goodbye Robert Gabriel Mugabe, nobody will miss you

Too bad the guy replacing him is pretty much the same kind of evil man.

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Once upon a time, this nutcase on television was considered a hero.  No more.

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jury duty – CNN, inspiration, and the grand escape

No sane person wants jury duty.  But unless you recently ran into a car, know a judge to bribe, or are willing to give the state another reason to claw you, you’re going.  And so I did.

I got in there bright and early with several hundred of my fellow citizens.  My first impression walking in the door?  They’ve got seven televisions in the room.  All of them have CNN on, fucking CNN.  One of the most solemn and important duties in somebody’s civic life and they’ve got garbage television on the walls.  Man, just put some camels and giraffes on there so people’s blood and mental lunacy isn’t fired up by stupid CNN before they go play with somebody’s life in court.

The jury duty leader gives the introductory speech about how she knows nobody wants to be there, but how important it is to freedom, democracy, and justice that we be there.  She inserts humor and the crowd is eating out of her hand the entire time.

She’s graded on a curve because she gives the same speech every day, but still, it says something about the state of our political leadership that the most inspirational and motivating political speech I’ve heard in years was given by a jury duty director at a random county courthouse.

They call out the names by the dozen assigning to each case.  It’s great to hear the breadth of unique America, name by name.  We’re doing just fine people [gives finger to haters on each political side using both hands].

I get picked with 49 others to sit the panel for a criminal trial.  This didn’t sound fun.  I’d have probably gotten struck anyways because of my day job and second job categories (moving that sweet, sweet Columbian pure across the International Date Line) [sips coffee], but still, even if you know you’ll get struck you wonder.

Lawyers and judges are crazy people.  Who only knows what they’ll do with you once they’ve got you.  But apparently, most criminal trials they said are quick and easy.  It’s the medical malpractice trial you don’t want to get.  Four to six weeks.  Six weeks?  Man, modern medicine is a shithouse apparently.

The 50 of us sit, waiting to be called back to the courtroom.  But after sitting in there for five hours they finally start to dismiss everybody.  I mean everybody who showed up that day.  My case got continued, another one they cut a deal, etc, etc.  They sent everybody home.  Nobody got selected that day.  Everybody was off the hook for three years of jury duty.

Sitting at the bus stop on the way out was like emerging from a hospital delivery room where people got to hold the baby.  Everybody was gleeful and talking.  Such a release for everybody.  Courthouses suck.  They’re necessary for modern society, but almost everything that happens in there destroys somebody’s life.  So nobody wants to be in there, certainly not to sit a jury for days or weeks.

Would we have done it?  Yes, all of us.  And I hope we would have served with honor and wisdom.  But for yesterday, all of us were making our grand escape.  Even the cold rain couldn’t dampen anybody’s spirit.

what’s within the ‘big void’?

Great news, everybody!  There’s a front page news story that doesn’t involve politics, sexual assault, destroyed human flesh, or politics.  It’s the question of what’s up with this supposed big empty space discovered inside of Khufu’s giant ode to human waste, aka the Pyramids.

For the uninitiated, the Pharaohs built the Pyramids as giant teleportation chambers that were intended to take their souls to eternity as gods.  The structures took decades to build and cost countless human lives.  But as I’ll always say, who the hell are we to say this was stupid and didn’t work?  For all we know Khufu is indeed seated upon his throne in Valhalla swilling barley wine from a highball glass shouting, “Foools!”

So basically a bunch of scientists have used new technology to look inside the rock of the Pyramid and have determined there are two empty voids inside the Pyramid, as shown in this diagram I ripped from the BBC:

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Oh my, what the fuck could those be?  Who knows.  But we’ll speculate here, because why not?  We’ve got nothing better to do.

1) These voids don’t actually exist, the technology is wrong, and instead these areas are just solid rock.  Human hope and adventure are destroyed in agony as we realize all the breadth and scope of the human spirit still can’t develop technology capable of scanning a five-thousand year old piece of stone.

