August 27, 2004
In eighteen hours we have traversed the greater part of Turkey, from west to east. At nine o'clock last night we boarded a bus and this afternoon arrived in Trabzon. For most of the night we travelled inland. As the sun rose, we broke out from the interior to arrive at the shore of the Black Sea. From the bus window looking out over the vast expanse, it felt almost as though we were riding on its currents. The dark blue water merged with the land, joining it to the horizon.
Yesterday morning we purchased tickets and then walked to the Yeni Camii to visit a nearby, smaller mosque, and to walk the streets around Istanbul's spice market. At one thirty we found ourselves eating grilled fish by the shores of the Bosphorus, and by two on a ferry set upon it. From the mouth of the river emptying into the Sea of Marmara the shore rose in seven hills punctuated with domes and minarets. The view rivalled that from the Galata Tower.
The boat fought against the current as it passed the Maiden Tower, dropping off passengers on the Asian side, then continuing on past bridges and mosques abutting the shores. After an hour, the boat turned and headed back for the Old City. I found Ed on the lower decks; water splashed from the prow onto his trousers. He said he was glad we didn't stop; that we were heading back. Looking at his watch he suggested stopping by a hamam. The guidebook recommended one near Camberitas built by Sinan.
Back on the shore we sought a direct route for the hamam, but turned around in the spice market, we went a long way around. The hamam lacked the atmosphere of that we had visited separately in Damascus. The anteroom looked rundown, and we were ushered into private cabins to change and in which to lock up our belongings. The bath itself was warm without being too hot. A large marble slab sat in the center upon which to lay. Foundatains lined the sides in separate rooms. We washed and then lay sweating on the octagonal slab, then washed again, once in hot water, and once in cold water. In the anteroom they changed our towels and pointed us back to our cabins. We both recalled the beautiful anteroom of the hamam in Damascus and of the tea they served while men lounged in it.
Cutting across Sultanahmet we walked to the Blue Mosque, entering it from the side. Just before prayers, the mosque was crowded with tourists. The light of the setting sun lit the stained glass windows brilliantly as the Byzantine chandeliers dangled from the ceiling.
Leaving it from its western entrance, we each made a donation and then walked to Rumi for dinner. The maitre d' seemed surprised to see us. Too early for dinner, we asked? No, no, he replied, and then lead us to an enclosed terrasse on the top floor. I mentioned we had made a reservation the day before, and he recognized my name. We sat by the edge, the Blue mosque loomed beside us. The dining room was beautiful.
By eight o'clock we were on board a van headed to the otogar. It circled the city picking up passengers, and left us at the station moments before our bus was to leave. On the outskirts of Istanbul, our bus collided lightly with another minibus at an outlying station. There was no visible damage. And so we were off, stopping occasionally for meals and for rest room breaks. A group of Russian women sat before us; one reminded me of Masina, Fellini's wife, and as I watched her sleep I thought of La Strada and the road ahead.
This afternoon we toured Trabzon. I had my first taste of Lahmacun, an Arab pizza. It was the first meal I had eaten in almost twenty-four hours. We visited the street of the bazaar, the narrow cobblestoned streets looking for all the world like a small mideval French town (Dinan, perhaps), and the various churches and mosques scattered about. Nearing the end of our walking tour, Ed declined to visit the last mosque on our route. An old man in a skullcap stood up from a bench upon which he was sitting to wave him in. I think this man wants me to go in, he said, and began taking off his shoes.
When he emerged, the man beckoned us towards him. I sat beside him and he told us of the meaning of the mosque in Turkey. He spoke in Turkish, guestulating with his hands. He held his hand to my chest as he spoke passionately, mimicking the taking off of shoes, and then putting his palm to his forehead. We thanked him, holding our hands to our hearts and he smiled, responding in kind.
We returned to Meydan square for Turkish coffee. We had walked along Uzun Sk looking for a shop recommended in the guide without luck. And so we sat in the shadow of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's statue, relaxing our legs in the early evening.
