Istanbul Constantinople

Throughout Istanbul, I’ve been singing the Animaniacs song, except the only lyrics I remember are this blog title, then:

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can’t say
People just liked it better that waaay!

That cartoon was surprisingly clever at making catchy songs about boring subjects. Another one merely listed all the capitals of the U.S. I would link to it if I weren’t on my iPod right now. Helpful commenter?

Turkey’s theme song, however, is not from the Animaniacs, but rather Total Eclipse of the Heart. It played EVERYWHERE, both in English and Turkish, in cafes and nice restaurants and baklaveries, only now the real lyrics compete with the literal music video lyrics and I laugh and sing: what the effin crap / that angel guy just felt me up. If you haven’t seen the video, do it now! I’ll wait here . . .

In Taksim Square, we drank Turkish coffee, then turned the cups over and read each other’s fortunes in the grounds. She saw a mountain and tornado and a cat that will accompany me on my journey, up the mountain apparently. I saw a cat in hers too. And a dildo.

At the Grand Bazaar, I successfully haggled for some beads that ward off the evil eye for my mom and found out that if you walk away, they immediately decrease the price by at least 1/3. We kept getting turned around; the Bazaar is endless. Each time we looked at our compass we were somehow going northwest. Then we paid way too much for falafel because I was just so excited to see falafel on a menu. And I tried to use a starbucks giftcard (more on corporate imperialism to come!) except Turkey, as a country policy, doesn’t accept giftcards. Did they seriously vote on that, with like amendments and revisions and shit? Because wow. So I paid too much for coffee that day too. But then I bought fresh squeezed pomegranate juice – fresh squeezed y’all! – and wouldve happily set fire to my own face if they asked – that’s how blissed out I was.

This far, we had utterly failed to find any ashtanga classes so when Ellie found a studio in Istanbul, in English no less, we went and did yoga everyday we were there, which sometimes took us more than an hour to get there – we took ferries and trams and something called a funicular railway, which was not, actually, very fun. And even though the sudden intense yoga just about killed me after two weeks off (only two weeks!) I’m glad Ellie forced me to go. After yoga, we treated ourselves to French toast and “Mexican” omelets (I think Mexican food really confuses people here. Just last night I had enchiladas at a place called Mexican that was actually a spinach pie topped with tomato sauce). A dim-witted looking cat kept us company, which I petted until Ellie told me to “avoid the butt end” when I couldn’t stop laughing. The cat’s dirty butt became our private weapon of vengence against the smokers at the restaurant. That’s right, kitty, rub your butt all over those filthy smokers, Ellie would say and we laughed some more, thinking there are worse forms of revenge as that.

Bi the way

When one is in a lesbian relationship, it’s really hard to convince hotels to give you a double bed. Partly it’s the language barrier – I refuse to make cunnilingus gestures to the concierge – but mostly it’s the assumption that two same sex people want to sleep in their own bed. I remember when Ammie and I were driving to Alaska and we stopped somewhere in the Yukon to sleep. The hotel receptionist scrunched up her face and apologized that they only had rooms with double beds available.

Oh geez, I said, adopting the Canadian vernacular, well if that’s all ya got.

She never stopped apologizing though and I wonder now if we could’ve gotten a discount or something.

It’s been a big annoyance in Europe too. I’m not paying 60 € a night to spoon myself, dammit. In hostels, sure, I’ll suffer through for the cheaper board but man am I tired of pushing twin beds together then falling through the crack of our shoddy, make-shift double
bed.

But let me continue to digress further and take us back to Turkey, the second country we visited.

Our lesbian excursion to Lesvos led us to Ayavalik, a mere 1.5 hour boat ride away. Once we landed, t
Customs told us we needed a visa to enter Turkey and we of course had no money on us since we planned on getting Turkish lira after we arrived. Naturally, Ellie then jumped over the partition, scissor kicking up into the ventilation system, which created enough of a diversion for me to slip past them and high tail it to the McDonalds with the parking spaces for camels, a place we designated as our “emergency” spot in case something like this ever happened.

