Heyo, I have not been blogging for awhile so here is a treat for the 20 people who may still read this. Recently I entered the NYC Midnight Short Story competition. About 5,000 people entered this year and I was given a random prompt: it had to be in the genre of fantasy, it had to include a hostage as a character, and it had to be on the subject of discipline. The most obvious choice should have been “elf sex dungeon” but because Trump was getting impeached and wanted to distract everyone he murdered a dude with a rocket, the first thing that popped into my head was “make everything a thinly-veiled allegory for the Iranian Revolution”. Now you all get to enjoy it. It was a strange exercise and I’m glad I did it. I’ll know if I make it to the next round of the contest in a few months. (I’m really hoping that wordpress puts just the worst ads in between the most dramatic moments of the story.) It is titled “The sky of Tahtikal”. Enjoy!


When the revolution came, they burned the sky red. The diplomatic staff at the Carolingian Embassy had no idea how it was done, no known spelltext talked about weather control of that magnitude, or that violence. It was clearly tactical. The sandstone dwellings where the People’s Army had lived their bitter lives were havens from the storm, but the foreign embassies strained against their guy ropes tethering them to the ground. The Terraspana’s headwind balloon ruptured, and only a few survived when the airship crashed into the floodplains below. The quicker-thinking diplomats and attaches cut their ropes, and were able to escape, captains making desperate breaks for the border. The Sultan in neighboring Ozkarabak, doddery as he was, would protect the influx of foreign dignitaries from the chaos unfolding on his southern border.

Aberyst had been coming up from a routine check in the mines and was arrested without preamble. His aides – gone. His wand – confiscated. He tried to palm a fragment of Calathite, a ghost-stone, in a mad hope, but they found that too, cuffed him on the head so hard it plunged him into unconsciousness. When he woke up, he gave a cry and found his mouth to be full of rag, and he thought himself sightless – but of course it was a blindfold, crudely tied. It slipped off halfway through the journey when the autocart hit a bump. Daylight leaked in behind the canvas tarpaulin, and several other blindfolded foreigners sat next to him. But the daylight was the wrong color. The canvas flapped open, and in a brief flash, Aberyst could see a long pale road stretching into the desert behind them. And a sky, bloodied, cloudless, scorched.

A Tahti revolutionary sitting across on the other bench from him pulled the canvas flap closed, and spotted that the blindfold had slipped. He saw the fear and confusion in the bureaucrat-mage’s eyes. The Tahti smiled a savage grin and got up to retie it with his long brown fingers.

“Do not be afraid,” the Tahti said, in accented Caro. His voice was a thorn. “Be happy. The People’s Army has won freedom at last.”

They brought him to a basement in a village somewhere in the provinces. He could tell by the accents, the smell of lavanta in the air. He had a small window at the ceiling opening to the red sky. Aberyst felt fear and revulsion looking at that sky, but knew it was a masterstroke – no airships could fly through a sky like that. The Caro Parliament would either have vote for a land invasion, or worse, negotiate with some self-elected warlord. And in the meantime, this revolution, if it truly was a revolution, could proceed without involvement from foreign powers. Nobody was coming to save him. The other hostages had been spread out, no two in the same spot.

He went through the Disciplines to calm his mind. First the Grammarium, the Arcanum Dialectic, then the Syllabary, tracing all of the four hundred and seventy six of the Syllables in the shallow dirt of his basement cell. He practiced as he had when he was a child in the academy, and it did absolutely nothing to calm his anxiety. He was sitting on the floor, chained to the wall. A captive. But he wasn’t thinking about the gruesome stories of the People’s Army, and what they did with captives, it was the limits of his magic that made his mind strain. It was impossible, what they had done. Impossible. He’d seen village practitioners back in rural Carolingia push a few glistening shards of Calathite together on a shaggy mountaintop and beg the gods for rain, but anything larger…? Turning the sky to perpetual fire? His mind endlessly digested the facts.

He couldn’t stop himself from bickering with his captors at mealtimes.

“You must know that the Carolingian government will make an example of you,” he said, addressing him in fluent Tahtikal. The guard – the one from the autocart – gently set a plate of lentils in front of him. Aberyst from the floor pulled up his sleeve, showed him his diplomat’s tattoo. “You know who I am.”

The soldier’s response was even-toned. “Yes. You are a thief.”

“A thief!” The audacity of him. Aberyst knew there was no stronger insult for the hospitable Tahtikal, and had never heard the oath deployed at him in all his years of diplomacy. He puffed himself up. “We came to this pissoir of a country, sitting as it was on the greatest wealth of magic in the world, and gave you the knowledge to use it. We trained you. We helped you. Tahti work with all the foreigners.”

He shrugged. “They are thieves, just as you are. They’ve built the master in their minds. You are all thieves.”

“I’m a wizard of the Sixth Diplomatic Council of the Carolingian Mission to the most ungrateful country on earth. You’re a peasant with a rifle and a grudge.”

“Look at you! So angry, so angry.” The Tahti plopped down in a chair, agog. “A master of the Disciplines, yet he can’t stop himself from yelling at a peasant like me.”

Aberyst felt a rush of shame in his cheeks. “Listen, who’s in charge here?”