Our hotel room overlooks the Black Sea; a shipping yard commands the foreground. Turkish airlines flights periodically tear through the sky on their final approach. This evening, Turkish dance music wafts up from a restaurant on the street below. The cry of seagulls periodically cuts through the quiet between songs. Traffic passes occasionally and the lights of the nearby ships reflect beams of light into the dark waters. Past the bend where lights of the town stretch into the bay, the sea and the sky become inseparable. As Ed remarked on first glancing out the window, on the opposite shore lies Russia.
August 25, 2004
A day, a night, another day, and another night in Istanbul
This morning we got off to a late start. At nine, my alarm went off; I turned it off immediately. At eleven, we made our way to the roof for breakfast. The maitre d’ asked if we wanted omelets. He hadn’t asked me that yesterday.
By noon, we were ready to visit the Topakapi Palace, the residence of Ottoman sultans for four centuries. We waited an hour in line before obtaining tickets, and then waited for forty five minutes for tickets to the Harem. Ed turned to me and said, “We’ve just paid twenty dollars and spent two hours in line just to get into the Harem.”
Admission was rationed to sixty people every half hour. We missed the one o’clock tour. At one thirty, they let us in. The tour guide started her tour in the first room, speaking first in English and then in Turkish, then walked on. I lingered behind to take photographs. A guard brought up the rear, pushing me ahead.
From the Harem we made our way into the third court and the treasury. Rooms held various crowns, jewels and thrones, including the Topakapi dagger, made famous in the Dassin heist film Topakapi. A sixty-eight carat diamond sat in a case beside it, and I wondered aloud why thieves chose the dagger over the diamond.
By the time we neared the fourth court we were hungry, and made our way to the palace restaurant, a terrasse overlooking the Bosphorous. Ed ordered a stuffed eggplant; I had a delicious stuffed chicken. The rice was to die for.
Refreshed, we continued through the fourth court and towards the Baghdad pavilion. Returning to the third court, we passed through the Sacred Safekeeping Room, where a man seated in a small cabin read from the Koran. The room held holy relics, including a letter from the prophet Mohammed and dust from his tomb. Hairs from his beard were also on display (the Treasury housed an arm and the skull of John the Baptist).
Walking back out of the palace, we toured the kitchens and the displays of silver and porcelain. Back outside, we returned to the hotel to nap.
Yesterday, we started at the Aya Sophia, the main dome obscured by scaffolding. The interior reflected its cathedral origins, with Islamic decorations scattered throughout. The mihrab was angled towards Mecca in the former altar. From the upper galleries, the space was even more impressive, offering views of the various mosaics scattered about the building.
From the Aya Sophia we walked to the Yani Camii to visit the adjacent spice market. We walked the European streets up and then down a hill that runs off into the Bosphorus. Coming back towards the water we paused by the fish sellers before walking across the Galata Bridge. The views back towards Old Istanbul were fabulous, the skyline dotted with domes and the spires of minarets.
We caught a cab to the Syrian embassy. Ed had to pick up his passport. I was getting hungry and so we stopped at a street side café. The area around the embassy was chic, with boutique stores lining the cobbled walk. We then walked to Taksim square, skirting Luna park, with its tram connecting one side to the other. At the square, Ed ate a kebab while we watched the mass of people walking up the Istiklal Caddesi, a cobbled street dotted with bookstores, fashiony stores, embassies, and mosques. Small alleyways lead off towards fish markets, cafes, and restaurants.
We followed the walking guide down the street to its end, searching out the various sights. At the Tunel, we continued downhill to the Galata tower, Beyoglu’s oldest landmark. Reminiscent of San Francisco’s Coit Tower, it offers some of the best views of Old Istanbul. We paid our admission and took the elevator to the restaurant, climbing two flights of stairs to arrive at the outdoor walkway.
We spent two hours in the tower. After first walking around and taking pictures, we retired to the restaurant where I had a Turkish coffee. We watched the light change through the window, and as the sun was about to set we climbed again to the top. Ed looked around and noted that we got our money’s worth. None of the people around us were the same as when we first arrived. We took pictures of the skyline and then gathered with various groups to watch the sun set.
