My Hood

I’ve lived off and on for several years in a neighborhood that is considered trashy by the standards of my Turkish friends. Turkey having a very classist society, it would make sense that most of my friends, who are well educated and well off, don’t like to come visit in this neighborhood. However, foreigners at first cannot tell the difference between this and other places in Beyoğlu. I admit that its ghetto character has revealed itself to me gradually. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I had to move.

A Lazy Ramazan Sunday from my kitchen window

Except I already did move—a month ago—into another apartment in the same neighborhood. Julie and I wanted to get our own separate apartments (weird foreigner behavior #1) and we started looking in other areas. But then we found out that there is a reason why people like us live in the ghetto: We cannot afford to live in the nicer neighborhoods. So we have at least something in common with our current neighbors (who are mostly immigrants from Anatolia.) So, in the end, Julie and I found two nice apartments across the street from one another. In fact, it is much like the old flat that we shared except with a street running through it.

A street filled with loud children and bickering, sunflower-seed chewing gossipy adults. Often the air splits with the sound of firecrackers. Or construction. Or just general cacophony. There is a quiet period, however—between the hours of about 3am and 9am. So I have been enjoying waking up early in the morning to enjoy the quiet.

He entered from this window. Now it has bars on it, so I feel like i'm in jail

That is why, when a man climbed into my bedroom window the other morning at 6:30am, I was already half awake. I had been lying on my side with my back to the window (which is at the foot of the bed) and I heard the rustling of my curtain being pulled aside. By the time I had turned onto my back, he was standing next to me. I didn’t take time to think—I cocked both of my legs back and kicked him hard in the chest, while screaming, “NO!!” His eyes got HUGE and I heard him gasp as I knocked the wind out of him. He silently fell back, but simultaneously, he grabbed my Kindle which was on the bedside table. I didn’t care that he had my entire collection of reading in his hand—I just wanted him out of my room. The bedroom door was closed and he opted to escape back out the window from which he came.

My apartment is on the second floor. I had only been in the flat a week and had been considering putting bars on the windows, but hadn’t gotten around to it. He jumped into the window frame and probably thought he was going to climb down the side along the drainage pipe in the same way he came up. However, I shoved him hard out into the air and he landed heavily on the stoop of the house across the street. I was surprised (and a little relieved—I didn’t want to see blood) when he landed on his feet and ran away. My cries of ‘Hırsız! Hırsız! (Thief) woke the neighbors, but it was too late to catch him.

He landed here

A couple of good things came out of this situation: 1) Arni was scared for me and flew back to Istanbul to stay with me just a week after he left, and 2) I got to meet my new neighbors and show them that I do know how to speak Turkish. When I am under stress, I am always able to miraculously produce the intelligible Turkish that I cannot summon under normal circumstances. To bad that incidents like these are the reason I want to leave Turkey and never speak Turkish again.

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Sweaty Impostor

I got engaged. While I’m incredibly happy about this, I still feel like an impostor when I write it—like it is something that only other people do. So when I lost my ring in a pile of red clay balls yesterday, and had to say out loud, “I lost my engagement ring” it sounded like it was coming from someone else’s mouth.

Last month in Istanbul I met one of Julie’s (my business partner/roommate/friend) friends, Sarah, who came to visit her. It was Sarah who bestowed the descriptor of “Heterosexual Life Partners” on me and Julie. Sarah lives in Washington D.C. , and while we were in Turkey, we compared notes about one of our favorite places—Spa World in Centreville, VA. While I’m visiting my family this week, we decided to go.

The last time I went to Spa World was in January with my sister’s entire family, some friends, and my fiancée (did I just write that?) who freaked out and had to leave because the common room in this Korean Bath house reminded him of a prison/refugee camp/mental institution. I can see why, as everyone is clad in orange, shapeless pajamas and lolling about on the floor in a large, fluorescent-lit room.

I don't know these girls and I stole this image from someone else's website

But I love it because this common room also contains a delicious Korean restaurant, bubble tea, and several healing poultice rooms. One such room is the Red Clay Ball room. Outside each room is posted the health and psychic benefits of each element (coal, salt, amethyst, cobalt, red clay), but what it boils down to is sweat. Of course you are going to remove toxins from your body if you spend any amount of time in 150 degree temperatures.

Sarah hadn’t been in the Red Clay Ball room before. The entire floor is 6cm deep in 1cm diameter clay balls. It is difficult to enter on foot, and I attempted to show her how to crawl through the balls to get to the spot where you want to lay down. While doing this, I felt my diamond and emerald engagement ring being pulled off and into the sea of balls.

