For Herring River Currents (Friends of Herring River)

Please come a little closer,
I’m feeble now,
and my voice is weak.

Some tell me that I smell,
And my bottom is slush and sludge.

It wasn’t always this way,
I was something once,
not mighty like the Big Muddy,
or broad like the River Sea.

But in my youth,
a time of many millennia, I might add,
I was full of life.

Swans, herons, ospreys, and ducks all cherished me,
Otters played in my waters,
And fish, oh the fish,
They swam up me to spawn.

People harvested oysters from my depths,
Ships plied my waters
and netted massive loads of fish.

Best of all, I was connected to the great ocean beyond,
twice a day washing in the beautiful salt water.

But while I was still young,
yes, many millennia,
I had a misfortune:
They choked me.

They said it was for my own good,
fewer mosquitoes,
land for houses,

But I aged very fast,
My arteries clogged,
I couldn’t cleanse myself,
My fauna and flora friends abandoned me.

They said I was sick,
and could never recover on my own.
I desperately need an operation,

It would be massive,
it would take time,
there would be side effects.

But it will bring back the river I once was,
it will restore my land, water, and spirit,
it will make me whole again.

W. S. Camp

I’ve just come across some memorabilia from my great-grandfather, William Sterling Camp.

I never met him and don’t know much about him, except that he was born in Walnut Grove, Illinois in the middle of the Civil War and died in San Antonio in the middle of World War II.

One item is a book of poetry. He modestly presents it thusly,

Take this bouquet of vagrant weeds,
A plenitude of naught,
Grown from the zephyr-carried seeds
Of idleness of thought;
Pray ponder well the printed page,
Then say if the relator
Should not in haste seek to engage
A mental conservator.

Picardy countryside

There are no dates on the poems, but I can guess the years from the content. The poems inadvertently tell the story and prejudices of his times. They also talk of death. The most charming ones, such as “A Luscious Bit of Erin,” speak of lifelong love.

One may have been inspired by the popular song, “Roses of Picardy.” That song reflected the bitter fighting in Picardy during World War I, but expressed it as a melancholy love ballad (“Roses are shining in Picardy / In the hush of the silver dew / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy / But there’s never a rose like you!”).

In Bill Camp’s version, we have

Picardy Roses

When fair Picardy fields are free
From with’ring blight of war’s debris,
O’er clefted stones that fashioned hedge
For winding lanes ere Prussian wedge
Was driven deep in Freedom’s heart
And rapine came, a German art,
Will clamber roses as before
Fair Picardy was rent by war –
But ev’rywhere that Virtue bled
Picardy roses will bloom red.

I not only never met Bill Camp; I never heard (or remember) any stories about him. Looking back it amazes me how oblivious I must have been to the lives of those around me. My grandmother, for example. She was his daughter. I wish now that I had asked her more about him and his wife, Jennie.

Tales & Trails

Yet these sweet sounds of the early season,
And these fair sights of its sunny days,
Are only sweet when we fondly listen,
And only fair when we fondly gaze.
There is no glory in star or blossom
Till looked upon by loving eye;
There is no fragrance in April breezes
Till breathed with joy as they wander by.

Heidi Clemmer and Marisa Picariello

Heidi Clemmer and Marisa Picariello, creators of Cape Cod Eco-Tales

In his 1857 poem, An Invitation to the Country, William Cullen Bryant celebrates the joys of April. But more specifically, he invites his daughter Julia to return for a visit:

Come, Julia dear, for the sprouting willows,
The opening flowers, and the gleaming brooks,
And hollows, green in the sun, are waiting
Their dower of beauty from thy glad looks.

For Bryant, the sweetness of nature appears only when we “fondly listen” and its beauty only when we “fondly gaze.” At first glance, he contradicts Keats, who had told us that unheard melodies are sweeter. But actually not, since both call for our loving eye to be part of the beauty we see. Both poets conveniently conclude that it’s the poetic imagination that imparts real meaning to what we see or hear.

L1140375In any case, the idea of bringing our gaze to nature is central to the Tales & Trails: Nature Walks for Young Explorers program, sponsored by the Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT).

I was lucky enough to go along on the latest walk last Wednesday along an ephemeral pond beside the Walker Trail. It was a beautiful April day with clear skies and fresh breezes. There were no fragrances other than fresh clean air. We heard, or rather interacted with, Vernal Pool Visitors, and compared it to what we observed.