2) The bigger void is actually the Valhalla Purgatory Sexual Assault Branch Clinic.  It was established by Pharaoh Apophis II after his demise in 2867 BC at the hands of an aggrieved female attendant.  Weinstein, Spacey, Trump, and Clinton are all bound to do time there.  They all get there down the road, and they find Louis XIV is seated in a wicker chair at the entrance.  Louis pulls on his cigarette, and wryly states, “Welcome Gentlemen, pull up a chair, you’re going to be here for a while.”  [pulls on cigarette]

3) The rock in the voids has crumbled for some reason due to the Pyramid settling, or natural erosion, or through mistakes by the original builders.  In ancient times these weren’t voids but solid stone, but now they’ve emerged over the thousands of years since construction.

4) The voids were created in 2008 in secret by Jeff Bezos.  It houses the “Arcane Division” of Amazon Web Services.  Held on the bank of servers within is the hopes, dreams, fears, and buying habits of every man, woman, and child on Earth, to include whether the most destitute man alive wants to buy a comb or not.  Bezos figured the Pyramid was the safest place to build this as, “No matter how crooked I am, how many politicians I bribe, or how hated I am, they can’t possibly blow up the Pyramids, right?” [lights cigar with Ben Franklin; puffs on cigar]

5) Khufu had a handball court built in there, just because he could.  3K slaves died to make it happen.  It was sealed inside the rock.  He never played on it once.  This amused him every time he thought about it.

6) It’s where the aliens hid the bomb.

7) The Pharaoh’s builders made the voids to account for star fluctuation based upon their astronomical measurements (yes, they did this) and mathematical calculations.  The intent to was to mass accelerate the Pharaoh’s divine journey into oblivion.

8) Beer repository for the afterlife.  Khufu had 9K years of beer stored in there so he could swill in Valhalla with glorious abandon.  What happens after the beer runs out in 4K years?  Khufu hasn’t thought that far ahead, it makes him sad when he does.  And in any case, all things being equal, Khufu never thought humanity would last this long anyways without blowing ourselves up.

9) Khufu had the chamber built just to mess with people’s brains.  They’re entirely empty.  They serve no purpose.

10) The chambers were hand carved from the bare rock by one time Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, closet Bayern Munich fan, amateur bridge player, and perverse sexual deviant Zahi Hawass.  Within the confines of the void he toils on a daily basis to supplement his meager millions of previous income with his own line of Indiana Jones custom hats, archeology lectures, commentary upon the Jewish race, boom mike operator temp assignment business for the National Geographic, Discovery, and History Channels, and his own independent line of male perfume “Pharaoh’s Shaft”.  None of this is a lie, just ask the great man himself!  @ZahiHawass “TUTANKHAMUN – HIS TOMB & HIS TREASURES is in Sweden! Come to my lecture on Jan 31st at the Oscarsteatern, Stockholm”  [Editor’s Note: the ALL CAPS is ALL ZAHI! ALL THE TIME!]

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FOOOLS!  AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA!  [swigs barley wine]

Ripper Street – a show with potential that ultimately fails because it tries to be Game of Thrones

My Granddad was hugely into detective stories. I’m currently going through his combined anthology of Sherlock Holmes, more on that much later. He also enjoyed television mysteries as well. Perry Mason was perhaps his favorite. Yet as best as I can figure a good chunk of detective and crime fiction changed at the beginning of this century.

Let’s say my Granddad and I sat down to watch a new show Circa 2017. The protagonist is a guy we’ll call Smith. Smith solves crimes as a bitter disgruntled detective. He’s an alcoholic estranged from his wife and doesn’t always play by the book. Good so far, right? And so the usual stereotypes play out for the first few episodes. Then, in episode 5 Smith has a moral crisis based upon some situation. He’s forced to make a choice.

In 1988, Smith would choose the lesser of two evils and make a hard but ultimately moral decision. Then the episode would end with him getting tanked in a bar. In 2017, Smith would shoot somebody in the back of the head and dispose of the body. My Granddad would get up, turn off the television, and walk away never to return.

And thus do we get 2017’s version of television detective fiction in BBC’s Ripper Street. A show with limitless potential that ultimately descends into a nightmare of confusion, awfulness, and moral ambiguity that leaves you wanting to go hide under some coats with a flock of puppies.

This is all the more depressing because all the pieces for a superb piece of detective fiction are in place at the start of this show. Series lead Matthew Macfadyen, who the ladies will best remember as Keira Knightley’s Mr Darcy, is a cloth cut leading man late 19th Century thinking detective even down to the way he holds his lapels. Jerome Flynn, of Game of Thrones fame, is the brutal sergeant with the heart of gold. The unknown Adam Rothenberg is the rogue American doctor with a chip for life.

