Category Archives: Daily Life

Water Water Neverwhere

 

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.” 

“Oh, Turkey.” 

“Oh Turkey.” 

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Filed under Daily Life, Kadikoy

Battle Scars

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?

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How To Not Lose 3 Cats

If your roommate goes to Europe for a week, and leaves you in charge of her three cats, and if you are not, strictly speaking, a cat person, you may have a few misgivings about caring for them. After all, if you’re like me, during your first night in the house you had a massive nightmare that all three escaped through the door you accidentally left open, while you, dream paralyzed, could only watch in horror. But when RM tells you she can have her friend check in on them, that will seem like such a pussy move. I mean, they’re cats. Minimum requirements are: feed, water, scoop poop, and don’t kick. If you spend an hour a day cuddling and petting, you’re a damned hero in their eyes. You can handle that.

It might happen that in the early morning hours the night before RM comes home, you will wake up to hear one of them humping (or something) the trash bag you left by the door. You will groan, roll out of bed, deposit the trash in the corridor, (have I mentioned lately how lovely it is that everyone, not just rich folks, just leaves their trash outside their door, and someone comes and picks it up?) and return for a couple more hours of sleep.

When you wake up it will be almost sunny outside, you’ll feel refreshed and well rested, and the day will seem full of possibility. You’ll stretch and wonder where to start. You’ll get out of bed, pad down the hall, and fill up the food bowls. No one will come running. That is very, very strange. You’ll pad back down the hall and see, to your horror, that the door, which has a persnickety latch, is cracked open.

At this point you will feel like panicking, but don’t quite yet. First gallop up and down the apartment, looking for any signs of cat anywhere, muttering “stupid, stupid, stupid” under your breath. Then pour more cat food into a bowl. When they still don’t appear, put on JUST enough clothing to avoid arrest, wrap up in a shawl and run out  of the apartment with a suitably crazed look on your face. Look everywhere as you make your way down the staircase.

As you approach the first floor you’ll notice the air getting colder and when you hit the floor your worst fears will be confirmed: because of the construction in the first floor apartment, the front door is wide open.

Before panic sets in you’ll want to formulate this scenario- mischievous cats go exploring in the stairwell, get frightened by buzz saws, run outside, too scared to come back in building because of previously mentioned buzz saws and also big scary men running in and out, they go… god knows where.

Ask the nearest construction worker, in your best turkish,

“Three cats are there?”

Be sure to sound like you’re about to cry.

“You speak English?” he’ll say.

“Yes,” say gratefully.

“No cats. What do they look like?”

“Gray. Much hair.” Make gestures to indicate their various sizes.

“No cats,” he’ll say. He’ll follow you outside as you start poking around the garden.

“There’s a cat, signora!” He’ll point to a tabby under the car across the street. “And there- the cats are black?”

“No, gray,” you should say. “One is like that-” gesture to a cat on the hood of a car, “but much, much bigger.”

“Bigger,”he’ll muse. “What about that one?”

Say “hayir,” and try not to get impatient.

Look everywhere in the garden,

You’ll see cats everywhere. On cars, under cars, in windowsills, on top of sheds, walking in the streets, eating from the bowls the neighbor set out, under the stairs. None of them will be the cats you’re looking for.

At this point, you might want to start envisioning RM’s face when you tell her you lost her cats, and how she’ll probably cry. To do this properly you should feel shittier than you have in a whole winter of feeling very shitty. Run upstairs, grab a bowl of kibble, and come back outside. The helpful construction worker will ask you if you found them. Suppress the urge to hit him, and the equally strong urges to cry and run away. Walk down the street, seawards, because that feels luckier, shaking the bowl and crooning the cats’ names. You’ll soon be followed by half a dozen strays, looking at you expectantly. When you get to where the street ends, by the staircase down to the park, look at the dogs lounging in the sunshine, and try not to envision them eating RM’s cats. On the way back, peer into every garden you pass. Walk the other way up the street, to the corner with the tekel shop. Try not to dwell on the moment you screwed up, really screwed up, this morning when you were half asleep and didn’t give the door an extra tap.

