If I weren't stoically Anglo-saxon then I might be given to an emotional outburst here.
Unbeknownst to them, they are about to begin life again out on the streets.
Today I conceded defeat and made the decision - it's time to return to Sydney. Ten days away from home and I realise how impermanent everything is. My apartment will go, my possessions boxed up and stored until some such time as I can afford to send them to my next destination, my cats back out onto the street and my lifestyle appears as much as it always has - unstable. In fact, the only stable thing in my life is instability. I can at least count on that.
It is with grande tristesse that I'm having to bid adieu to Istanbul long before our affair came to a close. But still, we always lose what we love and it's better to have left perhaps before the magic turned to familiarity and thus changed to complacency.
Istanbul still retains her mystery and charm, and in a way I prefer to leave it like that. Three years is not long enough to know well a gargantuan city the size of old Constantinople, less still did I have enough time to discover all the hidden neighbourhoods and backstreets.
There are many things that I will miss and I want to write them down before they begin to fade. My memory has never been strong and I'm recording this so in a year or two I can sit down and relive some souvenirs of this city... instead of wanting to rise up against the Turkish bureaucracy, as I do right now.
Here then is my list of what's worth remembering and savouring in Istanbul - the good, the bad, and the other bits.
Generosity You ain't experienced nothing until you get the Turkish treatment. Turks are hospitality personified, almost annoying so. When you're stuck arguing for the umpteenth time over who's going to pay the bill, just laugh - the Turk will always win. Let them, they are known to turn violent and many a guest has been seen clasping his own innards while squriming on the restaurant floor after being knifed by a Turk who wanted to pay the bill... Man, if I were re-born, I'm come back as a Swedish woman and live in Istanbul. Men, as macho as they are, never let the woman pay. Luckily for me, my female Turkish friends are very modern indeed.
Cats See it to believe it. I leave many friends in Istanbul but my only two loyal bedpartners were the lovely Shish and Kebab. I am really, really going to miss you guys. Be good to each other and don't let George give you grief. Fight back. I miss you both very much and hope you understand I never meant to abandon you. It's just that a complete prick at the Turkish-Bulgarian border decided to ruin my life.
Bayrak No idea why, but I love the Turkish flag. It does nothing for me emotionally but it doesn't have to. I'm indifferent to Australia's, and detest the boxing kangaroo thing that gets pulled out at sporting events. Jesus, give me a break. It makes me cringe. A star and croissant, I mean, crescent, is kinda sexy. It looks tough, for the kinda people you wouldn't want to fight with.
Footpaths I dunno, but I must have some kind of obsession about them. There is no city outside of India that has worse footpaths than Istanbul. My feeling is for the last eighty year footpath contracts have been won by the same company that has then proceeded to pocket 90% of the designated funds and instead builds somethng that the majority of residents will trip over at some point in time. The man who wins these footpath capital work projects undoubtedly lives in a very big mansion. It is not possible in the city centre to find 10 metres of footpath that does not have some freakin' flaw, it places an activity like, well, walking, into the realm of extreme sports. You have no idea how many times I have gone a**** over t** in this town. History is no excuse, the Italians can build footpaths and look at how corrupt they are.
Lies Turkish children lie to their parents. About almost everything. They think it stops them worrying. Think again kids.
Tutting The first time it happens you stare incredulous. After a few years you have also adopted the habit that would have made your grannie slap your fae. The Turks tut at every minor grievance but it's not ill-intended. It does take some getting used to and I hope not to do it when passing through customs at Sydney airport.
Chewing gum Until arriving in Istanbul I thought only Americans and people who wanted to look American chewed gum. But no, Turks definitely don't want to look American and the average Turkish male even chews with his mouth open. Quite frankly, what is the point of gum? It's not fun, it's not healthy, and it makes an even bigger mess in a city which barely has footpaths, let alone ones wide enough deal with take the onslaught of discarded gum. Singapore, stupid nation of Lee Kwan Yew (sic) arse-lickers that it is, at least got one thing right. Ban the gum.
Headscarves Let's allow Turkey to work this one out for itself, shall we? Whatever my own view, it's clear that this politically charged non-issue expends intellectual resources that would be better used focusing on more pressing issues in the country. Anyway, if God had wanted us to wear a headscarf he would have said it in the Koran. Which he didn't.
Black Turkish people couldn't get dressed in the morning without it.
Bread I have no idea how much of the stuff I consumed over the last nine hundred odd meals.
Gesticulating and warmth Man, I have to go back to a land where the handshake is about as much physical affection as people allow. Gone are the warm hugs, the kisses, the friendliness and ease of the tactile Turk. I have to return to talking without use of other limbs. This also depresses me.
