all dutifully peed one last time and were collected for the obligatory safety speeches and helmet fittings and waiver signings.

“We have rain gear,” our guide said, gesturing to a wall of rubber overalls and huge raincoats, “but, you know, we never really use them.” We all looked at one another. No one wanted to be the puss in bright yellow overalls.

WP_20140618_007

Then we came outside to get instructions on how to drive the Tomcars, (ridiculously simple. Three gears: Drive, Neutral, Reverse) and what to do if we had engine problems, fell behind, etc.

WP_20140618_009

We’d picked, (or rather whoever does the scheduling in the office picked for us) the perfect day for it. It was one of the almost heartbreakingly perfect Alaska summer days- cool but sunny with blue sky and sea breezes all around, but it had just rained heavily for the three solid days before. Everyone in the know told me the same thing: go in the rain. It’s more fun. You’ll see.

Ali and I got into one Tomcar and the boys got into another and away we went!

WP_20140618_010

 

The ride’s about three and a half hours long, with breaks to take pictures and look at a waterfall, and change drivers. The trails are along old logging roads that were never paved, and are filled with rocks and potholes and unexpected dips and hills. Because of the recent rain, the potholes and dips were filled with muddy water so every three seconds there was a huge SPLASH that set me and Ali off in shrieks of delight. For most of the tour we were shrieking and laughing.

The crew

The crew

The formerly white shirt

The formerly white shirt

The view

The view

Waterfall

Waterfall

Waterfall

Waterfall

WP_20140618_025

At the end we all got out of the cars and examined each other. The boys had some small mud spatters on their shoulders and shins. We girls were soaked to the skin in muddy water, and when we’d stood up we found standing muddy water puddles in our seats.

Formerly black trousers

Formerly black trousers

Capt’n looked at me.

“Did you swerve around any water AT ALL?”

“They told us not to swerve in the safety briefing, captain.”

“WITHIN REASON! and did you hit the brakes, like, ever?”

“I sped up when we hit puddles.”

“Ahhh.”

We returned our helmets and the crew had us sign our names on the wall with sharpies. I corrected some of the grammar in previous tags while we waited for the bus driver to take us back to town.

And then we all went out to lunch, as is.

The waitress looked me and Ali up and down.

“Adventure Karts?”

“Yup.”

She sighed.

So:

Experience: 5

Facilities: 4

Staff: 4

Cost: $200 (pretty standard)

Bathrooms: 2 (clean porta-potties)

Snack: 1.5 (a granola bar, meh. A bottle of water would have been nice)

Retail: none to speak of. Color changing sunglasses and a few key rings.

 

Posted in Alaska | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Shootin Shit in the Woods

WP_20140606_099

I was relaxing with a beer by the firepit in the backyard grotto on Saturday night, chitchatting with a neighbor I just met- a young man named Rowan who lives in a house with a few other young men, just behind (and, we live on a mountain, above) me. We’d had a few beers and were chit-chatting about everything from world politics to Sarah Palin to growing up Ketchikan, (more about that later). His roommate came down the stairs as we were contemplating getting a few more beers or going our separate ways.

“What are you guys doing?” Rowan called.

“We’re going to go shoot shit in the woods,” he replied. “You wanna come?”

Rowan looked at me. “Up to you. I don’t need to go.”

“Can I come?” I asked.

“Sure,” said the roommate.

“The HELLS YES!!!”

A moment later six of us were packed into a pickup truck- four of us in the flatbed and two dudes in the cabin and we were off-

WP_20140606_013

one stop to pick up the guns and another at walmart to pick up shit to shoot- two cases of soda and a few gallon jugs of tropical punch.

WP_20140606_041

WP_20140606_040

And then into the wild.

Ketchikan is not the most urban of landscapes. I live downtown and this is the view from my window as I write this.

WP_20140610_001

There is one main road, two lanes, that is charmingly described as a “highway” on maps, along which are a few shopping centers and the Walmart. By the cruiseship berths there is a small shopping district with tourist-bait shops that all shutter up come winter. That and a few bars is about it. It doesn’t take long at all to find yourself in the middle of nowhere. About fifteen minutes past Wal-Mart exactly.

