Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Balikci

In the small town of London Ontario, where I spent most of my life, there is a french truffle stand in the Covent Garden Market in the center of town. I remember how I used to linger around this stand, watching the man behind the counter tease the fountains of chocolate with fruit and bits of cookies, and admiring the truffles as they cooled on the counter. The owner of this tiny paradise was a rather large, jovial man with a thick French accent. Often when I stopped to watch him crafting these perfect morsels, he would offer me free samples of his latest creation. I developed a small crush on this man. Clearly, I was powerless against his offerings of exotically flavored truffles. There was something strangely exciting about being surrounded by fountains of liquid love and feeling the perfect rush of melted chocolate in my mouth. Perhaps it was also a little forbidden as I have always been a bit of a chronic dieter. I now associate the memory of this man with a total sensual overload.

I suddenly remembered this man today like a tiny perfect dream. What brought on these recollections of past flirtations with French chocolate truffles? A small fish restaurant hidden in one of the backstreets of the city center in Istanbul. Once again, I found myself strangely attracted to the short gray-haired man wearing a white apron over his black t-shirt and blue jeans. He was as genuine as the magical chocolate man wearing an expression of true joy at my total gratification.
It was raining today and I worked a split shift, so that meant a 6 hour block in the middle of my day which I had already decided yesterday to use solely on the literary endeavor of a long overdue blog entry. But writing on an empty stomach is depressing, so I decided to revisit the spectacular little fish place I discovered the other day. I arrived at the restaurant as it began to rain so I sat myself at a table sheltered by the canvas awning. I was immediately greeted by a younger man wearing the same aproned uniform as the manager. He beckoned me to the medium sized glass case at in front of the kitchen window of the restaurant. They were freshly stocked with salmon and sea bass, mackerel and sardines. I pointed out the fish I wanted and sat back down at my table. The patrons looked like business people on their lunch breaks, but they quickly scurried back to work so I had the place to myself. The rain drops fell fat and heavy against the tarp, but I was cozy nestled behind some trees on the semi-secluded street.
About 10 minutes later the manager brought out my fish and a giant salad, and set the beautiful spread in front of me. It didn't take long for me to devour the plate of salmon and half the salad. The manager and his staff grinned as they observed me ravenously tearing up the fish with my hands. When I was finished they brought tea to my table and offered me a cigarette.
I lit the cigarette and noticed a fat orange cat lingering near the door, purring and licking its paws. The manager leaned over and stroked its head, feeding the fur-ball a piece of salmon. The cat was overjoyed at this treatment and happily curled up beside me to eat the fish. It seems these people love to feed the strange little creatures that show up at their door.
I was fat with fish and purring contently right along side my little feline friend, but the best part, however, was when I asked for the bill and the manager said: "you don't pay," handing me an umbrella and calling out behind me as I walked down the road: "come back soon."
Another puuuurrrrrrfect afternoon in Istanbul.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Turkish Delights.

Historically, I have always been a bit of a physically stand-offish person. I never really understood ritualistic hugging and kissing between friends and acquaintances, and have routinely felt a little awkward when it comes to greetings and farewells; never quite sure what to do with the obligatory kisses and hugs. Needless to say, when I moved to Turkey, I was a little unsure about how to react to the ritualistic handshake followed by kisses on both cheeks. That was, until yesterday. After the wondrous surprise birthday outing that several of my old students planned for me, I was hard-pressed not to shower my affections on each of them.

When one of my students suggested we have a picnic for my birthday, I assumed we would spend the day relaxing and hanging out at the beach with a few sandwiches and some fruit. I never imagined the celebration they had in store. I was greeted at my door by a student at 10 am bearing Starbucks. From my apartment, we picked up two of my girlfriends and made our way out of the city. We left Istanbul and began our journey to the countryside. The golden fields unfolded before us, rolling over hills and valleys, stretching out in one giant yawn to the perfectly clear horizon.
Half an hour later we were greeted by 2 more of my students at the gate of a beautiful summer house. Making our way up the marble steps to the apartment, I was still al little unsure of the plan. When we entered the enormous flat, we were immediately given slippers and guided to the terrace, where a beautiful breakfast spread was revealed to us. We were asked to sit down as students clambered around the kitchen bringing hot cups of coffee and tea, and pouring fresh juice into our glasses.