Or rather, Ellie went to an ATM, or bancomat as she found out they were called. We walked along the ocean for lack of knowing which direction to go and eventually stumbled across some teenagers who tried to give us directions by pointing in the air. We thanked them and turned back. Then, two minutes later, there they were, but in a car this time and gestured for us to get in. They drove us to the bus station, proving that genies do in fact exist.

On the 9 hour bus ride to Istanbul, we tried to learn Turkish by watching the soap opera that was playing, which didn’t really work because no one actually speaks on soap operas. I can, however, cry and glower over my shoulder like a REAL Turkish person.

Halfway through, they let us off to use the “bathroom” which was actually a hole in the ground, or a “squat pot” as they’re affectionately referred to by no one. Afterward, Ellie said, if all the toilets are like THAT, I’m not going to poop until we get back to Greece. And true to her word. . . Just kidding

I rather don’t mind the squat pots. From a purely physical standpoint, it’s an ideal position to relieve yourself. However, from a urinating-on-your-shoes position, I could do without it. Also, how do old ladies with arthritis and long flowy skirts do it? They must be genies too.

Fever dreams

This is the first blog post i’ve composed entirely on my iPod Touch. It’s infuriating, but what kind of masochist would I be if I didn’t try – plus I have all the time in the world. Ever since Sighisoara, Romania (and I’m aware that I’m very behind on this blog, like two countries behind) I’ve been fighting a cold that started in my throat and has moved slowly into my brain. Last night I kept dreaming I was fighting the Turks, endlessly at war and sleeping in the filth of bloody decay. Whenever I killed someone, their ghost would follow me, but the only part of them I could see was their teeth, their gleaming, perfect teeth. (I just started a Neil Gaiman book that is contributing to my nightmare arsenal. . .)

Ellie is taking care of me and my watermelon-sized head. I’ve sent her off to explore Thessaloniki without me so that I might continue my crusade against the Turks in peace.

Photos from Crete

Lesvos, where Greece keeps the clouds

Skala Eresou's pristine shoreline

Skala Eresou's pristine shoreline

(This is taken from a journal entry)

It’s raining on Lesvos – the first place we’ve been to where the sky wasn’t blinding. Olive and pine trees crowd the road as we rumble by on our way to Skala Eresou, birthplace of Sappho. Olive trees are one of the few trees I can actually identify. There were plenty at our house on Nelson Drive in Tucson, where as kids we would have Olive Wars, which consisted of us throwing olives at each other. It was very complex. I was in love with many of the neighborhood boys and once confessed my desire to one of them while we were up in the olive tree. He felt the same I know, but we grew up together like genderless blobs, and didn’t know how to relate to each other once romance factored into the equation. Suddenly, I made him nervous. He couldn’t answer the most basic questions and would no longer pelt me with olives.

After my confession, our friendship never really recovered. Thus beginning the long, slow slide of a life-long habit that I have of sexualizing friendships to disastrous results. I can’t help it. I fall fast and hard. As I’ve gotten older, I can mostly tell the difference between fleeting crushes, which burn like incense, faint and sweet, and the more worrisome ones – the kind that burn bridges. The beginnings all feel the same though, anxious, familiar, the warmth that only comes from wanting too much.

Western Lesvos was rendered barren by volcanic eruptions, something that Sappho waxed poetic about often. The olive trees have been replaced by a kind of moonscape, dry yellow brush and the occasional sheep. Much of Sappho’s life is speculation – it was the 7th century B.C. after all. I know that Plato dubbed her the Tenth Muse and that her poetry seduced the Greek leader Solon, who said of her verse that he wanted to “learn it and die.”

what a 19th century painter thought Sappho looked like

what a 19th century painter thought Sappho looked like

Once we got off the bus at Skala Eresou, we were greeted by more rain, boarded up shops and cats, cats everywhere. They run the town. And I think, Oh is this where the cat/lesbian stereotype started? Or is it just a perfect after thought? After wandering the puddled, cobble stone streets in search of any sign of non-feline life, a man in a white hatchback drove up and steered us toward a cottage, which we rented for two nights. In no time at all, we had locked ourselves out of the house and had to break in through the bathroom window by jumping through a hole in a ledge 8 feet down.  I felt very MacGuyver. Like when we arrived in Lesvos and Ellie’s sunglasses broke, but I fixed them with the arm of a paperclip, which was also a satellite radio station.

