Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Trip to Meryem Ana Kilisei

When I first returned to Istanbul I had read about a church in Vefa – Meryem Ana Kilisesi (or Ayın Biri Kilisesi – meaning the Church of the First of the Month) – that had a sacred, healing spring or ayazma. On the first of every month, people came to make a wish and that wish was symbolized by a key. I had wanted to visit this church for a very long time. More often than not, when the first of the month came I had work or something else to do, but usually it just slipped my mind. The last two weeks of August of this year had had more than their usual share of Istanbul drama and I knew I needed a break – and also, a blessing.

I searched online for info about the church in English and about what the rituals were for the first of the month. Oddly, I came up empty. I found a few articles in Turkish, but even with Google translate they weren't very helpful. I posted on a Facebook group for foreign women living in Istanbul and got some helpful info that set me on my way. I'll share with you what I experienced, but since there was no literature available and the priest that did speak English asked me to make an appointment another time to speak with him, I'll just let you know what my friend and I experienced and hope that I intuited and understood everything correctly.

My friend Sayora and I took a bus from Harbiye to Taksim and then on to Unkapanı. You should get off at the Unkapanı bus stop and backtrack a bit to cross Atatürk Boulevard. You will find an underpass filled with shops and when you come out on the other side of the boulevard there is an ICM mall. Go straight on through the mall to the other side – you'll see the tiniest of mosques on your left and just proceed straight up the main street, Atlamataşı Cd. You'll walk a few blocks until you see an A – 101 supermarket and then, turn right (you will see a Turkcell across from the A – 101 supermarket - and you should proceed down this street.) You'll feel like you've stepped into an Ara Güler photograph of Istanbul in days gone by. It's charming, filled with vendors and old stores, but I was glad my friend was with me because there weren't very many women on the street. At the end of this cobblestone street, we came to a fork in the road and a kind man pointed out the church to us – a little up ahead on a slope across from another ICM market. Outside the church people were selling Turkish good luck charms, but I knew that inside the church they would be selling the keys needed for the ritual.

As soon as we passed the entrance, a woman came up to us offering us candy – we declined, but later we learned that if your wish had come true you were to come back to the church on the first of the next month and offer either cubes of sugar or some kind of sweets to the people who were visiting. Had we known, we would have accepted the offering and participated in celebrating the desire that had been fulfilled. We did later – even sucking on cubes of sugar as we waited for the tea man to bring us tea from the nearby shop.

The church offers blessings from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm. Though when we were leaving, there were still people coming (though much less than earlier in the morning – we had arrived about 11 am or so and left at about 12:30.) We bought keys in the church. Each key was 1.50 TL and symbolized a desire. I bought six keys – three for me and one each for three of my friends. Next, we waited in line to visit the icons both on the first floor and on the lower level where the sacred spring (ayazma) is located. We followed the people in front of us and circled the glass-covered icons counterclockwise with each key. Then, we pretended to open the case with our keys. We stopped to fill our water bottle (I bought mine for 5 TL but you can also bring an empty water bottle from home) at the holy spring. Next, we went upstairs and lit our candles. I had bought a smaller candle for 1 TL, but there were also larger ones for what I am assuming sold for 2 TL (but please check, since I am assuming.) Then, we lined up for a blessing by the priest – he asked us our names and covered our heads and said a blessing over us. I replied 'Amen' at the right time and the priest, assuming I was a Christian, gave me the wooden cross to kiss.

The energy in the church was very powerful and Sayora and I rested with the other visitors in the garden/plaza area. We ordered tea from the local tea man (1 TL) and partook of the sweets and candies from the people whose wishes had been granted. I found out you're also supposed to return the key to the church when your wish has been fulfilled.

It was beautiful to see how many people offered us sweets and had returned to give thanks and to share their happiness. It was a lovely beginning to a new month and a new way of being. I hope to return soon with sweet thanks giving of my own.