The three of them are put into a depiction of 19th Century London that’s both gorgeous and hard earned. Victorian Imperial Britain doesn’t look like much fun from the gutters of Whitechapel. Every detail of the set, the costumes, the music transports you to this age of humanity. And for a while this show works as a decent piece of detective fiction, if some of the plots are a bit far-fetched, and is a generally good watchable show. Not coincidently, season one has the highest ratings. Then things go downhill, both for the show and in ratings. Why?

Because this is a show run of 2012-2017, it’s important to remember what a successful television show thinks it must achieve. The legendary crime shows of our era are apparently Breaking Bad, or Narcos, or whatever similar program is out there. In other words, the focus is either on the criminals, or an anti-hero. I think this all began with the success of The Wire, an admittedly spectacular show which was one of the first to take a real long hard look at the reality of policing in the modern world.

But now things are in overdrive. Now it’s simply not good enough to run a standard piece of detective fiction. This is too soft, considered naïve, or not what the audience wants. The audience apparently wants Game of Thrones, a show where no character, no one is worthy of total admiration. Where there is no good or evil, just eternal grey. Where brutality reigns, and nobody’s hands are in any way clean.

Ripper Street avoids all of this in the first season or two, then it dramatically and noticeably turns. And thus we get what instead? Before we’re done Macfadyen’s reputable Inspector Reid commits two cold blooded murders and cheats on his mentally handicapped wife at least twice. Now here’s a protagonist you can root for!

Indeed, at one point or another every single major character in this series commits a murder. Several of them are accomplices to many other murders. It’s hard to tell who has a higher body count by the end of this series, the criminal underworld of London, or our supposed main characters.

If one goes by the theory that the intent of television is not to make you feel depressed or awful and is meant to entertain you or help you escape from the routine of a grinding life, then you generally need to imagine that some of the characters in a show you should root for. You want them to succeed, be happy, or at least find some measure of peace. Every single character in Ripper Street loses. Every single character is worse off at the end then they were at the beginning. There is no redemption, no answers, only chaos and despair.

This is very much in the vein of Game of Thrones. I no longer watch Game of Thrones but generally keep abreast of what happens in the show. And I’m always struck in discussions with friends or coworkers who still watch and who try to self-rationalize what they see on screen. They seem to think somehow that by the end of Game of Thrones it will all somehow all work out. They talk themselves into it. Almost as if they need it.

They typically will focus on Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen as an example of the good one, or the one to root for, or the one who by the end of the series will emerge with at least some sense of accomplishment. This is in fact a specific plot point brought up within the show itself, where Danny is there to break the cycle, to stop the chaos, to bring some sense of peace to an absolutely horrific world.

But I always ask my friends and coworkers why this must be so? Why must, or should, Game of Thrones end in such a way? Why can’t the white walkers just kill everybody in the last episode? Why can’t Daenerys end up on the throne atop a pile of murdered corpses? Why must there be any redemption or peace at all, when all that’s occurred thus far is chaos and has no meaning?

Ripper Street ends this way. Inspector Reid himself is reduced in the final episode to admitting to his corrupt boss that there is only chaos. That he believes there is no meaning in his work. That all his efforts are/were pointless. That after decades as a policeman he has nothing to show for it but an empty street consumed by violence, murder, dead friends, and hopelessness. He ends the show alone in his office reviewing menial reports, alone, without purpose, without hope.  How uplifting!

I think my Grandfather would ask of such a show: What’s the point? What in the end is the point of Ripper Street? If you want to feel awful about life, about humanity, you can just read the news each morning. It’s right there in your face. To me, fiction’s purpose is to entertain, to give you an escape from the grind, and to explore some of the deeper themes of life on this floating rock. It’s there to give you some characters you can relate to, get to know, and ultimately to cheer for. You share their journey, learn with them, and learn about their life, and yours too.

But when Game of Thrones is your template, none of these things are evident. Ripper Street just leaves you a blank slate, without emotion, an emptiness. So I must ask: Is this the show’s point? Is this how they wanted the viewer to feel? Perhaps, and if so, the creators and writers achieved their goal. But why is this a valid goal for a detective fiction television series? Why is any of this necessary? What’s the point?

