Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dreaming of moonlit Joshua trees

Photo courtesy of Underground Bastard

Lately I've been missing Joshua Tree National Park. I have so many great memories of time spent there -- midnight hikes in the moonlight with friends, falling 40 feet while rock climbing without breaking a single bone, the first time I saw the springs, camping at Jumbo, photographing morning light at 4am.

Joshua Tree was also the place I would head to when I needed to figure things out or work out anger issues. Something about the desert space and these narled yuccas was able to clear my mind and help me find answers. It was a place of catharsis, where I could let negative emotion flow out of me and into the evil Teddy bear cholla.

There are several things I'm trying to work out in my life right now. And so I'm feeling the need for my Joshua trees, a space to escape to and ponder. I haven't found such a space in Istanbul and I really don't think one exists. It's so difficult to escape all the constant background noise, escape the throngs. You pretty much have to leave the city to find that, something which is currently not an option.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Here's part 5 of a blogger community writing exercise started by Mambinki.

I left religion behind in my early 20s, the only one in my immediate family to do so. After studying world religions, I realized that I wanted to set out upon my own spiritual journey, outside of organized religion. Of course, this realization didn't come in a sudden epiphanic moment, but rather over the course of time and experience.

A bit ironic that I'm now living in a majority-Muslim country, surrounded by religion on every side in very visible and tangible ways. And my neighborhood of Istanbul is packed with those who practice a more conservative brand of Islam, which, for one thing, means a mosque every 50 meters or so and that alcohol is pretty much impossible to find.
My interest in Islam and other world religions is on the level of anthropological curiousity. I can't imagine ever practicing one again. I guess my childhood in the Seventh-day Adventist Church wiped that desire right out of me.

to be continued. . .

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Issız Adam (Lonely Man)

C., my unexpected houseguest, and I went to see the Turkish film "Issız Adam" last night. C. had high expectations, but mine were rather low to nonexistent as I'd heard everything from "So good I saw it twice, it's my movie" to "Hated it. Typical Turkish love of the tragic."

At the beginning of the film, we find the main character, Alper, heading out to see a prostitute, and what's worse, an older and not-so-good-looking prostitute. Soon after Alper meets the fresh-faced, wholesome Ada at a bookstore and basically ends up stalking her, which she a little too good-naturedly allows. A relationship quickly develops between them, which could be best described by love/hate between them and self-hate, particularly on Alper's part.

Alper, though we are meant to sympathize with his character, was simply unlikeable. One moment he decides he's deeply in love with Ada and wants her to meet his mother, the next he's heading off to meet another old prostitute and being a complete ass to Ada. In one scene, at the restaurant he owns, he yells at his mother, visiting from the southern province of Mersin, ostensibly for spilling her drink, then proceeds to be rude and angry to both Ada and his mother for the rest of the night. While here I think the director was wanting the audience to think, "Oh, poor Alper, his repressed emotions are bubbling up and he's taking it out on the people close to him cause he just can't control himself," instead I was further convinced that Alper was just a complete asshole, a spoiled bachelor who hadn't at all figured out what he really wanted in life.

As expected, Alper eventually dumps Ada, in his kitchen, where he had first endeared himself to her by showing off his top chef skills; she is brokenhearted but moves on. He returns to his decadent bachelor life, complete with a new array of even older prostitutes -- yes, the recurring theme of a serious oedipus complex. In the final scene Alper runs into Ada, who has since married and had a child. They catch up on each other's lives, which means basically that Alper is back where he started at the beginning of the film and Ada is happy without him. They go their separate ways after shaking hands, only to, in a classic dramatic Turkish moment, run back toward each other for a last, torrid embrace. And finally, some parting shots of the sad, pathetic Alper in his dark room on his own, the lonely man.

Final verdict: Save your 12 TL for some decent coffee or several lahmacuns. If you want some Turkish drama with abundant doses of angst and tragedy tune into "Yaprak Dökümü" (Falling Leaves) for free.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Holidays with the family

This is part 4 of you know what, started by you know who.

There are two words that I think best describe my holidays with the family -- traditionless and random. Before I even reached my teens, my mom decided that a Christmas tree was completely unnecessary and reminded my brother and I that once it was up, neither of us would be motivated to take it down, thus it would be better not to put one up at all. Among us, my brother has always been the biggest fan of traditions and tended to fight against the prevailing lack of caring for them in the rest of the family. Yet he didn't mind putting a random twist on them either. So one year instead of an artificial or real fir wonder he lugged home a real palm tree, much to my mother's dismay.

Holiday meals were another random affair in my family. While one year Christmas dinner would feature eggrolls, fri-chik (you vegis out there know what this is), cactus salad, stuffing (ooh, one traditional food on the list), panset and lemon meringue pie, the next would see salmon, various forms of fruit salad, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and carrot cake. The same went for Thanksgiving, when we got around to celebrating it at all.

