A long, long day

July 8, 2013

OK, made a cup of coffee, I’m getting ready to write. It’s 4:05 PM, Sunday, Istanbul. I am so tired, my head pulses, my body is weary. Sleep is important but sometimes you just don’t happen to get it.


Lets rewind. Friday night. I am in my room, with a purpose. I made lists and plans and I am ready to execute some of those things. First, upload the songs for Beat It To Pieces to BandCamp and CD Baby, get all the music ready to actually finally release this CD.


I have been getting ready to play on the street and there is a list of things for this too. I need a microphone and a cable, I looked into that and the prices here are exhorbitant… Crystal came to the rescue… I will also make CDs to sell on the street, just burn them as I go… Today I also made the appointment for my residency permit…


I worked until I heard the morning call to prayer… yeah, that means 4:30 AM or so… Then I meditated, by the time I’m in bed it’s 5 AM. I feel good because I have a sense of things getting some sort of direction. I fall asleep.


Argh… Ak! Ak! Damn… Smoke. I wake up all messed up. What time is it? I look at my phone… Man.. it’s 6 AM… I cough a bit more. I’m tired, angry and feeling a bit freaked… The smoke does that. Especially when you are asleep. I realized that it triggers a “flight” response. Like a panic, where is the air? It’s as if you are being put under siege in your sleep and when you wake up all those instincts: fight/flight are right there ready to react.


I get up and get out of my room. Yes, someone is smoking… we had this agreement… but as I expected it wouldn’t work. It keeps happening and I wake up like this… I keep running away from the house to get out of that… And right then and there, I decided, as I know full well that despite the best intentions things are not going to change, I decided to leave. Yeah, I just paid a full month’s rent, but I can’t deal with this. I am fed up with trying to reason myself into passivity. Fuck it. I’m going. With that decision made, I slept a fitful sleep until 8 AM. At 8 I got up, went out, up the hill, into the morning sun and walked to the hostel. I am so tired, I was already tired from the last few days, I make it to the hostel. Bartin is at the desk.


“You have rooms?”


“Something is going on?”




“Yes we have rooms.” And then he takes a funny accommodating tourism industry tone of voice, I play along.”


“What would you like? We have the single rooms, the 4 bed dorm, 6 and 10… How long will you stay with us?…


“Would you like for me to pay this now?”


“No that’s fine, you can pay when you check out.”


OK, step one… I have a room. In the Chillout cafe is this Canadian girl I met yesterday. She is a student in ethno musicology at a Texas university. Very bright, intelligent girl. The day before we had had a long conversation, she showed me her çumbuş (djumbush) an instrument that is a cross between a banjo and an oud (a fretless stringed instrument with a metal body) which I got to try, then we had gone for some food. It was a great meeting. So there she was in the cafe, I said hi, she is still struggling with jetlag.


We chatted for a while and then Bartin said I could go have a nap (it was all before check in time) so I went up and slept a bit. It’s hot. There is major constructions all around the hostel. The jackhammers pound incessantly so I close the window, it gets hot really quickly I put in ear plugs and fall slowly into a sort of sleep.


When I wake up, its time to go get my things. I have more than I did a month ago. I have acquired a few things, like a cushion to meditate, which I hesitated to get as it is big and it is one of those sort of possessions that speaks of settling… I had taken a chance in buying it and now I have to lug that around, along with the amplifier, the envelopes, the coat hangers I had gotten… how fast we accumulate stuff…


I get to the apartment, gather everything, write a note to Hakan as they are all sleeping, leave it on my bed with the keys and head out. Guitar, baglama, amplifier, bag with cushion and massive, massively heavy suitcase down the five flights of marble stairs. Outside, Omer Hayyam is busltling with traffic. It is mid day, there are many taxis going by, all full, finally one pulls over for me.


“Pera Musesi lütfen.”


the Museum is quite close to the hostel.


“Ne Kadar?”


“Beş lira.”


I get the backpack the guitar and the saz on my back. The cushion in my right hand. The amp on the suitcase and pull up the last block up to Chill Out. A few more stairs and I’m home. I have a 4 bed dorm room to myself for the moment. I pick the double bed against the window as there is room to stow the instruments there. Phew. Home. I don’t know what it is about this place but I am home here. I read a bit and fall asleep for about 40 minutes.


When I wake up, I take a shower. I am heading to the Turkuaz language school for a level test. I will start Turkish classes next week. I dress up head out, walk down Istiklal, it is very crowded, Saturdays are always busy, bursting with life. There is also a demonstration planned for tonight. Political groups are out with handing out flyers, yelling on the street about the events, meetings. There is a febrility in the air, I sense that it will be intense tonight.


I manage to find the school, which is in itself a bit of a feat. I am pretty happy about that. On Google Maps it looked like a “street, in reality it is a tiny passage behind a building and back there a tree, birds singing, so quiet, a little heaven. I go up the steps, the door is open, I can see a classroom where all the windows are open, I hear Turkish, laughter, a nice breeze blows through, it’s beautiful.


The teacher comes to me and sets me up with my language test.


She says in Turkish,

“There are 100 questions, if you do 100 you have the diploma..”


“I won’t make the diploma! That’s for sure!”


I sit there by myself, by question 25 it’s starting to be waaay waay over my head… by question 50 I have no clue.


When it’s all said and done she says I can start at level 2 and if it’s too hard then I’d go back to level one. Classes start on monday at 9:30 Argh… that will be a shift in schedule…


I walk back to the hostel. My head is full of all the stuff I’ve been looking at. I’m excited at the prospect of learning more. I feel I will be able to get along quite well if I learn just a little bit more. I suddenly think of how fast I’m walking as I see a woman, obviously a tourist, looking all self important and walking really fast and almost hitting me. It makes me think of my own way of going so fast all the time. As I think that I look up and I see the back of a man’s T-shirt that says : “Go Slow”


I burst out laughing. OK, I get the message! Then the next person walking towards me wears a T-shirt that says : “ Speeding” and something else… OK, OK, I really get it! I slow down. Look around. Yes. It’s still incredible. The vibe, the energy, the color of the light. The sky, that wind… I look at the faces around me and I see so much beauty. Oh life. Oh life…


IAt the hostel I drop off my bag and just grab a bit of money to go get some pilav. My friend Sam is coming, he is a percussionist we played on the street together. We eat our dinner and hang out.


“You wanna play” he says


For a while we’ve been hearing the crowds outside, heavy chanting, banging, the energy is revving up and starting to get on the harder side. Inside the hostel there are lots of faces I don’t know.


“Yeah, I think so. Let me go get my guitar.”


I go upstairs and get the guitar, the amplifier and come back down. We start playing a bit. In the midst of people, without a pretense, simply. Outside waves of people start to run. Police is coming. We can see just out the door, 20 feet away, people rushing wearing gas masks, scarves and goggles mixed with startled if not scared tourists. Bang! Psh.. Gas. A few rush in we close the door as the cloud of gas rises up in the evening sky.


“Move back…”


we move to the back of the cafe, let the wave go by, Sam and I set up in the upper section of the cafe and resume playing. And so the evening starts. We play as waved after wave of running demonstrators rush up and down the street here, running away from police, then back up, with chants, bands, fists up back to protest. The mood inside is interesting. There is definitely a stress, Sam is nervous, I feel quite safe here. At one point a tear gas bomb explodes very close to the hostel. He stops playing. I said:


“Keep playing… don’t stop. When we play we keep people cheered up. It makes everyone feel that everything is OK. They used to do this in the wild west.. ”


So we keep playing as night comes. Waves of gas. We can feel it increase, tingling eyes, throat, noses. I put my scarf over my mouth and keep playing. It is mystical. A sort of circle of energy has formed in the room. A sort of solidarity, of joyfulness in the face of this madness. It is truly madness…


Outside it’s very intense. It is the most intense I’ve seen this so far. On Istiklal I hear, they have built a barricade. Now they are banging on the metal wall circling the construction site across from us. The din is indescribable and that makes the police very angry.


Suddenly outside it’s mayhem. A group of protesters rushed in, the first guy falls on his knees, and as he does, following a loud bang, gas rises, right in front of our door, another bang and a cannister of gas lands inside, someone throws it back out. A thick white cloud of fresh gas engulfs the cafe.


“UP! UP! GO UP THE STAIRS!!!” Yells Bartin, about 15 people rush up. I was way in the back, I unplugged my guitar and follow in the back and get a serious dose of gas. My eyes burn intensely. I can open them. I am at the bottom of the stairs sitting on the ground hugging my guitar and not really wanting to move. Someone grabs me.


