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! 


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