Incapacitated in İstanbul, Day 2

So I felt pretty crappy on this day. Adding to that I was rather unsure where I was to sleep as my host to be, Sercan, was quite confusing about his couch availability and location. Murat gracefully let me leave my things packed up in a corner of his place while a cleaning lady came by and despite the rain and my abdominal discomfort, I decided to head back to the European side. Later, I heard from Murat that after fifteen minutes the rain cleared up in Kadıköy. I assume this was a direct result of its becoming rather taken with my looks and following me about all day instead, consistently dousing me in a friendly manner until the late afternoon.

A word about my shoes. If shoes they can be called. I’ve been traipsing around Europe in Sanuks, which are distinctly non-waterproof and essentially a disaster for hiking. I take some strange pride in this. They make for quite uncomfortable days squishing about with constant deluge, however. Now I think on it, it probably didn’t help the state of health much, either. Whether it was the rain or my health or just a general malaise, the entire day unfolded as a series of aiyas (minor disasters, Cantonese). I sought shelter in Sultan Ahmet but a holy day’s service prevented me from entering. The line for Aya Sofya stretched forever, enough to deter me. The Kapalı Çarsi was closed for the day. The Nuruosmaniye Cami was closed for renovation. Here’s a word of caution for any wishing to visit a city while it’s the European Capital of Culture: don’t. Judging by the many many signs and cloth facades stating “___ is being renovated with European Capital of Culture Energy,” visiting one such capital assures a not-seeing of the sights. In the tired end I settled on the mosque at the beginning and end of my circular wet wanderings about the historical bits, Yeni Cami at Eminönü and drew for a few hours, with the “Çok güzel”s and crane pose hand gestures.

After inhaling a suprisingly successful mint chicken bulgar concoction, Murat returned. I proceeded to feel terrible for not having a phone or computer, for my host-to-be’d been calling him and he’d waited until late for his appointment in hopes that I’d return. Happily, meeting Sercan in Göztepe went smoothly, and I was able to relax, somewhat, in his enormous flat with his two friends, celebrating the holiday with them by means of food and conversation. His older friend, a large, scholarly man of perhaps fifty years asked me how long I’d studied Turkish for and continued to voice his disbelief of my response of six days throughout the night, much to my delight. Due in large part to his encouragement, I spent most of the following hours teaching the young, seventeen year old Bülent English and learning Turkish phrases in return.

Bülent accompanied me into the city the following day (9.6.10). I brought my guitar with me and arranged to meet him, if he could spare the time, at Galata Kulesi at 17h. Now my guitar case with nothing but a guitar, capo and seed change inside weighs in at a healthy five and a half kilos. We docked at Eminönü not long after noon. You’d be amazed how heavy that weight gets after carrying it by the handle up and down hills for six hours. I’m now certain my sickness contributed to the horridness of the day, but the many events conspired against me such that even the gorgeous architectural moments, or the delight of being in a strange land flew out of my mind.

I walked somewhere around twenty kilometers, all quite miserable. Anuradha told me, earlier, not to spare the lows from my recountings if its for my readership – but now that I’m writing this I realize it’s also for me. I don’t want to go back to that frustration and despair. So I’ll just detail the facts. While Turkey seemed to have cooled into an instant fall on the first of September, the temperature rose once again this day, cresting well above thirty degrees with little breeze. Renovation energy reigned in full force: Süleymaniye Cami and the Fatih Complex all but closed off, with scaffoldings inside and out and plasterboard completely obscuring the roofs and walls, the tombs nearby closed as well. A few positives dotted in between – the gorgeous Valens Aqueduct in the valley between these two mosques, stopping in Şehzade Cami just long enough to draw the mihrab, marveling at the almost modern simplicity of the square based Sultan Selim Cami.

