Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Belated Christmas!!!

Christmas in Istanbul is rather strange. Around the 22nd of December people start decorating their windows with holly and lights. Christmas trees and toy Santa dolls start appearing in store displays around the 23rd. Christmas comes and goes on the 25th, however none of your students wish you a Merry Christmas. Even the Turkish staff at work is totally oblivious to the holiday. Around the 28th people dressed in Santa Claus costumes start roaming the streets of Istanbul, more trees, more lights, more holly. Students start giving you gifts around the 29th… total confusion.

Istanbul update:
-This week has been quite nice. I taught six days in a row, covering two morning classes for my partner teacher, Katie, who went on holiday for Christmas, as well as teaching my regular two morning classes, two evening classes and two weekend classes.
-We are having a dinner party tonight with our Canadian pals and our landlord Ahmet. Ahmet told Gavin he is going to bring a bottle of Rakı, which we have yet to try and is an alcoholic drink similar to Ouzo or Sambuca. Should prove to be interesting.

-Istanbul has been getting colder by the minute. For the past few days we have had freezing rain all day and night making walks to and from work unbearable and going out after work impossible. My only saving grace has been the hat Oya got me for Christmas, without which I might have frozen to death.

-Gavin finally decided it was time to turn the heat on after we went a week (editors note: a day) without being able to feel our hands. However he refuses to turn on the radiators in any room but the living room (editors note: saving energy is good for the Earth and cost effective). After my complaints and protests that we should be able to turn the heat on in our bedroom so we didn’t have to sleep in hoodies and sweatpants every night, I received a hot water bottle for Christmas. Thanks Gavin.

-My Weekend Level One class threw me a surprise New Years party after class, complete with tons of homemade Turkish dishes, decorations, balloons, and music. I felt like a movie start as the girls in my class lined up to take pictures with me, giggled, and begged me to get my boyfriend. After Gavin finally arrived, there was more giggling, more picture taking and finally we got a chance to eat. Gavin’s only comment about the party was that the Profiterole was “slop on top of slop.” I think he was just upset at the lack of booze. (pictures of this party and of my lovely Turkish students can be found on facebook.)

-Our stage of temporary poverty is nearly to an end, as we recently learned that our monthly rent allowance is given out on the 3rd of each month. Gavin plans to buy himself a cheap guitar with some of his allowance, I plan to buy myself a cozy fleece blanket. But in the meantime I have perfected Poverty Stricken Teachers in Istanbul classics such as rice and beans, eggplant pasta, and lentil soup. YUM!

***On an even more exciting note, the photo of me on Election night that made it to the cover of the Seattle Times was voted as one of the Top 10 photos of the year out of over 6,000 photos taken for the newspaper. It was reprinted again, for the THIRD time. I need to start collecting royalties on that picture….first the front page, then tee shirts, now again on the front page….

Cold Rain, Good Food, and the Strange Feeling of Going to Work (Without Dread)

Cabin fever and its accompanying symptoms have started to enshroud the occupants of the flat like a thinly veiled mist. The pretty young thing in the blue hoodie twirls her hair, deeply enthralled by her cheap paperback. She is an avid reader and was educated by artists at the finest of institutions; thus, she is naturally drawn to the novels’ myriad allusions to symbolism in the realm of religious artifacts. For this fact alone, she can be excused for delving so wholeheartedly into a story with such an otherwise contrived narrative.

The man sits typing, bent over the computer resting in his lap like a vulture picking at roadside carrion. It is again raining sheets outside. The precipitation is coupled with a sharp sea breeze that quickly turns even the briefest of cigarette breaks into an arduous test of human endurance. The man attempts to put words into sentences, but he is incessantly distracted. A tempo change in the background music, the sound of pages turning, a rattling in the above flat…the poor soul was raised on MTV and, alas, he is now equipped with the attention span of a housefly. Despite the Sisyphean task that lies ahead he trudges onward…hunting and pecking on the keyboard – a constant battle waged with the word processor and its tyrannical grammar check.

