Ah, what a jumble it all is! There are mosques all over the place, but we rarely hear the call to prayer. There are Christmas trees and Santas, and English language Christmas carols everywhere, but Turks, 98% of whom are Muslim, decorate with them to celebrate the New Year. On New Year’s Eve, one friend’s brother is dressing as Santa Claus, complete with bag of gifts. It sure doesn’t feel like Christmas to me this year…a nice long season that we usually slide into beginning with Thanksgiving,then decking our halls and entertaining while avoiding shopping and gift-giving. Our Christmas Eve ritual includes carol singing and reviewing the Christmas story at church. It is odd, watching it all, the lens feels distorted–which, after all, is the purpose of this adventure!
This past Thanksgiving, we had a wonderful dinner with friends with enough utensils remaining in our kitchen to make pumpkin pies to take, but the house was generally a shambles for the six weeks prior to our move. It was a very difficult job to heave all of the stuff we’ve accumulated for 29 years out the door, some into PODS, some to be shipped to Turkey, some to be tossed, some to be donated. We frantically continued that dance until the day we left – having to leave the dry cleaning we almost forgot to pick up in my station wagon as it was parked in storage for two years.
We have learned what Lucy and Rita are made of – and in some ways they had the worst of it, because we couldn’t clearly warn them of what was in store. For weeks prior we were trying to warm Lucy to her traveling kennel. After a 7 hour car ride to LAX (for a non-stop to Istanbul) we tossed cat food into the crate (unable to locate her food bag, we hoped she’d see Rita’s kibble as a high value treat), and pushed her in, locking the grate. She was checked as excess baggage and carried away to the cargo hold, emerging on the other end 15 ½ hours later. Rita was with us in the cabin.
They are troopers, both of them. Lucy loves her three daily walks, enthusiastically marks the territory along the way, tries to terrify the renowned Istanbul street cats, which unfazed, look right through her as she passes. What we knew of Rita, our four-year-old cat was that she didn’t like people nor the indoors much. We’ve learned she travels well in the car, not a normal cat trait, by seeking comfort next to Lucy. Here in Turkey, maybe she senses that she’d be out of her league outside, or she’s just become domesticated overnight…she’s still not a lap cat, but she hasn’t missed a meal and she’s not complaining, with the exception of one meltdown where I offended her dignity by changing too many things at once.
In order to bring the pets, we got international health certificates, updated their rabies shots and inserted ISO compatible microchips. We collected Lucy, as happy to see us as we were her, from over-sized baggage, loaded her onto the porter’s cart along with our 8 suitcases and walked through customs. The paperwork was inspected, we had to pantomime what “killed virus” (the contents of the rabies injection) meant on the rabies certificate and we were out the door.
So many things…Jim and I are back in a city, and we love it. We are staying in a small flat in Cihangir on the European side of Istanbul. It feels 1980s Greenwich Village-y to me…cobblestones, sort of gritty, and, because it is all so old, and the days so short…dark. There is an amazing amount of street life up the hill at Taksim Square, but all of the steep streets and staircases we’ve climbed to get there are quiet, populated with orders of magnitude more cats than people.
Our location is extremely convenient, a five minute stair-climb to Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi – the main shopping promenade on the European side. Saturday evening, Istiklal was as crowded as Fifth Avenue in Manhattan at noon. Suburban Lucy “heeled” like a champ in her first foray into a jungle of mostly blue-jeaned legs. It was rainy, and Istanbullus dress quite casually, probably because so many of them are young. Five minutes downhill brings us to the Bosphorus, and the Fınklıkı station of the tramvay (no “w” in Turkish) which takes us two stops to the ferry to Kadiköy. The stop in between is Tophane and the Istanbul Modern museum where yesterday we saw the last day of the First Design Biennial in Istanbul. I will write about that in a later post.
We will be living across the water on the Asian side near Kadiköy in Moda. I plan to set up an art studio mid-year, and am eyeing Tophane as a location. I’ll need to find an artist to share it with, and Tophane is really dark and gritty, but friendly and real – a mix of rundown buildings, hip new hotels and galleries, light industry and work-day cafes. By then, hopefully, I’ll speak enough Turkish to cope.
One last impression in this initial jumble of things…Starbucks is ubiquitous here (surprise?!). And, we’ve ended up in them frequently because they are an easy meeting place. I met a couple of American women for coffee on Sunday in a swell hotel on Taksim Square. English was spoken at the counter and through the sound system playing Christmas carols. I think (nothing unusual registered with me) I poured ½ and ½ — although I’ve heard expats lament its unavailability – into my coffee at the sugar station. Jim and I had two more Starbucks rendezvous that same day. Then, this morning in Kadiköy, after the 20 minute ferry ride I told Jim I’d never get tired of, they spoke Turkish-tinged Starbuckese, had no milk where the sugar lived,rather they gave me hot foamed milk in my brewed coffee, and I shared a wonderful little warm cheese filled black sesame sprinkled bread packet called a talum paynirli domatesli poğaça. Ah Istanbul, we love you.