Directions: Unkapanı Atatürk Bulvarı Vefa Katip Çelebi Caddesi
Google maps has it at: 41°01'06.8"N 28°57'33.2"E

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Only the Sky Was Grey

I needed a day away from the computer, so off I went. Then I came home and tried to make a slideshow. It didn't work. Just click on the picture below, then click slideshow to take a photojourney with me.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Love Story and a Lucite Table

I was in a different place on love's wheel when I wrote this 2 years ago. Now I am asking different questions and seeking different answers. Still, I found this today and thought I'd type it up.

I want to tell you a love story. It's not the usual kind, boy meets girl or girl meets girl or even boy meets boy, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Honestly, that's the kind of love story I've always wanted. Meet that special someone, fall in love and all that other stuff that makes for fairytale endings. In fact, that's just the problem - your eyes meet that special someone, assorted trials and tribulations of varying degrees happen and then the settling into castle (or suburban home), maintaining the family chariot (SUV), and the raising of the kids and sending them off to school (Harvard, Yale, Hogwarts.) But what happens when you wait for your Prince Charming (yeah, that's me) and when he doesn't show up go looking for him (yeah, that's me too) and all along the way realize that there is another love story happening, but it doesn't involve looking into someone else's eyes or getting a 2-carat diamond in a Tiffany setting or co-signing a mortgage.

This is the one where you look into the mirror one day and after all the ups and downs in the dating world, in relationships and in relationship with yourself say, wow, what beautiful eyes you have. And you know what? Those 15 extra pounds are totally ok and you can still dance like a 19-year old and did I ever tell you how cool I think you are?

Yeah, it was kinda like that for me. Though falling in love with myself didn't happen quickly (or maybe it did, like those people who claim it took them 15 years to be an overnight success.) It was in that 15-year overnight way, I fell in love with me.

The first time I knew I was in love was about a year ago. I was staying in a friend's apartment for a couple of weeks while she was away. Up against the wall next to the bathroom was a small lucite table where she kept a few things. Every time I went to the bathroom, I bumped into it. There was plenty of room to maneuver around it, but day or night - crash, right into it. One night, I woke up, went to the bathroom and of course, I walked right into the table again. Annoyed at myself for having once more knocked into it, I asked myself on the way back to bed why I kept crashing into it.

"Because it's invisible," was my wise-ass answer to myself. It was about 4:20 in the morning and I must have laughed for about 40 minutes. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn't. I was too busy laughing. It was then I realized I truly enjoyed my own company. I had always wanted to share my gifts with someone, but that night I realized sharing them with myself was enough.

Does that mean I have given up looking for that person I want to share my life with? No, not at all. It's just that now I cultivate my most important relationship, the one with myself. After all the ups and downs of relationships that never took hold - and blaming myself and what I thought were my insufficient gifts as a person and as a woman - I am now at peace. I am now in love. I am now ready to tell you my story because you who are waiting for your love story to begin or have had your love story end and don't know where to begin again, I am here to tell you. Begin with you. I promise you, you have beautiful eyes. Just look into them.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Another Type of Mother’s Day Story

As everyone is joyously celebrating Mother’s Day, I would like to share with you another type of Mother’s Day story. A story where I and my family need your help. On May 22, 2013, my sister-in-law, Ivanna Soto, took my then-19-month-old nephew, Octavio, from their home in Eastchester and for no other reason than she no longer wanted to live in New York, boarded a plane to Panama en route to Uruguay. My brother, Guy Brunetti, came home from work to find my mother anxiously waiting for him. Ivanna and Octavio were to have gone to the library earlier in the afternoon and had not returned home. My brother started calling his wife’s cell phone and was worried when he could not reach her because she was 4-months pregnant at the time. He called hospitals and police stations, searched the house and the computer. He filed a police report and with the help of police and her credit card, tracked her to a local taxi company. The police discovered that she had taken a taxi to John F. Kennedy Airport where she had first flown to Panama, and then on to Uruguay the next day.

