Up, down. Still here.

May 20, 2015

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the view from my window

I sit here in my new place. It’s been 10 days now. It feels good, really good to have a home. Last week, I was told that I would have 2 nights a week to play at Atolye, steady money I thought. And we were doing the walking tours, a little more income there, and I had an offer to maybe play in a new place. All was grooving nicely. Then last week, as we had a big group on a walking tour and things were just going beautifully as we approached the Golden Horn, we were accosted quite brutally by an official tour guide and 3 other people, with cameras, filming us. They told us.. or more accurately, yelled at us that we were doing something illegal by doing our walks, they followed and harassed us, threatened to call police… end result: we stopped doing the walks. And to top this, this afternoon, the phone rang and I was told that my extra day of work at Atolye was cancelled. In a short few days, my income almost disappears.

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The surviving walking tour participants after the “attack of the licensed guides”

Accept. Trust. Have faith. I tell myself.

Yeah, I love my new place, I love walking to it. From one side, there is a tiny park, trees, grass, then the Golden Horn in the horizon, and birds singing! The neighborhood is clean, unpretentious, peaceful. Always a cat in this park, going somewhere, coming here. The tension releases, sometimes some kids sit together in the grass. Sometimes it is old men in the mid-day heat retreating from the madness. Sometimes you can hear rehearsals from the high school that is there, Turkish music with drums and zurna…

What must be will be. Inshallah.

The light today… I went and met a friend we went to the Old City, in Fatih. He generously paid for a whole spread of foods. Syrian food. He is Syrian and wanted me to experience his food. We went to his favorite place, sat facing the Wednesday pazar. There was a booth with shoes hanging from ropes, all colors, all shapes, hundreds of them, it must take forever to hang them up… there are vegetable and fruit sellers right in front of us. But the light. This gold. I think how much I need this light to feel alive. When I think of the northern countries I shudder… the gray…. I love the gold, I need the gold to fill my eyes, here it is, filtering through the white tarps covering the pazar, hanging into the cotton things floating in the wind, rugs, bed sheets, it pours itself onto the tables, people’s faces and clothes, especially things that are white, they then turn to warmth.

Back in Taksim I met with another friend who came to help me carry a crazy purchase I just made, yeah, I got brave (or stupid) and bought an espresso machine. I figure that I spend over 2000 lira a year on espresso, the machine is 200 lira. I would start saving money and enjoying the coffee in my new home. In about 2 months it would be paid for. So I went for it. I’ve been wanting this for 2 years… It’s beautiful, and it feels really, really special. It’s Christmas like. I am very excited. A new box, a new shiny thing, when was the last time I purchased anything other than food and the bare necessities? It’s so luxurious… It’s an act of trust and faith (or stupidity) that all will be OK that I will be able to take care of myself. That I’ll be able to pay the rent. Right?

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The “crazy” purchase

Two days ago, looking for work, I answered an ad on Craigslist. Yesterday I was surprised for one to get an answer, and secondly an answer that felt like a real person was there. Transcription work; listen to interviews and transcribe them. The pay is low. Istanbul style. But it would be income. I responded then I was asked to do a sort of audition by transcribing 2 minutes of an audio interview and to adhere to the work’s specific guidelines. I made mistakes. Of course. But the guy is ready to give me a try. Bottom of the ladder… but I know I can do well. He says he’ll send me one job soon, then I have 3 days to turn it around. And not make formatting mistakes.

Hot, cold, win, lose. Work, no work. The speed at which these changes of direction are coming at me are dizzying. Every 10 days or so, everything changes drastically, jobs, work, home, agreements broken, promises neglected. Every 10 days or so, something new appears, sparkling and shining, stirring hopes, then it vanishes. Reality shapes itself then dissolves unexpectedly.

You learn to dance with it. But now I need to pay this rent and I want to pay this rent, so I can have this nest for a while at least. Heal, grow strong, create, build.

