The first things I noticed when we got to our Airbnb were the tally sheets. Well, actually, the strange mustiness in the cramped stairway, but also the tally sheets. Our host greeted us at the door in sweatpants with a big smile, and gave us the two-minute tour. On each table and desk were lined notebooks, each open to a full page of tally marks.

The house was nice enough — good light, good location, everything functioned normally, and so we set about making ourselves feel at home. She’s lived in the area for about ten years after another ten years down “south”, so she’s about 38 or so. She did “American Studies” at University, which is something I always find kind of funny, but she was interested in politics and literature. I ask her what she does for a living these days.

“Oh it’s a bit strange…I do offers on online casinos.”

“O…k. Is that what the tally sheets are about?”

“Yeah…you can come out ahead in the long run.” She explains something to do with coupons and ‘the odds coming out ahead in the long run’ and it makes absolutely no sense to me. She apparently goes to a bunch of different online casinos, takes the “offers”, and then plays a certain amount. It sounds a lot like you’re a professional gambler, I say.

“Na, I don’t even know how to play poker, I play slots mostly. When I play blackjack I have a little table that I read off of — like if the dealer shows this and you’ve got this, split or fold or hit or whatever. There’s a whole facebook group of people who do it. I tried it and sort of found my way into it, I suppose.” She shrugged. “I used to be an editor at a major business magazine, and now I make more money doing offers from online casinos than I ever did with a proper job.”

Anyway. Harriet and I made plans to go out everyday and look at possible flats. When we’d leave in the morning, our host was in her sweatpants, clicking away at a jewelly slot game on her macbook, tallying away. When we’d come back, she’d be watching British TV, wearing the same sweatpants and pajama top. She wore those same clothes for three days running.

British TV is like if you took American TV and fed it through a shredder, and then tried to line all the strips up to fix it up. It’s almost recognizable. But not quite. There was a show much like The View called Loose Women with four older conservative English women chatting about sexual deviants and christmas decorations. “Some people are putting their STD check results on their phones so they can show potential partners. A good idea? Or will it lead to sexual deviancy?” Whatever the subject under discussion was, according to the panel, 100% of the time it lead to sexual deviancy. Then there was Judge Rinder, which was just Judge Judy except with no shouting, no tears, no wretched family disputes — just a plainspoken builder and a prim woman who’d complained he hadn’t supported the lintel stone on a doorway correctly. Then there was a game show where celebrities competed to win money for charity (okay) and they were asked questions (makes sense) which earned them a go at the main mechanism of the game (sure). Kinda like how getting the right letter earns you another spin on Wheel of Fortune, right? Except here the questions were stupid easy (“Where is Venice? a) Spain b) Canada c) Italy”), and the main thing of the game was one of those coin-pusher machines — you know where there’s a bunch of coins all piled up on a ledge, and there’s a big ledge moving back and forth behind it, and the goal is to drop your coin into the pile in just the right place so it nudges a few coins out the bottom of the slot. Our host would say the answers just before the contestants. Probably, every time she got it right, she wanted to tally it down. She watched closely as the tokens fell onto the ledge, and pushed four or five other tokens off.

Everyone was very calm about everything. Nobody expressed anything above moderate joy. Restrained TV is the strangest thing on earth.

Our host is also seeing a guy who’s an older male model — she mentioned this, and I forgot it until I was sitting out on the couch much too early on one jetlagged morning, when a scraggly silver fox dude in his boxers emerged from her room and beelined for the toilet. “DUDE VAR”* I facebooked to Harriet in the next room. “OLD DUDE VAR.” Later that night, after we’d come back after a fruitful day of house-hunting, they were sitting on the couch together (clothed) watching a Scottish dating show. I said hello, she introduced him, we made small talk.

“[Old Dude’s name] has been to Alaska on a modeling gig,” she tells me.

“Yeah, I’ve been to Hobart,” he says, not looking up.

“That’s Tasmania,” she corrects him. “Alaska.”

“Oh yeah,” he says, turning in my direction, but looking at a point somewhere above and beyond my head. “It was the city with the, ah, what’s it called. Y’know. The city with the. Where the planes go.”

“The airport?” I offer.

“Yeah, the city with the airport.”

“Ah,” I say. “Was it Anchorage?”