Walks through some of Wellfleet’s conservation areas are led by Heidi Clemmer, author of a new series of nature books for children called Cape Cod Eco-Tales. After 21 years as an elementary school teacher, Heidi retired and began to focus on teaching children about nature in informal, specifically, natural settings. She launched Eco-Tales with illustrator and collaborator Marisa Picariello. The target audience is children aged 6-9 and their families, but everyone from infants to those well into the their quatrième âge enjoy it.

Each walk focuses on a different ecosystem and is paired with one of the books in the series. Children explore the ecosystem, hear a corresponding nature story read by the author and illustrator, and then create their own souvenir of the experience in art, writing, or photography. The event combines fellowship, keen observation, story-telling, art, experiencing the beauty of Wellfleet’s conservation lands, speculation about science, and learning.

41Hk2UPq4FL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_Last fall, Heidi led a trip to Hamblen Park, where she read from her book Salt Marsh Secrets. There will be five more walks this year. Next up is “Heathland Habitat” in May, followed by“Barrier Beach Bums” in June, “White Cedar Swamp Gang” in September, “Tidal Flat Friends” in October, and “Dune Dwellers” in November (more information).

Tales & Trails is funded by WCT and supported in part by a grant from the Wellfleet Cultural Council. Wellfleet Conservation Trust is a non-profit organization established in 1984 to assist and promote the preservation of natural resources and rural character of the town of Wellfleet. There is no cost to participate in Tales & Trails, but advance registration is required. To inquire about the walks, email Heidi Clemmer.


Walker Trailhead

Walker Trailhead

What is Islam?

Arabesque decoration at the Alhambra

Arabesque decoration at the Alhambra

All too often we hear simplistic statements about Islam, which tell us a little about the speaker, but nothing about Islam itself.

Candidates for President and mass media personalities say things like “We need to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods,” “Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S.,” “Immigration visas & refugees from countries with active terror networks must be halted,” “It’s time we made peace with the Muslim world [by dropping an atomic bomb],” “Islam hates us,” “The hate is in Islam itself,” and “Islam is in need of a Reformation.” These are typically said in the context of discussing terrorism, while Islam is widely ignored otherwise. Meanwhile, defenders talk about “true Islam” or define Islam is just another Abrahamic religion.

Setting aside the lack of evidence, the faulty reasoning, the many harms they cause, and the hurt they inflict, one thing stands out: The speakers and their audiences seem fully convinced that they know exactly what Islam is and what it means to be a Muslim.

Shahab Ahmed

Shahab Ahmed

Despite their lack of interest in the topic at other times and the inability to read Arabic, they profess to prove points by quoting the Qur’an out of context. With minuscule knowledge of Islamic history, literature (even in translation), culture, or actual beliefs and practices, they are nevertheless eager to pronounce what Islam is and what should be done to fix it. Most remarkably, they are able to conflate anecdotes and faulty data across diverse cultures to come up with simplistic generalizations that they would be ashamed to apply to say, Christianity, Judaism, Western culture, or atheism.

Shahab Ahmed

A Muslim who studied deeply the history, literature, philosophy, and practices of Islam, Shahab Ahmed (1966-2015), provides a richly detailed account of Islam that should cause us to question statements such as those above. His account doesn’t yield counter generalizations; instead it shows how such sweeping statements obscure rather than illuminate. His new book, What Is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic (Princeton University Press, 2015) has been useful for both Muslims and non-Muslims. One implication is that to say that someone is a Muslim is little more informative than saying that they are a person.

Ahmed's posthumous book

Ahmed’s posthumous book

Ahmed was a postdoctoral associate in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard. His personal history surely informed his international perspective. Born in Singapore to Pakistani parents, but raised in Malaysia, he was sent to a British boarding school. It was difficult for him being the only Muslim boy in the school, thousands of miles from home, but his skill as a spin bowler in cricket kept him going. Back in Malaysia he attained a law degree in Kuala Lumpur, then worked as a journalist in Pakistan, and then obtained degrees in Arabic Studies from American University, Cairo. After that, he attained a doctorate in Islamic Studies at Princeton and then a postdoc at Harvard. Last June he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. While still ill, he married his fiancée Nora Lessersohn but died shortly after on September 17, 2015. You can see more about Ahmed and his book in How has Islamic orthodoxy changed over time?, by Elias Muhanna.

