A month and smoke

June 28, 2013

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Been here for a month now…

It is a cloudy day and it is a relief. About 78 degrees after the very hot last couple of days. Rain is on the way for the week end and it will feel good.

 

So after a month, here is what has taken place:

I had 4 saz lessons, witnessed the uprising of a people, negotiated protests, police and crowd reactions and was surprised by my instincts in such situations… I saw the full moon over Beyoglu.  I met quite a few Iranians and found them really amazing. I played on Istiklal street.  I saw the Bosphorus under the moon, racing clouds and stars into Istanbul traffic from the back of a motorcycle. I wrote new poems, finished the 12 poem series started last August. I experienced (finally (!)) personal closure with my broken heart story, I put my CD online. I ate really good food. I made new friends whose honesty has been more than a blessing. I’ve made quite a few zig zags with changes of plans and such.

What didn’t quite happen yet:

the saz learning and seeing the tourist attractions.

 

What is on my list right now:

Release the CD online, play on the street (need to get a mini amp for that which might happen today), meet and play with local musicians, meet some women (Where are they?!?!) Have regular saz lessons, write new songs, get the residency permit, improve my Turkish (which means to be more brave and jump in and look (and sound dumb!)  And see the country.

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I’m still pondering the apartment. Last night the smoking started, I said something about it, and I got the “it’s only one cigarette…” answer. This is what I feared. How do you explain to a smoker the amount of discomfort the smoke from one cigarette causes. I was really feeling ill. I was almost asleep and suddenly I felt like throwing up. I woke up this morning coughing, my chest tight… I still think that it’s unfair and actually impossible to have 6 smokers change their habits for me… and I am really wishing for clean air… I saw that someone had put a towel at the bottom of the living room door… Nice try, but nothing stops those fumes I know, I tried from my side of the door and my room seems to be where the air current from the front of the house exits… so everything comes through…

 

So I will have to speak up… and pretty likely I will have leave if I am to breathe clear air.

 

Which brings me to the question: “What should be next?”

 

I am not sure what I should do… I have an itch to go, be on the move, but I do need to handle the residency permit, which means I have to have, well… a residence… 

In the mean time, Istanbul is gorgeous, crazy, wild, chaotic and  oh so beautiful

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view from my window

view from my window

 

view from a few blocks away

view from a few blocks away

 

a few steps from a few blocks away

a few steps from a few blocks away

 

Down Tarlabasi

Down Tarlabasi

 

signs

signs

 

neighborhood

neighborhood

 

neighborhood zoom in

neighborhood zoom in

 

night mosque

night mosque

 

old

old

 

new

new

 

Old and new

Old and new

 

ceiling

ceiling

 

ceiling detail

ceiling detail

 

at the mosque

at the mosque

 

mosque again

mosque again

street life

street life

 

street lights

street lights

 

cleaning man with wrong camera setting

cleaning man with wrong camera setting

 

on lira, on lira...

on lira, on lira…

 

fish market

fish market

 

graffiti

graffiti

 

steps in the night

steps in the night

 

more graffiti and a cat

more graffiti and a cat

 

night time view

night time view

 

walls & color

walls & color

 

if you have money, there is much you could get even late...

if you have money, there is much you could get even late…

 

come on in...

come on in…

 

some are friendly, some are nervous

some are friendly, some are nervous

 

Galata square

Galata square

 

night view

night view

 

night display

night display

 

back to Istiklal

back to Istiklal

and tea

and tea

 

next day a ferry ride to Kadikoy

next day a ferry ride to Kadikoy

 

light, clouds, water

light, clouds, water

 

finally, a sunset

finally, a sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the 4th Monday

June 24, 2013

St Jean Baptiste in Quebec today… bonne fete…

 

Monday,

 

I spent another late, late night. I can claim that I was in my room before 5 AM… Yes, the life of Istanbul has taken a hold of me. A city with endless days, endless nights…

 

I have taken to going into this Lavazza cafe right across from the Galata Tower. For Italian espresso, the best I found so far. I’ve been there almost every day. They know me, know what I drink… double espresso… and they are all smiles when I show up. I’ve become a regular. I wrote there for a while, then went back up on Istiklal and bought a 100 grams of lokums… (Turkish delight) I totally love them! I stopped at the local market, right across from the apartment building, farmers set up and sell vegetables, fruits on Sundays at a really good price. I still feel somewhat intimidated when dealing with the locals. Being the yabanci that I am (foreigner) They see me coming from a mile away. The tattoo is also quite a bit of a thing here. Everyone stares at it with more or less boldness, It does separate me from the rest. My poor Turkish too make me nervous as I just know enough not to really understand what is being said. I got figs, cherries, peaches, some greenery, and went back to the apartment, climbing the 5 high ceilinged stories of steps to our door.