“All of this happens and you still want to be here?” Commented Alican after I told him about the walking tour thing.

“yeah.”

In a way nothing matters. It’s all beautiful. Truly. It’s all grand and incredibly complex, un-apprehendable, my limited human senses so inadequate to capture the full meaning of all the forces at play. So I’ll be patient, a good student, I’ll wait to see the answers life, the Gods or whatever you call it will bring me.

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The last while

May 11, 2015

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Saturday Morning May 9th
The breeze, the spring breeze, caressing everything, soothing everyone. In the air surfing this breeze the banderolles of white, orange and blue sway, dance gracefully. The sun, gentle this morning, gives us some gold to absorb. These days I have written very little, I have practiced very little, I have walked very much. I left Chillout this past Tuesday, it was time to move on.

Right now, the street leading to Istiklal is deconstructed, the cobble stones in piles, a trench in the middle of the road. They put this “caution” plastic tape along the sidewalk and long end strands of it float in the wind, a young tabby cat is skillfully playing with the loose ends, his big yellow eyes stare at me for a moment while I watch him, nervy young thing. A few steps up the hill, another young cat, black and white this time, does the same. Cats, cats, cats… For the moment I am staying at a friend’s house. After deciding to leave Tuesday, I had posted a note on Facebook asking if anyone knew of anything about a place to stay. She invited me immediately, they have a free room in the flat at the moment, for about 10 days. She is a sweet person, so gentle, beautiful, her laughter like a cascade of shiny things. The building she lives in, is one that I had wished I could live in when I first came to Galata. Architecturally it’s a gorgeous place, it is one of these homes built on an intersection, in a triangular shape, very distinctive. Now I am in it for a little bit, I get to enjoy this place.

At the end of winter
It’s been a long time since I gave word on what was news for me… there’s been many, many things going on. I had some sort of depression. First I felt like the weight of the world was falling on my shoulders, all the pain, the suffering, the madness and violence. It became too much. I would just cry. This hyper sensitivity followed me. Things got incredibly dark, difficult. I found myself back at the hostel not really wanting this at all. I was grateful for the help, but it was also back into the wheel that grinds me with fatigue and lack of quiet. I sank into some sort of personal dungeon of self invalidation of incredible self directed meanness. Every word would cut like a knife, every street scene too much to bear. Something that was kind of symbolic too was that everything I have was breaking down, my clothes, my glasses, I felt myself sinking in a sort of terminal dissolution, feeling guilty for not being more successful. I was unable to go out and seek jobs, I felt that everyone would see a destitute, ugly, desperate woman. Thankfully close friends really, really were there for me despite my discombobulation. My mother too… I can’t thank her enough for her words, for the fact that I know she is there… that she cares. I realize once more that the match is never really totally, absolutely won with one’s personal daemons. It seems that they never are really totally K.O.’ed when it comes to the mind. These things reappear out of nowhere without warning.

Late April
But not all was flailing, at the end of April I had the great privilege to participate in a Turkish traditional singing workshop with Eleonore and Salih, she is French he is Kurdish and they both play and sing. I had seen the notice to “join” the workshop on Facebook, I signed up then realized it was way over my ability to pay. I wrote to Eleonore and offered to help them in exchange for the chance to participate in the course. She wrote to me, we met in Besiktas, talked for a while, and Eleonore generously accepted.

I spent a week in Uskudar, a neighborhood across the Bosphorus on the Asian side. My contribution was to help around the house, to be there for the 7 guest staying at the flat. I prepared breakfast for them, kept the house clean and functional. I got to meet really amazing people, they were all music lovers, all from France and really great to get along. I learned so many things that week, we even played a concert at the end of the 6 days, I did not believe I could pull it off, but together we did and it was great fun. The music we studied came from all over Turkey, different styles, meters, makams. To be finally doing this for “real” for a whole week was so very cool for me. I felt so lucky. This was the reason I came to Turkey, to learn this music, and there I was finally learning something. It was interesting to see that all my friends who saw me during that week were saying how happy I looked. It made me think… made me think about all this… my life here, my process here. As much as the desire was clear when I left North America, I soon ran into the very basic survival challenges: have some sort of home, some money, some space and time to study and practice and could never get this happening long enough to be able to pursue valid studies. The biggest obstacle has been the fact that there was never stability long enough for anything to really progress. I would do a burst of learning, then came life’s storms with the struggles for food, work, roof over my head and the creative desires are the last thing one tends to.

But please do not feel sorry or worry for me. I would not trade all this living for anything. Those were and are my choices, I am in no way a victim. The friendships I made, the discoveries, the experiences, all priceless all part of my Journey of learning. This instability lead me into zones of personal growth and understanding I could have never faced back home, in the security and comfort setting. To shake what you think are the real foundations of your life, see them slip away allowed me to realize that on other side of the fears, lies another level of understanding to stand on, a new ground. It does rattle you, sometimes quite deeply, but there is also the freedom found when you realize that these strong emotions, fears, all these are just a surface thing, they come they go while the true being stays steady. This was the quest I started in 2010 on the motorcycle,and it continues. I realize the “practice” I must do now. to stay neutral, perceiving, seeing, feeling what is the actuality, and not lose myself in the flow of drama that us humans like to call life.

At the workshop I had a deep conversation one night with Emmanuelle. She suddenly handed me a book, out of the blue. Of course it was a book about the spiritual journey. She was going to lend it to me, I started to read it, and the first lines touched me immediately, this book was going to guide me. The next day I gave it back to her, because with my “living out of the backpack” life, her book was soon going to get damaged. She said no, keep it. It was one of those moments. One of those times when life hands you answers via its messengers. I have been reading this book finding immense comfort and guidance the wisdom in the words in it helping me align myself towards peace. Thanks Emmanuelle.

Also at the end of April

During this period I almost launched a new venture. We were going to manage a hostel. 4 of us. We were very excited, dreaming, creating a new reality, but the meetings with the person we were dealing with would one day be so promising and the next day so dispiriting. A roller coaster of “yaaaayyy!!!” and “hmmmpfhhh”. The day we were going to commit to this venture, at the 11th hour, the feeling of getting into a sinking ship became too clear and too strong to ignore and we decided to bow out. It did leave a bit of a void, big disappointment. I had imagined many things, a life, events, people gathering, paintings on the walls… We were going to call it the Electric Men Hostel, because it was in the electrical stores district in Galata. I was putting my hopes on this to have a home, a base, a place where things could be created and it vanished. But at that point in time, observing my thoughts, I made a clear decision to just appreciate what was good.

At about the same time that the hostel project rose and sunk, my friend came up with another idea: Free walking tours. He had experienced them in Europe and thought that would be a cool thing to do here. He asked me if I would partner up and I said yes. Istanbul has been fascinating me since before I arrived here, I read much history and always was curious about knowing more. So we started studying, creating a route, this was a hectic time at that point, music gigs, rehearsals, painting (I was painting a mural at Chillout), studying Beyoglu’s history, the Ottomans, the Byzantines, the Levantines, all this along the singing workshop.. Now we walk almost every day. The tour is getting quite solid, we now need to work at promoting this more and in better ways. So far (unless people are too polite) everyone has expressed that they are very happy about their experiences.

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Two days ago,
As we were waiting for people to arrive to set out for the walking tour, a woman with short cropped hair, piercing blue eyes in her tanned face wearing khakis and sport top stopped by us, asked a few questions, then asked if we’d be willing to do an interview for a German radio station. I was a bit puzzled, why us? Yeah sure I said. Later that night she joined us after the walk and asked a few questions to prepare for the interview, it turns out she is a tour guide herself, hence part of her interest in what we were doing. So yesterday morning we went to the Invictus Hotel in Tarlabası, a strange juxtaposition of a nice, fancy hotel in a derelict neighborhood. Why are we doing these tours? She asked… Because we love Istanbul so very much. Because we want to be free. Because it is quite an awesome job. What we do good, does not hurt anything, we don’t abuse anything or anyone. So far it’s been quite cool, the people coming are all really curious, interested, dynamic people. Travelers on long journeys, people just here for a few days, at the end of the tour they all look genuinely content, fulfilled and so are we.