Uh-oh. So immediately I alerted Sarah, and we started digging. After five minutes of searching, we still hadn’t found and I felt like I would faint. I went to notify the attendant , hoping that he might shut off the heat for a second while we looked so we didn’t turn into mummies in the process. He wouldn’t, but he would come help us look. Once the other people in the room understood what was happening, they all joined in to help—which involved all of us shifting mounds of clay balls from side to side with a crunching, rockslide sound.

Some clay balls, but not the clay balls that tried to steal my ring

It was so hot and the extraneous movement of pushing clay balls caused everyone to sweat even more (if that’s possible), but no one was giving up. Once and awhile one of us would mistake the glistening of a bead of sweat that had fallen on the balls as a diamond and yell, “I found it! oh. . . “

Finally, a beautiful green-eyed girl with long blond hair, named Katherine held it up—“Got it!” Sweaty sighs of relief. Exiting the room, we were asked by some baffled onlookers, “What was going on in there? Is that what you are supposed to do in that room?” As if it was some sort of zen ball-shifting ritual.

And I’m thinking that perhaps it should be. The people who helped me did it out of kindness, but during that 15 minutes of torture I was thinking only of Arni and the fact that he had given me a ring and I had said, “yes”.

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Learning to Like It

I hate cold! I’ve never been a fan of snow–even though I grew up buried under it in the Midwestern USA. When I finished university, I moved to Texas and vowed never to live in a cold climate ever again. Hahaha. After Texas I misguidedly moved to “California”. But San Francisco is hardly the balmy, sunny heaven I had in mind. It took 15 years to leave and probably another 15 to dry out after being rained on so much.

During a snowy, miserable New York City winter a few years ago, my friend told me about the Coney Island Polar Bears She was a cub on her way to becoming a full-fledged member of the Polar Bear Club. All she had to do was swim 12 times in the Atlantic Ocean during the ‘season’–which runs from November until April. Because she was living in an unheated warehouse in Brooklyn with no hot water, and had been living there like that for 10 years, she decided a dip in the winter ocean sounded nice. But she also told me that it was a sure way to beat my fear of the cold. So I went with her and she was right. At first I went swimming every weekend, but last winter in New York I only went one time. And that magic cure didn’t work anymore. I was still petrified of the cold.

Skiing in Stockholm. I don't know why someone like me doesn't own a balaclava

Finding myself in Sweden this week, I decided another way to embrace winter is to do winter-type activities. Perhaps I could learn to love snow. So, I begged my boyfriend (who, because of some cruel joke played on my by the universe, lives in Stockholm) to teach me to ski. He is not Swedish either, but has super-human immunity to weather, especially cold. And, he wanted to get back at me for the group cycling class I made him attend with me. Even though a real skier would not call Flottsbro a real ski hill, I did okay. I fell in the snow exactly 17 times in 6 hours. But it was FUN!!!! And now I have a reason to like snow. In fact, I have a new snow-obsession. We are planning a ski trip to Bulgaria before the winter is over. That is sick . . .

Not very convincing, I know--but it was actually quite fun

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Aging Gracefully

From where I’m sitting I see three stuffed toys covered in fake blood and leaking entrails of polyester resin. Above them are colorful stickers announcing the
“Dead-ies” toy line. At the same time, there are squeeky and arhythmic sounds issuing from a computer monitor. It has been on endless loop since 4pm yesterday. It sounds like I’m trapped in hell, and at times it seems even worse. I’m at the Supermarket Art Fair in Stockholm’s Kulturhuset.

Our booth is looking good—red and light turquoise with posters announcing tomorrow’s Meatball Wrestling competition, some light box x-rays that I made, and fake travel posters featuring some selected Istanbul hospitals. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it looks good anyway. These art fairs are really ridiculous—especially since one doesn’t sell anything. Last year we came because we were asked and neither of us had been to Sweden before. This year we came because we are stupid. But also because Arni lives here and we wanted to do something together.

It was during this week at the Art Fair that I realized my tolerance for having the same conversation over and over has dropped to the lowest level ever. I blame it on age. I feel like I’ve spent so much of my younger days flapping my fucking gums all over the place to anyone who will listen, that now I need to conserve my energy for conversations with people who I care about or with whom i feel I COULD care about.
Another gift that comes with age is the ability to judge things like that immediately upon meeting someone.

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Two American Korean food lovers of Turkey

Hungover, I went to meet our accountant (who I would heartily recommend) to get scolded for our awful book keeping practices. I’m sure you can envision what sort of mood I was in this morning. Dazed and a little numb, Julie and I left his office after 3 hours and on our way down the stairs from the 5th floor, we passed the Korean-Turkish Association. The door was ajar, so we peeked in. We were greeted by an explosion of pinks and golds, electric blue and light blue. . . the place was so un-Turkish in decor!