 

I head back out again. I told Bartin that I’d have a surprise for him. I wanted to buy him one of those plug in mosquito killing devices… I solved my problem in my room by putting a screen in the window. He is eaten alive at the hostel and I had this idea of buying him the device so he could sleep better.

 

I went to the local Dia grocery store. I looke everywhere but do not find the device… I ask the cashier

 

“Ingilizce biliyor musun?”

 

She gestures at me and grimaces apologetically.

 

Hmm…

 

“Sivrisinek” (mosquito) … then I make the gesture of cutting my neck with my right hand…

 

She processes for a second and answers something containing sivrisinek and I answer

 

“Evet!”

 

She takes me down the isle and shows me the bug killing gizmos shelves.

 

I see something that looks like what I am searching for, grab it and pay. I will be able to give my surprise!

 

I text Bartin writing : I have your suprise, do you have a minute?

 

He does.

 

He head out once again, up Omer Hayyam and make my way to the Chill Out. It feels good to be giving something. Make someone smile. He laughs when he sees what it is. A useful surprise that is.

 

We hang out for a while. And then to my delight a girl I had met a few weeks ago at the hostel but lost contact, showed up.

 

She is Iranian. A beautiful woman. She is on quite an adventure herself. She is a business woman but also a belly dancer. In her country it is not acceptable to dance. She says you are considered to be a prostitute… Here she can dance. She says she’s had some tough weeks, finding herself out of the accommodations she was occupying and out of a job. I realize that she is also on a spiritual journey. Come to think of it, aren’t we all? Behind the excuses of material life, it seems we are all searching for a Truth we know exist but cannot quite believe, find or access…

 

We go out to eat a bite. She has blond hair and is quite stunning. When we walk in the restaurant all men turn to look at her, smile a her, offer her free tea…

 

“They are all after something else… “ she says.

 

It’s almost comical to see how they are bent out of shape, how everyone else in the vicinity disappears as they gaze at her. We start to chat. Quickly, we are into spiritual realms. A fellow on a quest. I tell her a few things. She says:

 

“My friend told me the same thing today… it must be a sign… Thank you.. . Thank you…”

 

It feels good to talk to another woman. I have been amazed at how few women I see around or can exchange with… Where are they all? My 6 room mates are men, my new friends are all men… The female energy feels good.

 

We finish our sandwiches and head back to the Chill Out. There another Iranian girl who walks in. She is an actress in Paris and is a friend to my friend the dancer, her name is Mina. The dancer tells Mina about my singing. She had heard me sing one night at the hostel.

 

Mina turned her beautiful gaze to me and demanded:

 

“Sing!”

 

This is the second time in two weeks that I am requested such a thing and I freeze up. At this very moment I don’t even know how to produce a sound. I give excuses of not having the guitar…

 

“I don’t care about the guitar! Sing!”

 

So I do. A bit quietly. The dancer says:

 

“this is not the voice you had… you were singing stronger…”

 

So I gathered my energies and entered the realm and sang. Mina’s eyes grew wide. She is beautiful. An outwardly shining star, … like all of us really… but actors do have a way to glow so to capture your soul.

 

I wish I had my guitar. I should walk around carrying that instead of the computer… I should take to write in notebooks…

 

The receptionist stops the radio, everyone stops what they are doing and they listen. It’s a special moment. It comes. It passes.

 

After that, the dancer showed us a video of her performing. We watched her, bold, powerful, magnificent. Woman. It is wondrous. Her power is astounding.

 

 

They talk about being women in Iran. Mina talks about her admiration for these women who look all cute and pretty and proper but have hearts of lions under the scarves and the long dark coverings. I weigh my upbringing, my chance, my luck… they are lionesses in this man’s world, one acting, the other dancing… When one thinks of that, it is pretty sobering. And it makes it even more of a duty for all free women to exist and act on their own free terms. We have this duty to be. We must have the faith to jump, plunge. The resolve to not be deterred by ghosts. Sooner or later life will bring the true obstacles… Why do we give up so easily, so quickly acting as if we accept the very concept of our feminine weakness and disadvantage.