The main problem, beyond the absurd weight of the instrument I was toting everywhere, was the lack of sustenance. I’d assumed I could find a cheap kebap stand in the afternoon, but I learned later that the Fatih district is one of the most conservative of the city. Nothing was open (Ramadan). One man I asked, for all the restaurants boasted people sitting and chatting or preparing food for later, smiled broadly when I enquired and replied with a gaze to the heavens, hands cupped by the ears and an exultant “Allahu Akbar!” I found a liter and a half of water in a store but the plastic bag I was given to carry it with broke almost immediately, puncturing the bottom just enough to spray water as I walked but not enough for me to relinquish it. I had no change on me after that and despite asking some very helpful imams how to get a bus to Galata had to walk all the way there, spending my fifty kurus on a piece of pide bread when I found I could hardly move from hunger.

The walk to Galata seemed interminable. Across the bridge, wandering about near the outskirts of Beyoğlu asking directions as I’d forgotten my map and finally fording the absurdly steep hill to Taksim, where I met a pair of Brits who recommended I try a pitch on this main street. Halfway up it I knew it was exactly the wrong location – broad and teeming with people, amped groups even lost in the vastness and the street sounds. Nearly as crowded as Hong Kong without the side streets to share the load.

I found my way to the Tower, finally, and prompted by some curious youth started a pitch on one side of the entrance to the surrounding plaza. Absolutely fatigued, frustrated, I’d spent much of the last few hours screaming obscenities in the recesses of my mind, interspersing the f word before every modifiable noun or adjective, nearly tossing my hated heavy guitar over the bridge. Utterly alone. I knew just the song to begin with and thanks to Gosia, I knew Gary Jules’ Mad World quite well by then. I quieted the youth, no doubt looking for someone to make fun of. The previously vacant square filled with listeners – every bench taken, every curb. A young mother stayed for half my pitch with her young child, looking at me strangely but dancing with her child all the same.

My voice seemed stronger. Not full, no power, but I could hit the notes without straining so. I gave what I knew to be a heartfelt performance and I know my listeners appreciated it. A man from a group of Puerto Ricans sang loudly against, rather irking me, before coming up with a friendly face and requesting “Mi Viejo San Juan,” then telling me the key, Re Majeur and leading the rest in a verse and chorus. I spoke rapidly in Spanish to them, offered to try Ojalá. They tipped me well, leaving with waves and smiles. But all the others? Few looked me in the eye, those who did stared as if at some curio. I sang on for song after song to no tips. The girls across brought back friends. Strangers started up conversations by gesturing in my direction and indicating with that clawlike hand gesture how they enjoyed my sound. The boys sitting on the curb beside me spoke with me in Turkish between songs, requesting La Bamba or “Titanic” over and over. Bülent never showed.

The way back was even more fraught. Sercan had given me his keys and I was to be back at eight at the latest. My ferry had complications but I thought I could make it alright. Night fell and I hailed a bus to Göztepe. One old woman helped me know what stop to take but got of before me. A youngish man who got on after indicated my stop… but it was wrong. I’d no idea where I was. I asked around, remembering only the names of the intersecting streets where I’d met Sercan previously. After a while some shop owners headed me off in what proved to be the opposite direction. A few kilometers later I accosted a pair of women, one young and one old for help. One spoke English and told me I was quite ways off now. It would take half an hour for me to walk there, she thought.

Mostly I felt terrible that I might be locking Sercan out – and he’d no way to contact me. On the walk back I hailed a cab in desperation. He got me to the intersection for four and a half lira, the pittance I’d earned after lugging my guitar around, unfed in the heat all day. I ran back to the flat, twenty minutes late. I spent hours anxiously awaiting Sercan’s return until at around one I finally turned in, hating myself for being such a bother to my host.

There’s a touch of funny at the end of the night, however. Pissed off, tired, and feeling ready to give up entirely, I was disgusted enough to spend money on dinner. A Little Caesar’s across the street – my first American fare on the trip – was offering a Ramadan special. One large pizza for nine lira. It was pepperoni.

Earnings: 3,95 TRY, 40 minutes
Song of the Day: Mad World – Tears for Fears

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