Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mission Accomplished

Success! At (very) long last, we've found our new home. It hasn't been easy. Over the past month we have flattened our arches casing out the neighborhood, gotten neck cramps peering up into windows, aggravated our phone bills with endless calls to smooth-talking realtors looking to sell their pet elephants. The inner aesthete has been sorely tested with endless viewings of microwave oven-sized 'bedrooms', windows facing onto gloomy pigeon-poop festooned airshafts, peeling imitation laminate flooring -- yes, imitation laminate -- and walls so flimsy you could easily punch through them on an irritable day. There have been apartments with ceilings so low that my vertically inclined family could never possibly visit. There have been slanted places whose lines were surely sketched by a preschooler or an alcoholic architect before his first drink of the day. There have been places with unspectacular views of water tanks and solar panels and soot-stained concrete, all going for astronomical prices which, we were assured, were as low as they get. And there have been the incessantly verbal realtors who start talking the moment you enter a place and don't stop until you've closed the door behind you. It's as if they fear that, in a moment of silence, your senses of sight, smell and aesthetics might risk waking up: you might actually see the place for what it really is. And so they talk...and talk...and talk.

It was late one evening after our umpteenth trek around the neighborhood. We were exhausted and fed up with looking, and had made up our minds to settle for one of three candidates. I was feeling a little glum about the prospect, since none of them screamed out 'take me!!'...they were mostly all just okay, and I hate to settle. We had just turned into our street, foot-weary and ready for some couch time, when Levent remembered a place he had looked at once without me. It was only a few blocks away, and the sister-in-law of the landlord lived in the building and had the keys...would I like to see it? I figured I could drag myself to one more viewing before we closed the door to any more applicants. Past the banks and the florist, past the sleek watering holes that populate our street, past the police station. Just past our favorite bar, we turn the corner (dangerous location if it's anywhere near here, I'm already thinking). A hundred meters up a wide, tree-lined boulevard, and we turn into a building walkway. Looking up, I think somewhat sourly needs sprucing up -- pieces of the building facing are crumbling off, gate needs painting, and what's with the scrawl of graffiti on the gate post? The entryway is okay but uninspiring. I am not optimistic. We go to the second floor, introduce ourselves and collect the keys, and continue up to the fourth. It is just about five o'clock when we unlatch the decorative wrought iron gate and turn the key in the door of the apartment. First impression: immense, cool, white space. White hallway, white marble floors. Slowly I take in the old-fashioned windows -- nice old-fashioned, wooden and large and locking with little bow-shaped brass locks. There is a big kitchen with immense white marble counters, and windows above the sink that open out onto a ledge over an outside balcony. Perfect, I thought, for flowers and herbs...I can open the window an sniff -- or snip -- them as I cook; I've never had a window to look out of before when I cook. I am starting to get excited. Levent calls me from the living room. I pass from cold marble to polished herringbone wood floor, and go to where he is standing at the window. I look and my breath catches: before us stretches a line of green trees, ending in a woolly green patch of park. Beyond that, the sea, spectacularly lavender and orange at this time of the day, and beyond that, a perfect mountain, purple and perfectly sihouetted in the fading daylight. We walk to the balcony to contemplate the view in silence. Suddenly I know that I could be happy here, cooking in my white marble kitchen with the windows that open to the outdoors, and the French door that leads to the mesmerizing tree/sea/mountain view. It doesn't really matter what the rest of the house looks like, I think....although in the end I decide to investigate. It's a lovely place all around. There are three bedrooms, one lilac, one pale blue, one soft pink. The master bedroom has its own bathroom, and all the rooms have wardrobes. The guest room even has a French door opening onto its own balcony. The whole place sings a resounding Yes!! and without a moment's hesitation, we return the keys to the woman downstairs, get the phone number of the landlord, and go and see him the following day. By the end of the day, the deal is done -- the place is ours.

That was nearly a week ago. Our move, as luck would have it, coincided with a two-week school holiday, and this past week I have been spending it sleeping late, puttering about the house, selecting new homes for objects, and cooking. Something about this kitchen makes me want to cook -- carefully, decadently, slowly. We've put in dramatic track lighting and I accentuate it by lighting a candelabra for ambience. A little music and I could happily inhabit this kitchen forever. We come back from the pazar with baskets loaded with tiny spring onions, aubergines glowing lustrous purple, pale striped zucchini, perfect organic cherry tomatoes, and green leafy things the names of which I don't know, but which I chop up and add to the salad.

I reflect on how 'home' is so much more than walls and a roof. When our physical interiors mirror our soul's interiors, there is a feeling of perfect contentment. When that synchronicity isn't there, there is always a dissonance; we make do, but we feel the 'something' that isn't right. I have made do with some terrible apartments over the years, and like most students, tended to believe that it didn't really matter where I lived, as long as I was warm and could afford the rent. As I age, however, the relationship between physical space and psychic space becomes ever more evident. I don't think I could ever go back to living in a dark windowless box again, or even to cooking in a kitchen where it's difficult to turn around. For all its insubstantiality, the soul needs physical space to breathe, relax, be happy. I feel immensely hopeful in these new surroundings, already wallowing in a peaceful sort of meditation as I watch the sun once more take its evening dip into the sea.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Carrying Ourselves

Taşınmak, the Turkish word for moving house, is the reflexive form of taşımak -- to carry; therefore 'moving house' in Turkish is effectively 'carrying oneself.' When I think of the original nomadic Turks galloping down from the steppes of central Asia centuries ago, all glorious mad mobility, this seems fitting. Wanderers who nourished themselves on the milk and meat of their ever-mobile flocks, their homes were wherever they were -- 'moving' really was all about 'carrying themselves.' It is harder to carry ourselves these days. We have acquired wealth and comfort and lifestyles that keep us stationary. We are more likely to have a couple of guys with a truck do our carrying for us. It is hard to imagine the reactions of the light-traveling Turkish tribes of centuries ago getting a glimpse into the modern world their descendants inhabit.

We have been looking for a new residence for a few weeks now. One thing I have discovered: if you ever want to be acutely aware of your surroundings, start house hunting. The moment you do, you will perceive thousands of tiny and fascinating details that you never noticed on all your countless trips to the dry cleaner, the market, the bar down the street. Before our search started, if you'd asked me about the layout of the streets around our house, or the architecture in the neighborhood, I probably would have told you it's a bunch of boxes laid out on a grid pattern, nothing particular to look at. But now, with the glittering eye of the house hunter, I am 'awake' on my wanderings through the neighborhood as I have never been. High, sun-catching terraces catch my eye. I pause and contemplate well-hidden gardens, curious glimpses of spiral staircases and molded ceilings behind the drape of a curtain. The way some buildings sag and tilt, and how one building runs into the next, as if the builders simply ran out of room and decided there was nothing for it but to cement it to its neighbor. The curve of streets, the number of cars and garbage bins and stray cats, the sum total of trees on a given block....all of these catch my eye these days. It is a kind of fascinating hyper-alertness. If trying to find just the right apartment is an exhausting and nerve-wracking experience, the process of waking up and being so wholly present in the here and now is wonderful. I know now where there are hidden courtyards, triangle-shaped buildings wedged into the intersection of streets. I could tell you (not that you'd ever ask) the height of all the buildings within a ten-block radius and which streets are worth living on and which not. It amazes me to realize how much there is in our physical environment to perceive, and at how we (probably of necessity) tune so much of it fascinating to know that we need not go ever further afield to discover something new: it is right there in front of us, if only we open our eyes.