Reconceptualizing Islam

Through analysis of literature, art, philosophy, history, and politics, Ahmed asks “What is Islam?” To answer this he starts with a set of six questions (see end of this post). It’s clear that understanding the questions is a prerequisite to having a meaningful discussion about Islam.

Statue of Avicenna at the UN Office in Vienna

Statue of Avicenna at the UN Office in Vienna

Consider just one question: “Is there such a thing as Islamic art, and if so, what is actually Islamic about it?” Unlike most other religious art (Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.), Islamic art is typically abstract, often based on mathematical patterns (see above left from Calat Alhamra, in Granada, Andalusia, Spain). It doesn’t appear to represent religious ideas, the way that say, stations of the Cross do for Christians or statues of the Buddha do for Buddhists. Ahmed uses this key difference to talk about the way that Islamic art has developed. This leads to a discussion of the relation of Islam to science and philosophy, which accounts for why Islamic mathematics, science, and technology could build upon and extend the Greco-Roman tradition during a time when Christian Europe remained largely in opposition to it.

Throughout the wide ranging, long, and complex book, Ahmed struggles with the six opening questions and others, but more broadly, the variety and contradictions of Islam. Can it be defined through scripture, laws, cultural practice, or other means? He asks whether we should speak of Islam or of islams. He shows the challenge of relating the religious, the cultural, and the political, when those relationships shift across linguistic and national boundaries, as well as historical periods.

Inventing a concept

I’m reminded of Unamuno’s lesson that to invent a concept is to take leave of reality. Ahmed helps to reveal and interpret that reality as he questions the concept of Islam itself. At the same time, he helps us to understand the coherence that many people feel when they say they are Muslim, despite all the complexities. He offers a new paradigm for understanding how Muslims have historically understood divine revelation, one that shows how and why they have embraced values such as exploration, ambiguity, polyvalence, and relativism. It also helps to show how practices such as figural art, music, and wine drinking are Islamic. Crucially, it explains the historical constitution of Islamic law and its relationship to ethics and political theory.

Ahmed’s discussion is detailed and complex, one that is difficult to summarize briefly. Consider his discussion of what Muslims think Islam is: “[They] are in agreement that there is such a thing as Islam, even if they disagree about what it is.” For example, many scholars point to the Five Pillars–one God (the shahādah), five daily prayers, fasting in Ramadan, pilgrimage to Mecca, and alms-giving–as definitive for Islam. But others point out that the last four pillars are hotly contested theologically, interpreted in diverse ways, and as often ignored as observed. One says that if the pillars are seen as defining, then there are more negligent Muslims than observant ones.

So, some argue that it’s just the first pillar–one God and Mohammad as the Messenger. But that just opens to further questions: What is God? What is his message? What does it mean to submit (Islam) to God?

Ahmed’s richly detailed discussion shows that whether we talk about historical developments, theological interpretations, or diverse daily practices, we’re on very thin ice if we claim that we have an analytical tool that clearly marks out who is a Muslim, in what way they are, and what that means. Among the many people who would answer “yes” to the question, “Are you a Muslim?” there are non-participating adherents, strictly observant followers (of diverse tenets), mystics, skeptics, atheists and fundamentalists, feminists and misogynists. Moreover, Ahmed argues that the cultures that have embraced Islam are probably more diverse than those of any other religion, including Christianity.

Another example, comes from Rumi, His Maṣnavī-yi ma’navī (Doublets of Meaning) is one of the most significant texts in Islamic history. In one passage he writes about how attaining ḥaqīqat (Real-Truth) nullifies the (Islamic) laws and the paths or rituals to follow. This is similar to Buddhism and some versions of Christianity, in which the rules, practices, norms, beliefs, rituals, and so on, are but means to an end in which they no longer matter.

Ahmed does not conclude from many examples such as this that Islam is too diffuse to have meaning. Instead, he does an amazing job of communicating how Islam can feel real and important to people, even as they admit to its protean character. He offers at least a starting point for making sense of the impact that Islam has on the lives of both followers and non-followers, one that is far more productive than the inane comments I listed above.

