Sunday, July 21, 2013


Things I miss about Canada, in no particular order:

- Sunday afternoon Pho with Endri and Jessica
- Sunday evening dinners and guitar jams with my Dad
- laughing hysterically with my brother over our absurd lives
- spending time with my family
- walking alone by the river with my headphones on and then sitting on benches and writing in my journal
- drinking beers by the river with my friends
- the Ship patio and going for BRUNCH (omg Eggs benny, yes)
- goths
-girls with big tattoos and shaved heads and dreads and boots and all the rest
- drivers who obey traffic laws
- dancing to 80's music (with the aformentioned goths)
- sunsets over the prairies and maybe even sometimes driving to the mountains on the weekends
- my mom <3
- tim hortons timbits and iced caps
- late night subway subs after the bar
- pizza -available by the slice!!
- multiculturalism and feeling like ANYONE can be a Canadian if they live in Canada and we are all basically equal
- bathtubs
- vegan food! the concept of vegans! HIPPIES! the SMELL of hippie grocery stores!
- nostalgic walks through the old neighbourhoods i used to live in
- The Roasterie
- Oolong tea and chess games -and beating Endri :P
- Sheesha at cafe med with friends on friday nights
- drinking wine with Ahmad and Marko and Endri and Jess and getting silly
- Getting ridiculously drunk with Cody and Mandy and Barret and Jesse and all the rest of my awesome punk rock open minded friends and being the "responsible one" (hah!)
- Truman! my beloved cat
- hearing English being spoken

Things I will miss about Istanbul when eventually I leave:

- being surrounded by history and old buildings and mosques that were built hundreds and hundreds of years ago
- buying groceries outside my frontdoor at the weekly Tarlabasi market, and spending less than the equivalent of 10 dollars to fill up my whole fridge with fresh produce and cheese and olives and eggs
- dancing all night to gypsy arab-esque music in rooftop terraces with great friends (and having to help to quickly shut all the windows when teargas begins to float in suddenly...)
- buying illegally imported Djarum Clove cigarettes from random street stalls down on the harbour of the golden horn, for 6 lira
- Living in a building with a winding spiral staircase
- squeegee-ing my bathroom floor after i take a shower
- buying my spices in an Ancient Medieval covered bazaar
- being able to walk any direction and find new strange places - from little ramshackle cafes in Tophane and Cihangir to decrepit buildings and fish shops along the harbour at Karakoy, to those old blackened wooden Ottoman structures that are about to collapse in Kasimpasa...everywhere you go there is history and huzun and it's all for the taking, to see and breath in and smell, for free...this is probably what i'll miss most.
- Going for Nargileh as often as I like and drinking little tiny cups of tea with it
- reading Orhan Pamuk -in the city he lives in
- Iced turkish coffee at Kahve Dunyasi (like cocaine in a cup)
- waking up to the call to prayer at 530 am and then falling back asleep for an hr or so before getting up for work
- my little 2 year old class of adorable monsters
- buying dinner at my local lokanta and eating bread, rice and pasta all in the same meal
- yogurt on rice
- kumpir potatoes, 1 lira baklava and other local delicacies
- feeling like every day something new and weird could happen

Monday, July 15, 2013

In a New York minute

Sitting here, nibbling on my dinner-sized bowl of fresh radishes and chopped cucumbers, a lovely cool breeze blowing through my screen-less windows as I watch my neighbours not-so-frilly delicates flap in the breeze; another day in Istanbul ends and the sun begins to make its slow steep climb down from my perch and through the bowels of Tarlabasi's ghetto, over the Golden Horn, to set towards the mythical West.

Here in a city of such constant visual stimuli, is worth occasionally stopping and simply listening to the sounds of Istanbul, not allowing the immense overload of imagery to crowd your experience. The ever present pigeons mix with sparrows and miscellaneous hyper mystery birds that sound like they have downed an entire kettle of Turkish coffee. During this month of Ramadan, a man carrying a large drum parades up and down the streets at 3 am to wake everyone -regardless of faith-, and remind them to get up quick and eat the pre-dawn meal of Sahur. Add to this mix the jangle of car honks, children yelling and throwing things into the garbage pile, the Gas-truck speeding up and down the streets early in the morning, playing his catchy jingle in an attempt to sell his canisters of cooking fuel...and it is a veritable urban symphony unlike any other, at times leading to symptoms of insanity amongst its occupants, but more often than not a lullaby, wakeup call and general anthem for the average working class hero. (There is actually a handsome young chap whom I've seen walking up and down Istiklal street wearing a T-shirt with this written on it - "WORKING CLASS HERO", and I am envious, I must say).

Working class hero/masochist that I am, I live here in the belly of the beast in the semi-slum of Tarlabasi. I'm not sure if its simply because of my rather thrifty upbringing, my many years spent in art school near-poverty, or some sort of vow of suffering I have taken upon myself, but while many a frou frou-y expat spends their time living in fancy frilly upscale areas of Istanbul, (shopping at the local multiplex mega-mall and completely detached in a clean and antiseptic reality so far removed from my life), I simply cannot feel comfortable in such posh confines, and have thus gravitated to where I have. It might also be that I am being paid a much lower wage than some other ex-pats I have come into contact with, (those of the pink-washing-machine purchasing variety), who's days seem to be concerned with what brand of knives to buy, or how to remove wine stains from their plush white carpets, and if I want to live centrally, there is no better option than here.

