Thursday, June 11, 2009

On A Boat!

Last weekend was Lars’s birthday and the “crew” had been trying all the previous week to plan a boat party. After the first boat fell through, a second boat was confirmed and on Saturday we were on a boat.

We all met at the Ortakoy docks and were eventually led to our party boat. Our boat was a pleasant surprise and was outfitted with tables, cushions, two decks, a bathroom, a kitchen, and there were even tablecloths on the table with silly centerpieces fit for a wedding. The thirty or so of us piled on to the boat as it revved its motor for a Bosphorus cruise.

Fun broke out everywhere. I mean we had a double decker boat all to ourselves for four hours with a captain driving all the way up and down the Bosphorous (well maybe not all the way, but a long ways), drinks abound, people dancing on a rocking boat, musicians, a stereo system… fun times were had by all.

Tomorrow is my last day at the agency. We shall see what happens.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I am really behind on my blog. I swear I will post soon. The task of blogging about 3 weeks in one post is rather daunting and I don't really want to leave too much out.
Posting coming soon I promise.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Land of Canals, Bikes, and Devious Behavior

I went to Amsterdam last weekend.

Amsterdam is awesome.

I arrived late in the evening on Queen’s night (evening before Queen’s Day) and had to drag my suitcase through a large crowd of raucous revelers. I found my friend Doug and he led me through the crowd to his apartment that he shares along with my friend, Bharat. They are currently at the Greenhouse program in Amsterdam through Miami Ad School.

They were having a bit of a party in their house and I was glad to join in, meet new people, and get settled in. Later in the evening, we went out to join the revelry and we went by a club that actually had some commercials the students had done, showing on their large screen TVs for some drink that supposedly has pheromones in it. My fellow students simply called it a “sex drink”.

The evening blended into the next day as people continued to party into the early morning and on into the afternoon. There was techno blaring from every store and bar, out in the street. Who knows what kind of mischief was happening in the streets and homes of Amsterdam that day. One could have drowned in orange. Orange is the queen’s color and since it was Queen’s Day, well, you get the idea.

Orange confetti trapped in one of the many tram rails of Amsterdam

I was actually mostly a good girl and had an early evening (for Queen’s Day) and was able to wake and head out to the Van Gogh Museum in the morning. I loved this museum. There was a special exhibit on Van Gogh’s twilight and evening inspired paintings. He was obsessed with capturing light in the dark, the color that exists in the night, the stars. He didn’t start painting until he was 27 and then painted over 800 paintings in only 10 years until he shot himself at the age of 37. It was really great to see a whole museum dedicated to one person’s work because you could really get a sense of their process, how they saw the world, what they struggled with and how they overcame (or never overcame) their obstacles. For an artsy person like me, I couldn’t ask for more from an art museum. I also loved seeing all the people entranced by Starry Night. Most would just wander about giving each painting less than 5 seconds, but people would actually sit and stare at this one. Starry Night really is a treasure.

Starry Night and its audience

After the Van Gogh Museum, I took a short walk to the Vondelpark; a large park that has a lot of promise, but at that time was in a bit of disarray. (I made a point to take pictures that were deceiving.) I guess this last winter took a toll on the park and there were more patches of brown than green, also they seemed to be in the midst of construction and there were big piles of dirt, machinery, and building materials strewn about. Queen’s Day had just occurred the previous day and thus left orange bits and plastic bottles about. The park is rather enormous though, so there were enough pretty parts to enjoy the walk from the Southwest point to the Northeast point of the park. And there was no bit of disarray that was going to deter the people of Amsterdam from going to the park to hang out on a Friday afternoon, quite the popular place.


I then walked and walked and walked. I went by the Bureau Pindakaas Advertising Agency where Bharat and Doug were being kept at the time. It’s a nice place, in a great big old building with many rooms and floors. I searched for food and then ended up having a snack at the pub next door to the apartment.

When Bharat and Doug were finally done “doing time” for the day, we met some of their friends and went out to Chinese food, then a bar, then a coffee shop… but they didn’t have any coffee.

The next day, the boys were free from their labors, so we could do a little sight-seeing together. We got some Heineken and took a canal boat tour. The weather was gorgeous and the boat comfy, couldn’t have been better.

On a boat!

