Wednesday, September 30, 2009

the end of a season

Even though it has been several hours, I can still feel the waves of the sea rocking me, lulling me to sleep as I type this. I love that sensation; it's like the sea is holding on to me— or maybe I am the one unwilling to let go. I was in the mood for a little adventure when I woke up this morning. A new friend of mine was in town, and we decided a divine lunch was in order. We hopped on the Kadıköy ferry to Çiya, for a feast of sour cherry kebaps, green beans in yoghurt and mint, saucy aubergines and lentils, and a tomato and parsley salad with pomegranate seeds. Çiya may be on another continent (it sits on the Asian side whilst I reside cherry kebapless in Europe), but I plan on becoming a regular. Just look at this:

See? Oh, and this— this is lahmacun (lah-ma-joon)— typically Turkish, and ever so tasty. A thin, soft bread baked with ground meat, onions, tomatoes, parsley and spices. You can find lahmacun pretty much everywhere for about a lira and a half. A perfect snack, or in this case, a delightful addition to a feast. All that delicious food for about twenty dollars. Can you believe it?

At the end of a long, satisfying, festival of flavour, tea is in order. After downing what was my third tiny tulip-shaped glass of çay, we hurried off to the iskele to catch the ferry to Büyükada, one of the Princes' Islands— which some of you might remember I visited earlier this summer.

This time however, the streets were mostly empty, the quiet barely broken by the clip-clopping of horses. It was like being transported somewhere far, far away— Istanbul felt like a mere memory. We walked down shaded streets, marvelling at all the old villas, many in disrepair. Paint peeling, bougainvilleas fading— there was that beautiful melancholy that can only mean the end of a season has come.

October was rolling in with sooner sunsets— the ferry back to city madness was slow and full of pinks and violets. I sipped my fifth çay over laughter and stories. When we parted ways at Kadıköy— my friend heading off to Eminönü and I, to Kabataş, I pulled out a pencil and sketchbook and began to draw.

Monday, September 28, 2009

morning rituals

Twice a week, the alarm clock on my phone drags me into the waking world at 5:00 a.m. Despite the pleasant-sounding ringtone I've set it to, it never ceases to anger or surprise me, and I clumsily hit the snooze button. I have no idea how many times it rings between 5:00 and 5:30, but I somehow manage to sit up, and roll myself out of the comfort of my bed around 5:30, into the shower while müezzin voices, singing the morning prayer in nearby mosques, echo in the early silence.

Once dry, I slide floppy cold contacts into my stubborn eyes and stumble off to select something I have loosely planned on wearing the night before from my tiny wardrobe. I get dressed, paint on some eyeliner and head to the kitchen for a light breakfast of beyaz peynir— a mild, feta-like cheese— and a croissant with olive oil and cracked pepper. I drink some water, pack a lunch, brush my teeth and run out the door while double and triple checking I have my keys, wallet and phone.

It's around 6:35 as I head down the enormous cat-filled hill that I live on, to wait for my bus at the corner across from the Bosphorus and the taxi stand. I check the sky for interesting colours, clouds, and that first peek of red sun behind the Asian hills. The taxi drivers stand around in small groups, çay bardaks in hand, cigarettes between lips, chuckling to each other as they stare at me. It doesn't matter what I am wearing, or that I am doing absolutely nothing remotely interesting, they simply stare. It has become a part of our morning ritual; I stand, they stare while sipping tea and hoping for a fare.

I always get a slight tremor of panic that the bus driver skipped me— what if I confused Çarşamba with Perşembe again and he thinks he's supposed to pick me up on Thursday? No, he is just late, as usual, and I wonder as always, why I think I've been forgotten. Another part of the ritual. He arrives, all smiles, tooth missing, thin white hair and thick white moustache. I beam at him, relieved that there has been no miscommunication.

"Günaydın!" I chime.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

a few forgotten sketches

Just some sketches I forgot to share— drawn at the Yeniköy Spor Kulübü earlier this month. Please click on the images to see them in greater detail.


This is what 6:30 looked like on Friday morning.

This is what 6:30 looks like, Sunday evening.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

that exhausted question

I met up with my friend Yelda at lovely Mangerie in Bebek for lunch, before heading off to the Istanbul Bienali. The 11th International Istanbul Biennial is a biannual art exhibition held in Istanbul that showcases the work of 70 artists from 40 different countries. The artwork is spread over 6000 square metres at three different locations. We visited one of the locations, held in the warehouse next to Istanbul Modern, our city's exquisite modern art museum— definitely worth a visit if ever in town.

