Tag Archives: Cities

marine-induced-semiotic-delirium

IMG_5359 Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea
– Keats ‘On the Sea’

Kupang is not Kupang: it is Tangier, Barcelona, Venice, Castellorizo, Istanbul, Kas rolled into one. Day 500. Day 9 at sea. Nothing is itself anymore. Under the solvent influence of the sea memories and vistas are breaking apart, dissolving. They’ve lost their crystalline objective quality. Physical form is detached from meaning. Signifiers bear no relation to signified. Places have lost their peculiarity. Everything is the same.

To my eyes, vexed and tired as they are, everything is composed of common attributes. Nothing is unique. Even the people I meet are not themselves anymore, they remind me of people I’ve met in other places. I glance about me at the boats, the shops, the cars lining the foreshore of Kupang and I’m confronted by a queer sensation. Places have lost their unique aspect. One is the other. One stands for all. Everything is familiar and strange. I’m neither here nor there.

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75 nautical miles northwest of Kupang we pass a village in the Solor Archipelago that, for all appearances, could be my Yiayia’s birthplace on Castellorizo. The Solor village convenes in a crowded fashion around the nucleus of mosque and marina, but substitute mosque for cathedral, coconut palm for plane tree, satay for soutzoukakia, and it could be Castellorizo, could be Istanbul, could be Tangier. The configuration is different but the elements are the same: trees, shops, houses, roads, parks, schools.

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The outcrop of rocks on the foreshore of Kupang is to my eyes, Sydney Cove. The sinuous camel-hump profile of Banta Island is the Olgas. 9 days prior , off the East coast of Lombok, we passed the Wallace line, the ‘faunal boundary’ between Asia and Australia, so it’s conceivable that the coastline here was once part of the Kimberley, part of the landmass I call home. None of us are strangers. All of us are kin.

Approaching a city from the water smooths out the differences. Buildings, objects and people come into focus slowly. There’s time to recollect. As Lea steers the boat headlong into the breeze and Keith drops the pick I hold on to Richie, hoping his presence will anchor me to the moment, preventing me from drifting 14,000km to Tangier, where 16 months ago we strolled along a seafront promenade not unlike the one here at Kupang and found ourselves seduced for the first time by the grace of mosques, palms, and the heady piquancy of anonymity.

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Georgia on my mind…

In the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, you can still find homes arrayed around large central courtyards set-back from the road. As many as six or seven families share these communal courtyards: coming and going at all hours of day or night… washing hanging, children playing, and the scent of cooking wafting through windows. Everyone’s business is everyone else’s business because everything here is open and transparent. A lot of yelling goes on, and a lot of retaliation.

Three generations of women reside in the house where we’re staying. One of them speaks English. There’s a dog too. His name is Pushkin. We’ve become used to nosing through the womens’ quarters on our way to and from the bathroom. We’ve grottied the courtyard table more than once with watermelon juice. It’s nice to know that when we tire of the cramped conditions inside the house we can step outside for a breather, airing our stained towels on the outside line and waiting under the poplar tree for our Russian and Kazahk visas to mature. We wish Sam would put his shoes out once in awhile!

A Tbilisi courtyard – homestay.

Tbilisi is a pleasant place to be waylaid. It’s the bottle-neck through which we hope to pass into the wilds of Russia, Kazahkstan and, eventually, China.  It’s not a simple or a speedy process but as our Syrian roommate pointed out to us, we’re extremely lucky that if we follow procedure by filling out the relevant forms and providing the stipulated amount of money, we can travel more or less unimpeded through any territory on the planet. The apple forests of the Tien Shan Mountains still feel a long way off, but the breeze is blowing from that direction.  Continue reading

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Volubilis

Unless you’re ancient Roman, or you’ve studied Latin, the word ‘Volubilis’ sounds strange in the mouth. Richie and I tried it on for size as we made our way on foot from Moulay Idriss to the ruins; spitting the word out, drawing it back in our mouth, gargling it with laughter and chewing it up with irreverence. No matter how we said it, it didn’t sound right. “It’s like a combination of ‘globule’ and ‘voluptuous’.

Our first glimpse of the ruins was from high on a ridge above the valley. From up there on the plateau the site looked extensive but not significant: a pile of toppled rocks (‘crumblies’ – as our friend Milton calls them). As we drew closer it became apparent that what had appeared at first as a diffuse and haphazard collection of buildings was in fact a large and concentrated area of dwellings, paved roads, temples and civic buildings. In its heyday, Volubilis occupied a space of 42 hectares and was home to some 20,000 residents. These days, however, the only beings who live there are a handful of storks and a family or two of house martins.

As there are no grande taxis from Meknes, the best way to reach Volubilis is to catch the bus to Moulay Idriss, a small town some 30km north of Meknes, and disembark at the junction where the road to Moulay Idriss leaves the N13 – which is what we did. From there, it’s a pleasant 3 kilometres walk. The approach is through olive groves and hedges of cacti.

In our stubbornness we refused to adopt a local guide, preferring instead to make our own baffled inspections of the stones and mosaics. Richie was fascinated by the remains of a vast system of drains, baths, aqueducts, fountains and cisterns, whereas I was drawn to other details: a faded mosaic of sea animals, a lone Corinthian column, and a highly polished stone phallus!

The foundation stones of several olive presses lay exposed among the ruins. Minus the perishable components of the apparatus the stones looked incomplete, dumb. Deep channels designed to draw away the precious fluid lay dry and inanimate. They hadn’t flowed in centuries. No balm. No grease. No oil. Continue reading

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The Sultan’s City

After the blue somnolence of Chefchaouen, Meknes was a shock. It felt more like a ‘working’ city than any we’d passed through in Morocco. Dusty, car-ridden and noisy, it dragged us kicking and screaming back into the real world.

After 12 days in Chefchaouen we’d become happily ensconced in our daily routine: coffee, flaky bread (‘msammen’) and bananas in the market square; diploma by day; an afternoon stroll in the ville nouvelle; and in the early evening, a cup of tea in the busiest ‘boys only’ salon in town.

So, it’s little wonder that arriving in Meknes made us want to run for the hills. There was no Mohammed (our favourite food vendor) and no ‘idiot’s guide’ to the best cheap eats in town. The golden arch of McDonalds loomed menacingly above the main intersection. The local lads and lasses put us to shame in their stiletto heels, leather jackets and Adidas tracksuits. The cost of the hotels was frightening, and even moreso, was the sound of cats proliferating in the  back alleys at night.  Continue reading

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