Climbing back up the hill we ate dinner around the Tunel.
This evening we returned to Istiklal Caddesi, taking a taxi to Taksim Square and once again walking down the street. Th streets were bustling, even more so at night htna during the day, and the neon signs of restaurants and cafes beckoned from the alleyways. We ate a restaurant noted for its Ottoman and Turkish specialties and then walked back towards the Tunel. The guidebook had recommended a funky café there and off we went in search of it. Nearing the Tunel, I spied an interesting alleyway and we turned into it. Hip restaurants and cafes spilled into the streets. One projected Point Break onto a blank wall.
We walked the small area looking for the cafe, finally deciding to have a drink on the sidewalks outside a small cafe with live music. The clientele seemed to be comprised mostly of students. A man placed an oil painting under a streetlight and then proceeded to walk back and forth down the street. He picked it up and tried placing it under the awning of a nearby cafe, but then decided to replace it. Waiters carried tea and beer on small serving platters.
The table next to us was filled with international students. Friends kept arriving and they kept adding chairs to the two tables already pushed together. We sat and drank our beers, listening as the small band wailed inside the cafe. Music and conversation echoed between narrow walls. As the night continued on, we decided to get back home to pack. As we left, I tapped the girl next to us on her shoulder so that I could compliment her on her tattoo, which I had seen when she first sat down. I misjudged the international component of the table. After I complimented her, she looked at me askance. I smiled and shrugged and followed Ed out of the alleyway and into the square.
August 23, 2004
Ed arrived just after one. His voice rose from below the window. İ was reading the guidebook; by the time İ reached the door to go down to help him he had arrived. He unpacked and changed and then we went to search for lunch.
Walking along the Divan Yolu Cad, we stopped for kebabs near the Çemberlitaş subway stop, then proceeded to the Great Bazaar. Compared to the bazaars in Damascus and Aleppo, the one in İstanbul ıs decidedly more modern. Tile lines the floor; the shops are glass enclosed and well-lit. İt is also somewhat smaller. Wandering in and out of its many sections, we soon exited from the north and walked west, finding ourselves at the gates of İstanbul University. We asked a guard if we could enter and he waved us ahead.
Pausing before the main building to read the guidebook, we saw our proximity to the Suleymaniye Camii, the largest mosque ın İstanbul, and proceeded to the north. The mosque is reminiscent of the Blue Mosque (or vice versa, as the later post-dated the former), with four columns supporting the central dome (one from Baalbek, in northern Lebanon). Hundreds of ropes stretch from the ceiling suspending round Byzantıne chandeliers from the domes. Their parallel lines slice through the air.
Behind the mosque we visited the tombs of Suleyman and his wife before heading back alongside the bazaar to Divan Yolu Cad. Crossing the street, we randomly chose a side street that seemed to head in the dırectıon of the Blue Mosque. The cobblestoned road felt almost Parisian, save for the carpet merchants and the call of the mezzein. The street left us at the Hıppodrome. We had hoped to walk through the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, but it was closed for prayers. Walking home, Ed decided to take a nap. I climbed the stairs to the hotel's roof terrace and sat writing postcards. To my right loomed the Aya Sofia; to my left the Blue Mosque. And behind me, shıps plied the Sea of Marmara, prows pointed towards the horizon.
Istanbul not Constantinople
I slept on the flight, but woke wıthout feelıng refreshed. Landing ın Istanbul, the front of the plane erupted in applause. The man next to me feigned the same for hıs daughter; his elbows once again dug into my side.