“Yeah, yes. That’s it. Might have been that.” He becomes animated. “We went out from the airport, didn’t get much chance to explore, but one, two hours out of two, yeah we drove out of the airport. Great scenery.” He makes swoopy motions with his hands, I think to describe the motions of a car driving along a twisty road.

“It’s beautiful there, right?” I say. I am rocking this conversation.

“Oh yes, very beautiful. Great, ah, great scenery,” he says, turning back towards the TV. “Ah luve Doctair Who,” says one of the dudes on the dating show. “Dae ye?”

Last night, I walked by a bookies’ called Ladgamble, kind of like all the horseracing shops I used to walk by in Istanbul where old men would shout at the TV. A banner inside read, “Get 40 pounds worth of bets when you bet 10 pounds!”, and it showed a picture of an ecstatic frizzy-haired dude clutching fistfuls of notes.

“You’re getting PLAYED, Ladgamble,” I told the frizzy-haired compadre. “Someone’s making more money taking your OFFERS than at a PROPER JOB.” He just smiled back. I’m not really sure he’s losing.

 

*”There is a dude”. If you’re new here, var is a multipupose Turkish word for “yes” or “there is” or “it exists” and you should probably adopt it into your own lives.

 

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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.

 

  1. Curvature of the earth. It’s not flat!!
  2. Differences between safety videos on different airlines. On New Zealand Air, it’s a fun summer video about a guy (maybe a celebrity?) hitchhiking around New Zealand, and everyone he hitches a lift with gives some standard safety thing, but with a twist. For instance, both videos of course talk about what to do in case you have to evacuate the plane. On New Zealand Air, they all put the yellow things over their heads, yank the red cords, and then jump off a boat into the ocean. Fun! On Southern China Airlines, it shows you what happens “in case of ditching”: hordes of badly-computer-animated people zooming down safety slides, arms straight out like playmobil dolls, and then running away en masse. Badly animated arms a-flailin’. Soothing chinese music plays over the whole thing, and cherry blossoms fall. Be at peace with your immanent catastrophe.
  3. Great movie selection on Southern China Airlines. I watched action movies, because that’s about all I can process on long haul flights. Two consecutive 12 hour flights, minus time for eating and dissasociated dozing, means at least six movies. I watched Lego Movie, Thor: Ragnarok, Spotlight (not an action film, couldn’t hear anyone’s attempts at Boston accents over the roar of the jet engines), a terrible space movie with Tom Cruise which I do not remember, and also three other films which I do not remember. Harriet put Mamma Mia! on repeat and passed out to Meryl Streep singing ABBA tunes.
  4. On the official customs and safety placard of the Republic of China which they give you when you’re flying into the country, they have instructions for how many animals you can bring. To illustrate this concept, they chose a stock photo of a golden retriever wearing glasses.

    dog_wearing_glasses-normal

    This one.

  5. Guangzhou airport is a massive rectagular hallway without any heating to speak of. A series of moving walkways are in the dead center of the hallways. They run only one direction.
  6. In Guangzhou airport, though they also have regular janitors with regular vacuums and mops and cleaning products, there is also a single older woman going around with nothing but a handmade straw broom, meandering about, randomly and inefficiently sweeping the carpet underneath the seats. She looked a bit lost. She did, however, managed to find someone’s passport wallet. She was sweeping under a random seat and called out in Chinese to everyone sitting around her. Since it was a flight to London, nobody spoke Chinese, and we all looked at each other. I went to go examine, and remembered that a Kiwi dude had asked me about ten minutes ago if I’d seen a passport, so I ran it down to the other side of the airport to hand it off. Thanks, teyze.
  7. Mike’s House of Pizza in Guangzhou airport. Who is Mike? There is a picture of him on the picture menu, but it says beneath the picture “This is not Mike.” The restaurant was closed. I will never know.
  8. Mulberry juice?? Also dim sum on an airplane. Questionable, but overall good.

 

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.
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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.
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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.
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THE FOLLOWING IS A REAL TRUE STORY from my SUPER COOL NEW BOOK, East meets West meets You and Me. You can order this book here for fifteen wholesome American dollars, just follow the paypal link at the bottom. Wow.