We visited the only place that was open, a mini market, and bought pasta, instant coffee, olive oil and wine. It stopped raining only briefly and we often got caught in the downpour after traveling just a few feet to restock our meager supplies. The stove was also a microwave and I had to tread lightly to avoid snails, wasps and the cats that came from all directions. Everywhere were remnants of the ghosts of lesbians past – signs that advertised reiki healing workshops, the soiled and lifeless limp of a rainbow flag, graffiti of two women symbols intertwined on a rock face by the sea.

Though the town was closed for business, it didn’t dampen my spirits until the last day. I dreamt of a romantic getaway, where I could promise my undying love to Ellie on the sea green shore of paradise. Instead, I was trapped inside a damp cabin with no heat, spastic plumbing and a girlfriend doubled over in menstrual pain. I couldn’t even walk the 200 ft to the beach without getting rained on or stepping in a puddle that ruined my last pair of clean socks.

I know I should embrace the stillness. I don’t know why the countryside fills me with unease. But I don’t find much comfort in the yawning hills or the life that teams from every crevice. I don’t delight in almost sitting on a wasp in the kitchen or the gauzy curtains that display us to whomever might be looking in. If I wanted to shower, I needed permission from the landlord, who said I must wait until 8pm.

I finished my book and will shortly finish this journal which will close one more chapter of my life without binding, and the maw that will open like the cracks in the streets of this town will rush in and rain down and I’ll have no choice but to sit here and wait it out.

Mytilini, capital of the Island of Lesvos

Lesvos is Greece’s third largest island, known for producing its best artists, including the ancient poet Sappho, natch, and a handful of others I had never heard of, except Eleftheriades, an art critic, who has a 7 story bookstore named after him in Athens. Half the world’s ouzo is produced here, which sounds impressive until you remember, who drinks ouzo?

The little pamphlet on the North Aegean Islands from the Ministry of Tourism mentions nothing of Lesvos’ women-loving reputation, but it does give Sappho the only adjective of all the artists: Illustrious. I love it, the word, the hills that droop under the weight of all the olive trees, the honey hued bay that gently sways with fishing boats, the 14th century Byzantine castle that sits atop a pine-covered hill, like a benevolent yet lame duck patriarch.

It’s 8am. We’re in a cafe where the line between cafe and bar is indistinguishable, watching people watch an infomercial about a vibrating massage belt that, from the looks of it, startles the cellulite off your body. Outside the port is dotted with anarchist graffiti, saying things like “Smash state-racism” and “Do you think capitalism can endure?” and I think, yes, I could wake up here. Even the fish seem willing to help out, jumping into the air in surrender. Take me, Lesvians, I am here!

Though, the fish smell is starting to get to me (insert the lesbian joke you’re dying to tell now in the comments). The smell yes, but also the eyes. Those lucid, bulging fish eyes everywhere. The funny thing is I used to love fish. Then I went fishing when I was 9. I caught 4 fish; I was so proud,until my grandpa told me we’d be eating them for dinner. Then I cried and cried and actually tried to put them back in the lake. It was too late though, they were already dead.

picture for dramatic effect. the agony!

I think I would’ve become a vegetarian much sooner had the meat been strung up on hooks in store windows, their staid, unmoving eyes staring back at me. Or maybe I’m too sensitive. I still apologize to food that I have to waste or that’s gone bad.