Sit on the front steps and shake the bowl of kibble feebly. The construction worker will come out and say,

“In Turkish you call cats like this. Psss psss psss psss. Just do that. They will come. Psss psss psss..” Try not to throttle him for assuming you don’t know universal calling a cat language. Look at the strays circling you and feel hopeless. A cat in the garden at this moment will probably chase another off from a chicken bone with much howling and hissing. You should probably at this point dwell on the helplessness of indoor cats in the complicated hierarchies and kingdoms the strays have set up out here, which you’ve never fully appreciated before. As you watch them you’ll realize they have codes and rules, territories and seniorities you can’t decifer. You will also realize there’s a whole daytime people street culture you were unaware of. Old men wander by and shout to invisible people through apartment windows. Women come out with bowls of food for the animals. The simit man comes by and a woman on an upper floor lowers a bucket with money in it. He takes the money and deposits a number of simit. She hauls it up. Down the street a woman with a broom pauses her work to talk to a next door neighbor who’s come out with a box of old clothes for the gypsies.

But don’t let this distract you from what clearly happened: the cats got out of the apartment because of your carelessness, got scared by the construction noise, ran outside, got beaten up for trespassing on some tabby’s square of garden, and if they didn’t then get eaten by a dog, ran off.. where? Where would you run if you were an apartment cat on the mean streets of Moda?

You will have no fucking clue.

Go back to the apartment. You’re doing no good on the steps, you’re just making the strays angry, teasing them with kibble. Go to the sun porch and look out to see if you can see them, while you formulate a plan. You won’t see the cats, and you won’t think of anything good. Consider googling the French Foreign Legion, but since you won’t be able to remember if they take women or not, decide that they don’t and go stand in the kitchen for no reason whatsoever and stare into the middle distance.

In a moment a sound will catch your ear. Through the construction noise and street noise and the noise of the birds and the distant barking dog you’ll hear a bowl clinking against tile. Your ears will perk, but don’t move. Listen hard. The sound will come again.

Move stealthily down the hall. There won’t, of course be any cats by the cat bowls, but if you turn your head fast enough you’ll see a tail disappearing beneath the dustruffle on RM’s bed.

Bend down.

Lift the dust ruffle.

See six eyes looking at you, all in a row.

Congratulations! You have successfully not lost three cats.

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Filed under Daily Life, Kadikoy, Strays

Jehovah’s Witnesses, Update

I was out at the bar the other night, shooting the shit, when some fella announced that he’d seen real, live Jehovah’s Witnesses on the bus.

“I mean, how weird, right? In Turkey! Who knew!”

I opened my mouth to say something like, “I KNOW, right?” and then launch into my own Jehovah story, maybe with a few beer-embellishments, when A, who has a strong sense of right and wrong and the endearing habit of going all intense with indignation over things that just make the rest of us go, “huh,” said, sharply,

“How did you know they were Witnesses?”

Fella explained how he’d identified them, (I got distracted by the mixed nuts and didn’t pay strict attention) and A said,

“That is totally not right. They shouldn’t be here. They can’t approach people like that. Proselytism is illegal in Turkey.”

Oh yeah! I totally forgot about that, but now I remember Supercilious Susan bringing it up sometime during my first few weeks here.

Huh.

It explains why Turkey has the milquetoastiest Witnesses, like, ever. As fear of prosecution rises, I imagine, fear for my immortal soul must correspondingly decline.

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Sunday Morning

Last night when I posted a “Hey, suckers, this is at the end of my street” photo on Twitter,

Kat replied, ” I would never get anything done. I would just stare at the lovelies all day.” That is a problem. Istanbul is a gorgeous city full of spectacular views. I don’t even have the best. Not even close. But I can see a wedge of sea from the porch where I’m eating breakfast,

and it’s not conducive to wanting to go to work. I could be there

in five minutes with a book and a picnic lunch. (Okay, actually, to get there in five minutes I’d be lunchless and pantsless and out of breath, but you get the idea. ) Or call up some people and meet them down there. Maybe someone could bring a guitar. That would be nice. Or hell, it would be nice to sit on this porch all day, reading, or doing my Turkish homework or something.

I could look out the window at the sea whenever I wanted, or lean out to see what Blonde Dog and Black Dog are doing- what are they doing?

Oh. Harrassing some poor fluffy fop of a person’s dog. Figured they were up to no good. Seriously, I could watch them run up and down the street all day. Doesn’t that sound more fun than going to work? Do I have to go?

Sigh.

