Saturday, October 31, 2009

worn out soles, happy soul

I've just returned to Istanbul with thinner soles on my Malibrans and over two hundred photos of five days in Budapest. I am still in awe over how much I walked— in heels too, mind you. The weather was a bit more than chilly but thankfully dry, and every time I felt my fingers getting stiff, there was a hot mulled wine vendor around the corner to warm them up. Budapest is a beautiful city with such a range of architectural styles, and the most statues I think I've ever seen in one place. I met some fascinating people, including an Iron Man competitor, a mother and daughter who were in the midst of a European tour, our cute and quiet Hungarian receptionist, and an intimidating waffle man. After all that fun and adventure, I am ready to sleep for the next three days.

I would like to add a note of thanks to the pilot of THY Flight 1483— you are a rockstar. With the way the plane was swaying as we were coming in for landing, I seriously wondered if we were about to hear an announcement to hug our knees and brace for impact. The landing seemed effortless and incredibly smooth. Thank you.

Stay tuned for loads more!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

crossing off the list

I am off to Budapest tomorrow, a place I have dreamt of visiting since I was a little girl. I've always wanted to stand by the Danube.

Stay tuned for loads of pictures and the inevitable sketch or few.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

take a picture, it'll last longer

In a culture where staring is not only accepted, but seems to be as natural as breathing, the last thing you want to do is something that will draw attention to yourself. I will now be known at the Cihangir çaybahçe as the yabancı drawing girl who fell off her chair onto her ass. Imagine the horror I felt, as I discovered the back right leg of my chair was standing on nothing but air. I felt that odd slow-motion sensation you get when you know something bad is about to happen, and as I tried desperately to use every muscle in my body to balance myself, I realised gravity was just going to have its way with me.

Down I crashed— down three steps onto my backside— legs in the air, chair somehow beneath them. As I am lying on the pavement, I decide to take my time getting up. If I am going to have an audience, let's not give them the expected posture of humiliation. No hanging of the head, no red cheeks, no nervous laugh. I sit up, right the chair, slowly rise to my feet and casually dust myself off, as if it's a perfectly ordinary thing to fall off a chair. Shoulders back and head high, I fluff my hair, straighten my shirt, sit down and order a tea. I feel dozens of eyes on me, hear whispering I cannot understand, and give them absolutely nothing. Eventually, everyone goes back to their previous conversations and staring— at someone else.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

from asia to europe

Five o'clock. It's pitch black. I slap on the snooze and curl back up under my blanket. Suddenly I realise that I've got to be in Taksim at 7:45 to catch a bus to Asia for the 31st Istanbul Eurasian Marathon Fun-Run. I hop out of bed, shower, and decide today is the day I get over my phobia of wearing workout clothes in public. I eat some olive bread and beyaz peynir, a banana, and drink a few glasses of water. I'm out the door at six.

The streetlamps are still glowing orange on the hill as I walk down it, stray cats and dogs stare at me with sleepy eyes. I pick up a bus at the bottom, and it feels like I'm the only girl up so early— all the passengers are men that stare at me. I figure it must be the workout clothes, and squirm in my seat.

When I get to Taksim, rain started to fall— and I wonder how walking eight kilometres without an umbrella or a slicker will feel. In workout clothes. I shrug my shoulders and accept the inevitable soaking that's coming my way, and wait for M to arrive at the bus stop. It's wet chaos; people are confused. Which bus? The 8k or the 15k bus? Where is it? What does it mean if my number is green? M and I squeeze onto an old halk bus and brace ourselves for the squished standing-room-only ride to the Asian side.

By the time we arrive, it's pouring. A man is selling cheap plastic ponchos for a whopping five lira— but hey, better to give up the cash than to get drenched. We navigate our way through the enormous crowd of singing, dancing and pushing people, and miraculously find a group of people we know. A Turkish flag was thrust into my hand by a man with a wide grin, and I can't help but think this is the coolest thing ever.

And we wait. We wait in the rain, we wait in the noise of thousands of excited people, we wait pressed up against strangers, we wait.

The countdown begins seconds before 9:30, and with an enthusiastic shout from a man on a microphone somewhere in the sea of people, we start to move.

When I was a little girl, I used to stare at the bridge from our balcony and imagine who the little people were in their little cars, zipping back and forth between continents. Never did I imagine I'd be a little person walking across it.

The rain tapers off, and the sun makes several cameo appearances from behind a boiling grey sky. Excited boys scrawl their names in the dust on the bridge pillars.

The feeling of today was enormous. Being among thousands of different people walking or running together for no real reason other than pure enjoyment, was inspiring. M and I passed the finish line ready for a çay and a köfte sandwich. We sat on the steps of the Beşiktaş Stadium with our little plastic cups and meat-stuffed sandwiches and watched the crowd continue to roll in. Oddly, a man with missing teeth tried to chat with us and offered me two amethysts as gifts, which I politely declined. Content with a full stomach and two heel blisters, I headed home with my fun participation medal and over-sized Marathon T-shirt, which I will fold up in a closet and pull out every now and then to look at.

