Ithaca from a long ago and right now | Daily News

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Ithaca, New York,  the home of Cornell University.
Ithaca, New York, the home of Cornell University.

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 Ayca Cubukcu, now a professor at the London School of Economics and then an undergraduate at Cornell University.  

Ayca 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 labour, 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 Ayca 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.  

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