A Familiar Place…

The road runs straight south from the ancient city of Sanliurfa in Turkey (actually “Urfa”– the title is a post- Ataturk designation) to a border, or, in our fraught times, perhaps, a BORDER, like our southern one.

 The land is almost flat, dry, but productive since the dam on the Euphrates, which drowned may old villages, allowed irrigated winter wheat to be grown. The drowned villages have been rebuilt. The people of the countryside are Kurds rather than Anatolians, with a leavening of Arabs near the border.

They are contentious, argumentative, overwhelmingly hospitable (one thing they do is continually roll you cigarettes; once I had one behind each ear I HAD to smoke, but sweet Turkish tobacco is not that bad). They drink endless coffee and not very hidden “raki”, the anise- flavored local vodka. One reason they do not have all that much visible alcohol is not Islamic; booze in Turkey is a state project, which means the Kurds would have to  buy it from a government they do not love, but I ordered and drank it every night in our hotel.

That road runs into Syria about thirty miles south of the city. On the other side… well, go west 40 more miles or so, turn left, and you can watch the seige of Kobani.

The people in Urfa fly pigeons; Turkey is the most pigeon- fancying nation in the world. Urfa is the only city I have stayed in that has large art- photo portraits of pigeons, signed by the photographer, in the lobby of its most prestigious luxury hotel. This one is a Reehani dewlap, with the inked label saying “Urfa Guvercin”– simply “Urfa Pigeon”.

In the countryside, people hunt, with gun and tazi and hawk.

They have flock guardian dogs too, though it is best to get back in the car if they get too close. This one was already starting towards me.

It can be a lot like here. I have often teased people with this next one, asking what part of New Mexico it was taken in. Most think maybe Taos though some go for Rio Arriba county.

There will be more. Strange how knowing a place just a bit makes your perspective so vivid…

Charles Bowden, R.I.P.

“… But I don’t think so”, as he wrote of his old friend Edward Abbey in my favorite of all of his works, Desierto, the closest thing he ever wrote to a nature book. The inscribed flyleaf (double or right click to enlarge) beneath his terrifying later Murder City, is in that book; he had read my old novel manuscript, and was impatient that nobody would publish it… this would be in the nineties. But publishers’ tastes were not as robust as Chuck’s.

If we had lived closer we might have been closer friends, though both of us, he even more than I, needed solitude as well as gregariousness. We talked, but had not seen each other face to face in  a decade or more. As it was, we were admirers and advocates for each other’s work who enjoyed drinking and furious talk and shared tastes in landscape and writing and firearms and even in women. He had an attitude that could be ironic but never cheap. The first time I met him he had a Deadhead skeleton sticker with a rose in its teeth on the left end of his pickup bumper and a sticker that read “Ted Kennedy’s car killed more people than my gun” on the other.

(Re his partisanship, a letter dated 27 Sept 2000 : “I press Querencia on perfect strangers. I am a missionary at heart.”)

Another taste from another old letter: “I bought something the Italians call a superautomatic which grinds the beans, tamps them down, shoots one or two shots through them, and then tamps down the grounds– yes, I am lazy… soon, the process should be as swift as jabbing a needle into my arm… And like your  weaponry it is something I can ill afford but apparently there is nothing to be done about it.”

He ventured into places where armed police and even the Mexican army stayed out, blew the lid off the most brutal yet ignored crimes, interviewed 17 year old assassins and serenely corrupt politicians, wrote essays about the innocence and deadly beauty of rattlers and mountain lions. I always feared that he would be hunted down by the cartels, but hoped he would go on one of his long walkabouts in the desert that refreshed his soul, at about 93. Instead he apparently died in his sleep yesterday at 69 in his Las Cruces home. Weirdly, I had begun his last book, Some of the Dead are Still Breathing,  just the day before, and intended to write to him, rather than write his obituary, tonight.

Update: his friend Jack Dykinga does a much better, and darkly hilarious, version here. HT to Jonathan Hanson.