Does detective fiction need to be some kind of bubble wrapped clean shaven fairy tale where the protagonist is a constant paragon of virtue and can do no wrong? Of course not. This is a much more mature world and smarter television audience than 1988. But, I submit that what we have on today’s television has gone so far over the mark as to be just about unwatchable.

I don’t need my detective fiction to go so far over the edge of nihilism that we can’t even get a lead character who doesn’t commit murder. This says something about our culture, or at least about the state of television today. This is, to me, both a very sad state of affairs, and in the end, is just not very entertaining.

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Our heroes?

they get away with it

Being rich and powerful must be sweet.  You can basically do whatever you want.  You can buy expensive cars or booze or giraffes.  Or I guess sexually harass whoever you want.  Now you might have been shocked by the idea that Harvey Weinstein could do so many horrible things to so many women for decades without getting exposed, but when you really think about it this is pretty straightforward.

Why didn’t at least one of his many victims (especially in this twisted age of social media) say even one or two things to someone that made this stick before last week.  Some of the most well known and powerful celebrity women and feminist advocates on the planet have now fingered this guy.  Why didn’t one of them tweet like three years ago, “Harvey Weinstein is a deviant sexual predator, he tried to rape me. #rape #yesallwomen”

Why?  Because Weinstein was powerful.  It’s as simple as that.  Weinstein was one of the top five guys in Hollywood.  He ended people’s careers in seconds.  It’s the way of things.  One of the themes I’ve noticed these last few days as women finally spoke out is their internal dialogue about what was going through their brains when Weinstein did his evil acts.

All these women in their own way mention some kind of cost / benefit analysis.  They’re in fear and protection mode as they try and escape the clutches of this shit creep.  But at the same time their brain is in fear mode about what Weinstein will do to them if they don’t give in.  This type of analysis is older than humanity itself.  It’s been playing out with evil rich and powerful men since before fire was invented.

We’d like to think in our super modern and connected culture that people can no longer get away with this.  But they still do, because it’s still human nature.  All the tweets in the world can’t change the human brain.

Regardless of what you think of Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy I think you can make a reasonable claim that if either of those guys worked at the Sizzler for minimum wage, that both of them would have done severe jail time and been disgraced.  Instead, they are both essentially American heroes.

I’m shocked that Dennis Hastert ever got caught for the horrible things he did to boys.  But if you’ll remember, Hastert wasn’t initially caught for sexual crimes.  They wrapped up Hastert for violating the government limit of how many $10K bank account withdrawals you can make without reporting it to the tax man.  Only later did the authorities realize what the money was for.  Otherwise Hastert would have gotten away with it.

I’m not sure what all this means, other than that as always humanity is on a perpetual quest to self improvement.  It also means you have to take a rather cynical view of what people say.  Especially if the person talking is rich and powerful.

Weinstein’s been a big time bankroller for women’s rights and so forth for decades.  And that whole time … , well, that’s also why they get away with it.  It’s the smokescreen to cover up who they really are.

Notice how Weinstein is already making the usual public relations statements about screwing up, learning, personal growth, etc.  He doesn’t seem to realize he’s truly done.  He still things he’s in control.  That’s how twisted his brain is.  He still thinks he can get away with it.  That’s the biggest thing to learn about this above all.

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Rich and powerful bad dude, rarely caught.

behold Itzpapalotltotec’s divine power

Belichick: “Yes Itzpapalotltotec. Yes! We shall decorate my basement with the blood of our foes. You shall have your fill. Praise!”  [draws ceremonial knife]

Kick Video

“Yes, yes, praise your evil name!”

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“Yes, oh yes, I give thanks for your divine blessing.”

Kick Video

“Yes, yes, please give me your powers!”

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“Yes, yes, your darkness knows no boundaries!”

we set off on our great adventure to discover the truth of Alexander

Late last summer, the haze still hung heavy over the alleyways of Istanbul. It was shortly after the most recent coup against the Sultan. The oppressive humidity matched the overbearing nature with which the Sultan’s men patrolled the streets. Fear hung heavy as teachers, professors, writers, and many others were wrapped up in the Sultan’s timed overreactions.

