Tuesday, October 20, 2015


“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” 
― Henry David Thoreau

It has been several months since I last wrote; Summer passed by all too frantically and quickly (with amazing travels in Greece and the Balkans, a month of cat-sitting in Istanbul and a too-short trip back home to Calgary), my latest teaching job began suddenly in mid-August, and I am currently settled into a new life back in old familiar Istanbul.

It is strange that a city that once took hold of me in its exoticism should feel at all familiar - the twisty, hilly streets of Beyoglu and its bars and lokantas; the ferries crossing the Bosphorus and my own specific favourite seat (bottom level of the older boats, outside, feet outstretched on the rail hanging over the edge); the yellow dolmus buses and their various routes; the gorgeous Ottoman mosques and minarets; the colourful street markets laden with figs and eggplants; the neon MIGRO's signs on every corner; the Gratis make-up shops; the everpresent simit vendors and their circles of sesame bread eaten on early mornings, with a small cup of strong tea (cay). Of course I did live here for 6 magical months back in 2013, so obviously there us familiarity from that experience, but this time around, things are a bit...different.

I am now working a full-time, respectable, stable teaching job that pays well. I have a clean, comfortable and relatively new apartment in a quiet and peaceful residential area a half hour service bus ride from my school. I now know the Asian side intimately, from Kazasker to Bagdat Caddesi to Uskudar. For all intents and purposes, I should be exponentially happier than I was back in 2013, when I barely had enough money for a pint of Efes, and lived primarly off of vegetarian Cig Kofte and lentil soup - as my kitchen was routinely occupied by 4 Syrian refugees- and I slept on a narrow steel bed that looked like it once belonged in a psychiatric hospital, in an apartment in an area of Istanbul best known for its glue sniffers and thieves.

My sheets now are clean and matching their pillows, my bedroom decorated with soft Ikea lighting and a full, organized closet- that I add new pieces to on an somewhat alarming basis (this city has always been excellent for shopping). I am extremely comfortable, middle class and for the time being, things seem to be playing out fairly well (minus the early mornings, absurd Turkish bureaucracies and my wild and untameable grade 3 classes which routinely make me question my chosen profession), yet it seems I have some unshakeable melancholia. Perhaps it is the usual Autumn seasonal effective malady, or perhaps it is just that I am a person who thrives off of chaos, struggle and instability, and whereas in Cairo every day involved a feeling of complete alienation and chaos, here I can melt quietly into the background, be mistaken for a Turk most days, and just go about my life in a quiet, humdrum sort of way.

Which isn't my preferred way or mode of living. Like the hanged man in the Tarot thrown into comfortable Ace of Cups surroundings, the normalcy and routine of being a respectable teacher in a city that can at times feel not much different than Canada, can be...dare I say it... boring? I don't mean to complain or reek of privilege: Every weekend that I take the ferry across the grey, moody waters of the Bosphorous, and throw pieces of Borek to lucky seagulls, or every Saturday evening that I sit on a rooftop and gaze at this wonderous cities endless markets and minarets, I feel gratitude and the shrewd evidence of my luck. I know that I am living a life that to outsiders must seem enviable, (I almost envy myself), but it isn't always easy, this nomadic life I have chosen - especially when you aren't indulging in romantic travel spoils, but rather are tethered to work, order and routine employment. I would be lying if I said I didn't miss my homeland; Autumn is a time of year that passes by all too quickly in Calgary, but it has always been my favourite season - buying pumpkins at Safeway, walking the Bow river and seeing the leaves change colour, the first snowfalls and of course, getting dressed to kill on North America's favourite holiday, Halloween.

Within the normal workday it seems I sometimes forget why I am really here, and why I gave up my homeland; the normalcy and stability that I currently find myself in is a struggle against my ethos of bohemian artistic wild rebellion. I make drawings between lessons and write poetry on napkins to strive to stay inspired. I am fierce in my desire to make my weekends count, to smell that salty air mixed with decaying bricks, the air that first made me fall in love with this amazing city, that stoked the coals of my soul in a way that both elated and terrified me; it is true that nothing has ever been the same since. I seek out corners of chaos in the backstreets of Kucukpazar, trying to find unique cactuses amongst the bric-a-brac to keep me and my partner company in our cozy home nest. I spot a mysterious Jewish cemetery from a taxi ride in the morning and return later that day exhausted after school, to take pictures of the stars of David peeking through the high and wired fence. I try to force myself to look up, around, and in all corners, to keep my eyes fresh, enthused and always, always seeking.

As my idol Patti Smith writes in her upcoming book 'M Train' (that I recently ordered from the local English bookshop):

“The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there,”

Perhaps my heart is just so used to being transformed by constant change and delirious experience, that I just need to learn to see the beauty again, in the small things. I look forward to seeing my first Istanbul snowfall, planning adventures for my winter holidays, and always, to the next cup of Turkish tea. Perhaps I am nostalgic for the past, if only because upon reflection, it seems my heart was being constantly transformed, and now I seem to be existing in some sort of denouement. I know that life is a series of peaks and valleys and plateaus; I ought not be melancholic, as all parts are crucial to the landscape. 

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