The line for visas was long; the line for customs even longer. Once through, my bags collected, I asked a man at the mobile phone counter for the easiest way to Sultanhamet. He pointed at a sign above my head and directed me to the light rail (note: the Turkısh keyboard has two "ı's", one wıth a dot and one wıthout. The one that I'm used to ıs where the undotted ı ıs and from now on ın order to save tıme correctıng my typıng I wıll probably end up usıng the undotted ı). He told me to dısembark at Aksaray, then cross the street to take the tramvay to Sultanahmet. Ask anyone at Aksaray, he told me, then repeated the dırectıons three tımes untıl he was certaın I understood. He told me that from the Sultanahmet stop, everythıng was easıly walkable, though perhaps, eyeıng my backpack, not wıth the amount of luggage I was carryıng. I thanked hım and walked to the lıght raıl, buyıng my tıcket from the attendant. Each tıcket cost 1 mıllıon Turkısh lyre (1 US = approx 1.5 Turkısh lyre).
The traın was unaırcondıtıoned. It passed through the outskırts of town. headıng for the old cıty. It was Sunday and the traın slowly fılled as we approached our fınal destınatıon. Headscarved women alıghted wıth theır chıldren; men boarded wıth frıends. At Aksaray everyone dısembarked and I was about to exıt from the wrong end when a man redırected me towards the tramvay.
The tram was aır-condıtıoned and modern. By contrast, the lıght raıl seemed an eastern-European hand-me-down. As the tram approached Sultanahmet, the streets became lıvlıer. We passed shops and restaurants and souvenır stores. Well-lıhgted alleyways poınted towards carpet shops. When we arrıved at Sultanahmet. the mınarets of the Blue Mosque punctured the skylıne. I dısembarked (once agaın attemptıng to exıt from the wrong entrance) and paused to take pıctures of the dome from the statıon.
The day was clear and hot and famıles wandered through and sat ın the park. As I walked, I found myself between the Blue Mosque and the equally ımpressıve Aya Sofıa. Gardens bloomed besıde the walkways. I contınued on towards the Four Seasons and the hotel dıstrıct. Wanderıng between varıous pensıons, I chose an ınexpensıve one run by a Turkısh couple who spoke lıttle Englısh. When I asked the prıce of the room, the wıfe searched through her purse and pulled out a 20 mıllıon lyre note.
Showered and shaved, İ took to the streets. Walking back to the Blue Mosque, İ sat to the side of it to admire its construction. A teenager stopped to ask me the time in Turkish, and when İ told him İ didn't understand, he apologized. "İ thought you were Turkish, he repied, and sat next to me. İ wrote in my journal and chatted with him, then bade him farewell and walked into the courtyard of the mosque. Just outside, two more teenagers spoke to me in Turkish, claiming my Turkish appearance. We talked briefly and then İ wandered off to photograph the buildıngs.
At night, I walked along the Hippodrome and then up to Divan Yolu Cad back towards Sultanahmet Park. A festival of culture and tourism was being held in the Sultanahmet Meydanı. I stopped for a kebab (the dıced meat wrapped in a gyro) and then walked to the end of the Meydaı to lısten to a group of musıcıans that had gathered on the stage.
They were havıng sound problems. After one song, the conductor wandered the proscenium listening to the monitors. The musicians seemed to fool around on their instruments, occasionally coming together to play a song. The conductor dismıssed the choir and then left the stage. The musicians contınued tuning their instruments until, seemingly frustrated by the delays, they would again burst into song.
İ was tired. Between the flight, the jet lag, and the lack of sleep for two nights running I was ready for bed. Walkıng back towards the Blue Mosque, I heard an announcement and then musıc. The mosque lit up in tıme to the musıc and then a voice commenced tellıng the story of the mosque. Actors played the parts of the sultan, hıs grand vizier, his chief architect, and the mosque himself (the voıce of the mosque was, not surprısıngly, a deep male bass). Istanbul, a female, narrated.
İ sat where İ had sat that afternoon, watchıng the play of lights on the buildıng as the sultan searched for an architect and then as that architect fretted about its construction. What if the dome would fall? Would it be completed in time? Once constructed, the mosque became flooded with light, fadıng to blue. And then violence erupted as red pulsatıng lıghts lıt the front courtyard. By then İ had to go. My eyelıds seemed to pulse wıth the lıghts themselves, threatenıng to close. And so İ made my way back to my pensıon, the mosque eruptıng ın flames behınd me, the vast expanse of this country yet before me.
