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.

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