The people are both perfectly comfortable in their respective pastimes and the room is surely large enough to ward off any feeling of claustrophobia, but they both unconsciously feel as if they should be amongst others. With bones warmed by a recent shower, they are both entertained for the time being; however, their youthful energy and spendthrift tendencies will soon prevail. Into the night my children, into the cold night…

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Teaching, Eating, Sleeping

Good evening (iyi aksamlar). First off, I must give a special bloglar shoutout to Luciano Pilisi who is turning fifty today. Happy Birthday Dad, your halfway to the century mark and looking great.
In other news, I know our base readership (which I am convinced consists solely of our two mothers) has been patiently waiting for Nellie’s return to posting. The Bard said brevity is the soul of wit and my rants are often far from brief (and wit); whereas, Nell tells like it is. However, this time she actually has an excuse as my classes this week were postponed due to scheduling errors and she has worked two eight hour days in a row while I’ve held down the homestead - this invariably meant that I’ve wandered around the flat quite a bit. I am really starting to like the whole stay-at-home-dad-sans-children gig; but, alas, I return to the classroom tomorrow morning. I’ve had plenty of time to put together my lesson plan this time around so the pupils should respond well to it (or one can only hope they respond at all).
We have moved completely into the new flat and are slowly adding some personal touches to it. The ever-present sound of Widespread Panic blaring on shotty computer speakers, the smell of roasting garlic from our pasta dinners, the screaming of neighborhood felines battling it out on the street…it’s starting to feel like home. At the moment we have about another 3 weeks before we get paid but the modest lifestyle that accompanies temporary poverty has led to many positive actions – reading, cleaning, learning Turkish (I am still at the pronouns but making slight progress), decorating, etc.
We do not have internet at the apartment and have made a conscious decision to eschew wireless service and go the way of Thoreau; thus, I am at a café and I’m presently catching a drift of the owners wanting to close up shop. I must bounce accordingly. Back to Walden…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Iyi Bayramlar

Putting to shame even the goriest black metal show, it was definitely a bad day to be a farm animal here in Turkey. Bayram is an Islamic holiday that lasts about a week and commences with a day of feast, joyful family gathering, and brutal carnage. The holiday’s original intent is based on alms-giving and each family slaughters either a cow, sheep, or goat (depending on their socio-economic status) and donates the majority of the meat to less fortunate souls – similar to donating a turkey to your local charity at Thanksgiving.
It sounds just peachy until one experiences the inhumanity of the terrified creatures being dragged through the streets before their jugulars are torn open by men (many of them very young) that seem to have a bit too much pent-up aggression and bloodlust in their knife-wielding fists. We didn’t encounter any of the death first hand (besides some news footage of a cow and a very dull blade meeting in a painful denouement); however, we did get to witness the aftermath of the butchery on an evening stroll, happening upon such wonders as freshly chopped bovine heads resting beside trash piles, scarved women hacking sheep to pieces in a mosque’s courtyard, and small children playing with piles of unknown innards in back alleys**.
By no means was the day only full of horror as we were invited to a spectacular dinner at Oya’s parent’s house and had a great time mowing down. It was all going great until Oya’s father Hüseyin broke out the mini-synthesizer and I became quickly addicted to constructing minimalist dance hits. This of course pleased me greatly and annoyed the shat out of everyone else there.
As the blood began to coagulate in the gutters and evening turned to night, the celebration (at least for the young-uns) transitioned back into the streets - exemplified by the blaring techno and its ominous pulsating rhythms spewing forth from the rows of discotheques as we trudged back through Beyoglu towards home. We were bloated from the delicious meal and ashen-faced from the sights we stumbled across earlier that evening when Nellie made an announcement - “I think I’m becoming a vegetarian.”
**If anyone has any interest in pictures of the content mentioned above send me an email as they’re a bit too graphic for the blog (you will not be judged for your interest in pictures of dead animals).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dogs and Flats

Concerning Istanbul’s notorious roaming hounds…These aren’t the pathetic cretins that I have encountered in Mexico and Thailand with their bodies ravaged by parasites and, consequently, left to scavenge through life with grapefruit-sized testicles, ill tempers, and patchwork fur. Like all creatures that are left to their own devices in the urban jungles of the world, the dogs are indeed affected by mange and melancholy. Their expressions may speak of lifelong hardship, but the locals treat them with a profound respect. The dogs are well fed and often even given a quick pat by neighborhood shopkeepers. I have undoubtedly seen a fashionista or two scamper quickly away when approached by an overzealous hound; however, I have been pleasantly surprised with the courtesy provided to these critters. Our friend and future landlord Ahmet explained that Istanbullas truly love animals and see the dogs as an intricate part of the city. Due to a very successful sterilization and release program (at least here in the inner city) it appears that this is the final generation of the street dogs. We have yet to see more than one or two puppies that are sans collar and autonomous - free from the tyranny/security of domestication. The extinction of these proud leaders of the streetscape will invariably move the roving bands of felines into the upper echelon of the alleyway hierarchy and who really is ready for leadership by cat?