Okay, take one long last wistful look behind you- we’re walking away from the sea.

Oh jesus and the trees are in bloom too-

If the nostaljik tramvay is at the corner, we could take that. That’s always fun.

But it might be just heartbreaking when we get to the bottom of the hill and round the corner and see this

No. We’ll walk.

Here is the bus.

One last look at the Bosporus.

And we’ll go to work. Where this is the view from the window.

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Language success story.

My Turkish speaking and listening skills, which are never hot outside of a controlled setting where people are speaking slowly, are improving!

This morning, for instance, I was able to ask a man standing in the bizarrely empty bus terminal, where I’ve never seen fewer than seventy-five or so buses,

“Hey, what’s going on?” I didn’t understand his answer, but I was able to plow fearlessly ahead with, “Where are the buses?”

He said something, and then asked me where I was going. I said I was going to work, near Capitol, and that I needed a 13, or a 14, or a 14R, or a 14Y, or a 15, or a 110, or a 500A, or a… He interrupted me to say,

“Unfortunately there is not. You have a problem.” Then he shrugged in a very Turkish way and moseyed down the street, which was lined by policemen and heavy-duty police fencing, and completely empty of cars.

Huh.

I was then able to ask a succession of policemen where the buses were. One said, “Over there,” brusquely and turned away. One sighed and consulted his partner, and then said something I didn’t understand at all. The last one assured me the buses were by the Carrefour shopping center, so I walked there, where I was able to further practice my Talking to Strangers in Turkish skills by asking a mini-bus driver,

“Excuse me? Where are the buses from Kadikoy?”

“There aren’t any!” he said cheerfully.

“What?” I said. “The policeman over there is talking the buses from Kadikoy are at Carrefour!”

“Unfortunately not, no buses. There’s a meeting in Kadikoy. No buses.”

Huh. So much for being early to work and having a stress-free cup of coffee while I made photocopies in peace. I did some quick mental math- there was no money in my wallet, so I was limited to public transportation unless I walked 45 minutes back home which would make me X late for work, but then again it might take me another half hour to walk to the metrobus station which would make me Y late for work…

“How do I go?” I said, helplessly.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to work. I’m going to Altunizade.”

“This mini-bus is going to altunizade! Come! This one! We are going!”

“I don’t have any money,” I said. “No money.”

“No problem! No money! Get in!”

“Okay. Thanks!”

It almost makes me wish the transit would randomly stop running without any warning and without any instructions of what to do or where to go more often so I can flex my new locative case muscles.

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Breakfast in Bed

Breakfast in Bed

When I came out of the apartment this morning the next door neighbor was rewarding and reinforcing black dog and blonde dog’s poor behavior by bringing them delicious chicken scraps and cooing and generally fussing over them while they gulped down their treats.

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March 29, 2012 · 10:42

Futures in Turkish Coffee

First Drink

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Then you flip the cup upside down and put money on it to draw out the heat.

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Then someone reads the grounds for you and tells you your luck is going to change because there’s a streak shaped like a seahorse.

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Dog’s Life

Dana (who’s been on my mind a bunch lately, maybe because we haven’t spoken in a minute) once said that she wanted to come back as one of my grandmother’s cats. It’s not a bad placement if you ever find yourself having any say-so in your reincarnation options, but if I were you I’d keep that as my plan B “safety” next life, and I’d focus my energies on polishing my essay for why you want to come back as a stray dog in Kadikoy.

(In my conception of the hindu afterlife, cycling through the samsara is apparently a lot like getting into college.)

When I first put my Stays of Istanbul set up on Flickr, I got an e-mail from an acquaintance saying, among other things, how when she was in Istanbul she was HEARTBROKEN, (caps not mine) by all the homeless dogs and cats here, and she couldn’t understand how Turkish people could allow it or why I would celebrate it.

If Istanbul were like just about any city in America, especially Baltimore, where animal cruelty has been on the rise  for the past few years, and where a street dog’s life is short and brutal, her emotional response would have been appropriate. If you see a dog wandering around without a human parent in Baltimore and you don’t try to find its person or get it to a shelter, you’re kind of a jerk. I have a friend who hopped off a bike once and chased and somehow caught a cat, and then spent considerable time and energy finding that cat a suitable home. There’s a whole system of fostering animals, for Christ’s sake, that seems ridiculous from this side of the Atlantic, because if the government would just step up with a tagging program and dole out some vaccines and fixings, and if the citizens would just be BETTER, just a little bit BETTER, and not scoop up lost dogs for dog fights or set them on fire,  then you could just set out a bowl of kibble and walk away with a clean conscience.

