Sunday, May 27, 2012

Further poorly organized stories.

I am sitting in the garden, near Ugur and Yagmur who are giving an interview to a Turkish television station. Bizdek, the cat, purrs on my lap, and Lucky (as in Strike), the dog, is panting happily.

Today I leave my newfound family for adventures of a different kind, and join Omid Safi's educational tour to work on the ART/Islam project. I am, of course, very excited, but I am also a little melancholy. How I will miss our late night (early morning?) conquests of toast and foolishness!

Here is another list of the Top Ten Moments of the Week, simply because I could never write about them all.

1.       Eating traditional Turkish food. Anyone who knows me well is aware of my poorly adjusted infatuation with Anthony Bourdain. I have both a professional and legitimate crush on him, and envy his life of country jumping and gastronomical glory. HOWEVER. I am slowly but surely working my way to his level. Thursday night, late, Yagmur and I met Ugur and Dogukan after they had finished teaching their class. We left Takskim and headed for Bakirkoy (Copper City), where Ugur grew up. Ugur was tempting me with promises of a delicious Turkish soup, and despite the fact that I was totally full from  dinner with Yagmur, I couldn't wait. We headed to Sarihan Gusto, a restaurant Ugur and his family helped to expand to the size and grandeur it exists in today. We were seated by a man who seemed to know Yagmur and Ugur well (no surprise there) at a lovely table on the patio. Ugur ordered, and minutes later I had soup in front of me. A medium sized bowl of white liquid with raw egg floating on top. Ugur doctored it with various spices, and I prepared myself for the challenge of eating raw egg. Little did I know that raw egg would become as easy to swallow as milk. As I ate my soup, a very tangy and warm concoction, I began to come across diced meat of some kind. But not meat exactly, something chewier, with little bumps. I peered at it in my spoon, and decided it was squid. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. It's like eating calamari with some egg. I confidently took a few more bites before asking what it was. Dogukan smiled. "Just eat and then I will tell you."

"No, no," I insisted, "It's fine, I eat everything!"

Because I do. Really. I've never ever been anything less than adventurous when it comes to food (the only exception being fish cakes in Singapore. I tried them, and I will never, ever eat them again).

He made mischievous eye contact with Ugur, and Yagmur laughed through her cigarette. It was only at this moment that I noticed Yagmur was not partaking in the squid/egg soup.

"Sheep's stomach."

"Oh? Great!"

I heartily took another bite.


Ladies and gentleman, I finished my soup. It really did taste good, though the texture was a little strange, and stranger still as this thought became emblazoned behind my eyes, "There is a stomach inside my stomach." Difficult? Yes. Seeing Ugur's delight at my empty bowl was worth it. He then motioned to a platter that had arrived, and hastily pointed to different meats and shared their Turkish names, all of which went in one ear and out the other. He and Dogukan each took a very little bit of a couple of things, and then proceeded to give me double helpings of everything. I asked them to explain again what everything was.

Apparently my conquest of the soup had given them confidence, as there was no hesitation in pointing out sheep intestine and lung.

I smiled and began, imagining a high five from Anthony Bourdain with every bite.

2.       Meeting Ferhan Sensoy. He is an extremely prominent writer and director in Turkey, and he was Ugur's teacher. He inherited the Kavuk, which a symbolic hat passed down in Turkish theatre and is of the utmost importance. His plays are notoriously aimed against conservative and religious influence in the Turkish government, and in the late 80s, one of his plays caused so much of a stir that his theatre was burned to the ground. Foul play is almost certain, though it seems nothing was ever proven.

His theatre now is on Istiklal, and you enter through a kind of cheesy mall area. I never would have found it on my own. It is called Ses-1885, and was an opera house in the 19th century. Everything is red and gold and spectacular, he restored it after his playhouse was burned.

There is no way I could have met with someone as influential as Ferhan without the help of Ugur, and I am eternally grateful. We had dinner with him after watching his play, and he answered my questions about Turkish theatre and politics with the help of translation by Ugur and Yagmur. He is extremely proud of Turkish theatre and the traditions it is born out of, especially because Turkish theater was doing things Western theatre found to be groundbreaking long before they began utilizing them. Breaking the fourth wall, for example. Or using unconventional stages and audience participation. He was gracious, and funny, and I feel very lucky to have sat down with him. Now he and his company are on tour, but perhaps we will run across each other sometime in the future!

