i am a writer and this is my blog

The hardest part of writing is the waiting.

It is about six in the morning (or it was, when I started writing this) and I couldn’t sleep. Last night Anna invited her workturks over (what a coinage, right?) and we had a party. If I drink, I tend to sleep badly. Eyetouch came over and it was the first time we’d seen him since the move out. I had to work through the party, so mostly it was me and eyetouch hanging out on the balcony while I edited pieces from Bugun. I said I wasn’t doing a very good job, and he said, “come on, man, you should really try to do a good job,” so I left the balcony and went into the chaos of the living room and worked from there.

About two days ago I finished a draft of the book. It made me exhausted and cranky and frustrated that it’s not better. I feel like I really, really pushed out the last section and did not enjoy it at all, nope nope not at all. not even a little bit. not one percent. not even a tiny smidgen of joy. which turns writing from one of the greatest jobs in the world into one of its most miserable.

I remember this one time, in college, I had this miserable miserable class with this fat preacher who seemed to be ferociously passionate about teaching, but nobody in his class had any idea what he was talking about. Really. We would all go there and for two hours, he would rant at us about what…see, I’m trying to come up with a funny example but I literally cannot remember a single thing from any of his lectures. Miraculous, really. His aura dispelled clear thinking like a jinx. His classes were all mandatory and if you missed a single class your final grade dropped a letter. The syllabus was eight fonts and three colors, and every available space on the sixteen pages or so it occupied was crammed, crammed with text of variable size. The class was called “contemporary ethical issues.” We had to take two theology classes and I hoped it would be painless, or at least topical. It was neither. It was super easy, I guess, since there was no homework, he never talked about the things we were supposed to have read, and the way he graded homework was as if the act of using the library printer was effort enough.

Sadly, I will always be one of those people who has difficulty in accepting an easy situation if it is really stupid. I argued with him in class, I challenged him on stuff, I even read the required books. okay, just one of them. Okay, just half of one. It was called “Mountains beyond mountains” and it was about how Dr. Paul Farmer saved everyone and was a better and more selfless human being than anyone will ever be ever, and I remember the class consensus was, “well then, why bother?” And yet. I still can’t remember the events of a single class. Anyways.

Our final paper for that class followed a ghastly rubric. He assigned a paper on a contemporary ethical issue, actually this is actually what he did I mean, the class was on contemporary ethical issues and in an entire semester he had not managed to get any more specific than “write a paper on a contemporary ethical issue.” Jesus. I keep getting sidetracked. I really hated this guy. We gathered around the rubric in shock. It was to have six or ten different sections with headlines and I think he even specified how large each headline was supposed to be. The rubric looked a lot like his syllabus. It was not an eyesore–it was a riot. It was a violence. It was as if the poor man had been trapped for decades on an island prison with a mad scheme to teach a class, and his only tool was a computer running windows 95. Though perplexed, most of the students were pretty happy it would be easy. It really did boil down to “write a paper on a contemporary ethical issue.”

I procrastinated hard on that paper. I built up a good healthy resentment towards the professor and everything he represented, and that he wouldn’t recognize cool writing if it killed him. I now sort of retrospectively wonder what made him that way–maybe he’d had a lot of really poorly written essays in the past, and his solution to that was an enormous amount of structure. I have no idea. He might just have been ferociously, passionately stupid. The paper was due at midnight on X day of November, and I waited until 8pm on day X-1, four hours before it was supposed to be submitted to his turnitin box, to begin.

Now THAT, that was an excruciating writing process. I had to keen and curve myself into that rubric, breaking off sentences at jagged odds, stuffing paragraphs onto pages they didn’t belong. It was excruciating. I tore the wires out from an ethics essay I’d written for a philosophy class last semester, and jury-rigged it into this final. It may have been about abortion. Can’t remember. It was awful.

Two weeks later, when we all got our papers back, he made a big point of waving everyone’s papers in the air to comment how exemplary they all were. Individually. Like “Mackenzie, where are you, Mackenzie, and exemplary paper, class, on _________(mind goes blank here, sorry).” He said my paper was exemplary, and also said I should consider getting it published it was so good. I also got a B-. Nothing made sense. I asked kenzie about it later on in the year, and she said, “oh, yeah, I took my second theology with him too.”

“Why??” I said.

“I mean it was easy and he likes me, so it’s a guaranteed A for no work or thinking.” Which is hard to argue with.

This is a very long essay to say more or less that the book’s draft is done and to tear it outside of myself was excruciating, too. Writing a book is great, the idea of it even, but finishing a book is punishment, and setting deadlines is horrible, and I’m a sack of shit, and everything sucks, and poop for Christmas. And now is the waiting. My new friend Jon (who is Alex’s friend, originally) agreed to edit the book and Laura said she’d take a look too, so we wait and see what they have to say. Waiting. And soon we too shall tear the wires from this draft and make something better.

neighbors

THE SHORT WAY TO TELL THIS STORY:

We have some cool neighbors. We met them all at the same time, when plumbers were drilling holes into the walls of everyone’s flat in our building. (that’s the long part of the story) On the street were some americans, their baby, and all their worldly possessions. We hung out with them and discovered they’d moved here! To this neighborhood! Because Damien, the guy, was studying turkish literature! And they were waiting for the emlak guy to show up with the keys, and he of course was on turkish time, so they were WAITING. we drank with them on the street for awhile and then met the two artists in the studio on the ground floor, aysegul and nayla, and we all sat around for awhile in the dark.

Across from our block is the Mahatma Cafe, maybe the only vegan place IN THE WHOLE ENORMOUS COUNTRY with colorful wood chairs where this dude Sait cooks food all day long and has a rotating cast of 20-year-old waittresses who dote on him.

Across from that is Leonie, the french girl who showed us around cappadocia two years ago when we first came to turkey, who was living in Goreme making art from meteorites, and who just so happened to move to istanbul across the street from us this week. She now does art therapy classes. COOL

a monologue for inclusion in a “500 monologues for children” collection

the simit bakery is a it’s a brick room inside which is a hole in the floor which goes to an oven and dudes slide pieces of wood in and out from the fire and make bread rings which are called simit and are essentially bagesl but actually not quite bagels, which is really unsatisfying on a primal level because some morening s you’re like fuck I really want a bagel and simit is sold everywhere, on everyone store and men literally wheel these carts throughtu the streets selling simit and there are just stacks of them, and they even sell it whith this cheese in little wedges called karper which is really like the laughring cow, and you fhick whoyl shit this is actually bagel and cream cheese? And then you eat ti but you can’t even cut a simit in half lengthwise you have to just tear tough chunks off like an animal and then squirt cheese from the little metal sack onto the torn wedge and chew it and your jaw gets tired because it’s the toughest goddamn bread made for traveling across to the other part of the fucking animla cage w e call a city and you look at the shitty bread ring in your hand and you’re like motherfucker why aren’t you a bagel

primary fermentation


​We live across from an abandoned yellow house and empty lot, protected by a 12-foot high concrete wall with mural on it depicting various geometric mythological dogs and dragons and giants at spiritual war. Our house is on the same street in the same neighborhood we lived in this January, and so I know it pretty well, and had seen that crazy mural and abandoned yellow house before, but now that I’m on the third floor we can see into the lot the dragon mural protects, and it’s all broken concrete and weeds and tall baby trees, left alone for probably the last decade or so. It’s a great mural.

After three weeks of staring at this glorious unused space, it makes a man wonder what sorts of stupid antics he could get up to. While walking in the old city with Jari, we spotted a distiller–an antique copper globe with a slanted alchemical nozzle coming out the top into an attached condenser. It was very cool.

So naturally we hit upon the idea to break into the abandoned lot, set up an illegal distillery, and sell cheap moonshine to the local expat community for 20 lira a bottle. Not only will we be rich, we will also be drunk. In an abandoned building in istanbul! (this idea went through several revisions, including: throwing a party in the abandoned lot, throwing a rave in the abandoned lot, throwing a theatre-performance festival in the abandoned lot, sneaking in with a single bottle of wine and exploring the abandoned lot, and decorating the abandoned lot.) Of course, since neither me nor Jari nor Anna really has any extra money, or really any money, this remains an exciting entrepreneurial fantasy.

Anna started work at Kangaru, the Preschool of the Rich. All the other girls who work there (and it’s all girls–she reports that they all look like supermodels and are either all engaged or married or pregnant) are turkish-american or turkish-australian; fortunately it’s school policy to immerse the kids as fully in english as possible, so nobody can actually address the kids in their native language. Which is just fine by Anna. Her co-teacher’s name is Çağla (pronounced Chaaah-la) and they seem to have a pretty good time together. I met her the other day when I went to Kangaru to sign the rent contract.*

[I'd made residence-permit appointments for all three of us but Anna's boss informed her that "November was too far away" and contacted her "guy" in the Istanbul Police office, and so one morning they drove anna into a sketchy parking garage where she waited for two hours until some other guy emerged and took her to the police station, where she was ushered into an office where this "guy" was, and he had servants and was doing paperwork for her for like four hours, and apparently at the end of it all they needed the rent contract, which Anna had completely forgotten to bring, and then when she did indeed bring it the next day, and had me come to her school to sign it, it was only for six months, and they wouldn't give her the permit without a yearlong contract, even though this permit was already sort of a back-alley deal, but we're not even sure if we want to live in this place a year, and at that point we'd had enough of this insane bureaucratic adventure and so we doctored the contract ourselves and forged our landlord's signature, because we didn't want to call him up and ask him to help us forge a contract, so when he asks what happened we will say it was taken by the authorities in the process of getting a residency permit. Anyways.]

But Anna went to a party last friday with all her teachers and they were telling her bizarre cultural stories about how one guy fell in love with one of the teachers’ neighbors twenty years ago, and she rejected him because she was already with someone, and he put a hex on her, so her and her mom had gone to the Imam to figure out how to undo the hex, but then she’d split up with the other guy and gotten together with the guy who’d hexed them. Lotta weird stories.

Jari’s playing money on the street most days, and I think he’s saving up for a trip to Georgia. He wants to visit Svaneti or Tbilisi. We go out to music schools and try and communicate he’s available to teach private lessons.

My own job is a little baffling–I work for the newspaper, Bugun (which means today) as a copyeditor. They email me articles, I doctor them up, and send them back. It’s a lot of rewriting, since 1) the Turkish-English translators do it in a hurry, and 2) turkish journalism is almost entirely a tabloid or propaganda enterprise, as far as I can tell. They hired me both to fix any glaring grammatical issues and also make it sound more like "English Journalism," which is to say, not full of made-up statistics and soap-opera details of tragedies.

HOWEVER, this job is entirely by telecommute, and I’m on call 9 hours a day, six days a week, and I have been sent only four articles in the past week and a half. It’s left me with a lot of (well paid!) time to chill out and to come up with moneymaking schemes to occupy my time. Like a distillery.

While walking along Karakolhane Caddesi (that’s with a J sound at the front, there–Jaddesi) I saw a gypsy selling grapes from an overloaded cart. Jari had the idea to make wine. As an experiment! The mania gripped me and we bought two kilos, four pounds of purple grapes. Anna squashed them with her bare hands into a giant stovepot. Jari and I sterilized all the bottles and funnel with pharmacy iodine and then pasteurized the grape juice so no wild yeasts would spoil our endeavor. Then we dumped the grapes into a two-liter bottle and topped it with a balloon as an airlock. It’s fermenting out on the balcony right now.

Being super poor all week has caused a lot of internal strife in the household–anna’s stressed out about money, jari reacts badly to her stressing out, I’m kind of stuck in between them. I’m hoping that from our ingenuity we can sneak into the abandoned lot protected by dragons and drink terrible homemade wine, wine we made together. The sophomore year in istanbul will get real weird and it’s important to have your family on your side.

BOOK UPDATE: most of the fifty or so pages I’ve written so far on the balkans have been slurry trash but through this process I had to laboriously consider the strange, strange format of this book–travel guide? memoir? wat?–and I finally think I can organize this in a coherent way, and perhaps can even scrim a paragraph here and there from the heaps and heaps of garbage and rework what I have into something functional. also there’s a pretty sweet Q and A explaining what this book is supposed to be about now, and some quotes! and etc. if you want a chapter to see in advance send me an email and YOU can READ for YOURSELF

WINE UPDATE: since writing this post originally, jari and I have bottled it. It smells: unholy. It tastes: not bad, like georgian village wine. Ok.

new house

It took ten and a half trillion decades of crawling through sandy deserts and touching call-center operators on the tips of their noses with long, long poles (for extra stimulation) and hurdling over load-bearing donkey carts to settle back in Istanbul. WHAT A WEEK. 

I arrived and went to Sea Palas. (Anna got me at the airport, it was nice.) I hadn’t been to sea palas since I ran away from it at the beginning of the year. It was literally right after new years and Jari and I stuffed all of my belongings into plastic bags and dumped it all at Anna’s place in Hasanpasa before fleeing to the Lycian Way. And this time, we had nowhere else to stay! Even though the spectre of Benal hovered over the place: she could appear at any time. Eyetouch accepted us in with welcoming arms. While anna slept off the jet lag, Eyetouch and I bought a double bottle of Papaz Kiraz and drank it in the park. Uskudar, a place of happy social conservatives and nice sea views. 

“Benal is charging 1500 liras for rent, in September,” he said. “I am fucked man”

“Well,” I said. “If this place is any good, you can crash with us for a few days.” I’d found a place in Kadikoy for 2000 before flying over, it looked good enough on craigslist for at least a temporary shelter. Eyetouch made some comments about hating the rich, we looked at the wine and realized it was gone, and went home. 

THUS BEGAN a long and arduous week of searching for A PLACE TO LIVE. I went down the next day to go check it out, and it was a misery. Like as soon as I opened the door it was like…ope, no this won’t work. It was a garbage hole. The turkish guy was wearing sandals, a t-shirt and shorts (which is very, very unusual for a turkish doode) and he ran a design company called Geyik Adam, “Deer Man.” It was small and smelled like BO. The bathroom was a mess of blue tiles and electronics. There was no way I could justify spending our (small) move-in fund on this place. None of us had much money–much was borrowed from parents or scrapped together from odd summer jobs. Deer Man was nice, too, he made me a big frappe with nescafe and ice cream. But no. 

The next place I looked at seemed pretty nice. An american guy was renting it in Cihangir (for the uninitiated, that’s the trendy neighborhood on the european side near Taksim) and had exposed brick walls and a woodstove and lots of other design cues which might make a person think “gosh, I am an important artist living in a big city.” It was pricey, but the location was really good. Adam, the american guy, had a really strange accent from growing up all over the world. He was a film person and had spent the last 9 years in Istanbul. 

“I want to tell you all the downsides of this place too–sometimes there are cat burglaries, so we got these bars installed on the windows. Once, we had some armenian friends sleeping on the floor, and a cat burglar came and my friend was using her laptop as a pillow, and it got stolen from right under her head.” Also the kitchen was no more than a couple of hotplates. Also it was all our money to move in, plus a deposit. I told him we’d have to split the deposit into two months, and he seemed okay with that. 

I spent the next few days hanging out with eyetouch while both of us scoured the internet for places. He was using Sahibinden, a turkish site, and I used craigslist. I found a place for him in Tarabya, he found a place for us in Tarlibasi. Anna was already working, and Jari hadn’t arrived yet, so it fell on me to not be homeless. There was some holes in Besiktas, another place in Tarlibasi, a harem in Kadikoy that never replied to my emails, anyways. Four days of shuffling around the city and like a zombie staring at the interior of yet another building. It was more or less fruitless. I called Adam and told him I accepted the flat. He said great, come over and meet the neighbors, because the last renters had a little tension with them and we want a harmonious household. All in all, Adam was a little strange, but w/e. The problem was solved. Our timeline went something like this–it was tuesday night, I had a job interview at 1130 at the newspaper, Jari arrived in Taksim at 1200 from the airport, and then we would go meet the neighbors at 100. Alright. 

So I get a text at nine pm from eyetouch. “Benal is bringing the emlak guy tomorrow morning, we’re fucked.” (eyetouch was a little depressed) I sort of wonder what would have happened had I stayed–would it have meant eyetouch’s job? it certainly would have been a weird confrontation with benal. I have had zero contact with her since I basically fled my employment and house 9 months ago. She’s evil. As proof: “She didn’t even ask how I was, or if I had found a new place man. Just, ‘oh, he is coming tomorrow morning.’ She is…inhuman.” (also, she hadn’t told the emlak guy eyetouch was still living there, just given him the keys…so when he opened the flat the next morning, he was shocked and apologetic to eyetouch. “I’m so sorry, she didn’t say anyone was here!” “it’s okay man, I’m used to it.”) Sometimes I wish I’d just stayed to see what happened, but man, once the fear is in, it’s IN. I shook Anna awake–she was feverish and barely responsive. It was a bad scene. “We gotta go, anna!” I said. “Emlak guy’s coming in the morning!” snooooooooooooooooze. Oh well. I threw all our stuff together and eventually she awoke enough to get dressed and help out. I told her to stay behind and rest and just vacate in the morning but she was determined on coming with me now. 

Anyways Adam had called us earlier that night asking if we wanted to move some stuff in. I called back and said “yep! we’re coming right now!” (adam and his wife had a flat somewhere up the golden horn (how do these people have so much money???) and were around taksim that evening). Crucially: I did not say “we are staying there tonight.” I figured it would be easier to explain in person. We took a taxi to taksim (funny, right) and met adam and his boring friend caterina and they helped us with our stuff. Adam’s wife was in the apartment. The power had gone out through all of Beyoglu and so we walked up candlelit stairs and set our stuff down. We had a lovely little chatting time around a candle in the living room, and I thought, man, only in Istanbul. It was pretty magical. 

Of course, I left to get some pilav and upon my return it had all gone to shit. “Anna tells us you’re planning on staying here tonight.” 

“Well, we had a sort of desperate situation.” I laid it out for them what was going on with Eyetouch, and the Sea Palas, and Benal. I figured it would probably be alright. 

“Have you ever had a flat before?” they asked. “Normally you shake hands, exchange money and keys, that sort of thing before moving in.” They got cold, especially the wife. They were saying that they didn’t trust us now because we hadn’t been straightforward with them on the phone, that they wanted us to stay in a hostel that night, but we were still going to rent there? and all our bags were staying here? none of it made any sense. I was super apologetic but nothing really seemed to penetrate. They found us a hostel and then kicked us out on the street at one in the morning. Anna and I convened in the bathroom, the only place we could have a private conference in the building. 

“That was bullshit, right?”

“Total bullshit.” 

“I’ll call them tomorrow. Get some sleep.” 

The next morning I called adam and told him how much it sucked. “you invited us over to deposit our stuff there and then kicked me and my feverish girlfriend out at one am. I really didn’t think it was a huge transgression to assume we could sleep there too.” He admitted that his wife had some trust issues–their last renters had tried to pull a bizarre scheme in which they stole the building and then sold it (????????) and it had made her jumpy. Clearly. I told him it wasn’t going to work out. I went to the job interview (it went well) and picked Jari up in taksim. 

“Do we have a place?” He asked. 

“well,” I said. I laid the story out. He looked depressed. 

“Can you work it out with these people?” He asked.

“Yeah maybe, but I saw an ad for a place in Kadikoy which I’m looking at later today. It’s cheaper, though it has grandma furniture.” We checked Jari into the same hostel me and anna had been kicked into, and then I walked a block away to meet adam and he helped me move all the luggage into the hostel. Me and Jari chilled there all day until we went across to Asia to meet Tarik, a really nice and normal dude who was renting flats for his family. We chose the third one and called it a day. We spent the weekend doing absolutely nothing and celebrating Jari’s 24th birthday, in Istanbul. 

my job is a little strange–it hasn’t started yet–it turns out it’s doing copyediting of bad turkish translated articles for Bugun, the newspaper. It’s telecommuting and i’m on call from 12-9pm six days a week, once it does start. It’s weird. I was sort of hoping for a job with some more sociality but this one pays pretty well. We’ll see. Hustlin’ in the big city and all. I’m planning on building towards something this year, maybe applying to grad school, I want to put together a crazy show in an abandoned lot somewhere. and of course finish the book. and play music on the street and in bars with my bro. he went playing by himself yesterday and made 36 lira and met a violinist for the opera and got hired to play a photography studio opening. things are looking pretty up, in general. our flat is really nice. I’ll put up some pictures on facebook soon. 

 

 

Loser’s Club

LOSER’S CLUB: Or, Eşşek Var

CAST

ERNIE: Bad dog, dirt bird, vagabond.

ANNA: Hunter-of-donkeys and wind-seeker.

RACHEL: German for Revenge.

PHILLIP: German by birth.

KANYE WEST: Kanye West.

SETTING: The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (Kuzey Kibris Turk Cumhuriyeti)

“You want to go to fucking KARPAZ??!” the man shouted at us from the bus. He looked like he’d been traveling through Nepal for ten years and had only now arrived back into civilization. The wind howled above our heads. “You have to drive…all day! All day to get there! Only the fucking DONkeys live there!!” It sounded like he was shouting about Vietnam. The other bus passengers were staring.

“Yes, we are trying to find the donkeys,” I said.

“You cannot! You have to go…you have to go to Famagusta! And then take a BUS!” Spittle flew from the guy’s mouth. “There is no public transportation to Karpaz. No one lives there. No one goes there. Fucking KARPAZ!” He pulled the folding bus doors closed. We were outside at the bus stop. After a few more minutes of searching, a different bus driver agreed to take us 3 km outside of town, to a village along his route.

The Karpaz Peninsula is a hundred kilometer long spit of land ejecting into the mediterranean from mainland cyprus. On the tip, there is a wilderness preserve with genuine Cypriot Yaban Eşşekler: wild donkeys. The donkeys are the size of large dogs. We were in Cyprus to see the donkeys. And for Beach Time. Anna and I wanted to get out of Istanbul for election day, and had convinced Phillip to come join us. Rachel was on her way back to the states from a volunteer program in Italy, and agreed to come with us as well. Rachel was pining for her Italian boyfriend whom she’d left behind, and Phillip had just broken up entirely with his. Anna had just gotten fired. Everyone was looking for no-frills escapism. Donkeys and beach time are absolutely good enough reasons to leave the country.

The previous day we’d landed and gone straight to the beach—our bus took us from the Ercan International Airport to Magusa (or Famagusta, depending on whether you ask the Greeks or the Turks). We had no idea where we were or where we were going, other than the name of the town. we rolled through flat scabby green fields, and listened to turkish pop. (one song which stuck out was a woman bellowing SEN AAAAAAAAŞŞŞŞŞŞŞŞŞŞŞK!! in every line of every chorus.) Our first impression of the town of Famagusta was an ornate and vaguely Indic monument to Ataturk protruding from the middle of a roundabout. The roundabout was bordered by the minibus station, a walled castle, and a two-floor mini mall.

We went to the top floor of the mini mall and got the best gozleme I’ve ever had—sour, salty cheese tucked in pastry, with fresher vegetables than I’d had in Turkey. It was sunny and hot. The tablecloth was a clear vinyl with pink flower prints, and a dirty ruffled pink cloth edge, and it will haunt me forever. Phillip spoke to the women who ran the place, and learned that Famagusta had been a Crusader outpost, and several Christian kings had ruled here and left their fortresses and churches behind. After breakfast, we strolled across a dry moat into the walled city, which turned out to be a struggling shopping core. Old ladies sold floppy hats and jacked CDs along the cobblestone street. Beyond the pale commerical lining of its single boulevard, the city flatlined into featureless white buildings.

We made it to the beach (and accidentally encountered a falling-down red brick monastery on the way) and acted like children. Anna and I crawled across the sand to the water as giant turtles. The beach was pretty empty–only a few other turkish families and one British one were reclining under the umbrellas.  More than half the beach was fenced off–by falling down scraps of barbed wire and green canvas–and we could see a glittering stretch of sand behind it, presided over by empty buildings. We slowly realized that all of the resorts behind us were empty. A ghost city. It was eerie.

After beach time, we took a minibus to Girne, on the northern coast, as there was supposed to be a neat city there where we could stay the night. We had all planned on sleeping outside, since it was actually warm here, compared to Istanbul’s miserable April. On our drive into the city we kept spotting half-finished concrete buildings and saying, “yes, we can sleep there no problem.” HOWever, it was super windy, super super windy, and when we arrived it was no longer warm. We got off the bus–

{a note about Cyprus: No public transport developed because a lot of rich people live there, and they all own cars, so the existing buses are all forty years old and look like they belong in cuba. They are colorful majestic wagons with big triangles on the doors and windows, which makes me believe the illuminati run the entire island.}

–we got off the bus at a beautiful town set at the foot of a mountain range next to the sea. Curiously, most of the town was abandoned concrete construction sites. Having no idea on where to stay, nor where to go, nor even really an idea of where we were, we found a sign pointing for

“LOSER’S CLUB –> 159 steps”

We followed it to a bar set in a gravel alleyway. The owner spoke fluent english and said he’d been unconsciously collecting decor for the bar for 14 years. He’d been a college professor, but his real dream was to open a bar.

“What are all these words on the wall?” Anna asked.

“It’s from the movie!” the owner said, and pointed to a movie poster in the corner. “Loser’s club!” And he went behind the bar and grabbed a stack of burned dvds and gave us one. “It’s a pirated copy. This is a pirate island, don’t you know?” and he laughed. It was his favorite movie. We promised to watch it as soon as we got the chance.

The bartender saw us looking lost, and she invited us to stay at her flat within four seconds of meeting her. She drove us there and said to eat or drink whatever, and to shower, and then come back to Loser’s club. We listened to more Kanye and returned. The owner was being social, and invited us into a separate den in the bar, where about 12 cypriot girls were talking about cypriot things. One of them told me that in cypriot turkish, “napang” is “what’s up,” which was an exciting language discovery. We were in there, making awkward conversation for like half an hour (the owner had vanished) when the waitress came by, and said, “There are lots of open spaces at the bar, if you want to sit down now.” I thought to myself, we are sitting down? Wait, what–

And then one of the plumper Cypriot girls said “BYEEEEEEEE!!!” with a big fake sarcasm smile. We left, ruffled and upset. She I guess had asked the waitress to ask us to move, instead of asking for some time alone with her friends. It was then I reached my conclusion: Turkish culture, as an aggregate, behaves with the logic of middle-schoolers. We went to the bartender’s flat and slept luxuriously. (at least she was nice.) It was this night we found the trip’s soundtrack: Bound 2 and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, both by Kanye West. We replaced many of the words with “dog,” “bark,” or “donkey.”

The next morning, we left at about ten (or maybe eleven—the local elections were happening at the same time as Daylight Savings, and Erdogan had decided to delay the clock’s progression for a day, and it was unclear as to whether northern cyprus was on the same schedule.)  That was the day we had set aside for Donkey Quest. We played games with the bakery owner’s four year old and drank nescafe. We left, and found the bus station, which is where we met the aforementioned Karpaz Guy, yelling about the Cypriot peninsula as if it were ‘Nam.

We consulted maps on iPhones, and got a local bus up to a “village,” which was a place for rich people to vacation in nice houses. We found a fancy restaurant in between vineyards, and the owner spoke german. He and Phillip had a reserved and friendly conversation, and the owner gave us lunch materials: bread, cheese, tomato, and the best most glorious red pepper I’ve ever had. They were sweet, rich, and crunchy. We ate everything sitting down by the side of the road.