No people were visible so we continued to peer in and to read the outdated posters on the doors. Across the room was a large, colorful poster with photographs of food. Korean food. Meat. Excuse me while I wipe up the drool. Julie hummed a little weak, “i like korean food. . . ” Turkey is not really a place with cuisine of diverse ethnicities. Turks tend to be a little biased towards Turkish food. So there are some cuisines that I miss after living in places like China, and San Francisco, and anyplace where you can get anything any time. But I had never heard of a Korean restaurant in Turkey.

So a woman came to the door and jarred us out of our reverie. We asked her if she had some sort of schedule of their events–hoping for a Korean food fair or something, but all we got was a website quickly jotted down on a piece of scrap paper. Then we exited the building and made our way towards the print shop (we are preparing for an exhibition at the Supermarket Art Fair in Stockholm next week.) We were acting like the goofballs we generally are–looking into travel agents and trying to score free cut outs of Turkish Airlines stewardesses from the 70s, etc.–when the sky opened up and the rays of heaven alit upon our blessed shoulders. The two of us have walked by this stretch of road 100s of times both together and separately. We thought maybe we would stop at the Indian restaurant before going to the printer. But where was the Indian restaurant? Is it here? up a little further ahead? . . . what is THAT! Is that a KOREAN RESTAURANT!!!! and indeed it was.

We didn’t check the photo menu posted on the wall outside, we just headed right in without considering what type of place it was. We had to get inside before it disappeared like a shimmering mirage. Before we were even seated, I was saying, “I”m going to eat here EVERY day”. I quickly revised this plan once the waiter arrived with the menu and I looked at the prices. It was very obviously a place where Korean business men take their clients. And you know what that means–Female entertainment. Not that there was anything going on at lunchtime. There were two tables with asian men sitting at them. The one within earshot was two Japanese and a Korean man speaking english concerning a business transaction. It wasn’t until I was directed downstairs to the bathroom that I got a glimpse of the ‘Karaoke’ room. Which in reality was a strip club. A raunchy, trashy, old fashioned hostess bar. Pink fake fur. On the walls. We will have to come back for dinner sometime.

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Autumn Heat Wave

I’m having a Sunday!!!!

When I was a librarian, I worked every Sunday. I love working on Sunday because it still feels like Sunday, like you shouldn’t be working, but everyone is completely mellow in a Sunday frame of mind. Then, after work I would ride my bike past the burrito place in Hayes Valley (Las Estrellas–their burritos are average, but they served a barbeque chicken burrito which reminded me of Texas) and take a burrito home, unplug the phone (wow, no cellphone!), and turn on the Simpsons. I would relax in front of the television until something rousted me out of my laziness. Sometimes that something never came.

Now that I have my own business in my own building, which also involves lots of travelling and lots of weekend hours, I seldom have a Sunday off. But today, it seemed right. Only because it is November in Istanbul and still 25 degrees (78F) and it is the weekend before Kurban Bayram. Not that I celebrate this Bayram. And I’m not looking forward to the effects of sun and heat on ram’s blood in the street. . . but still sometimes you have to take a Sunday.

Too bad there is no Turkish version of the Simpsons.

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The one time I get to eat a real Swedish smogasbord in Sweden, I’m not hungry! That’s just how my life is. . . Still I performed well: two plates of food including meatballs, Janssen’s frestelse, crawdad salad, caviar on a spoon, pumpkin soup, various doo-dads, and the one available vegetable–lettuce.
Here I am, sipping my new favorite drink–alcohol free beer.

Though I still hate Sweden (the sun set at 15:30, there are no vegetables, it’s boring, it’s cold . . .) It does offer a great selection of beers in varying degrees of potency. You want to get liquored up? 7% will do the trick. Stopping for one beer after work, but still have to drive home? For that there is medium beer (3.5%) 2.1% is tame, and alkohol frei is even more mild. I’ve replaced my one Coke Zero a day with several non-alcohol beers. I have one left in my refrigerator in Istanbul and I will hoard it until I find a supplier of the stuff in Turkey. Or at least closer to Turkey than Sweden!

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Oink Oink

In Warsaw for the IETM Caravan. The group is small and fun, and Warsaw is looking good these days. Walked through the park next to the Theater Institute and the Ujazdowski Castle and watched the leaves changing and falling. It was a relaxed Sunday and I was completely full of pork products.

