Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Turkey Day!

Giving flowers to Ataturk. 

Happy Turkey Day from Turkey! This rainy morning I’m waiting for my coffee to kick in before our Ottoman Calligraphy class. I hope I’m able to write something stylish, but if I don’t take to it right away, at least I will enjoy the practice of putting ink on paper. My mom just donned her gold Ataturk mask and decreed in a deep voice, “No more Ottoman Turkish.” We found the mask in a costume shop on one of Istiklal Caddesi’s side streets while looking for the Pera Museum. The wonderful reality of living in Istanbul is that while you’re looking for something, you’ll always stumble upon something new and interesting. I bought some costume props, which I will use in my teaching or save for next Halloween. After three months here, I’m convinced that living in Istanbul is excellent practice for life. Every day teaches you that if something doesn’t work out, another path will lead you toward something you didn’t know you wanted. Last night we got lost walking next to the Golden Horn, but we just trekked on. A full moon lit up the sky, so weirdness, such as walking across the Ataturk bridge during rush hour, and then catching a bus that took us back where we came from, was inevitable.

Learning to be more adaptable and solution-minded is just one lesson Turkey has taught me. Yesterday we went to a hamam and felt relaxed to our cores. The hamam was designed by Mimar Sinan and is a veritable feast for the senses. The women were predominantly European and didn’t seem to feel any insecurity. I’ve discussed with female friends women’s attitudes about their bodies and we decided that American women are definitely more insecure than women from other cultures. But then again, at least we’re not like Qatari women who can’t even get dressed and undressed in a women’s locker room. I’m so thankful to be away from those shaming attitudes toward women. In the hamam, all women’s bodies are a work of art and you don’t need to worry about judgment.

Lying on the hot tiles, I stared up at the domed ceiling dotted with star- and hexagon-shaped windows to let in sunlight, and felt as mesmerized as a baby lying under a mobile. A woman led me to an alcove and rinsed me by dipping a bowl in a marble basin and pouring warm water over me. She exfoliated my skin with a mitt and used something like a pillow case to miraculously create a mound of bubbles. I thought if I ever have children I would like to learn this trick to make bath time more fun for them. First, she bunched the bag up, then scrubbed it with soap, then shook it out, let it fill up with air and swept her closed hand along the length of the bag, and a cascade of bubbles came out.

I wondered while she was massaging me if she would make a gifted sculptor, so innate her knowledge of the female form must be. I thought if I were a sculptor I would get a part time job working in a hamam to hone my craft. What would happen if we gave every person who works in a hamam a block of marble and some tools and told them to free the human form locked inside? I think we would have some amazing sculptures.

Purple-tinted mom drinking a mystic Scotland. 
Hanging out with our friend Seda. 
At the Pera Museum, I was fascinated to see an exhibit on nudes by Turkish artists, and paintings commissioned by European ambassadors to the Ottoman Empire. Traditionally, making images of the court would have clashed with Muslim beliefs, which is why Islamic art is rife with calligraphy and carpet motifs, but thankfully, we have these paintings done by outsiders to show people today what royal life was like and what parts of Istanbul looked like hundreds of years ago. The Pera Museum is now one of my favorite museums and I will definitely be checking back when different exhibits open. 

We concluded our busy day with a stroll down Bagdat Caddesi, a bit of shopping, and Belgian beers. I like Bagdat Caddesi for its sophistication, but I have to say my favorite place in Istanbul to hang out right now is Karakoy. I love sitting at the artsy cafes with their eclectic décor. One café, Karabatak, is a paradise for lovers of French music and lattes.

It’s time to go out for breakfast and head off to our Ottoman calligraphy class. Until next time. 

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