Friday, May 24, 2013

Of stray cats and rooftops

Last night, as I sat with friends on the fourth floor terrace of a bar in Nevihsade street, I watched an extremely agile cat scurry up the eavestroughs and crumbling bricks of the ornate old buildings crammed next to one another, and disappear into the darkness of the moonlit roof. This cat, so free and wild and without a trace of fear to the precarious angles and dangerous heights around it, made me think of my own absurd situation in this city - however un-brave I am feeling by comparison.

There is nowhere in the world with as fine of rooftops as İstanbul; the multitude of decaying skinny brick-and-wrought-iron structures blend together wıth the minarets, old tin chimneys and red-shingled pointy roofs to create a ramshackle and gorgeous landscape, which is only emphasized by the fact that due to the crowded nature of the city, virtually every buildıng has some sort of terrace on the top that one can sit (and often drink), on. Face one direction and you observe the harbour of the Golden Horn -once a dirty inlet full of polluted water and boats trading goods, rough and tumble sailors from all over the world gathering to eat and drink on the edge of Europe- but now clean and full of tourist cruises and busy sheesha cafes. Face the other way and the dim lights of the rapidly gentrifying ghetto of Tarlabacı call out - clotheslines and derelict buildings of illegal immigrants and shoeless kids playing in the rubble, somehow an equivelent to New Yorks Alphabet City ın the 70's and perhaps an absurd comfort in a world elsewhere so polished and clean. Face south and the wide glitterıng Bosphorous shines, this huge straight seperating Europe and Asia, full of boats from all over the world - İ always think ın awe of what Orhan Pamuk said about Russian ships covertly sailing through in the mıiddle of the night during the 60s cold war, or the fact that Aircraft Carriers have squished under the bridges and through here, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and beyond.

My point is, here İ am working at a hostel for what in North America would be somewhat of a pittance (approximately 3 dollars an hour in case anyone's asking), barely scraping by and balancing like a lost feral cat, dealing with the daily frustrations of living in a place where English ıs not the language, simply because of things like this: the innate visual Poetry of the Roofs of Istanbul. İts seems outrageous and silly, when I could be making a decent wage back in Canada, saving money and spending time with my frıends and family, to stay somewhere for such reasons. İ romanticıze things so much in my own mind that İ find I laugh at myself on a regular basis. Like Pierre Loti in another time, wooed by the decorative details and shiny exoticism of living in a place wıth such a romantic colourful hıstory, and such a beautiful antique appearance. I've been thinking a lot about Orientalism lately, and as much as İ hate that word and its semi-racist connotations, I guess İ might as well come to terms with it. Just the same way people fall in love with cultures anywhere -as much as people love Canada for its wilderness and rugged lumberjack stereotypes, Japan for its techıe neon Harajuku glamour or adore France for its croissants and Museums and good sense of "french" style- İ too am in love with the tangible mythology of İstanbul gone by.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Nostalgic Nomad

I am currently sprawled out on my giant bed (after 3 months of single sized beds in hostels and hotels and homes in Shiraz, this queen sized mattress feels fit for a Sultan), in my room in the apartment I have rented in Istanbul Turkey. Listening to Canadian 80's music, eating nutella and feeling nostalgic and lonely and happy all at once. The past week of apartment and job hunting has been hectic and stressful, and now I can finally just  relax.

I first visited this city 3 years ago, as part of my inaugral European backpacking adventure, and fell in love with it instantly. The narrow hilly slightly decaying streets, the spiral staircases and everpresent feline friends; the tiny tulip shaped glasses of tea and spinning doner kebap stands on every street corner. More importantly, it sparked my general interest in the Middle East, when I took an overnight bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia (in central Anatolia), and awaking at dawn I realized I was no longer at all in Europe. Something hit me that morning, seeing the strange landscape scattered with minarets as the sun rose, the occasional camel staring at me through the dusty windows... and I never really recovered. I don't know why or how, but visiting Istanbul definitely changed my life.

When I left here on that first trip (tearfully boarding a train bound for Romania), I felt like one day, I somehow had to come back and live in this city where Asia meets Europe. I made a little promise to myself and admittedly, it feels good to finally, after 3 visits, actually be *living* here, for at least a month, maybe longer if all goes well.

My apartment is in Cihangir which is a perfectly located residential area, near Taksim square and Tophane tram station. I share the old high ceiling-ed suite with a Syrian film-maker, and another Turkish girl. Antique shops, cafes and fresh fruit markets litter the streets. Art Galleries and quirky designer shops selling goods I most certainly cannot afford on my 35 lira-a-day hostel job taunt me on my daily strolls up and down the hills. This is where the hip and intellectual set of Istanbul come to drink their Cay (tea), play cards and gossip while rolling their own cigarettes. I, of course, observe it all like a fly on a wall, and am loving it. Orhan Pamuk's famed Museum of Innocence, which I still have yet to visit, is nearby.

I don't know how long I will be here, as it all depends on what jobs I am able to find. Currently I am working mornings at hostel reception, which is always fun, and teaching a weekly conversational English class to 3 middle aged Turkish men in a Starbucks at the mall. Nothing too fancy...but the city in all its nostalgic Huzun-ridden melancholic glory makes up for it.

Yesterday I walked across the Galata bridge at dusk and went to the spice bazaar where I spent a mere 5 lira on a giant box of Turkish Delight, the freshest most delicious lokum I have ever tasted.  Every other evening I go for late night tea and sit on tiny uncomfortable stools in jammed little alleyways and people watch. I can hear sea gulls and the call to prayer out my westward window as the sun sets, as well as the jams of an acoustic Turkish band who practices beneath my window. I am happy, even though I am alone a lot of the time, when I'm not at the hostel.

I've been trying to draw and somehow create things out of the overflowing amount of inspiration this city gives me. The layers and layers of history here are addictive ; the more that you learn, the more you want to peel off new endless layers and sink deeper.