After a breakfast which included (but which was not limited to) kielbasa, bacon, hot dogs, cold cuts, wild mushrooms, pickles, cheese, egg, etc. , spent the afternoon in a ‘speed dating’ session with different Polish theaters, performers, or performance groups. The one thing that struck me is that Polish artists don’t seem in a hurry to work outside of Poland. I think this is good because it demonstrates they are working here. It’s not because of lack of interest in working abroad, it’s just a lack of desperation.

Lunch came late, after the presentations, and by then my previous pork intake had been eliminated. I re-stocked by eating meatballs, pork loin, cutlet, and some things which could pass as vegetables (beets). We all managed to roll out of the all-you-can-eat establishment and back to the Palace of Culture, where we saw a show of a very proficient theater artist who presented a wonderful and compelling narration of a dimension of his life–the one in which he discovers his grandfather is a communist agent. It was personalized in a really endearing way and illustrated with random images projected behind him while he spoke. Unfortunately, the speaking was in Polish.

Then afterwards, we went for drinks at one of the Palace of Cultures many bars and I realized I had gone at least 3 hours without ingesting pork. Imagine my shame when I realized I didn’t have the stomach space to eat more. I made up for it this morning with my last trip to the breakfast buffet. Ouch.

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Miss Sofia 2010

I suppose the highlight of my recent trip to Bulgaria may have been something that I didn’t do. After several days of art exhibits, parties, and performances, I wanted to experience some REAL culture. I had spotted a billboard for the Miss Sofia 2010 Contest at Sin City and convinced some of my more adventurous (non-Bulgarian) friends to go.

Sin Cityis, to put it plainly, a mafia club. Having been there a couple times before to see Azis and other chalga shows, I knew that the clientel would be riddled with silicone and guns. Even though there a a sign outside the club which clearly states NO GUNS, I believe that is there just to appease the local police. I had told the people I was with what to expect, and our Bulgarian hosts kept saying things like, “I would only go there with tourists, it is disgusting.” Even the taxi driver told us that he expected a big tip because he didn’t like to go there because he doesn’t like the people, “with their guns and fake bras–they are not very nice or smart people.” But this only made everyone all the more curious.

The problem was, one of our group, in some misguided attempt to be stylish, wore a long skirt with hippy sandals. I think if this person was a woman we still would have gotten in (despite not being up to chalga standards) The problem was that this was a man. As soon as he exited the cab, the 7 foot tall doormen started shaking their heads and looking at him with a “What were you thinking?” glance. Needless to say, they would not let us in. We went en masse to another, more tolerant, bar and spent the night rolling our eyes as he complained about how unenlightened these mafia men are. I guess I should know to expect that from a Swede.

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There has been so much progress since the earlier days when I would cross the border between Turkey and Bulgaria. I used to like to take the train because of the sleeper cars. But then being woken up at 1am and kept awake for 3 hours for the border crossing just started to seem like bullshit. Now, here I am, on a comfortable bus, in the middle of the day—connected to the internet!!! How’s that for civilization?

Even with Bulgaria having been part of the EU for a couple years, the immediate differences on both sides of the border are still apparent. Where Turkey has built 20 shiny new Passport Control booths, installed x-ray customs inspection equipment, and raised a well-lit, slick Duty Free emporium, 20 yards later Bulgaria’s welcome center is still an understaffed corrugated metal shack surrounded by weeds, rusty outbuildings, and begging gypsies.

I have made no posts for a long time, I am aware of that. It’s not for lack of news—but it is the kind of news that is too overwhelming and confusing to put to ‘paper’. It has been all I can do to make decisions and stick to them during the measly 24 hours in a day. Any down time that I’ve had has usually been spent in unconsciousness.

Now that we have cleared the entire border area, Bulgaria has opened up into the beautiful countryside I fell in love with the first time I came here—was it already 10 years ago? Flat praries of dead grass have been replaced with sunny hills of sunflowers with green mountains in the distance. The buildings may be crumbling and the roads full of potholes, but it is still one of the most wild, beautiful places on earth.

I’m on my way to the Water Tower Festival in Sofia. I will be doing an installation/performance in an old ottoman bath house, which required the painting of 20 crappy but colorful circus banners. I painted them a while ago, but I think I’m still high from the paint thinner fumes. I will also be performing for the opening party as well as unveiling a ‘sculpture’ which is a tribute to chalga. This will also be the debut of my career as a chalga singer! I’m a little nervous, but ecstatic to finally have some work out of the way and to hang out with friends.

I won’t let so much time pass between postings this time, as I will have photos from the festival to show!

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