Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

But unfortunately, we'll just have to celebrate Halloween in our hearts since it isn't a thing here. As an adult, I have never been that big on Halloween -- to me, it mostly just signifies that Thanksgiving is right around the corner -- but it's amazing what you miss when it's gone. Tonight, we'll just be going to the gym, and hopefully after that, I can convince Cagatay to watch the traditional Icabod and Mr. Toad with me, for his second year in a row. :)

The thing I really love about Halloween season is the profusion of pumpkins -- I always buy a couple of mini-pumpkins at the grocery store. But you don't really see whole pumpkins here. Last year, I went on a deliberate search and only came up with chopped pumpkin in the store or a man selling greenish-yellow ones out of the back of a truck. Alas. So this year, I took matters into my own hands and knitted one (pattern here). Very lifelike, no?

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Bayram and Republic Day

We've just wrapped up a glorious six-day holiday here in Turkey -- Eid al-Adha, the "feast of sacrifice" commemorating the faith that Abraham put into God by offering up his son, started last Wednesday, and then by chance, the secular Republic Day capped the holiday week off on Monday. We didn't do all that much, as we learned last year that trying to sightsee during the holiday is just an exercise in frustration.

The main Eid day was Thursday this year, and usually Turks spend that day visiting family and friends, and eating. We actually ended up going to a tennis event-- as it happened, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) 2012 Championships were being held here, and Thursday was the third day of the event. The top 8 women in the world had qualified, and on Thursday, there were three matches: Li Na versus Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka versus Serena Williams, and Sara Errani versus Sam Stoser. (Petra Kvitova wasn't playing in the tournament for some reason, which allowed Stoser in, and on Thursday, Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska just didn't play.) The coin-tosser was, oddly enough, Skyler Gordy from LMFAO. I never figured out if he just happened to be in Istanbul or they brought him in especially for the event, but I thought he was a good choice -- he seemed like a natually fun guy, it was amusing watching him dance around to his own music:

Our day wasn't very holiday-like, but it was fun. The only indication of Eid that I really saw, besides all the families walking around together, was a large animal pen where people could buy sheep. (In the Abraham and Isaac/Ishmael story, God sends in a lamb at the last second, and in keeping with that, Muslims around the world sacrifice livestock.) But since it was late in the afternoon, those sheep were probably safe, at least temporarily. I have yet to see any sacrificing, and hopefully I never will -- my friend told me that when she goes to visit her in-laws in Gebze on the train, you just see all this blood in the backyards that you pass. (Though it's probably not all animal blood -- one of the newspapers reported that 3,000 amateur butchers had been to the hospital before noon; no word on how many animals escaped, also a yearly custom.)

As it happened, Republic Day fell right after the bayram. (Republic Day is always on Oct. 29, whereas the religious holiday moves around based on a lunar calendar.) Unfortunately, it was marked by controversy as the Islamic-leaning government becomes more opposed to the secular state and its history. (It's such a complicated issue and worthy of its own post -- this is probably the simplest, and hopefully most neutral, way to say it.) Last year, the government cancelled all of the public Republic Day celebrations and said it was out of respect for the victims of the Van earthquake, which had just happened, though we did go to a large parade on Bagdat Street. This year, the prime minister allegedly justified the cancellations by saying that people wanted to protest, not celebrate. And so, on Monday morning in the Turkish capital of Ankara, when some 50,000 people tried to walk to Ataturk's tomb, they were initially blocked by police, who used pepper spray and water cannons. (At some point, someone in the government told the police to unblock the way, which in turn has caused a new controversy about a possible rift between the president and prime minister. Never a dull moment here, folks.)

So even though no public celebrations were allowed, there was still a huge fireworks display in Istanbul on Monday night. (How this works, I don't know; I was equally confused last year on how the parade managed to happen.) Cagatay and I went to see an early showing of Looper and had dinner at Kanyon, a mall near us -- where, interestingly, there was a woman handing out small Turkish flags at the main entrance -- and after, we made our way down to the waterfront. I'm not sure exactly where we were, but it was a park with a splendid view of the first bridge. First there was a light show, and then there was a HUGE fireworks display set to music -- I think Cagatay said it was 42,000 fireworks. It was amazing. :)

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Two Advertisements: Akbank Jazz Fest and İş Bankasi