3.       Having a family. When I was in tenth grade, I had this outrageous goal of having a close friend in every major city in the world. I realize now that this is pretty ridiculous, but as I grow closer to these people, I am reminded of what I was really yearning for in that goal. Something about quickly deepened friendships, born out of somebody teaching me something or sharing something with me, are simply magical. Here are some memorable moments from the past week:

a.       Ozgur watching my pathetic attempt to dice tomatoes for Yagmur's soup, then hastily intervening to show me how it's done.
"Madison, Madison," he admonished me, expertly peeling the tomato. "This is an art."
He did some nifty and strategic slicing while keeping the tomato all in one piece, and suddenly, magically, it was diced. He leaned over and said conspiratorially, "I had to learn because I am not married, eh?"

Oh, Ozgur. One day you will dice tomatoes for a woman and she will fall madly in love with you.

b.      Yagmur making her tea, or as Ugur says, her witches brew. We both had (have?) pretty miserable colds, so she said she'd make tea for us. I imagined this to be made similarly to chai, as in, hot water poured over some pre-packaged leaves. How very wrong I was. Home girl speared an apple with some sort of spice, put it in some boiling water with lemons and herbs, and let it simmer for a few hours. She served it to me later, as I was curled up in misery on her extremely fuzzy orange couch, and I instantly felt better. Best tea in the whole world.

c.       Later that evening (morning?), we (Ugur, Yagmur, Dogukan, and myself) were sitting watching Julie Taymor's The Tempest.Ugur was very clearly not enjoying it, and at one point he left the room. When he returned, he had donned tights, a leather trench coat, a sword (a flyswatter), and had artistically thrown a bright orange knitted scarf over his face. He proceeded to make many a grandiose statement and gesture, leaving Yagmur and I in a fit of hybrid laughs and coughs.

4.       Topkapi Palace. The palace acts as a sort of museum now, housing many artifacts from the splendor of the Ottoman Empire. The artistry present in the designs and handiwork of the jewelry and the thrones is simply unbelievable. It is the most delicate, carefully constructed art I have ever seen, and it takes my breath away. Yagmur and I stared with wonder at ivory hand mirrors with miniscule Arabic script carved into every inch. Absolutely stunning.

But, believe it or not, Topkapi palace holds even more wondrous objects than these.

There is a section holding Islamic relics, including the swords of the first four caliphs, a mold of the footprint of Mohammad, the sword of David, and the rod of Moses. 

I was inches from objects that God had chosen to work through directly. God himself might as well have put his hand on the sword or the rod, and being near them brought tears to my eyes. My faith in God is ever evolving, and moments in which I am witness to something as ancient and profound as this both rock me and reassure me. It was a truly unforgettable feeling.

5.       After an afternoon of walking around Besiktas with Dogukan and being introduced to Taraca Café, which operates as his sort of second home, I was off to Istiklal alone. Ugur and Dogukan teach their acting class just around the corner from Istiklal, so Dogukan thought I might enjoy exploring the famed avenue a little more than sitting 3 hours of Turkish rehearsal. As I began my trek, I was thrilled. All alone, the sense of departure, anything could happen. The moments of breaking into the unknown are the finest I will ever know in life, they give me joy that shoots through my nerves out of body, and straight into the sun. I did my best to not immediately drop into my ultra-American go-go-go routine, and strolled leisurely past chain stores and Turkish eateries. I stopped to listen to some street performers, checked out a couple of rare book stores, and was generally enjoying my little adventure.

That is, until, I found a little man at my side, with a decidedly cocked eyebrow, heavy lidded eyes, and sleazy smile.

"Hello. Where you from? Holland? Netherlands? Germany? America? So beautiful. So white. Come home with me. From Holland? America."

"Defol," said I. This means, "Piss off," in Turkish. I kept walking, separating myself from him by putting space between us. He repeated his lines even with about six people between us. I continued to stroll leisurely, stopping in stores windows, surveying the crowd with ease. Eventually, however, I could no longer ignore that he was staying a calculated fifteen feet behind me. I continued walking until I saw a man, clearly an employee, standing in the threshold of Columbia Sportswear. I waved and smiled like I knew him, and bounded with what I hoped appeared to be familiarity to his side. He looked at me, obviously confused.
"Merhaba. Sorry, I just needed to get away from someone following me."

"Ah yes! Take your time, sit down. Would you like us to get you chai?" Three very kind men had formed a semi-circle around me, and one was looking out the door both ways and staring angrily at anyone he thought might be the man in question. For a moment, I had a very strange feeling of being in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

"No, no! Teshekkular. I'll just stay for a few minutes, if that's alright."

And I did. Ahmet, Jem, and Shukru were very kind, and even offered to walk me to the theatre. I politely declined, looked both ways for the creeper as I left, and was not but ten steps out the door when I heard my name.

Ryan Pater, a friend of mine from UNC-School of the Arts, was coming at me on Istiklal. What a small, small world. We hugged and exchanged contact info, perhaps we will see each other again! It was a lovely and serendipitous moment.

Shortly after I left Ryan, and was walking back down Istiklal to go the theatre, the creeper had returned, this time with a friend. Every time I turned my head to look at them, they would try to move behind some people in front of them, or quickly look away. They were definitely following me, but at a distance. Eventually they got closer, and creeper reached a hand towards my waist.

"Siktergit!" That's Turkish for, "Fuck off."

I said it loud and proud, just the way Ugur and Dogukan taught me.

He scoffed and he and his friend backed off for a while, only to return and disappear again when I turned the corner for the theatre.

Creepers. Helping young travelling girls put foreign language into practice world-wide.

Okay, guys, this might actually be a top 5 entry. I'm sitting in the lobby of my hotel now, and it's 1 am. I still have pictures to upload, and you know, sleeping to do. So now I'll just rattle off lots of things I've loved.
1.       Basilica Cisterns. Walking through them and feeling somehow connected to the Empress Theodora, who was the ultimate badass.
2.       Walking through the Grand Bazaar with Yagmur and having some guys come up to ask if she was the actress, because they had made a bet. She is, of course, and one guy won a watch.
3.       Finally going to SALT, an art gallery/collective I've been reading and dreaming about for months.
4.       Istanbul Modern, housing some incredible video art and Turkish photography.
5.       Ferry ride with Dogukan to the Anatolian side and back. I love boats, and I love late afternoon sunshine on the water. It's something so simple, and yet that half hour is without a doubt a highlight of the trip.
6.       Cars careen down hills here with complete lack of concern. It's hilarious.
7.       People use 2 in 1 shampoo instead of shampoo and conditioner. I'm rolling with it.
8.       Sunset at Besiktas (I've deemed it my favorite neighborhood, excepting only Ortakoy), on the water. We got to watch the sun go down and the bridge light up. It was relaxing and good for bonding a little with Dogukan (he is still my relentless translator and escort and dear friend).
9.       Seeing Oyun, which means Game, a Samuel Beckett play. Really bold staging, beautifully timed and choreographed. I can't understand Turkish, but I can understand the human body. Wondrous work.
10.   Being interviewed by a Turkish television station. Today they came to Ugur's house to interview him, and afterwards they hooked me up to a microphone and asked me a few questions about what I was doing in Turkey, my meeting with Ferhan Sensoy, and my thoughts on Ugur and Turkish theatre. It was great fun, and certainly a memorable experience.
11. Meeting Ugur's cousin at his fur shop. He is apparently very strong, eats raw spleen, and can beat Ugur up. He also gave me a beautiful black fur stole. :]
Alright. Pictures and then bedtime. Tomorrow, I begin really exploring historic and religious sites! 


Monday, May 21, 2012

Top 10 Moments

Okay everyone. At least for now, I don't have time to give blow by blows of what is going on, as much as I'd like to. So I'm going to provide a list of the top 10 moments over the past couple of days.
1.       Meeting Dogukan (pronunciation: Dohkahn). He has asked that he get his very own entry, but for now he'll need to settle for being number one on my top ten. He is basically like family to Ugur and Yagmur, and his presence is always a welcome and warm addition. He is unfailing in his commitment to translate things for me, and I am very, very, grateful. You should know a couple of things about him: he refuses to eat eggs, cheese, and olives. He studied film at university, and has been working with Ugur at E.S.E.K. for eleven years. He is an international man of mystery, and he loves his mother. He visited the United States a few years ago and loves Boston. He is a very talented photographer, and his best photos seem to be of clouds or skylines. He is quickly becoming one of my very favorite people on the planet. Today he gave me a lovely book of 50 short stories, and I love it! He seems to understand the beauty of things that are communicated in casual words or actions, and the weight that can be held in a single moment. He is a kindred spirit, to be sure.

2.       Going to Yagmur's dance studio. Yagmur teaches a classical ballet class as well as a contemporary dance class at a dance studio downtown. The girls in classical ballet are probably about 6-14, and they are as sweet as can be. You couldn't pay me enough money to keep a straight face in that class, it’s impossible to watch them without a smile on your face. Gulen, the owner, was a prima ballerina in Istanbul. She is every bit the stern ballet instructor, but has a way of sweetening things near the end of her lectures. During their break, even though we couldn't communicate, we played a game of tag together. So, so sweet! Sitting in the kitchen of the studio, I made many friends, including a man named Cemal (pronunciation: Jamal) who read my fortune in my Turkish coffee. The high points were as follows:
a.       A new boyfriend is on his way, with long hair and a motorcycle.
b.      I will visit Bodrum, a beautiful area of beaches in Turkey.
c.       One day, far from now, I'll have twins, a boy and girl (this is terrifying).
d.      Istanbul will become my second home.
e.      A man who once did wrong towards me will get his come-uppance.
f.        There was a dolphin in the cup, which brings good luck.
g.       Something about  a navy and white polka dot bikini?
h.      The story of The Maiden's Tower will be important to me. Once upon a time, a sultan had a daughter, and it was prophesized that she would be killed by poison on her 18th birthday. Her father built a tower in the middle of the sea (Bosphorous?), and locked her there to protect her. He was her only visitor. On her 18th birthday, in celebration, her father came to the tower with a basket of fruit. However, an asp had been hiding in the basket, and killed the maiden upon her fathers arrival. The tower is also attributed to Hero and Leander, but their story is a bit more complex, so I suggest you google it.
This day was also a national holiday, and Cemal gave me his Ataturk scarf/banner as a gift. I also met Ahmet, who is about 60 with a very cool ponytail. He plays bass in a rock band in Turkey, and is quite famous. He raved about Topkapi Palace, and told me to spend 3 days there without leaving. If only!

3.       In an attempt to be as cool and fashionable as the women in Istanbul, I donned my nude heels with black jeans on Saturday. I had only walked the equivalent of five or six blocks (granted, up and down cobblestone hills) before my left heel was torn to shreds and bleeding everywhere. Fail.

4.       Goya exhibit with Yagmur. We grabbed a bite to eat beforehand, and sat outside to gaze at passerby. She has such a wonderful energy. Warm, wise, and caring. I listened to her opinions on everything from fashion to politics, and her expression is enviably well articulated and polite. She's like a real life Grace Kelly. We headed to Pera Museum and had a coffee on the steps as the sun set, which was a beautiful moment in itself. I felt magnificently European. Then into the exhibit, of Goya's later work. Nightmarish sketches and etchings, with the titles handwritten in Spanish. There was one depiction of Ceres and Stellio that I can't seem to get out of my head.

5.       Later that day, we crossed the Bosphorous bridge, to the Asian (Anatolian) side of Istanbul. It is breathtaking at night, with the lights sparkling from either side, hinting at secrets behind windows and doors. The bridge itself is lit in blue, and it driving on It gave me the impression of being inside a Coldplay song. We went to visit her parents, who don't speak English but made me feel welcome all the same. Her mother prepared dinner, a dish with green peas, carrots, and thyme over white rice, a communal salad, and fresh bread with yogurt. The food here is incredible, I don't know how I'll ever survive the bland flavors of America when I come home. Her mother gave me small, red, drawstring bag, on which she had cross-stitched a rose. She made it for a spring festival in Istanbul, where you bury a piece of paper with your wishes and coins under a specific kind of tree, and then, the next morning, you put the coins in your wallet to bring wealth and toss the paper into the sea so they can come back to you.

6.       Chill Out Festival. Sunday we went to a country club on the outskirts of Istanbul, where a Chill Out Festival was being held. Chill Out Music is kind of jazzy, high energy, with great rhythm. We saw Baaba Maal from Senegal, Alice Russell, and Jazzanova. We danced for six hours straight! Dogukan was a very good dance teacher, just as he is a very good Turkish teacher. Nothing particularly remarkable happened, it was just a lovely evening with good friends, good music, and the joy of dancing.

7.       Following the Chill Out Festival, we went to get delicious toast at this 24 hour restaurant, and then headed home. Ugur was still awake, so Ebru, Yagmur, Dogukan and I sat around the kitchen table with him until about 4 am. They told story after story, joke after joke. Dogukan was translating most of it, but even when he wasn't I found myself laughing at their body language. These languid meal time conversations are quickly becoming my new mode of existence. At home, if I'm eating, I'm also working on something. Reading the news, or a book, or writing, or talking on the phone. People here are better at taking the time to connect, and to reflect. No one seems to ever be in a rush. Anyone who knows me know that I walk very fast, and I love efficiency. I can't tell you how good it feels to let go of that.

8.       Friday night, Yagmur took me to the same restaurant we were at on the first day for a reunion with her friends from a television show she was on, called "Where's My Daughter." Everyone was terribly nice to me, even though I was the awkward, non Turkish speaking addition to the group. Burack and Yunca were both especially kind to me, and I hope I get to see them again! Burack was named best model in the world or something about ten years ago, and another girl at the table was the 1st runner up for Miss Universe. Even if I did speak Turkish, I think I would have trouble finding things to say to most of these people. I feel like Alice in Wonderland. I'm not only in a foreign country, but their world, their way of life, feels foreign as well. I'm a nobody college student from North Carolina (I explain this location, when asked, as being between New York and Florida), and have trouble feeling like I fit in here. All the same, each person is gracious and kind beyond anything I could ever expect. Now I just need to step up my social game!

9.       Today, we went to Ortakoy and Bebek, which are districts on the Bosphorous. They are the among the most beautiful places in the world. I must admit, I've always been a little skeptical of the beauty of the Mediterranean. When it comes to travel, I'm a bit of hipster. Somehow, I had this impression that if so many people have already seen it, then some of its charm has somehow gone away with them. Absolutely not true. The rainforests of Brunei are gorgeous and I am lucky to be among the few to have seen them, but the streets and windows of Ortakoy and Bebek are beautiful as well, I cannot deny them that. And the water is bluer than anything else in the world. Kingfisher blue, and somehow it seems to hold the promise of better things. I read somewhere that Turks have a certain kind of cynicism, but I don't know how anyone could be anything less than optimistic when you have that water at your feet.

10.   Yagmur and Ugur really do know everyone. Today in Bebek, we went to Mudo Concept, a sort of high society café right on the water. We sat there for about two hours,  and in that time, countless important individuals shook my hand and spoke with Ugur at length. Members of parliament, former governors, actors, popular musicians, intellectuals, journalists, producers… Their network is mind blowing. This is one of those situations where the conversation turns to Turkish, so I went  off on my own to explore a bit. It was the first time I had really been alone, and walking the streets of Istanbul. I literally couldn't wipe the smile off my face. The setting sun glowed brighter, reflecting like gold off the water. The faces of people held all the meaning in the world, and as I stood and surveyed the steep hills and villas on the other side of the water, I felt timeless, and utterly infinite.

I will add in pictures soon, I promise!

Friday, May 18, 2012

First day!

May 18, 2012
I am sitting in Ugur and Yagmur's kitchen. It's entirely Coca-Cola themed, Coca-Cola advertisements from the 30s and 40s line the walls, and the trademark red is the color of everything from the curtains to the pots and pans. It is the very embodiment of Yagmur, cheerful and sweet. Something I figured I should go over: name pronunciations.
Ugur= Ooooor. The "g" is just sort of an extension of the letter before, and were I typing on a Turkish keyboard, it would have a small bowl above it. His name means lucky, and given his worship of unfiltered Lucky Strikes, this is all too perfect.
Yagmur= Yaamoor. Same deal with the "g." Her name means Rain, which is the total opposite of her remarkably sunny disposition.
Yesterday, at 10:15 am, my flight landed in Istanbul. The hills of red tiled rooftops were the first things we saw, and the woman next to me (the one who had been doing laps, ignoring the remarks of our increasingly annoyed flight attendants) sighed loudly and put a hand to her heart. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Waiting in line for my visa, I played with a baby who had a penchant for blowing raspberries, and chatted with his mother. She is Russian, her husband is Turkish, and they live in New York. They are visiting Istanbul so that his family can meet the baby, and he can blow raspberries at them. Getting the visa was easy as pie, and then I was onto the baggage claim and out the door. There were probably a hundred people waiting with signs of names, and I almost immediately went into panic mode. I pushed past them and made it out into the clear, looking for a place to exchange money. To my left, a very excited and high pitched voice saying my name broke me out of my dumbfounded and doe eyed state.
Yagmur was coming towards me, full speed. We embraced and exchanged kisses on the cheek, and I laughed out of relief. Finally meeting her and Ugur, after five months of facebook messaging, made it all seem real. I followed her out to the parking garage, where Ugur met us. He grabbed my suitcases with a smile, the unbuttoned sleeves of his Ed Hardy shirt flowing in the wake of his movement, reminding me a little bit of Dracula. Once we were out of the parking garage, we headed through the flower lined streets to Uludag Café, a restaurant right on the Bosphorous. It was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny, and the water is exactly the sort of blue it would be in a dream. They ordered for me, Menemen, a mixture of scrambled eggs, tomatoes, onion, spices, and green peppers, as well as group dishes. Lots of bread with different spreads and cheeses, rolls of feta and spinach, and fresh vegetables. The meal was accompanied by chai, of course, which is quickly becoming my very favorite drink.
Yagmur's father joined us, and the conversation became primarily Turkish. This is a rather fun experience for me, listening to the conversation through body language and tone rather than the real meaning of the words. Of course I can't really know what's going on, but I have been able to make out quite a bit about people simply from the way a person speaks or holds themselves. It's been a fascinating exercise in group dynamics. Perhaps the most interesting thing about these encounters has been that as the speaker tells a story, they continue to make eye contact with me as their audience, even though they know I have no idea what they're saying. Being able to engage as a listener in these moments has been a very new experience.
We went from there to Ugur's casting agency, because he was scheduled to have headshots done.  As we walked from the car to the building, we passed countless beautiful people between the ages of 18 and 30, all waiting to be seen. These women don't play when it comes to fashion, everyone in line seemed to be in five inch heels and clothing that appeared to have been tailored for their body. They're unbelievably beautiful. I felt like quite the fish out of water, being fresh off the airplane and having worn the same drab clothing for more than 24 hours.
Ugur and Yagmur are old friends with nearly everyone in the business, including the folks at this Best Casting, his agency. They swept through the packed lobby and through a door that very clearly read "PRIVATE," with me tagging along sheepishly behind them. Behind the opaque walls separating the bare minimalist lobby from the rest, are warm and lavish offices, with couches, candles, dark wood bookcases and desks, and beautiful art work. A small, winding staircase leads you upstairs to the studio and a few more offices, and out back is a covered patio with large tables and couches. We were served Turkish coffee and seated with another actress from the agency. Oslam and the other owner sat and chatted with Yagmur, and I was brought an application. It was entirely in Turkish, so the actress had to translate for me. She's extremely beautiful, with long black hair down to her waist and eyelashes as long as the eastern seaboard. She lived in Toronto for five years, working as a teacher, and as only recently returned to Istanbul. She was very helpful, and helped me fill everything out, as I did not have a resume on me.
After I was finished I was led upstairs to have my headshots done. Keep in mind that it is now Thursday afternoon, and I wearing the same clothing that I've had on since 5 am Wednesday morning. To put it bluntly, I look rough. They fix me up a little and set to work, and I proceed to do my best for the next 15 minutes as various lights are adjusted and the actress whole helped me downstairs translates for the photographer. My time in Istanbul is short, so this was mostly just for fun, and was certainly an experience I'll never forget. I was offered yet another delicious cup of chai and sent down to an office where Ugur and Yagmur were waiting. They wrapped things up and we headed further downtown.
My favorite aspect so far about Istanbul is that the city if made of hills. Downtown, you can watch cobblestone streets rise and fall like some kind of fairytale. Here, at Ugur and Yagmur's house, every time I look out in the window (especially in the downpour that has conquered the day), I am struck by the rolling green and purple, and the word Anatolia somehow seems to evoke all of the mystery and the power that the image holds.
When we reached downtown we went to a café/restaurant. Life here seems to move at a relatively leisurely pace. Yagmur and Ugur are in their off season, his theatre company is closed for the summer and her television show has finished taping, so they have their teaching jobs and plenty of time to relax. We sat at the café and slowly sipped beer and chai, inviting their many friends in the neighborhood to sit down and chat as they passed. I met probably about ten people that came in and out of the café, all of them colleagues and friends of Ugur and Yagmur. Everyone is impossibly kind to me, and disproportionately pleased by my saying "merhaba" and "adun ne."
After an hour or so, Yagmur and I left Ozgur (one of their company's actors) and Ugur to the cigarettes and chai, and went to explore some nearby vintage and antique stores. Endless, endless, endless pieces of art.
More to follow! Out to dinner now!

Between airports, planes, and baggage claims.

May 16, 2012
Well kids, I'm on my way. Time seems to stop when I travel  overseas, and I feel as if I have endless hours to do lots of things without the internet.
Unless, of course, I use my iPhone. 
I've spent the past week and a half doing laundry, though not as frantically as I should have been, as my mother scoffed at many an item as we packed, claiming that it was dirty (it wasn't… mostly). As is the fashion in my family, I didn't actually begin putting clothes into a suitcase until about 8 pm last night, and my mother took that task over, because, let's face it, she's better than me. I turned into emotional goo while watching the 2 hour episode of Glee and letting the weight of my impending departure sink in. I also repaired my "Holy Toms" around 11 pm last night. It was actually quite fun, and I almost like them better than the originals! Though I did end with a disproportionate amount of Loc-Tite (Satan's stickiest of super glues) on my fingertips. Did anyone else know that vegetable oil gets that sort of thing off? Weird.
I thought I might write a bit about some of the key players in this summer's adventures, that way when I throw out these names all of a sudden you'll have some frame of reference for them.
(Okay side note- I've moved from the overpriced café to my gate, and the couple across from me is speaking Arabic, and my heart is all a flutter.)
Moving right along!
Ugur Uludag and Yagmur Kasifoglu: They are the lovely couple hosting me during about half of my time in Turkey. Serendipity has played a huge part in my arrangements this summer, and they are a wonderful example. Back in January, desperate for advice on how to sublet a room in Istanbul, I posted something like this on facebook:
An acquaintance of mine, who is an MFA grad from UNC Department of Dramatic Art, messaged me. He knew an American man who had acted there and traveled through Turkey for about a year. His name is Adrian, and he put me in touch with some of his contacts. Ugur and Yagmur were among them, he had travelled with them while he worked on a show in Turkey a few years back. Ugur runs his own theatre company, which, to my understanding, it a comic one. Yagmur acts with his company some, and is also on a television soap opera. Adrian described her as being a television celebrity of sorts.
 I messaged Ugur asking for advice on renting, and he immediately offered me a room for free in their home. I am overwhelmed by their kindness. Not only did they offer up their home to me, they also dealt with all of my ridiculous hoops and demands as I applied for grants to conduct cultural research in Turkey. Ugur wrote letters, answered my nit picky questions, and offered me a wealth of opportunities that I otherwise would have never come across. I didn't get the grants for my own cultural research, but I did ultimately team up with the research being done by the Kenan Institute of the Arts, based on out Winston Salem, and involved in a partnership of sorts with UNC-School of the Arts, where I spent my senior year of high school.
Which brings me to my next point!
Omid Safi: Omid is the professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, and for the past 12 years he's led an educational tour of Turkey every summer. I took a class with him, Modern Muslim History, last semester and loved every minute. His surprising and snarky humor is second in greatness only to the depth of his kindness. He is an esteemed religious scholar and writer (check him out on HuffPost!), and I know I have a great deal to learn from him. He has partnered with the Kenan Institute in their effort to seek connections with artists in a Muslim context.
The project is called ART/Islam, and began this year. Our goal is to achieve a greater understanding of Islam and the cultures in which it is found through the work of artists. We are aiming to create an exchange of sorts, in which artists from Muslim context can create with artists from North Carolina. There is a group going to Tunisia, while  David (a UNC-School of the Arts college student) and I will join Omid's program in Turkey. We will travel through Istanbul, Konya, Bursa, Ankara, and Cappadocia, and spend our time discussing readings in breathtaking locations, meeting with artists and religious leaders, and trying to gain some semblance of the deep history and spirituality of the region. My job is to document, through writing, photographs, and video. I'll be setting up the official blog for that soon, and I'll link it on the right in case anyone is interested in seeing what is going on related specifically to that trip. To be honest, a lot of it will probably end up on here, too. It is sure to the be trip of a lifetime!
