“Peter must be spinning in his grave.” That was my first response when, working at my desk Friday morning, I saw that a Turkish court had cleared the way for Hagia Sophia, the great Byzantine cathedral in Istanbul, to be returned to use as a mosque. Peter, my late partner, had spent part of every year in Turkey, a country he loved, from his early twenties to his death at nearly 81. Most years, the base for our Istanbul sojourn was one of two charming small hotels (Yesil Ev and the Ayasofya Pansiyonlari) virtually in the shadow of Hagia Sophia, where the staff greeted him by name. Among other merits of their locations, being there enabled us to see as we strolled by when there were no lines waiting to see this wondrous building. As a result, we often were able to enjoy visits without competing with hordes of Hagia Sophia’s 3.7 million annual visitors.
Hagia Sophia is a big deal because it is one of the oldest and largest cathedrals in the world. Commissioned by the Emperor Justinian and finished in 537, after two prior churches on the site burned, it has a spectacular dome, about 15 stories high, which has survived earthquakes and partial collapses and is supported by a great system of buttresses. It served as the great cathedral of the Byzantine Empire for almost 1000 years, until the Ottoman Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, when it was converted to a grand mosque, and most of the Christian iconography was covered over or removed. In the 1920s, when Turkey was established as a secular state under Kemal Ataturk, the building was converted to a museum. In recent years much careful work has gone into restoring some of the spectacular Byzantine mosaics and frescoes that had been covered over.
Peter certainly did not object to mosques or Islamic religious practice. He was passionate about visiting the dignified and spectacular urban mosque complexes of Sinan, the great 16th century Ottoman architect, and equally enthused by simple early wooden mosques in the country, when we could find them. As a man immersed in history, Peter would, however, be going ballistic over the thought that what has been restored at Hagia Sophia may now be destroyed with encouragement from Prime Minister Erdogan, who seems as passionate about undoing Ataturk’s secular state as President Trump is to undo the accomplishments of Barack Obama.
Trump and Erdogan share a great deal. They both disdain historic preservation. Trump’s vandalism of the Bonwit Teller building on Fifth Avenue in the 1980s reminds one of Erdogan’s proposal, when he was Mayor of Istanbul, to tear down the City’s Byzantine walls. And like other autocrats, they relentlessly take advantage of any opportunity to accomplish their goals. While the world is preoccupied with the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic, Xi Jinping is deftly erasing Hong Kong ‘s special status, while Erdogan is realizing his dreams of an Islamic state. At the same time, Trump and henchmen are busy dismantling environmental rules, the Justice Department, reproductive rights and refugee protections. Let others focus on addressing the pandemic.
This Hagia Sophia story has gotten me thinking a great deal in the past day about what Peter’s response would be to the present day state of affairs had he survived. I’m pretty sure he would have taken the pandemic in stride. After all, he lived through history’s other recent cataclysmic events up close. When he had to crawl out of our apartment on 9/11, after the second plane hit the nearby World Trade Center south tower and our windows blew in, it simply recalled for him his previous experience as a child in Cardiff, Wales, during the bombings of the Nazi blitz. He would just have seen this a one more in the world’s eternal series of cataclysms that upend and reconfigure the way we live.
Further, I am convinced Peter would have successfully navigated the pandemic lockdown better than most of us. He largely lived alone five days a week on the farm while I was in the City, happy to be occupied with gardening in the day and reading in the evening. He was a supremely self-sufficient man.
What Peter would be much less happy about, I am sure, is the state of the farm and particularly the gardens. It has come home to me fully this week that being here full time does not equate to paying attention to the farm full time. I am grateful to find I can work effectively at my law practice from up here, but in fact that means that I am actually at my desk five full days a week instead of weeding, planting, trimming and harvesting, as Peter spent much of his days doing.
I have been trying to get out well before 7 each morning to feed the critters and spend at least an hour on the garden before breakfast, but that is woefully insufficient to maintain what needs to be maintained. I find myself torn between what must be done at my desk and what must be done outside. Thursday morning I had to fill an order for 8 pints of gooseberries, which I wanted to pick at the perfect stage of ripeness for the customer. As the gooseberries are just turning from green to pink now, it was a challenge to find enough at the right stage, such that it took me over an hour and half of picking, all while I had a client waiting for a draft document to review. The gross revenue of $48 from those 8 pints of gooseberries was equal to the gross revenue from about 5 minutes of legal work, yet I gave the former precedence because the deadline for berry pickup was ahead of the deadline for the legal document.
When I commented on the economic absurdity of my choice, Eric reminded me that I can’t see things in terms of competing economic return. I’m doing the farm not for the money but because of the pleasure I take in the process. Peter would have had a similar take since he felt the farm revenue was simply intended to help defray costs by selling the excess beyond what we grew for ourselves.
But there’s another little voice I hear in my head from Peter the aesthete and perfectionist who never left a project undone. His vision for the farm was to create an oasis of productive beauty. Not just the perennial gardens but even the vegetable garden had to look good. If you can’t weed it, he’d say, and be proud to show it, don’t plant it.
And when I see what is unweeded and undone in the areas I’ve ambitiously planted, it drives me a little nuts. (The fennel above is the exception.) I know I have not yet got the balance between work and farm right. And maybe it’s just a convenient way to project my compulsions onto another source, but I think Peter’s imagined reaction is still the standard I work to. It what makes me want to work relentlessly to get it right.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Gooseberries, $6/pt, mostly green blushing to pink (on the tart side for pie or jam), some riper.
Green shiso leaves $1, pack of 10
Later this week: Kale, (straight or curly leaf, or combo). The fencing has worked against the garden nibblers, so we should have quantities to sell later in the week, $2/bunch
Swiss Chard, $3/bag
Small White Oasis Turnips $2/bunch
Tiny hot matchbox peppers, $5.00 a string, dried and quite decorative.
Fresh dug horseradish root, $3/lb.
Sorrel, one gallon bag, $3/bag
Mint, $1/ bunch
Garlic chives (the flat kind), $1/bunch
Elder flowers $2/bag
Dill and lettuce are in between waves
MEATS: Have been largely cleaned out during the supermarket shortages of this spring. What is still in stock:
LAMB: a few remaining , leg of lamb $14/lb, lamb shoulder roast $7/lb.
PORK: fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
Chickens will be available again at the end of summer, additional lamb in mid July.
Email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.