More on Sappho, the bisexual patron saint, to come…

Backtracking, not packing

Since we are stuck in Iraklio, Crete’s capital, after our ferry to Santorini was canceled due to wind (wind!), I’ve become rather grumpy. Then, my pizza had ham in it. Like it was baked into the cheese or something because I couldn’t pick it off. Agony! We’ve failed tremendously as vegetarians in Greece. After looking up several veg restaurants in Athens, google mapping them, reading reviews and trekking across the city, NONE OF THEM EXISTED. Or they’d been closed and the websites haven’t been updated since the Trojan war or something. After our second failed attempt, we were so exhausted and hungry that we ended up eating a bag of croissant-shaped rolls for dinner from a kiosk. Then we had some ouzo, which tastes a lot like licorice, with a friend of Mike’s, who owns the cafe next to his flower shop. He told me I gave shitty dating advice and then I broke one of his glasses (there’s no connection). We learned that the male fascination with girl-girl-guy threesomes is prevalent outside the U.S. They don’t have craigslist here, but everyone starts drinking at 9am, so I think threesomes are still a possibility. Not that I’m going to do extensive research to find out or anything. Plus, Katy Pery’s “I kissed a girl” is playing everywhere, which is clearly a valuable education aid.

In every city we’ve been to, there have been African guys selling fake Prada and Louis Vitton purses and Indian guys selling these squishy tomato toys that splat and then return to their original tomato shape.  It goes like this:

So nifty, yeah?! I would so totally leave my home country and sell these to tourists for the rest of my days, if I could. But then, maybe I’m missing something. I mean, it took us 15 minutes to figure out how to use a calling card. We had to keep going back to the Western Union lady and getting further instruction. There are like 8 extra numbers! And you have to stick it in there and LEAVE it in there. There’s no “press here if you’re retarded” button anywhere.

Agony!

In Hania, we were chased very slowly by an old man who we were told had been “whipping it out” at young girls and shouting “Malaka!” (which means asshole, roughly). It’s a good thing my mom made me do all those Leslie Sansone Walk the Weight Off at Home videos because he didn’t even have time to unzip before we had power walked our way on past him (and lost half a pound).

Here’s a picture that I didn’t take of Hania:

This could be from 1987 for all I know. But isn’t it pretty? Our camera cord is stored at the bus station, otherwise, I’d post more. Or I could describe them, but that’d be like a thousand words per picture if I adhered to the idiom and I don’t have that kind of money to waste at the internet cafe since I had to buy a plane ticket to Lesvos from Iraklio because I am ready to be surrounded by lesbians already.

Hania, Crete

I wondered if every landscape we casually glanced at was the outcome of an ecstasy we didn’t even know was happening, a love-act moving at a speed slow and steady enough for us to be deceived into thinking it was just everyday reality. ~ Ali Smith

We took an overnight ferry from Athens to Crete, which was more like a cruise ship – they even had a disco and a casino and a chapel and untold amounts of booze. We slept in the lounge on couches where they told us not to sleep (surrounded by people sleeping, however. It still doesn’t make sense to me). On the way across the Mediterranean Sea, I started and finished a book called Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith, a retelling of the story of Iphis (pronounced eye-fizz) in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. I swear I had no idea that Greek mythology was central to the book when I picked it up in Athens. But the back cover mentioned lesbians and puns so I plopped down 9 euros immediately.

Iphis was from Crete. Before she was born, her mom and dad had a chat and her dad said, You know if it’s born a girl, we’ll have to kill her. And the mom silently nodded even though she obviously didn’t want to kill her baby because it wasn’t born a boy. So she went to temple and prayed to her goddess, Isis, and Isis said, Everything will be fine. So Iphis was born a girl, but her mom raised her as a boy to prevent the infanticide from happening. When Iphis was “of age” to be married (12), she fell in love with her childhood girlfriend, Ianthe, who had no idea Iphis was a chick, but was in love with her nonetheless. Shortly before their wedding, Iphis started freaking out because, as a woman, she’d never be able to please her wife (Ovid was obviously a man). So she called on Isis again and was like, Help a sistah out? And Isis said, Okay okay and turned her into a boy proper. Scandal over. Heternormativity saved.