One of my students had spent hours cooking traditional Turkish pastries from scratch, and another student had brought sinfully delicious treats on behalf of his mother. My doting students filled our plates as we ate, not allowing us to lift a finger: “today you will get fat,” they joked. We gluttonously consumed fresh bread and butter, honey, chocolate spread, olives, cheeses, vegetables, pastries, eggs, coffee, and tea. When we were finished, the man of the house insisted we relax in the garden gazebo while he cleared the plates and tidied the kitchen. Our efforts to assist with the clean up were in vain. “Please, go downstairs to the garden,” my student said as he ushered us to the door.

We were led to a gazebo in the garden, furnished with couches, pillows and blankets, and it was there, sheltered from the blazing sun, that we lay around all afternoon listening to music, playing games, drinking coffee, eating fruit, having our fortunes read in coffee grounds, and practicing our Turkish. We spent hours communicating in broken language, bravely catapulting over the language barrier. We had full conversations using only hand gestures and nouns, and giggled at each other’s terrible sentence structure and verb conjugations: “Today is holiday” exclaimed one of my students, “no adjective, no verb, no noun… only speaking.”

The afternoon lazily stumbled through puffs of apple-flavoured tobacco and delicious bits of dark chocolate, and when we were sure it couldn’t get better we were once again, asked to join them on the terrace. As the sun set, we ate enough grilled meat to feed a pack of lions. I couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful way to enter my thirties, and as we were leaving our new friends, they humbly thanked us for our company. Yesterday, Turkey revealed itself to me as a peaceful land of affectionate gestures, and today I reflect on the memories and rejoice.

Hallelujah.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


Words like tiny light-weight bricks. I pick them up between my thumb and index finger, gently stacking them on top of each other. I am building something small and beautiful. I am trying. I am trying because I have to. I place the word gently on my tongue and it melts, a sugar cube in hot tea. It slips between my lips and drips to the floor. And the word hardens from fluid to sugared floss, taking the shape of weaved cotton candy tales of waking dreams; they weave candied braids of joy, and love, misfortune and tragedy. They shout from the soap box and whisper about my love, and they dance. They salsa around ancient cities, they slam-dance in dingy bars, and gyrate to deejays spinning under flashing lights. My once manic words that splashed spray-painted profanity on the brick walls of love-affairs, screaming until they were hoarse, now drive between painted yellow lines, and stop for traffic lights. Now my words stand at attention and march in rows; they are going somewhere.

My words go to bed early and don't eat carbs.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Sweet poetry wrapped in brown paper.

Last night, I received a package from the island, marked with the return address of my old boyfriend. There is little I love more than receiving a package in the mail. The brown paper wrapping, the inked black letters of my name scribbled on the front, the promise of wonderful little treats from far off places, and my favourite part of all; the feeling of the anticipation of possibility that is often even better than the secrets inside begging to be revealed. For me, at least, what’s actually inside is secondary to child-like love of receiving a mystery-gift.

When I was a kid, during the Christmas season, we would always receive packages wrapped in brown paper from some aunt or other living in South America. They always arrived about a month early, with instructions written on the front, insisting that we “do not open until Christmas.” It hardly made a difference what chocolate-covered candy or little trinkets were hidden inside because the package itself was the real gift. It was a symbol of mystery and possibility, and a source of entertainment for me and my sister, who spent hours sitting under the Christmas tree, taking turns shaking the box and trying to guess what was inside.