“come up, come up…” I feel their arms on my shoulders. My eyes are closed, I’m trying not to breathe. The world turned into a dark room filled with strange sensations. Gas gives your body a strange high composed of pain, stupor and adrenaline. Someone tries to take the guitar from me..




“Are you OK? Can you breathe?”




I cough once, twice, more gas comes in the hostel. We are now on the first landing and people start to rush upstairs. I cough some more and that triggers pain in my throat. A girl comes to me and splashes the “milk” the concoction people use around here to fight the burning, but to me it seems to make things worse. My eyes are running, my nose is running… I cough some more. That is not good. The more I cough the more it seems that my capacity to breathe diminishes. The stairwell is now getting loaded with gas.


“Come! Come!”


My legs are getting rubbery. As we go up the stairs I realize that I can’t breathe. as I am being rushed up the steps the exertion is too much for my capacity to take in oxygen. In mere moments, I can’t breathe. I am gasping with ugly wheezes. I manage to say


“I … can’t .. breathe..”


I almost black out. I want to stop. Curl. I feel arms around me. They get me to the top of the stairs as I struggle to take in air and it’s not working. Bartin grabs me, I feel so weak, strange how fast that all took place, a few minutes… he takes me a few steps down in front of an emergency door.


People yell


“close that door! Gas is coming in!”


“Air… air…” I manage to say…


We sit there for a few moments and the air brings me back…


“Thank you…”


“I’ll take you to my room”


On the fifth floor we get in a room. I”m still wheezing but I’m “here”. Three girls come in with me. They are wearing gas masks. One of them, I can see her beautiful dark brown eyes looking at me with concern. She grabs a magazine and fans air towards me. This gesture, simple, felt to me as if someone threw a life jacket at me as I was drowning. I am so grateful.


We sit there for a while. My body feels as if I had done some sort of violent interval training. I get these deep sighs raking me from time to time. We chat a bit. Relax. Laugh a little. Wow…


After a while we decide to go out. We open the door and then hear music from the top floor. We go up and there the rest of the escapees have gathered they are playing music, laughing.


The whole things turns into the warmest, most human gathering one can imagine. Outside the gas keeps being blown in the air. We see clouds of it rise at regular intervals. But we are here, out of time out of place in a bubble of humanity… how to describe? People from Turkey, Spain, England, Germany, Canada, USA… joined together with music and a common experience. At one point Sam got a hold of a penny whistle and started to play, Ali had my guitar and played along with Sam. There was a harmonica.. voices…


At some point the guitar came back to me. One thing leading to another, we played a blues and then someone said “Istiklal blues..” and I started improvising a song about us, about the night and the tear gas bombs… it was crazy, Sam said I looked high, a gas high! I was laughing. Someone taped the “Istiklal blues” and so we turned this nightmare into an unforgettable moment… The spirit of humans…


Finally we went back downstairs. Hung out. I feel exhausted physically. In my mind I am so amazed by the moment. By everyone. Yeah. Adrenaline junkie… We are hungry… someone pulls out beers, I end up with one. I drink. The girls tried to find food, we find some scraps of bread, olives, I had some tomato sauce, we are starving. Tan, one of the two German motorcyclists goes out on a hunt for food. He comes back with pide and bread. It’s a celebration. We laugh, talk. Then Tugba learns that her friend has been arrested by police. Oh… She is worried. We comfort her.


At some point Hakan arrives… Oh yeah, this morning… when was that??? I move out of the flat! I hadn’t talked to him about it. We talk a bit. He is disappointed… not about me but about the fact that his roommates would not keep their word.. he said Ilhan thought it was a shame… I understand that but I also know the nature of the cigarette addiction, it so consumes the addicted person… I sort of thought it was going to be pretty much impossible for all the smokers to change their habits of smoking inside just for me….



But so it goes… I think the hostel will be the place to be for now…


The night advances on. I go to bed, try to sleep but cannot. I went back downstairs and sat outside with one German friend and we chat for a while, enjoying the cool breeze. Finally I sense that I will be able to sleep. He climb the stairs back up, take a deep breath and go to sleep.





2 Responses to “A long, long day”

  1. Açalya Says:

    Wow! What a day! I am proud of you!

  2. bonnie blu Says:

    I really like your blogs & many of your pictures.your doing a great job.

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