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In the midst of all this, my mother helped me get new glasses. I had been really having a hard time reading… I felt handicapped. I went and got a new pair. It was so amazing. Crystal clear… I could read. See. I cried.

A month ago
I met a new musician, I’m not sure if I wrote about him before; Sari is a violinist from Syria. I had posted an ad on Facebook proposing guitar lessons. He wrote back to me saying: “I don’t want guitar lessons but I’d love to play with you” so we met and did a little bit of playing and it was nice and interesting so we carried on. He’s been joining me at Atolye Kuledibi for my concerts and we have at times these very magical moments. I had been very sad with the fact that the cellist I was playing with just kind of went AWOL without saying anything to me. I was truly enjoying what we were doing, I had so many dreams about the music we would be making. He had talked of organizing concerts, putting a band together, touring… but somehow this cool thing totally evaporated. I’ve wondered if I had done or said something that upset him, I don’t know. I tried to write and got the excuse that the internet was down. But this is not unlike so many promising things that came my way around here and turned to dust. It seems to be quite the way here. One day, I was walking by myself, thinking and looking at how many times things were dreamed of, discussed, proposed, hopes and excitement raised then left to die. A serpentine line going up then down and up and down, rising hopes then disappointment. The teachers, the homes, the work-jobs, the possible gigs, the collaborations…. loops or reoccurring sameness. At that moment, walking by the Sublime Porte in the old city, I told myself that this had to change…

This last Tuesday
Until this last Tuesday, I was still at the hostel. I had finished the mural painting a couple days after the singing workshop was done. Then it was time to find more work for myself there to justify my bed there. But somehow, things got sour. I could not communicate with the manager. Then I was told all sorts of things that I knew were false, completely missing the point. It was like the situation that happened a year ago, There were no words from either side that could pierce the wall of misunderstanding between us. The vibe at the hostel had been getting more and more tense. Everyone so incredibly stressed. It started to make me ill, just like last year… But above all, I was seeing this reoccurring loop happening again. Like a stuck record starting over and over and over and this feeling of starting this stupid loop one more time here in this place was an intolerable thought, I could not go along.

I told the manager that I was going to leave. I immediately went on the internet, found a really cheap hotel room for two nights through Travelocity. Then I posted a note on Facebook asking my local friends if they were aware of any room, flat or place I could stay at. As I wrote, within minutes, a friend answered that I could stay with her for about 10 days… 10 days at her flat and my 2 days at the hotel, this should be enough time to find a home. Wow. Deep breath I took. Everything in motion. Maybe, now that I look at this from the other side, everything was just as it had to be, the misunderstandings, the words, the emotions and the reactions… Everything lining up for the change that needed to take place.

I packed minimally: underwear, soap, tooth brush, jacket and instruments. (saz and go guitar). Nadine, the other volunteer, tried to tell me that I should just hang here, wait until I find a flat, stay safe and not put myself out in the world without something to hang on to. She cares and she worries and I appreciate her feelings but I knew too well what would happen if I stayed here, the hostel would swallow me whole again, I would find some sort of comfort and it would sort of work and if I was totry to get involved with anything other than the very minimum survival activities, it will be impossible. I mean, just drinking enough water becomes a challenge… Sleep becomes scarce, a constant fatigue creeps into the whole being and nothing gets done. Frustration rises, and a sense of failure rises too. I calmly organized all my belongings into one pile in one place, also leaving, with a pinch in the heart, left the big jazz guitar in the basement and headed outside. I hugged Nadine and headed out.

