Hey y’all- if you liked this blog, find me at my new anonymous one- agent L abroad. Thanks for reading.
I’ve had a very lazy week, gang. A big class finished, and for one reason or another most of my one on one students cancelled so I’ve found myself at loose ends… and what is it about having nothing to do that makes it so hard to do anything?
Anyway, let’s get down to it.
First off, since I was a wee small bairn I’ve had a deep distrust of the concept of heros in general. I hated writing those “Who is Your Hero?” papers in school because I knew, somehow, I just knew deep down everyone was kind of a jerk and I also knew intuitively and later confirmed that no one comes up with ideas on their own. They just don’t. You just don’t. Thomas Edison always seemed a little too much of a muchness character to me, (and it turns out he had about as much creative input in his brand as Calvin Klein, which is to say almost none) and I want to weep a little every time I think about how we don’t have free electricity because a few people would prefer to make money from it. So Nikola Tesla, I salute you. And I’m sorry you died alone and crazy and thank you. And thank you Oatmeal for this wonderful tribute. Geeks of the world, pour one out tonight.
Palate cleanser: Whale beached in the forests of Argentina! Man I get jealous of people who think of and do these things.
I like dumb jokes a LOT, (holla Tim Hallam! All y’all check out the link for Connections right there on the right) but I like stupidly overly-intellectual quips almost as much. This fantasy re-shuffling of Europe made me snort coffee out my nose a few times. “Bordello.” Ha!
No one really talks about money, which is weird, right? I mean, no one ever talked to me about money. Mom just figured I’d figure it out because somehow she had. And I was taught to balance a checkbook in school, and someone told me not to spend more than a quarter of your income on rent, but that’s bout it. No one really talks about money. It’s rude to bring it up with your friends. (Refreshing exception implicit in ex-pat life. “So where do you teach? Cool. How much do they pay?”) Not possessing many marketable skills myself, I escaped the American Economic crisis by moving 5000 miles away. It’s a common story here. But pals of mine who’ve stayed in America are dealing with it by going back to school. Which is really fricking expensive. And they’re getting into debt. And no one’s talking about it. So I find this series of exchanges really refreshing.
Speaking of America- this breakdown of gay-friendliness by state was making the rounds earlier this week, and it’s worth a look. I mean, no brainer in a way, (the coasts are more progressive?! Wha-?!) but interesting to see it all laid out.
Also speaking of America, here are some pictures I got all misty about. Camden Yards will never be Memorial Stadium, (“Let’s knock down this memorial we built to never forget something!” -Baltimore) but that big building on the right is where I had my prom, and I spent many pleasant evenings bored out of my mind there.
And finally, here’s the world in high res. Thanks, Russia.
Do not count on me, reader, in endtimes. Whether it’s the zombie apocalypse, war, “a series of rapid percussions,” nuclear holocaust, the Mayans coming back to get us whatever, I don’t think I’m going to survive after the first few days without running water.
“I have water,” A boasted last night. “I took a long hot shower before I came here.”
“Bastard,” I said. “I’m gummy. I’m actually gummy. I think if you threw something at me it would stick to my filth.”
B threw a coaster at me.
“Do you still have water though?” asked C. “Because I had it for two hours and then it went away again.”
“We definitely didn’t have water when I left the house,” I offered. “I kept lifting the tap, mournfully, you know, and hoping. I wound up just swiping my important bits with a damp cloth. You’re all welcome.” B began giving me an elaborate sniff test. “Fuck off!”
“I heard it might not come back until Friday,” RM said. “Some kid on the street told me that today.”
“But the website says-”
“The website says it was supposed to be on six hours ago.”
“I was really hoping they’d have water here. I need to poop.”
“You know,” I said, “that is something that has totally been freaking me out? No one, not our bartender, not the guy who just sold B a kebab, no one at the grocery store- I mean NO ONE has been able to wash their hands properly in the last two days.”
“I did at work-”
“Like I said we had it for two hours today and I took a shower, I started a load of laundry, I cleaned the kitchen…”
“I can’t even go in our kitchen now. It’s awful. I think it would be better to burn it down.”
“Is this your first water cut?” C asked me.
“It’s my first of any length. I’m used to it going out for a few hours, usually when I’m late for work, but two days is- special, and I of course if they would just TELL you beforehand…”
“Yeah. We had a four day one last year. That was fun.”