The guest list for holiday occasions was also quite random and would most always include at least one person who was a complete stranger to me. From an early age, I think my mom wanted to ingrain in us the idea that many people in the world were less well off than our distinctly middle class family, whether that be monetarily, health-wise or otherwise. Thus, one Christmas season, when I was around 12, mom invited a young girl named Carla and her mom to stay with us. Carla had a heart defect and was due to get a transplant at the hospital where my mom works. After the transplant, Carla had to go on medication to keep her body from rejecting the heart, and this medicine made her face swell up, among other undesirable side effects. Yet Carla was a trooper and from that Christmas I remember the huge smile on her face as she opened her gifts. Not long after that holiday, Carla died after her body rejected the new heart, and her death is something I also associate with holidays with my family. And not just her death, but that of my father, who died a few days after New Year's the year before that.

We have photos of our family with some of our random holiday guests that my mom had literally met only days before at the hospital or elsewhere, found out that they had no where to go for the holiday, and invited them to dinner. I doubt any of us could come up with their names at this point.

Since I moved to Turkey almost 3 years ago now, holidays have become even more a jumble of cultures and hit and miss madness. And now, there are two sets to choose from, or avoid altogether, as well as those wonderful Turkish holiday fusions that I've mentioned in the past. This year we skipped out on Kurban Bayrami (the Feast of the Sacrifice), perhaps remembering all to vividly the gory scene from last year of a ram's blood spraying all over a wall in the village when the imam cut its throat. In fact, this year almost seemed like a protest, as we even stayed away from meat in our meals, cooking a big pot of lentils instead. For Thanksgiving I got together with a hodgpe podge of Americans, Canadiens and Turks for a dinner party, with fairly traditional foods compared to my family's fare -- well, outside of the cinnamon rolls and banana cream pie, but those were in addition to good ol' pumpkin pie. As for Christmas, that was pretty much a pass this year out of necessity, with both of us working. But we did the capitalists proud by sending ourselves some gifts from America, some of which are now stuck in customs limbo.

And though I am a traditionless wonder, I still get some sort of warped, vicarious pleasure from hearing about the big Christmas celebrations my brother has each year with his wife's family, which once I got to experience firsthand and which kind of blew my mind with all the giant stockings, gift-filled basement, tree-with-every-inch-covered-in-special-edition-ornament holiday dream of every middle America suburbanite.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The unexpected guest and laughing along with the universe

My mom met C. at the hospital where she works in Cali over three months ago when C. was there visiting her own mother, who was in the latter stages of a battle with cancer. C.'s mother died soon after. My mom befriended C. and had her over.

C. was left to fulfill her mother's wish of being buried in Izmir, her place of birth. She flew to Izmir to do this, staying on in Turkey after the burial and eventually coming up to Istanbul to visit friends here. In passing during a phone conversation my mom mentioned how she had met C. and that she was in Turkey.

My mom came to visit for a month and some of her time in Istanbul coincided with C.'s time here so we all got together for dinner and I got to meet C. Weeks later after my mom had left C. called and said she might not have a place to stay the following week because her friend would be going to the Asian side to visit her ailing father and wasn't comfortable with C. staying in the flat with her husband. So that is the short version of the web of events/connections that led C. to be my unexpected houseguest for this week and part of next.

Last night Ev, C. and I headed to Asla and Turker's for a New Year's gig. Fast forward through the turkey and almond pilav, raki, countdown, midnight kisses, tequila, etc. Around 3-4 I felt my energy flagging and decided it would be nice to have a few hours of sleep before work. So C. and I headed out, while Ev stayed on since he didn't have to work. A few minutes into the taxi ride I realized that if C. didn't have the keys I had loaned her, then we were keyless; so called Ev to find out if he had his, which he said he did. U-turn in the taxi back to Turker's, where we're met with the news that Ev also left his keys at home. Whoops! Back to the party, but rather unwillingly.

Later that morning (actually this morning), back in Turker's flat, Ev had a momentary flash of inspiration, realizing that his mom was in town and likely would have brought her key to our flat with her, yaaaaay, no hunting down a locksmith on New Year's! We called her, and sure enough, she had it, though probably wasn't so pleased to be woken up. Mehmet offered to give us a ride to Bakirkoy to get the key from Ev's mom. We hopped in, shivering in the early morning cold. He turned the key and the car coughed up a rather unpromising sound. He tried a few more times -- dead battery. Luckily the flat guard was awake and at his post and offered a jump. After charging up, we were on our way. At this point, I had already given up on trying to make it to work on time.

I'm not superstitious. So I'm not taking these incidents as a bad omen for 2009. I'd like to think the universe was playing one of its jokes on me and hoping I would laugh too.