Except in my own Greek myth, I am Iphis and I stay a woman – or maybe I turn into one around Jr. High. I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage recently, perhaps prompted by our move to California, where the battle around Prop 8 was lost, unless you were one of the 17,000 lucky gay couples who squeezed in during the five month loop hole. The Iphis and Ianthe of Girl Meets Boy get married on a riverbank in Scotland. The description made me misty, or rather, it made me swallow hard, twice.

We stood on the bank of the river under the trees and promised the nothing that was there, the nothing that made us, the nothing that was listening, that we truly desired to go beyond ourselves.”

And I think, I want to love from nothing, create from nothing, to dizzy myself on the craggy beaches of foreign isles, pummeled by wild fennel and basil in this great amazing nothing. And I will know that nothing will ever stay the same because it can’t stay the same. I will change and she will change and maybe the laws will even change, but our love, this great act, will stand stubborn as the ruins at Olympian Temples, even when it’s rubble, even when it’s bone dry brittle and carried off in pieces by wind and birds. We will carve our names into the sea and become everywhere. This is the only thing that matters – not tax benefits and pieces of paper with official-looking fonts. It’s only salt and sea and herbs and sky.

I know I should be sleeping, but I’m too shrouded in birdsong. The motion of the boat is jostling my particles. I crave it, the moving. I want to always be moving. I know soon I will be back in the land of the functioning and employed, but for now I am content to sweep up others’ fairy tales of gods and goddesses, of sex changes and lost empires, of mortals and minarets and minataurs.

Day ?: Athens, Greece

Greek flag, behind the Parthenon

Greek flag, behind the Parthenon

It’s amazing how quickly I’ve completely lost track of time. I think it had something to do with the 13 hour plane ride(s), which ended in daylight again, somehow. We were on a party plane; they served champagne about 10 minutes after take off and the general consensus seemed to be to get wasted as quickly as possible. People were clutching little wine bottles and swaying gently from side to side, wandering about the plane like they were at a cocktail party. Then a little boy told me that my front tooth stuck out funny.

One has very few freedoms on an airplane – a tiny light, an air vent and the ability to recline 4 inches – yet, the women surrounding us felt we were taking advantage of these freedoms. One decided to shake Ellie’s shoulders and then push her seat forcefully in order to make her move her seat forward. Another woman resented my tiny overhead light and pointed and grunted at Ellie to turn it off. It was broken, but that didn’t stop her from coming over and pushing buttons on my chair until she finally gave up and sat back down. I understand that there’s a language barrier, but is violence ever the answer?

We are staying with a very nice guy in Athens named Mike, who owns a flower shop, I think near Makrygianni, south of the City Centre. But who knows? I can’t read anything. I’m finally starting to understand why foreigners/tourists are so drawn to the McStarbucks – “Oh my god, I can read that sign! Let’s go get a pumpkin spice latte!” How soothing brand identification can be when you’re abroad. Also, they always have bathrooms. I used to think of that as subtle rebellion. I’m going to use your bathroom and NOT buy anything. Take that, corporate takeover!

Our attempts to speak Greek have been embarrassing. It took us 10 minutes of rehearsing “Two coffees, please” (dhio kafes parakalo) only to have the cashier ask like 7 follow up questions, which rendered our little phrasebook worthless. It’s true that many people speak at least some English, but that doesn’t reduce the awkwardness of negotiating details that I’ve always taken for granted. Plus, “Do you have a converter that fits my iPod?” is not in the guidebook. But we did find out that “French coffee” is the closest thing to drip coffee they have here and it’s much cheaper than the ubiquitous frappe that everyone is drinking.