I found myself weary after arriving on the Express and eagerly sought refuge in a small but busy pub recommended by a friend. The journey on the Express was rather tiresome. I was constantly hassled by a Serb (or possibly a closet Moldovan) named Nikolai who was a far less interesting man than he thought.

Most seats in Zeki’s were taken, but I found enough open space at the bar. Smoke, conversation, Istanbul surrounded the place. It was good to be back on the road. It warmed me even before my first sip. But my first drink of scotch proved to be a poor choice. Even the most delicious of beverages can be drilled through by the worst of heat. At the barkeep’s recommendation, I switched to the raki, an inferior liquid but much preferable given the weather. Even the hint of ice, normally hated, was more than welcome to me.

“Good enough?” said the barkeep.

“Quite,” I replied, hoisting the glass toward him, “And your place I take it?”

He nodded, “Indeed, for many years now. May I ask how you found it back here, foreigner that you are.” “A friend,” I replied scantly.

“Ah,” Zeki scanned his establishment, “But what brings you to this city of life in these dark times?”

“Are these really dark times?” I asked.

“What? Oh,” he chuckled deeply, “No, no not really. What’s another coup?”

I smiled, looking down at my drink, “Just another day.”

He swiped his finger through the air, “Precisely!” He shrugged, “And after all, life doesn’t change, not even here.”

“No?”

“No, no, the Sultan shall be the Sultan, whoever that is, and life goes on. After all, the Sultan’s men do not change.”

“No?”

“They are the same, whoever they are,” he shrugged, “ I pay my bribes, the protection if offered, life goes on,” he said as if discussing why summers were considered hot. “But you Sir, you are here…”

I sipped deeply, “I seek Alexander.”

“Oh,” Zeki laughed heartedly, as if I’d just stated I intended to find The Prophet himself, “Well then, here he is, here he is, Sir.” Zeki mockingly pointed to a crusted framed picture, one of many, that adorned the wall atop the bar. And indeed, there among the many of history’s great faces was the greatest general himself. And off Zeki was, to another customer down the bar.

“Alexander’s dead,” from nowhere offered the man next to me. A man I’d not noticed thus far, so unassuming he was. He was far older than I, and also not a local. He slumped deeply at the bar, tired, his eyes closed, but not drunk, not wholly yet anyways.

“Yes,” I cautiously offered, “very much dead. But I seek the truth of him.” “Yeah, why, where?”

Not knowing this man, or his motives, I sought to learn more about him before ever speaking further. “And you Sir, I cannot place your accent for certain, though I can guess.” Without a shadow of guile the man gave himself forth, to a total stranger as I, “I’m Cornish.”

“Oh,” I said, shaking my head in pity and disgust, “I am sorry.”

He shrugged, resigned. And without any hesitation, he opened his life to me. “If you’re going after Alexander I’ll go too.”

So taken aback I was by his statement that I was dumbfounded. Seeking refuge in my glass, I found it empty. And so to pass the thought, I simply asked, “And your name?” “George,” he flatly stated.

“And where from George?”

“Cornwall…”

“No, no,…”

“Ah, Afghanistan,” he said, “a terrible place, and one that was equally as kind to Alexander as it was to me.”

And thus it all began to add up for me fairly quickly. The broken demeanor, the drinks, the resignation, and then, the pistol, carefully and professionally concealed within his clothing. The long look in his eyes, the old, but still strong frame of this man of the people of the English sea. I could use him, why not. Clearly here was a man in need of purpose. And men in need of purpose are the most useful of men.

“Not to Afghanistan, not yet, but certainly, if you need something to do, I’d welcome such a man as you.”

He nodded, slowly, pleased, grunted, and briefly hoisted his glass to me, emptied it, and motioned to Zeki for another. And another found him, and I as well.

“I hear all in my bar,” said Zeki to me as he poured.

“As any good bar should,” I responded.

“Our part of the world is generally unkind, especially to two foreign, eh, men, such as yourself,” Zeki capped the bottle with force.

I nodded, not knowing why.

Zeki leaned against the rail, his ear halfheartedly to mine. He drew incompressible designs on the bar’s surface, “Help, help is always helpful to those who need help.” I said nothing.

