Monday, January 19, 2009

Headline: Shitty Sting Song from the Nineties Quoted on Random Blog: “I’m a legal alien, I’m a legal alien…I’m an [American] in [Istanbul].”

  • We obtained our residency permits after a harrowing experience at the Emniyet (Turkish version of the DMV) so we are legal aliens for the next ten months. Our next bureaucratic-stepping-stone to avoiding death in Turkish prison is obtaining work permits. I expect another long day in a musty, cramped room.
  • According to the scathing teacher evaluation recently delivered by my boss - I am experiencing a “complete disconnection” with my students. I don’t exactly know what that means but it sounds serious…maybe a mutiny is brewing. Looks like I may have to play guitar in the subway for change.
  • Still working 23 hours a week and loving every minute of this gleeful existence…hate to be a braggart but this whole free time thing is dope. Per the above note, I probably won’t be as stoked when I’ve suddenly happened upon 24 hours of day of free time after I’m forced to abscond from English Time, sneaking away from a horde of banshees carrying burning torches, saliva dripping from their blood-thirsty jaws as they search for infidels, neophyte teachers, and other assorted wretches from the dregs of society. 
  • Turkish buses are the bane of my existence. Most of my friends know I cream over public transportation and will rap ad nauseam about the benefits of transportation modes that most Americans find horrendous (SF Muni for example), but the buses here just plain suck. Cramped, moist, gut-wrenchingly jerky, expensive…I could list negative adjectives for pages. Stick to the ferries at all costs my visiting compatriots. Lucky for me bus trips are few and far between…

A Big Island

A brilliant sun shines down from the azure sky and all is good. Two days of respite from the frozen sheets of rain that fall indefatigably and we are left in the brightest of dispositions. Mix that pleasant weather in with a break from the classroom and a heavenly confluence is reached. The ephemeral nature of these crisp, clear winter days turns any wise soul into a newborn Utilitarian – one must squeeze as much activity as possible into every waking hour.
We took full advantage of the circumstances, awoke early, scraped the crust from our tired eyes, and made haste to the ferry terminal. Excitement was in the air as we strode towards the coastline. The school life had been taxing this past week and we were ready for an epochal day to mark the early stages of the year. (In common fashion, we waited in the wrong terminal and missed the initial boat. This was aggravating but gave us ample time to hit up the local guitar shop and plot out my next big payday splurge before we caught the noon ferry).
Our final destination on this picturesque Monday afternoon was Büyükada (Big Island). The largest of a chain of islands that lie just off the mainland in the Sea of Marmara, Büyükada is known for its traditionally non-Turkish population and its absence of motorized vehicles. It is a summer destination for the wealthy and the deciduous tree-lined streets are cluttered with beautiful old wooden mansions. Picture the strange juxtaposition of the sprawling, genteel estates of the American South transplanted to a Mediterranean setting and you have a likewise image.
In short order we discovered that the preferred mode of transportation is horse-drawn cart and of course the animal lover/fair-weather vegetarian of the group was opposed to being dragged through the streets by sorrowful, emaciated beasts of burden. (The evil little fiscal conservative that lies in us all and sometimes has the audacity to raise his conflagrant voice was also quick to dissent to the idea due to the 30 lira price tag that accompanied the carriage ride.) The fashionista of the group subsequently decided against bike travel due to a coat that somehow impeded leg movement…arrgh. Thus, we were forced to march the three and a half miles or so to the top of the island by foot in search of a mystical church and restaurant that supposedly awaited us.
The hike to our destination was no trek in the Himalayas; conversely, it was more akin to the proverbial “walk in the park”. Sadly, this duo carries none of the fitness and dexterity of the Sherpas and thus our energy began to waver rather quickly.
If I recall correctly, I was finding it hard to produce any saliva to expectorate and was silently cursing myself for leaving the Nalgene at home when Nellie histrionically shrieked to the unflinching Gods, “I am so dehydrated that I’d drink my own pee…if I could pee!”
It was at this same, desperate moment that the faint, yet unmistakable clamor of shitty Euro techno could be heard through the trees. A few more minutes of trudging along the footpath and we happened upon an oasis in the form of a makeshift café, a toothless garçon, and cold, sweet spring water. Spirits were immediately lifted with the nourishment and the remainder of the journey was a pleasant sojourn as we moved with a new purpose along the path.
At the apex of the island sits an old Greek Orthodox church and a modest outdoor eatery ran by a one man marvel that both cooks up some great comfort food (word to the French fries and meatballs) and has enough beer stocked in his fridge to replenish the hydration of even the weariest traveler.
We arrived late in the afternoon to this area of apotheosis and as the waning sun shimmered off the cool waters of the sea far below and the droplets of perspiration on my forehead began to dry it was all too easy to experience the warmth of inner solitude. The calm of the hilltop was all encompassing and a strange feeling of religious devotion descended upon me that could never be duplicated by the cold didacticism of organized piety. A spirit devoid of human tampering permeated my core, something so pure and pagan that only nature could have produced it in all her breathless glory.
I hoped to pass an eternity in this aforementioned condition…alas, I am doomed to live a faithless existence and the moment was abruptly ended when a gregarious bastard of a feline strode out of the churchyard and broke the enduring silence with a brutal cacophony - the sharp staccato of mournful howls and mews accompanied by a deep, reverberating purr bass line. Awoken from my state, I tapped Nell on the shoulder and motioned towards the trail. It was time to return to civilization.
The descent was all too easy. Sated by the delicious meal and the feeling of accomplishment our legs weightlessly cruised along the footpath towards the ferry terminal. We’ll be back soon.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year!