Grooming Turks dress well. Rich or poor, the Turk loves to look good. These are more hairdressers and barbers per sqare inch in The Greater Istanbul City Council than at a Vidal and Sassoon Annual General Meeting. And Turks are an unbelievably well dressed race, notwithstanding that Middle East gangster is not the look for everyone. The male Turk is almost beyond metrosexuality. Perhaps one of the only things I won't miss about Istanbul is the vain male sporting a ridiculously manicured beard and ostntatiously preening himself in any mirror available. They have no shame and do it even in public places, and again, I'm sorry, but I think that's wrong.
Of ya! How the rest of the world is yet to adopt this phrase is beyond me. So handy when you really, really need to whine.
Orhan Pamuk A pleasantly political choice for the Nobel Prize for literature. Either I'm not clever enough to understand his work or his sentences are so tediously long that I lose the will to live; either way, I admit after all this time that I've read only three of his works.
Moustaches No-one, but no-one beats that Turk. Gotta say though that I do look kinda sexy with a handle bar number myself. This is one sport in which you will win all medals (with The Pakistanis coming a close second, India third). It's just that the championship hasn't been organised yet.
Turkish muscle Don't be dirty, I'm talking beer gut. Every male in the nation, either upon marrying or reaching 35 years of age, will develop a certain rotundity fast. But since I man without a belly is like a house with a balcony, I've grown fond of mine too, because I've always liked a balcony.
Attention It's narcissistic to say but at least I'm honest - in Australia no-one will notice me. In Turkey I look foreign, sound foreign and probably still act foreign. It made me stand out, and yes, I liked that. I'd never felt so exotic.
Guns Too many of them. Turkey, guns don't make a society safe, they make it paranoid. A nineteen year-old wielding a semi-automatic weapon down Istiklal Caddesi during peak hour does nothing for my peace of mind.
Turklish I'm now a fluent speaker. I hope to regain fluency also in English over the following few months. I have a terrible feeling I'm going to continue uttering broken phrases in graded language until someone punches. That'll take a week.
Beyaz peynir When I first sampled the bleached white tasteless rubbery substance passed off as cheese, I spat it out thinking I was chewing on the plastic wrap. Now, I can't live without it, but may well have to.
Politics Tricky one. It's time to ditch the leader of the CHP. Your only serious opposition party is run by a suspect megalomanic who can only scream on camera and doesn't seem to want to share power. You need fresh blood or you're going to be stuck with the AKP for a lot longer yet.
Turkish males moving fast This is both unnatural and quite probably against the law. Watch a Turkish man run. It's hilarious. I can't explain why but you have the impression that it's perhaps the first time he's realised his body could achieve such a thing. Complete lack of co-ordination. I dunno, but this always amused me.
Inhibitions (the lack thereof) These people get up and dance and sing without drinking alcohol. It's very, very unnerving.
History If there is one thing I will miss about Turkey, it's Istanbul's timelessness. In Sydney there's little chance of wandering about and thinking 'who lived and breathed and worked and loved and fought and died in this place 1500 years ago?' This thought depresses me. I love Istanbul above all because it is a town that lives with it's rich past so very well.
French If you speak it, your Turkish vocabulary increases by 300% overnight. Handy, but doesn't help you one iota to comprehend the unfathomable grammar.
Kiro Take a lanky youth. One tub of hair gel. A tight fitting lurid-coloured shirt with only three buttons (or you only need three as the remainder won't be buttoned). Eyebrow tweezers. A necklace your grandmother got in 1926. Genital-squishingly tight dark demin jeans. A white belt. White shoes. Mix and voila. For variety, try the less-than-90-IQ-and-snarl look, or go with the more popular brood-at-everyone-even-though-you're-the-one-who-looks-like-a-complete-twat. Slink around a lot with your less than intelligent mates and use your mobile phone at every given opportunity. I tried it and failed as I've too much grey hair.
Barbers A trip to see Cemal and his uncle was often the highlight of the fortnight. Why I actually allowed someone to poke a burning stick into my ear was beyond me, however, the head massage was as close to Nirvana as I am every likely to reach. After losing my cats, obstructing access to my Turkish barber is reason number two to hunt down and torture Mehmet the border control officer at Kapikule.
Menemen The world's best breakfast food that I became a specialist at preparing. Looks repugnant but so does Roquefort, toad-in-the-hole and daal. In fact, most things in life I like tend to have a disgusting edge to them.
Altaic linguistics No explanation is plausible, no comprehension foreseeable.
People I guess I should call them friends. Some of them were also students. I fell in love with Istanbul because it is inhabited with exactly the kind of people I want to live among. Irrational in the extreme, emotional to the point of queeziness, giving, sharing, caring, thoughtful, frustrating, exhausting, tiring, dependable (except pertaining to time managment), affectionate in just the right amount, inquisitive, and cok yaramaz. Turks taught me lot of things I needed to learn, and some things I shouldn't have. From the taxi drivers to the tantuni seller, from my adorably undisciplined 6th grade students to my wonderful neighbours, I love the Turks.
In a way it's perhaps preferable that I never had the opportunity to say goodbye. It means I never left.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
If I weren't stoically Anglo-saxon then I might be given to an emotional outburst here.