WP_20140606_030

WP_20140606_045

WP_20140606_063 WP_20140606_065

 

We wound our way up into the mountains on a gravel road

WP_20140606_042

and pulled into the chosen spot- only to find the cops there. Our driver knew the cop- everyone here knows everyone else- and got out to have a talk with him.

WP_20140606_046

“Well, I know y’all just want to go shooting, but I can’t let you do it here,” the officer said.

“Should I hide the beer?” I murmured. Everyone shrugged.

“Tell you what- go on up the road about fifteen minutes,” the cop said reflectively. “There’s a turnoff to the left right past where there’s the drop off. Go there.”

“Thank you, sir,” said our driver.

And so we did.

WP_20140606_055 WP_20140606_057 WP_20140606_059

We found the turn off, a small dirt track, and came to the perfect place to shoot guns.

WP_20140606_074

WP_20140606_068

I was the only one who had never fired a rifle before. One of the boys started loading it for me, but I demanded to know how to do it, so he let me press the last six bullets into the chamber. Everyone in the company had been handling hunting rifles since they were kids, but everyone was extraordinarily patient with me when I asked questions, and talked me through holding the gun properly, (the stock DOESN’T go into your armpit, turns out!) and discharging the casing.

WP_20140606_070 WP_20140606_071

WP_20140606_079

 

WP_20140606_094

WP_20140606_082

I managed to hit a single can.

WP_20140606_089

When we’d run through two boxes of bullets we packed up the guns and ourselves, and rode down the mountain again as sunset turned into gloaming turned into dark.

WP_20140606_099

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Alaska | Tagged , | 9 Comments

A Year After Gezi

On the 28th or the 29th of May last year, I was smoking on the balcony with Z, in a break between classes. He started telling me about how out of control the original Gezi park protest had gotten, and I enthusiastically exclaimed that I knew! I knew! A handful of peaceful protesters viciously attacked by riot police- the famous Lady in Red getting squirted in the face with pepper spray at point blank range, etc. I astonished him. 

“How do you know this?! You are yabanci!” 

“How can anyone not know? How can you not pay attention to what’s going on around you?” 

We talked for a bit more, and I astonished him further by being up to date on Kurdish matters, (Z’s Kurdish) and the general downward spiral of Turkish politics. 

“I am going right after work, to Taksim. Do you want to come?” 

I wish I’d gone, but I was tired and looking forward to a nap. 

“I get off later than you. I’m going this weekend.” 

“Okay.” 

I have felt the need to write about the year that’s passed since the Gezi Park protests began, but every time I sit down to write no words come. There are 250,000 words in the English language, and somehow I cannot string a dozen together to explain. When I tell the story to people, the bowdlerized version, anyway, it sounds unreal. I went to protests. I photographed them. I got caught, beaten, put on trial, put in jail, and deported. Whew! But when I try to explain the why of it, and many, many people ask me why, and chastise me, and tell me I had no business, I come up short. 

How to explain how I felt when Ceren took me to my first Bir Mayıs in Taksim, and how I was struck with the bravery of the Turkish people for fighting so long and so hard for the right to assemble peacefully, as they gathered in the millions? How to explain how although at that time I was fairly ignorant of modern Turkish politics, the hair on my arms rose as I heard the roll call of the slain from Mayday 1977? 

Maybe it’s best discussed in terms of physical reactions: the gut twisting sensation of reading, day after day about ridiculous, petty, bureaucratic injustice. The ache in the stem of your eyeball when you roll your eyes too hard. The stomach churning feeling of helplessness. The swelling in the chest when you are so, so proud. The squeezing in your chest when you are humbled by how honored you are to witness something. The hair raising along your arms as you march with 10,000 people from widely disparate backgrounds, united in a common, positive goal. The prickling behind your eyes at the third rousing round of Ciao Bella, or when someone thanks you for being American and THERE, American AND present, American and a witness to the INSANITY. (Many people ask how I could be a guest in the country and participate in the riots. More on that in a mo- but I was never not thanked, never not looked after. Four minutes before I was swept up by riot police a middle aged man put his arm around me and urged me to retreat to a side street. “You are too precious. We need you here tomorrow,” he said.) The peripheral awareness of a crease deepening between your eyebrows, of your forehead muscles being rather overworked. And the tiredness, I was so tired last summer. The weight of it, the weight of it. The ache of laughing hysterically, because if you don’t laugh you might, just might, start crying and never stop.

