Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Djinns of Sultanahmet

It’s true; the djinns are everywhere, not just in Sultanahmet. You’ll see them walking around, the air of otherworldliness surrounding them. Your eyes will be drawn to them or perhaps, away. They are unmistakable, strange. There is one who lives in my neighborhood. When I see him his hands are always up, palms facing away from me. That is his message to me. Hands. Create.

Not all djinns grant wishes, not all djinns are tricksters. They sometimes are reminders. They point the way. I guess you would say the djinn you find depends on you. And they come to you unexpectedly, perhaps even unwanted.

They are everywhere in Sultanahmet, it’s something the guidebooks don’t tell you. But I will tell you. You’ll be distracted, tired from waiting on line at the Haiga Sofia or rushing to meet your friends by the tram. The djinn will be your waiter or selling tickets to the Sufi theatre or the rug merchant or would you like to see this beautiful necklace, it’s as beautiful as you are.

My djinn came to me at Christmas time in the Spice Market. My friend D and her daughter L were visiting me. We’ll buy spices and presents, D said. L would take photos. The Spice Market itself is a magical place teaming with people and colors and smells. You come in and from large, lit cases honey drips from the combs. Sweets are piled, high guaranteed to be aphrodisiacs, figs crammed with walnuts, long staffs of molasses filled with nuts. The metaphors act on your eyes and your mouth and your imagination. Sacks of spices flood your senses in vibrant colors and heady smells. Everyone is welcoming you, telling you to come in. Your voice mingles with the other voices and all the languages and all the people and all the fruits of the earth.

D buys little bowls, L wanders ahead taking pictures and I’ll show them the place where I buy cotton scarves. They're lovely ones for 5 TL, but it is hit or miss, and we find nothing there to buy. We walk slowly talking about evil eyes and key chains. I am holding packages and just looking at everything, when D and L walk into a store together. I am tired among the spice grinders and shiny cellophane packages.

When someone says to me, “I have rose tea for you.”

I politely turn and smile. It does not surprise me that he is not much taller than I am and thin. He is wearing white pants and a grey shirt with turned back white collar and cuffs. Perhaps as he keeps talking to me I am not surprised by his smooth dark skin or light goatee. His hair is shaved close to his scalp and has two lightning bolts on one side. There is something soft about him. He is over groomed, his eyebrows two dashes above his eyes, the lines of his beard almost geometrically precise.

“I have rose tea for you,” he says again.

I don’t think I have rose tea at home, but smile and say, “No, thank you.”

“Ah,” he says, “but this is special rose tea.”

I smile.

“This is rose tea for you.” he says a third time. I am distracted, not paying attention that three times he has told me that the tea is for me. But my mind is on other things, where will we go next, should I suggest a place to eat in Sultanahmet?

“I will invite you to my home,” he says, “I will make you rose tea.”

I am still listening, not paying attention. “And we will…” he says, “and we will…” he says, “and we will…” he says. And even then I do not realize that what I am hearing are my desires listed one by one. It is a bit strange, but the thought is fleeting. He is smiling at me his strange smile. His co-workers smile at me too.

“It isn’t like other rose tea. It is different, it is special.”

I didn’t have rose tea at home. I had gotten a small brown package from Safran in my neighbourhood, but I had finished it.

Rose tea is not what you would expect, or at least, what I expected. It is not a cup that smells like a thousand roses in full bloom – the water pink or velvety red. Rose tea is not like that. When you make rose tea, the small clenched blooms open just a little, giving only the slightest hint of themselves to the water. It does not smell like roses, though somewhere there is a hint of that. Mostly, the tea smells green – and new – like the earth, like something from the earth. Drinking rose tea is all subtly. The water is infused with the lightest color green. Sometimes a trace of something you cannot describe crosses your palate. And then again, the taste of green, the new, a rosebud floating on warm water. Do I like rose tea? I’m not even sure I can say I like it – it is an experience that goes beyond liking. And it was wintertime and I had no rose tea at home.