This past week in Istanbul: Gavin and I rang in the New Year with a Canadian couple we have been palling around with. I made a pasta dinner, we drank wine and Raki at our house then wondered down to the water front just before New Years and toasted to 2009 with KIWI flavored white wine, which was the cause of my hangover the next morning. Good god…what will these crazy Turks think of next? We of course had a drunken altercation with two Turkish men, which resulted with Amy getting her ass pinched (luckily my long winter coat spared me from getting pinched as well, and saved Gavin from a life time in Turkish prison for ripping a Turk limb from limb.)

My classes have been going well, my weekend class is preparing for their Grammar Exam. It is nice when you see students’ faces when they finally really get something you have taught them. However it is very frustrating when they call in a fellow teacher, whom they all have a crush on, and forget all the English I have taught them altogether.

As I previously mentioned, my weekend class met Gavin last weekend at our “party” and after finally learning the simple past tense this week, they were able to ask me questions about him. After they learned that we lived together in San Francisco and that we moved to Istanbul together, one student actually asked me if we “sleep together.” Interesting. (Editor’s Note: We maintain separate sleeping quarters once a week to observe the Sabbath).

Gavin and I finally got paid on the 3rd. Very exciting. Suddenly we have found ourselves rich with the Turkish Lira and spent over 100 TL the day we got paid. I bought myself my fleece blanket and a Grammar exercise book for my classes, and of course we finally got a chance to stock up on necessities like toilet paper, which was, of course, Gavin’s big purchase (Editor’s Note: Had to jump at such a great price).
A Brief Forward: Nellie is a self-professed "crazy cat-woman in training" and has spent some time observing the felines next door. I think everyone will enjoy this piece that she wrote the other night... Gavin

An interesting fact about our apartment: we live next to a cat palace. The building next door looks as though it should be abandoned. The stucco exterior is crumbling. The occupants have opted to create a scrap metal yard in front of their door. Mountains of trash are heaped in front of a pointless two-foot cement wall that surrounds the scrap yard. The only tenants appear to be cats, however the ever-changing laundry that hangs on one of the balconies suggests that humans do in fact occupy the building. The only life I have ever seen coming or going from the building are cats. The king cat appears to be an orange tabby that usually sits on the wall, but can often be seen following the fish cart that a man pushes through our street to the corner to sell his daily catch of sardines. About twenty other cats live under the king’s rule. They can be seen rooting through the trash, hiding under cars, and sleeping among the shards of scrap metal.

These cats have become quite a distraction to our daily lives. As some cat lovers may know, cats udder an earsplitting shriek whenever they fight or have sex. From the sounds of it, the cats next door do both quite frequently. Although our apartment is on the fourth floor, and a wide alley way divides our building from the cat palace, the shrieks sound as though they are coming from our balcony. These cries come at all hours of the night, echoing through our apartment.