The passion of my mid-twenties was some high-minded ideal of sustainable, organic, slow food. Not foodie food- I squirmed and still squirm at that word, which feels smarmy to me. Something a certain kind of man who has an “eclectic” c.d. collection and enjoys “sensual” massages would say to impress a girl, “I’m really a foodie. On our next date you’ll have to come over so I can make you squab in a blood orange pomegranate reduction sauce with roasted asparagus with wasabi jus. I got the recipe from Gourmet, February 1988.” Bleh. Run. No, I was interested in plain home cooking, done well, with local, seasonal ingredients. I was interested in a time before strawberries were available year round, and one might know one’s farmers, and one canned food because it was the best way to make it last all winter, when waste was anethema, and even the scraps went to your pig to become your dinner later.
I read Karen Hesse and learned to hate white sauce. I read Michael Pollan and learned to despise Monsanto. I trawled the farmers markets for organic farmers who were actually local. I bought my pork from the heirloom pig guys and learned to do without beef. I waited weeks for the only truly free range chickens I could find and paid sixteen bucks for one. I stopped buying eggs from my egg man when I learned he fed his chickens soy. I grew food on my roof.
And I never, ever, ever ate fast food.
Well, maybe once a year when we all went on vacation because you canNOT go South without hitting Waffle House I don’t care how strong your principles are.
What happened to that passion? Well, work got in the way. And when you’re chronically single, making meals for yourself sucks the fun right out of cooking. So much easier to just heat up a bowl of soup and be done with it. Or stop for a sandwich somewhere on your way home. And then, I was a few years too early. When I left, Baltimore was becoming an urban farmers paradise. When I was 26, the sheer effort of cycling all around town to try to find food I deemed acceptable, and the cost of that food when I found it- it makes me feel tired and defeated just to think about it.
Fast forward half a dozen years and here I am in Istanbul, which is a paradise for fresh fruit and veg. It ‘s ridiculously cheap- I swear I just paid 4 lira for a pound of early cherries which comes out to less than two bucks- and it’s trucked im daily. And if you want to support a local farmer, they rig up markets in almost every neighborhood on almost every day of the week. Just found one in Cengelkoy at the Su Dolap stop, by the way, that’s ridiculously cheap, but, fair warning, crawling with gypsy kids. (Unexpected side effect of Istanbul ex-pat life, I find myself saying things a racist from 80-odd years ago would say. But seriously, watch your pockets around the gypsy kids.) It’s not organic of course. Istanbul’s selection of organic food is pathetic, and so expensive it makes Whole Paycheck, er, Whole Foods look like Sav-a-Lot. No joke. (Any Isty’s wanna put in two cents proving me wrong here, please do.) But it’s local? Lower carbon footprint? That’s good, right? No? No. 26 year old Sarah is weeping and gnashing her teeth in fury. I’ve let down the revolution.
And then I’m surrounded here by really good, cheap abundant food. It’s EVERYWHERE. Other bloggers are better about waxing rhapsodic about it and I’ll let them. But trust me- the fish is fresh, the iceberg lettuce is invariably crisp, the stews are savory… yeah. Other people do that better. But the problem I keep having, the problem I always come back to is that Turkish food is pretty much all you can get here. There are Chinese restaurants, sure, but they’re kind of crappy. THere’s a vegetarian Indian restaurant, I’ve heard. There’s even some approximation of sushi. But I grew up in America, where even a relatively uncosmopolitan city like Baltimore was in the nineties had decent Chinese takeouts on every corner, (even fancy Chinese restaurants! Anyone remember Uncle Lee’s? Holla?) and Indian, (what was the name of that Indian joint that opened on Frederick Road? Marc and I used to go there ALL THE TIME. Mmmmm. Samosas.) and Greek and Afghani and Thai and Mexican and El Salvadoran and okay, if we get into taco territory I’ll start crying and never stop, but you get the idea. It was not only available, it was convenient. I’m just not used to living in a mono-cuisine culture, yet here I am.
I rarely eat for pleasure anymore.
So to sum it up, my relationship with food has unravelled because of latent hippie-guilt, laziness, and boredom.
Which brings me back to fast food.