August 21, 2004
In a little over twelve hours I leave for the airport. My flight is at 8.20 p.m., but with the security measures being what they are I'll probably arrive around five. Anyway, it'll be nice to sit in air conditioning.
This morning at 7 a.m. my brother arrives from Denver. At 9, my parents arrive from Connecticut. My brother is introducing his girlfriend to the family. We'll probably have dim sum in Chinatown. Then I'll have to run home to unpack and repack to make sure I have everything, and then it's the subway to the airtrain to JFK to Munich to Istanbul. I arrive Sunday afternoon. Given time and access I'll be blogging from the road. Otherwise, I'll see you all on the other side. I return mid-September.
August 20, 2004
Leaving the deli I passed a long line of firemen. Their truck was parked outside. At the deli, each sandwich is given a name. The first fireman asked if I had been helped and then stepped forward. "I'll have a firehouse on a roll," he said.
August 19, 2004
At Target they have t-shirts in boy's sizes and men's sizes. Accidentally, I started looking through the boy's pocket tees until I realized that the small would never fit me. I walked around the store until I found the men's. Looking through the styles and colors, I found one that I wanted. I wanted another in grey, but they didn't have that color in men's.
I walked back around to the boy's sizes and held up an XL to my body (made for boys 14-16). A woman passing by said I should get it. "It looks good on you," she said. "Maybe you should get one a little longer since you're so tall." I smiled and thanked her.
Looking at the tags, I saw the boy's tees were 3.99; the men's 9.99. But there were no other colors in the boy's tees that I liked.
Turkish thoughts, Atom Egoyan, and Ann Beatie
I leave for Turkey in two days. I haven't prepared. The past few days I've just been trying to organize things in my room and in my life. And otherwise putting off the idea that I'll be gone for three weeks soon. Unfortunately Ed can't leave on Saturday; he'll be leaving Sunday. And so I find myself with a free day in Istanbul to wander the streets alone. Though now on that first night I'll be crashing in a cheap backpacker hostel.
In preparation we watched Atom Egoyan's Ararat. It's a dense film that doesn't really succeed, but has the urge of a story that must be told. In the end, there is almost too much information and exposition, burdening the film with the weight of history. And the underlying structure of the film pays off better in Hou Hsiao Hsien's Good Men, Good Women, which uses similar storytelling techniques. For those who have never seen an Egoyan film, I'd suggest starting with Exotica.
I once saw Egoyan speak, shortly after his adaptation of The Sweet Hereafter was released. He was at the Barnes and Noble on 54th on the East side. It was a panel discussion of sorts between him and a moderator on adapting novels for the screen. Russel Banks was not in attendance. They gave away free books and soundtracks to those in attendance. Afterwards, Egoyan stayed to sign movie posters. I asked him to sign my book. I don't remember what I said to him, but I remember feeling lucky to have seen him.
In Boston I once attended a reading by Ann Beatie. Her new book had just come out and she read a passage from the beginning. The novel was yet another about a college professor dealing with the onset of middle age, lusting after a much younger student. I found the subject tired. During the question and answer session, a woman asked Ann Beatie if she read. She looked at the audience searching for a response.
When I brought my book up for her to sign, I didn't know what to say. I couldn't thank her for the reading; I hadn't read any of her recent novels. Stuck for words, I didn't say anything. She signed the book I proffered and I moved on. Outside, Anna burst into laughter.
August 16, 2004
I've been addicted to the Olympics. I didn't expect it; I hadn't even planned to watch it. But Friday afternoon, Jean mentioned she wanted to stay home to watch the opening ceremonies, and I decided to try the same. I was hooked.
Saturday afternoon, Pia told me the U.S. basketball team was going to lose its first round. I told her I had thought of getting cable so that I could watch badmitton. I checked the listings for all six channels and then realized that NBC was broadcasting the basketball game. I turned on the TV just in time to watch the closing minutes. I left it on the rest of the day.