When the tour was done, Bharat and I had run out of Heineken, so we went to the “Heineken Experience”. The “Heineken Experience” is a big silly throw up of advertising and brainwashing rolled into an historic brewery. They felt they needed a live speaker, and interactive program, signs, pictures, demonstrations, art work, movies, and even a “ride” (the ride attempted to give you the experience of being a Heineken beer, sigh) to show you how Heineken beer is made. After the “ride”, there were little recliner pods with TV screens running some Heineken commercials from 1955 to 2003 (this made me assume that they haven’t updated the feed for 6 years), right above your head. So you looked like you were in a little alien brainwashing pod. When you had had your fill of the pod, you could move on to a section that showed you all of the Heineken promos in sports and for sporting teams. Then the ultimate advertising barf: a big room with 360 degree big screens and comfy couches and dance club lighting, so you could watch a larger than life montage of Heineken action montage. I don’t know how a beer could necessarily have an action montage, but that’s the best way I can describe it.

Finally, they let us drink beer. The last room, a bar, with nothing but Heineken, which at that point was absolutely amazing because I now no longer have any desire to drink any beer other than Heineken ever again… just kidding.

Bharat and I met Doug for dinner and then others for more beer. We went to a pub called Gollem, that specializes in, you guessed it, beer. Gollem mostly carries Belgian beers and I had La Chuffe, La Cuvee De Trolls, and one other, (insert French word here) Blonde.

Me enjoying my French Blonde

There was something missing from this trip… No, not that. On the way home, we walked through the red light district.

Elinore Eaton’s description of the red light district:

Like an historical museum with all the dead animals enclosed in glass cases posed to imitate life.


Like a pet store.

On my last day, I ate a pancake. It was delicious.

Monday, April 27, 2009

It Takes Three Weeks

After the cold movie set and lunch, I went home for a nice nap and dinner and then it was out again to meet Jennet and her sister, Malynda. Well, I was really just going out to meet Malynda and watch Jennet in concert. We went to a club called Babylon near the ever-popular Istiklal Cadessi. Jennet was nice enough to put Malynda and I on the guest list. There was a multi-media show with an artist who was drawing the whole time with her work projected on one of the walls. She would draw one thing and then erase some of it and change the rest into something else. There were also extensive light and laser shows. There was a singer with an electric tanbur (like a Turkish guitar with a long, narrow, neck; I think that’s what it was) and a somewhat punk rock voice. Accompanying this star of the show were a couple of drummers. dancers, singers, and spoken word artists. There were two Japanese guest belly dancers. Jennet and another woman sang and danced. The place was incredibly crowded, but as it got a bit later (Thursday night) the crowd eased up a bit. I left just in time to grab one of the last Metro rides home.


The next day, I went to work. Though a little groggy, I made it through. The day before, I made contact with my old friend from music camp and San Francisco living, Lars. I gave him a call at the end of my workday and he invited me to come over to his house for a barbecue with him and some of his friends.

I found his place in Harbiye and was proud of myself for finding it without having to call him on the way. (No drastic getting lost.) I met his friends, a bunch of really great folks who are all here teaching English, and we got to eating and drinking. After the meal, and when the night got too cold, we all moved inside and were serenaded by some of Lars’s violin playing. Always impressive!

The Fiddler

But the night was just beginning.

We found a taxi and went to some restaurant near Istiklal (I think) where there was supposed to be a really great clarinet player. When we made it to the top floor where the restaurant was, the band was taking a break and we found a great VIP table in the middle of the room. Soon, the band was back in business and toes were tapping. I even got up and danced, and at one point we all did some line dancing. It was a lot of fun.

Yay for clarinet!


When the band finally finished, we were soon off to a dance club somewhere to drink more beer and dance to more tunes. Though it was way on top of some five-story building, all the windows were covered over with thick plastic curtains and everyone was smoking as usual. Like a nice disco smokehouse. I’m just learning to shrug my shoulders to the fact that all of my clothes will reek of cigarettes and my throat will feel like I am catching a cold for the first half of the next day. It didn’t matter too much though because we were all having so much fun dancing late into the night.

The rest of the weekend was spent quite quietly, and my little house saw a lot of me, with just a few little outings here and there. It’s not too fun to go sightseeing by oneself and everyone I knew seemed busy for the most part. The highlight of the weekend was when I attempted to watch a Turkish burned DVD on my computer and halfway through, the video froze up but the audio kept going and from that point on the video was approximately thirty seconds behind the audio. Bummer. I had to stop it before I went crazy from the off audio. I hope I can finish that move some day. It is called “The Riddle” and the first half is pretty good.