“No one is in charge. I’m in charge, you’re in charge.” He was mocking Aberyst.

“Someone leads the People’s Army. Someone leads your little cell. Don’t be absurd.”

 “Well, I suppose that’s the teacher,” he said, and stretched out on the chair, folding his long fingers behind his head, insouciant. “And we owe obedience to no one but the teacher, and the teacher says we owe obedience to no one but ourselves. That’s what you get when you’re a free man, no?”

“That’s absurd,” Aberyst said again. The Tahti laughed at him, stood up, and took the plate away.

“Who burned the sky?!” Aberyst said as they shut the door, clanged the bolt into place. Into the dirt, Aberyst traced the Syllable for ‘open’, and hated his own impotence. 


They moved him in the middle of the night by foot to a neighboring village. He was blindfolded again, of course, and he counted his steps to keep his patience. This new safehouse had no spare room, so they all slept on the floor in opposite corners. A week passed. Terror gave way to boredom His two captors played cards for hours, jabbered in their local dialect. Aberyst couldn’t make out what they were saying most of the time. At mealtimes, the Tahti ate their lentils with their hands from sheets of newsprint. Aberyst had found a broken fork and enamelled bowl, and his captors complained he was using too much potable water to wash them after each use.

“Tell me about this teacher of yours.” Aberyst was eating, the Tahti were playing at cards.

“We are his students, and we follow his path to freedom.”

“What sort of freedom is it to burn the sky and live in darkness?”

“Ah,” said the stout one, winking. “Now you ask more interesting questions.”

“I can’t understand how you did it. Calathite is not that powerful. No spell could do that.”

“And no spell did,” the stout Tahti said.

“What we desire can often be the best course of action,” the tall one said.

“But how can you work magic without the Disciplines? How did burn the sky? Be serious, no parables, please.”

 “Let me ask you, diplomat, what are these ghost-stones good for?” 

His diplomacy took over. “Industry, of course. Indoor heating for every home, autocarts and airships produced with little human effort, easy travel and convenient access to foods out of season. Opportunity, advancement, economy. Your nation got all these wonderful things through us, our presence here.”

The stouter one spoke: “Do you know why they’re called ghost-stones in our tongue?”

“No,” Aberyst admitted.

He fixed Aberyst with a stare and grinned. “It is because when we touch them, we can hear the ghosts of our ancestors screaming for freedom inside them. They’re mad from desire. Everyone longing that they ever had, every regret, every joy and every grief, transmuted to rock, over generations.”

“You’ve stolen our ghosts, Carolingian,” the tall one said. Their smiles were unwavering, eerie. Aberyst’s diplomatic training supplied him with nothing. He went with disdain.


The tall one threw down a winning hand, and the other swore and collected the deck for another deal.  “I cannot say whether we shall win this fight, Foreigner.”

“Nor can I,” said Aberyst, scraping the last of the greasy red slurry into his mouth. “But I’m sure an exchange will be worked out soon. And you’ll get whatever sort of freedom it is you’re looking for.”


The door opened. A new solider stood in the frame, his face a rictus of anxiety. “They have said they will not negotiate. They’re sending soldiers. Martyrs,” he said. The word charged the air with electricity. A death sentence. The Martyrs did not leave survivors. Not even captive wizards of the diplomatic council. The Parliament had voted to invade.

“That can’t be right,” Aberyst said. “That can’t be right.”

“He’ll need to be moved.”

“They can’t do this to me,” he said.

“No?” his Tahti guard stood up. “To us, it is normal. In your newspapers, we are the enemy, we have already tortured you, we have done the worst, we are less than human.”

“Why could you not negotiate with them? Why!” Aberyst demanded. “Why could you not choose to make peace?!”

“They refused,” the tall Tahti said, simply. “They wanted control more than they wanted our mines.” All three slung their rifles over their shoulders and began throwing supplies into their rucksacks.

He realized.  “They’re afraid of you,” Aberyst said.

They put on the blindfold, but they did not gag his mouth. They gave him instructions. “Crossing the pavement now,” or “there is a step,” or “now we are going down a ladder, friend”. They kept up a busy pace on foot for an hour or two, and then stopped.

“They said they’d be an autocart here.” one said.

“So where is it?” The guards bickered. They elected to wait awhile in a tense silence, until a distant explosion pierced the air.

“That’s them,” Aberyst said, and felt his heart thudding in his chest. “The Martyrs. We’re not going to outrun them, and we’re not going to lose them. We’re done for.” In the darkness of his blindfold his imagination conjured up the horrors from his training – the Disciples gone mad from study, the prolonged exposure to untreated Calathite altering musculature, warping mind and teeth and rattling bloodshot eyes—

He made his decision. “Take off my blindfold, let me help,” said Aberyst. “Find me vein of Calathite and break off a shard. Your ghost-stone.” There was a silence. “If I run to them, they’ll kill me too. Give me a ghost-stone, I can carve a door.”

“You will flee.”

“The Discipline does not allow me to lie in my magic-telling. A spell is not a lie, it’s the language of truth. If I say I will not run, then my magic will not permit me to.”

“Fine,” they said. The Tahti took off Aberyst’s blindfold. The shock of the bloodied sky hadn’t worn off. They stood in a concrete shelter by the side of a long road, stretching both sides through a flat yellow plain. A ridge rose up behind them, and even against the red sky, he could see the glow of a village on fire behind it.

The other two guards ran off into the plains, looking for a shallow cave where they might find a vein. The tall Tahti and Aberyst shared the guard’s last cigarillo, the foreigner taking it in his bound hands, and bringing both to his face to inhale.

“What is your name?” Aberyst asked.

“Now you ask.”

“Tell me.”

“Samareth, and I follow the teacher.”

“I am Aberyst. I follow my Embassy Council and keep to the Disciplines.”

“We know who you are,” Samareth said, smiling. Another explosion sounded behind the ridge. Aberyst flinched, but held his composure. Samareth was trembling.

“I was due for a posting in Terraspana,” Aberyst said, and let himself go dewy-eyed at the thought. “Chilled wine. Soft guitar music in the terraces. An earned vacation, really.”

Samareth nodded. “We never got to travel much. The teacher would love it there.”

“But who is this teacher?” Aberyst said, pulling on the cigarillo. “They must be somewhere safe. Your leader. We can go there. You must have him stashed somewhere.”

Samareth looked uneasy.

“If you don’t know, tell me the teacher’s name and I can find him.” Aberyst was already putting the sequence of Syllables together in his mind.

“Foreigner,” Samareth said, gently, “to follow the teacher, you must follow your own heart. And only that. The teacher is all of us.” Aberyst came up short. “Our desires already affect the world. We learned to tap our living desires for power. That’s how we burned the sky. No ghost-stones.”

“Without the Disciplines…” Aberyst said. “It would tear you apart. We’re taught to control our emotions for just that reason.”

Samareth nodded solemnly. “The People’s Army wanted to be safe from your airships. Thirty men and women lost their lives to ask this from the teacher. And now,” and he pointed up.

“What…what sort of magic is this?” he said.

“You have your disciplines. We have our freedom. It has a price.”

Aberyst felt drained, like the sense had gone out of the world. The other two guards returned, faces drawn. One was bleeding from his palm. The other held up a blue fragment, its surface flickering with power.

“I do not want to die today, foreigner,” said the stout guard. “I want to live.”

His diplomatic training took over, though he felt numb. He spoke automatically.

“I know of a Carolingian Embassy holding in the city of Thanalasht. I do not know what we will find there, nor whom. Be sensible and be ready for anything. Now cut my bonds,” he said, and they did so. They put the ghost-stone on his palm.

“I have never tried to do this without a wand before,” he said, but they could not do magic, and did not know what it was to wield the Disciplines. He breathed deeply, silencing the rattling fear of his mind. Now that the ghost-stone was in his palm he felt a genuine calm radiate from his center. And so he traced the Syllables he needed – Open, Walk, Find, Escape, please.

“On my mark, step into the black,” he said, voice coming from the ether, and they vanished through the air.

I’m going to publish something ONCE A DAY for the next month on this blog. SHIT. That is going to be a LOT OF PUBLISHING. Some of it will be:

– Stories about living in London!

-Original, scribbly journalism!


-off-the-mark and terrible!

-Photography I have taken of things!

-Other forms of writing that I cannot yet predict!

The internet is a vast conglomeration of garbled images and to that, I shall add my voice, mostly in text, because I am a dinosaur who can only write, and my abilily to produce “content” is pretty limited. I am condemned to be a writer. For this monthlong bloggin work publish-a-post-a-day, I will be paid zero dollars (or pundos or liras), and hopefully some of what I produce will make you laugh, scream, pee, or hate me. If I miss a day, I will have to then post a video of myself doing the dance from the Skibidi song, aka “the nihilist’s macarena.” Today is the fifteenth of October, and on the fifteenth of November, I will either immediately cease this project, or continue less intensely.


We went to a wedding in Crete recently. Basically, five years ago Harriet did an archaeological dig up in the mountains of Crete and made a couple of really good archaeologist friends. One of them, Heidi, started seeing one of the village guys working at the dig, Dimitri, and when the two months of dig ended, she just…stayed. And she’s been there ever since. I completely understand why: the village of Kavousi is a big sunstained olive grove on the mediterranean. You get to eat great food, swim, and drink wine and raki all day long. We went back for their big fat Crete wedding last weekend. By all technicalities they’d been married for a long time already, since in order for Heidi to stay they had to do a civil ceremony (and get her a “Greek Card”? Am I allowed that pun?) but this was the “official” wedding. So the whole thing was a triple purpose of reunion with friends/Crete village wedding/swim a lot as a way to escape the rapidly dying English summer.

Some highlights:

  • Heidi had to get baptized in the Greek Orthodox church in order to get married in the Greek Orthodox church, despite, y’know, not believing in any of it…but also that meant she had to get a new name from a saint. “I’m not going to be Greek, ever,” she said. “I’m always going to be Australian. I didn’t want to be another Maria.” The Orthodox priest who’d been working on it though wanted to accomodate, and went around and dug through the archives to find an appropriate German saint name: Athelheid! She had to get dunked in a pool and kiss a bible a lot while some bearded dudes chanted in Greek. We, sadly, were not around at that ceremony to delight in her confusion.
  • About two hours before the wedding, the relatives of the groom (or some randos? unclear) press-ganged me, Harriet, and Emily into assembling centerpieces made from olive branches and other local flora jabbed into firm wet foam blocks. I had a pair of secateurs and just had to lop off branches of various shapes and sizes from a pile of olive trees they’d thrown on the ground. There were about a hundred tables and they’d made…maybe six centerpieces, and were veeeeerry unhurried about the whole thing. We had to leave to get ready after about an hour of that.
  • The wedding was at a little one-room church down by the shore. Honestly, if you weren’t looking at the sea, the church and courtyard looked like they’d come out of a set for a western.
  • Lots of the old men at the wedding looked like John Wayne, even. The ceremony was outside in the courtyard. It was so windy that one of the little decorative posts on either side of the altar got knocked over, and one of the guys in the wedding party LUNGED over the priest to grab it. The candle globe on top fell off and broke, but the post was saved. Hooray.
  • First the groom’s entourage came up the beach road in a line of cars, all honking. Then everyone milled around for about a half an hour until the bride’s entourage came up the beach road in a line of cars, all honking.
  • At the ceremony, (which involved a lot of bible-kissing and bearded dudes chanting in Greek) I got an extra handful of rice and put it in my front pocket, so I could ambush Dimitri and Heidi.
  • After the ceremony we went down to the outdoor taverna for Wedding Stage II. It was set up in kind of a horseshoe — a bunch of tables on either side, and a big dance floor in the middle. A raised stage was at the front. Wedding Stage II was huge platters of slightly cold meze — tzatziki, some very funky village cheese, fried pie things. Oh, and village wine. And raki. I was trying to pace myself. For those of you who want to know — the wine tasted like Georgian village wine, the raki was much more like Georgian chacha than Turkish rakı. Oh dear.
  • Our table was the archaeologists/random English speakers table. This was a self-selected arrangement. Everyone else at the wedding was Greek. It was a strange combination, but pretty fun.
  • The wedding cake (really small, for four hundred village guests) was sitting in the middle of the dance floor on a little table while we waited for Heidi and Dimitri to come back from taking pictures. Some little kids were running around in the middle of the dance floor danging to the Greek pop/folk/whatever it was on the speakers. Everyone was kind of distracted, talking to the people at their tables, not really paying attention. One of the girls ran up to the cake and stopped, looked at it, and then jammed her finger right into the bottom layer. She took her finger out, licked it, and then ran back to her mom with a big smile to tell her what she’d done. Almost nobody saw it, but our table just erupted with laughter. We could all see the mom and the kid talking from across the circle and while we had no idea what was actually said of course, the mom had this great expression of being simultaneoulsy amused and a little alarmed.
  • Wedding Stage III was the arrival of the bride and groom, the musicians, and platters of goat meat. There were five musicians and all of them had different shapes of guitar-y instruments played with different kinds of things — picks, fingers, a bow. It was time for circle dancing.
  • Wedding Stage III lasted for SIX HOURS.
  • I kept thinking something else would happen, some other element of ceremony, but. The cake-cutting part lasted about two minutes. (Someone had turned the cake around so there wasn’t an obvious finger-hole facing the audience.) Then it was BACK TO THE CIRCLE DANCING.
  • I’d worn flip flops, stupidly, so I had to take them off to dance, and it is only now (more than a week later) that my feet are starting to feel normal again.
  • There was one dance which seemed to go on forever — I noticed that the same song was just unusually long, and I felt sweat falling off my forehead in great big drops, and I actually had to excuse myself in the middle of it to pee, and sometime during the dance an old man stood in the center of the circle, pouring shots to every dancer as the passed him. I was later informed that this was the famous Cretan “Dance of Death”, and that all of Dimitri’s friends kept popping up to the musicians and putting in a few Euroes into their tip box to keep the song going, like a perpetual live jukebox. It lasted around 45 minutes. Every foreigner in the circle, including me, was just shambling around in exhaustion by the end of it.
  • That was when the whisky came out. Dimitri’s friends all sat down for cigars. I think there was some drama where Heidi’s mom had tried to go home, but the cigars were in her car, so Heidi had to get a ride back up to the village to get them back. I have no idea. I was full of goat. This was Wedding Stage IV. Emily was about to die. We started walking home and a guardian angel gave us a ride back to our guest house.

We’re staying at an airbnb in a neighborhood called London Fields in Hackney, in East London. The first morning when we arrived I went up the street to get some basic groceries, and I noticed a few somethings. A convenience store with bright color pictures of vegetables and liquor bottles on the window. A barber “salon” with photos of celebrities on the windows, and everyone inside was watching tv, even the guy getting his hair cut. A kebab shop with a refrigerated case of meat on skewers. A place called “Erciyes Grocery.” Two fruit stores, right across from each other, called “Umut Supermarket” and “Sultan Fruit and Veg”. A cafe where two older ladies sat in a display zone right by the front window, rolling out pieces of flat dough onto a gri — oh who am I kidding it was gozleme. By random selection we touched down in London’s little Istanbul. There’s even an Old Tbilisi Shop and a Little Georgia Cafe with an ink sketch of David the Builder over the river Mtkvari. It was a thouroughly warm welcome.The big differences between this neighborhood and anywhere in Istanbul are:

  1. Presence of decent Vietnamese grocery stores and restaurants
  2. The Turkish moms speak English to their kids (????????)
  3. SIGNIFICANTLY LESS SHOUTING. I weirdly only hear traffic sounds from down below on the main street.

The next day I went out and said in Turkish to literally the first person I saw out the door, “So what’s the deal? Is everyone Turkish here or what?” And he said, “Oh yeah, all Turks. You want a coffee?” and we had a brief talk about why Turkey was committing troops to fight in Syria. I spent some time wandering around and walked into a supermarket, told the guy “kolay gelsin,” and we talked about the economic crisis. It’s like I never left.


Hooray! This is the final teaser from the book. If you want the whole book full of enjoyable goodness, there’s a book release party on April 29 — message me for details. If you don’t live in Istanbul, you can still order it for $15 dollars from the “book” tab up there on this blog. This story is from when me, Harriet, Jari and Kenny were all in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, trying to come back to Istanbul on the bus in March of last year.


On our last day in Bulgaria, we wanted to do something different, something out of the city, before we had to spend the evening and most of the night cramped back into a bus. We hired a guy to drive us to an abandoned parliamentary building of the old communist days built atop a mountain. I’d heard about the magnificent Buzludzha before coming and seen its picture on a lot of “can’t-miss” lists about travel in the Balkans. It looked like a giant UFO with a control tower.

“The profits from the entire country for a whole year went into building this,” our guide and driver Velin told us while we drove up the side of the mountain. We took some photos at a huge introductory monument of two fists holding torches with Buzludzha dotting a nearby peak, then drove the rest of the way to the peak and parked. It had snowed the day before, and while walking up to the structure from our car, I could hear the snapping and dripping sounds of the snow melting off the tree branches. On the mountain plateau, Buzludzha filled our vision.

We crawled in through a small opening at knee height. We were in a wide, dark chamber, full of rubble and wreckage. Velin pointed us to a staircase free of debris, and we ascended to the parliamentary chamber. We emerged into the light – an enormous amphitheater, decorated with 360 degree murals on the walls, portraits of great communist leaders, the workers, and a bunch of grasping hands. The ceiling and walls had collapsed or fallen in some places, and snowmelt dripped from a hundred feet up to the pit below. The wind had sculpted ice into feather-like shapes on the twisted iron and concrete. Jari was struck with a revelation.

“I’m going to remake these murals with the bits of newspaper we found in the trash the other day,” he said. We didn’t fully understand what he was talking about, but it sounded cool nonetheless.

Outside we walked around the circumference of the thing. I dropped my phone while taking a picture, and the screen shattered and went totally dark. Oh well. Velin stopped us at the base of the tower and pulled out some headlamps.

“You’re in for a treat,” he said. “We get to climb up the elevator shaft.”

We broke in by squeezing in through a half-open door and climbed a long, near-vertical staircase, to a ladder. We turned our headlamps upwards and saw it led to another platform, another ladder, to another platform, and then to darkness.

“There are 31 ladders,” he said. “The 29th is missing a step, I think. Watch out for it.”

We swallowed and went up in the dark, ladder after ladder after ladder, our hands going numb on the cold dirty metal. Some of the flat rungs were rusted through in places, or were covered in pieces of broken things. At the top we clambered through a hatch into a machine room, a sort of clocktower chamber, but most of the mechanisms were gone. Tiny snow drifts had gathered in corners where panels of glass were missing, or had been broken, and the weather could come through. We were at the bottom of an enormous red star window stretching three more floors up into the tower. We climbed a series of workman’s staircases and looked through the red star window at the mountains below. Buzludzha. A communist UFO on top of the world. It remains one of the best places I’ve ever gone on vacation. Velin made us take a selfie on top of the tower.


While we were climbing down the elevator shaft in the dark, I realized my knee was pulsing. Something felt really wrong. When we got back to the car I rolled up my pant leg. My knee had swollen to twice its normal size where the mystery bugs had bitten into me. It was freakish. We all shrieked in horror and delight and also a little bit in concern, and Velin offered to call someone he knew at a pharmacy down in the village for some ointment. We accepted. While in the village he suggested we swing by a local winery and we eagerly said yes. For a pittance we acquired six plastic bottles of delicious homemade Bulgarian varietals.

Meanwhile, Kenny had been texting Harriet all day long. He was also on a visa run and had gone to Serbia to see his girlfriend, who lived in Switzerland but had joined him in Belgrad for a weekend vacation.

But Kenny seemed to think he couldn’t get back into Turkey. It was unclear what the problem was, but we told him to try at the land border, as the sleepy agents on the Edirne frontier may be more amenable to letting him in than the overworked airport passport guards. So he’d hopped on a night bus to Plovdiv the previous day, and was rolling into town just as we were rolling down the mountain from the UFO. We met him at our hostel. He seemed a little shell shocked.

The story emerged that Kenny had drastically fucked up his ikamet. He’d had an appointment scheduled for back in October, but skipped it because he’d been hungover. When he’d shown up the next day, they turned him away and told him to go in and out of the country for a new passport stamp, and then he’d be eligible to get a new appointment. He had done this once before, been fined, and figured he was alright. But unlike the last time he’d done this run, he’d been given an entry ban at the border as he was leaving the country. Three months.

We weren’t sure he’d get through, but we booked tickets anyways for all of us via our hostel receptionist and took a cab to the bus station. As it’s never clear which rules are actual rules, and which rules are subject to spot interpretation, it’s always worth a try. We bought one last street beer just to savor the pleasure of being able to drink for super cheap and out in public. The bus pulled up and the swarthy sweating mustachioed Turk driving the bus came out, swearing and spitting at us, telling us we couldn’t bring beer on the bus.

“We know,” we told him, “we’re just trying to savor the moment.” Like most interactions with stupid people we’ve had in Turkey, he completely ignored or misunderstood us, and assumed we would bring the beers onboard unless he yelled at us some more. Sigh. We waved him off, promising to get rid of our beers. We examined my knee one more time, monstrous of size and color, and goosed it around. The others pulled up my shirt and pulled down my pants to rub the boil gel on my swollen bites, drew the outlines of how much it had swelled with a sharpie, and then defaced it with a doodle of a penis. There I was, hunchbacked and pockmarked and naked and diseased in a Bulgarian bus station. It had been a great vacation.



We got to the Bulgarian/Turkish border late at night. We had to cross through the car booths on foot and hand our passports up one by one to the border guard. Harriet went through first, legal residency in hand, without issue. Then he scanned Kenny’s passport. He frowned and made him stand to the side. Then he scanned mine. He saw that I’d paid a fine, frowned, and pulled me to the side. Then he scanned Jari’s. He saw that Jari had an ikamet last year, but didn’t have one now, and pulled him to the side too. We protested that we had legal visas, and he looked at the three of us, frustrated and confused. He told us all to go wait outside building B-3.

We waited in agony trying to lighten the mood with dark jokes, until the cop pulled us inside. What do we show them first? The visa paperwork? Our old residence applications? My last entry fine? My expired residence card? What do we tell them, what do we withhold? As in all dealings with the cops, we would pretend to speak no Turkish. It never helps.

He took us in to the office. First he demanded me and Jari sign the dreaded ten-day paper. It permits you to enter Turkey on the condition that you apply to get a residence permit within ten days – and if you don’t get an appointment within ten days, you get an entry ban for five years. Both Jari and I again tried to protest that we’d come in on valid tourist visas, but he said “It’s your choice! You can, turn back now! Not come back for five years! Or sign.”

“This is a lie,” Jari said. “I can’t sign a lie! I have a valid visa.”

“Jari,” I said, pulling him aside. “We look guilty by association, next to Kenny and his entry ban. Just sign the thing. We’ll do our residencies later.”

“But how can I get an appointment when I already have one?” he pressed.

“Get another one? I dunno man. Just sign the paper. In a contest between us and stupid people in power, the stupid people in power are always gonna win.” We resigned ourselves to our fate, and signed.

Kenny tried to show his Turkuaz Medya badge, which indicates that he’s working for a pro-regime media organization, but the police guy told him it was final, he was banned for three months, no way in. Kenny gave me and Jari and Harriet hugs.

“Best of luck,” he said. “I’m on my way back to Plovdiv to try and apply at the embassy for a special consular visa exception. You’re in charge of the show now, Harriet,” he said. Harriet was aghast. We left him there in B-3.

Past the passport control, the customs guy opened our bag, and found all our vice and contraband. I don’t know what the legal import limits are on wine, pork and pornography, but I do know we were way, way over the line.

“And what are these?” he said, holding up the six-inch thick stack of pornography from the trash.

“Documents,” we said.

“And what are these?” he said, holding up the six bottles of homemade booze.

“Water,” we said.

“And what are these?” he said, holding up the heavy grocery bag of pork products.

“Food,” we said. “For the road.” He let us keep it. Go figure.

For Orkun’s birthday Harriet and I took him to the breakfast place TaaVan in Yeldegirmeni and Orkun taught me that Taa is old turkish for “way over there,” as in, “My mom lives taa in Canada”. The last time we were there they had butter-fried golden mulberries, and I was crushed to learn it was out of season, so we opted for the regular basket breakfast, modestly priced at 20 lira, and a few menemen. TaaVan gives you the standard Turkish Breakfast portfolio of tomatoes and cukes and cheeses and bal and kaymak, but also a few odd sweet things that we couldn’t figure out, like a sandy honey paste and mashed-up walnuts with sugar and semolina, which is less good than it may sound.

We took the Marmaray to Kazlıçeşme (“goosey fountain”) and there was a guard with an AK-fucking-47 just chilling in the train station by the metal detectors. I mean at this point we were used to Polis with smaller guns just hanging out in public areas and giving everyone the willies, but yeeeesh. We skedaddled. Our destination was Yedikule castle, the fortress with seven towers. It was super close to the station so we walked through an old Islamic graveyard arguing about brains and personal identity until we got to the old city walls.

 Yedikule was closed. We peered in between the towering iron doors and saw two ticket offices built against the stone, deserted and dusty. A marble plaque identifying the site and containing necessary municipal text sat sideways and unused on the ground. The castle grounds were enormous, stone-green, and empty. It looked like it hadn’t been open in ten years. Harriet said that one of her friends had been let in for a photography class only six months ago, so we kept circling the castle walls.

We got to a gypsy encampment near a highway and a man walked all the way to the end of the road where we were standing and told us to buzz off. He looked both very accustomed to telling people that you couldn’t get into Yedikule this way, and stupid. We walked across the highway and wound up at an abandoned train station. The guard at first told us it was yasak to go in, but Orkun told him he was showing his friends around, and the guard saw that we were harmless and so let us in. “He told us that there’s dogs and to be careful,” Orkun said.

“I love that about Turkey,” Harriet said. “A No turns into a Yes after you talk to them for two minutes.”

Heaps of asphalt were piled around the shells of two brick buildings, and twin iron towers rose from the middle. A massive cylindrical cage, perhaps the skeleton of a forgotten chemicals tank, stood nearby. The air smelled like industry. The barking of hundreds of dogs could be heard echoing in the distance. We got close and the ceiling-less and window-less brick buildings were filled with broken car detritus. On a torn parcel of red bumper we saw the I.E.T.T. logo of Istanbul’s public transit.
We got closer to the towers. Three trash-picking gypsies were hanging out nearby and staring at the towers too. One guy was smoking and looking up at it.

“It’s really interesting,” he said. “It’s really old. What’s written on the side?” he asked Orkun.

“Dortmund, 1898. I guess that’s where it was made.”

“It’s really interesting,” he said, and fell silent. Later, when we were wandering in one of the other cathedral-like ceilingless brick shell buildings, we caught sight of the trash-picking gypsies using a fire hose to rappel up the side of the Dortmund towers. Orkun mentioned that he’d love to live that kind of explorer’s life — just exploring all the time. The gypsy paused halfway up the tower to put a cigarette in his mouth and take a pull.

We wandered around some more and eventually left, thanking the guard for his kindness. Orkun found a beveled gear in a pile of rubble and I carried it for him as a birthday souvenir. We followed the sound of the barking dogs and it was a dog shelter, but it was a too sad because a lot of them were underfed or sick or injured, so we had to leave.

We popped down to Sultanahmet because Orkun had never been to see the Basilica Cistern so we negotiated with the ticket office for lower locals’ prices and looked at the fat carp and listened to the weird broadcast flute music and admired the goofy pink lighting at the base of the columns and took a picture of the derpy medusa. It was all full of garbage misinformation, Harriet said. “Like there’s all sorts of conspiracy theories as to why the medusa’s head is upside down underneath the column when it’s just because it fit best that way. Everything was made out of recycled materials back then. If you walk a hundred meters down the street to the archaeological museum they’ve got a column on a medusa head on display exactly the same.”

For dinner, I made a Dad Food classic — chicken marinated in soy sauce and scallions, and veggie lo mein. We were in a food coma by seven pm and ready for bed by nine.

These kinds of days are my favorite days in Istanbul. The neighborhood around Yedikule is utterly different from the kinds of things you’d see in Kadikoy and it was a fifteen-minute train ride away. I don’t have these days often much anymore because I’m always doing something — either going to a private lesson to hustle, or to the theatre for rehearsal, or to meet some friends for beers. I get a huge kick out of just wandering around a place with friends, picking up trash, making jokes, climbing stuff, taking some pictures.


On Saturday morning I felt like someone had tipped over a dumpster, scotch-taped the garbage together in the shape of a man, and used some fell necromancy to animate it into a trash golem. I felt like a trash golem. I was trash. We’d gone out to Lars and Amanda’s birthday/going-away party at Leman Kultur in Taksim and gotten far, far too drunk far too quickly on the Ukrainian Birch vodka Jari’d brought back from the Kiev airport. Harriet had purchased some apple juice at a tekel and we’d surreptitiously poured the vodka and apple juice into a beer stein purloined from an empty table while the waiter wasn’t looking. It seemed like a good idea, but it was actually a terrible idea, because it meant we had to leave really early and it wrecked my brain for Saturday. Which was bad, because rehearsal is on Saturday morning. When the alarm went off I actually did not know what alarms were or why there was sound, or whether life was real or not. “What is this?” I thought to myself. “I am sleeping right now. Why are there things other than sleep??” We shambled out of bed and, after a brief stop at the metro office near the docks to get Harriet a mavi kart, hopped on metrobus to get ourselves over to Etiler.


I’d missed the actual first rehearsal on Wednesday so this one was the real first rehearsal for me, and we ran the first few scenes of the panto. A pantomime, for my american readers, is a style of British theatre where men dress like women and the audience is incited to boo and cheer for the bad/good guys. It’s a traditional kids’ Christmas play which usually takes a fairy or folk tale as its plot, and then adds in lots of political/sexual innuendo for the adults. Because this is of course in Turkey, where politics is, oh, kind of a sensitive subject (even in English), we’ll be eliminating any timely references. We’re doing the tale of “Dick Whittington and his Cat” so rest assured all the sex jokes will still be there. Chris Wall is Chris the Cat. I am a woman named Sally the Cook.