I must say that what I saw today has got me asking that exhausted question: what is art? What makes someone pick one piece over another to display on a wall or pedestal, give it a white label with black type, and deem it worth looking at? At the moment, I am at a loss. That is a piece of bread with the centre cut out on that pedestal above. Rather than get into a lengthy critique of what I saw today, I thought I'd share a few photos I took of work I enjoyed.

I thought the mosque seen through the warehouse windows was quite a sight. It kind of looks like a video installation a bit, doesn't it?

I've gotten into the habit lately of celebrating a tiny victory every day, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Today's small victory was that I was able to ask of my minibus driver with relative fluency, "müsait bir yerde inebilir miyim?"— may I get off at a convenient place? This is preferable to the "inecek var" that Turkish phrase books push on you. Inecek var (ee-neh-jek var) roughly translates to "there is getting off," not something that makes much sense, even though it is understood by drivers that you want to get off. I had even asked my Turkish teacher this summer what I should say, and she told me that inecek var was fine— but I don't want fine, I want to know what that jumble of words coming out of my fellow passengers' mouths is; I have never once heard a Turk say inecek var. If you are a tourist, feel free to use it— you will be understood, and it's a lot easier than belting out müsait bir yerde inebilir miyim?
I've been practising the phrase all evening.

Monday, September 14, 2009

pen + paper + precipitation

I love alliteration. I apologise for the crappy photographs, but the drawings are too large for my scanner. I'll keep trying to capture these hairy ladies better.

5 kilos of glass beads

Fortunately, the rain this time around was nothing in comparison to the previous storm. I still chose to keep indoors, nursing my cough and keeping dry. I've been using this shut-in period to get a lot of work done— I've started a series of large nudes in oils, began another "memory" painting, continued with my hairy drawings and done a lot of writing. Rainy days can be quite fruitful.

I had this crazy dream two nights ago— what I remember most vividly was this necklace I was making. I woke up with the unbearable desire to recreate the necklace in real life, and so today, I bravely navigated my way through the labyrinth behind the Spice Bazaar in Eminönü, armed with a smattering of Turkish and a large canvas bag. I wanted to take photos of the chaos to share with you here, but I didn't dare whip out my camera for fear of being regarded a tourist. Most items do not have price tags on them, and if the shop people catch a whiff of wide-eyed wonder, the item suddenly becomes "very special", "unique" and "top-quality"— which is not to say that it isn't, but it's a plain fact that locals get the better deal. Fortunately for me, I can fool most people into thinking I'm a Turk. That is, until they ask me something more complex than, "would you like anything else?"

I used the fact that I am getting over a cold to my advantage— I whispered, put my hand to my throat, and answered most questions with a smile and a sad little clearing of my throat. It was understood that I needed to rest my voice, and so I got away with using very few words. Hey, sometimes, you've got to do what you've got to do. So after about an hour and a half of weaving in and out of pushy, sweaty crowds and working very hard at concealing all traces of yabancı— Turkish for "foreigner", I triumphantly walked away with around 5 kilos of glass beads. I even managed to get the local deal!

As I was heading to the tramway, I was struck by the beauty of this old lady selling birdseed by the Yeni Camii— the enormous mosque in front of the Spice Bazaar. Far from the bead shops, I snapped a picture, then decided I'd rather sit myself on the stone wall and draw her instead. During the course of the sketch, I was photographed several times by both tourist and Turk— which I always find amusing— I can't help but wonder who in the world has been looking at those pictures of that funny-looking sketching girl in Istanbul.

I am collaborating with my sister Natasha on this bead project, and as it develops, I'll be sure to share it with you. We're pretty excited about it— it'll provide us with hours upon hours of good sisterly bonding! In the meantime, here are the rest of today's sketches— they document the stages of public transportation I take to get from my town to Eminönü.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

the flood

Due to a nasty cold and some catastrophic weather— the heaviest rain in 80 years, I have been indoors watching movies, drinking tea and drawing. The devastating flash floods in Istanbul yesterday have taken the lives of at least 32 people and caused millions of dollars in damage. Truly, I have never before seen so much water or heard louder thunder for so long a time. The lightning flashes were blinding. I was on a bus on the road that passes by the airport highway that was swallowed up by the muddy water. I saw a violent, yellowish river that didn't belong there, and semi trucks torn like paper. Ambulances, people shouting, hoisting, climbing... it was terrifying. I am very thankful that all I have is a leak in the ceiling, and nothing more. My heart goes out to all those who have lost their loved ones.

Today we had a break from the rain, but it is expected to return tomorrow.
I hope it won't be as it was yesterday.