Friday night in the groove. Hanging in a totally clean living space this fine summer evening here in NoIST (north Istanbul for all you acronym neophytes. Total was a spiritual purge you could say. I poured my spirit into cleaning my space. I believe this is an annual thing for me at this point.
Let me explain; each year I return to my Amerikan Summer experience and before I go, I purge the cobwebs of my life that have been collecting for the past year. It's always a comfort, I guess, because I know I am about to venture off for a while. It's like dropping off out of my normal reality to go back to what once was my normal reality- which is now abnormal unreality! Ahhh how I love to flow in and out of these dimensions I've created.
In honor of this achievement I opened up a bottle of Retsina from my recent outing on Kos and sat out in the backyard at sunset with some friends and a little help from Da Kine. It was a good day indeed. Now I'm listening to a little Groove Salad mix on SomaFM & contemplating my upcoming outing to Portugal.
It's interesting in that I am now finding that returning to places I've previously visited to check it out more rhythmically is my thing. Familiar faces and familiar places... I like it. It's good to be a global citizen. All this I ponder as I sit on my bed and taking in my clean living space! Now a super fly funky rhythm is floating through me; Groove Salad giving me my dose just like I like it.
The weather is heating up here in Istanbul. Outside of quite a bit of extensive travel this year, paired with some long working hours (no complaints here), I'm feeling in the groove living here experiencing my first summer of of my first year living in Istanbul! Major accomplishment. On my spiritual cleanse today I do admit that I needed the air conditioner on for most all of the afternoon... Certainly nothing like living in the Middle East though, so I do feel like a bit of a pansy for having to turn on the cold box when it was under 40º C.
Fast-forward to Saturday morning at 9:08 am. Sami Bey has just woke me up; imagine thinking you are waking up on your own and find a big, hairy... CAT staring you down and sniffing you... Such is life.
I remember receiving a S.O.S. (text) late last night from Da Kine. Next thing I know we are walking along the Bosphorus at midnight laughing. While sitting on a bench along the waterfront corniche I happened to notice this big, bulging orangish-yellow sphere coming out from under some dark cloud cover. What happened the next few minutes was jaw-dropping- for us at least :)
The moon was spying on us along our Bosphorus odyssey. Hide-and-seek, peek-a-boo, and all those childhood games remembered, we delighted in the events that seemed a display for our eyes only. Good shit I tell you... As our eyes drank in enough of this wondrous display, we got up to meander through 'man-alley' (where LOADS of men are playing cards and drinking çay late night in an alleyway littered with smoke-filled çay-meyhanes, men, dogs, cats, as well as a smattering of females strewn about randomly, the man in the moon had other plans for us; he didn't want us to depart just yet. We should admire his peacock-display a little longer. He attempted to intoxicate us with more displays of his finery, and we were tempted and then drawn back in- drawn back into his web of intrigue for a few last lingering moments, but eventually descended into the maze of 'man-alley' for one last moving picture show on our odyssey.
Stunning Sunday shall this be named; sunny, breezy, sky-blue.,
In the bahçe.(garden) where I live in post-run bliss. Village cats lazing about. Bushes swaying in sync with a light, steady Bosphorus breezes streaming sea smells along on its journey. Sun radiating through a clear, blue sky. The kind of sky that you remember as a child on a special-for-no-reason kinda day when you experienced this same scene and had some amazing, monumental thought pulsing through your being concerning life in that moment.
Looking skyward, pollen floats down in some random yet perfectly orchestrated kind of way in sync with whispering trees; neighbors. I can hear their sounds; sounds of glee and joyful exhalations.