But D and L now are smiling at me with their new packages.

“I am sorry,” I say, “I have to go.”

He smiles at me again, wistfully. A co-worker hands me a dried purple flower from another type of tea. I smell it and put it in my pocket hoping that it brings me luck, for remembrance, I’m not sure.

It’s been nine months now. I remember this because I met another djinn in Sultanahmet, with another message. Of course, it took me time to understand that message, too. So when you are in Sultanahmet seeing the tourist sights or in the Spice Market trying to find presents for the family or here in İstanbul among the magic and her wonder, I recommend you pay attention. I recommend that you say yes, because the djinn are everywhere, waiting.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Well, it's been quite a time since I last posted here. Revolutions everywhere - and I'm still not sure how it will all shake out. It's been good to be on break - from blogging, not from writing. I'm gearing up for some new things and more clarity on my direction. I love blogging, but I also want to write bigger, more literary pieces. Those take time - not to mention the time it takes to figure out that that is what I want to do. I've been putting my work out there - some of it has been enormously fun to do, especially my work for Ramp 1885 where I picture myself as İstanbul's answer to Bill Cunningham (or Humans of New York, for you crazy kids on Facebook out there.) Besides that I am trying to live a bullshit-free life (not taking it anymore), which I am thinking might just be the path to happiness that the Buddhists don't talk about. So now I am off for a walk in the park and hope that I can grab onto the kind of inspiration that got hold of me the other day as I was lugging my groceries back home, because it was beautiful, but I could not write it down and then I forgot it after I got home. Anyway, net-net - revolutions, writing, no bullshit. Yep, that's it for the last five months.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Translating İstanbul

It's Friday night and this is what I do to amuse myself. İstanbul translated.

Beşiktaş = Best game in Tash.

Yıldız = Get up that hilldız and you'll see them yıldız.

Fulya = F-ya

Bomonti = BoMo

Taksim = Taksi (Taksi dude is our designated driver.)

Beyoğlu = Obey you - that's the current vibe.

Cihangir = D'you hang here? (I find it too full of itself.)

Galatasaray = Gotta lotta sorry.

Galata Tower = Gotta lotta tower. *Message me for the joke I didn't write here, NSFW.

Karaköy = Carry your (self down for some Namlı yum yum.) (Güllüoğlu too.)

Nişantaşı = Me-chi-chi-auntie-say

Çukurcuma = Cute kooky junka.

Sarıyer = Sorry you're here?

Cınaraltı = Six Sycamores (It's all gone with the wind or view from the bridge.)

Kuruçeşme = Could you text me? (When the band comes on?)

İstinye = Is it in ya?

Tarabya = Terribly far, ya.

Eminönü = Ms and Ö, Üs

Fatih = Faith

Balat = Buy lot (or buy now before it costs a lot.)

Kuzguncuk = Gesundheit (Thank you, Rich Altman for this one.)

Üsküdar = You skirt daring (at the knee.)

Acıbadem = Agita from the bottom (of my heart.)

Kartal = Cart y'all (We've got a metro!)

Fenerbahçe = (No f'in way, Ezgi and Tülin will kick my sweet, smart a$$.)

And this is what other people do on a Friday night.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Secret In Our Hearts

Something happened to me on Sunday night and as I write this I am not exactly sure what I feel about it. I had a lovely lazy morning and then cleaned and organized the apartment all afternoon. I needed to get out, I just can’t be indoors and in my head all day. I wanted to go out when it was still light, but I am a putterer. I’ll organize the things in my nightstand or look for some notes and then root around the kitchen cabinets for some tea or hot cocoa mix. Sunday was no exception. It got dark and I still needed to go out. I decided I wanted to buy colored cleaning cloths at Bim (pink, yellow and blue, they make me happy), but I just couldn’t get out of the house. I had to pee 500 million times. Then I was out the door and remembered I needed to get some money. Then I got outside and it was raining and I needed to go back in and get my umbrella. Finally, I was on my way. I had so many thoughts swimming in my head – or, maybe no thoughts. I was walking along the street and noticing the rhythm of my walk. Down passed the parking lot, straight to the gas station, then on the long, re-paved sidewalk passed the luxury car dealership. On the road across from the Real Supermarket a woman stops me. She is asking me something in Turkish and usually I say I do not speak Turkish (in Turkish) and keep walking in that New Yorker way I have of stopping/not stopping. But there is something in her face and she immediately and fluently switches to English as so many people do here in İstanbul.

She is taking a workshop she explains and needs to tell a stranger a secret. She and the stranger should then exchange numbers and if the stranger wants they too can share a secret. Can she tell me her secret? I look at her and in a fraction of a second so many thoughts flip through my brain and my instinct takes over. I look at her face and my answer is yes.

She explains a little and then tells me her secret. Her secret comes from a place of pain and fear. I listen to her. Because of the work I used to do in New York I know her fear is a real one and statistically the odds are on the side of her fear being realized. Her face is soft, wounded, open. I do not know if I should offer my thoughts – perhaps she only needed to be witnessed.

I am not sure about any workshop that asks you to take your deepest fear and confess it to a stranger on the street. Perhaps this is something better suited to the person who loves and understands you most or a highly trained and skilled professional. But what I have noticed is that there is such a thirst here in İstanbul in people from all walks of life for spiritual growth and healing. Everyone, everywhere, all the time. I don’t remember New York being like this, although it is true that you attract who and what is energetically like you. Perhaps this deep-rooted fear, this courage to face it and trust in a total stranger is what I am seeing now reflected in her face.

I ask her if I may offer my thoughts – and I do. She closes her eyes and opens them. The fear is still there, but there is also relief. Then she asks me a question that in the past would have felt like being pushed off a cliff. When I answer it I am in a place of peace. I guess I have faced this fear enough times to be close to accepting it. I guess the more and more you face your fears, the less fearful it becomes. Perhaps it doesn’t matter who you face your fears with - stranger or friend – as long as you face them.

Now she asks me if I will share a secret with her. Yes. I will. And when I do her face blooms like a flower. It is not a smile, but a look of peace, of acceptance.

“But this is wonderful,” she says.

“Yes, I know. Thank you.”

We exchange numbers and then I ask her name. Both our names have four letters and begin with an ‘A’. I put her number in my purse and she does the same with mine. We say goodbye and I keep thinking of her and our exchange. I go to Bim to buy the colored cleaning cloths and on the way home it stops raining.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Scenes from İstanbul

Japanese Wind - connotation, denotation - and yet you insist that you don't need a good (copy)editor.

Passion, for sale.

Holy Coffee, Hot CoCo, Herbal T, may you give us our daily cakes.

The Society of the Hercule Poirotists secret member ring.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

You Mean I Wasn't Supposed to Laugh?

A friend tweeted this today.

A satire taking its cue from this amazing restaurant review for Guy's American Kitchen and Bar in The New York Times.

But what do you do when people write like this (Mikla) and are dead earnest?

I guess you mine it for those beautiful, I-could-never-make-this-stuff-up phrases like phantasmagorical tentacles; or euphoric visual and palatal counfoundment*; or the ‘Birdshit’ ice cream.

I guess in the spirit of transparency I should mention I interviewed with The Guide İstanbul - and well, let's just say I did not get the job. You are all bright people, you do the math. Also, in the spirit of transparency, this was the first review I clicked on. I don't believe it was just dumb luck. Fortunately, the 'birdshit' ice cream looks yummy and if I weren't deathly allergic to pistachios I might even try it.

