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!