Three Ripples of a Village

‘Little Istanbul’

At the north-east corner of the village is a cluster of some 10 or so houses and an apartment block, all of which are in a fairly dilapidated state. The narrow road through it is beset with potholes and collapsing shoulders that are lined with weeds and overgrown grass- in stark contrast to the manicured appearance of the majority of the village. The locals refer to it as ‘Little Istanbul,’ because the little corner houses only Turkish families. Even though only about twenty thousand of the province’s 1.7 million residents are Turkish, they are far too often the scapegoats and targets for discrimination and hate.

One of my close friends lives in the little pink house which is next door but one to the train tracks. Every visit is marked by the sight of clusters of mustached men sitting in groups, of piles of trash in barrels, of groups of young Turkish men and boys lounging around. It’s not a pretty place, in a village that is not itself blessed with natural wonders on the scale of Austria’s more photogenic stereotypes. But it doesn’t feel unsafe or worse…just different, in a country where much of the appeal is in its unchanging uniform nature; mountains, old buildings, folk music and odd traditions. LIttle Istanbul is wonderful because it reminds you of how special these things are by its shabby contrast to all that postcard brilliance.

Home, Train Station, Factory

Of course our apartment, one key to share between four people. 4 mattresses on the floor for sleep. No hot water. No privacy, no space. The trains rattle by all day, and in the night the high speed express trains slice into my dreams the way the arc sodium yellow lights plunge through my closed eyes, suffusing all night moments in a sickly yellow.

The train station platforms are just little slivers of tarmac to stand on between the sets of rails – about two metres at their widest. One day I go to catch a train to find workers picking up body parts in buckets, hands, feet, clothes, viscera. Suicide on the tracks is a startlingly common affair, but respect is not lost, and passengers are helping the workers, pointing out little shards of what was a life, as if by making the woman whole in her grave, some of the hurt can be alleviated.

The factory still abandoned in the nineties after the War and the bombings. The forest along the edge bursts trees through the concrete floors. There is a urinal at the top of a stairwell at the edge of the building, the outer walls torn away so the white tile and trough hang there facing the forest like an outdoor Dadaist installation for the benefit of the squirrels and hedgehogs. We line up and use the urinal laughing, but phone camera’s aren’t even an idea at that time, so the moment is lost after it happens.

Fields, the Homes of Elders

The wide fields outside the edge of northern boundary where I shot a hare, breaking its leg and having to finish the job badly. The same place where I would go in the summer to bathe in the irrigation channels, rather than impose too much on friends or wash in the little tin tub at my Oma’s house, naked with the whole family as a 14 year old.

Oma’s apartment, too much to let you know in a thousand years. But you might know yourself, you may be fortunate enough yourself to know what I mean. Smell, sight, sounds and taste. Laughter and sharp words. It’s the way it feels to find an old garment of someone you loved and lost, and burying your face in it becoming a necromancer for a moment, sense memory tearing them back into being, just for an instant. Then the Old Man’s apartment, a few metres away in the neighbouring block. All of that again, compressed into a month or two. Those endless dying moments trying to drink in my father’s essence before he left us alone.

I could build more and more ripples outward – school, friends houses. The Devil’s Millstone, the strawberry forest, mountains and valleys. Oceans I have swam in, deserts I have flown over. All these ripples would eventually reach the place where I am sitting now, writing this. It’s a curious thing to be so consumed with grief and yearning for that which has changed and been irrevocably lost, and simultaneously feel the sense of joy at every little revelation, every experience as not just being mundane life, but a series of moments that define me.

As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

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