*confoundment, maybe? And maybe that's not just my palatal;-)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Rakı, The Knockout Champ

I believe every tourist visiting İstanbul should get a card when they land. On that card should be the saying my wise friend and bff, Ezgi, coined about rakı. A glass of rakı is like a breast – one is too little, three are two many. (Implying, of course, that two are just right.) Now I know all across İstanbul Turkish men are saying two? Really? Two? Yes, more than that and you’re in trouble. (Goes for breasts too. Take my word for it.)

The first time I had rakı was in Beyoğlu, somewhere around the Nevizade. My Turkish ex, who wasn’t much of a drinker, called and asked me to meet his friends. I lived high on a hill in Yıldız then and was already in my pajamas. It was raining. Hard. What can I say? I heard the siren call of l… meze, those sexy little plates. Who could resist? When I got there my ex filled my glass. Rakı, water, ice – something like that. I was too busy looking at the meze – or something like that. I had one glass that night. It was a taste I knew well.

Italians and Italian-Americans both have an anise-flavored drink. The Italians have Sambuca, a sophisticated little cocktail usually served with three coffee beans floating on top that are called mosca (fly) signifying health, wealth and happiness. Sambuca is typically associated with Rome and is known as the Eternal City’s favorite drink. If Sambuca is a sexy Italian in mirrored aviator frames and a smile that can light up Piazza di Spagna, then Anisette is your old, bald grandfather in a dark grey suit and bow tie. (Just like mine was.) Anisette is found in every Italian-American home. It is usually served as an addition to espresso – the Italians would call it caffe’ corretto, corrected coffee, meaning that somehow the coffee on its own was terribly wrong – or, in a small liqueur glass alongside the espresso, usually after a large Italian meal and at least one shouting match. These were the anise-flavored liqueurs that had prepared my palate.

But they did not prepare me for the first time rakı knocked me out. Because, you see, rakı is the champ. There may be others, but there is only one rakı, the knockout champ. One, two, three and you don’t know what hit you. Let me tell you about the first time rakı knocked me out. My roommates and I were leaving our beautiful Barbaros Bulvari apartment. It was my dream apartment. The Bosphorus as far as the eye could see. A terrace as far as the eye could see. It also had black mold as far as the eye could see. We decided to have a little going away party - meze, of course, and rakı. How many? Well, who counts when you are chatting and reminiscing and you don’t have to worry about getting home, just down the hall to your room. Here’s what happened the next morning. I got up and went to the bathroom. As I walked to the kitchen, it was the strangest thing, Istanbul was somewhat crooked. Everything was off by 45 degrees and as soon as I bent at the waist 45 degrees everything was ok. But when I stood up straight again, all of a sudden İstanbul started to spin, the floor began to rock like a ferry on the Bosphorus, and everything else was moving too. So I threw myself on the couch and stayed there 8 hours staring at the blank TV screen. My arms were too heavy to lift up the remote or even to cover my ears because the dust was falling so loudly. The next night I felt somewhat better.

So you can say I had learned my lesson and when my friends came from New York, Ezgi had a new saying for all of us. Did I listen? I wanted to. Really, I did. I had two glasses, but we needed to finish the bottle. I had about a quarter of a glass more. I was fine until I got home to Yeniköy and got into bed. Round and round went my bedroom. Up and down went my stomach. I closed my eyes. Rakı had knocked me out again, because that’s the way rakı rolls. I’ve warned you now. Don’t say I didn’t. When you get into the ring with rakı, remember make it only two rounds or you’re going down, baby.

Now if I had mad skillz (yeah, skillz), I would change it to say 'Gonna Fall Now - The Theme from Rakı', but you can imagine that for yourself, right?

Dear Copyeditor,

It’s time we had a talk. As you know, I have been writing a blog since May. That makes ten months that I have been struggling with your “work”. When I write a blog piece, I give it all I have. I want to make it funny and interesting and fun. Writing gives me a lot of pleasure and I hope it gives my readers pleasure as well. I also want my writing to be the best it can be. I check what I write, then I double-check it and triple-check it for mistakes. After all that, I send it off and you “edit” it. It’s not gone well.

In my second piece, The Secret Garden, you decided what I had written needed quotes and you added them. Unfortunately, you added them haphazardly, using quotes in the first part of my piece and not in the second.

Here is what I wrote to my editor D1 at the time:

I see that The Secret Garden is now live and I have posted it to my Facebook profile. Unfortunately, I am not very happy because I see that quotes were added to the story. As I have mentioned it is important to me to see any changes to the story before it goes live - even if it is a matter of quotation marks, first of all because there are several errors that your copy editor [sic] made in using the quotation marks. And even more importantly, these are errors I would not as a writer/editor have made if I had decided to use quotes.

I prefer that you remove the quotations marks that were added, but if you decide to keep them in please be aware that when using quotations marks within a quote that those quotes that are enclosed within the quote now have single marks, as shown here:

"You go alone because if you go with someone they will say, 'Look at this.' 'Look at this.' You just go..."

And by the logic of adding quotes to my piece, then this line should also be in quotes:

"This moment makes me real, but just this moment not before or after."

Also, it would not be necessary to have each individual paragraph have an opening and close quote, since quotes can actually be more than one paragraph long.

I am not averse to having my work edited because as an editor I know the importance of having another set of eyes on the work. As a professional I understand that, and I have asked to see the edits because it is important that my work look professional, especially since it has always been throughout the many years I have worked online.

I knew that these kinds of mistakes did not bode well for me. My editors, both D1 and D2, allowed me to approve the edits before they went live. At one point, I got so frustrated with your “work”, I asked that my work go on the site unedited. I was told when I signed my blogger agreement I gave the company permission to edit my posts. While this is true, editing means you catch my mistakes and fix them, not add your own (as you have consistently done with your “edits”, which is a point I have had to make to both D1 and D2). Here are some mistakes I made in Turkish is Hard that you did not catch:

1. A comma should be added OUTside the single quote of 'smile and point',

2. A comma should go after the parenthetical phrase büyük and küçük (do you really want to know?),

3. The commas after heels-over-head and masa should be taken out since my usage earlier in the piece does not follow the serial comma format - and the standard journalistic form is usally [sic] not to use a serial comma. (AP Stylebook)

Recently, I discovered that you are, in fact, a native English speaker. Believe me, for all these months I had assumed that English was your second language. This information makes your mistakes all the more grievous. You need to do better.

I’ve looked you up on social media. I’ve looked at your LinkedIn profile and from that alone I know you are not qualified to be a copyeditor or an editor. It’s true that you are young and we all have to gain experience. Unfortunately, you do not have a grasp of the basic rules of English. Any third grader can find the mistake in this sentence describing your work: “Edits breaking news content for the publications website.” A more experienced reader would take issue with your inconsistent and whimsical use of hyphenated adjectives throughout that page. This is how you present yourself professionally.

That is why it is so galling to have this sentence:

On that card should be the saying my wise friend and bff, Ezgi, coined about rakı.

changed to: On that card should be printed the saying of my wise friend, Ezgi, coined about rakı.

and then to: “On that card should be printed the saying of my wise bff, Ezgi, coined about rakı.”

And have you insist that it is grammatically correct. (Not so, check here.)

It’s been ten months of this kind of thing and I am tired. I write because I am a writer and I have a passion for writing. I am not paid for the work I do. I do it because one day I want to be paid for the work I do. Honestly, it’s been a struggle. I know I am good and have worked very, very hard to get to where I am. I’d like to have an editor who helps me look better. I cannot catch all my mistakes and I would like to look damn-near perfect in print. I have something to say. I want to say it well and in my own voice. When I looked you up on Twitter your quote says that you are a “[m]ultimedia journalist traversing the world, sharing the stories of those whose voices are struggling to be heard.” I find that really hard to swallow along with your inept “editing”.