“A man on his travels in this part of the world needs friends, friends not in the fray,” Zeki spoke relatively softly, “I could perhaps…”

“I know you not.”

“Oh,” he smiled in a way that cleared my throat, “but even your presence here came at the recommendation of a, friend, yes?” Zeki scanned his pub briefly, “And in the end, I know who you are. And you shall thus see that I know your Guests, and have done business with them in the past. And yet,” he leaned back, proudly, “I have not presented you to the Sultan’s men. Though this would benefit me greatly.”

Sometimes knowing a man takes a lifetime. Sometimes you never actually know a man. Sometimes you have to take risks on men. Sometimes they take risks on you. And yet besides all this, I found not the need, but the desire to take a risk upon this Zeki. Here was a man, indeed recommended by my friend, but for what, a drink, or a chance? And here was this Zeki, self-assured, honest, even reckless to having met me a few minutes ago had yet already chanced to inform me that he had the Sultan’s men in his pay. That he thought nothing of the Sultan’s rule itself. Yes, yes why not risk this man, why not risk it when I had nothing else on offer. After all, even Alexander himself knew the importance of never venturing into the darkness without securing one’s rear area and homefront.

“And for you, so what?” I asked cautiously.

“Nothing,” he leaned back, “Not yet. But write to me,” he said, “when it is my time, you will know, and you will answer.”

Always the risk, but I nodded, once, hoping one day, I did not regret it. I could sense George’s uneasiness. He was back against his stool, one hand now always free. But it was my decision. Not George’s. And if George was to journey with me, he should understand this.

“But in the meantime,” Zeki held out his palm to behind me, “help, help for the two foreign dogs.” Behind us stepped forth two men. My attention first turned to the larger man, cloaked, and certainly a predator. “Mut,” (he pronounced it ‘moot’) Zeki named him, “And at your service. The finest of Oran’s backstreets.”

Mut fit his name’s spelling if not pronunciation well. His face and body, Berber, Arab, even if (dare I never have mentioned to him) perhaps a touch of Algérie in his complexion.

When confronted with an attack dog, directness is either the worst or best of options. I chanced best, simply stating, “And what is your talent, Sir.”

Mut opened his cloak, and contained therein was as throng of blades, edged weapons, decorated, sharp, beautiful. He closed his cloak. Joined his hands before him, and said nothing.

I chuckled, “Okay, you’ll do.” Surprisingly, George nodded, though I was unsure what George saw in this man that did not take his thoughts back to similar men he had undoubtedly met, and met sportingly or not, in Afghanistan.

The second man quickly stepped forward without giving Zeki an chance to introduce him. He thrust his small delicate hand forward to I, then to George, shaking with a brisk but firm strength, “Stelios, at your service,” he offered with a smile. “My talent? Quite simply,” he grunted softly, “is to relieve others of their possessions by my actions.” He clicked his heals. George shook his head in repulsion.

There could not have been a more Greek looking man on all the Earth. Short, solidly built, but with a deep refinement. His lengthy curled air, oiled, hung over a suit, tie, and shoes that if I had been told cost more than everything in this bar combined, would not have surprised me. But what use to us was he? Was there any meaningful nature behind the immaculate man? With such men, there is always an easy way to find out.

Off in one of the darker corners of the bar, sat a janissary and a few companions. Out of uniform, poorly armed, and looking deject, I could only assume they were now unemployed, perhaps even unemployed recently having found themselves on the wrong side of the coup. Now here, to drink their way to a future that was never coming. To the one closest to me I motioned with the greatest of care to Stelios, “I don’t like your kind, but see that man, go bring me one of his pistols.” Without waiting for a response, I returned to my drink.

Without offering a response, Stelios was off. It took him some time, but eventually I noticed he had found his way to the janissary’s table. And they talked, and talked, Stelios pulled up a chair, and he talked more. Mut became bored, sat down next to George, and drank, and drank again. After a good long while, I sighed, remarking wryly to George, “Theft is always far more boring in reality than in fiction.”

“Quite,” said George, deadpan.

So it went for a long, long time. Zeki was engrossed in conversation with men at the other end of the bar. The light outside began to fade. And perhaps, just perhaps the heat began to fade too. And I chanced a glance over my shoulder, and the janissary and his friends were gone and so was Stelios. Either Stelios had followed them out, or had given up and fled in shame. Either way, I cared not. I hated thieves anyways.

