Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Day at the Beach

I feel restless quite easily, which is partly why I live in Istanbul. I can’t rationalize spending all day on the beach under an umbrella, although that is exactly how I spent my day today. My tendency to eavesdrop became void in the midst of Turkish conversations that I can’t understand, so the talking became mere background noise as I read my book on a chaise longue.

Someone asked me why I wasn’t in the water and I explained that I have painful burns on my thigh and on my stomach and didn’t want to aggravate my wounds by wading out into the Black Sea. A couple friends were curious about the severity of my burns, so I inched up the hem of my dress, only to pull it back down when the gasps and eeeeews signified they’d seen enough. It’s bad, the result of my attempt to fix coffee immediately upon my arrival here from the States. Boiling water and jetlag are not a good combination.

Even after seeing my gnarly raw flesh, one woman in our group suggested I go in the water anyway, that the salt water would help my wound heal faster. For all I know, she’s right, but the thought of salt water stinging my vulnerable flesh made me cringe. I decided to stick to my burn cream and lavender essential oil.

┼×ile Beach filled up quickly. Women’s attire ranged from bikinis to abayas. I watched from my chaise longue on two separate times when abaya-clad women were slowly escorted into the water by men I’m assuming were their husbands. The men handled these women as if they were helpless, fragile half-formed beings that might get swept away in the calm water or drowned in the undercurrents if it weren’t for their manly supervision. Later, my friends and I sat around one of the restaurant’s outdoor tables and talked about relationships. Whenever women speak their truth, there is usually one woman who defends men by saying, “Yeah, but there are really great guys out there.” Yes, I know there are. We all know. But when we’ve been burned, we try to protect ourselves. I know what that’s like all too well. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

White God

The dog Hagan in the film White God looks remarkably like my last dog, Daphne. That is not the only reason why I loved White God, a Hungarian drama about stray dogs that mount a revolution against humans who’ve mistreated them. Hagan’s resemblance to Daphne actually made it more heartbreaking for me to watch the film. Daphne passed away in March 2013. But in December of that year my family adopted Matilda. In her own way, Matilda is as precious as Daphne.

Luckily, my familiarity with dog behavior helped me see the reality behind the simulated scenes. I recognized the playful body language in scenes in which the dogs were supposed to be engaged in bloodthirsty fighting. I ordinarily hate any inaccuracies that will break my reverie while watching a film, but these reminders that it was just a movie helped put my anxiety to rest. No dogs were harmed during the filming of White God. It’s a moral film about the indestructible love between a girl and her dog and a call for people to treat animals with more respect.

Since I’m living in Istanbul now, a city crawling with stray cats and dogs, I can imagine a massive dog revolution unfurling here. I love dogs and they seem to sense that in me, so I think if the dogs rise up while I’m living here, my life will be spared. A lot of other people should try getting on dogs’ good side . . . before it’s too late.

Happy National Dog Day. I missed it yesterday so I’m celebrating a day late.       

Monday, August 24, 2015

Welcome to Istanbul

I should be asleep now but jetlag and stirred-up emotions have me wandering around my apartment, filling the space with the music of Corrine Bailey Rae and reading short-attention-spanned bursts of A.S. Byatt. I’m still waiting for my mental clock to line up with Istanbul time and after being here one week, I really thought normality would have prevailed by now. I have all my art and pictures on the walls, books on the shelves, and I genuinely feel at home, so it’s not any sense of ill-fitting existence in Istanbul that keeps me awake at odd hours. I just can’t get over the reality that I live in such a gorgeous city. The friends I have made are warm and supportive and the administrators at my school are generous and hospitable, providing everything I need for a happy and successful teaching venture. Everything has exceeded my expectations. And  I am still marveling that I filled an IKEA bag full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices this afternoon at my neighborhood farmer’s market and paid only 15 lira (about $5).

The lights on my Fitbit filled up rapidly today as I raced around my new school on a scavenger hunt with my new colleagues, some of whom wore helmets with attached Go Pro cameras. The nature of the game was fun and highly-competitive. Translating the clues into English would have slowed our team down and I was the only non-Turk in the group, so I just ran everywhere they ran, up and down the stairs, scouring classrooms for clues and then sprinting back to the library like it was the last stretch of a marathon. Out of four teams, we came in second place.

The Hagia Sophia. First a church, then a mosque, now a museum. 
The highlight of this week has to be the dinner cruise on the Bosporus. My friend Glenda danced around the deck with her shawl billowing behind her, saying, “How often do you get to dance on the Bosporus?” Glenda is a free spirit and has a veritable harness on life. Perhaps with more fun excursions and some gentle prodding, I can learn to let go more often, seizing opportunities to dance in extraordinary locations. During another game, when my ankles were strapped to my colleagues’ for an epic 12-legged race, we wrapped our arms around each other’s shoulders, reminding me of traditional wedding dances in which the guests form a circle and loop around, kicking their legs up in the air. Chipping away at my deep-seated American individualism by joining more team-centered activities will help me lighten up over time and embrace my inner Turkishness.

Just hearing the call to prayer as I wind my way through the maze-like city on foot, marveling at the incomparable skyline as I cross between continents, and stopping somewhere near my apartment for a warm soup and cold ayran, excites new thrills within me. This rejuvenation accounts for my current nocturnal lifestyle and dependence on chocolate for stimulus during the day. Hopefully by next week’s post, my brain will be a little more settled and I will be operating on a normal sleep schedule.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Multnomah Days Parade

Mom had been singing the Michael Jackson song “Thriller” unwittingly to the tune of “Beat it” all morning in an attempt to get me jazzed about the Multnomah Days Parade. When I asked her why in the world I would want to march in a parade, her answer sounded like one of those sentimental slogans you might find on a Japanese Dollar Store notebook encircled by cartoon rainbows and hamsters. “To make a beautiful memory that you will cherish always,” she said. Drinking my coffee, I wrote a to-do list, reminding myself to go to the bank and to return library books. When she saw I left out “March in the parade,” she made a point of penciling that in for me, a tad indignant that I had seemingly forgotten this important task.

Mom in her Wishbone apron.

For the “Pooch Parade” segment of the parade, she donned a canine-themed apron bearing colorful paw prints. A portrait of the 90’s children’s dog celebrity, Wishbone, was plastered across the apron’s front like a shield’s coat of arms. Ordinarily, she wears this apron for unsuccessful training sessions with our rambunctious dog just so she can easily dispense treats from the front pocket and because, well, she really likes Wishbone. Our dog is not well-trained and to her this apron does not signify anything but a pocket full of infinite treats. This is all the more reason for her to jump around excitedly and spin in circles around my mom, getting both Mom and dog tangled up in the leash.

We walked to the staging area, a place cordoned off by several fire trucks, where I had to reel in Matilda’s leash so she wouldn’t jump on costumed dogs. Matilda was one of the few dogs not wearing a costume and I had a feeling she felt disdain for the other dogs in their silly tutus and Superman getups. One dog was dressed as a pumpkin and placed on a homemade float surrounded by jack-o-lantern pails. He was pulled along the parade route like royalty, looking very handsome and dignified.

It was just like any ordinary dog walk, only with people cheering as we passed. Several dog walkers tossed candy to children watching the parade. One guy was inexperienced at tossing out candy and just dumped the contents of an entire bag of candy on the side of the road. At the end of the parade, police officers handed out free ice cream. I ate an ice cream sandwich and sat on a curb while Matilda contemplated two police horses. Nearby a Great Dane stared down a man dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier as he attempted to eat his ice cream sandwich without sharing.

Later, I took my academic degrees to my bank to have them notarized. I swear I had done this before, and luckily, the handsome Iranian bank teller was willing to help me, even though he explained that this requirement of the Turkish government for foreign teachers was not one of their normal procedures. He had a signature like a sultan and a very Persian name, which came on a personalized stamp that he used to emboss my form. It looks official to me and getting this form was one of the last things I had to do before jetting off to Istanbul tomorrow.

My to-do list finished with a trip to the Lake Oswego dog park, where there are actually two dog parks: one for shy, timid dogs and the other for active dogs. My dog is definitely active so she happily joined all the other big, goofy dogs.

I think if were a dog, I would belong in the park for shy, timid dogs, or more accurately, for introverted, meditative dogs. Last week, I had to practice the art of saying no to people, because I just couldn’t make plans to see everybody. One guy said, “It’s cool. There’s no bad blood between us,” but by his tone and body language, I could tell that there was bad blood between us, at least as far as he was concerned. I have to remember that people’s egos and the way they choose to respond to “I’m sorry, I’m too busy to hang out” has nothing to do with me and to remember that I really don’t need for everyone to like me. Sometimes you just have to turn people down.

My closest friends know I am an introvert because most of them are introverted too. I once walked to my friend Judith’s house, where we enjoyed light conversation followed by a peaceful nap on her parallel couches. I think only the closest friends can get together and just sleep. Today I noticed people out walking for Shabbat and I thought what a brilliant idea it is to have a day of rest. No marching in parades, no bothering to get together with people who waited till the last minute before you leave to try to make plans, no errands to the bank. Just rest.

That sounds like a beautiful memory I could cherish always. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

This book is mesmerizing in the same way that images of bacteria are mesmerizing. The stories in this collection are creepy, following characters with no moral compass. The book is classified as horror, and no wonder with the writer exploiting the vulnerability of the family unit. Many of these stories are on par with a disturbing crime show, excruciating to watch yet impossible to pry away from. 

The most haunting story, "Monsters of Heaven," which won the Shirley Jackson Award, paints a grim picture of a father's world after his young son goes missing. I can't imagine anything more tragic and terrifying than losing a child, and even though I liked this story the best out of all of them, I feel that provoking an emotional reaction using the nightmare of a missing child is a pretty low blow. 

Most of the stories are forgettable, but the closing story is by far the most disappointing and, unfortunately, its foulness lingers in my memory. Ironically titled, "The Good Husband," this story chronicles a self-righteous husband's attempts to care for his suicidal wife after she morphs into a freakish monster. The "good husband" locks her in the basement, feeds her roadkill, and comforts himself with, "I'm a good man" and "I always stood by her side. Always." There's no character development apart from descriptions of the wife's changing appearance. Even before she turns into a terrifying creature, the description of her physical appearance is shallow and judgmental, unaccompanied by any details that would give the reader a single clue of who this character really is.  

"Her body was part of the furniture of their marriage, utilized but ignored, with occasional benign observations from them both about its declining condition." How romantic. A decline in a woman's beauty seems to merit a downgrade to the basement and repasts of roadkill. This story reminded me of the film, The Babadook, except I actually liked that film. 

Resisting the hype of North American Lake Monsters, I'm going to step out on a limb and NOT recommend this book.