This is a city that can drive you crazy, where in one minute you can be sighing pleasantly to yourself certain it's love - walking across the Galata bridge at dusk chomping down on a Balik Ekmek (fish sandwich), or dancing up and down Taksim streets half-drunken with friends, on a perfect summer night. Or you can be swearing to yourself with certain hate -crammed into that packed Metro subway car, or eyes burning with tear gas at taking the wrong corner on that same summer night. I myself fluctuate wildly and rapidly in my own opinions, like some manic, bipolar orientalist who has forgotten to take her pills, but sitting here on this evening I am feeling the love side of the coin take over, and honestly wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

A fellow Canadian friend of mine who also lives in Turkey wrote this choice statement -presumably in repose to the romantic stereotype that people have created for Istanbul -and I am using it to close this scattered, random blog post because it is just hilariously perfect.

"We are in New York, or at least the New York of the East, and anyone who calls it the Paris of the East has never noticed that Istanbul is lacking in romance, a working level of English and decent croissants".

It's Lord of the Flies meets the summer of Sam, and just like Times Square in a bygone era, the gritty chaos envelopes as noisy birds fly on high over the cuckoos nest.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Mosaic City

It's fitting that during its Byzantine period, Istanbul (then Byzantium) was known for its remarkable mosaics, because while Hagia Sophia's namesakes may have fallen out of fashion and into a state of crumbling decay, the mosaic is still alive and well in Istanbul - it is just represented (in true postmodern performative fashion), in the eclectic lives of its inhabitants.

My own life here is one grand shambolic mis-matched mosaic, with each distinct part a different colour, texture and smell, and I thought it might be interesting to write about this.

Monday to Friday mornings and early-afternoons, I spend my time in the leafy well-heeled enclave of Etiler, which could be a residential neighbourhood in any well off suburb in any westernized city the world over. Shopping malls (loads of shopping malls), cafes, and sport utility vehicles clog the streets, along with my place of employment, a primary hued preschool catering to wealthy upper class Turks, Ex-Pats, and of course, their very well taken care of children. It is worlds apart from where I wake up , a mere 4 metro stops away, in working class Tarlabasi.

Three stories down from my kitchen window, a street cat scurries across a makeshift garbage dump, old women send baskets down through their windows for local shopkeep to fill with bread and milk, and seemingly semi-feral rambunctious children play late into the evening with under inflated dirty balls, or collect half squashed tomatoes from the gutter after Sundays chaotic weekly market bazaar. Last week I came home to the usual crowd of Kurdish women on my front stoop spinning freshly shorn sheeps wool; here, where it seems as though time has stood still for the past several decades, men sit on the road drinking their tea, keeping watchful eye over the slums less desirable inhabitants (drug dealers etc), life goes slowly spinning on while  a mere 10 minute walk away, one of the busiest shopping streets in the world, Istiklal Caddesi, fills with its usual throng of tourists eager to buy clothing, throw back pints of Efes, and spend their dollars. It is a very interesting contradiction, and fascinating to walk the daily tightrope between these two worlds.

Several evenings during the week I head around town to teach private English lessons to a few different groups of people, traipsing over to Uskudar on the Asian side, or near Kabatas ferry pier, I sit and enjoy copious whipped creamed iced beverages and attempt to explain, with some difficulty, such linguistic nuances as a "past participle". My students are average middle-to-upper class Turks, who seem to have little to talk about besides T.V shows and viral Youtube videos (and the latest Epilation procedures - what is with Turks and hair removal? It seems one thing hasn't changed since the days of the Harem).  I have tried to kickstart juicier conversations regarding politics or relationships or religion (trying to keep myself from falling asleep mostly), but have generally received awkward lukewarm reception.

Weekend evenings I dive headfirst into the party vortex of Taksim square, where one could visit a different bar every Saturday night for a year and still probably have some left to try. Dancing and drinking and wandering home with friends at 5 am, the sun rise reflecting off the Golden Horn into my bedroom window, I climb my wooden spiral staircase, open my double barred front door and tumble into bed, facing the cool cement wall to fall asleep as the pigeons wake and the call to prayer begins...

Weekend days I often play tourist (living in one of the most gorgeous cities in the world, after all), and sightsee in historical Sultanehmet. It is a completely different world from my Monday to Friday working life - one capitalizing upon the Orientalist image that I of course am a sucker for. Scarves, carpets, Nargileh pipes and jewelry in the bazaars all beckon me to spend my hard earned dollars. Generally speaking, during the week it is easy to forget that I am a foreigner here (given my international group of English speaking friends); it isn't until I stroll up and down alone through picturesque Sultanehmet streets, and I hear once again vague proclamations of love, offers to drink tea and "look at their shops", whispers of "sexy sexy" and, my personal favourite "I like your tan", that I am indeed reminded I am in fact, not a Turk.

These areas are just a few of the many distinct neighbourhoods comprising the overall Mosaic of Istanbul: From Beshiktas' and Kadikoys students to Aksarays cheap-rent enticed immigrant community (and thus tempting Arab and Uygar restaurants), Ortakoy and Bebeks fancy clubs and sea-side sheesha bars, Fatih and Eyups religious conservative population, and of course Cihangirs smoky intellectual cafes, patios and hip stray cats.

It has been said that Turks like to consider themselves a rather homogeneous group, (perhaps that explains the lack of diversity within traditional Turkish eateries - Kebab anyone? , general overuse of the Turkish Flag, and oh, those little gaffes such as denying the Armenian Genocide and the general existence of Kurds), but the way I see it, any city with such a long, glorious and fascinating past, is better off to celebrate its various unique bits that make up its whole. This city is a crazy bustling mass of 15 million people, many leading seemingly remarkably differing lives, but all united in a love of tea, friends, and socializing.

I am just one of many wanderers to have dropped anchor here for awhile, one foot in Europe and one in Asia, dancing back and forth on the crazy messy colours of this absurd Istanbul carpet.