And how to cope with wanting to know everything…
Destinations: Foyles bookstore, Charing Cross. Red Fort Indian Restaurant, Dean Street in Soho.
I feel like a carnivorous tonight. Well—technically I am a carnivorous. I am talking about emotional hunger to buy books and learn much deeper about the places I visited in past couple of months. Finally I died and am in book heaven called Foyles.
I decided to fly into Heathrow early for a change. I did a detour in London on my way to the board meeting to break the routine. Usually some cab driver I know will pick me up, we have the ever same conversation about European Union economics and the generic weather conditions on the continent until the journey ends in the same hotel. I had done the occasional London escapades after board meetings before. London is a city to stop-by for some particular purpose for me; not a city that boils my blood, jazzes my appetite just on its own. Nothing like a Johannesburg or New York—I am not even talking about Damascus, Hanoi or Marrakech here. So far I been to London to see Shakespeare plays; eat Indian food; few times to go real angry and gasp at everything that was taken from Anatolia in the British Museum; and oh—real honest—to shop at Harvey’s until they opened one in Istanbul..
This time it was to hit bookstores and only do that. Lately I have travelled in such odd places that usual lot wouldn’t write books on. I have been infested with the need to buy one thousand books on all cities and countries I visited and grasp all political insinuations and understand all wars in depth. I had my mind set on African economy, North African history and evolution books. Like it wasn’t enough stress and impatience building on me, black-peter-o sends an email as I am getting on plane with a list of recommended books—yes more books on more different subjects! And he is more ‘archeological’ than me, and a classicist which I am not… and last item on the list is Mandela’s ‘Long Walk’, which I eternally feel guilty because I never finished it, always falling asleep on flight to Joburg from Istanbul. Of course no South African would end a list without it. Oh, and-the third complication—I watched Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, a ‘united nations’ approach to ‘why cant we just get along’ drama on Jerusalem and the crusades. Here you go-another one thousand years just added to demystify the two million year old puzzle.
I went around several bookstores all afternoon, running up and down isles trying to gauge how much I could physically carry in that luggage of mine. And yes—within my anxious learning need that needed satisfying and getting home with new treasures; and the continuous struggle on which book to pick and what subject to concentrate on—I had another aha moment!!! This year has been a record for aha moments, I must have been awaiting for an inflection point for past couple of years, and it is coming in avalanches so farJ
Aha moment came when I stood in front of a full section of books dedicated to ancient languages.
I spent a period of my life studying few dead languages, lets say largely ‘indo-european’ and some Sumerian. But I never ventured out too far on this. As soon as I realized how impossibly difficult it was to study (never mind ‘learn’) these languages, find resources or people who knew, I channeled my energies into studying archeology deeper. And here as I stood at the humanities section of Foyles, in front of my eyes were books on how to learn Babylonian and Assyrian. I stood still as my mind battled trying to convince part of my brain that yes I was ready to venture into semitic languages; wasn’t it me who wanted to learn Arabic so many times as I travelled in Middle east, trying to uncover all common words with Turkish as a game; maybe this was the opportunity to dig deeper into roots of all things semitic; even ancient egyptian could be sensible at one point; and coudnt I practice as I travelled around anyway?
Boy, I decided to park those thoughts as I moved on to section on Africa. My initial intent was to look at three things: Ethiopian ancient and near history; southern Morocco’s Polisario fighters and the ongoing issue there; and finally the Chinese invasion of Africa economically. And as usual, books played a game on me. There were books on the Eritrean independence and separation from Ethiopia; I thought of the sad and lonely UN refugee camps as we travelled close to Eritrean border in Northern Ethiopia. There were beautiful books on Tanzania, expedition diaries into the rift valley which I spent a beautiful time in; lake Victoria; and books on Sir Richard Burton. There were also many more books on African archeology; which I thought there was only one viable book and lucky me had a real old print of David Phillipson’s book as I travelled in East Africa. There were so many archeological sites and treasures in Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam museums that I wish I had much deeper more sophisticated books on, and yes, here they were… And I discovered a book on Marrakech stories that were told for thousands of years as people went through the mystical city and left their mark on it. And of course Algerian, Tunisian independence stories; Mediterenean seafarers; Lebanese civil war; and so much to make you cry that there isn’t enough time to dedicate oneself to uncovering all those. And yes—the moment I saw central asia section I forbid myself to go in there as the pile on the counter was reaching an impossible point of no return.
Then it got to me. I was twelve as I looked beyond the Izmir bay to the mountains from my window and dreamt that one day I will understand. If I see it all-that is everywhere- and learn it all-that is all history-, then I can understand. The difference between seeing, learning and understanding is the story of another day. But today I felt and sensed how lucky I was that I am swimming in a sea of endless twists, peculiarities of cultures, languages, different time periods; every city, every human , every mountain has a richness in this old continent we live in and I get to see and live it every day. Call it serendipity.
But I resigned myself today that my ambitious, impatient and carnivorous attitude will not suffice to learning and if I dare say understanding the history of cultures and peoples in this lifetime. Yes, being a fighter teaches you many things, today the lesson is being humble I am afraid…