Perhaps the trees are sharing their stories. Looking menacingly, they tower above the Greek Orthodox church below my space. These two have been neighbors for a long time. I’m sure they have had plenty harmonious times together, as well as grieving… because, well you know. You know those events that happened long ago, back when the Ottoman Empire was finally crushed and out sprang the Turkish Republic. Yea, those events which aren’t talked about much…
What a history, this area. I do not know many things about my space, but stories begin to unfold. I feel like when the locals see you around enough, they start to open you up to their lives. I am becoming a part of this community, however small. Feels good. Feels familiar. I love the börek workers down on the corner. The guys always smiling and eager to talk Turkish with me, patiently. The “bing-bong” (I think Vicky coined that phrase for the Turkish version of the dollar-store so popular throughout middle America) store people. The many fruit and vegetable vendors, The Büyükdere çiçek (flower shop) family. The laid-back young couple that run the Simas Cafe, with their tres-cool broken down old, black VW Van that peacefully rests at their front door, letting us types know that their establishment is funky and unique and down-home so come on in and chill. It’s not a trendy cafe, such as there are in Cihangir, Tophane, Kadiöy, Karaköy, etc.The closest it’s going to come to ‘the real deal’ in my book, yet still expensive for a beer…There are no hipsters in Büyükdere- that you can be sure of!
And then there’s the Büyükdere durum guy and his family; his wife always smiles as she carefully closes my poşet (to-go bag). We exchange business and acquaintance that ebbs and flows slowly into familiarity with each passing encounter. Admittedly, I don’t order durum very much… once a month at the most, and not really even that. The çay bahçe guy, that I meet my friends at. We go there nearly every chance we can get in these days. Not because the çay is good, it is in fact horrible, but because of the setting: on the Bosphorus backwaters, with a backdrop of surrounding tea gardens along with a small park and many, many cats as well as a pack of lazy street dogs.
Our favorite table used to be right on the small village boat docks (that takes small boats underneath the sahil yolu (coast road) to the grandiose Bosphorus itself, whose waters escort nations from afar in their vessels, selling their wares (oil, etc.) to their destinations. Now though, there is a foul smell down along the water so we have moved alongside other tea-drinking outdoor enthusiasts. I love looking at the wooden planks running to the massive tangle of humble boats. Cats running along them, jumping onto/into the boats.
Whether I’m running, walking, waiting for the service bus in the mornings, having cocktails at (on) Kasif Bar with the girls, or simply sitting on a bench along the corniche, I adore watching the ships as they pass. If I’m running, I sometimes playfully race alongside these giants. Being a mere mortal, this always ends not in my favor.
Sometimes I get consumed with the almost science-fiction nature of these encounters. Another encounter, though, is the dichotomy of Sunday Sounds; I’m awakened sometimes by early morning call to prayer, fall back to sleep and re-awaken to church bells goading me out of my slumber once and for all. Both sounds are equally jarring- not necessarily in a negative way as its so temporary. Just a reminder that they are reminders to their faithful to come to prayer.
My mind draws towards the birdsong. A type of call and response is what I make of it; like a B-Boy avian battle. Or mating…
What makes today so special? Nothing really. Just an ordinary day in this city I fought so long and hard to secure a zip code in. A city against all odds I say. 2015 was a horrible year to move back to Turkey; politics, economy, neighboring conflict (WAR) being the trifecta of heavy hitters.
There is a LIVE jazz concert going on right now. I’ve been listening for a while to these background sounds, but just realized, when I heard the clapping, that there is some type of concert- either at the church in their garden, or at Fuat Pasha Yali (expensive boutique hotel/restaurant where people get married a lot) here in the hood.
So yea, when I left Gaziantep nearly 3 years earlier I couldn’t possibly imagine that the economy could get any worse. My bad… This country, this city, has charmed me, but not in such a way that is all-idyllic. Right away I was thrown into the realities of dwelling here. A torrid romance *love/hate* it is. I love how moody this city is. My challenge is adapting so I continue to learn my lessons.
My tent is set up here in the garden right now. It’s been a while since it’s been in use so a basic maintenance and upkeep session was necessary- before use next week.
NOTE: The ‘live jazz session’ is also turning into the requisite cheesy emoting type… Popolo- a long-time yard kitty I met when I had just moved in here and she was just a kitten. She has, somehow, managed to NOT get pregnant, whereas all the other kitties from this era I see preggers on the street- is paying me a visit. She remembers me and my kitty ‘cat-u-pressure’ rubs!
What I mean to say is that one’s ‘scene’ has to be to their groove. I really dig this scene. How long I can’t say, but for now it’s pretty groovy. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Groovy next scene coming up is: backpacking/camping the Turkish Aegean and Mediterranean coast next week for ten days. After that there is the Portugal scene. That scene will be super-groovy as Solo_Ojo and I reunite and chatter up a storm. After that there is the Hawaii scene! Then the Oregon scene, and the Michigan scene, etc…
So next week’s plan is to fly into Alanya and make my way to Bodrum, then catch a ferry over to (Greek) Kos Island to visit Dean and family. It’s been a few years- maybe 3-plus years. From Antalya, Kaş is the goal in sight, which is quite close. I’m really looking forward to pitching my tend on the beach and just chilling. As town is my favorite place in Turkey perhaps. It is in danger of being overdeveloped, which is sad. I’ve seen what has been happening to Maui for 25 years. Not a pretty sight- over development for tourism. Maui is still home, but it gets more and more foreign each trip back.
Being that this is Turkey there will likely be overdevelopment of the butt-ugly kind. So many beautiful spots in coastal Turkey are already ruined by unchecked over-development.
But I digress…
my ideal scene right now is a camping-on-the-beach scene. Soul satisfying is my goal. My soul needs some salt and sand. Books, beaches, cold beers, early morning runs out to the peninsula. All this is MY Kaş. Stoked.
I recently went to check out the Republic of Georgia with friend. It had been on my radar for a short time only really- maybe 3 years. During my time as a Fellow in Bahrain I spent some time traveling around for conferences with other Fellows in a/the general region, of sorts. One fellow Fellow I met was working in the Ukraine. We kept in touch (ah FaceBook, you are good for that endeavor indeed), and he is now in a position in Tbilisi, Georgia.
I somehow managed to remember this as I was contemplating the reality of a winter visit to Georgia earlier this year. It was a quick decision we made. Da Jel and I simply jumped on the best priced ticket we could find and jetted over there during a (winter) break from the university. Of course my friend that works there was on break as well and out of the country, so that didn't work out.
Friends here in Istanbul, who previously traveled to Georgia , had good reconnaissance reports to report back on. One of these friends is the same who years earlier went to check out Tunisia with another friend of mine. I ended up moving to Tunisia a few years afterwards, inadvertently. So, I guess this is to say that I take the travel/living advice of friends quite seriously. I'm here in Istanbul living/working because of another friend, from years back- like early-college-days-years-back times. She was also with the other friend checking out Tunisia, who is the same person that checked out Georgia... Synchronicity much? Enough with the magical juju!
There's something to be said on the beauty of the randomness of life unfolding and the patterns you can identify along the journey to make (your) meaning out of, and attempt to tell the story about these collected images and thoughts and weave them all into text. THIS. This is what I find so compelling and challenging about keeping a blog.
Back to the story...
We only had 8 days so decided cruising to two different places would be ideal. I'm not the type of traveler to be moving so fast from place to place (speaking of which, I just got back from Sicily; a whirlwind trip with 5 of us ladies in 1 car circumnavigating the island, which is considered, by me, to be moving so fast from place to place.... But I'll save that nugget for a future post as it was unique and wacky enough to deserve the spotlight ).
But I digress...
Back to January... Tbilisi and Kazbegi won out; Tbilisi for obvious reasons of being THE big city; Kazbegi as a side nugget for a few days. I took the recommendation of my friends and secured us a place at Irakli's quaint, if not charmingly dilapidated, bed and breakfast in the old section of town.
*Georgia is a "hidden gem" y'all*
Tbilisi is a city worthy of a week's worth of attention I would say. I felt like I got to know this city a fair bit in my time spent there. From what I saw, I liked. The vibes were good. At some point, as always when I travel, I try to imagine myself living in this place. It seems a livable environment for sure. We took in all the typical historic sights we could, as well as a few beers, a puppet theatre, quite a lot of Georgian wine, and a few carpets to boot.
There is a bit of 'unusual' Tbilisi to experience as well. I enjoyed having the ability to unwrap a little bit of the 'surface' of Tbilisi and delve deeper into its bowels to find inner beauty; the subdermal tissue of Tbilisi's outer skin, I like that! Rewards ensued.
I will confirm one thing, which I originally had mistaken as being an urban myth or funky legend of sorts... At the Georgian passport control inside the airport they definitely DO give you a bottle of Georgian wine- after you pass and get the go-ahead with your passport that is. A cool welcome wagon offering for sure. I mean, in Hawaii you (used to) get a (flower) lei upon arrival at the airport, but WINE! Winning.