 

 

Gradually everyone filed out of the Chill Out cafe but the three of us. Night advancing, the moon as bright as can be. We finally head out, each of us to our respective temporary homes. It is now so quiet on the streets. As I cross Tarlabasi, I look in the distance, the mosques shining in the night, the sky illuminated by this incredible moon, a breeze blows. The taxi drivers blow their horns at me, expectantly hoping for a fare. I keep walking. I look down and my little grocery store is still open! It’s 3 AM. A kid is placing tomatoes in the racks. Something you wouldn’t see in America, A kid working in the store at 3 AM. I get a loaf of bread, 75 kurus. Head home. The little restaurant is also still opened. People work hard, long hours for the money.

 

I feel like I am now recognized on the street not by having talked to anyone, but just by being recognized. It is just a feeling, first I felt the curiosity, now they know me. I am part of the neighborhood.

 

I climb up the stairs, Firat is still up. I eat some fruit and drink some tea. He shows me his website. It’s impressive, everything from drawings, to 3D animation, to video art.

 

Wow. Another beautiful day. I am happy. I should really get to sleep!

June 23, 2013

As the days and weeks passed by, I had been waking up choking, coughing and all around not feeling so good; cigarette smoke. Somehow my room is a funnel where all the air drafts through and this air includes the smoke from up to 6 smokers.

 

During the day I would just leave, as I felt a sort of physical panic that I didn’t quite recognize. I realized that the smoke made me want to go away and not want to come back.

 

I also was considering taking the road. Get a bike and go see the country since my lessons are not going anywhere. I spent a large part of Monday and Tuesday scouring the internet looking for bikes, prices, what is available etc. I had my list of favorites ready on Sahibinden, a classified ads site, and started to look at the paperwork required for a foreigner to purchase such a thing. As I researched I became clear that I need the residency permit. And as I researched some more I  found out that the actual rule of 3 months in and 3 months out on a tourist visa are unavoidable. I had been told different things by different sources but now this looks to be law.

 

One more reason to go after the residency permit. Otherwise I have to leave Turkey by the end of August and be away for September, October, November and Europe being what it is, I am not sure I can financially afford to just wait and tour around for 3 months… or I’d have to find some sort of work or something…

 

So residency permit means I need an address, with the smoke issue, the next step seemed to inevitably be to find a new apartment.  On Friday I sat down with the single minded purpose of finding this new place. I found this cute room, send an email back and got a quick reply. At 8 PM I was checking out the place and it was really great.  Cute, cozy, close to Beyoglu,  I was all excited. Wow, I succeeded I thought.  The next step was to deposit the rent money ito the the girl’s account first thing Saturday and all would be set.

 

Now I also  have to tell my room mates that I will be leaving.  It felt bad because they all are really great guys, nothing wrong with them at all, the only issue really being the smoke and since I am in Turkey,being a non-smoker made me the odd man(woman)  out, it didn’t even occur to me to bring it up.

 

Saturday morning I saw Hakan, he is the one who offered me the room. I told him that I was moving out. He asked me why.

 

“The smoke, it is getting worse, I wake up coughing and fatigued, my lungs are tight and it makes me feel like running away, like I can’t stay here and do what I have to do.”

 

“Oh, really…   Oh, I understand.” He did not make anymore of an issue of it than that.

 

“Is there any other issue?” He asked.

 

“No, really, I like all of you very much, it’s just that smoke…”

 

I headed out. I went to this new cafe I found and sat for a while writing, looking at the next things I will need to get together to get the residency permit, forms, etc. When I looked at the clock, it was already 5 PM. How late are the banks are open? Dunno..  The Garanti Bank branch is up at Taksim Square, which is a little bit of a walk from here, I put my things away and headed out.

 

It’s beautifully sunny. Istiklal is filled with people. There is a protest organized at Taksim at 7 PM and already protesters are starting to fill the street. It’s in the air. When I arrived at the bank it was already closed.  Hmm.. OK, lets go back home and email her to let her know…

 

I make it home and Hakan is sitting in the living room with Ilhan.  He immediately asked me:

 

“So the main reason you want to leave is the smoke?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What if we did not smoke?”

 

“Uh?”

