Tuesday, March 22, 2016

ISTANBUL: AGAIN

ISTANBUL: AGAIN
In just three weeks, I return to one of the loves of my life, Istanbul. I have often felt like my relationship with this stunning city could be compared to an average guy (me) that falls deeply in love with a beautiful women that happens to be way out of his league (Istanbul). He gives up everything to be with her and they are together for a while.. but in the end he realizes it is never going to work... but they always remain dear friends. As cruel as she has been to me sometimes.. she has been equally charming, entertaining and generous.
When I left NYC in 2005, there were 2 cities in all the world I wanted to live in. Quito, Ecuador.. the second highest city in the world, close to the Amazon Jungle, Galapagos Islands and right in the middle of the Andes Mountains. The other city was Istanbul, Turkey with its 5000+ years of history, palaces, grand bazaar, grand mosques and home to my favorite dessert in the world, baklava. I had been madly in love with Turkish music ever since hearing Tarkan bing played in the Virgin Record Store in Times Square way back in 1999. I rushed to the in-store DJ and begged him to tell me the name of the band and to point me in the direction to buy the album. Tarkan is what initially put Istanbul on the map for me.. but after spending just a little time researching Turkey, I knew it was a place that I desperately wanted to visit.
In 2005, I moved out to the USA to Quito and loved every second of it. I had my own online marketing company that I started right before I left the USA, and though I moved to South America with only $35 in my pocket, by the end of my first year, I was renting the entire top two floors of a high-rise building in a trendy part of the city. I really wish I had taken more photos of this apartment. My bedroom window looked out over all of Quito and I could see the peaks of 3 volcanoes on the horizon. Regardless, after nearly two years, the stunning apartment, amazing Ecuadorian friends and even a very sweet relationship, couldn't satiate my desire to get to Istanbul.
I flew to Athens to meet up with my friend Guy Smith, and then sailed with him on a cruise into Istanbul.
Part of the reason I was so eager and excited to get to Istanbul at this specific time, was the promise of a position on the production team of a major, international sporting event. I honestly don't blame anyone that this major event never ended up happening.. the problem was though, that I was an absolute idiot and gave up all of my online marketing clients before I left South America. I was so sure and overly ambitious about this new opportunity.
So I had moved to the city of my dreams with a rapidly shrinking bank account, and no idea of what I was going to be doing to survive there. For the first 2 months I stayed on my friend's mother's sofa.. on the European side of the Bosphorus. During the days, I meandered through the ancient city and found a multitude of ways to entertain myself on a budget of just pennies a day.
The public transport ferry across the Bosphorus was a relaxing way to take a long view at one of the most breath-taking skylines of any city on Earth. If I needed a bit of caffeine, I would walk to the Grand Bazaar and browse through the carpet shops. It would only be a moment before one of the shop keepers would invite this complete stranger in for tea and biscuits at the back of the shop. Of course this was a sales tactic, but even though it always became instantly clear I was not buying a carpet, a second round of tea would still be poured and there was always nice conversation that would only end after my second cup of highly caffeinated turkish tea, and the inability to sit still any longer.
Around my third month in Istanbul, my friend took me to a house party in an amazing penthouse apartment, right on the Bosphorus river, with an amazing view of the Blue Mosque over the oldest part of the city. This party continued quite late.. so I went to sleep the guest bedroom. I woke up the next morning and everyone was gone.. even the owner.. so I just started cleaning up the apartment as there was still a mess about from the party the previous night.
Somehow, I lived in that apartment for the next 9 months.
I think that maybe my friend had put the deal together for me to stay there to get me out of his mother's house.. but the fact is, I never asked if I could stay.. and the owner never questioned why I had suddenly moved in (his English was very limited).. So every morning when I woke up, I cleaned the apartment. In return I had a bed to sleep in.. and occasionally the owner gave me a bit of cash to go out and have some fun.
I rarely needed to go out though. Almost every night there would be friends coming over and some sort of festivities, from mild to wild. In the morning I always had something to clean up, ashtrays to empty and dishes to wash.
Aside from the daily cleaning, I had nothing but free time. I was financially stuck, in a city I loved. Lots of time but no finances to do anything. The psychology of feeling financially trapped is a horrifying thing. It is hard to motivate yourself to keep going or to keep trying when you don't have the money to even catch the local bus. I could have been taking online classes or researching ways to get out of this trapped situation.. but the feeling of hopelessness had settled in and all I could do was accept that this is my life for the time being. My days were only filled with cleaning the apartment, sitting on the balcony and looking at the brilliantly turquoise Bosphorus, or walking the streets of Istanbul, exploring every street and alley until I had them memorized. If I wasn't walking the streets, I could sit on a bench on Istiklal Street or in Taksim Square, taking in some of the most spectacular people-watching on Earth.
Poor.. but so, so rich.
Almost a year to the day I arrived in Istanbul, one of my old online marketing clients contacted me to see if I would like a little work. I used that money to move to Bangkok.. which was a challenge, and a chance to learn humility on a whole different level.
Istanbul will always be a gem to me.. sometimes rough, sometimes polished, mostly beyond my budget.. but I adore it still. It is because of this year in Istanbul that I can firmly tell anyone that says all Muslims are evil and want to kill all Americas, that they are completely full of shit. In all of my time in Istanbul, and in every Middle Eastern country I have been to since (Afghanistan, Oman, Qatar, UAE), the people I met have never been anything other than kind and extremely generous.
April 15.. I get to spend a few days in my bohemian home of one-year.. ISTANBUL.. then begin my journey through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, brief stop in Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Faroe Islands, and Norway.
I feel like I am about to spend a few days with my ex.smile emoticon

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