My new medal and haircut. I've never gotten a medal for anything before, and while I didn't win anything, it puts a grin on my face to feel its weight around my neck.

the conker, the slip and the bob

I am not sure how or why I let a man with a pencil moustache cut my hair in an underground vintage store, supply me with beer in a teacup, and give me a conker to hold while he snipped away.

Here I was last night, just showing a friend this funky store I had discovered, when all of a sudden, I hear a voice behind me in the sequin section rattle off something about my hair in Turkish. Somehow, through my pathetic Turkish and his few words of English, I am able to gather that he thinks I need my hair trimmed and shaped into a fabulous bob. I explain very brokenly:

Önce ben bir cok güzel bob var, ama her zaman Istanbul'da kesim yaptim, saçım çok kötü!

He laughs, either at my language or at the expression of dread on my face— every time I have gotten my hair cut in Istanbul, there have been terrible results that have nearly made me cry. I am not a girl who cries easily, mind you. I don't understand what happens— Turkish women have fantastic hairdos. Perhaps it's the texture of my pin-straight volumeless hair; hairdressers think they have all this hair to work with, but a few snips and I might as well shave it off.

He is so persistent, and explains he is not a hairdresser, but an artist. He understands hair, and knows what my hair wants to do. To his aide glides in a delightfully elegant Spanish man dressed head to toe in white— my sudden translator. My horror stories are now conveyed in perfect Turkish, and the moustached artist's assurances of his brilliance are expressed in clear English, with a beautiful Spanish accent. I don't know why, but I agree to be led by the hand to a striped setee. Before I know it, a vintage slip is tied around my neck and a teacup of beer is placed gently in my hand.

Nefes! Nefes!

The hair artist gestures the movement of a diaphragm with his hands as he exhales and inhales deeply— I understand he is telling me to relax and breathe. As if a light bulb switched on in his mind, he disappears for a moment and returns with a shiny conker and folds it in my palm, whispering, "this, very special."

Two hours later, I do indeed, have a fabulous bob. I thank my new hairdresser— hair artist— and he offers to take me fishing. I politely decline, and thank him for giving me back my bob.

They even have lederhosen!

By Retro is in the Rus Konsolosluğu karşısı, Suriye Pasajı off Istiklal Caddesi.
There is usually a guy in a gold lamé sultan Ottoman costume out front trying to entice you to come in.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

istanbul sketchers in sultanahmet

Istanbul Sketchers met for the second time today in Sultanahmet, the area of Istanbul best known for the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. Rain had been in the forecast, but fortunately it never fell. I've been busy running around with this and that, and haven't had a chance to get to working on the official Istanbul Sketchers blog, but when I do, I'll be sure to add a link so you can check out some of the work of our fabulous sketchers. In the meantime, here are a few of my drawings— above is a sketch of Sultanahmet Camii, famously known as the Blue Mosque.

Click on the images to see them larger.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I have always fantasised about participating in a city marathon, but I have no illusions about my athleticism. I may be able to swing by my ankles from a trapeze, but I only run if my life depends on it. In fact, I absolutely abhor running, and the idea of putting myself through collective self-inflicted torture is not appealing to me in the slightest.

However, I greatly admire marathon runners, and I love the idea of thousands of people coming together harmoniously to test the boundaries of their minds and bodies. It's a marvellous thing, when you consider the sheer mass of different people moving in the same space. I truly wish I had the cardiovascular system and the passion for the extreme physical duress 42.195 kilometres puts on the body, but fortunately for people like me, there is an 8k Fun Run that can be walked!

And I am one hell of a walker.

So this Sunday, I will be joining street-fulls of people in crossing the Bosphorus Bridge from Asia to Europe in the 31st Istanbul Avrasya Maratonu. I'm so excited— I can't wait to see all the people. If only I could sketch and walk...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

istanbul sketchers

I began an Istanbul sketching group yesterday, creatively called "Istanbul Sketchers." We are a group of people from all sorts of places who live in Istanbul and feel the urge to draw this gorgeous and unique city. We'll meet every week at a different predetermined location, armed with sketchbooks, pens, pencils and various other artsy tools.

On our first outing, we chose to draw some of the vibrant café life in Cihangir, known for its Bohemian flair and interesting characters. While I was working on the sketch below, the guy in the sunglasses surprised me by coming up and asking to see the drawing of him he knew I was doing. I handed over my sketchpad with shaky fingers and a slight pink in my cheeks, hoping I'd get a positive reaction. He showed his friends, who all seemed to approve, and as he handed back the drawing, he confided with a smile that he wished he could have it.

I thought I'd include some sketches I did yesterday while out with my friend E, also in Cihangir. The last drawing was on the metro.

Once we get some more work behind us, I'll set us up with a blog and link us to Urban Sketchers, the international group of sketch artists that I am proud to be a member of. I hope to eventually turn Istanbul Sketchers into something with gallery shows and maybe a published book. Hopefully it'll catch on and more people will join us for an afternoon of drawing and endless glasses of çay.

If you are in the Istanbul area and would like to sketch with us, post a comment and let me know. All skill levels are welcome.

The lovely and skilled hands in the photograph belong to illustrator Jo Hodgkinson.