In my early, dark days here, on a morning when I was feeling particularly beaten up by Istanbul and homesickish, I passed a Burger King, and the door opened and the smell hit me full in the face and suddenly I was in Snowpea, my white Nissan Stanza, in the drive-thru of the Burger King on Rt. 40, in 1998, and Marc was probably there too, and I was ordering a Big King Meal with onion rings instead of fries and a diet pepsi. I found myself walking into the Burger King on Bahariye and ordering a meal. And even without the bacon-product topping, it was the most perfect thing I’ve ever eaten. The patty was cardboardy, and the ideal balance between salty and savory and totally bland. The cheese-product was rubbery and poorly melted. The ketchup was too vinegary. The bun managed to be soggy and sawdusty at the same time. The fries were limp and underseasoned. You might judge me, reader. You might call me an ugly American. You might, rightly, point out that there was a doner bufe right next door and doner is, by any subjective or objective measure, better than Burger King. And yet it my mouth it was so much more than the sum of its poor parts. It was sunshine streaming through a car window. It was easy companionship and brittle jokes. It was road trips and beach toys, all the time in the world, the perfect mixtape. It was youth and the weight of the world. It was everything I’ve ever lost, and everything I ever wanted. That burger, reader, was love.
Nevertheless when I finished and was licking my fingers and noticing that the other patrons were Turkish teenagers and tourists, I was ashamed of myself.
It became a regular thing, after that. A payday treat. I found my footing eventually. Made friends, took and discarded or was discarded by lovers, found the perfect apartment, became good at my job, stopped being homesick, and ate less fast food.
I came home the other morning to find RM and JP in the living room.
“We’re ordering McDonald’s breakfast,” RM announced. “You want the standard?”
“Yes ma’am!” I said. And settled happily into the couch. While we waited for the McDonald’s delivery man (oh yes, that’s a thing here) to come on his scooter we post-mortemed our various adventures from the night before and settled into an easy companionship. JP started reading a book. RM disappeared to fuss with her hair or something. I fiddled with the i-pod. We got hungrier and hungrier. RM called McDonalds again to confirm it was coming. I gave up on getting to work ontime by public transportation and decided to take a cab (MORE ON THAT LATER. Now that’s a story.) We danced a little and restlessly stalked around the apartment. I leaned out the window and squealed “Oh my god he just pulled up!” A moment later we were in the kitchen, fluffing our McDonald’s coffees (remember when I wouldn’t drink anything but fair trade organic shade grown?) with milk and sugar.
The hashbrowns were salty, tasteless, and weirdly over-starchy. The McMuffin, (which FYI in Turkey are made with “Hindi” which is a fake ham product resembling canadian bacon that you don’t want to think about too closely) was half cold, texturally suspicious, and gooey.
“Oh my God,” I said, with my mouth full. “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”
“Agreed,” JP said.
“Agreed,” RM said.
Here are some pictures I took from the web of Bir Mayis in Taksim.
Here are a bunch of socialists marching:
Here are a bunch of people sitting on a McDonalds
This is what a million people look like from a helicopter:
This is what a million people look like when you’re in them:
WHen you’re there it’s just overwhelmingly hot and crowded and shovey, and you the sun beats down on your head and there are songs that everyone else knows all the words to but you can only shout along with the chorus, “Bir Mayis! Bir Mayis! Something something something something something something!” or “Ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao ciao!” and there are impassioned speeches that you can’t understand and you shake your fist at the sky when everyone else does and do your best to shout “shoulder to shoulder we fight facism!” in Turkish with the rest of them but it isn’t your fight, really, not your country. You haven’t lived through the injustices your friends have. You’ve never run from tear gas. But it is your fight in a way, you think, as you shake your fist and hum along to the Internationale, because you too despise injustice, fascism, Americal Imperialism, capitalism.
But you are very tired and hot, you can feel your fair skin frying in the sun, and you’re not convinced this government-sanctioned, police “protected” display does anything to fight any of that.
This is what a million people look like when you finally give in to your aching joints and sit on the ground.
Do you all remember young love? When you really like someone and you’re pretty sure that person really likes you too and maybe you both have the same day off so you spend most of it in bed, making stupid jokes that will carry you through a few years of a relationship, talking nonsense to each other, holding the palms of your hands together and marvelling at the simple miracle that you both have fingers… and maybe you trace a white line in his eyebrow and say,
“How’d you get that?”
“I was riding my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge at 3 in the morning…” he explains, and you listen, rapt. And then he touches a divet on your shin and asks how you got that and you tell him all about this crazy house you used to live in that had the tiniest, twistiest, most unevenly built stairway ever, and how you used to run up those stairs, three flights of them, without turning on the lights… and then you examine his appendectomy scar as though it holds some essential truth about him, and he in turn marvels over the shiney patch on your foot from that scooter accident and so the afternoon wears on,
“Is it really two? Jesus. We should at least get something to eat.”