My brother and Ivanna had lived together in both Valencia, Spain and Montevideo, where my sister-in-law owned an apartment. They had married in Uruguay and my nephew Octavio was conceived and born there. In August of 2012, they decided to move to New York. My brother is not fluent in Spanish and there weren’t many opportunities for work for a non-native speaker. After some discussion, they decided to move and to make their home in the United States, where my brother would have more – and better – options for work. In order to do so, Ivanna applied for a marriage visa, which took 5 months to finalize, and then in late June of 2012, she was approved. They started to make the final arrangements to return to New York and when they did, they took 15 suitcases with them. One of those suitcases contained all of Octavio’s old baby clothes because they wanted to have another child so Octavio could have a brother or sister. The situation they moved to was not ideal. They needed to live with my mother while my brother looked for work. It was also decided that Ivanna would stay home and care for Octavio. As they lived in a lake-side community outside of the town proper, my brother Guy bought a car for my sister-in-law Ivanna so she could get around on her own whenever she wanted. My sister and her family lived nearby. My 9-year-old niece and 6-year-old nephew delighted in meeting their new cousin. Ivanna’s sister was visiting often from Florida with her 3-year-old daughter. Ivanna’s sister met my brother’s best friend and they began a relationship. Soon, they moved in together and began their own family, welcoming another little girl into the world. Life was flowing and things were coming together even though it took some time for my brother to find work, the economy being what it was. Even so, they had already begun looking for houses in Westchester when my sister-in-law abducted my nephew and fled the US.

Under the Hague Convention for Child Abduction, one parent cannot unilaterally take a child from their habitual place of residence, in this case, New York State. Before my brother flew down to Uruguay to begin the process of bringing his family home, Guy filed police reports, listed Octavio with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and completed his application for the Hague Convention. At first, he appealed to Ivanna’s sense of love and reason and then, it became clear that he would need an attorney to begin court proceedings. The first trial began in mid-August of 2013. It was during that trial that my sister-in-law was caught in a series of lies about her life in NY, but in spite of this, the judge ruled in her favor for “the benefit of the family” in direct disregard of Uruguay’s acceptance of the Hague Convention for Child Abduction. The case was quickly overturned on appeal and Octavio was ordered to be given over to my brother so they could return home to New York. But in a series of legal maneuvers and delaying tactics, the date for the return of custody to my brother was put off week after week. Every last bit of wrangling that my sister-in-law could do was done, including filing a complaint against my brother for raising his voice in the street and then dragging his name through the mud in the local press accusing him at this late stage of the restitution process, of being abusive. Nothing could be more further from the truth. My kind and gentle brother had been my father’s caregiver in his last years. My brother’s steadiness and patience was something that went above and beyond what either I or my sister would have been able to do for my father during that difficult period. Time and time again, my brother has demonstrated his concern and kindness in this situation for his wife, her pregnancy and his son, considering that he would remain in Uruguay to assist in the birth of his second child before finally returning to NY not only with Octavio but with his entire family. Guy had often told me that it was not his intention to ever deny Ivanna any of her dreams, but it was financially necessary for them to live in the US so he could support the family and provide for their needs. However, at the final stage of the restitution process and under order to appear in court with Octavio on November 8, 2013, Ivanna once again fled.

My brother’s nightmare was now really beginning. Since October 2013, he has been caught in a bureaucratic maze trying to find help locating his wife and now, two sons. Although the birth of his second son was imminent and although Ivanna availed herself of government-funded medical aid, no alerts were placed at hospitals even though she was considered a fugitive. In addition to her now long list of lies regarding her life and circumstances in NY, her fabricating stories about my brother’s character and her initial abduction of Octavio , she also did not list my brother’s name as the father on my new nephew Luciano’s birth certificate – a crime in Uruguay since the father was known. Then, she became a fugitive from the Uruguayan authorities taking both children with her. Guy, at this point, sought help from the Uruguayan press. His first foray was a bit strange – even for someone like myself who has lived abroad for a number of years and is attuned to cultural differences. My brother was interviewed and only the general aspects of the case were reported, which opened up an opportunity for much online debate and speculation about the case. My sister-in-law’s name, description, the description of my nephew and possible locations were never mentioned, nor was a photo of Ivanna even shown. If that experience seemed odd and somewhat bungled, my brother’s second foray into the press was a full-scale disaster. With no media skills and less than 5 minutes preparation, my brother found himself on a television show where he had to defend himself. Instead of helping to locate Ivanna and my nephew, my brother, the victim of my sister-in-law’s actions was now on trial because of the underlying question to the reason of why my sister-in-law had fled. The general assumption was that a loving mother would only flee with her child to keep her child safe. The truth of the matter is that this assumption is just that, an assumption, because mothers, like fathers, can both abduct their children out of an exaggerated sense of entitlement and grandiose view of themselves. This is true in my sister-in-law's case. She is a “mother”, but being a “mother” does not give one complete and absolute control over your children lives – and also, your husband’s. Nor does it mean that one can make decisions based solely on one’s own desires.

