Overheard in Georgia

I just returned from an eventful long weekend skiing in the Caucasus mountains with Laure and the rest of the Kiev crew. My lovely travel partner Anna W has saved me the trouble of actually having to write about this by giving a detailed blow-by-blow of the trip here.

In place of a coherent narrative, I will allow you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions about the country based on a playlist of songs we heard on our six day misadventure.

Teeny weeny string bikini – Gunther & the Sunshine Girls (playing in the mashrutka (minibus) between Sarpi, the Georgian border town, and Batumi, Georgia’s main port on the Black Sea)

Oooh… you touch my tra-la-la – Gunther & the Sunshine Girls (man’s cell phone ring tone, at a roadside stop on the way to Tbilisi)

She’s Got Issues – Offspring (on the ski slope in Gudauri. One of my friends in middle school once
put this on a mix tape he titled ‘Gill in Song’. Teenagers can be blunt.)

Smooth – Santana (on the ski slope. Another song I haven’t heard since middle school)

Joy to the World (in the restaurant of the nice hotel where the Kievians were staying)

It’s the End of the World as we know it – REM (immediately after ‘Joy to the World’)

Oooh… you touch my tra-la-la – Gunther & the Sunshine Girls (on the ski slope, 2nd day)

F*** a dog in the ass – Blink 182 (on the ski slope, 2nd day)

In short, an extensive list of the late 90s pop-rock and the sexually explicit. I’m still trying to figure out how to craft this into a good metaphor for my time in the country.

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A beautiful day in the neighborhood

You never know what you’ll find when you walk out of an apartment in Istanbul. Outside my apartment it’s a pretty safe bet that Dirty, the overgrown puppy that someone in my building leaves food for, will be waiting for a quick scratch behind the ears.

Dirty is a stray and so you can’t fault him for living up to his name; neither can you resist petting him when he fixes his tan eyes on you. Thankfully, most mosques have outdoor sinks for washing up, and there are three mosques on my way to work.

Further down the street, I might run into the day’s catch being delivered to Meyra, a trendy restaurant recently reviewed in the NYTimes’ 36 hours in Istanbul (the picture above is from the associated slide show – and happens to be the top of my street). The fish coat the back floor of a van – no packaging, no ice – and the cook picks from the silvery, twitching mess by hand.

There’s a fruit stand right after Meyra with an owner who greets me with a gracious ‘Gunaydın’ (good morning) every day, even though I never buy from him. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch the moustachioed farmer with a donkey-cart full of vegetables at least once a week.

Next stop is the ATM, which dispenses money in four currencies. This is useful when you are paid in pounds, pay rent in euros, pay the credit card bill in dollars, and need Turkish lira for day-to-day expenses.

Last week, I came out of my apartment to find a tank and half a dozen policemen with automatic weapons. My first thought was: how did they get the tank up the steep streets of Cihangir? I’ve gotten used to the police and their fancy toys – the tanks are topped with water cannons instead of real ones, the automatic weapons often fire tear gas – but wasn’t used to finding them so close to home.

This morning the police were gone, but something else was different. It’s a cloudy day, like many this winter, and no warmer than usual, but the air has the unmistakable tang of spring in it. Here in Istanbul people associate seasonal weather with the seas which surround Turkey: Black Sea winters, bleak and rainy; Aegean springs and falls, with their calm and sweet-smelling breezes; and Mediterranean summers where the sun turns all the colors brilliant. The groundhog may have signalled another six weeks of winter back in the US, but we’re not waiting for the equinox here in Turkey – reason number 13,248 I’m glad I moved here.

Apologies for going radio silent. January is a dark, cold month not worth recording, save for an epic visit from my brother Robert and my friend Cory and the consequent road trip through southwestern Turkey, and a weekend trekking through slush with my favorite Romanian Greek English Parisian… but those are stories for another day.

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