Because when I write a line like:

Use that thing your anne gave you.

and you change it to:

Use that thing your mom gave you.

It tells me two things. One, that you have no ear for voice and two, you have a tin ear for the vernacular as well.

I am frustrated, I’m very angry and I am tired of doing my job (writing), then editing my own pieces, and then editing and correcting your mistakes. Does that seem fair to you? I’m not getting paid for this, but you are. That’s why I am telling you, you need to do better. You need to step up or step out of copyediting. Learn the rules of grammar and punctuation, check and double-check your work and be consistent. If you don’t know something, look it up or ask someone more experienced. You have a lot to learn. I suggest you start today.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Poetry of Little Things: Mr. Tarçın Man

Ever since I discovered that you can make hot oatmeal from Lifalif cereal, I have been on an oatmeal kick. When I make it, I like to sprinkle in a little cinnamon and that was getting messy from the package. I usually had two tablespoons of cinnamon in the pot and it was getting ridiculous. So off I went to buy a shaker. I wanted an big, old-timey, diner-type salt shaker - but you know me and shakers, right? Never what I plan. That's how I found Mr. Tarçın Man. In the picture above he looks happy. Here is his more usual look.

It's the little things that make me happy. The little gestures, the little day-to-day poetry of the ordinary that stay in my heart and make me mindful of life and all it's gifts. Mr. Tarçın Man makes me happy every day.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Years' Yum

I haven't blogged of late - mostly because the end of 2012 was challenging for me. Life was so life-like - full of to-do's and to don'ts and did I mention the challenges? I have turned the corner now. We all have. I think 2013 will be very lucky. I have been calling it 2000lucky13. My horoscope seems to suggest that earned money will be rolling in - I say let the good $$ roll! On New Years' Day the waiter spilled some of my tea in the saucer - he told Tülin to explain to me that it meant my luck was overflowing.

"Maşallah and teşekküler!" (May it be the Divine's will and thank you!) I answered because it was all good.

I haven't been writing a lot (I know, stunned silence) and I hope to say one day that life's challenges don't throw me so easily off-track - at the moment they do. I hope to reach that place one day soon. It's not happened in the last month - this month, I am doing better. And it also has helped me figure out a lot of things. I can write articles and blog posts and all manner of things competently and well and I get a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment from it. I love writing, but the writing I most love to do isn't like this - it isn't chatty and hey-let-me-tell-you-something. I want to write stories - long or short, it doesn't matter. Stories full of signs and subtext, poetry and heartbreak, that might be tinged with memoir, full of soaring realizations and wide horizons even if it is found in a tea cup. So I guess what I want to tell you at this late stage is that I am an artist, that I want to create something that no one has ever done before, that it should be beautiful and true - that it comes from my soul and fills my heart.

Wow! Really? I had no idea this post was going to go this way. I thought I would write about - or eventually get to - how I had friends in town from New York. How much I loved seeing İstanbul through their eyes and how my friend Deborah (who many years ago hired me for my first important job) told me I should write about food. The following evening we met a journalist friend of a friend named Tom who also suggested I do the same - but that advice came with a precaution - if I loved it too much I shouldn't because I would have to think about it. (Instead of just enjoying it was the subtext I got from that advice.) I am an analytical kind of chick even on a good day, so I think I can do it.

One of the writers that shaped me was M.F.K. Fisher and she wrote truly and beautifully about food. One of my favorite stories is "I Was Really Very Hungry" so much so that I lived a similar experience. I think few writers hold a candle to M.F.K Fisher in any genre, and she has set a bar for me - as with all things, I want the bar to be very, very high. So in this new year expect more food writing from me, expect me to drop out and not explain, expect the unexpected (from me and from life) and most of all enjoy it all. (Interested in M.F.K Fisher? Go big with The Art of Eating) Afiyet olsun!