Ahmed’s six opening questions

  • What is Islamic about Islamic philosophy?
  • When Sufis assert that virtuoso “friends of God” are no longer bound by Islamic law and practice, is this an Islamic or an un-Islamic truth claim?
  • Key ideas from Avicennan philosophy and Sufism “flirt incorrigibly with pantheism and relativism.” These have been among the “the most socially pervasive and consequential thought paradigms in the history of societies of Muslims,”  Are these Islamic ideas?
  • The Divan of Hafiz, the great 14th-century Persian poet, is “the most widely-copied, widely-circulated, widely-­read, widely-memorized, widely-­recited, widely-invoked, and widely-­proverbialized book of poetry in Islamic history.” It takes as its themes wine-drinking and (often homo-)erotic love, as well as a disparaging attitude to observant ritual piety.” Is that work and its ethos Islamic?
  • Is there such a thing as Islamic art, and if so, what is actually Islamic about it?
  • How can both the consumption of wine and its prohibition be essential to Islamic history and culture?

Elogio de la Sombra

The Friends of wellfleet Library presented another in its Favorite Poems series yesterday, with Mort Inger ably hosting.

My own contribution was from one of my favorite writers, Jorge Luis Borges. Suzanne Jill Levine calls him “the most important writer of the 20th Century,” an assertion supported by Jane Ciabattari in a BBC article last year.

I became fascinated with Borges when I was in high school, the time that his first book-length publications began to appear in English (Ficciones and Labyrinths). His works wandered across a labyrinth of genres, including romance, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, metafiction, philosophy, literature, and language. His interest in time challenged my own dissertation work on time and formal logic.

I like other musings of Borges on philosophical issues, including this:

Being an agnostic means all things are possible, even God, even the Holy Trinity. This world is so strange that anything may happen, or may not happen. Being an agnostic makes me live in a larger, a more fantastic kind of world, almost uncanny. It makes me more tolerant.

Borges was also a translator of English, French, German, Old English, and Old Norse into Spanish. He translated Oscar Wilde’s story “The Happy Prince” at the age of nine. And his ideas about translation are even more relevant today. He saw language as a creative force that shaped us as much as we it. I think that he’d want me to learn better Spanish, but would also support the fact that nearly all my reading of his work is in translation. I know at least one Borges.

His work on time and language come together in his ideas about literary precursors:

the heterogeneous pieces I have enumerated resemble Kafka; …not all of them resemble each other….if Kafka had never written a line, we would not perceive this quality; in other words, it would not exist….The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors.

Despite being acknowledged by many as an outstanding, even the (or one of the) most important writers of the last century, Borges was never awarded the Nobel Prize. He writes:

Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have not been granting it to me.

In 1955, after Peron was deposed, he became Director of the National Library of Argentina. Soon thereafter he became blind. He focused on poetry, since he could memorize an entire work and keep it in memory until he had perfected it.

No one should read self-pity or reproach
Into this statement of the majesty
Of God; who with such splendid irony,
Granted me books and night at one touch
Seven Nights, 1984

A decade or so later, when he was exactly my age now, Borges published a collection of poems, Elogio de la Sombra (In Praise of Darkness). Of the same name, the last poem in the book, is the one I read yesterday:

In Praise of Darkness (1969/1974)

Old age (the name that others give it) can be the time of our greatest bliss. The animal has died or almost died. The man and his spirit remain.
I live among vague, luminous shapes that are not darkness yet.
Buenos Aires,
whose edges disintegrated
into the endless plain,
has gone back to being the Recoleta, the Retiro,
the nondescript streets of the Once,
and the rickety old houses
we still call the South.
In my life there were always too many things.
Democritus of Abdera plucked out his eyes in order to think; Time has been my Democritus.
This penumbra is slow and does not pain me;
it flows down a gentle slope,
resembling eternity.
My friends have no faces,
women are what they were so many years ago,
these corners could be other corners,
there are no letters on the pages of books.
All this should frighten me,
but it is a sweetness, a return.
Of the generations of texts on earth
I will have read only a few-
the ones that I keep reading in my memory, reading and transforming.
From South, East, West, and North
the paths converge that have led me
to my secret center.
Those paths were echoes and footsteps,
women, men, death-throes, resurrections,
days and nights,
dreams and half-wakeful dreams,
every inmost moment of yesterday
and all the yesterdays of the world,
the Dane’s staunch sword and the Persian’s moon, the acts of the dead,
shared love, and words,
Emerson and snow, so many things.
Now I can forget them. I reach my center
my algebra and my key,
my mirror.
Soon I will know who I am.

