The only coöperation which is commonly possible is exceedingly partial and superficial; and what little true coöperation there is, is as if it were not, being a harmony inaudible to men. If a man has faith, he will coöperate with equal faith everywhere; if he has not faith, he will continue to live like the rest of the world, whatever company he is joined to. To coöperate in the highest as well as the lowest sense, means to get our living together.--Thoreau, Walden, "Economy."
I arrived at dusk at Istanbul's Taksim square to the start of the Muezzins's Azhan surrounding us from all sides. I enjoyed the moment to get roasted walnuts. I looked up at Ghezi park--oddly familiar from the protests despite the (minor) construction at the edges. I knew that at the metro stop, I was going to say goodbye to Niklas Seidl, my unexpected travel companion of the last ninety minutes; Niklas is a German composer and cellist with the Cologne based group, Hand Werk; he has a (German) state fellowship to be in (part-time) residence in Istanbul. (You can see and hear him play here.) He told me about the sights and sounds encountered through his explorations of Istanbul's neighborhoods. We had met earlier in line at the airport-bus-stop, and we had talked through the Friday afternoon slow, rush hour bus-ride into town.
I had been given a glimpse of the creative life, and I felt refreshed; the short night's sleep and my travel forgotten. Sometimes an encounter with a stranger can be exhilarating because ordinary reserve and strategic behavior is absent. (To be sure I don't think of contemporary classical composers as the exemplars of the creative life.) As the sounds of the azhan faded into the background, I descended into Istanbul's metro system. I had to resist the urge to send Bellow's Herzog a text-message, see; once underground I looked for the token machine.
The next morning I woke to the view below. The news from Paris had kept me up late (and I was pleased by Facebook's safety check button); I overslept from a non-restful sleep. I had too little time to go down to the shore-line for a breakfast and hike. Instead, I enjoyed a quiet morning in the hills reading and savoring Walden.
As I contemplated Thoreau's stirring words and the beauty of my surroundings, I was struck by the recurring temptation to view Thoreau's self-described life of true philosophy as somehow a refuge from the real world. Yet, if it is a refuge then it is not a cowardly one; it requires courage to live an experimental life, to avoid embracing despair, and, not to put too fine a point on it, to resist the call to war.
Before writing this post I explored some of Seidl's compositions on youtube. (He works in multiple media at once.) My favorite one today, which is simultaneously funny (even satirical) and sad, is an uncanny meditation on a certain, ordinary-life-presence-of-the-sublime that resonates with my mood this week-end. It also illustrates one of Seidl's claims he made during our shared bus-ride: a lot of contemporary classical music can, despite the reputation of avant-garde elitism, be appreciated at once without prior musical background (unlike, say, much of the Baroque chamber music -- which we both admire --, which often presupposes familiarity with other music in order to be enjoyed). It doesn't follow, of course, that there are no puns and motifs that can be savored only by the advanced student. It's called talgwaren & Absterben; I like that the meaning of 'talgwaren' is mysterious to me. Anyway, here it is: