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!