–Tr. Norman Thomas di Giovanni

Ripley, RIP

Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, XXVII [Book Two], (tr. Cliff Crego)

Does Time the Destroyer really exist?
When, on the mountain, will it bring /
down the fortress?
When will the demiurge overpower this heart
that belongs to the infinity of the gods?

Are we really so frightfully fragile
as Fate would have us believe?
Does the promise of childhood, the depths,
remain later quiet in the roots?

Ah, the ghost of that which is transient;
it passes through the guileless receptive ones
as if it were but a bit of smoke.

As that which we are, the driving ones,
still we are considered a custom of the divine
by the powers which do not change.

Ripley, the snow dog

Ripley, the snow dog

About two weeks ago, Ripley, the snow dog, came into being through an act of love and homage, only to be destroyed shortly after. The destruction was obviously part of the artwork, representing something about the fragility of existence. But “are we really so frightfully fragile as Fate would have us believe?” (Ripley is named after Ellen Ripley, who is Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien films.)

A three-year-old, one of snow Ripley’s co-creators, leaped into her, exploding her material being into a flurry of snow. This took what I estimate as somewhere between 7.5 and 9.5 seconds, just long enough for the horror to sink in, but not long enough to prevent it: A snow dog, who should live a week or two, lasted but a human breath. The demiurge had won.

Ripley's defiance of Time the Destroyer

Ripley’s defiance of Time the Destroyer

Later, however, when I went out to check on the diminishing snow, I looked to where Ripley had once proudly stood. I saw her ears, her nose, her eyes, and her collar. There was even the slightest mound of snow from her fragile body.

Time the Destroyer may yet win this one in the end. But Ripley, the snow dog, lives on the soil and the plants attempting to break out of winter. The “promise of childhood … remains later quiet in the roots.” His spot in the yard will not disappear and his memory is now part of Ripley himself. Perhaps Rilke is right that “the ghost of that which is transient; it passes through the guileless receptive ones as if it were but a bit of smoke.”

Deborah Geithner, August 12, 2014

Duet with Deborah

Duet with Deborah

I’ve been working on a piano sonata by Beethoven (No. 31 in A♭, Opus 110) for a long time. That project may last a lifetime. But I plan to continue both for the sake of the music and for the person who had been guiding me to attempt this work at the edge of my ability.

The piece is beautiful, with contrasting moods, but overall a feeling of melancholy. When it was published, one critic said that its tonality was “emotionally as black as night” and another that it was “a key of the grave, death, the Last Judgement, eternity.” I can blame Beethoven’s music for only a part of that feeling. A larger reason is that Deborah Geithner, my teacher and friend is no longer here.

Deborah combined perceptive listening with helpful suggestions for performance and practice. But more than that, she brought wit, insight, caring, and encouragement to her teaching. I often had mixed feeling about the path of a lesson. I enjoyed talking with her about people, art, politics, travel, and life, while at the same time feeling that I should focus on learning to read music. But then she’d generously allow extra time so that my lessons extended well past the allotted time. This happened again and again, despite her amazing schedule of teaching, performing, writing, and supporting family and friends.

Deborah’s voice is still in my head, especially, of course, when I’m practicing. She would delve deeply into a piece of music, comparing editions, and trying out different interpretations. But that intensity only added, rather than supplanted, a concern for the person and enjoyment of the music.

Assignment book

Assignment book

She didn’t like talk about perfection (as in “but I played it perfectly in practice at home!”). The goal wasn’t to avoid mistakes, nor was it to strive for some fixed standard. Instead, it was to explore oneself and the music to have value in the present and nurture growth. Her students were all ages and ability levels. They included students of voice and other instruments. Always, there was an effort to expand horizons.

At one student workshop, one student might play a duet with another or with Deborah. Another might play only the right hand melody of a piece they were learning. Yet another might be tackling a difficult composition. Deborah managed to support students wherever they were, always opening doors to further development, but recognizing what they could do in the here and now.