August 14, 2004
I'm heading to Turkey a week from today. I'm spending three weeks there. I'll be travelling with my roommate, who'll be en route to Baghdad. It's sort of an extended farewell. We'll be travelling the east and then heading south. At Diyarbakir, we'll part ways. He'll continue south into Iraq, and I'll head west to Istanbul, then back home to New York.
August 13, 2004
I bought a new pair of kicks today. I walked into every shoe store on the Haight. I shopped every shoe store on lower Broadway. I visited every shoe store on 8th Street. I saw a pair of green and lime Adidas that I liked, but they were more than I wanted to spend. And they had no tread (I'm planning on taking the shoes to Turkey with me on a trek). I had seen Etnies that I thought I liked until I saw them on my feet. I saw Vans that looked ok, but didn't quite grab me. I saw shoes I liked but that weren't available in my size. I stopped, I shopped, I moved on.
At the last store I visited on 8th Street, I saw a pair of white on black Saucony Shadows with nylon/suede uppers on the clearance rack. I asked if they had them in size 10's. They did. I tried them on. I walked. Debated. Tried on a pair a half size larger. I went back to the 10s. I fielded a phone call and had an impromptu meeting about a website I was working on. I thought that the shoes could provide more arch support, but the more I wore them the more comfortable they felt. They were on sale for $30.00. I hung up with my client and looked up at the salesman. "I'll take them," I said.
August 12, 2004
A pure person
This morning I dreamt I was at a high school reunion in the mountains. Snow was in the air. None of my close friends seemed to be in evidence. The first two people I saw were Jennifer and Diana, whom I haven't seen since our ten year reunion. They were talking to each other and as I approached, Paula intercepted me. We talked about relationships and then I don't remember what happened.
The reunion was at a ski lodge. Somehow, Ed and Jean and Mary were staying nearby and I remember trying to get a hold of them. They did not attend my high school. The only other person I remmeber talking to is Lauren. Somehow I ended up walking down a flight of stairs to find her seated in the lobby, which then became her room. I was looking for Paula to continue our conversation. She had asked me to find her when we were separated for various activities, none of which I remember.
I remember walking back from the events as a slight snow was falling. I felt like I was in Hokkaido. I might have been looking for Shu Qi. Last night Kit sent me a present. It was a song from the soundtrack of Millenium Mambo, Lim Giong's "A Pure Person." It's now on repeat play.
August 11, 2004
An introduction to jazz
Last night I walked up to Lincoln Center. A Taiwanese percussion group was performing in the main square, but I went to see Sonny Rollins.
Sonny Rollins was the first jazz musician I saw live, before I knew what jazz music (or who Sonny Rollins) was. I was working a summer job at Harkness Park as a groundsperson for Summer Music. During the day we set up chairs and concessions; at night we threw out the trash. The benefits were all the Haagen-Daaz bars we could eat and free access to the (mostly classical) concerts. Every year they would feature a special act. One year it was Harry Belafonte. My first year it was Sonny Rollins.
We had read the program and knew that Rollins was a legend. We brought blankets and set them up for our friends and for us to join as the concert drew near and our duties were suspended. I don't remember much about the show, but I remember loving it. I started checking out jazz records from the library, using Ken Lyons' The 101 Best Jazz Albums: A History of Jazz on Records as my Bible. I still haven't managed to hear all of them.
Last night the show was ok. The band was uninspiring, though Rollins himself, at 74(!), was.
During the intermission at the Harkness show, a friend of mine and I met the band. We were sent to bring drinks to the artist's tent, and the band members were welcoming. I don't remember who they were but we all got our programs signed. Searching the car afterwards I found I had lost it. At the time I was disappointed, but didn't pay it much mind. Now, I wish I had still had it. If only to look back at the exact date and the names of his sidemen. We didn't meet Sonny that night. But I feel that if we had, he would have been as warm and welcoming as the others.
