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January 3, 2001
Community


It was to be a shining decade, the 1970s. The memory of 1968 was still fresh -- and sweet -- and everyone knew revolution had to be just around the corner.

One afternoon -- I picture this in Tuscan yellow; I was little then and I didn't even know he was away -- my father found himself crisscrossing the fertile Aegean valleys from village to vilage in his beat-up Turkish clunker of a car, with the party chairwoman riding shotgun. An objective observer would have to note that the campaign up to that point had been a total disaster: The peasants were at best unfriendly to the visiting "communists" from the city, fixing with a cold stare the officials taking over the village square with their rants -- and often openly hostile or worse. Tomatoes came into play in more than one occasion.

Worn down after a day of uphill my father felt compelled to point out that they weren't exactly getting through to the public. Elementary education, affordable health care, land rights, putting food on the table... shouldn't the party be paying attention to people's basic needs first instead of showering them with blatant propaganda? With their daily lives such a struggle, what were the chances they would realize that they were serfs to their moneyed overlords? Further, how could they comprehend Marx and Engels if they couldn't even write their own names? It seemed the party had the process backwards.

"Comrade," the chairwoman replied with barely sheathed condescension, "you've obviously loaded the education concept with more substance than it needs at this point. All the public needs to know right now is that they should elect us. Once we're in power, we'll fill in the rest of their minds."

My father left the party shortly after that, and with time the movement said the hell with talk anyway. It wasn't as if being legal had stopped the State from trying to eradicate it by any means necessary. Then came the guns, the midnight raids, the 3 AM knocks on the door.

We packed the little bags with the toothbrush and paste, a book, a pair of underwear. We figured Band-Aids would be provided.

Then came the coup, and we raced to burn books in the bathtub before the uniforms knocked again. The general stepped up to the lectern (by now it was 1980) and said, Those intellectuals, a pox on all their homes, eh? And the crowd cheered.

My dear citizens, look around in your communities, know the subversives, and root them out. And the crowd cheered again. And that was that.

Ten more years, it got a little worse, it got a little better, depending on the month, depending on where you were standing in the community. We had rebuilt things by then, even with a civil war, but I left anyway. And now, another ten years later, here I am.

break

We went to the community center tonight to work out. On the way in the car (squeaking from the radio, actually) some newly minted senator was going on and on about how the parties were going to set politics aside, because whereas in Washington folks cared about politics, outside the Beltway what fluttered asses was making it to the golden pot over there by the rainbow. Except he called it "following the American dream." Once again. (But somehow he forgot to weave the concept of leading the free world with ample help from the Supreme Being into his speech.)

For the monthly fee you pay a health club, you can work out at this center for a whole year. But there wasn't a single cell phone in sight, and it was clear this wasn't where the beautiful people hung out, beaming phone numbers from one infrared-enabled Palm Pilot to another.

Being there felt good and warm right away, as if joining, no matter how briefly, the "less desirable element" was supposed to add a degree of legitimacy to a poseur's improved lot in life. But like my father (and unlike the chairwoman, who died years ago, by the way) I knew I was an intruder. I consoled myself by remembering that I had no intention of selling any kind of vision to these individuals, particularly when they were walking around naked in the locker room.

As I ran my laps I came up with another screenplay in my head (this is normal for me) but I was unable to tie the middle to the end.

I was distracted; I kept wondering where I would be in another ten years. Would there a be home, finally, a community of pleasant faces, the smell of coffee in the morning, a view of the market below with the sea in the distance past the Aegean valleys, and would I actually feel eager to face the morning, and brisk after the shower would I stand excitedly in front of my bookshelves, wondering what to read and write?

Boy, Istanbul

The Istanbul kid from the Art Gallery in another photo. I never realized until now how dirty he was.

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The current banner photo appeared briefly on the journal menu page last month. A non-watercolor version can be seen in an October entry (18th). It was taken in Ouranopouli, Greece, on October 3, 2000.


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