It’s official— I’m in denial. Every morning I wake up and click the heels of my olive colored TOMs hoping I will be promptly transported back into the desert. So far it’s not worked (maybe it’s because I need these), but I’ve never been one to give up that easily.
It’s anybody’s guess when I’ll progress through the other 4 stages of grief— anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance— but I must be moving forward a little, because I’ve finally realized it’s about time I post this blog.
We’ve been back almost two weeks and the first day was the most difficult. After a grueling 11-hour plane ride where I was stuck in the middle seat, we still had a 5-hour bus ride back to Boston. We pulled into Northeastern, right by Chicken Lou’s (Note to self: You graduated from Northeastern without ever eating at Chicken Lou’s…why did they even bother giving you a diploma?), zombie-like we all walked off the bus and grabbed our bags.
Some parents were there, siblings and roommates too, waiting to take us back to our real lives. The good-byes were hard and, on my part, half-hearted. I hadn’t yet comprehended that I’d wake up the next morning, in my own bed without the J-19 and A-13 near by.
Hannah was spending the night at my apartment and my roommate, Jess, picked us up. After hugs she asked us how the trip was. How was I possibly supposed to explain my feelings and experiences from the past four and a half weeks to an outsider? I mumbled something that ended in “amazing, life-canging” and said I was tired.
It was nice to have Hannah stay the night, I wasn’t completely ripped away from the comfort of the group. We woke up early the next morning and she went back to her apartment to drop some things off. We agreed to meet for coffee at Espresso Royal in an hour to finish up our blogs (clearly, I did that…) and make edits to our final articles.
“On the walk from my apartment to ERC this afternoon, things smelled weird, things looked strange, it was cold, it was quiet. I felt like I should be in a foreign land with my notebook looking for stories or tracking someone down. Every morning in Amman and Istanbul I woke up with a purpose. I was an international journalist. Now more than ever, being back in the U.S., I realize how much we actually contributed while we were away.
This situation should feel normal for me; it’s my typical routine. But I feel out of place, I feel a little bit like I’m in a dreamland. Everyone is absorbed in his or her work. There’s two guys playing chess, money being exchanged at the counter for huge mugs of coffee, a red-bearded boy making notes and gazing into the distance…no one is staring at me. No one is paying attention to me.
On my way here, no one asked me to tea, no one called after me Lady, lady!, Spice girl Spice girl. In fact, I almost got hit by a bike because I was looking at the ground, a defense mechanism I developed against the restaurateurs in Istanbul calling after me to Come, have drink, yes please, lady lady!
When I walked into the coffee shop I saw a friend and ran over to say hello. Why are you in this country?? she asked. You know, I really don’t know, I thought. We caught up, promised to hit Back Bay Yoga together, then I went to find Hannah.
The two of us have been sitting here for almost an hour now doing nothing productive, but drinking coffee and complaining about America and reflecting on our trip.”
I’m starting to settle back into life in America. It’s been good to catch up with friends, be back in the city that’s been home for the past four years, have a regular Internet connection, eat a chia bagel sandwich, have soy milk in my coffee, host dinner parties, read a good book on the dock by the Charles…but every time someone asks me about my trip, I give details and highlights, but have resigned to the fact that I’ll never be able to fully put into words the bonds, growth and experiences I had in Amman and Istanbul.
My last article from the trip is up. It’s bittersweet because I had such an amazing and life changing experience writing from another country and it’s heartbreaking that it’s all over. I promise a “final post” of sorts is coming. It’s been in the works since the five hour bus ride back from the JFK airport. I think I’m just reluctant to post it because, then…well…it will actually be over.
Have you ever noticed modern art museums are always located in industrial almost rundown spots? Think PS1 or the ICA. Well, today we visited the Istanbul Modern appropriately located near an overgrown mosque and an empty parking lot lined with Mac truck tires.
I can’t say I’m contemporary art’s biggest fan, but I enjoy it nonetheless. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp how certain conceptual pieces are considered art. But if I take my time and read all of the artist statements and gallery descriptions, I can usually appreciate the concept behind the 13-foot tiger shark in formaldehyde (thanks, Damien Hirst).
The museum wasn’t especially large, but there were several works of art that I really enjoyed. We weren’t allowed to snap photos so bare with me. I tried on several occasions, but was quickly tracked down by one of the security personnel and asked to delete my photo. Humiliating.
The following is a ranking of my favorite works 1-6.
1. Reading Glass: Charles Sandison
This was the most fascinating installation in the gallery and luckily I managed to sneak some illegal video footage. Sandison is a Finnish artist who digitally encoded the entire text of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in which appears a few words at a time in white dots on a black background. The flow sequence is shaped according to an algorithm that copies the process by which bacteria comes together, reproduces and dies out. The science and concept behind it is mind boggling. The white dots, representing the bacteria, cluster to form words from Darwin’s text then dissolve to allow the next set of words to develop. The font for the text was based on handwriting samples from Sandison’s seven year old daughter. I thought this was such a smart melding of today’s scientific and mathematical research and one of the most prominent texts in the science world.
