20 January 2023

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Maceo Carrillo Martinet. A name I can’t forget simply because it belongs to the bluest human being I know. I wrote about Maceo a few weeks ago (‘To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows’). It’s been more than 16 years since the rivers down which our respective rafts made of poetry, love and revolution met in an ocean called Albuquerque and six since swam in a blueness of each other’s words.

So I wrote about him and he wrote back to me. It was a song made of cloud-formations and constellations. It took me back to Ithaca, a small town in Upstate New York and a time of community and solidarity.

Maceo remembered ‘the oceans of smoke-filled coffee we drank that kept buoyed the ancient salt of our skins.’ All that, for many reasons, owes to Ayça Çubukçu, now a professor at the London School of Economics and then an undergraduate at Cornell University.

Ayça was un-contained by choice and uncontainable too. One day she emailed a group of close friends, all of whom shared with her a discontent with the way things were in the world. She had been irked by some story published in the ‘Cornell Daily Sun’ and wanted to come out with an alternative publication, ‘Cornell Nightly Moon.’

So we met as suggested at 'Stella's,' a coffee shop on College Avenue. It could not be ‘Cornell,’ we agreed, for we were of the Ithaca community and citizens of a world without boundaries of any kind. We discussed content and who we would be writing for. Someone said ‘we have to accept that some people in this world will remain shoe-makers.’ Others disagreed. And so we celebrated the un-celebrated, recognized the importance of labor, noted the extraction of value as profit, the lack of resources to publish a newspaper on a daily basis, decided on a monthly publication and called it ‘The Cobbler,’ with Stella's as its virtual editorial office.   

For Maceo, as it was for me, what Ayça helped create ‘was a space and time that surrendered [him] to the thirst of people-power, its unquenchable songs of truth [he still hears] in the smallest and largest of shadows, like those of a hummingbirds heartbeat or the side of the moon that she never reveals to her daughter.’

And so he misses, as I do too,  the ways in which ‘our fingerprints smudged ink, how trees opened their chest, how words realized for the first time they can walk, how shoes realized they are pieces of art instead of the subservient limbs, how the lakes of Upstate New York became long, icy nails that made us protect the warmth within.’

‘The Cobbler’ was launched at the turn of the millennium. Cornell students wouldn’t know. Some of the older professors or rather the more radical of the older professors would. The activist community of Ithaca, especially those associated with the ‘Ithaca Catholic Worker’ would remember.

Paul Glover, who founded an alternative currency ‘Ithaca Hours’ that has since been replicated in dozens of communities all over the USA, once observed, ‘I’ve seen lots of student activists over several decades, but no one left anything behind in Ithaca — “The Cobbler” is an exception,’ or words to that effect. 

The Ithaca of ‘The Cobbler’ is not the home of Odysseus. The Ithaca described by Maceo is a separate state of being that can be found on any map. For example, open an atlas to a random page, close your eyes and let your fingertip pick a spot. That’s Ithaca, for wherever you may be or go there will be people who surrender space and time to the thirst of people-power, sing unquenchable songs of truth in the smallest and largest of shadows. And shoes, clothes, caps and flags recover agency, shed all illusions of being appendages, seek and find compatible hearts that will storm barricades or simply fly over them.

How do friends separated by continents, united by companionship of blueness begin to ‘catch up’ after six years or six centuries? Maceo had an answer:

‘I suspect the beginning is somewhere in the middle, next to water and dry land, where the  theories that seek to represent the world through or between one set of eyes, are not only discredited, but replaced with something better. The honeybee nor its honey, the water nor its clouds, the ant nor its colony, the coffee bean nor its leaves, see the world the same, let alone compared to human senses. Heck, even each of my eyes don’t see the world the same way, one is perpetually red in the corners, and the other has something going on with its cones and rods.’

Maceo sent me ‘the soft warm hugs of desert-dried wind, the sweet smell of brand new earth made from yesterday's wastes, and the wet-blue smile of the oceans.’ And in the release of words and the release obtained in the releasing of words we rediscover the magic of other places and times in the here and now. In that way we reconnect, renew and reimagine the world with the primordial strength of a hummingbird.
In the Ithacas we find ourselves in. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below] 


Other articles in this series:

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road