The rest of the afternoon was spent hitchiking up to Karpaz.  We never made it. We only saw fields of waving wheat and a withered tree. We walked along a path from one highway to its brother, and along the way, bought giant circular pretzels from a village baker. We met a baby goat on their porch. No donkeys. We gave up next to a stack of stones by the side of the road, and waited for a ride back to the capital.

A brother and his two sisters picked us up, and all seven of us crammed into the car. They gave us fresh Cypriot Lahmacun their mom had baked an hour ago. It remains the best lahmacun I’ve tasted. Puffy, tangy flatbread with spicy ground meat and greens on top. On the road back, I caught a glimpse of a herdette of three horsey animals–donkeys? Maybe? I pointed them out, but by the time the others had turned, they were gone.

They dropped us off in Nicosia, (or Lefkosa, depending on whether you ask the Greeks or the Turks.)  Unable to get a couchsurfer, we pooled our funds and got a cheap hotel room at Hotel Gold. We finished the last of our duty free rum. Phillip went off to the hamams to get lucky. Anna wasn’t feeling well, so she went to sleep, and Rachel and I wandered outside of the city walls and played in a rusty playground and got a waffle with ice cream. At a Lokanta near our hotel, we saw Phillip, who had not gotten lucky at all, and we all went back to Hotel gold, where there were no donkeys, and where we would await the morning of shuttling ourselves to the airport yet again. We’d gone to a loser’s beach and went on a loser’s quest. We were all losers. It was a wonderful trip.

We watched the movie a few nights later. It was about old men trying to be young on their late-night radio talk show. It was terrible.

9 June, 2014 12:34

it is so damn hot. we are in belgrad. belgrad is great. it is so damn hot.

We’re staying at the flat of a friend of my aunt’s. My aunt Gordana is from Belgrad. She knows a bunch of artists. They have a group called "Skart," which means something like "garbage," I think. We’re going on a walking tour of the old city tonight.

Belgrade is great because:

1. HOT. We went to a lake in the Sava river yesterday and I basically just fell in the green water forever. A fountain in the lake sprays water 50 feet into the air. There was a cafe at the lake, and we had beers and enormous, enormous giganto mongo burgers with Marija, whom we met through a mutual Istanbul friend. I climbed a tree and rescued some wild plums, and we ate them. It’s like being on vacation! That is so strange. Most of our trip has been normal ernie travel enjoyment, which means changing plans and itineraries at the last possible second a lot, and suddenly it’s hot and we’re in this very civilized city with cafes and street beer and a lake.

2. There is a Nkola Tesla museum, and a Tito museum. Both are closed because it is monday. (we made the mistake of adventuring through the heat to discover their monday closure.) We shall try again tomorrow.

3. In a park, we saw some public workout equipment, and this musclebound dude was spinning a wheel round and round and round. He looked like those walrus-mustachioed gentlement circa 1900 lifting big trapezoidal weights. But it’s 2014! In serbia! Wild.

4. The local beer is Jelen (pronounced "yellin’), and its logo is a bellowing elk.

5. We saw a collection of rocks set up to look like stonehenge, and we termed it Serbhenge and took a picture pretending to sacrifice the puppy upon the rocks a la Isaac/Abraham.

6. We got into the Belgrade Bus station at 5am, after not sleeping at all on the night bus from Sarajevo, and we were so tired we wandered up a broad avenue lined with bombed-out brick buildings and tram lines, and slept on a park bench in the rising sun.

7. our second night here, Nena, our contact via Gordana, told us to go to a finnish big-band show. They sang ellington and irving berlin hits, with finnish lyrics. It was great. (and only 3 euro??)

it’s literally too hot for me to think about anything else, but anyways it turns out belgrade is like the european culture experience you’ve always wanted–pedestrian streets dotted with cafes where they serve pizza, beer, and good coffee for really cheap next to big old castles, and you feel very sophisticated. Also I am very proud to say I can order in serbian now. Mogu li dobite jedem josh espresso? (that is all I can say.)

Next up on ernie’s blog: almost getting converted to catholicism in Hercegovina.