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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
This shop owner at the Spice Market lured us in by shouting, “Philippines! I’m a friend of Edu Manzano!” He sells this amazing winter tea with eucalyptus.
I’m in Istanbul for filming. Yeah, I won’t use the other verb. After the coup attempt and the terror attacks, the city feels melancholy and antsy. But it’s still gorgeous. There are fewer people about, but traffic is still heavy.
Again I’m impressed at the number of big, fluffy, friendly cats and dogs on the streets. Our guide explained that the strays are tagged, neutered and vaccinated, then returned to their neighborhoods where the residents feed and look after them.
Royd misses his beagle.
You can measure the humanity of a society by the way they treat their stray cats and dogs.
If people are hungry and desperate, I would understand if they killed dogs for food. But killing a dog for onscreen entertainment, even if it claims to be art with a message, is wrong.
Killing dogs is wrong. And killing people is wrong. It’s not an either/or. And it’s a reflection on our society that it has come to this.
Off to work. I leave you with this mountain of baklava.
Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg is on weekends at the old Williamsburg Savings Bank Clocktower in Fort Greene. I want to live there.
It’s like entering a bank vault and emerging in your childhood. It was perfect flea market weather: one degree Celsius, and the wind could take your face off.
I resisted the mind-boggling array of vintage eyeglasses, concert T-shirts and other clothes, vinyl records, magazines and games.
But not the necklace with a plastic dragon pendant.
The vendors sell all the stuff you’ve thrown out over the years and now want to get back. It’s not really the stuff you want, you know, it’s the past. When you look back you realize those were the good times, but you were too busy waiting for the future to arrive.
You can buy back your childhood. An attractive proposition, since the future circa 2016 has been a whopping disappointment. Sure, there are new toys, but you want the things that were around when you were a kid.
Did anybody save their pins, T-shirts and stuff from the street parliament years, 1983-1986? Show us.
Photos of the library, building and cafe from themorgan.org.
Carmen invited me to a three-martini lunch at the Morgan Library. A year like this calls for regular doses of alcohol as a survival mechanism, so I said yes.
The Morgan Library houses the impressive collection of Pierpont Morgan. Listen, if you’re going to be a robber baron, the least you can do is leave a spectacular library.
The library is pretty much the way it was in Morgan’s time, but the building has been renovated by Renzo Piano.
It feels a little jarring to step out of the exhibit of Charlotte Bronte’s papers and into this. One is expecting Thornfield Hall, mud and howling wind.
Carmen, a tech consultant, started Whisky and Books, which pairs books with whisky and meets every month to discuss. This month’s pairing: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Bruichladdich X4+3. What a great idea, we should do this in Manila. Noel and I have long planned a Silence of the Lambs dinner with a good chianti (and fava beans).
I associate martini lunches with this scene from Mad Men. (Coincidentally, I have a ticket to The Front Page starring Nathan Lane and John Slattery.) We did not remake this, probably because I did not eat a bucket of oysters.
As long as we were pleasantly tipsy we visited an altar to literature and drink: The Algonquin Hotel, where Dorothy Parker et al held court at the Round Table.
The Algonquin is now ruled by the imperious Matilda, third of her name.