I realized it may be unclear why I left Central Europe. Essentially the Schengen Area allows 90 days within a 180 period within its borders to a tourist. I have heard this is often easy to subvert, for instance by wandering off to Ukraine for a day and exploiting the relaxed border control with Poland, but on leaving via plane to the States I was bound to be checked by someone less relaxed as I’d depart from a more Westerly country. I might still escape with no ill effects but I didn’t think the possible five year ban was worth the risk. The cheapest flight out of Poland went to Bulgaria… so voila.
At the time I thought this was a marvelous (and hilarious) sequence of events. Hilarious because my style of traveling (decide where to go 1. based on cheapest ticket and 2. a day or so in advance, never more than a week) has conspired such that in my four months in Europe I never set foot in Spain, Portugal, France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Switzerland… And my impression from the States is that these countries are those Americans consider “Europe.” Maybe Austria? It was marvelous to me because I never studied Western Europe. I don’t particularly care for its architecture or history and by wandering east I’ve managed to make a little use of my classes. I was once both an architecture and a Russian and East European studies major, after all.
And so I’m in Turkey. A place I’ve studied some history of and a lot of architecture. Edirne isn’t directly served by Burgas so I had to make a bus connection in Kırklareli, and like the Lichkov/Miedzylesie crossing into Poland it was rather an adventure. I was the only one to disembark at Kırklareli. I’ve read, often, of the feeling of “stepping into a different world” and it was precisely that. Turkey always seemed very Western in my mind – I’d had this image that Ataturk basically changed it over-decade – so the reality was quite shocking. Horse drawn buggies. People of all shades – from the extremely dark-skinned “Indians” to olive skinned Turks to the paler Kurds and the very western Greeks. When I asked one of these lightest skinned ones right when I wandered around the dusty “bus station” (a bazaar of vans and horses and hawkers) in English and he turned to me blankly I realized I, too am often guilty of prejudice.
The overall feeling is a sense of life. Europe and America seem so dead, so staid after spending some days here. People run about all over the place, there’s chaos but no accidents, hawkers every two meters screaming “Edirne, Edirne, Edirne!” “İstanbul, İstanbul, İstanbul” or for their food while young men weave about with elegantly shaped mini vases of chai on tin platters. There’s a conspicuous lack of women and a disturbing abundance of unmanaged children. I am taken care of, led about by hands and smiles, and I have no feeling that this is for money but rather out of kindness. With the words of Turkish I memorized on the bus I find a man who takes me to Edirne-bound van. I have no lira, there’s no exchange office but this is no problem. The man at the counter very happily exchanges my fifty euro note for a hundred – a rate which actually nets me four lira. The bus costs just five so they lose a lira but they don’t seem to care. There seems to be no schedule for departure as the man remains outside the van shouting “Edirne, Edirne, Edirne!” until the seats are full.
A frighteningly speedy trip to the center later and I’m plopped right in the center. With my Turkish I make it to an Internet Cafe and dismayingly find my host-to-be has yet to respond. I message her to meet me at the Üç Serefeli at 20h but she never shows. Abandonment and bewilderment don’t really begin to cover my emotions at this time. Happily two young men on the way to their sunset prayer inform me of the cheapest nearby hotel and I hobble over to Anil Hotel, where I enquire the price in Turkish. Later I realize this saves me a lot of money. One of the owners reflexively responds (and I don’t understand) but another, who speaks english translates it for me – 25 lira/night. Two nights later a set of foreigners enquiring in English are told the price is 100 lira.
I spend nearly the entirety of the next day learning Turkish. It takes two hours to find a paper store, what with the language barrier and the oddity of the request. Every person I solicit assistance from surprises me with hospitality and a determination to find me someone who can help, if they can’t themselves. After the chaos of the previous day I spend the afternoon (8.31.10) in relative stillness, hiding from the heat and noise by drawing the interior of architect Sinan’s masterpiece: the Selimiye mosque. I start right after the midday prayer and finish after people file out from the afternoon prayer – and the many friendly passersby teach me the word and motion for “excellent” and “beautiful,” striking up conversations with me despite my constant “Pardon, anlamadım”s. It feels nice to be appreciated for my art, even if it’s not singing or monetary. I feel worth something again.
As I move to set up a pitch on the street I ask a policeman for the rules and he kindly suggests I start after eight. With some time to kill and having inquired the night before about the city’s iftar, I drop off my things and head back to the gardens before Selimiye Cami. And it’s crazy.
I arrive to a ginormous, seething crowd funnelling into the tented iftar space. Women and men in different lines. Two men introduce themselves to me and provide good company in the funnel: Amit and Arcan. After about ten minutes a huge altercation starts when people at the front of both lines protest some hold-up or some going on, calling the police over. After a moment a very unkempt man clutching large bags of trays or something runs out, chased by the police, with the scared look of a trapped mouse. He becomes aggressive or something (I’m unsure) and the police start shouting, one pulling out his gun. At this point I’m kind of terrified. They chase the man down the hill, warding him away with pepper spray while people from both lines run off to watch, highly entertained.
After this incident, perhaps due to the fear evident on my face, I’m helped through the line, ushered through by everyone – old men and young, well kept and not smiling as they make way for me and insisted I pass to the front. Arcan joins me at the table not long after.
I eat rather crazily, inhaling one tray of excellent food before an amused worker gives me another, which I devour with equal abandon. Arcan finishes quicker and sits watching and smiling at me – but this gets the attention of the workers, who usher him out of the tent. This confuses me and I start wandering about, asking for an explanation… which I can’t understand. After about half an hour I comprehend that they think he wants to go back to my hotel with me and that he’s a bad man. Either way, he’s departed and I head to the hotel, a bit scared and looking back to see if I’m followed, but also sad for him because I still believe he’s innocent of these accusations.
I set up on the main pedestrian street, Salaçlar Caddesi, about half way down where it narrowed. Two boys curious about my guitar prompted me to start and pointed randomly at my repertoire list to select Cinder and Smoke. They tired of it after the first verse and I played what I wanted to afterwards. The pitch felt magical. Light pedestrian traffic illuminated by festive ornaments. The shop owner across the way emerged to tip me, and every last passerby left me at least a smile or a thumbs up. A group of boys cluster by the benches and trash can and they tip me and offer the sympathy of eyes after my only negative interaction: a moped rider who tries to graze me as he speeds down. They abuse him hotly for me. By the end of my forty five minute first pitch I’ve gathered an audience and two young street vendors, who stand quietly nearby with their baubles.
I have no power in my voice – perhaps the inadequate nutrition or the exhaustion – but I don’t need it. For my second pitch, also, I sing at a moderate volume, all my favourite songs and not the popular ones and people listen. They slow or stop or sit and to my delight I get the strongest tips for my own songs. It grows windy and my case lies barely open before me, propped up on my water bottle but this doesn’t deters my tippers at all, who take the time to slot their coins into the crack and use the closeness to smile at me. One Moroccan traveller chats with me in French and I sing him Liberta. At the very end a cotton candy vendor insists I take one of his sweets as a tip, and as I leave my benched audience offers me compliments or that close-fingered gesture for excellence. I’m freezing but I feel warm and loved this night.
Earnings: 24,60 TRY + €4, 1.6 hours
Song of the Day: Purple Dress – Terrence Ho