On an unrelated (and more relevant) note – we found a great apartment in Kadikoy and will officially move to Asia on December 15th! The place is enormous – three bedroom, two balconies, storage closet, living room, dining room, kitchen – and is furnished a bit gaudy (complete with a crystal chandelier and strange, Baroque-esque furniture), but was a great deal, is a ten minute walk to work, and is centrally located in the neighborhood. After our rent allowance given by the school is taken into consideration, we are both paying about 200 lira a month for the place. I think there’s a word in the real estate business for that – Cleveland crackhouse cheap.  The owner Ahmet hooked up the place for his ex-fiancé, but after an unfortunate break-up he was left with a lonely flat that stirred memories better left unfettered. Hopefully, the place isn’t cursed…Anyways, the invitation is now officially open and the exodus shall begin – come to Istanbul all ye faithful, we’ve got the space if you’ve got the time. Steamships leave New York daily and a compartment in steerage shouldn’t run too steep…

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thus far...

The jet lag was pretty bad. The feeling eerily similar to the paradoxical blend of high anxiety, careless cheer, and (seemingly) eternal pain that exemplifies itself though an absurd smirk when one experiences a rather strong hangover. My palette was not quite parched, but my muscles and tendons heavy and sore to the point where it was hard to even crack a lasting smile for the first couple days, let alone make a strong effort to explore a huge, bustling city. The time-zone assimilation process wasn’t helped by the fact that we got zero sleep in the airplane as Nell is thoroughly addicted to word games and I am still too tall to repose in coach. Presently, my normal sense of well being has definitely returned, although we both haven’t quite gone back to our intestinal and digestive status quo (which in my case has always been piss-poor anyways).
As for the culture shock, it has been surprisingly minimal and twelve days into our stay any minor quakes have been absorbed quickly. Shit, the hordes of stray cats are constant entertainment, the call to prayer lets me know when I should be hungry, and the Islamic influence on women’s clothing reassures the fact that even in a global recession the scarf market is stable in some corners of the world. Even the last remaining representatives of Istanbul’s notorious street dogs are well behaved and wizened denizens of the alleyways.
Ned and Oya’s flat is in a great little neighborhood that straddles Cihangir and is alongside a sloping street that leads directly to the shimmering waters of the Bosphorus. Here on the European side one finds a constant stream of people flowing into the surrounding streets and at any time of day the main drag (Istiklâl Caddesi) is packed to a point of comfortable claustrophobia with street vendors, tourists, consumeristas, and the ubiquitous hordes of Turkish youths chanting their soccer hymns or publicly groping each other.
Our routine this week entails taking the ferry over to the Asian side and observing a few classes each day at English Time. In between boning up on verb tenses, the highlight of the short journey is the barnacle-encrusted sea wall that protects Kadiköy’s harbor and docks from the unforgiving Marmara currents. There is a healthy population of cormorants, herons, and other assorted seabirds that remains perched to that cement barrier and their prehistoric grace always puts me at ease before entering work. On class breaks we head to the nearest café to drink tea, smoke, and play backgammon. Such outings may sound mundane, but there really is no pastime better than a caffeine-powered hour of crackgammon.
We officially start working on December 13th. Nellie is heading up some beginning classes and she seems quite excited to chant the ABC’s with a bunch of eager learners. <“Dog! Cat! Muzzo!”> I have the unenviable task of teaching intermediate classes, which I’ve heard is a mixture of studious types and jaded twentysomethings that basically muck around the entire time and flirt with each other. However, being an English nerd has made it rather easy to relearn most of the grammar and I plan on being a tyrant so classroom management should not be an issue.
Well, the power is out, the water heater is taking a day off, and I’m being told I need to bathe before heading to an official English Time meeting (as some people find cleanliness next to godliness or something). So Nell has the enviable task of dousing me with pots of freshly boiled water while I cower and shriek in the cold shower. Later.