There will be memorial services, laudatory obituaries, and other expressions of Deborah’s many contributions to communities around the world, and especially, to her recent years as a supporter of chamber music, literature, painting, and other arts on Cape Cod. Her unique energy, compassion, intelligence, and sensitivity will not be matched again. But most of all, for those who had the privilege to know her, she will be missed as a special friend.

The Way of the Lycians

Our neighbor

Our neighbor

If I could rank civilizations in terms of how important and interesting they are divided by how much I know about them, Lycia would be near the top. Of course, that works only if I leave out the many I know nothing about.

Lycia is a region along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast between Antalya and Koycegiz. Its rivers, including Xanthos and Alakir drain the Anatolian plateau and are among the largest in the country. The entire region is mountainous, with some peaks rising over 10,000 feet. The mountain ranges encroach on the sea, pausing only enough to allow for beautiful beaches.

Barley in the Bezirgan yayla

Barley in the Bezirgan yayla

Our B&B is in a yayla (summer pasture) about 3000 feet above the sea. Nearby, the Kaputaş beach provides a good example of the topography.

It’s at the base of Kaputaş canyon, a narrow cleft at the foot of the Taurus mountains. The beach is 200′ wide and 70′ deep, with a scarp rising 80′ straight up behind. You can reach the beach by boat or by a staircase with 187 steps (seemed like more to me). Off its eastern end the sea has eroded the Blue Cave, nearly 200′ across, and a favorite of small tour boats and inner tube riders.

Kapitaş beach at the base of the canyon

Kapitaş beach at the base of the canyon

The Lycian civilization developed within this region. They probably came from Crete around 1400 BC. They had their own language and unique script, still not fully understood. They had unique customs and funerary architecture.

Even though they lived in mountainous terrain with seemingly inaccessible villages, the Lycians formed a union while the rest of the Greek world was warring city states. They had representative government when Greek cities still had rule of the whole body of citizens. In the later Lycian League, they had a bicameral legislature, panels of judges, and other complex civic structures.

Lycians used matrilineal lineage: People identify themselves by their mother and their mother’s mother, not the father. Moreover, offspring of a Lycian woman are automatically legitimate, whereas those born to a Lycian man and a foreigner are illegitimate. Herodotus thought that this was unique, but many other cultures employ a similar system. Our B&B host cites it as evidence that the Celts derive from Lycia.



The Lycians resisted domination, being the last in Asia Minor to become a province of the Roman empire. They won some of their battles, either by force or diplomacy, but the losses were dramatic and tragic.

In 540 BC, the Persian commander Harpagos attacked Xanthos, the largest and most prominent city. Finally succumbing to a blockade, the Xanthians gathered all the women, children, slaves, and household goods and set fire to them, then fought on until every Xanthian had been killed or committed suicide. Every item of value had thus been destroyed. Later, 80 Xanthian families who had been elsewhere during the fighting returned and rebuilt the city. The poem below, found at the Xanthos site, describes this event:

We made our houses graves
And our graves are homes to us
Our houses burned down
And our graves were looted
We climbed to the summits
We went deep into the earth
We were drenched in water
They came and got us
They burned and destroyed us
They plundered us
And we,
For the sake of our mothers,
Our women,
And for the sake of our dead,
And we,
In the name of our honor,
And our freedom,
We, the people of this land,
Who sought mass suicide
We left a fire behind us,
Never to die out…

Poem found on a tablet in the Xanthos excavations, translated by Azra Erhat

Keçiler (goats) on Lycian Way

Keçiler (goats) on Lycian Way

This scene was repeated when Brutus sacked the city in 42 BC. He offered a reward to any Roman soldier who could save a Xanthosian by preventing his suicide. But only 150 survived.

Despite these tragedies, in most cases the Xanthians succeeded against plunderers, until their artifacts were finally conquered by the British Museum in 1838.

Much evidence of the Lycian civilization still remains, as do, I suppose, descendants of those early peoples. The 300 mile long Lycian Way, which runs through our village, near Kaputaş beach and Xanthos, is Turkey’s first long-distance, waymarked path. Along the way one can see endless structures from the Lycian era and imagine its history stretching back 3400 years.

Kemal Hakki Tor’s Lycia is a good introduction to the area.

