Wednesday, October 3, 2007

downtime and dervishes

Hello? Anybody still out there?

I haven't been blogging the last couple weeks. Partly that's testimony to how easily habits can be broken. Mine, anyway. My Internet was out of service for a few days and boom - that was enough to throw me off my blog, as it were. Partly too, it's because I've been working on other writing. The blog is fun, I enjoy researching topics and hunting down illustrations, but it's time-consuming and I have other things that want very badly to consume my time.

In the past few weeks I've been working to finish off four travel narratives, all of which have been simmering on the back burner for more than a couple years, all of which I would be delighted to see in print. Two are related to the Camino, two are stories about my travels in Greece and Turkey of a few years back, all are about sacred journeys and the sweet ironies of travel. Here's the first page of one of them. It's called "Ringing Rumi's Doorbell" and it's about a trip I made to Turkey in pursuit of the Whirling Dervishes.

Some years ago I saw a film called Baraka - do you know it? - an amazing montage of human and natural moments captured all over the world and corraled into a single movie. In one scene there were whirling dervishes. I knew at once that's what they were, though I'd never seen one before, nor even knew that such creatures still existed save as part of an outmoded figure of speech. Yet there they were, direct from the Arabian Nights, living, breathing, whirling like...

They spun across the screen for only three or four minutes but they left an indelible impression. Their whirling was not the frantic, Tasmanian devil-dance I had assumed it would be. It was, rather, a celestial turning, a wheeling of the crystal spheres. The dervishes whirled in an airy, bright room with wooden floors and high windows. One at a time the long, black figures approached an elderly, bearded man, tipping their heads in close enough for him to speak into their ears. Then as they stepped away their black cloak slipped from their shoulders, the white gown beneath was revealed and they began to turn. They were beautiful and solemn, their forms strangely elegant, from the tall cylindrical hats down to the wide billowing gowns. As I watched them I fell into a peaceful embrace, a spell, a trance, a waking sleep. It reminded me of a feeling I knew as a child, when I would watch my parents engaged in some quiet work (editing an article, stitching up a seam) till I was absorbed in their absorption and drifted out of myself, out of time.

The religious or the spiritually inclined might call this a mystical experience, a glimpse through the veil. For me it was simply a moment of beauty, a dreamy solipsistic moment. All I wanted was for that moment to go on and on. Instead I kept having to rewind it. There was no way around it, if I wanted the feeling to last, I would have to find a high, airy room where dervishes twirled through beams of light. And if that meant going to Turkey, so be it. I don't know if other people plan their trips this way, but it seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

It was a few years more before I actually got to Turkey. I didn't worry about the delay, however. The dervishes had been around for a long time; they'd wait for me. Looking back now, I'm surprised at how casual I was about the whole business, never even bothering to look into the wheres and whens of their performances (if that was the word for what they did). I thought they'd be easy to find. So it was that I arrived in Istanbul ignorant bliss intact.