Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Istanbul Chronicles

Today, as I walked across the Galata bridge (that Istanbul institution linking Eminonu's pier with the up-and-coming hip district of Karakoy -and up the hill, the bridge's namesake, the beautiful Galata tower), I noticed a fashionable young mother in acid-wash skinnies, holding her kindergarden-aged sons hand. Behind her, a man held what appeared to be an identical twin brothers hand. Both boys were wide eyed, wore glasses, and immediately I recognized them as two twin boys who I used to teach at the preschool I worked at in Istanbul, in 2013. These two twin boys, now grown into actual little upright walking humans, were mere 18 month old toddlers when I used to spend the lunch hours spooning rice and peas into their chubby smiling mouths. Even then, one of them wore red glasses, attached to his head with a snug headband, that he would always find a way to tear loose, leaving his tiny lenses in random spots around the garden, crawling in the playroom, dropping them in a bucket of germy dirty lego. Both boys were adorable and two of my favourite kids at that school, and it was a surreal sight, to randomly recognize them 2 years later, in this city of 20 million people, walking on a bridge full of fisherman and simit-sellers, squinting in the afternoon sun.

When these sorts of unlikely coincidences or chance occurrences occur, an average logical person might take notice, smile and move on - but I always tend to think about the more esoteric meaning. One theory is that these little coincidences are a trace evidence of our destiny, or more poetically, "fates fingerprint". Just a little seemingly meaningless sign that we our on the correct path, fulfilling our destiny as we are meant to. Whether I believe that or not, I havent fully decided, but I definitely feel like Istanbul, in particular, has opened its doors to me in a most spectacular and cosmically wonderous way.

Here then, for my own reading pleasure and perhaps others who are interested, are my Istanbul chronicles:

Istanbul #1. September 2010.
My first trip to this gorgeous, continent spanning city, was a quick jaunt after visiting Rome with a friend, on my first European holiday. We flew into Sabiha Gokcen airport on a budget flight, where I had checked my friends luggage under my name (as he had not paid prior for luggage, and my backpack was light enough to be considered carry-on), and, unbeknownst to me, he had a certain illicit substance in his bag, that he had neglected to consider or mention. I shan't get into details, but suffice to say, I will never check anyone's luggage under my name ever again, and I am grateful that there were no parallels in my arrival, to any scene out of "Midnight Express". I spent the entire 5 days in Sultanehmets touristic bliss, experiencing my first call-to-prayer, my first tastes of borek and Turkish tea, red lentil corba soup with lemon, my first glimpse into Islamic culture, Sufism, Dervishes, the Ottoman legacy, glittering minarets and bazaars, and, for lack of a better word the "the Middle East". It completely changed my life, and became an obsession and fascination that carries over into my life, right until the present day.

Istanbul # 2. August 2011
After experiencing Istanbuls majesty the year prior, and instigated by a rather painful and dramatic relationship breakup, I decided to throw all manner of caution to the wind, quit my job, and plan a 4 month Middle East extravangaza, which coincidentally coincided with the arrival of the regime shattering and chaotic "Arab Spring". I began my solo journey in Cairo on May 5th, touching down to a government-less country, a frenetic and inspiring Tahrir Square, and slowly made my way overland through Jordan, Syria, Northern Iraq, Turkey, and finally ending in Istanbul. By the time I arrived in Istanbul I was tanned for the first time since elementary school, dizzy with amazing delirious experiences, fully addicted to sheesha, and I had nary a penny left in the bank account. So, I took to working in a hostel full of cats, to earn my bed and breakfast, and enjoyed a few weeks before my flight was due to head back to Canada. I visited the Basilica Cistern for the first time, got to know Cihangirs cafes and Taxim's bars - I call this completing my beginner's Istanbul diploma.

Istanbul # 3. April 2012
Once again, I found myself penniless and somewhat distraught in the city of my dreams, after an au-pair gig in Morocco went sideways (read: fired), and my brother and I had spent a few lovely weeks draining my bankaccount sightseeing in Marrakech, Rabat, Essouria and Chefchaoen. He and I then arrived to Istanbul via cheap Air Arabia flights, and slept for free in the basement of the aformentioned Stray Cats Hostel, as I showed him all the sights and sounds of Istanbul on a budget. Due to rather fortunate coincidence (notice that word again?), another friend from Calgary happened to be in Istanbul at that same time, doing an artists residency near the Galata tower, and many evenings were spent drinking Efes on the sidewalk, enjoying the simple cheap pleasures of the city in the springtime.

Istanbul # 4. April - Oct 2013.
After a few months spent on another adventure (this time Lebanon, Ethiopia and 2 months in Iran), I arrived in Istanbul with a few hundred bucks left and an intent to try my hand at actually living in this city which seems to have left its gilded hooks upon my soul. I rented a room in Cihangir, and swiftly took task at finding a job - which ended up being a month or so back at the hostel, then a variety of very laughable private English lessons in coffeeshops, (where I had no clue what I was doing beyond drinking iced mochas), and eventually, a job at a preschool (where I was eventually fired for being unmotivated and chronically ill with teargas related Asthma). As luck would have it, my arrival in Istanbul this time would coincide with the Gezi park uprisings, and my various apartments were located right in the middle of the action. It was a pretty wild and exciting time, though after my lungs gave up on me, I gave up on being the beacon of resistance, and spent more time exploring the crumbling historical Golden horn regions, shopping the Dolapdere and Tarlabasi markets, and eating cig kofte by the sea. Eventually, when it became clear I had no job, i had spent the last of my liras on tattoos, and things appeared to be rather bleak, I ran back to Canada, for a somewhat soul-crushing winter and desk job, that propelled me to eventually teach in glorious Cairo for a year.

Which brings us up to date:

Istanbul # 5. June 2015. 
The Future is unwritten. Or....is it?