Nathan asked me for help with his residency paperwork. I speak pretty good Turkish, and he’d arrived last spring sometime and was not adept at navigating the system yet, and so thought having a translator on hand would help out.

Doing your residence, your ikamet, is complicated in the best of circumstances. The basic process doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but what you have to do is make an appointment, show up with a bunch of papers, and then wait for it in the mail. But the required documents you need change every year, the place you apply at changes every year, and the cops are informed about these changes only half the time. Working papers are difficult to get, so most of us pretend to be “tourists” for years at a time.

One time I bribed a change office to write me a import slip saying that I’d changed $6,000 into lira and could provide for my own needs. Jari once forged himself into Orkun’s rent contract but before while trying to get it notarized, the notary public said his (fake!) contract was due 500 lira back tax. He and Orkun tried another notary, and they said it was 400 in back tax. So they spent a few hours wandering to different notary offices, shopping for the lowest imaginary tax price for his imaginary lease. Anna had a story about meeting a guy in a parking garage for some documents and then waiting in some müdür’s office all day while he processed a combination of forgeries and favors. I’ve turned in an application which lacked crucial documents but the cop liked me and so said I didn’t need them, and conversely, I’ve lacked a photocopy of my passport and got sent away until another day because they refused to let me use the copy machine right behind them. It is a struggle of the little man trapped in a bureaucracy that Kafka would have wet dreams about, a test of wits and charisma, of stupidity and luck. My friend Valentin observed: “the process of getting legal residence in Turkey is proof that you can actually live in Turkey. It’s a pretty good test.”

The government at that time was in the midst of some bureaucratic reshuffle, creating a new department to handle residents and migration, the Göç Müdürlüğü. Poor Nathan had applied for an appointment under the old system, and then while he waited for the date (three months later), the system changed, and his appointment vanished. So when he arrived at the police station, they had no record he existed, and told him to reapply under the new system. Which he did, and got another date, another three months later. So now he’d overstayed his visa by about six months.

We caught a cab not to the central police station, but to the new Göç Müdürlüğü building in residential Beşiktaş. It was a strange complex with three different buildings labeled A, B, and C. We tried A and the cops sent us to B. We went to B and the cops sent us to C to get fingerprinted. We went to C and the cops said Nathan didn’t actually need to get fingerprinted for his residency because he wasn’t a refugee, just a potential resident, and sent us back to A. The cops in A told us we were in the wrong building. We googled the address to the Göç Müdürlüğü and it was building A. We were stumped.

We texted our friend Brian to ask where the building was, as he’d just done his residency the previous week, and he sent us an address a few kilometers away. We got into another cab.

Now we were half an hour late for the noon appointment. We found the Göç Müdürlüğü sign outside a building, walked up two flights of stairs past completely empty and unlabeled offices, and found ourselves in an office lobby where a few other foreigners were waiting. It was also empty. A wire hung down from the ceiling, a few floor tiles were broken to bits. There were no signs to indicate this was the right place, just a piece paper taped to each of the three closed doors in the lobby, all labeled A, B, and C.

We knocked on A. We were ignored. We knocked again. A cop opened the door and said it was lunch break and everyone would be back in half an hour. We knocked on B. Another cop opened the door to say the same thing, and we explained that we had an appointment for 11. They told us to wait. We didn’t bother knocking on C.

When A, B, and C all opened their doors in an hour, all the foreigners got up and crowded around them in masses. We elbowed our way to the front of one of them, and got in by showing how much time had passed since Nathan’s appointment was. Inside the room (A) there were three desks, labeled 1, 2, and 3. Each with a migrant and a cop processing their paperwork. We sat down at 1 and the woman looked over Nathan’s paperwork and started stapling and checking everything was in order.

“It looks like you’ll be fine,” I said. “I might take off.”

“Yeah that’s alright,” Nathan said.

Just as I was about to leave, she stopped and asked when Nathan had entered the country. I relayed the question to him, and he threw out a date some nine months earlier. She looked at it the application and said, “well then this is invalid,” and crossed out the entire front page and wrote a huge İPTAL – cancelled.

“Whoa slow down!” I said.  “He got an appointment under the old system but—”

“He applied for residency after he’d overstayed his three-month visa. This application is invalid.”

“But he did apply, except your system lost his application.”