I think it takes about three weeks to get used to a place, meet some cool people, learn a bit of the language, figure out some basics of how to walk and dress, find some foods you like, and feel comfortable, get your shoulders out of your ears and lose the “somebody’s going to steal my wallet” look that most tourists have. Find a way to care less about fitting in and more about appreciating the fact that YOU ARE the foreigner. You are the fricken weirdo. This is funny, because the American vacation is approximately two weeks and I think most people split that up into two one week vacations anyhow. Most Americans don’t even travel out of the United States… ever. (Check out this page). Soooo, most of us U.S.ers aren’t exactly practiced at it. Thus, the terrible stereotype that Americans have as tourists, I think. I question whether anyone really learns anything about a place they visit for a quick “ooh aah”. Sure, they can see a lot of cool stuff, but I think travel exists in more than just seeing stuff. If all of our travels are spent in the “wow, everything is so weird and foreign” stage, then we may lose the experience of being the foreigner, the stranger, in a regular land.

So, I am now at the stage of weirdo acceptance and to be quite honest, it fits me just fine.

Back to work.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Movie Stars

I met a couple of new friends today, Jennet and Malynda, courtesy of Elizabeth Strong. My friend, Elizabeth has been to Istanbul several times and introduced me to Jennet via email. Yay for the internet!

When I got in touch with Jennet, she invited me to be an extra in an independent film that her friend was working on. I agreed and met her early this morning. We rode the funicular to the Bosphorous and crossed by way of ferry. It was my first time to the Asian side and though it was freezing all day, it was a fun trip. We got to the set on the edge of the water and were instructed to take refuge from the cold in a nice café down the street until the shoot was ready. I sat and met with the other extras, a Polish couple who are exchange students in Istanbul right now, and a Turkish woman named Yasmin who could easily pass as an American including her English (though she kept saying how bad her English was and I kept assuring her it was quite terrific). When we were called on the set, we stood around as only the best extras can do until they got the shot and were then taken to a little lunch.

We were supposed to be tourists in the movie, listening to a little speech from a tour guide about “The Maiden Tower”. Constantine built the Maiden Tower in the middle of the Bosphorous many years ago. He built it to basically jail his daughter, so no one would ever see or touch her. One day, she received a basket of fruit that included a poisonous black snake that killed her. Bummer. I guess that’s what you get for being over-protective. (I found out later that the short film is about a love affair that mirrors this relationship.)

The Maiden Tower

I thought we did a pretty good job.

Movie Stars

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another Finish Line Crossed

The finish line was crossed at 5:30PM on Friday. Since this is also the time the downstairs bar opens up, people didn’t actually leave the building until around 8:00PM. Many people, including myself didn’t even leave their computers until well after 6:30PM.We sat around chatting and drinking beer, celebrating the end of the workweek. Fine for me, I am all about the reward system; work hard, reward for your hard work, repeat.

I went home that night looking forward to a long night of sleep; a full morning of sleep too.

Eventually, on Saturday I did leave the house to meet Martha for some sightseeing. We met up at the funicular and transferred to an over-crowded tram to the Beyazit Mosque. However, we couldn’t go traipsing around a mosque with empty bellies.

We went in search of Erenler Cay Bahcesi. The guidebook said it was a good place for tea. It didn’t say it was a great place for tea and water pipes, aka hookahs. Definitely going back here with Robin. It was the kind of place you could lose a couple of hours to smoking flavored tobacco and drinking tea.

Erenler Cay Bahcesi

Though Erenler Cay Bahcesi had lovely ambience, it didn’t have any food, and one cannot live on tea alone. (Although, I’m sure there’s someone out there who has tried.) Martha and I found a great place on the bustling street with shaded tables and excellent people watching opportunities. We shared a Shepard’s salad and Iskender. Iskendar is a dish with kebap cooked over tomato sauce soaked bread served with a side of yogurt. (My tummy really likes all this yogurt eating.)

