Saturday, June 16, 2018

Feels like Yesterday

I feel as though not a day has passed since my last time in Istanbul. It's election time again, so everyone is bombarded with propaganda. Banners with Erdogan's face seem to have outnumbered homages to Ataturk. Vans with Erdogan's face on the side barrel down streets, blaring their political messages. I can remember some of the stressful aspects of living here: the crowds, the politics, the noise. But I also remember everything I love about Istanbul: the ferry rides, the food, the smell of roasted chestnuts, nargile, and spices. I miss seeing old friends and having intelligent conversations while walking down Bagdat Caddessi, dipping into coffee shops or Marks and Spencer to check out their sale racks. I miss Istanbul. I miss the students I taught here. I was telling friends one night that my ideal place to live is beautiful, with art and culture, friendly people, and a stable government. "Good luck with that" was the response. Does such a place exist? My friends and I visited some terrific restaurants in Kadikoy, my favorite being Şiraz, a lovely Persian restaurant. When you're enjoying exquisite food with good company it's easy to forget the stress that comes with living in a big chaotic city. Then you can just focus on the good things in life.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


My friend Kelley and I have now explored six countries together, the most recent being Georgia. We thought it would be a good idea to go on one last trip together before she moves back to Iowa. After that, I may have to go to a Hawkeyes game and go tailgating if I need some quality Kelley time. I am ignorant about sports culture and reserved by nature, so the awkwardness of me at a football game strikes me as funny. Imagine Niles from Frasier if you need a better idea of how out-of-place I would be.

I prefer wine culture to sports culture, which thankfully, I was able to immerse myself in last weekend. We flew into Tbilisi and straight away noticed the calm, slow pace of life. The country is stunning, both in natural beauty and in architecture. We drank wine, ate delicious food, visited old churches, and rode a funicular to a hilltop amusement park, which offered spectacular views of the city. The weather was lovely. Georgian people are sweet and friendly. Their alphabet is beautiful. There was not a single thing I did not love about Tbilisi. It was just perfect.

Kelley talked about me living there in the future so that she could come visit me. The city seems very safe, with children walking around free of any accompanying adults. I agree Georgia looks like a wonderful place to live and raise children. Georgians are resilient and hospitable, qualities symbolized in a statue resting along a hillside in Tbilisi. The statue depicts a woman holding a glass of wine in one hand for greeting friends and a sword for greeting enemies. After multiple invasions from the Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Soviets, it’s impressive that Georgians have remained so friendly and hospitable. One lesson we can take from Georgian history is that you’ll encounter both friends and enemies in life. I am so fortunate that I was able to spend time in Tbilisi with one of my dearest friends, Kelley. No sword necessary. Just excellent wine, good conversation, and an amazing, beautiful, wonderful city. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Milan and Turin

Garbage was strewn all over my apartment this morning. The Sherlock Holmes in me deduced from the tipped over garbage can that Tom Sawyer had struck again. I have a cat who applies Yin and Yang to my life by being both demonic and saintly. A friend was picking me up at 8, so I didn’t have time to clean up the spoils of Tom Sawyer’s midnight garbage raid. I got dressed, and quickly drank some microwaved coffee. Then I broke my mug by trying to set it down without looking and misjudging where the bedside table was. It was my mug from Thessaloniki, thankfully an unessential Starbucks mug, but still, a mug that reminded me of one of my favorite cities. I’ll have to go back and get another one.

Over breakfast, my friend and I talked about our recent travels. I went to Milan, Verona, and Turin. She went to Sri Lanka. We had very different, but equally exciting adventures. She saw elephants and water buffalo, I saw art. She went hiking in nature, I went hiking around museums. Italy was revitalizing. In my normal, day-to-day life, I put pressure on myself to create art, but in Italy I was reminded that just looking at art is a creative act in and of itself. 

In Italy, I drank delicious red wine, ate ravioli stuffed with artichoke, ate tiramisu, and twice had the pleasure of talking with two smart and handsome men. Their names were Jacob, pronounced Yacob in Danish, and Livio. We had delightful conversations about books and traveling. In Turin, I relished the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life. Who knew that pumpkin and gorgonzola would be a match made in heaven? The restaurant is called “Ad Hoc Pizza” in Turin. I must voyage back to that pizza restaurant and, while I’m there, go back to the Cinema Museum, which was the highlight of the trip. Milan was fabulous for the opera and the Brera Museum, but Turin was the homerun I needed to win the game. The Cinema Museum cast a magic spell over me that lasted for days. The spell from the opera, although I’d wanted to go to La Scala for years, wore off after a couple hours. I think if I had gone to a more serious opera, I would have felt differently, but I just went to a silly, comedic opera with an unremarkable storyline: Pervy old man marries chaste young girl who steals all his money. At least the costumes and the flying 50s convertible were cool.

This talk of Italian opera led to another kind of opera: soap opera. My friend and I both feel like we’re stuck in one. People around us create petty drama and try to suck us in. I know I didn’t audition for any soap opera, and what’s more, I can’t act. So how did I get into this mess? I suppose the best course is to avoid all drama. That’s one mess I can successfully ignore. The mess made by my cat is one I had no choice but to clean up. For the rest of the day, I felt lightheaded and sick to my stomach. Apparently, the pollution today was much worse than usual, and it may have taken a toll on my health. I drank tea, slept, and because I don’t feel well enough to do anything else, wrote this blog entry. I will sleep now and hope I feel better in the morning.  

Monday, April 2, 2018

Letter to Juliet

Verona is such a gorgeous city; it's hard to imagine anyone finding reason to quarrel here. Well, unless a couple shoved in front of a hungry American traveler at a busy restaurant and they got seated, not her. That actually happened. Lunch, especially lunch in Italy, should be a time of comfort, a cease-fire situation, but no, today lunch was a battlefield and the pushy couple triumphed. That's probably how the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets got started. The Capulets cut in line at a restaurant and the Montagues said, "Oh, hell no."

Okay, I didn't actually fight the couple for getting between me and my gnocchi, although I did think about it. I actually just left the restaurant, passing the tourist frenzy under Juliet's balcony and went for a quiet walk by myself along the water, away from all the commotion. Tourism is at its peak right now. Restaurants were packed and gelato shops had lines snaking around the block. When I finally found a place where I could sit down and order something to eat, almost everything was sold out. I ate a sub-par panini and thought a day trip to Bologna, a town renowned for its food, might be in order. I can't imagine having my appetite disappointed in Bologna.

Anyway, I know from watching romantic comedies that it's tradition for women to come to Verona and write letters to Juliet. I don't usually ask 13-year-old girls for advice about my love life, or any aspect of my life for that matter. But if I did write a letter, it might go something like this:

Dear Juliet,

I packed light on this trip and didn't bring my laptop. That means I'm currently writing this blog entry on my phone. It's so annoying! How do teenagers use just their thumbs to type? And don't even get me started on autocorrect! I mean, really! You're 13, so maybe you are privy to the thinking of today's teenagers, even though you died young because of some miscommunication and your body has been entombed for hundreds of years. Well, today there was a slight miscommunication and it shook my confidence a little. Confidence is key because I'm going to La Scala tomorrow night and if I'm not confident, I won't enjoy myself as much. So this evening I was on the train heading back to Milan. I asked some unresponsive Europeans if I could sit next to them and when they said nothing, I said, "I'll take that as a yes!" It suddenly occurred to me that they may not have responded because I was a first class interloper. Before I could move to the cheap seats, where I should have been sitting, a conductor came and asked to see my ticket. He made me pay the difference and when he disappeared down the aisle, my head filled with worry. I thought, "I must look poor. That's how he knew I'm not first class. What if my dress isn't suitable for the opera? What if I look like some American slob who stuffed a semi-fancy dress in her carry on luggage?"

Pretty silly, right? I mean, he obviously was just checking the seats that were supposed to be empty. Sometimes my inner monologues sound like the hysterical ramblings of a 13-year-old girl. No offense. Okay, writing on my phone is driving me crazy. I will write more once I have my laptop. I'm pretty sure your advice will be to stop being so class-conscious and to put on my magical confidence cloak before I go to the opera. I will do that.



Sunday, March 18, 2018

Down the Rabbit Hole

Trying to teach full time while taking online classes is like playing the accordion with no musical training. I thought I might accomplish something on par with the Amelie soundtrack and I ended up with pandemonium, aggravation at my habit of biting off more than I can chew, and a tremendous headache. At least online classes have finished and I can take some life lessons from Elwood P. Dowd, the fictional character in one of my favorite plays/films, Harvey. The theater department at my school recently put on their own production of Harvey. The theater teacher asked me to paint a portrait of the student who plays Elwood P. Dowd and his imaginary friend from whom the play derives its name. A substantial part of the play's humor depends on the portrait. I knew this from having watched the film starring Jimmy Stewart, so the great responsibility of my job was not lost on me. I already had so much going on, but I can't say no to painting one of my favorite characters and his imaginary friend rabbit. I think the painting turned out pretty good and the play turned out even better. As I watched the show, I realized that Elwood P. Dowd possesses the most important character trait: kindness. Even in stressful times, even when his own sister tries to commit him to a mental institution, Elwood P. Dowd remains kind and sees the best in everybody. I have to remember to be more like him.

On a side note, I was watching interviews with David Bowie because he is another person I decided to take life lessons from. In this interview with Ellen DeGeneres, he admits to having a large rabbit follow him around. I noticed as he was talking that the design on the wall behind him looks like two rabbit ears. Coincidence? Maybe hallucinating rabbits is the key to happiness.