Drogon is not amused at his human’s constant absence.
Just returned from a week in Korea, the land of K-Pop, Koreanovelas, kimchi and general kookiness, where the toilets have settings that never occurred to me and everything is good for you (They’re not just stairs, they’re the Stairs of Longevity leading to the Gift Shop of Good Fortune).
The travel show Trippies premieres on CNN Philippines next month.
I was just talking about the street cats and dogs of Istanbul. We were interviewing the director of Hagia Sophia for the travel show when a very self-possessed cat walked over and sat between my co-host and myself, to remind us who the real boss was. Now there’s a documentary about the Turkish felines.
Update: It turns out that the interrupting cat was the same one who had greeted Barack Obama on his visit to Hagia Sophia. His name is Gli and he has a very memorable face.
If you love something, you let it go. Cat people understand this intuitively. You never quite possess a cat, and the sooner you acknowledge that, the better. Cats will chase the tinfoil ball, if they are in the mood, but they will almost certainly not bring it back. We forgive them for this because there is no other option.
I have no trouble linking cats to the divine. Chris Marker’s transcendent short film of a sleeping cat is nothing if not an image of Nirvana, pure being, whatever you want to call it. The look in a cat’s eye guides us toward an idea of freedom, as Claude Lévi-Strauss suggested. Having spent a lifetime studying the structures of ancient societies, the French anthropologist understood well the prison cell into which technological man had locked himself. Only at rare moments, Lévi-Strauss posits near the end of Tristes Tropiques, do we see beyond this cell. One of those is “in the brief glance, heavy with patience, serenity and mutual forgiveness, that, through some involuntary understanding, one can sometimes exchange with a cat.”
Marzipans. All photos of Istanbul vitrines and shop displays by JZ.
A sparrow was sipping water from a half-filled glass in an Istanbul café Wednesday morning. Customers had their lunch outside, thanks to the warm weather, and chatted about the latest episode of Sherlock, screened hours after the terror attack on the city’s Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve, which killed 39 people. Two cats were fed leftovers; a stray dog watched the scene from a safe distance. The terror threat level had been raised as high as it would go, not only because of the Reina attack, but also a simultaneous attack in the capital Ankara that had been foiled at the last minute, not to mention many more that had been thwarted in the past month. But this did not at all seem like a city under threat.
How do Istanbulites do it? It is a hard trick to pull, this immediate return to normality. Some consider it an expression of powerlessness, but I find wisdom in the ability to counter shock with calm. After the suicide attack at the Ataturk Airport in June, the scene was cleaned of signs of chaos in a matter of hours. The shattered glass was swept away, airport personnel reopened their desks, baristas served overpriced Caramelattes to travelers—it didn’t really feel as if 45 people had died hours earlier. And yet those people were not trying to erase history. Living in the present moment, for them, was a form of defiance, not amnesia.
I can’t bring myself to post a photograph, so here is an orange singing the Habanera from Carmen.
Trump is patriarchy unbuttoned, paunchy, in a baggy suit, with his hair oozing and his lips flapping and his face squinching into clownish expressions of mockery and rage and self-congratulation. He picked as a running mate buttoned-up patriarchy, the lean, crop-haired, perpetually tense Mike Pence, who actually has experience in government, signing eight anti-abortion bills in his four years as governor of Indiana, and going after Planned Parenthood the way Trump went after hapless beauty queens. The Republican platform was, as usual, keen to gut reproductive rights and pretty much any rights that appertained to people who weren’t straight, or male, or white.
Misogyny was everywhere. It came from the right and the left, and Clinton was its bull’s-eye, but it spilled over to women across the political spectrum. Early on some of Trump’s fury focused on the Fox presenter Megyn Kelly, who had questioned him about his derogatory comments about other women’s appearance. He made the bizarre statement on CNN that ‘you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.’ He also denigrated his opponents’ wives and the businesswoman Carly Fiorina’s face; he obligingly attacked Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe, in a flurry of middle-of-the-night tweets after Clinton baited him about his treatment of her; he attacked the women who accused him of assaulting them after the grab-them-by-the-pussy tape was released.
Record levels of snow fell over Europe, blanketing the continent, closing the Bosphorus to shipping and causing flight cancellations. In Istanbul, homeless people and stray animals were rounded up and taken to shelters. In Cappadocia, the snow heightened the extraterrestrial feel of the landscape. It makes me think of Arrakis with snow instead of sand, and the fairy chimneys as frozen sandworms.
It was supposed to be our last day in Turkey. In the morning we went up in a hot air balloon for spectacular views of Cappadocia.
To no one’s surprise, the airport was snowed in and our afternoon flight back to Istanbul was cancelled.
These clever cats live at the Nevsehir airport, where there are warm spots to huddle in and people to give them food. I had taken to carrying cheese and cold cuts from the breakfast buffet for the critters I met.
The safest way to get back to Istanbul was by land. So the next day we drove ten hours from Goreme to Istanbul, with pit stops every two or three hours. Turn a setback into an adventure! I must’ve seen every public WC and convenience store in Anatolia.
Throughout this unexpected development, the center of calm and efficiency was our tour guide, Arif Yasa. Not only is Arif super-knowledgeable about Turkish history, culture, and cuisine, he is also extremely kind and patient. You try being in charge of ten Pinoys, each with specific requirements, and maintain your sanity.
If you’re going to Turkey, one of the smartest things you can do is get Arif to be your guide. You can reach him at email@example.com.
By 8pm we were having dinner at a mall in Istanbul, by 10 we were at the airport. Almost the minute I strapped myself into my seat, I was asleep.
Notes on travelling to Turkey and elsewhere
1. The news is scary, so it’s natural to hesitate about going there. In the aftermath of the nightclub shooting, security has been tightened in Istanbul and people have been warned to avoid crowded places. At no time during our eight-day trip did I feel unsafe. Not to belittle the problem, but there is an upside to this: fewer tourists. You can hear yourself think.
Listen, the whole world looks like Children of Men (the Alfonso Cuaron movie) now. Are you going to hide, or are you going to get out there and live?
2. Always have travel insurance, even if it’s not required when getting your visa. Shit happens. Best to be prepared.
3. If you’re going to a cold country, Uniqlo is your friend. When I was packing for the trip it occurred to me that my ten-year-old winter coat could use reinforcements. I stocked up on Uniqlo sweaters and Heattech shirts, and they saved me from hypothermia when the mercury dropped.
4. How can you see the world when you’re perpetually checking your phones and tablets? Disconnect. It’s mostly chaos and idiocy anyway, and you do not need minute-by-minute updates. Enjoy the silence. Get reacquainted with yourself.
While I defrost my extremities, enjoy this camp classic from Turkey, one of the most bizarre movies ever made: The Man Who Saves The World a.k.a. Turkish Star Wars.
For great Turkish films, check out Yol (The Road), Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, or Winter Sleep.
Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.
Translated by Robert Hass
Despite the name there is nothing sinister about the Byzantine church carved into the soft rock. The church is called that because it’s not exposed to direct light, sparing the frescoes from serious damage.
I was wearing four layers of clothes and an overcoat. This cat was taking a stroll in the snow. He accepted some cheese and cold cuts, and a hug.