It was night. I felt free. Not jubilant but peaceful and free. Despite the bags on my back, I felt light. This has to be the last time I leave this place, this has to be the last time I volunteer in this place, this has to be the last time I get sick in such a place because I stay out of worry about tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful for all the help, support and comfort the people of Chillout generously gave me, but some things must end. I went down Postacilar Sokak. Down, down, down towards Tophane, passing the extra quiet area by the Italian consulate, and got to the tram line heading to he old city. Inside the wagon, the electronic clock marked : 05, 05, 2015. 20 minus 15 = 5… so… 5, 5, 5. Five is the number of change I remarked to myself. I kept staring at it, it gave me some sort of strength. I have run away many times in my life but this time this feels like I am doing the right thing. At the Eminonu stop a woman walks in, she wears a brown old fashion, knee length, thick polyester coat. She pulls a suitcase, has a hand bag, and another plastic bag in her hand. She looks worried, constantly looking at the signs, the map, asking fellow travelers about the station that will take her to Yeni Kapi. She is older, her face carrying a lot of living. I wondered if she was running away from home on this 5, 5, 5 day on the Istanbul tram.

I had made myself a map, I’m starting to be able to find things here, I draw maps with extra street names, the ones before and after destination, because too often the names are not what appears on Google Maps. I head down from the tram, the area is at first very touristy with restaurants, kebap shops and hustle and bustle. But quickly the street turns into a place that feels like Tarlabasi, no women to be seen anywhere, rough men, rough children, rough buildings and skinny nervous cats. They stare at me with all this luggage on my back. I do find the hotel’s street after going one block too far, thanks to my “extra street name” card system I can trace my way and find the hotel. The receptionist also stares at me as I approach the door. He opens it for me, he does not speak English. Another man comes. “Hello!”

“You have a reservation?”

“Yes, I do”

“Passport?”

“Here it is.” I reach to the very bottom of my bag, a first baggie, then a second, to protect this precious document. They are friendly, I am laughing. All is well. I go up two flights of stairs behind the first receptionist and he opens the door and drops the bags for me. “Thank you” he leaves. I make a little happy excited hop in the air, I am smiling, I feel freed, I feel good, I feel things are aligned. The room is beautiful, crisp white everything, newly renovated. No risk of bed bugs. It feels so peaceful. This is more than all right. I slept well, rested.

My residence permit comes to an end on June 8. The process, once more is not easy or clear. I have been trying to make an appointment online unsuccessfully. The website is down, this appointment is the doorway to the rest of the process, no appointment, no chance of progress. We went to the police station, were told that things had changed and you had to click this other thing… OK… I tried this, and it allowed me to go one web page further in the process, but the whole thing stopped there, the page that would take me to the rendez-vous looped back to the opening page of the website. We will have to go back to the police station and ask about it and possibly take a micro step in a forward direction… hopefully.

Thursday
I’ve been scouring the internet for a room, for hours on end, checking ads, writing messages, waiting for answers that rarely come. On Thursday parked in this internet cafe, I kept going back to one ad. The photos were not convincing… but I had a different feeling, a hunch. So I did what I normally don’t do. I messaged with the phone instead of sending an email.

“Tell me about you.” it replied back to my question about the availability of the room and where it was. I am a Canadian, musician looking for a home, I wrote. A reply came back and I had an appointment to see the room the next day. Wow, this was progress

I headed out for the walking tour, then played a show at Atolye Kuledibi. I played with Sari. Sari is turning out to be a great friend. I learn a lot from him, his experiences in Syria, with the war there are really big eye openers. It boggles the mind, what humans can experience. These things make me realize what “bad” really is, it makes me realize that I have no right to feel sorry or sad. He helped me realize that reality, right now, here, is actually quite magical. We must recognize our luck and the goodness of our lives. After the show we walk back towards our home. He insists in carrying my heavy bag full of gear and guitar. We chat. I tell him that all will work out. All I need is a place to call home and possibly another weekly gig.

