Lucy Speaks

Mom loves living in Istanbul. Me, not so much.  Mom says my stress is her stress.

The day Rita's and my life changed. The long car ride to the longer plane ride.  Rita and I were comforting each other.

The day Rita’s and my life changed. The long car ride to the longer plane ride. Rita and I were comforting each other.

When we moved here we lived in a hilly part of town.  I loved all the cats on the street.  They are different from California cats – not afraid of me.  They just stand and spit…I like it when they run and I can chase them.  Mom made me leave them alone.  Now people laugh at me…there was a kitty and it blocked the stairway we were on.  I left it alone as I was supposed to, I gave it wide berth, so there wasn’t room for us to walk on the stairs…people watching thought I was afraid of the cat….can you imagine?  I do chase a cat when I can…

Recovering from jetlag.

Recovering from jetlag.

In California, most people said nice things to me, or ignored me.  Being ignored is fine…I’m not worried about other people or dogs, I just follow Mom and Dad and the toy they are holding.

Istanbul is different.  People and other dogs sometimes are not too nice.  Mom doesn’t always see the mean street dog sleeping under a car, and is surprised when I try to get away.  I have to, because those dogs bark a lot and bite some.  Mom’s learned to hang onto my leash, to protect me from cars, in case I have to dart away from the street dog.  I am glad Mom and Dad respect my need to avoid the street dogs.  Sometimes there are so many on one street that we need to go a totally different way to get somewhere.  Mom and Dad pay attention to my needs, and I am relieved.

My old life.  In Carmel CA.  I used to draw a crowd on the beach...they called me "ballerina"

My old life. In Carmel CA. I used to draw a crowd on the beach…they called me “ballerina”

At least Istanbul has water.  We live in Moda because of this spot.

At least Istanbul has water. We live in Moda because of this spot.

It is hard to make friends here.  Many people act very afraid of me.  They make unfriendly faces and run away.  Some kids think it looks like fun to throw the ball into the water for me, but are afraid of me when I bring it back to them.  Some people want me to come to them, but not too close.  What is wrong with them?

This kid couldn't resist my game :-)

This kid couldn’t resist my game 🙂

Some people are very mean.  This morning there was a friendly dog with a halter but no leash…his mom was nearby waiting for him to come inside.  We played, peed on the same curb, and sniffed each other.  He then went inside.  But, a friendly (surprise!) street dog wanted to join the game, and came to sniff me.  I knew we were in the middle of the street, Mom was calling to me and a car was coming.  We didn’t get out of the street in time, so he just hit us.  His fender was plastic, he wasn’t going fast, it was really just a nudge out of the way…but Mom was really mad!  Dad said, “Good thing I wasn’t there”.

I draw a crowd here too!

I draw a crowd here too!

I like the big park across the street, and I like to swim in the sea.  The park, the sea, the weather are all similar to home, but here I am trapped inside, with no gate that gets left open, so I can’t escape and go roaming by myself.  Sometimes kids in the park like me.  Dad always invites them to pet me, and get to know me.  Sometimes people understand that I am a sweet, obedient girl…mostly though; they don’t even give me a chance.

Dogs with families and homes aren’t always that nice either.  They steal my ball in the park, and their parents don’t stop them.  They get away with things.   Like, they pull their people all over the place, and they bark at me.  Mom and Dad won’t let me do that.  Their parents don’t always pick up after them either.  Mom is so fanatic, if I happen to poop on the steep slope in the park, she climbs after me to clean it up.  I don’t know why she bothers; no one else would do that.

We live in an apartment now.  In our California house I could bark as much as I wanted, although the parents always wanted me to stop.  Here they have some machine that bothers me when I bark.  I limit it now to the things I must bark about, like when the doorbell rings.  When they are gone they close all the curtains so I can’t see dogs outside to bark at.  Pretty boring.  I used to bark my head off at Dolores and the vacuum cleaner.  Wouldn’t you?  I hate that machine, it scares me.  Mom and Dad have been doing the vacuuming, so it’s not fun to bark at them.  Today they have someone else doing the vacuuming…but I’m not barking.  Maybe I’ve outgrown that.

Getting my exercise.

Getting my exercise.

There are some things I love, but I can’t tell you why…the simitici, for example.  He is a man who carries simitlar (Turkish “bagels”) on his head, and walks the neighborhood calling, selling to people who send baskets down on string.  He takes the cash, loads the bread and they haul it up for breakfast or afternoon snack.  That call really touches something deep and primal in me.  When I hear it I can’t help but throw my head back and join in with a howl.  It makes the folks laugh every time.  They call him “my boy”.  Sometimes when we are walking Mom will say “Lucy, there’s your boy”.  I don’t know what she’s talking about…”my boy” is only a sound.  Another thing I love, there are a lot of snacks on the street.  Mom always yells at me to “drop it”, but she’s not fast enough.  I won’t tell you what they are, but they are good.

They call him "my boy".  I don't know who that guy is!

They call him “my boy”. I don’t know who that guy is!

The streets are interesting too.  One day there was a wooden slat box lined in plastic on the street.  I sniffed it and was so shocked at what I smelled that I had to jump back.  I can’t describe what it was, but I did a double take.  Mom looked at it and didn’t see anything.  I could walk for hours just sniffing and peeing.  So many have been by the same place, there is so much to notice.

Mom and I go for long walks all over town in the evenings when Dad’s at the gym.  I like that – so many new streets and places to see. Mom tells me what a good friend I am, and how happy she is I am here with them.  Also, we go watch the boats out on the breakwater.  Sometime she ties me to a post and shops for things.  Being tied up used to make me nervous, but I’m a city dog now.

Mom and Dad are happy.  Rita is doing OK, and they protect me from the street dogs. It isn’t as good as my old life, but it is good.

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Turkey in the News

There are two stories in the news now that Americans are reading.  One is the stabbing death of a New York woman at the end of her solo stay in Istanbul, and the other, the unfortunate suicide bombing of the US Embassy in Ankara, yesterday.  I followed the Sarai Sierra story and was sad and disappointed, but not surprised given the amount of time she was missing, that she was found dead.  I feel for her family, I can’t imagine their pain, they must be living a nightmare.  May she rest in peace.

Colorful Ottoman screens in the patio at  Kybele Hotel, Sultanahmet.

Colorful Ottoman screens in the patio at Kybele Hotel, Sultanahmet.

The 1978 movie Midnight Express formed my generation’s impression of Turkey.  A true story of an American jailed for trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey in 1970, the movie was scary.  Billy Hayes, the prisoner, who escaped and wrote the book, later criticized the movie for its portrayal of Turkish people.  He understands that the filmmakers had to change his story to tell theirs, but complained that they showed no good Türks.  He apologized to Turkey for his portrayal in the book and said he actually loved Istanbul and got along great with the Turkish people until he was arrested.  He conceded that people arrested in the US might not be thrilled with America either.

Street musicians on a rainy day in Moda, Kadiköy

Musicians performing on a rainy day in Moda, Kadiköy

Americans who read the news and ascribe some bad news to define an entire culture might consider what people in other parts of the world think when they see headlines about events in the US.  More than one person from this side of the world has told me they believe there are frequent mass shootings all over the US.  Unfortunately, given the news I’ve read since I left on 04 December, it is easy to believe the same thing.

A winter Saturday's recreation despite gray skies.

A winter Saturday’s recreation despite gray skies.

I’ve been living in Istanbul now for two months.  Admittedly, I am on my honeymoon with the place, but my disappointments are few.  I can think of two at the moment, 1.  I struggle to hear the call to prayer.  I wanted to live with it, to learn its cadences.  Turkey is a secular state.  Istanbullu are busy people – they work very hard.  I have heard it said that the call to prayer is loudest in the tourist areas…in residential areas, people want to sleep in. Because of the society’s secular identity, a Turkish friend has called Turkey “Islamophobic”.  2.  My other main concern is the very uneven streets.  Cobble-stoned streets are charming, but very hard to walk on.  This old city, appears to lack the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations of home. I’ve gone flying off my feet a few times, which is alarming.  In each instance Turkish passersby rushed to my assistance, and my pride took the greatest bruise.   I hope I will become more fleet of foot with time.

Internattonal guests from the US (Jim and I) and Israel in a Turkish homel

International guests from the US (Jim and I) and Israel at a Turkish dinner party.

I love the place and the people of Istanbul.  It is a huge metropolis, so I most closely compare it to my experiences living in Manhattan.  However, there is an equal or greater engagement with nature in the parks compared even to suburban Foster City, California where we last lived.  There are feral cats and dogs all over Istanbul, and they are fed and cared for.  Türks may not take them in as pets – although many do – but they will cover a box with plastic to house a street dog, and reverse its direction when the wind changes.  Butchers provide scraps.  Residents and shop keepers put out food. Few of these “homeless” animals are afraid of humans.  The dogs and cats frequently seek a petting. Even the very noisy, ubiquitous crows are not afraid of people; I can walk right up to one sitting on a park railing.  There is enough food for everyone, in affluent neighborhoods at least, and there is a pleasant harmony among humans and other species..

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There are odd contradictions, though, with some Türks being afraid of Lucy when we are walking her on leash in a crowd. Lucy also gets annoyed by the street dogs stealing her ball, but they are social and want companionship and to play.  Lucy and a local dog and I were walking together.  I felt sad the other cold rainy day when I had to shut our building’s front door in his face, after letting Lucy in.

A cat hotel in Cihangir.

A cat hotel in Cihangir.

Watching ferries sail swarmed by seagulls is a funny sight, reminiscent of flies swarming a horse.  People feed them off the front and back decks.  It is socially taboo to throw bread into the trash, so it makes its way to street animals and birds.  And, I’ve been told that spring is kitten season!  I will love that!  The engagement with nature extends to the ferry stations too.  Waiting for a ferry, I noticed a woman in the station with a cat on her lap. I assumed she was traveling with her pet, but saw no carrying case.  As I walked out to the pier, I noticed other felines lazing among the waiting passengers, and realized the cat’s lap was temporary.

Getting rid of day old bread on the commute to Europe.

Getting rid of day old bread on the commute to Europe.

A culture as nice to animals as this one tells a different story than the headlines of horrific events.  Merel (see prior post  https://2istanbul.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/running-with-scissors/ ) and I both walk  alone in the dark.  It is necessary to get around.  Both of us pay attention and are careful, and we both feel it is as safe or safer here as unescorted women than it is in our own countries of the US and Netherlands.  To go to my life drawing group’s evening meetings, I have to walk around the construction at Taksim Square.  It is dark and uneven, so I stay close to others and walk purposefully.  Places that would seem forbidding at home, frequently here are just normal walking routes that are not lit as well as I would like.  In all big cities in the world, one has to pay attention.  Even in suburbs in California, unless I have Lucy with me, I’m less comfortable walking alone at night than I am in Istanbul.

Following the ferry.

Following the ferry.

There is gentleness, helpfulness, and a civility among the people here that I don’t see in the US, in big cities or small towns.  It is not nirvana, not perfect. We are all the same, however, under the skin .  Istanbul is very comfortable to live in.  I find it magnificent, and captivating because of its beauty, society and historic civilization.

A metal bed in the sun makes sense.

A metal bed in the sun makes sense.

