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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Happy Holidays!

Ataturk established this spectacular and triumphant national holiday called Children and Youth Sports Day. If the band Survivor had existed back in the 30s when the holiday was instituted, I would say he was inspired by “Eye of the Tiger” or possibly the theme from Rocky (“Gonna Fly Now”). In modern times, today is an occasion to hear different versions of both songs over and over again. Here’s a link to my favorite version–although this is not the one they play every 5 or 10 minutes from all the football fields across Turkey.


I want to wrap myself in a flag and sprint through the oily, slick streets of Istanbul. I want to put on boxing gloves and run up and down the steps of Cihangir, sweating and jabbing. I want to strangle all the children screaming —- AAAAAHHHNAY! (Anne–mother) from the streets.

Instead, I will be hopping on a train to Bulgaria for a scouting mission for a festival performance I’m doing in June. Then two days later, I am flying to Poland to have a more personally spectacular and triumphant time with the Polish boy. A different kind of Youth Sports Day. . . .


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Holy Crap! So long since I’ve posted anything, and I break my silence with that? But it’s pretty much all I am able to say currently about the state of my life—“holy fucking crap!”

There are several reasons to explain the silence. The first being that I may have had the most genuinely frustrating two weeks of my life a few weeks ago. In another round of Turkish Bureaucracy Roulette, there were hours spent running between the electric and water companies, the noter, the translator, as well as meetings with contractors, visiting artists, film students needing subjects for class projects. Then on top of it, I had agreed to perform a solo variety show at a theater, but failed to do anything about it until the last minute. Some last minute preparations included getting a new foot juggling trinka made of iron from a couple of Armenian brothers who resembled Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, making a monkey costume from scratch, constructing a shadow puppet stage with non-existent materials, writing a shadow-puppet play, remembering how to ride the unicycle and play the ukelele at the same time, and figuring out how to play the theme from Aşk-i Memnu on the accordion. In the end, I never got a chance to rehearse or stage the show and I had to do the whole production as ‘Circus Improv’.

The second reason for silence is that, with so many gajillions of meetings and problem-solving marathons, my only wish at the end of a long day was to not say anything. I was sick of hearing myself speak, sick of listening to other people speak, and sick of writing when I wasn’t speaking. The first full day off that I got (well, I never ‘got’ it—I just ‘took’ it) I sat in my room and didn’t utter a single word all day.

That day was a couple of weeks ago, and we have started demolition and construction on our new building in the meantime. This is the really stressful part. The part, that if I were married to someone and this were our house, it could lead to considering divorce. Actually, it is pretty much exactly like that.

Julie and I didn’t know each other that well when we formed a company together. I mean, sure, we enjoyed each other’s company, we respected each other, we had common goals in life. . . . Just like normal young lovers. Unlike normal young lovers, we aren’t lovers. Which means that the annoying things you find out about people when you dig deeper can’t be smoothed over by sex (with each other–sex with other people can do the trick though. . .) Still, we are getting along splendidly given the amount of stress we have brought upon ourselves. Sure, we are starting to notice the annoying habits we each have. For instance, when Julie is annoyed or unable to deal with a situation she starts humming like an autistic child. She thinks no one notices, but it is her way of tuning out. And I’m sure she is fed up with my constant sarcasm and impatience as well. But in the end, what we are doing would not be as fun or as easy without each other.

So, by the end of the summer, we hope to have a running building. Before then, though, we have scheduled visiting artists to come install their works into the building. Like wrangling cats, it is . . . not sure what we were thinking. So I have been trying to escape as often as possible with trips to Poland (you know, for the ‘smoothing over’) and a performance in Sofia , Island day trips, the Mardin Biennial, and a possible month on the East Coast of the US of A! Where is it possible to fix your roof without bribing someone, and where a notarized page costs $2.35. Ahh, what luxury.

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Is this a trick?

It seems spring has arrived. . . again. My winter coat is still hanging where I can reach it, but yesterday, I did indulge in a gesture to acknowledge spring–I went to the Princes’ Islands about and hour away from Istanbul proper, in the Sea of Marmara.

The day was warm-ish and Julie, myself, and our first Tea, Tavla, and Tall Tales artists (who have come from Vienna to install . . . something. . . in our building,) took the ferry to visit our friends, Sibel and Izel, who have a house on Burgazada.

First item of business was ice cream. The second was to find an emlakci (real estate agent) to show us some flats for rent. We decided to rent a summer house as an annex for our overflow Caravansarai and personal guests. Actually, it’s an annex for us to get away from our guests more than anything. Julie, our friend Özlem and I are splitting the rent, which is paid yearly. For that reason, we are also looking for something with heat so it is comfortable there in the winter.

Mold Farm

We found the perfect place, except for the scary mold situation they have going on there as a result of a broken roof and this year’s record-breaking precipitation. If they fix it all up by next week, it is ours. We aren’t holding our breath (except when we are inside the house.)

In any case, it was the perfect antidote to a frustrating week, in which my sense of real time kept abutting against Turkish Time. I felt like I was walking around with a stick to prod the people we are paying to get our business going (architects, lawyer, the guy who is making me a new foot-juggling chair). I’ve never been so busy and so unproductive at the same time! So, to relax at the top of the island and watch the sunset while eating hamsi and drinking beer was sublime. It was made even better by a star-spotting of Beren Saat, an actress from my favorite turkish TV show–Aşk-i Memnu, as she climbed down the millions of stairs to the sea to re-board her sailboat.

Cheesy, but essential

I had been worried about committing to summer life on this island. Its beaches were the occasional backdrop of a love affair that ended horribly, and from which I still haven’t recovered. I had been so sure the last time I was there that if I ever came back, it would be with this person, and not with my female business partner, two Austrian designers, their 6-year old son, and an over-educated Turkish couple. As it was, I teared up a few times during the day, but as Sibel promised me, “It will be the best summer you’ve ever had. By the end, it will be a different island for you.”
I hope she’s right.


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Meatball video

A link to the video documentation of our attempts at “meatball diplomacy” in Stockholm:

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