Saturday morning.
Time to visit the flat. I went with a friend. It is near the football stadium but it is in a totally quiet spot. An old Greek building, clean. We walk up, get in. Arda has a gentle smile, he shows us the room. It is really two rooms. A bed room and a little salon. Closed off. Private space. There is a little balcony. The whole flat is not fancy but huge, so much space, separate toilet and shower. Big living room. Arda I learn, is a musician, he plays oboe and keyboards. Ozge his girlfriend is also a musician. He tells me there is no issues with playing music in the flat, that the neighbors don’t complain about music, they are foreigners and they are cool. It is so quiet and yet I am 5 minutes from Taksim. Oh I want it. But I tell him that too often I do things too fast, so I will think about it and call him in the afternoon. I go back to see the room twice. I see how I could make this so nice for myself… but I don’t want to fantasize… We thank Arda and leave. I’m so excited. But I ponder. Some other places are lower priced… 500 to 650tl. 650 was my maximum ,they are asking 700tl.

In the afternoon
Phone message. Roni called. He says he talked to his boss. I thought he was going to ask me to play tonight, but no he says: We talked and we will give you 2 nights a week. OMG. Wow. OK, that is so great, thank you so much I said and hung up. OMG… here is the second weekly gig I needed.

It is time to call back about the flat. I must ask for a rent reduction and that makes me really nervous just thinking about it. But I must stand up for myself. Finally I gather my courage and call Ozge. I told her I loved the place but that the maximum rent I was considering was 650tl… so I asked (Gulp!) if Arda could reduce the rent to 650tl. She said “let me ask Arda.” Pause. Red light on my phone: incoming text message: “ Arda is OK with the price, welcome”

”Oha… it is happening, the deal is made. Tomorrow morning I will go, with the money and start moving in. I will be “home”. Lets not look ahead too far I tell myself. One month at a time I tell myself. But I am also thinking how I would like a nice rug… a nice light for the desk… make it beautiful, peaceful… I think about how I will be able to give lessons in the little salon if some students materialize. I think I will be able to do yoga… eat good things… a home. But I still hold back. Shhhh…. I will not post this until it is a done deal. I know too well how things can shift quickly in Istanbul. Shhhh… Shhhh….

Sunday Morning
Dreams, I am trying to explain how the lemon has to be mixed to the different drinks… I wake up. Sun, quiet, what day are we? Oh yeah… the flat… I get up. Brush my teeth, dress, count the money put it in my bag, there is no one else in the flat this morning, Fatih is likely working at Neverland and everyone else either didn’t come back from last nights reveleries or headed out early. I put my boots on and head out. I buy a simit, eat it as I walk. Everything shines and is clean ooking this morning. No traces of the Saturday night’s excesses, a fat tourist clumsily negotiaties a sidewalk, a skinny car skitters away. I walk down Asmali Mescit, get to the boulevard, a few racing taxis go by but no one else. A woman in flowery long skirt of mauve and purple, head scarved in the same colors, runs the red light, her heavy half platform shoes a bit of an impediment, she stares at the cobblestones to find her way. I cross the boulevard and the road takes a steep downhill inclination. Flash TV, turn left, I get to the door. Call Arda. I woke him up I think. I get up to the 4th floor, he opens, yes I did wake him up, he played very late last night he tells me smiling. I give him the rent money. “Go back to bed!” I tell him. He smiles. I go back down stairs.

I walk lightly back to Galata. Slowly. In my hands a new set of keys. Up the hill I climb with this realization: I have a home, in a nice flat, with a musician, and a non-smoker and I can play my music there. It is kind of amazing. Something that seemed impossible… As with everything I know it can all go away in an instant, but one thing is sure; I have 4 weeks paid for in this home and in my life right now 4 weeks is an eternity. This afternoon we will do a walking tour, tonight I will play with Alican and tonight I will sleep in my new home.

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