The Icon Walk

Merchant's Arch, Temple Bar

Merchant’s Arch, Temple Bar

Temple Bar is an area with narrow, cobbled streets on the south bank of the Liffey in central Dublin. It’s famous the world over for its lively nightlife, but that’s not high on my list of reasons to visit it. There are better places in Dublin to experience Irish food and music, ones where you’re more likely to encounter people who actually live in Ireland. However, the area does offer much that’s special, such as the Irish Film Institute.

One that we just discovered is The Icon Walk, a project of The Icon Factory. It’s located just off Fleet Street, along Aston Place, Bedford Lane, and Price’s Lane. Local artists have transformed the lanes into an open air gallery of Irish culture. It’s recently been awarded approval as a UNESCO City of Literature site.

Someone described the Walk as a twenty minute activity, but it deserves more than that. There’s a great collection of photographs, drawings, paintings accompanying sayings of famous writers and artists, descriptions of moments in the history of sports, movies, fashion, and more.

Arriving at the Playwrights section, we read,

Around 1610, Shakespeare wrote the “The Tempest” and retired to Stratford on Avon where he died in 1613. Queen Elizabeth I having completed the conquest of Ireland was dead. The last of the great leaders, O’Neill and O’Donnell were gone to Spain and Ulster planted with Crown subjects.

Between 1613 and the War Of independence in 1922, which won back self rule for most of Ireland, no play of real merit was written in the English language by anyone other than by an Irish-born writer.

The selected icons–Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, and Oscar Wilde–won’t be enough to convince everyone of that claim, but their collective oeuvre is amazing.

Along the walk, you can see many great images produced by a wide variety of artists. A few of those are on the website, but the majority are visible only on the walk itself. They’re best seen that way, in any case, in the context of the other artworks and Temple Bar itself.

One of the best parts for me was the individual quotes, both from writer’s works and from their lives. For example, we read,

Beckett went on to live with an older woman who was not exactly a barrel of laughs. She took the phonecall that informed them of Samuel’s Nobel Prize. “This is a disaster, our lives are ruined” she responded.

In the eighties, Beckett was invited to Germany to direct “Waiting For Godot”. When presented with the script which he had not read in many years he exclaimed; “This thing needs a good edit”.

John Hume, third from left

John Hume, third from left

(Again, however, most of these texts exist only on the walls. I hope there will be an exhibition book at some point.)

One thing I learned was that in 2010 John Hume was chosen in an RTÉ survey as Ireland’s Greatest. He was also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1998), the Gandhi Peace Prize, and the Martin Luther King award. He had modeled his own work for equality in citizenship on that of Gandhi and King. Unfortunately, his peaceful work was disrupted by violence and the “troubles” began. Hume became a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. Through speeches, marches, hunger strikes, dialogues, and long-term negotiations, Hume was behind many of the developments and agreements toward peace in Ireland, and later for European unity.

You can get a sense of the walk from the video below (only part of which is in English):

Green oats in June

An Irish day on Cape Cod: It began with a 5K walking race along Nantucket Sound in South Yarmouth (Cape Cod Irish Village Road Race). At the conclusion of the race we enjoyed Irish music at the Irish Village. Unfortunately, any loss to our waistlines from the race was fully counteracted by hamburgers and pints of stout.

The day ended with listening to Celtic Sojourn on WGBH. That program featured a beautiful poem by Patrick Kavanagh, which is appropriate for Mother’s Day, or for remembrance on any loved one.

But I don’t read the poem as being only about remembrance; it’s more about valuing the “earthiest” aspects of all our daily interactions–walking “together through the shops and stalls and markets” or among the “green oats in June.” Kavanagh reads the poem in the video below.

When we lived in Dublin in 2007-08, I remember walking many times along the beautiful Grand Canal, which was near our apartment. You can see a statue of Kavanagh there (“The Crank on the Bank”). It’s also shown in the slide show and below.

The bronze Kavanagh is sitting on a bench as the flesh and blood one once did. It was inspired by his “Lines written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin”:

O commemorate me where there is water
canal water preferably, so stilly
greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
commemorate me thus beautifully.

If you were to visit Dublin, I recommend sitting beside him to contemplate the people walking by, the ever-present swans, and the stilly, greeny water.

Patrick Kavanagh, Royal Canal

Patrick Kavanagh, Royal Canal

In Memory of My Mother

by Patrick Kavanagh

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday–
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle–‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life–
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us — eternally.