 

“What if we went on the balcony or outside on the terrace?” There would be no smoke inside…”

 

“But, uh….. I can’t really ask all of you to do that… I’m the only non-smoker… it’s your house…”

 

“We are human beings capable of changing.  It would actually be better for us… We smoke pounds of this tobacco, he said pointing at the large bags sitting on the couch, it’s not good for us, maybe we’d smoke less… There are things that are necessities… like oxygen, food, water… this is one of them…”

 

I was flabbergasted. I could not quite comprehend this offer. I mean, usually smokers in a smokers house smoke when they feel like it.  Being the last in this home I certainly didn’t feel any rights to ask for anything. I kept repeating  “but there are 6 of you…”

 

And then he said: “ You never said anything about it… you never brought it up…”

 

I didn’t because I never thought I had any say in this. And that brought back a comment that my friend Bartin said to me recently:

 

“Speak up! Be wrong! Say what you think when you think it.” As he caught me red handed playing my ever so conciliatory mode, where I agree to everything and keep my thoughts to myself and do the “deal with it”.   This is the friend who told me the first night I was here that he thought my Turkish song was not good.   So honest. A mirror.

 

Hakan was right. I never said anything, bottled it in, reasoned, try to deal with this in silence as best I could then my best solution was to run… Which is something I’ve been doing a lot. Running.

 

Hmmm… Here is a chance for me to grow. Silly? Well, not so silly. To me it’s incredibly deep. To learn to express myself, share my thoughts with others means that I respect myself and in the end, respect others by trusting their judgments. What seemed to be the selfish thing at first was to tell my flatmates what I needed, It was not so selfish after all. Running away was in fact be the selfish thing…

 

Then Ilhan who is a very gentle, quiet man who never speaks much or loudly said something that Hakan translated :

 

“You bring in fresh air to this house…”

 

Those simple words….  they were so full of acceptance, welcoming and human love.  I was dumbfounded, I felt something in my heart that was very powerful and that felt very correct in the sense of being aligned with the order of things in the universe.  But I didn’t say anything yet. All of this was rolling in my head…

 

“Would you like cafe?” Hakan asked.

 

“Yes. I would.”

As Hakan was about to get up to go make coffee in the kitchen Ilhan gestured :

“I’ll make it.”

 

He got up in his light, peaceful way and headed to the kitchen. He came back a few minutes later with three small cups of Turkish coffee, Hakan went to his room and brought back a chocolate bar he opened and broke in pieces to share with all of us. I felt as rich as one can feel. Their generosity, honesty, simplicity moved me to the core. I could not be among better people.

 

We chatted and laughed. Maron arrived home as well as Fırat, the “smoking ban” was accepted without questioning, a slight shrug, “OK, no problem”. We were all sitting around the table. I went to my room and got my guitar. I hadn’t played in a few days, because when I start feeling like running I can’t play much. But now I did.

 

“What is this?!?!” asked Meron when he saw the Go guitar.

 

“A guitar.” I said laughing

 

“Naaaahhh!!!” Meron is Italian, from Milan, he is very, very expressive. I gave him the guitar to look at. I told them about it having been made just for me.

 

The room darkened as night came, two candles were lit, incense… I played for a long while and everyone was sitting still. It was truly magical.

 

At some point we heard the sound of tear gas being shot.  We went out to the window and there it was, rising between the buildings up the street. I figured that this was going to happen since protests have been outlawed. Some people are running down the street, hands to their mouths, trying to avoid the gas. Some are running up the street to go see what is going on.

 

A bit later Meron asked :

“You want çorba?” (soup)

 

Yes. We all did. So Meron, Fırat, Hakan and myself walked up the street and had lentil soup for 4 liras (2 dollars). We are sitting on this terrace, I can feel the gas on my face, the slight burn.  But we sit here as if nothing was going on, we eat, laugh create another magical moment I will wish to remember. A cat comes between the tables. It is Istanbul, there are protests just up the street, tear gas and police violence a few thousand meters away, a zillions taxi cabs course the small narrow streets hungering for a fare. We eat and when we’re done, they light up a cigarette. Nothing is ever rushed around here. Hakan is the first to leave as he is working the night shift at the hostel. After a while Meron says :

 

“Lets go see what is happening…”

 

As we approach, the smell of gas is more obvious.  My throat immediately starts to itch. I didn’t have my scarf with me… Fırat offers me his gas mask.

 

We walk up  Istiklal. It is wearing its riot night look. Detritus everywhere, chanting people, masks, goggles and scarves are the thing.  Flags, maks and food sellers are doing swift business. We try to see what is going on ahead. Maron is very comfortable on the streets. He told me a bit earlier how he grew up in Milan on mean street. He comes back towards Fırat and I

 

“They built a barricade…”

 

Suddenly it happens, the hush ,like a wind turning, people start to run away from the barricade.