Now, more months have passed, Ivanna Soto still remains at large with my nephews. The police and Interpol both seem unable to locate Ivanna, even though she has used the Uruguayan state medical system to vaccinate and have well-baby visits for Luciano. That a mother of two small children can easily thwart detection from both police and Interpol seems beyond comprehension, especially in this day and age of computerization, cell phones and the Internet.

My brother, Guy, is constantly doing what he can from his small hotel room where he has lived for close to a year. If you think that both the US State Department and the US Embassy in Uruguay are lending their support and a steady stream of help, you would be sadly mistaken. Rather, Guy is in an unending loop of crushing bureaucracy. Each hard-won step ahead in finding leads in the case seem to rest squarely on his shoulders and his own know-how. He is the one that tracked down the lead of Luciano’s vaccinations, not to mention discovering Luciano’s birth from his own legwork. He has plastered the small towns he believes Ivanna has lived in with fliers describing Ivanna and Octavio.

I can no longer remain silent. My heart is breaking for my family. My brother is spending Mother’s Day as he has spent every other holiday for the past year, alone, without his family. My sister-in-law seems to believe that the children are her possessions. But children are never possessions, but rather parts of families. Families that love them. Parents nurture children so they can grow and be part of other families and part of their society as well. My sister-in-law does not see that she is robbing them of their families because of her own need to be in possession of them. If she was unhappy in New York and had wanted to return to Uruguay there were many other routes she could have taken and choices she could have made. She is arrogant to believe that just because she is a “mother,” she has rights over the children and my brother should have none. She is immature in thinking that just because her life did not turn out the way that she had planned that she also had the right to do whatever she wanted without discussion or mediation or anyone’s approval but her own. The fact is that my sister-in-law sees herself above and beyond the law, any and every instance of the law – US law, Uruguayan law and international law because she is a “mother”. This is not what good mothering is, nor what a good mother does. A good mother prepares her children to be a part of society, not above its laws. If the laws are unjust, then as a society, we all work together to change them. Good mothering does not only mean feeding and bathing and loving your children, it also means giving them the opportunity to love and know the family that loves them. Has my sister-in-law even thought about the pain she has caused to my niece and nephew and her own nieces in New York? Has she even considered what depriving her sons of their father means to my brother and even more importantly, to his sons? Not to mention, my mother, myself and our entire extended family? This is selfishness in its extreme. It is unhealthy and not even remotely the kind of example anyone should set for their own children.

I must also again return to Ivanna’s many choices, each one she herself made when others were available to her. She married and had a family with my brother. If she had she wanted to have children and have complete say over them, then as a single woman, she could have adopted or sought out a sperm donor. Yet, she chose marriage and to create a family. Families, do fall apart, sadly, that happens every day, but in the coming apart, care should be taken and laws should be followed to allow each member of the family their rights to allow for a just outcome. By first denying my brother a voice and then deliberately flouting the laws of two nations, my sister-in-law shows the world exactly who and what she is. Every action she takes in the guise of “mother” is really something else, and that is “criminal”.

I am reaching out now on Mother’s Day to get my brother’s story told because we need help to find Ivanna Soto and my two nephews. We need this case of maternal parental abduction to be taken seriously in the press, both in the United States and Uruguay and everywhere else in the world. We need this case to be investigated by the police and Interpol in a completely unfettered and focused way. We need help from the US State Department and the US Embassy in Uruguay to work in diplomatic ways to bring Octavio and Luciano home. We need your help, citizens of the world. My sister-in-law, Andrea Ivanna Soto Garcia, is a fugitive and we do not know where she is. She has fled with her sons, Octavio Gabriel Brunetti Soto, now 2 1/2, and Luciano Sebastian Soto Garcia, 6 months. Please help us spread the word and find them. Please help us unite our family.