Because these dogs are happy.

There’s a dude who sometimes crashes in our garden, a big fat sandy-colored mutt I inventively call Blonde Dog. He has a buddy I equally inventively call Black Dog. I don’t know where Black Dog sleeps when Blonde Dog sleeps on the concrete pad by our dumpster, but  I know that when Blonde Dog graces us with his presence, Black Dog ambles by, usually sometime between 4 and 6 in the morning, and the two start arguing. (Which explains Blonde Dog’s nick name: That Asshole. As in, “That Asshole barked from 4:30 until the first call for prayer this morning, so don’t judge me for chain drinking nescafe.”) I don’t know what happens to their friendship at night, but during the day they’re the best of buds. They remind me, again, of Dana and I when we were little. We were as close as sisters and did just about everything together, but every playdate devolved into an energetically fraught argument. I remember a big one when we were six or so, about a barbie I’d said I’d lend her, but reneged on at the last minute. It took her literally years to forgive me. It still comes up, sometimes, at Thanksgiving. I lay awake listening to the dogs in the early hours, idly fantasizing about b.b. guns, and filling in the words. “But you SAID I could sleep on the concrete pad! You’re hogging all the kitchen waste!” “I KNOW I SAID IT BUT I CHANGED MY MIND I’M ALLOWED TO CHANGE MY MIND LEAVE ME ALONE OR I’LL TELL MY MOM!!!”

Yesterday when I came out of the house Blonde dog was sprawled across our path and Black Dog was standing in the street, just chilling. Blonde Dog turned his head around and looked at me expectantly.

“Don’t look at me, jerk,” I said. “I’m mad at you.” His tail went thump thump thump against the pavement. Black Dog cocked his head inquisitively at me as I passed and gave a little happy yip. I rolled my eyes. “You are both BAD DOGS,” I said. Blonde Dog rolled over on his back and yawned. When I came back from the store they were gone.

Later, from the sun porch window I saw them on their way down to the sea park at the end of our street.

(I’m almost as great a photographer as I am a drawer.)

They were playing some kind of demented game, I believe the object of which was to be the first to lick the parked cars, and as they zig-zagged down the street I thought I have seldom seen such happy dogs in the states. And it seemed to me that that moment, watching those two zig-zag down to the sea on a sunny afternoon, and cars slow to wait for them to get out of the way, and them oblivious to everything but what they were doing, that moment summed up what I find so fascinating about the street dogs, and why I want to come back as one. Unlike a dog with a proper home, they have agency. Instead of being cooped up in an apartment all day they roam the neighborhood. There are parks,

and busy streets to guard,

and all manner of things to eat from fresh meat at the grocery store or butcher shop, to kibble from the nice old men at the park or at the tea shop, to the leavings at the fish market. There are pigeons to chase and boats to watch and- cars to lick, or whatever those two yokels were doing yesterday. And most of all, there’s companionship. There’s a bunch of these dudes in Kadikoy, and you see them trotting around together, in groups of two or three. Tussling, or just exploring the streets together, or sprawled in a patch of sunlight together. And when you see dogs roaming free and picking their own friends, it starts to seem unnatural to stick them in an apartment and pick their friends for them.

But maybe I’m romanticizing a little, because they remind me of all those books I loved when I was a kid- the Boxcar Children, (oh wait- again it was Dana who loved those, not me) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, any book, really, where adults were suddenly absent and the kids had to run around by themselves. I think that’s why orphan-hood is such a popular trope in children’s lit: noone WANTS their parents to be killed in a tragic car accident, of course, but what child isn’t secretly, guiltily kind of thrilled by the idea of the ultimate escape from parental authority? What child doesn’t greedily and hungrily consume stories of kids who are left alone to run around having madcap adventures, with no one to tell them what to do?

And that, it seems to me, is a dog’s life in Kadikoy.

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Sheep, after.

I took this photo for my childhood best friend Dana, who I’m pretty sure believes all food in Turkey is like this, and is worried that when I come home I’ll bring her some.

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