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Turkey Part II – The Turkening

by on May.31, 2009, under Uncategorized

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On my final day in Istanbul, I met up with my friend Caglayan, a puppeteer who lived for a long time in Brattleboro (my home town in VT) before he moved back to Turkey in 2005. He lives outside of Istanbul on the coast, but happened to be in town that week because of a puppetry festival and was staying with his girlfriend Nur.

So I boarded a ferry across the Bosphorus (Nur’s apartment being on the Asian side of Istanbul). All of the touristy stuff (as mentioned in my previous post) plus most of the business and night life, is on the European side of Istanbul, so I hadn’t even made it to the Asian side at all yet. That was a wonderful journey – I got to see some of the shipping port, which is massive, and filled with container ships and other oceanbound traffic. It was very cool to see the more regular day-to-day side of the town. Caglayan met me at the dock, and on the way to Nur’s place we stopped to pick up something for lunch – a sort of egg pastry pie (similar to a quiche, although I gather it is boiled rather than baked). Then we arrived at the apartment and I was introduced to Nur, a charming lady who spoke very little English (although far more than I spoke of Turkish!) Together they prepared and served an elaborate lunch, which involved all sorts of veggies and meats and cheeses in addition to the egg pie. It was delicious!

Meanwhile Caglayan and I caught up on old times, with him pausing frequently to translate for Nur, and to translate her questions for me. I learned that he had just started doing puppetry again after several years of other obligations (first he had to help fix up his parents’ house in the islands of Turkey, then he had to serve his time in the army). I was glad to hear he was finally getting back to his art.

He’s an exceptional puppeteer — he truly brings his puppets to life, so you forget that he’s even there, and start believing the puppets are their own creatures. He showed me a video of his latest performance, a beautiful piece he’d performed several times in Brattleboro where a rock man walks around on a pile of rocks, stopping to listen to each one. Then all the rocks float up into the air, and so does the man, and the terrain they were in is revealed to be a giant ear. It’s quite magical to watch.

Likewise he was curious about my video art, especially as he’d been trying to explain it to Nur and had been unable to (it’s quite difficult to explain without being able to see it 🙂 ) Luckily I had videos of some of my more recent work up on Youtube, which I played for them. (If you’re interested, see here and here, and here are a bunch more. )

After that, they took me on a tour by car around the East side of Istanbul, and out into the suburbs, stopping frequently at aquariums. You see, Nur has a tank full of various types of pet fish, and apparently often has two or three fish funerals in a day, so she’s always on the lookout for new ones. Only one fish funeral occurred the day I was there, and she didn’t end up buying any new ones, but it made for some interesting side-journeys.

It was great to see a local perspective on the place, something it’s very hard to do usually as a visitor. During our meanderings, we also acquired a large board to be crafted into a table for a room they were converting into a workshop.

After driving all over the place and exchanging a few more stories, we went back to the apartment. Nur began preparing an epic fish dinner while Caglayan and I began construction of the workbench. Soon dinner was on, and it was even better than lunch – roast salmon, delectably seasoned, and a spicy cheese and seafood dish that was just incredible.

As we ate we watched Eurovision, a yearly event where every country in Europe submits a musical act to compete against each other, and people from every country call in to vote on their favorites. You’re not allowed to vote for your own country, to prevent bias, but of course a lot of countries end up voting for their neighbors anyway. Apparently it’s a huge deal over there, although I’d never heard of it before. It was quite entertaining, and it was fun to see how the various countries’ acts differed, and how they kept some elements of their native culture, while other elements were ceded to the Monoculture (most of the songs were mostly in English, for example).

It was quite fun to watch, especially hearing the Turkish take on the whole thing from Nur and Caglayan. In the end the Norwegian guy won hands down, which was justified, as his was the most catchy song, and the only that had a fiddle in it.

The next morning I bid a fond farewell to Caglayan, regretting that I didn’t have more time to spend visiting. I’ll return to Turkey sometime, there’s so much left to see — I only saw Istanbul, didn’t see any of the countryside or the islands.

The next day was my flight to Bangkok. It felt like a very long day, but it was the shortest night I’ve ever experienced, lasting only about 4 hours. Then I landed in Bangkok – more on that in the next post. I’m finally catching up here… 🙂

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