2. The Nightwatch: Francis Alys
In this video installation, Alys released a fox, appropriately named Bandit, into London’s National Portrait Gallery and observed his behavior via the gallery’s security cameras. The fox wanders slowly through the galleries, completely puzzled and lost. Sometimes he would stop and sniff, occasionally backtrack, but never once does he stop to look at the paintings. He’s completely unaware of his surroundings, other than he’s lost and wants out. I don’t know that the work was intended to illicit laughs, but I couldn’t help but giggle at the sight of a fox wandering through an art gallery. The whole thing was sort of voyeuristic, a little Big Brother, but good enough to make number two on my list.
3. 1+1=1 Kutlug Ataman
Ataman works in a documentary style and asks subjects to unveil their identities through the telling of stories about their background and their experiences. In this video, Cypriot poet Neshe Yashin appears on two separate projectors set up perpendicular to one another as if she were facing herself. Simultaneously, two narrative lines describe her life in two separate parts. The first, her childhood as a Turk living in Cyprus moving to the Northern Greek region and second, her return to the Southern side as an adult. The double screen represents her cultural identity divided into two. I wish I had an hour to sit and watch this whole documentary (thankfully it had English subtitles), but alas video installations in museums are always impractical.
4. False Ceiling: Richard Wentworth
This was awesome and I’m totally considering doing it in my own room…whenever I actually stay in a place long enough to make it worth the effort…it was hundreds of books, suspended from a hallway ceiling by clear cable. They were Eastern and Western books representing and questioning to what extent the “authority of printed word is being eroded.” It fed into my obsession with old books and used book stores.
5. The Portrait of Alexandra: Kamazan Bayrakoglie
This piece was interesting in the fact that is was quilted portrait. The artist stitched together fabric in a paint by number-esque way to create a stunning portrait of a brown haired woman. She left the thread hanging at the ends making the piece look as if she was on a deadline she couldn’t meet (oh wait…is this autobiographical?).
6. Northern Smoke: Pae White
In and of itself, this tapestry— swirling smoke on a dark background—wasn’t extremely impressive after I found out it was machine made, but paired with Silver by :mentalKLINIK it was a great homage to the “smoke and mirrors phrase.” Silver is four panes of yellow and teal glass mounted across the room from Northern Smoke. While looking into the glass, the smoke on the tapestry begins to swirl and soften. Well done Istanbul Modern curator!
For my first story in Istanbul, I’m working on a piece about Kadir Alan who repairs antique rugs. To allow for proper context I wanted to interview an expert about the history of Turkey’s most famous export. After finding out the Vakiflar Carpet Museum was under renovation…big disappointment, but a carpet museum falling into my lap would be too easy, right? I did a little more digging and I found out there was a kilim exhibit at the Islamic Art Museum…BINGO!
I arrived at the museum walked through the obligatory security checkpoint then made my way to the ticket counter where a line was forming. A few people were flailing their hands, others were stomping and some were puffing audibly from their noses. Apparently the ticket scanner wasn’t working so no one was allowed into the museum. I was shuffled toward the front of the line and explained who I was and what I wanted. Anything I said about Turks being rude or pushy, I take back after today. Save one character you’ll meet later in the post, everyone was so helpful and accommodating to my ignorance.
Soon I found myself upstairs in the museum offices speaking to two lovely museum employees about scoring an interview with the curator. They thought this was a great project, but explained I needed permission from the Cultural Ministry. Apparently this is protocol anytime you wanted to interview someone in the cultural sector. Oy vey!
They explained the process and helped me draft a letter to the minister in Turkish. After I signed the letter, they gave me directions to “the big white Ottoman-style building on the opposite side of the complex.” Simple enough…
Not quite…It took me about 30 minutes to get myself to the correct building. I know I’ve only been here for about two weeks, but I though I’d be able to pick out an Ottoman-style white building (I seem to have no trouble when it comes to Ottoman-style jewelry).
When I came upon the building it looked less Ottoman and more Victorian, but I wasn’t about to argue. I was just happy to see the correct sign. When I walked in and presented my Turkish letter, I was shuffled to a garden courtyard on the side of the building where several women were sitting at a picnic table having chay. Their ringleader, a woman with badly bleached blonde hair (a common sight in Istanbul I’m afraid to report) and teal eyeliner that matched her sparkily teal shirt, grabbed my letter and gave it a once over.
She looked at me, looked back at the letter, her entourage laughed. They motioned over an English speaker and she explained I’d have to wait because the person who could authorize my request was out. I was welcome to sit and wait. My fate was in the hands of a woman who lit her Winner Slim Blues with a flower patterned lighter and spoke to her boss on a pink cell phone pulled from a fuzzy pink case sporting a small stuffed pink poodle…perfect.
I silently sipped my tea as the women continued to chatter. I was slightly paranoid they were making fun of me, but what could I do. They could have been saying anything for all I knew; I can barely even say “Hello” in Turkish (ignorant American alert).
Eventually, teal eyeliner returned with an official letter approving my interview request. I ran back to the museum and was told everyone was at lunch for the next half hour.
Now I’m sitting in a café treating myself to some apple tea and blogging before I go back to conduct my interview. Fingers crossed no more roadblocks.
Spoke too soon… and I’m an expert when it comes to superstition, I can’t believe I didn’t knock on wood. I went back to the museum after a 30 minute tea and blogging session and guess what? Apparently the woman I needed to speak to wasn’t out to lunch, but out at an archaeological site. She would be gone for the rest of the day and didn’t hold office hours on the weekend. Oh the perils of being a reporter.