I visited Istanbul in 2010 for a conference, traveling home August 7.  On August 8, a German tourist celebrating her 50th birthday and wedding anniversary with her husband was killed in San Francisco crossfire between teen-aged gangs. The Germans had just arrived and were looking for a restaurant in which to eat dinner, before 9 pm at night.  Union Square is a central tourist hub in San Francisco, supposedly one of the safest locations in the city. Ironically, a week earlier, I had been referred by a US friend to verify the safety of her American friend’s prospective travel to Istanbul.  To her questions, I could only reply “if you are not afraid to travel to San Francisco, I wouldn’t be afraid to travel to Istanbul.”  Bad things happen in good places, and one may arrive at the wrong place at the wrong time, anywhere.

If it is the last day of the world, at least it…SNOWED!

We are here with three big rollers and one small rolling suitcase each.  Turkish Airlines offers more options, but is as inflexible as other airlines on baggage weight.  As I packed, I weighed each on a bathroom scale trying to balance it all, but in the flurry to get away, we stuffed things in pockets, disturbing my careful distribution, and incurred excess charges.

We left Rita’s toys, which is too bad, because animal toys are uninspired and limited here.  When our visiting friends ask what they can bring, we’ll probably tell them cat toys…unless by that time there is something we miss much more.  Jim and Lucy would already probably say it was peanut butter.  Something called that, made in Holland, is sold here, but it is gritty and dry and 20% hydrogenated vegetable oil.  Say “bacon” and Western expats crack up.

Thinking that the real cold weather would come after January, and our shipment of 45 pieces of stuff would have arrived by then, we both packed our heavier and bulkier clothing to go by sea.  Our load is delayed due to required signatures and inefficient communications, which feels like a run-around and means that we have no idea when our warmer clothes and general household goods will arrive.

Sticking more.

Sticking more.

Friends and others have predicted snow for over a week, but AccuWeather missed it. Yesterday it forecast 11°C for today, and obviously snow comes closer to zero.  We woke up to flurries this morning, and it has snowed all day.  Public buses have stopped, many shops closed, the city is sort of halted, as has running water in our flat.  After about four hours the water flowed again…we are grateful for the gift of getting it back!  The old city of Istanbul delights in many ways!

şemsiye mezarlık (umbrella graveyard)

şemsiye mezarlık (umbrella graveyard)

Oops.

Receiving…

Istiklal Caddesi is quiet.

Istiklal Caddesi is quiet.

Reverse Dalmation.

Reverse Dalmatian.

Here in Cihangir, where we climb everywhere we go, just walking around is treacherous.  Adding two or four wheels and a lot of weight to the mix is a recipe for disaster.  We watched a truck stuck in a “valley” between two steep streets, unable to crest either of them. Since this district is also an ongoing construction zone – gentrification, which will totally change the character of the neighborhood in a few years – the slush quickly turns to mire.  Locals say it does not freeze here, so we’ll probably have a mud season until spring.

Snow Dog

A new route.

I remember a board game I played as a kid called Chutes and Ladders.  Walking in Cihangir is like playing an interactive version, especially in the snow.  Landing on a ladder moves you forward, hitting a chute sends you back.  We keep discovering new “ladders”, new stair steps that shorten our trip, or keep us off narrow and crowded roads.  My morning walks with Lucy uncover these treasures.  Each new one excites her – she races to discover new smells, and add her commentary.  Depending on how one enters it, the stair is a ladder or a chute.  On the descents, I need to keep reminding Lucy “no pulling”.

Chutes and Ladders

Chutes and Ladders

It would be fun to have a toboggan here.

It would be fun to have a toboggan here.

Istanbul Landings. Uprooted. Jet-lagged. With Pets.

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!

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Cascading lights on Istiklal

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.

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Living in chaos, strangled by our stuff.

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.

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Road trip, Rita is Lucy’s pillow.

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.

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Along the mighty Bosphorus — Lucy’s first visit there!

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.

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Our neighborhood, Cihangir.

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.

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Here, an opening in the crowd on Istiklal, enough that I could drop back to take the picture.

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.