 

“Yavaş, Yavaş”(slowly, slowly) says Meron, the cry is repeated. But ahead, the police makes its slow unavoidable progress. We see the water cannon shooting, just out of reach of us. “Run!” says Firat.

 

We run. Fırat extends a hand, grabs my forearm. We run in the night along with hundreds of protesters.

 

“Careful! Careful!” he says to me as we negotiate different obstacles

 

“Where is Meron!?”

 

He is right behind us. As I look back I see the cloud of gas rising. Thankfully we’re just out of reach. We turn the corner towards the bridge that takes us over to Omer Hayyam. The moon is almost full, vividly bright tonight. Still is this  multitude of yellow taxi cabs coming from all directions, clogging the roads, all of them empty. I wonder how they make ends meet.

 

We decide to walk back home.

 

I go check my emails. The girl from the room is asking what happened as I was supposed to have deposited the money in her account, she says another person wants the room… OK. I have to decide. I call Hakan at the hostel.

 

“Is there gas over there?”

 

“No, there was some earlier but it’s quiet now.”

 

“I am coming over, I want to talk to you.”

 

It’s past 1 AM. I grab my goggles, and scarf this time. I tell Ihan I am going to the hostel and head out.

 

When I arrive there, Hakan is outside smoking. I told him I made my decision. He listens. First I said how amazed I am at his way to handle this. I tell him how much he surprised me.  I tell him that I will stay. He is glad.   We chat about all sorts of things for a while.  Bartin comes out. He knew about my finding a new room. I tell him about this change.

 

“Lots of change.” He says with a smile.

 

“Yeah.  This is all about me speaking my mind.  There is quite a bit of learning…”

 

“Yes.” He said still smiling.

 

“I love this place. I don’t want to leave.” I told him

 

I made my way back to the apartment. Called Hakan back to let him know I made it safely. I grab my saz and play a little bit quietly.

 

“Want some toast?” asks Fırat.

 

“Yes please” I say.

 He starts making the toast in this contraption, a metal sort of clamp that one heats up on the stove top.  

 

I join him in the living room. We chat some more. About Sufi music. He shows me some amazing clips of sufi trance music on YouTube. He tells me about his desire to get out of the body. “Be in the Cosmos” he says as he extends his arms and I can actually see the darkness, the open emptiness he wishes for.  He tells me about his desire to go and travel, be out in vast open spaces. Yes, how I can totally relate to that.

 

In the still darkness, the call to prayer rises. It’s somewhere between 4 and 5 AM.  I am playing the saz ever so quietly in the wee morning hours.  

 

“I should go sleep” I said. I lay down. I am at peace. I am in love with this incredible place. Full of contradictions, extremes, beauty, ruggedness and its bluntly honest and unfathomably generous people. The journey continues. Monday I plan to go to the music conservatory and see if they can direct me towards saz teachers. But I am not worried. I am not concerned. I am realizing that all the learning I came to do might not necessarily be on the saz. I fall asleep.

 

 

 

 

Istanbul cats, part 2

June 19, 2013

b69

 

b65

 

b62

 

b59

 

b49

 

b48

 

 

b47

 

b39

 

b38

 

b36

 

 

 

Peaceful

June 19, 2013

I just spent two hours at Taksim.  Just standing up silently. 

Earlier today I noticed a peaceful vibe in the air.  For the first time in days.  Even the tramway was back on Istiklal.  

The day had been good for me as I practiced quite a bit and wrote quite a bit too.  I had started a collection of poems last September.  I think I got them all now.  I wanted at least ten.  I’m not sure how I am going to call this little collection but I think I will self publish them. 

So walking back from my espresso haunt, I soaked in the neighborhoods, the calm, the gorgeous light, too more cat pictures and generally enjoyed the walk.  

In front of Starbucks I had noticed 3 women standing in silence…  they were facing the store…  

When I got home my flatmates were watching the news and that is when I realized that there was a silent protest going on.  

I practiced some more and when my head and fingers couldn’t do it anymore, I headed out for a walk, arrived at Taksim Square.  Approached the police lines and just stood there.  I meditated for the whole time.  

I walked back leisurely, it was already past 1 AM.  The moon is large, yellowing in the sky, incredibly beautiful.  In the distance the mosques are all lit up.  The taxis honk their horn at me, they do that expecting you’ll jump in…  

A good day in Istanbul.  Peace tasted like fresh melon.  

I was ordering food when this happened right in front of us. Notice the orange substance with the water… Gas coming from between the buildings. Police shooting tear gas bombs directly at people. All for us to record.