Trying to explain it to anyone who wasn’t there, I’ve found, is impossible. We all developed new vocabularies, verbal and emotional, that summer

“But why were you even there?” 

I had a mild tiff with my mama over the winter about it. 

“You raised me to fight against injustice where I saw it,” I said. 

“I did NO such thing,” she insisted. “I did NO such thing.” 

My uncle hung up on me and hasn’t spoken to me since. 

A week ago I was scolded by a new coworker anew, and yesterday a comment was left on my blog by an anonymous someone, questioning my motives for “rioting” when I was a “guest” of the country. 

The only explanation I have is that old saying: if you stand by when injustice is being perpetrated, you are complicit. To say and do nothing is to be a part of the problem. The world would be a poorer place if everyone stood back and said, “this is not my problem.” 

It is all of our problems. 

My life was dismantled by protests in Turkey. 

I lost a country I loved, a life I loved, a job I loved, an apartment I loved. I lost friends, and rakı. 

If I had it to do all over again I would’ve left Bahariye two minutes earlier, or maybe I wouldn’t even have left Katrina’s apartment after I got the news that police were sweeping people up. 

That is the only thing I would take back. I was honored, again and again, by everything that I saw, that I witnessed, and everything that I experienced last year. 

I would do it all over again. 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

June 1, 2013, Gezi Park

agentlabroad:

A year ago today

Originally posted on agent L abroad:

To continue my story- when we were all vaselined, (sidebar- really, Agent J? Everyone told me vaseline helped) and had 50 cls of liquid courage in us, Lina and TJ and I headed down to Kadikoy to join the protests in Rhitim. My afternoon classes were all cancelled, because by mid-morning all transit in and out of Kadikoy had been shut down- no ferries to Europe, and the rumor was the bus depot and main boulevard were shut down. We were shocked, then, to see a ferry pull away from the Eminonu dock, with people literally hanging from the rails, so laden with protesters it seemed a little unsteady in the water. As the ferry sounded its horn and lurched off, the crowd went crazy- cheering, screaming.

I cannot explain why they would close transit in the morning and reopen it in the afternoon. But there it was- hundreds…

View original 957 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Girding Our Loins for Battle

agentlabroad:

A year ago today.

Originally posted on agent L abroad:

It was important for me to go to Taksim Square, but I will not lie, I was nervous. Cops make me nervous anyway. Turkish cops terrify the fuck out of me. The Turkish police, in my book, have far too much agency and not enough controls. I mean, I even thought that before all the shit went down a few days ago. Riot police? We need to invent a new word for the level of panic I feel at the idea of Turkish Riot Police. Reinforcements brought in from the East? 40% of the Istanbul police force spread between Kadiköy and Taksim? Eek!

TJ came home around three and I ran out for lemons and coke. We sat on the porch checking twitter and speculating until Lina came over at around 4.

“Girls-” she said, looking us up and down, “uh-uh. No. No no no.”

I was wearing a cream…

View original 254 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

#occupygezi

agentlabroad:

Nearly a year ago.

Originally posted on agent L abroad:

Agent L, having gotten back from Taksim Square only somewhat before 2 in the morning, and needing an hour and a half to wind down from an exhausting, uplifting, confusing, ultimately really awesome day, and then having had to get up and go teach at some ungodly hour, (all the teachers are hollow eyed today) is a little bit tired.

I am also overwhelmed and suffering from both sensory and information overload, and no coherent narrative about the last four days in Istanbul is coalescing in my mind. But I wanted to check in with those of you who don’t live here and might be hearing the news and fretting: I’m a-okay. I’m super. I actually feel better about living in Turkey than I did last Tuesday.

I’ll write more about this later, I promise. I have lots of good stories.

Quick, incomplete story from yesterday- got to Taksim late…

View original 266 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment