Ice

That’s what the hotelier told me first thing this morning — “Ice! Pure ice.”

Sultanahmet is beautiful right now and there aren’t that many tourists out. So I’m going to see if I can sneak into Hagia Sofia (Ayasofia in Turkish) after posting this.

I was supposed to give a workshop today on English CV-writing, for an NGO I’ve been doing some English proofreading for called Afkar. Unfortunately it was postponed because of the snow.

The organisation is expanding. Yesterday I checked out the space they’ve leased in Fatiah, a central district of Istanbul.  They are planning and running various classes — I am hoping to attend beginner’s Arabic at some point in the future.

dsc_0050

We had Syrian for dinner afterwards. Why ever go back to normal rice?

img-20170106-wa0015

If you click on this link it should send you to a video news report on Afkar’s most well known work, an orphanage in Eastern Aleppo (they evacuated the children to Idlib province recently).

For dessert we had probably my favourite Syrian food, Halawet El-Jibn, حلاوة الجبن. White cheese pastry rolls with pistachio and sugar drizzle. My new friends let me have the lion’s share of what is pictured. I didn’t hesitate too much.

dsc_0052

 

 

Snow

dsc_0056

When I stepped out of the restaurant the snow was falling. Since I learned, two weeks ago, that the Turkish word for snow is kar, I can’t help thinking of Ka and Orhan Pamuk’s book.

Our party broke up and I was left to take the tram home. Cars were logjammed over the tracks, meaning no tram could pass. The wind was suddenly fierce. I was suddenly underdressed. Trams in both directions were stationary as were the cars intervening their path. The visibility dropping, the source of the obstruction was abstract.

Then emergency vehicles rushed up the tracks only to be halted by the gridlock. Now this was a sight, fluffy snow blown horizontal by cutting wind, three ambulances and five police cars sirening to no avail, trams backed up in both directions and endless honking cars unmoving.

I can see the Blue Mosque from the window of my new hotel room. It was $25/night. That’s what prices in low season have come to in Turkey.

The man who checked me in is from Egypt. He lost his job for a British Petrol company when Egypt nationalised the companies a couple years ago. He came to Turkey in hopes of a better economic situation. Since the attempted coup tourism has been very bad, he tells me, and it has only gotten worse and worse since the attacks. He has a family back home. Fluent in French (his second language), Arabic, and English, he says he has no interest in learning Turkish, “That’s a matter of opinion I guess,” he laughed when I said it was an easy language to learn.

There are Russians spending Christmas here in Sultanahmet despite recent events. Many of those who were snapping snow photos with me in the late hours were Russians.

There is much more, but I’m up early tomorrow. This from Snow (remember, our protagonist Ka is snowed into staying in a parochial albatross-town of his past):

Outside, the snow was falling thicker and faster than ever; just the sight of it made Ka feel lonely. He was also worried that the westernized world he had known as a child might be coming to an end. When he was in Istanbul, he had returned to the streets of his childhood, looking for the elegant old buildings where his friends had lived, buildings dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century, but he found that many of them had been destroyed. The trees of his childhood had withered or been chopped down; the cinemas, shuttered for ten years, still stood there, surrounded by rows of dark, narrow clothing stores. It was not just the world of his childhood that was dying; it was his dream of returning to Turkey one day to live. If Turkey was taken over by a fundamentalist Islamic government, he now thought, his own sister would be unable to go outside without covering her head.

I didn’t read Snow in the original Turkish but at times our guide Ka cartoonifies (as it does above) and plays according to (arguably) false dichotomies of certain narrative machines.

Hail

Since I posted Snow the weather in Gaziantep has continued in a spirit of wretchedness. I stayed up late last night, woke at ten, and took two hours to rise. Though in bed this morning I did read this well-written piece about the Mosul dam‘s impending collapse, the humans (American, Kurdish, and Iraqi bureaucracies, Italian engineers) pouring sludgegap measures, and the mass, preventable casualties that will ensue if nothing proper is done soon. Sometimes, when David Remnick is not scribbling divisive reactionary panic about Trump, the New Yorker is worth reading.

It began hailing as soon as I stepped outside. I was envying women in headscarves as I wrapped mine (of the neck variety) around my ears (two appendages particularly vulnerable to hail, turns out).

Yesterday evening I exchanged Arabic for English with a friend over the meal pictured below. The çorba (soup) costs money, but those plates between are gratuitous. The pink/purple is radish, the soup is lentil, and the four meatspice pieces on top of the green are called çig kofte (with lemon, which is leimun in Arabic, near as I can tell, they were the best part of the meal).

dsc_0028

Snow

“Even if you did believe in God, it would make no sense to believe alone. You’d have to believe in him the same way the poor do; you’d have to become one of them. It’s only by eating what they eat, living where they live, laughing at the same jokes, and getting angry whenever they do that you can believe in their God.”

Orhan Pamuk’s Snow takes us to Kars, a ‘small but beautiful’ city in Turkey’s northeast, where the politics of the headscarf intersect with exiles, revolutionaries, poets, assassins, and paramours. The protagonist Ka is the poet, an atheist among devouts, and following a high-profile assassination (is there another kind?) of a school teacher, the city becomes an island by will of a blizzard.

I woke yesterday to a different Gaziantep. School had been cancelled and children were outside playing as emerged from the grogfog. And like in the novel, the snow kept falling, throughout the day and into the night.

The book received a lot of attention. Some of the characters were straddling a line, larger-than-life (or were they caricatures?), politically motivated with a flair for exposition (or were they caricatures?), dramatic personalities (etc).

The book, laboured in its pace, surely was more artful in its arc in the original Turkish. But my host this morning, fluent and read up, told me nay, and that she did not think much of Pamuk (“We have much better writers… but its all about PR.” She did recommend I take the twenty-four hour train out to Kars one day, as she had, to see the beautiful city for myself.

When I got to the gym Hassan, the owner, always with a wry smile, was wearing a Canadian-style toque (with pom-pom). There was football on television and heaps of snow on the pitch. I took çay with some of the lads from Aleppo at Sanko — the mall was unusually desolate.

Trondheim, Norway was clear and the hills of Ankara were snowbare, but the snow fell on Gaziantep, Aleppo, and Hama.

The poet Ka submerges in a Lear-esque madness — on account of a woman, a lust, an eros, of nostalgia, of lifeforce — his mind races past logic. He takes big risks in heated haste.

I hope to avoid this in white Gaziantep.