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As part of our weekend trip to Bulgaria (for visa renewal purposes), we stopped by an abandoned parliamentary building of the old communist days built atop a mountain. “The profits from Bulgaria for an entire year went into building this,” our guide and driver Velin told us. It had snowed the day before, and while …

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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.”

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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.

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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.

 

 

This is a short story about Brazil Coffee Roasters and Dry Goods (Breziliya Kurukahvecisi), a shop in Kadıköy.

When I was contracted to act in a miserably-organized ad shoot* at the beginning of Season Two, I was hanging out with the director of the shoot in the van and mentioned that there was nowhere to buy good coffee in Istanbul. Can you imagine, a whole year drinking instant? Miserable. He recommended a spot in Moda, a district in my Asian side district of Kadıköy, where they imported it and roasted it themselves. I was elated and the next day set out to find it. I was put off by the Aunt Jemima sign, but please remember this is Turkey and our race issues have a different context. 10456781_1708218709446294_2003148570279157791_n.jpg

It was a cheerful place staffed by a crowd of middle-aged dudes who bustled behind the counters like bumblebees. A birdcage in the corner housed a green songbird, merrily chirping away. Every shelf was packed with teas and coffees from all over the world, there were sacks of seeds and nuts open on the floor, basins of dried apricots and dates and chocolates, drawers full of powdered pistachio and jars full of blueberries. They had articles (in Turkish, naturally) proclaiming the health benefits of this berry or another, and one suggesting that four cups of coffee a day would lead to an extraordinary long life. IMG_20160331_160957063.jpgThey had two open canvas sacks of coffee beans, one dark and one light, sitting next to a roaster. I asked for a half-kilo of filter coffee (what you and I know as “normal coffee”) and they scooped up a scoop of the darker beans, poured them into a grinder, and the bright-eyed guy behind the counter chatted with me about my obvious foreignness and what I was doing in Turkey. My Turkish wasn’t great then, but he was genuinely interested and I did my best. I paid fifteen lira. (So back then about seven dollars a pound–a decent price for good coffee even in the US.) We didn’t have a french press or anything, so I used the çaydınlık (the turkish teapot) and just mixed the grounds and water direct. It was great coffee–the freshest I’d had all year. IMG_20160331_160918072.jpg

Jari and I, true to our Park heritage, must drink coffee until we pee out all our moisture and we become as dried out as corn husks. In those days I still worked at Bugün and copyedited from home, so in the mornings before the first articles came Jari and I would brew a pot and sit in the sunlight in the living room like lizards, playing computer games from the 90s, drinking coffee. It was a great and magical time. We made expeditions to Breziliya when we ran out, and they’d put on a muppet show for us when we arrived. “It’s been two weeks since we’ve seen you,” one of them says, and then one calls across from the other aisle, “Yes that’s right two weeks, two weeks, we expected you.” They were funny guys. The more Turkish we learned, the more we could communicate. They had been in business eighty years, and had been for sixty years in that spot–in Moda. I asked one time where the coffee came from and they deadpanned at me: “Brazil.” Duh.

What made the place stand out was that every place around it was a new bar or restaurant. This little store clearly had some accumulated character and history. They weren’t pretentious, just earnest.

They had a news article out front on the window with their story. In 1917 a soldier named Hacı Sıddık Ergincan finished his military service in Trabzon and bought a one-way boat ticket to Istanbul with the intention of starting up a coffee business. He stayed with his relatives and opened Merkez Kurukahvecisi in Kasımpaşa in 1920, a neighborhood on the IMG_20160331_160857809_HDR.jpgGolden Horn on the European side in Beyoğlu.** Business boomed, and he opened up a total of seven shops. He had a son, Mevlüt, who began to take over the family business as his father aged. He had a couple of neat marketing ideas, including printing the logo on coffee cups, and selling coffee in 50-gram bags like teabags. According to this story I’m reading now, the first coffee was from Indonesia and too hard for Turkish tastes, so they began importing from Brazil instead, and changed the name to Breziliya Kurukahvecisi.

The shops one by one were shuttered for various reasons, but the one in Moda still prospered. Mevlüt passed the shop onto his grandsons (not sure why his son wasn’t in the picture here) and those are the bright-eyed guys I know–Nejdet and Bülent.

(Now I’ve made you like the place, so I’m sorry for what I’m about to do.)

I got word they were closing. Some other Kadıköy resident put up a thing on Facebook saying they were closing because they couldn’t make rent. I was stunned and saddened. I went down to the shop yesterday to check. Some of the shelves were empty, a few of the customers or family members were talking to each other and sobbing. Bülent and Nejdet were still bright-eyed, intense. I asked if I could talk to them for awhile. Bülent came outside and sat down with me.

He explained that in 2014 a new tax law had come into effect, changing rent control laws. It made it possible more or less for property owners to dramatically increase the rent on businesses that had been renting for more than ten years. The Armenian Orthodox Church owns the entire block Breziliya stands on, and asked for double what they had been paying–30,000 liras. They refused and tried to take legal action, but no avenues were available.

“Whatever bar that comes here will probably be charged upwards of 40,000,” Bülent said. “It’s not just money, it’s character. They’re ruining the character of the old Moda Çarşı.” He pointed out a few places. “That place got closed ten years ago, that place closed in the 80s.” I asked if there were any others from the old days, and he said their shop was the last holdover.

And it’s true–there were no bars or rakı balık places in Kadıköy in the Moda Çarşı even ten years ago. It was just a quirky community mostly known to outsiders as a retirement home, a quiet place away from the bustle of central Istanbul.

“I’ve been working here since I was 13 years old,” he said. “I’m 42 now. Five families depend on this place.”

Bülent’s daughter (granddaughter? niece?), about five years old, ran outside the shop at that second and he swooped her up and started to tickle her. I took a few pictures and thanked all the guys inside and wished them the best. They were distracted but thanked me for being a customer. I insisted I get a picture with Bülent, and he directed us in front of the coffee roaster.
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I wanted this story to have a villain, but the truth is the Armenian Orthodox Church in Moda is dying. I checked out a service there and it only had two old congregants still chanting away. This government has not been kind to old institutions of all sorts, whether it’s churches or historical landowners, nor has it had any eye towards cultural or historical preservation. No doubt they need the money to take care of themselves. I don’t want to indict anyone here, not landlords, nor the government, nor capitalism–it’s just a bitter reality that places change and we lose the things we love.

*It was a Vestel ad. I appear in it for two seconds and the shoot took all day and drove me around needlessly to four different places all over the city. Fun, though. 

**Also, the birthplace of our democratically elected president, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

My source for the story is this post and my interview with Bülent, and if I screwed up any translations I welcome corrections.

So now I’m home after playing on the boats with Jari. Jari plays on the ferries three or four times a week and I join him when I need some spending money. It’s an altogether pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon. You do two or three tours–that’s back and forth from one dock to another, takes an hour–and, as Jari puts it, you basically “steal money from people.”

We ride the Kadikoy-Karakoy ferry because the Besiktas ferry is rigorously controlled by a musician’s mafia of sorts and they organize who can play at what time, and security doesn’t hassle them in exchange for 3000 liras a month of protection money. On the Karakoy ferry, security is a little more scrupulous about kicking off musicians, as it is technically illegal to play on the boats, but they only do one sweep through all the boat cabins at the beginning of the trip. As soon as they leave, we get out our instruments and play some songs.  We have tactics: we play a slow American folk song to make our presence known, we play a Turkish song to speak to the stirrings of their Turkhearts, and then we play a more lively finish. And then Jari plays a Bach prelude, and I pass the hat. And the we go to the upstairs cabin and do the same thing. You can make more than 200 lira for less than three hours of work, which is pretty good. Our friend Ulas plays for ten hours a day, but he has the downside of being by himself, being Turkish, and playing mostly Beatles songs on the guitar. He makes about 300 a day. Today he told us that he was paying six months of rent and he was a thousand lira short. “What’s the last day you can pay?” I asked “Today,” he said, and took a pull from his cigarette. “Fuck,” I said. “Good luck. What will you do if you’re short?” “I have no idea,” he said. “I’ll talk to them, ask for three more days or something.”

I teach this kid, Can. (It’s pronounced John, because this is Turkistan) and our lessons consists mainly of me making the kid do his homework. He’s a kid motivated mostly by the desire for dominance, victory, his appetites, violence as spectacle, a caveman morality. He has been given everything he wanted immediately, and therefore has no boundaries, nor has he expressed empathy. When we first met, he would hit me, fart in my face, shriek for the live-in Ethiopian servant to bring him water right next to my ear, refuse to listen to a word I said. He is the child of rich parents. Being rich in this country, I do not know why, makes you insane. Can’s parents seem like pretty okay normal people, but then again they have a live-in servant from Ethiopia and also hired a person (me) to make their son do his homework. (This is because, I suppose, they know what kind of experience it is, and can afford to make someone else do it.) It pays 1200 lira a month for very little work, which is my rent + groceries, so I’m keen to hang onto it.

So twice a week I have to make sure he does his homework. He doesn’t do it unless we make a deal–do three exercises and we play a few goals of soccer. At the promise of getting to play a game with Teacher, he gets excited, and will legislate the smallest detail of the deal to make sure he gets maximum game time for minimum effort. He also leaps at any chance to humiliate or injure me, so sometimes the deal at first would be “do an exercise and you can shoot me x times with a nerf gun, where x is equal to the number of answers written correctly.” His handwriting and reading are pretty bad and I think he’s ashamed of not being able to write legibly, and so rather than try and fail, he screws around. After a month and a half of my influence, I’m actually pretty proud of what we’ve managed to do. I’ve given up all hope of coaxing out his better impulses. Mostly what we’ve done is set boundaries so that he understands it is in no way normal or okay to be a little shit to me. If he farts in my face, shit-eating grin spread wide, to test me, I leave the room and tell him it’s rude. Any hitting is met with “don’t do that,” any shrieking for the live-in Ethiopian servant is immediately met with “don’t shriek in my ear, and if you need something either get it yourself, or ask for it politely and not like a goddamn animal.” To get him to finish the homework, I write the answers in nice cursive on a separate sheet of paper and then he copies them. I stop him and make him fix it if it’s not written with care. His handwriting looks a lot better now, I think. His tolerance for work has increased, and we’ve gradually front-end-loaded all the work to the beginning of the lesson and the football to the end (rather than interspersing it throughout), and gradually moved away from the violence/mortification of teacher games. My limits for meeting a student halfway, it should be apparent by now, have really hit bottom.

On Thursday of last week, I’d observed all these positive changes and with a little pride, rewarded him with a full fifteen minutes of football after homework. We played a match in his room, he won 21-20. He begged me for one more goal as I was packing up, and I kicked the ball directly into his left wrist by accident. He crumpled to the floor, howling. “Get up,” I said. “You’ll be alright. Don’t whine.” We walked to the kitchen to get an ice pack, and then did reading practice. Since he took the ice pack off while reading the book (though still kind of sniffling) I figured he was fine.

Last Saturday, I got to their house and Can was ensconced in the sectional couch, watching TV, furiously ignoring me. His mom was like “Did you see, Can?” with a big smile. I looked closely. He had a cast on his left wrist. “Oh, what happened?” I said, as I had not put it together. Of course, it was from the football. His mom told me that he had complained a lot the next day, and so they went to the hospital and got it xrayed. His arm was fractured.

Though she did explain her husband was angry with both me and Can, she seemed pretty understanding, and asked me please no more football in the lesson. No roughhousing. I figured since I hadn’t been called and fired or sued during the interceding few days, like what would have happened in the normal universe, I was all too happy to agree.

“Oh, maybe he’s scared of me now,” I said with a grin.

“Yes! Haha!” she said. “You are arm-breaker teacher! New title!” She turned and called out to her son. “Ok, time for lesson, Can!”

Can was really angry at me, didn’t want anything to do with me. I apologized, said it was an accident, accidents happen when you play football inside your room, again said sorry. I didn’t actually feel bad, but y’know, it’s good to model what appropriate behavior is. He didn’t budge, didn’t look at me. I promised him he could put a boxing glove on his good hand and take a swing at my head for every answer he got. His eyes lit up and he got that shit-eating grin again.

Epilogue: the following evening I got a text from his mom asking what my email address was. I braced myself, expecting a summons or something. Her next text was “how can i make a kiwi bird costume for Can for school. i can’t imagine”

 

 

 

My guitar was purchased for three hundred dollars in Seattle, WA, at a guitar shop that only opened after I had finished college. It is (or was? Couldn’t tell you if it’s still there or not) on the corner of Pike and Broadway, just next to Ballet, my favorite cheap Vietnamese restaurant in the entire world. I offered the man there three hundred in cash for a four hundred and twenty five dollar guitar, presaging my pazarlamak days here in Istanbul by a few years, and he frowned, and said “Deal. Ok.” I suspect that nobody else had shown interest.

It is a beautiful guitar. I can only pass down what I know from apocrypha. It was made in Colombia a hundred years ago in a local factory, purchased as a quinceanera present, but after an accidental snapping of the guitar’s neck it languished in someone’s basement for years upon years, accumulating a century’s dust, until it was uncovered. All the strings were no doubt snapped from age, and the mounting had worn away. It was retrofitted with new parts and new strings, the broken neck was repaired, it may have been varnished again. When I strummed it for the first time in the shop, I felt it resonate in a peculiar way. It was a lovely sound. I was about to travel to Turkey for the first time and I wanted a larger more adaptable instrument than my Ukulele to accompany me as a bardic tool and good luck token. Obviously I know nothing about guitars. Many have complained that the strings are too high, too hard to press down, it’s too small (it’s three-quarter size, but for the traveler in me that was a selling point). Whatever. Often the story in my head animates the real world, and I let it. Who wouldn’t?

While I was flying back to America this last November, the guitar head got snapped off again in the overhead compartment. A brute’s carry-on was shoved into it, or perhaps during a turbulent episode a heavy bookbag crushed it. Who knows. I opened it in the Toronto airport to show it off like a proud father and his four year old ballerina, and all the strings were curling up, free of tension. The problem was located soon after.

The luthier in Brooklyn quoted me $250 for its repair, because it required “special tools” and “a lot of specialized labor.” Power to her. She and her partner had rented some warehouse space in Gowanus and they were sharing the cavernous room with a seamstress. Guitars hung from racks like suits at a dry cleaner’s. I felt like I’d wandered into someone else’s novel, playing a cameo role. I told her I couldn’t afford it, said I’d check if there were other prices around, and she said that was just what it cost. I checked around, and she was right; lowest I found was about $150. I hesitated.

Were I a member of the Gowanus ‘hood I’m sure I could have cut a similar deal with the luthier. But my story is over here in yeldeğirmeni right now. And I can always drop down the carnival hole of Turkish social life and a chain-smoking old man would fix it for peanuts. So maybe I hesitated because I knew I was coming back.

But even better: Ayşegül offered to put it back together! She’s putting the finishing touches on it today; she talked to her luthier teacher, Uğur, and he offered some advice for gluing the head back on. (she also fixed my Ukulele two years ago when I stepped on it) I will trade her for this one bottle of Georgian chacha. That’s my kinda story.