So, with full tummies and a caffeine buzz, Martha and I wandered through a piece of the Grand Bazaar on our way to the Beyazit Mosque. I can’t understand why anyone would buy anything there, especially jewelry. But there they were, rows upon rows of jewelers with “authentic” diamonds. After walking down the jeweler street, we walked down the fake designer street, er, I mean really good deals on Dolce Gabbana purses and Puma sneakers. You can’t even make eye contact with a key chain without being harassed. As it is with many street vendor situations, I can’t understand why they won’t just leave you alone and let you look at their stuff. If only they would understand that if I were free to look and decide to buy or not to buy of my free will, I would more likely buy something. However, if I know that when I look I will be harassed and have objects shoved under my chin that I would never have an interest in purchasing even if they handed it to me for free, I probably won’t look at all and never buy anything. I’m more likely to just try and walk through, eyes staring straight ahead, having a conversation with my friend as though deaf to the rest of the world, than attempt to deal with someone yelling “hey lady, nice jeans right here” into my face. Eh, it’s universal though, what to do?

Into the Grand Bazaar

Martha and I made it through the bazaar and into the Byazit Square where the mosque stood. The Byazit mosque has 24 little domes on top of its roof, surrounding a little square courtyard and a central fountain.

The Courtyard of the Byazit Mosque

You have to take your shoes off before you go inside the building and carry them around with you in a plastic bag. (Guess there’s no fear of someone stealing your shoes.) As women, we also had to cover our heads. I just carry a scarf around with me wherever I go, so I am ready for female duck and cover action. The interior was dark and spacious, beautiful calligraphy on the walls and ceiling. What was most impressive to me was the lighting. Hanging from the ceiling by infinite wires were simple glass containers which each held a light bulb. I’m sure at one time, they held candles, but that time has long passed. There were hundreds of them hanging at the same level in concentric circles throughout the building; so simple and beautiful.

Lights of the Byazit Mosque

It was soon time to head back home to get ready for the evening. I had a birthday party to get ready for!

I met some friends from work at the Taksim station and we walked up and down Istiklal Street looking for the restaurant where Abril’s birthday party was to be held. Apparently, they had forgotten the map to the restaurant. This wouldn’t have been a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that Istiklal is one of the most crowded streets that I have ever walked down in my life. So, we walked all the way down Istiklal and when we got to the end my friend, Melta, finally called the birthday girl only to find out that the party was at the end we had started on. So, back we went until finally, we found the restaurant.

We had a big table for twenty something people filled with mezze and rakı, wine and bread, whatever you wanted. We filled up on mezze and got dizzy on rakı (a popular Turkish liquor that tastes much like Ouzo). We had different main courses after the mezze and I got Çipura, which I later found out is Gilthead Seabream, a white fish, grilled whole and served with lemon. The dinner concluded with singing and a big pink birthday cake.

Then, it was off to the clubs. We went to one place where they had horrible, loud, industrial music that sounded more like machines dying than music. After standing there for a few minutes, we discovered we were supposed to go upstairs another floor. We went upstairs and there was some fun old style funk to bounce around to. After a half hour or so, we moved on to another club that was so crowded, you had to push through to the bathroom like you were at the front row of a rock concert. And the music? 1950’s American rock n’ roll. No kidding. The hits that night were Rockin Robin, La Bamba, Wake up Little Suzie… I’m serious. And people were dancing like they might as well have been listening to techno.

Around 2 or 3 in the AM, my feet started to complain as well as my eyes. Apparently, people around here like to go out till around 4 or 5 in the morning, but I was dog-tired and ready for bed long before then. I had a friend help me find a cab and give proper directions and made the long journey home. Through stop and go traffic and getting lost twice, I finally made it hope bright and early in the morning, hehe.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


If you really want to ruin your day, I highly recommend seeing "Knowing" with Nicholas Cage.Don't get me wrong, the brutally realistic special effects and heart-wrenching displays of the futility of life are quite impressive. But, looking around, I don't think anyone left the theatre feeling any amount of good. The reviews are mixed. Maybe I'm just sensitive, I take some movies too seriously, but I'm left at the moment feeling a little screwed up in the head and needing a beer.

I just wanted to share.

I have a tradition of "going to the movies when I travel" and felt tonight was the night. The theatre is HUGE, brand new, and in one of the third or fourth biggest malls in Europe They eat popcorn in Istanbul, just like everybody else.

Did I mention that every day I walk through Kanyon, one of the fanciest malls I have ever seen, on my way to work? It's a different mall, two subway stops away from the big mall I just saw my movie at. Also, if you walk through the mall near my work and walk two blocks you can go into another huge mall called Metrocity. All several stories with many, many escalators.

Westernization... do your worst.