I grunted, sipped again, and then my eyes darted left, and next to me was Stelios. Shocked, I nearly reached within my coat, but before I could he planted before me with a delighted flourish a silver pistol of the janissary. He laughed out loud, took my glass, and finished my drink, his pristine teeth gleamed with the liquor’s remains and pride. “Oh,” he quipped, “and this too.” And he did plop atop the pistol my pocketwatch. George cackled with a partially inebriated humor. I looked down mournfully at my chest, and smiled without teeth.

“Okay,” I nodded slowly, “you’ll do.” And I clapped Stelios on the shoulder and guided him to the stool next to mine. And thus the four of us we drank for a while, as we resolved to depart on our adventure in the morning. For the night was ending, and when one starts to drink raki in Istanbul, one does not stop while the night is young.

And as often happens, but so rarely turns out to be the case, I felt myself being watched. And I wondered if this adventure was doomed to fail before its start. But I appraised Zeki, who was still involved in boisterous conversation down the bar. Mut and George were trying out their French, George by far the poorer of the exchange. Stelios was buried in a newspaper. I glanced about, subtly as possible, to see if only I could perceive the danger.

It took time, far too much time, blame the raki, to notice her. Off to the other corner, by the open bay window which led toward the busy alley. She was there alone, at the smallest of the window’s tables. I didn’t know her, I hadn’t seen her, but I instantly knew that she knew whatever I knew. It was written through the glean in her deep dark eyes. Without thinking, without fear, I rose from my stool and began to walk toward her. Was she a threat? Figure it out, immediately.

Yet as a approached her more and more I began to appreciate the inherent raw beauty that she was. And I began to unconsciously feel myself standing straighter, less drunk than I might have been, and intended to approach her with the greatest class possible. A threat she might have been, I was still a man, much to my detriment if she meant to end our adventure before it’s birth.

And in this state did I thus collide with a small dog that was darting across the floor. And thus did I partially tumble to the floor, only bracing myself on an occupied chair. Pulling myself up, I endeavored to appear the classy subject of a cruel joke played by the sharpest & wittiest of men, and not the victim of a scampering four pound nonsentient canine.

If I failed she did not show it. I sat down slowly, her eyes never moving from me at any point. Not alcohol for her, but coffee, Turkish black, black as her hair. The steam from the mug rose above to her face which gave her an ethereal quality which matched her beauty. Surely here was a face that matched the goddesses that Alexander would have sacrificed to. She drank her steaming coffee, not with delicacy, but with long deep sips like a barbarian Northman.

And thus with this thought on my mind, did she simply state, with the most delicate of slurs, “Alexander.” No lies, no lack of understanding, but I could say nothing. I knew not which way to respond, damned the raki and the heat which had taken all cunning from my brain. Or was it the way she looked, that I didn’t care to joust. Not at all. “I’ll go,” she stated flatly.

“Why?” I stated without resistance and even a slight desperation, “what are your talents?”

She smiled deeply, and I partially melted even more in the heat, “Many.”

I shrugged, she could have stolen one of my eyes if she’d wanted, I would not have cared, “Certainly.”

She smiled, even deeper, but perhaps, less genuinely as she hummed, “I might betray you.”

Ever the fool that I was, and beyond care, I blurted out, “Not if I betray you first.”

She cackled, rose swiftly, drained her coffee, slapped her palm on the table, “I am Alianna of Provence. And we, we shall find Alexander.” And before I was ably out of my chair she was already passed me, and at the bar. And Zeki was pouring more drinks. And I slugged over, smiling, suppressing all fear, and replacing it with optimism. Too much risk? For certain. But for the moment, I truly didn’t care.

And thus it began, this great adventure, as we set off to discover the truth of Alexander. I, the degenerate, George the Soldier, Mut of Oran, Stelios the Thief, and Alianna of Provence. And there Zeki, Zeki of Zeki’s.

And with the great Alexándrou Anábasis, the finest of all the works ever written about Alexander as our guide, did we thus begin. But not yet, for there was more raki, and Zeki was not charging, not yet anyways. And we drank until the day was gone, and even the streets of Istanbul began to cool down, a very long time.

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