Friday, November 20, 2009

The troubled heart is not comforted by lies:
Water and oil produce no light.
Only the truth brings comfort:
Truths are the bait that attract the heart.

Masnavi II: 2735-36

The 'Kan EWA

Sunday, November 15, 2009

So Gazieantep is located at that cosmic junction in world of antiquity, the crossroads of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, northern Syria and Egypt. Back in the day, anybody who was buying or selling, growing, weaving or smithing and going to market, or on the road for other legitimate or illegitimate purposes, sooner or later had to pass through Gazieantep. It is a mother lode of remains and ruins and excavated and non-excavated sites and finds; no small statement in Turkey, where a dog buries a bone and another lost civilization surfaces. This would be in the present day eastern Turkey where the Euphrates River runs north and south. The river has formed a traditional boundary or demarcation since the beginning of the ages, people have been living around here for 600-700 thousand years now, with everything east of the river known as Eastern Anatolia. Gazieantep is the crown jewel of Eastern Anatolia.

And the story goes like this: Eastern Anatolia is arid and desert-like. Poverty has had a familiar and almost timeless presence in the current era. The Turkish government, in a effort to ease suffering, diversify their economy and get people to work, embarks upon the GAP or Southeastern Anatolia Project . Pieces of the initiative include the harnessing and utilization of the power of the Euphrates River through the construction of dams. So about ten years ago, they build the Birecik Dam and a hydro-power plant at a location near Gazieantep. In the process, they stumble across a rather delicious site on the bank of the river and unearth and salvage literally the most extraordinary Roman mosaics the modern world has ever seen. Nothing like these mosaics in all of Italy. Or Europe. More than several years go by and after much debate and discussion scholars determine that it was/is the lost Roman city of Zeugma. You break ground in Turkey and you'll fall through a rabbit hole that whirls you 2000 years back into history. And when you come to, you are face to face with the locals.

These mosaics are electrifying, terrifying and awesome, all at once. The people were hunters, gardeners, fishermen, merchants, scholars, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, elite and refined, hopeful and faithful. They had means to commission exquisite floors, walls and ceilings. And you can see 300 BC and 2009 AD in the same glimpse.

Soon, independent of GAP, they will build a new airport at Gazieantep to accomodate private jets flying in from all over the world. The occupants of the jets will be whisked away to a posh new mosaic museum that will be opening in the next year or two. And little Gazieantep and little-known Zeugma won't be so little noooo more...

JoJo Nihili
The 'Kan EWA

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The "Here I Am" Answer

The kindness in your look
is married to the substance
of your eyes.

Joy lives in the kidneys.
Grief in the liver.

Intelligence, that bright candle,
is burning in the matter
of your brain.

These connections have a purpose,
but we don't know what it is.

The universal soul touches
an individual soul and gives it
a pearl to hide in the chest.

A new Christ lives in you
from that touch, but no one
can say why or how.

Every word I say
is trying to coax a response
from that.

"Lord," I call out,
and inside my "Lord" comes,
"Here I am, "
a "Here I am"
that can't be heard,
but it can be tasted and felt
in every cell of my body.

II, 1180-1191

JoJo Nihili
The 'Kan EWA

Friday, November 13, 2009

On many levels, Gazieantep was my favorite. It's a beehive of a place where people are out and about, smile and speak to you and are purposeful and absorbed in their work. And in a few short years, it could become the site of one of the Top 10 Museums in the entire world. The exquisite and mighty mosaics of Gazieantep...

On the day I was there, the sun shone, the stadium neighborhood rocked with a league game, people were buying and selling and other people stopped me on the street to touch my arm and gaze into my eyes--our only common language. While I learned many things in Gazieantep, wanna know one of the things that surprised me the most? Women who cover their heads go to the soccer games. Who knew?

On this day in Gazieantep, Turkey there were a million 'merhabas' and million olives, too.

JoJo Nihili
The 'Kan EWA

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Laughter of Pomegranates

If you buy a pomegranate,

buy one whose ripeness

has caused it to be cleft open

with a seed-revealing smile.

Its laughter is a blessing,

for through its wide-open mouth

it shows its heart,

like a pearl in the jewel box of Spirit.

The red anemone laughs, too,

but through its mouth you glimpse a blackness.

A laughing pomegranate

brings the whole garden to life.

Keeping the company of the holy

makes you one of them.

Whether you are stone or marble,

you will become a jewel

when you reach a human being of heart.


Plant the love of the holy ones within your spirit;

don't give your heart to anything

but the love of those whose hearts are glad.

Don't go to the neighborhood of despair;

there is hope.

Don't go in the direction of darkness:

suns exist.

The heart guides you to the neighborhood of the saints;

the body takes you to the prison of water and earth.

Give your heart the food of holy friends;

seek maturity from those who have matured.

~for Lorac and Angie Mariani, your light showed us the way


Mathnawi I, 717-726


JoJo Nahili

The 'Kan EWA

Monday, November 09, 2009

Being a Catholic, I tend to think the world falls out according to the accounts of The New American Bible in conjunction with the encyclicals that come out of Vatican City. Having been raised a Presbyterian, unlike cradle Catholics, I know the NAB and the Holy Father are pretty darn close but of course, not infallible. Such blessings that come from unexpected places.

And being a student of art, God! let me be a student of art for always!, the Renaissance has long held my fascination and I count time among the frescoes and carvings of those hill top fortress churches in Italy as some of the sweetest moments in all of my life. Say San Gimiginano. Volterra. Assisi. The basilica at Sienna. They are what churches should be, the archetypes of beauty, grace, perfection, inspiration and emotional and visual fulfillment. Begs the question, would I be a Catholic if the churches were not so exquisite? the penultimate in art and architecture? One's ego also shows up at such unexpected places...

So imagine me, wanting to know more about the Byzantines; mainly of course, because of San Marco in Venice. That well may be the Lollapalooza, the Motherlode, of all Catholic Churches. So I have to get to know more about the Byzantines to understand and appreciate San Marco better. I decide to go to Turkey, always wanted to go anyway, and see for myself, up close and personal, who the Byzantines were and what their life looked like.

It's only now that I know that going to Turkey to explore art and architecture of the Byzantines is a bit like saying you're going to go to Southern California in February because you hear the weather's good. Not only is the weather good, hell, the weather's freaking sublime, the fruit is fresh off the trees, the flowers bloom, the air is sweet, the water's warm, the museums, parks, attractions and cultural events await you with open arms and there's a million, no 6 million fantastic restaurants willing, waiting, wanting to feed you. The weather's real good in Southern California in February.

So as it turns out, the Byzantines occupy about six square inches in the enormous silken tapestry that is the history and existence of Turkey. And in my innocence and naivete about Byzantine mosaics and decorative motifs, I fall headlong into the collective arms of the most extraordinary cultures, civilizations, ancient cities, states, and lives of people that I have ever known or read about. Silly, silly me.

Here is a quick shot right out of the gate; not by any means do Catholics hold the franchise on the most beautiful churches in existence. Not by any means. You want to see an utterly extraordinary church? find a grand mosque. If you're doing it up right, you'll start with the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, properly known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It's quite possible it's the most gorgeous religious facility I have ever seen. Just how many schoolings do you get in one life? It's decorated floor to ceiling with handmade, hand painted ceramic tiles from Nicaea. It's 72 x 64 x 42 meters; that's 70,000 square feet in hand painted tiles. All affixed by hand. Still in perfect condition.

But don't take my word for it. Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think. And one thing I really loved? Even in the Blue Mosque of Istanbul you have to vacuum.

JoJo Nahili
The 'Kan EWA

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Expanding Friendship

Money and real estate occupy the body,
but all the heart wants is expanding friendship.

A rose garden without a friend is indeed a prison;
a prison with a friend becomes a rose garden.

If the pleasure of friendship did not exist,
neither men nor women would be here.

A thorn from a friend's garden is worth more
than a thousand cypresses and lilies.

Love sewed us securely together.
We owe nothing to the needle and thread.

If the house of the world is dark,
Love will find a way to create windows.

If the world is full of arrow and swords,
the Armorer of Love has made us coats of mail.

Love itself describes its own perfection.
Be speechless and listen.

Divani Shamsi Tabrizi 1926

JoJo Nahili
The 'Kan EWA
So I am back home after three weeks on assignment. Not so much speechless but wordless. I shot 7000 frames on my Nikon. Climbed up and down mountains and hills to forts, temples, mosques, caves and vistas never imagined. Beheld the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen in all my life. Watched men pray, women beg, children assault each other for trinkets and the sun come up over statues of Zeus 30 feet tall. Watched the sun go down over the enormous Syrian plain. Stood at Cleopatra's gate where Antony welcomed her to Mesopotamia, dined in the private dining room of the Archbishop of the Diocese of Mardin, played with the ferral cats at the University of Van, ate lamb and eggplant and cucumbers, danced with the bride's brother at a gorgeous wedding, hugged and kissed school teachers who took me into another party and now want to correspond in an effort to understand better, watched our driver pull over on the road and buy a cabbage as big as a Jeep tire from a guy who had a whole pile of them, partied with the locals at lunch before they went into the Fenerbahce game across the street, said good evening to the Turkish soldiers who boarded our van at a roadblock to search and responded in kind when the lead smiled and said, in perfect American English, "It was very nice to have met you."

I just barely can comment. This country is so astonishing, so fearsomely beautiful, so delicious, so deeply and fully sensuous and satisfying.

But I'll try. Let me know what you think.

The 'Kan EWA