Ways to help:
Please share this post and if you are press or have press contacts, please share this post with them.

Please tweet to the US Embassy to Uruguay asking to them help with the parental abduction in the #BrunettiCase.

Please post to US Embassy to Uruguay’s Facebook page asking for their help in this case.

Or please write or tweet to Secretary of State John Kerry, Congressman Eliot Engel, Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Kristen Gillibrand about parental abduction to Uruguay in the #BrunettiCase and bringing Octavio and Luciano home.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What I Did This Afternoon

I thought I was over the whole show biz thing. I've done a few commercials and crouched down by Daniel Craig's tight pants - I mean really tight pants, what could be better than that? Don't get me wrong, it was fun, but there is so much editing here to be done. Tons and tons of editing. Academic books and emerging markets presentations. I have big important decisions to make - should I go with bio-gas or biogas? And in Turkey, an editor's work is never done, even if I have already edited something from 'man' to 'humanity', my clients like to re-edit me so it says 'human' on the next go round so the sentence makes no sense. Yes, exactly like the labors of Sisyphus.

Yesterday, in the middle of editing some exciting statistics about Turkey's regional dominance in 'white goods' (that's major appliances, America.) I got a text that read, "Hey Alba, I called you for the movie of Russell Crowe. They wanted to see you for supporting role. Call me when you see this. Thanks."* I replied, "Oh, that Russell Crowe...why doesn't George Clooney ever call me?"

Was I free today? Well, no, I now needed to find out what 'brown goods' are (that's small appliances) and edit 30 slides by Wednesday. And it takes me a long time because I may not be an editor so much as someone who quite possibly has obsessive compulsive disorder in regards to the English language.

But show biz had called again. I would be playing a nurse who works in a hospital here in Constantinople immediately after World War I. I would have three lines that I would deliver to my co-star, Russell Crowe. Yes, this Russell Crowe.

So I really wanted to nail the audition and get the part (Seriously, I know there are a ton of jokes that I could make here, especially using the word 'nail' and 'piece'. Go on, be creative and make your own jokes.) I got my lines and began memorizing them in between the GDP and CAGR and a bit of TUBİTAK, but only once in a while. I gave a hundred million line readings to the lines, but I kept forgetting things. As a kid I had a photographic memory, where the F did that go because now I could not remember "forwarded relief packages" for the life of me. There were only three lines. I read them before bed and when I got up - all the while sweating my 'white goods' deadline.

At 3:30 off I went to Cihangir. Why was the Harbiye Military Museum covered in banners that needed editing? Why was the verb 'are' not in title case? Why was 'commission' misspelled? These were the things that were running through my mind along with the lines. When I got to the studio, a series of tall, handsome men led me to the audition space. I was asked to fill out a form with my measurements. OMG, why is 'shoes' misspelled as 'shouws'. I have to stop this. I am an actress now. But really, 'shouws'?

On tape they wanted me to do two line readings, one of a soft and gentle nurse and one of an angrier nurse. After 5 takes I still couldn't get the lines right for 'gentle nurse'. The 'angry nurse' I nailed in one take. I guess my year of the bitch project is rolling right along.

As I walked home, of course, I re-wrote the scene in my head.

In the bowels of a hospital in Constantinople, Russell Crowe and I are talking.

Bitchy Nurse: World War I happened. Get over it.(beat) I know this cute little restaurant here in Sultanahmet. They rent rooms upstairs. We could grab a bite and then I could help you forget all about the big, bad war.(Holding the top of one fist to my ear and the other to my mouth...wait, no...I love how your dirty little minds went there, but that's how phones worked back then...and mouths.) Call me.

This is a movie I really want to see. In fact, I could edit out movie completely and enjoy it a whole lot more.

*Only uptight people edit text messages.