“Then he needs to re-apply,” she said, giving him back some documents, and throwing the rest of the application away. “He needs to leave the country, get a new passport stamp on entry when he comes back, and reapply within three months.” She waved us away, and called someone else over to Desk 1.

“But when he leaves, he could be fined, or worse, banned,” I said, standing up. “Can you maybe write a thing saying that he’s just doing this because he has to get around the bureaucracy?”

“Olmaz,” she said. It can’t be done. I looked at Nathan.

“I take it whatever you just talked about isn’t good,” he said.

“Think of it this way,” I said. “You’re going on vacation.”

This is a super short excerpt from my new book. You can read it and have a giggle. Or, if you were there, you can relive all the gory details in full technicolor.

***

The first few weeks I hit Taksim regularly trying to make friends again. As much as I hated it, Taksim was the heart of all social life in the city, and I had to visit there regularly to reconnect with the people of Bar-ish. Bari-ish is both the name of the pub and the guy who owns it, Bariş, and this Irish place was the gathering place of our little community. It was a dungy ground-floor pub off Kurabiye Sokak which runs parallel to Istiklal Caddesi. Everyone drank there. Adair, naturally, had a tab which he kept running all month, and it regularly hit more than a thousand lira. This was when beers were 12 lira apiece.

Samir, a British/Turkish louse with an auburn beard and a rugby player’s build, invited a bunch of people to the British Consulate one February night for drinks. This was exciting because it was the cheapest place to drink in the city – they didn’t have to pay import tax, you see. Back in the good ol days when an Islamic strongman wasn’t in power, not a vice tax was to be found. Now! Agony! Six lira for a beer on the street when it used to be four.

But it was some quasi legal entity where we had to buy a drink card for fifty lira’s worth of swill and turn it into two-lira beverages, including a stock of genuine English beers and gin. We talked about video of a Kuwaiti-Irish kid who’d been making the rounds on turkfacebook – this poor kid in the old city had knocked over a doner guy’s water display, a pyramid of bottles which came tumbling to the ground. Had this kid been white as the driven snow, there would have been no problem, but of course since he was brown, the esnaf grabbed his esnaf stick. And suddenly, the street was full of esnafs grabbing their sticks. It was as if they were just waiting for something to go beat up. But apparently this Kuwaiti-Irish kid was a Jiujitsu practitioner, or a boxer, or some sort of fighter, and managed to fight off a crowd of esnafs wielding esnaf sticks in the middle of a market.

After we’d gotten our fill, Adair moved that we attend karaoke. We went to a place near Galatasary Lisesi, right on Istiklal, and petitioned the bouncers to let us in. They said it was closed. Of course, it wasn’t – we just didn’t have enough women to justify our presence. So we stood off to the side and started talking about what to do.

“Maybe we should audition,” someone suggested. “Maybe we’re just not pretty enough.”

So we started singing off-key and stupidly. The bouncers came over and grabbed Samir by the collarbone and shoved him out into the street. As it usually goes, things accelerated much too quickly.

“Don’t you ever touch me abi,” Samir shouted in Turkish. They pushed me too, and I started shouting at them in English. Everyone was shouting. Don’t touch me, no YOU don’t touch me, etc. We backed off. Those guys were assholes, we all agreed. We formed a conga line and decided to dance past the place in the middle of the street, singing “this little light of mine.” And that’s when I made the crucial mistake.

I flipped them off.

I only half-saw the man throw his çay glass but it ricocheted off my head, Adair’s leg, and then shattered on the street. They appeared in front of us with huge esnaf sticks and started hitting us in the legs. In the middle of the largest pedestrian boulevard in the city. On a Friday night. We got away pretty quickly – a circle of people formed and people were shouting and yelling and shaming the bouncers back to their haunt. Chris took a pretty good clip to the knee and limped all the way to Bar-ish. Orkun later explained to us they only attacked below the waist because, in a court of Turklaw, it’s not considered deadly assault if you hit below the waist, and is therefore a way less serious crime. Huh. We told Bariş about what happened and he said “Oh yeah. We all have an esnaf stick.” And he pulled out a club from behind the bar.

In Turkish, “Bariş” means “peace.”

us, mere moments after the esnaf attack

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.