There's generally nothing special about the television ads in Turkey -- they look just like ads in the US or Europe, and oftentimes they're dubbed versions anyway. But there have been two ads lately that I just love, so I thought I would share:

The first ad is for İş Bank's 88th anniversary. Most of the ad is just one take, as actor Cem Yilmaz moves through the various sets. He's speaking so fast that I can barely understand anything, but it doesn't matter -- the images translate. :)

The second ad is actually my favorite but because it's not on YouTube, I can't embed it into the post. :( But you should go to the link and watch it anyway, even though that's a pain, because it's totally worth it. It's for the Akbank Jazz Festival, on now until Oct. 21. In this ad, Istanbul just erupts with music -- it's really beautiful.

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Sunset over the Bosporus

Complain, complain, complain, that's pretty much all my last post was. So here's another thing I love about Istanbul: the old city. I am just always bowled over by the amount of history to be found here, that people have been living in this area and sailing these waters for more than 2,500 years. I especially love taking the ferry from the Asian side to the European side (or the reverse) at get a great view of Topkapi Palace and Aya Sofya, and everything always seems so calm and lovely from behind the ship's railing.

On this particular trip, I also saw for the first time some of the dolphins that travel through the Bosporus! I have heard conversationally a number of times that the dolphins had been nearly impossible to see in the last couple of years, mostly because of pollution, but that they're suddenly back, a sign that the Bosporus is cleaner. According to my trusty friend Google, it seems that they're also under threat due to overfishing in the Black and Marmara seas and noise from passing ships. Pin It

Out and About: Red Hot Chili Peppers concert

The longest walk of my life -- and after midnight
Yes, once again I'm blogging about something that happened a month ago. What of it? Admittedly, I have blog fatigue, I think mostly because it takes so darn long to write a post. But I also think it has to do with Istanbul and my general fatigue with this city. A friend of mine recently said you go through three stages when you move somewhere -- at the beginning, you love everything about it and can't get enough, but at some point, that turns to hate, where everything about your new city annoys the crap out of you. At some point, you move into acceptance, where you recognize both the good and the bad parts and accept both parts with affection. I'm not sure exactly where I am on Istanbul, but I'm thinking it's somewhere between stages two and three.

I offer the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert as an example. The concert itself illustrates one of the things I absolutely love about Istanbul -- there is just so much going on here at any given moment. This is a city you could not possibly be bored in. In addition to endless big-name concerts, there are so many music clubs, galleries, restaurants and museums, plus a good number of important historical sites and sports events. There is just always something to do in Istanbul, and I think that's awesome.

But then, sometimes the execution of said events makes me hate this city. Like this concert. It took place at a venue called Santralistanbul, which I had never been to -- it was easy enough to get there as there were shuttle buses from a metro station near enough to where we live. Everything started out well. But the actual concert was not at all enjoyable, all because the organizers in my opinion had sold way too many tickets for the (open) space. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were great, but it was so hard to enjoy the music because people behind us were constantly pushing and shoving to try to get closer to the stage. It was utterly relentless -- and this is not a country where people wait in line. In addition to that, we were standing on some sort of cobblestone, which got to be really uncomfortable on the feet. I just wanted to leave.

We ended up leaving during the encore hoping to beat the crowd, but we ended up getting stuck in another huge one trying to get out. They had fenced the venue off, leaving only a small gateway for entry/exit, and it created a huge bottleneck. (If there had been some kind of fire or panic, I shudder to think of what would have happened.) In the end, people started moving the fences out of the way, which really upset the security guys, but no one in the crowd really cared -- again, going back to that not-waiting-in-line thing.

When we finally got out into the street, the traffic was just jam-packed, leading to the other thing I really hate about Istanbul. The traffic is horrible at almost any time of the day, and it can be really difficult to get or leave somewhere if you're not near a metro or Metrobus stop. (We've already gone over how packed the Metrobus can be.) So, we ended up walking away from the venue, hoping to find a taxi. We walked and we walked and we walked -- for miles. We were actually in a fairly large group, just made up of people doing the same thing. Eventually, we made it to a Metrobus stop, and in the end, actually, it ended up being kind of fun, in the sense that it made for a little adventure and an unforgettable memory. But it still doesn't excuse how bad the traffic or how much better the public transportation links could be.

Phew, that felt nice to get off my chest. It's so hard to be sunny all the time. ;) Pin It