After rehearsal we jetted off to Bomonti, a part of town which after three years I’ve still never visited before, and went to the annual Korean Charity Bazaar. I had no idea there were enough Koreans in Istanbul to throw a charity bazaar, but oh maaaaaan when Taylor clued us into it, we had to make it a priority. I mean, KIMCHI. KIMCHI ALL DAY EVERY DAY. AAAHHHH MORE PLEASE. So we went up into Bomonti into what looked like an empty university building, but as soon as we got in, we heard the loud echoes of korean opera, and we saw a bustling flea market on the bottom floor. We got a weird delicious pancake of vegetables, a weird delicious pastry filled with nuts, cinnamon, and honey, and chap chae and kimchi and rice and UGH. When I die please make my body into kimchi. Or if that’s gross you can fill my coffin with kimchi and push me out to sea. Whatever. Korean grandmas pushed kimchi on us, and Chris pulled me and Harriet into the bazaar to check out the fanciest Korean bidet. It had robot settings to blast water at your anus at different speeds and patterns; it had an air-dryer. Inside the demo toilet, beneath the bidet’s robot arm, someone had placed a pot of plastic roses. The ambient music changed from Korean Opera to Aerosmith.

That night, still wretched and demolished and hung, Harriet and I decided to stay home and chill. Jari’s French lutist friend Valerie had invited him to another musician’s house for Renaissance music and dinner — apparently the guy had a museum-y house covered in antique turkish instruments from the middle ages and Ottoman times, and could also apparently play all of them.

On Sunday Jari and I discussed the menu for our pop-up restaurant at Circuit for next Saturday. Harriet and I escaped from the city and went to Kilyos on the Black Sea. It was one of the last nice days of the summer before winter shits all over us, so we wanted to exploit it for beach day. We took the metro to the end of the line and then took the bus all the way to Demircikoy, a tiny village beyond the more touristy Kilyos. We walked down a hill for half an hour past a bunch of gated communities and got to a cute beach with sand and kite-flying dudes and dogs. We barely did anything other than walk around and explore the coast, with its rugged rocks and powder-blue whitecap waves. We stood on the edge of the rocky cliffs and felt heroic. Out in the Black Sea, a herd of ships waited their turn to go through the Bosphorus.

It was a nice weekend after a week destitute of actual work. This week I start work at a children’s theatre doing shows for $$$ and helping kids learn English. We’ll rehearse a show to transmute it into entertainment, and then tour around Istanbul schools, doing one, two, maybe three performances a day. There are tours, too — last year they went to Iskenderun, Kayseri, Antalya. It doesn’t pay loads (but crucially, it does pay a living wage) so I’m supplementing my income with the usual run of private lessons, including the kid whose arm I broke.

Normally I’d linger a bit on all these stories — I don’t like rushing through everything so quickly, narratively speaking, but I just haven’t written anything in so long that I had to catch up. As usual, life in this city charges along like a rhinoceros.

IMG_20160115_163003018.jpgWhen I was in the late single-digits—sometime during third grade—I developed an intense fear of choking. We had brought home some excellent sandwiches from Carrs’ deli and I was really excited to eat, because at that point I loved plain turkey with shredded lettuce and mayo and black pepper on white or wheat bread, and Carrs’ deli made excellent turkey with shredded lettuce and mayo with black pepper on white or wheat bread. And I remember taking a bite and just not knowing what to do. Where does it go? What do I do with it? Where do I put my tongue, how do I push the food back? What if I do it wrong, and I choke? Was I choking? How could I tell I was choking?

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Our first day in Bulgaristan we took the night bus up from Istanbul. It took us four visits and one phone call (conducted on our behalf a native speaker, no less) to make reservations with the bus company, find out the reservations had disappeared, figure out where they were picking us up, and pay for the …

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IMG_20160403_180020639Last Sunday we woke up and I had that Hozier song that’s in 5/4 stuck in my head. Jari was downstairs doing collage of course and I made the coffee, and I polled them for what the song was called. “From Eden,” Harriet said. “I don’t know how I know that.”


this was almost a good picture and I blame myself

We listened to it, and then listened to it again, and Jari looked up from between the clippings of paper wreathing his presence, like shavings of wood around a mad puppet master. “I got invited to a picnic today by that cellist I met last night. She messaged me on facebook like “I guess you were too drunk to remember” and I was like “no, I was sober last night…” but anyways I don’t know what you’re doing today but we’re having a picnic.”

We readily agreed and packed in some of the Bulgarian wine and went to Validebağ.


Anna, as a grimlock war-guardian of the palace of Gorgenspittle

We met Nur (Jari’s cellist friend whom he totally remembers meeting) at the Starbucks across from the entrance to the park, wandered inside, picked a tree, and laid our blankets out. She’d brought some wine from Bozcaada, and candied coriander seeds, and mastiha, a Greek liquor made from the sap of the mastic tree. (Damla sakızı in Turkish). And, a wacky little bouzouki she’d purchased from a friend of hers (who had MADE it) which had this great banjo-y sound. We brought the more workhorse foods of bread, tomatoes, labne, cheese, plus our own instruments.

And yesterday, on Monday, Orkun made some excuses and took the second half of the day off. I’d worked all morning on TOGY spreadsheets (this week, on Azerbaijan) so I felt entirely justified in going to the sahil with Jari and Orkun to have a beer and look at the dogs (link to dog video). I played “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” by Tom Lehrer for Orkun and he loved it.