far too much writing, far too many photos

Stating the obvious: this page is in the middle of taking some time off. Posts continue on a private page — you can write for further information about that, if you are so moved, via the contact link that can be found near the bottom of the right-hand column.

Meanwhile, this journal’s photo-a-day page continues here.

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Vigilant:

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Next door to the teeny, funky hotel that served as my refuge during this visit, there sat a café. Owned by a 30-something Turkish couple. He spoke a little English, enough for us to connect. She spoke none, but gave me kind smiles and small plates of excellent chow. I stopped in there every day of my stay, late afternoon/early evening, after miles and miles of hiking around. Ordered a tea — the national drink, as far as I can tell — and something to eat. The joint looked out on a small park that wrapped around the grounds of a small mosque. Children played, locals sat drinking tea, chatting, smoking hookahs(!!) — I relaxed and watched, occasionally exchanging smiles with the owners or other customers. Appreciating the atmosphere, appreciating sitting still after a day spent on a forced march exploring, appreciating the local version of regular life.

The café was wider than it was deep, the side fronting on the tiny street consisting of nothing but glass — windows that opened and folded together to one side, completely opening the space indoors to the world outside. I loved that. The owners appeared to have a permanent claim on three or four parking spaces directly outside, filling them with small tables and seats that were almost always occupied by people talking, sipping tea. The park extended from there off to a berm that supported train tracks, commuter trains passing every now and then. Beyond that, out of view, lay a wide, busy multi-lane highway, and beyond that a park that extended along the shore of the Sea of Marmara, almost always busy with people. Having the water so close by gave the air a different feel, softer, less dusty than up the hill.

That block, with park, café, mosque, provided a point of delineation between touristy and residential. In one direction: traffic, hotels, restaurants looking to snag passersby, shops making a living off tourists. In the other: narrow streets, residential buildings crammed together, clothes hanging from lines, children. Much more fun to walk through than the residential area.

I drank more tea in my three days in Istanbul than I have in months. Tea served in small hour-glass-shaped glasses, the liquid hot and rose-colored. In bazaars and along commercial streets, men with trays like weighing scales (carried by holding the high point of a hoop, the tray nestled in the low point) carried glasses of tea, passing in and out of shops, leaving the sound of small spoons clinking against glass in their wake as businessmen fueled up on caffeine.

I avoided big restaurants in Istanbul. Needlessly, even bizarrely expensive, with males stationed outside the entryways whose job was to try and drag people in from the street — an approach that sends me off in the opposite direction. I stuck to smaller, more humble joints, places that made no attempt at a hard sell. And ate stupendously well, ’cause the food in Istanbul is wonderful. Never had a bad dish of anything — the food was always tasty at the very least, often far better than that.

Sunday afternoon, after a long day of wandering parts of the city on the Asian side — up hills, through sidestreets and alleys, commercial zones and residential areas — I found myself in a popular, crowded, noisy warren of mostly pedestrian streets, wall-to-wall restaurants, clubs, shops. Hungry and looking for a quiet place to sit down and feed myself a plate or two of something good. Finally found a hole in the wall, the few tables inside occupied by middle-aged men quietly working away at pretty attractive dishes of chow. Stepped inside, claimed the only available spot. No one spoke English or Spanish, I ordered by pointing, wound up with a big bowl of red lentil soup and a vaguely saladish dish that were so wonderful I had to take a moment to just sit and savor. (To drink: a cold glass of surprisingly satisfying ayran — I could easily get used to the Turkish diet.)

I adore good food. It’s a miracle I remain slender.

[this entry in progress]

España, te amo

I have been so bad — so very, very bad — at least as far as pasting updates to this sad excuse for a webpage goes. But that is, in part, ’cause I’ve been so very, very good in what passes for my real life. Which means busy, productive, out in the world, working. By which I mean snapping lots of pix of things most people wouldn’t normally be interesting in staring at.

Last weekend at this time, I was stumbling around Istanbul, a city as filled with life and interesting peepz as I’ve ever seen. Overfilled with peepz, actually, in certain areas, and I say that as someone who can be driven to foaming distraction by crowds so big and intense that simply walking at your own tempo becomes essentially impossible. Tons and tons of tourists, along with tons and tons of local folks. Toss ‘em all together, we’re talking about tons and tons and tons and tons of people. Seriously.

And not only that, like Naples, Istanbul is built on hills. And when I say hills, I mean San Francisco style inclines. The kind that go so well with broken down streets and sidewalks. Not that all the streets and sidewalks were a mess. But enough were to ensure that you would not only have to work off your lunch via massive expenditures of effort just walking ahead, but you’d fuck up your knees and ankles doing so. Kind of a built-in ‘pay a steep price for all pleasure’ mechanism. (Steep price — get it? Har!) The big upside: the city (both of them, actually) is so relentlessly interesting that suffering incurred getting from point A to point B didn’t really matter.

My interest is not really in the touristy stuff. I tend to head away from the main drags, down sidestreets. It doesn’t always pay off with big finds, but sometimes it leads to pure gold. Like the zone of sidestreets just off a main drag that consisted of nothing but shoe shops, the sidewalks and must of the narrow streets taken up with displays of footwear, lain out on stacks of cardboard boxes. All kinds of shoes, in seemingly endless variety – one display/shop specializing in children’s shoes, another in sneakers/faux running shoes, another in your standard super-ugly get-‘em-‘cause-they’re-cheap rubbish, another in boots, and on and on. The workers and shop personnel all male – not a woman to be seen, most middle-aged, working away at emptying out cardboard boxes, setting up further displays, tossing empty boxes into huge mounds that someone else flattened. Now and then a car or van made its slow way through the scene, causing serious logistical headaches for everyone.

Fascinating, though I didn’t linger — I had no intention of buying anything. I was there to wander, take pix, stop now and then for good food/delicious liquids, with no desire to accumulate more stuff that I’d have to carry around, cram into luggage, haul back here.. Which is actually pretty much my general mode of being these days — not interested in accumulating stuff, which means I generally disappoint retail folks trying to make a sale. Ah, well.

[continued in following entry]

España, te amo

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