We met "The Dude" at Irakli's place. Irakli himself is a kind, cool, helpful guy that is helpful enough and around enough to either help you out, or to just let you alone to do your thing with no pressure or vibes. The Dude ended up traveling with us to Kazbegi. Da Jel and I wanted to head to Kazbegi 1 or 2 days earlier, but the road was closed due to winter snow conditions. By the time the road finally opened up to Kazbegi, it was the same day that The Dude was going so we trotted off all together.
NOTE: sounds of fireworks going off somewhere in a nearby neighborhood have been going off for about a minute now... Weird.
Da Jel and I had a typical travel-to-bus-station experience 2 days before... We had arrived and immediately were set upon by shit tons of men trying to get us to get into their bus or taxi or service bus or car or whatever to take us to Kazbegi. I think we managed to get into a total of 3 different rides going to Kazbegi before we were (finally) told that the road to Kazbegi was closed due to heavy snow pack...Defeat: Kazbegi = 1 Da Jel & I = 0
Expecting to return in defeat, we headed to the bus station one morning. We had heard these possible road closure rumors from Irakli, our host, but these crazy men now kept telling us that the road was open...What a kerfuffle. In the end it was amusing. Headed back to Tbilisi and Irakli's place, we formulated Plan B, getting extremely tipsy on local brew and purchasing Georgian carpets... More on that later.
Okay catching up again: The three amigos are heading out on a new adventure. We get to the bus station and, this time around, immediately know which bus is the RIGHT bus to Kazbegi. Phew. We bought some nuts and stuff to get us through the 5-hour ride, and we were on our merry way in a van packed with people.
Bus stations are always great places to observe people, of course. That we did, just as surely as people were observing us. Three haoles. Three yabanci. Three foreigners. Sticking out like sore thumbs we did. Dude was super tall too so that in itself brings attention, as well as 2 chicks traveling.
THESE. These are the moments when traveling that I really identify with this wanderlust; this desire to always feel the transformation. The pulse that satisfies, really satisfies the (my) soul. Being in a new, foreign environment, not knowing the language but for a few (meaningful) words, negotiating your needs and all the thoughts/feelings/energy that goes into that endeavor- all this is why traveling is soul food needed for metamorphosis.
NOTE: I'm trying to stay focused here on this story-line, but the little details keep popping in my head like meteors hitting the ground and exploding... so my pen does the same every time another exploding meteorite memory sideline tries to upstage my main story-line... Geeze...
Our little minibus was packed. The Dude was totally stoked he had scored the primo seat next to the door - yielding greatest leg-room measurements by his standards. I plugged into my headphones and tuned into Snoop Dogg's GGN Podcast, which I can definitely say has been in my top 3 podcast choices for about 10 months now. Here's a little fun fact to throw at y'all: This podcast is what I am usually listening to while traveling to work on the service bus in the mornings. Kinda makes me smile...and crack-up.
So... soon the city imprint diminished into the back of the van's windows. We were now climbing into the hills, foothills and soon enough towering mountains. The terrain seeped into my body, filling me up with thoughts of what to come; what smells, what sights, what experiences would Kazbegi hold for me, for our little motley crew.
I felt as if I could see oxygen. Rarefied air, white landscape with a crystal blue sky, dazzling sunlight- a trifecta of mysterious perfection for me, as I don't frequent these images together so much. Intrigue ahead!
Already I felt I was changing. The altitude seeped in through cracks in my persona; an uplifting feeling. I thought about my yoga practice, how I train my body, through various yogic postures, to accept these contorted positions by breathing deeply into them- each one of them. I wanted to breath in Kazbegi as such, this I knew.
|Georgian home altar|
Irakli found us a host(ess) to stay with in Kazbegi. Just before nightfall the minivan parked. Our odyssey was over yet just beginning. Our hostess met us and drove us back to her family home, just up the hill a bit. No sooner than we entered her home and freshened up, a full-scale dinner commenced. We graciously dug in. I believe Georgian wine and brandy appeared and soon enough we all scurried off to pass out. Da Jel and I had a charming, rustic room full of ornate, en-glassed glass cabinets filled full of Georgian treasures, curio or tchotchke. Soon we would find out that the entire home is an ethnographic museum of one family's existence here in Stepantsminda.
