Winter Journal – Paul Auster’s memoir on aging

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I finished reading Paul Auster’s Winter Journal over the last week.

It’s a book on aging, a memoir where Auster looks back on the 64 years of his life. His earliest childhood memories — stemming from bits and pieces his mother put together, adolescence, youth and old age.

He writes endearingly about the two women who touched his life the most — his mum and how her death affected him, and his wife for more than 30 years who he calls the epitome of “enduring love”.

I remember being immensely touched by his earlier novels ‘The Invention of Solitude’ and ‘The Book of Illusions’ — and it was interesting to read about the process which went behind writing these masterpieces.

A few sentences that made music to me:

“In order to do what you do, you need to walk. Walking is what brings words to you, what allows you to hear the rhythms of the words as you write them in your head.

“One foot forward, and then the other foot forward, the double drumbeat of your heart. Two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, two feet. This, and then that. That, and then this.

“Writing begins in the body, it is the music of the body, and even if the words have meaning, can sometimes have meaning, the music of the words is where the meaning begins.

“You sit at your desk in order to write down the words, but in your head you are still walking, always walking, and what you hear is the rhythm of your heart, the beating of your heart.”

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Out and about in Turkey’s Saffron city

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Who would have thought 500 years ago that their neigbourhood would become a heritage site? They must have gone about buying fruits and vegetables from the kiosks on cobblestone streets, visited families and friends in horse drawn carriages – done business as usual.

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The thoughts came to me as I sipped saffron tea at a café in an old Ottoman town Safranbolu – which literally means Saffron city – you guessed it right – because this is where the super expensive spice – much like red colored grass – grows inside blue flowers.

The flower is picked in the fall season. Its stigma is collected, dried and packed in boxes. Personally, I never understood the big deal about saffron – because I don’t like the smell and it doesn’t have any taste. Hence the Urdu saying: “Ghaday ko zafran ki kya qadar (What does the donkey know about saffron)” was probably meant for people like me.

We went to the city for a day trip. To get away from Ankara, the Turkish capital, where I have been working for nearly a year now.

We took a bus from Ankara. Their intercity bus terminal is bigger than the entire Karachi airport — overwhelming, if you ask me.

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Once in Safranbolu, we took a cab to the old town Carsi (pronounced: Charsi). The city otherwise is ordinary — with apartment blocks and Turkish cafes selling chai and borek pastries.

But once we entered Carsi, a pedestrian zone, it was like we traveled back several centuries. Red roofed houses lined the streets. Some of the buildings dated back to the 12th century. The facades had inscriptions in Arabic letters — praising God or the Prophet. This is before the Turkish alphabet got its Latin script.

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The old bazaar, with its narrow, winding lanes are a shopper’s paradise. This is coming from someone who is trying to give minimalism a shot.

Hundreds of shops sell traditional Turkish goods — tablecloths, leather bags, pottery, glass-blown pendants, handmade soaps, baklava and Turkish delight.

Cafes serve flavoured tea and coffee and authentic Turkish kebab — with a sprinkle of saffron in everything — a touristy thing I assume they started.

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From the 13th century till the early 20th century, the city was a main stop for caravans coming from Asia to Europe. It is also listed as a UNESCO heritage site.

We returned to Ankara at dawn the next day — with lighter pockets, tired legs and happier hearts.