So last night, when my roomate barged into my bedroom bearing a box with my name on it, my little heart skipped. I eagerly took it from her and positioned it carefully in my lap. As I ran my fingers along the edges I wondered: What could it be? What could my old friend from Taiwan be sending to me? I picked it up, turned it over, shook it a bit, put it down on my bed, and walked to the other side of the room to size it up from a distance. Could it be something I left behind? Was it something important? Was it something I didn’t even know I couldn’t live without? I paced back and forth a few times before pouncing on it and tearing into the cardboard.

As I ripped open the package, something sharp pierced my finger, and dirt and sand and tiny pebbles spilt out onto my bed and floor. Blood was dripping onto my sheets, and in my confusion I fumbled for the Kleenex box on my nightstand. “What the fuck?” I wondered. Wrapping my finger in a tissue, I emptied the contents of the box to reveal; a t-shirt, a dress, my old wallet containing some Canadian I.D, a set of keys to my parent’s place, various lip balms, my old journal, and a dismantled miniature Zen garden that was given to me as a birthday present.

It seemed that when my old boyfriend had moved out of the apartment that we shared in Taipei, he had very thoughtfully packaged up a few things of mine that he knew were important to me. Unfortunately, the ceramic tray from my Zen garden had smashed to pieces in the mail, shredding my dress, and the Tupperware container full of pebbles and sand from the miniature garden.


What is the point of this little anecdote? You may wonder.
Well, my relationship with this man was very intense, and although we both tried very hard, our efforts always seemed to end in disaster. I loved him very much, but we just couldn’t keep it together, because the results of all of our attempts always fell a bit short, and never quite manifested in that climactic moment of romance where the effort is supposed to pay off.
Sitting in my bed, covered in blood, and dirt and shards of smashed ceramic, I had to laugh. I imagined him addressing the package, extending a gesture of peace from 6000 miles away, in the form of these sentimental possessions I had left in Taiwan, and then I observed the reality of the gesture; smashed and shredded on my bloody bed-spread. The scene was typical of our time together, always struggling to offer each other some profound gesture of love or friendship, and always failing miserably. But this time it was different, because this time I laughed; this time the gesture was not lost in the reality; I sat amidst a beautiful and shattered collage of the past. It was so very poetic, and so very us.


Friday, 19 March 2010

You had me at "Taksim Square"




If you walk through Taksim Square on any given night, you will most definitly have to navigate through a sea of pedestrian traffic. On Friday and Saturday nights, hundreds of people roll onto Istiklal Rd., like some beautiful, well-dressed tide. Although it's difficult to navigate these waters anchored by a group, on your own it's quite easy to weave between the lovers, and vendors, and slow-moving police cruisers like a ninja, stealthly anticipating your surroundings ... Walking up Istiklal Rd. to the Meydan in this manner is one of my favourite passtimes.

The heart of Istanbul remains the most beautiful place I have ever lived. After spending a long period of time in a place that had the aesthetic quality of a plastic bag, I am often overwhelmed by the beauty of the architecture in Istanbul, and specifically, Taksim. Stone paths line the store-fronts that display everything from antique furniture to butchered meat behind plate glass windows. Men sell produce, on nearly every street corner, from make-shift wooden fruit stands, and I am happy to say I have not encountered one 711 since I got off the plane. I practice Turkish with the man who owns the variety store beside my apartment, as I go there at least twice a day to buy my new favourite snack: dried fruit and nuts. Life is good here and living in this city feels almost as good as falling in love.
At night, nets of tiny lights woven overhead light Istiklal Rd., and I spend much of my time watching the beautiful women parading through the square, or sipping coffee on one of the many cafe patios lining the street. The smell of roasted chestnuts and grilled chicken permeate the air, and there is a bakery display that I always stop at to admire the mountains of sugary baklava and the fountain of melted chocolate glistening in the window.

This is a place where it is hard not to be extremely romantic. The architecture, the beautiful people, the cafes and cobblestone, these things BEG to be romanticised, and of course I am in my element. I imagine myself, a lone explorer, wandering through mysterious neighbourhoods, discovering sensory gems around every corner, constantly looking forward to the next time I get lost in this big beautiful city.

xo Sandra