After the two weeks with Omid, I'll spend another 9 days in Istanbul, before flying to Amman, Jordan, where the fates have stepped in yet again to provide me with an incredible friend and roommate.
Jasmine Melvin-Koushki: I cannot even begin to describe this woman's accomplishments. You just need to google her. She's essentially done everything under the sun, and done it brilliantly. And she will be my roommate in Amman! I took my approach to housing in Amman in a similar fashion to my Istanbul search, only this time, was my platform instead of facebook. Many people are wary of couch surfing, and with good reason. But with the foolishness of youth, an optimistic nature, and what my father refers to as my "vagabond spirit," I simply can't resist it! I used it over spring break to great success, and encourage everyone, of all ages and backgrounds, to at least try it! 
I posted on the Amman group, asking if anyone needed a subletter for the summer, or knew someone who needed one. Many men between the ages of 20 and 40 sent me very kind offers, and though I was of course a little wary, I would definitely have taken them up in a pinch. Many of them had pages of positive reviews from people they had hosted in the past, and it probably would have been just fine.  But, for my mother's sake, I waited it out a little. And then, the stars aligned, and Jasmine messaged me.
Apparently her friend had seen my post, and had sent it along to her. She is now a design consultant at the Royal Botanic Gardens, and prior to that had been studying Islamic Art in Jordan on the Fulbright. As far as I can tell, she has a deeply creative spirit, a very poetic command of language, and an enormous heart. I foresee us getting along swimmingly.
And the apartment is to die for. It's a rooftop apartment, with vintage crystal chandeliers, marble floors, and….wait for it…
A terrace that appears to be the size of my bedroom.
And if all that weren't wonderful enough, she's fluent in Arabic, so she can help me with my studies.
Oh yes, because that's what I'll actually be doing there, if you can ever get me to leave the terrace. Studying Arabic at the University of Jordan, assuming the administration stops ignoring my emails asking for a tuition invoice for my scholarship. To anyone in college reading this who wants to pursue language studies:
Apply for the FLAS. Do it. I haven't really begun my program yet, so perhaps this is preemptive, but so far it's been a great lesson in learning how to travel independently and take the initiative. All good and useful things!
That's all for now. I'm on my flight to Istanbul as I type, and it seems that all the small children have finally drifted off. Total silence is not far away. The woman to my left is hilarious, she's from the Bronx and hates sitting, so she's been doing laps basically the entire flight. Another funny thing- my mom had a fit over my black fingernails before I left, and demanded that I remove the polish before landing. I did, in the airport, and they are squeaky clean and proper as a primrose. However, I snuck the black nail polish into my bag of liquids, out of both a streak of rebellion and an earnest desire to repaint them, if I gauged my company to be relaxed about that sort of thing (and they will be- no one in the whole world cares as much about nail polish as my mother).
But moments ago, as I opened my bulging quart size bag of approved liquids to retrieve my chap stick, the smell of acetone hit me.
My black nail polish has either exploded or broken, decorating my makeup and cute travel sized face wash with Jackson Pollock-esque spots. My mother must have put in a word with the pressurized cabin gods.  I'm just superstitious enough to not purchase another bottle in Istanbul.