|first glimpse, up in the Caucasus heading towards Stepantsminda(Kazbegi)|
I felt like I was in some fairy-tale; going to sleep in a bed with covers so heavy (and warm) that the weight of them in itself put me to sleep. That warm, comforting heaviness. What I woke up to I still visualize in my mind and come up with the cliche term mind-blowing landscape. But, it was cold... But it was cozy and warm inside. I wondered about the eventual transition to outside...
|woke up to this|
Man was our hostess a great chef. We ate so much and so well in those 2 days/2 nights... I might add that they were freezing cold days and nights. Our main task was to climb this mountain (joking I'm not) to this isolated, lonely monastery (Gergeti Trinity Church). We were knee deep in snow traversing the lower portion of the mountain by the time we realized that we had to turn back and would never make it up there... We had a crazy pack of dogs following us on our journey which at times made it very difficult to put one foot in front of the other on narrow portions of the path.
|Kazbegi, a river runs through it|
|starting off on our bi-pedal odyssey...|
|a bit chilly in the morning, but not bad|
|in Kazbegi town|
Tested we were. We gave up and passed the dogs, random cows and other obstructions (like getting lost in the maze of village houses where we couldn't tell if we were in their back yards, their front yards, or still on the trail) until we were back in the town- about 200 meters or so of loosely placed typical village businesses.
|thinking we were going to be able to traverse the mountain to get to the treasure...|
Okay so I need to stop and explain where Kazbegi is. It is called Stepantsminda and it's in the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region of north-eastern Georgia on the E117 military highway. It's right on the border with Chechnya. The area is famous in spring and summer for hiking up in the mountains, and to this damn monastery- which you cannot get to in winter...
Anyway, we managed to keep ourselves entertained with our failed mission, drinking Georgian brandy, coffee, weird sugar drinks and such. One night we walked up in the freezing dark cold to this hunting-type lodge place behind where we were staying. It was really swank and classic. We sat at the bar and drank and likely told tall tales to each other- heehee.
We were a bit worried the weather would worsen so made an executive 3-amigos decision to leave as soon as we could the next day, as no one could afford to get stuck up there and miss flights, etc. Thinking about being stuck up there reminds me about being stuck in winter on the border of Argentina with Chile with Mr. Ed years back. Again, foul weather kept us in Uspallata for a few days, camping our in our rental car. Good times those. I recall going snowboarding one day at the small skihill in that area, as it was right on the border so we would be able to see when we could get outta there.
Ahem... back to Georgia, again. We got back into Tbilisi and back to Irakli's again for the last few days, which included checking out the outdoor ethnographic museum, the National Museum, hiking up to Mother Georgia monument, taking a telefrik and visiting yet some more churches, etc.
Definitely good times traveling through that country. Enough that I would certainly return to check out other parts of the country as well as head back to Tbilisi. Hidden gem indeed.
And now may I present to you all, the Republic of Georgia through my lens...
|can always find felines in any foreign land!|
|one of many Georgian churches in Tbilisi|
|in the hood|
|meandering in Tbilisi|
|around the corner from Irakli's place|
|art is everywhere|
|downtown along the main drag|
|every great city has a great bookstore, or two|
|interesting architecture, both modern and historic, in Tbilisi|
|more churches, more candles, more walking|
|The Dude can be found everywhere|
|puppet theater! We went and saw "Ramona"|
|some strange amusement park|
|lots of great walking to be had in Tbilisi|
|all we need at this closed-down amusement park is a random clown right about now|
|local style, always|
|typical street scene|
|bus station in Tbilisi. Adventure ensues|
|got talked into this one... random cafe in Kazbegi where we sulked due to our failure to traverse the mountain completely|
|trying it out for a spin- at our homestay in Kazbegi. As I said, loads of curios in this house, as well as Georgian brandy|
|soaking up luxury at this mountain hunting lodge
(Rooms Hotel Kazbegi)above our homestay
|walking back tipsy (okay, drunk) from Rooms Hotel Kazbegi|
|more religious worship|
|some religious inspiration|
|love it! Mother Georgia graffiti|
|wine cave we frequented one afternoon in Tbilisi|
|I bought this after our trip to the wine cave...|