Erecthion, sanctuary in the Acropolis

Erecthion, sanctuary in the Acropolis

Spent the better part of yesterday walking among the ruins of ancient Athens, named after the goddess Athena who won a contest put together by Zeus, who challenged the deities to come up with the most valuable legacy for mortals (like ya do). Athena produced the olive tree and voila, here’s a city. The Acropolis (high city) is described as the most important ancient site in the Western world. It is home to towering monuments like the Parthenon (which means virgin’s apartment, even though, girlfriend, they are all up in yo bizness), inspiring temples and dozens of stray dogs and cats, who do not seem to take advantage of the splendor, instead deciding to nap.

cats

After that, we went to the Agora, a famous meeting spot for philosophers to “shoot the shit” as they said back then. In the Agora was the Temple of Hephaestus, who Ellie refers to as “the ugly God.” He lucked out, both in life and in perseverance. He married Aphrodite AND his temple is pretty much the only one that was not completely demolished by the Persians/Turks/time.

hephaestus

Nearby was Hadrian’s Library, where we saw two turtles fighting, continuing the theme of violence.

turtle

We tried to find a vegetarian restaurant that probably doesn’t exist anymore (Diavlos, anyone?) and have been eating a lot of baklava and spanakopita, which we are sure doesn’t have meat in it. Gelato is another food that we are pretty sure is vegetarian. Thankfully, it’s everywhere. And so is H&M. No kidding, we’ve passed by 3 H&Ms, and that’s just in central Athens. Does anyone need a skinny tie? If so, holla.

Next stop, Pireas, the port of Attica, the Temple of Poseidon and the beginning of our island-hopping, starting with Crete.

That’s what you get for waking up in Vegas

Las Vegas.

I love the desert. I want my periphery to always be at least 2/3rds sky. Want the blues to be so bright they burn and the brittle brush to crack the world right open. The desert sighs, its bald mountains fold me up and a thousand balloons release inside my chest. It makes me feel like I’m applauding an empty stadium. And I do it gladly. But eventually the fanfare and vast expanse of nothingness give way to kitsch and kachina dolls. We stopped at Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner for lunch, which was advertised for about 50 miles with signs like “Come see our diner-saur park! We now have a Stegasaurus and King Kong.”

In Arizona, we passed the Navajo reservation – “the world’s largest reservation” advertised the signs, as if it were a contest or a resort. It made me think of what Sherman Alexi once said about reservations. “If poverty were a skyscraper, then reservations would be in the basement. You can’t get much poorer.” And I think also of the Yaqui rez in Tucson, where my mom worked for so many years. I would visit her and all the grandmas would call me Little White Girl in Spanish and offer me red chili burritos. Dogs ran around everywhere; no one knew who they belonged to. And the houses had no doors and even though the streets seemed to spill over with life, a sense of abandonment pervaded.

In 6th grade, I went to “camp” on the rez, which was, in hindsight, I’m pretty sure a drug prevention outreach camp. We sat in a circle and told stories and talked about positive reinforcement. I was the only white kid there and the only one whose parents didn’t have substance abuse problems. I made one friend that summer, Sienna. I remember her name because it was my favorite Crayola crayon color. Years later, I ran into her at Skate Country and I was so shocked to see her outside of the rez that I exclaimed, “What are you doing here?” And she said, “Skating.”

After our group therapy, we would make jewelry. My mom taught the class and I was always really happy to see her. One day, toward the end of camp, the counselor let us out early and we decided to play a game of Red Rover, which is where you hold hands/arms and someone from the other team tries to break your chain. During the boys-against-girls game, I was clotheslined and knocked unconscious. The last thing I remember before blacking out was a chorus of laughter. I’m not sure if it was malicious or if they all secretly hated me or if they were just kids laughing at someone getting hurt, as kids are wont to do.

Traveling makes me very aware that I am an outsider, which is perhaps why the desert invokes my status as a part-time Native American. I’ve always been Indian enough, to get into Yaqui camp, to get a scholarship or two in college, to participate in sweat ceremonies, but the gaps and interstices of culture loom, of pigment and privilege and accountability. I’ve never lived on a reservation. My skin turns pink when it burns. My houses have all had doors and my dogs have all had collars.

my great great grandmother

my great great grandmother

But we’re always already outsiders, right? Regardless of where we come from or where we’re going or who we’ve been or who we may become. As Henry James once said,

Our doubt is our passion. And our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

Here’s to doubt and madness and passion and art. And finding jobs and a place to live.

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