“In a minute. Come here.”
What happens to those bodies of knowledge and knowledge of bodies when they’re no longer needed?
The lovely part of spring is finally here. The days are warm and monotonously lovely. I’ve acquired sunburns one, (shoulders, back of neck) and two (nose, decolletage), I’ve had to readjust to life without coat pockets, and I’ve laundered all my summer frocks. And of course my legs are in bloom with a rash of lovely purple bruises.
“What on earth happened to your leg?” C asked the other day. “Has he been beating you?”
“No, nothing that exciting,” I said. “I’m naturally clumsy and in the spring I’m more active so…”
“Oh that’s a bad combination.”
“Indeed. It’s a joke back home that I should be wrapped in bubblewrap and issued a helmet and mouthguard.”
I frowned at my calf, and noticed the tail end of a scar curling around. My God, skin doesn’t heal so well after thirty.
It got me thinking about how the map of my body has changed since I came here. Old scars have faded substantially, (you have to really look to see the one from the scooter now. By the way, kids, patent leather mary-janes with the most adorable buttons ever are not good motor-cycling shoes) new scars have erupted all over the place.
My hand for one: that pinky will never be right again.
And then there’s the scar on the back of my leg:
That’s a good one, eh? When I was at Dilko I complained that I wanted a conference table set-up instead of a ring of school desks
So my boss’s solution was to install tables and cut the desk parts off the chairs with a hacksaw. (His ideas were always just so close to being good.) For about three days I was really careful of the jagged desk-stumps on the sides of the chairs and then one night a student asked me a question, I whirled around real fast to scribble some grammar rule on the board, and the metal edge caught my calf. I was on so many painkillers at that time because of my hand that I didn’t feel it, and it wasn’t until I felt blood trickled into my shoe a moment later that I realized something was wrong. I probably should have gotten stitches, but I figured I was on enough anti-biotics to kill a microbe the size of a horse and I’d spent way too much time in hospitals recently anyway.
My foot was recently mauled by both a ferry gangplank and a cat in the same week.
I fell and skinned my knees to fewer than three times this winter. (I blame the sidewalks, which are all, to a paving stone, trying to kill you.)
They’re all purpley and I don’t think the skin will ever be right. I cut another divet out of my leg below the divet from the house with the twisty staircase. It was a shaving accident aggravated by pantyhose and inability to remember to buy bandaids. Every night when I’d come home and peel off my tights another small chunk of leg would come with them. I might not, when I come to think of it, have the best self-preservation instincts.
So these are the ways Istanbul has marked me. You? You got any good travel scars?
So today is my birthday, which I’m celebrating by wearing a pretty frock, eating obscene amounts of food, chirping “it’s my birthday!” to every single human being or cat that comes within chirping distance, and of course teaching a grueling nine lesson-hour day. Hooray!
But don’t fret- I’m getting my fun in this week. Yesterday a fellow Baltimorean came into town. First off I took her to tea at the Galata Tower so we could sit and discuss our options for the day- sightseeing or general chilling?- and that’s where we were when the windstorm hit. We’ve had a pretty windy spring already. Last week there were a few nights when even with all the windows in the apartment closed, the wind was strong enough to slam doors. Which isn’t unnerving at all. At two in the morning. When RM was away and I was alone. So when my Baltimore bud asked, “Is this normal?” I shrugged in a way I hoped was relaxed and conveyed that we were TOTALLY not going to die, and said, “Yeah! Happens all the time!” and suggested we scurry down the hill to the Halic bridge for lunch. While we were catching up on Baltimore Ravens gossip over fried anchovies and mussels, 300 houses were losing their roofs, 5 people were dying, some building was falling over in Nisantisi, and a yacht was on fire. By the time we paid the bill, the seas were calm again. We opted for more chilling than sight seeing.
So between the birthday, the visitor, and my general laziness, there are no links this week. I do apologize. I’ll be back with a vengeance and more lovely pictures next week. In the meantime, I would like to warmly wish you all a very very happy my birthday.
Student: Teacher, what is your real job?
Me; This is my real job.
Student: No, what is your REAL job?
Me: THIS is my real job.
Student: So… you don’t have a real job?