Years later I ran into the jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks. I was studying in Pittsburgh; he was playing at the Balcony (which I just learned closed in 1998). We were in the men's room, and I told him how much I loved his work. He thanked me and then I asked him what his plans were for the season. He rattled off a list of cities starting in North America and then jumping to Europe before heading back late in the year. I expressed dismay at his exhausting schedule. He smiled and said, "I'm like a taxi-cab. Can't make a dime standing still."
We cut heads
Last night I shaved my head. My hair stands millimeters above my scalp. This afternoon, crossing 37th along Broadway, I passed a man in a sandwich board handing out leaflets. He looked at me, hesitated, then handed me one. It and his sandwich board both read, "Haircuts, $9.99."
(The title is a reference to an early Spike Lee film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads. I realized after the fact that in this day and age it could be read in wholly different ways . . . :-/ )
August 10, 2004
The other night I rented So Close. I had meant to rent The Bourne Identity, but it was out. I just wanted to watch a decent action/thriller. Twenty minutes into the movie I was ready to turn it off. There were too many extraneous story bits designed merely to move the plot along, and the action proved too CGI for my tastes (they must have ordered the shattering glass effect for a bulk price for the number of times they used it). But I had no other plans, and so I kept watching.
In the end I found it depressing. Without giving away anything, I found the relationship between the sisters affecting. It's not that the film suddenly became so well written (it's actually pretty formulaic) but something about seeing the film that night made me reflective.
Last night, looking for another movie to watch, I found my copy of Millenium Mambo. Coincidentally, Shu Qi also stars in it. I had bought a DVD of it in China, but never got around to seeing it. It turned out to be the perfect film to compliment my mood, as a girl wanders repetatively through the Taiwan club scene, bouncing between similar situations. A song plays like a leitmotif throughout, and I'm now wanting to locate it. The film is beautiful, inducing an almost trance-like state.
After an hour, the DVD stopped. Ejecting the disk I found the playing surface incredibly scratched. I wiped it down, washed it with water. Now it refuses to play. And suddenly, I'm in limbo. I feel like the girl, trapped in a state of being. When she leaves Taiwan for a trip to Hokkaido, she seems most alive. Against the white snow she becomes active and involved, rather than a sallow person sleepwalking through the neon nights of Taipei. And, like her, I'm unsure what choices to make and how it all ends.
August 9, 2004
I've been wearing out the digital grooves on three songs this weekend, courtesy of O-Dub over at Soulsides. Thanks to him, I've discovered Theodore Unit, Ghostface Killah's loosely knit crew. Their 718
dropped earlier in the month, but I didn't hear of them until I heard "The Drummer," which plays a Kanye West-type sample over a simple drumbeat to great effect (I love how that sample seems to comment on what's going on above it). I can't speak for the rest of the album cause I can't get off this one track. (Thanks to Hua
for schooling me.)
He's also introduced me to the Bizzie Boys, a short lived gropu that spawned only four singles. "Hype Time" features a funky guitar loop supporting Will-Ski's crisp lyrics. The snap comes not only from the record but from the sharp delivery. "Droppin' It" opens like "The Drummer," with a repeating female soul sample, and then leans into another guitar loop that anchors the more conscientious lyrics. Check out the other stuff he's dug out of the crates by clicking here
August 8, 2004
Crabs, carbs, and kicks
My hands smell like fish. Lin called at 11.20 this morning. My alarm had just gone off. She said she was glad she knew someone who slept in later than she did. She asked if I were still interested in the Singaporean crab festival in Dumbo. She said she was meeting Sugi at the water taxi on east 34th Street at 12.45. I had an hour.
I met Lin and Michael in Herald Square. We caught a cab, who decided to head west instead of east. We got to the taxi with moments to spare. The line started moving but the attendant cut us off as we reached the gate. The taxi was full, he said. A voice then said that people should walk to the water taxi. Ten people shoved in front of us, pretending to be taking the New Jersey ferry and boarded the water taxi. We pushed forward and reached the taxi as the attendant stopped us. One more couple squeezed past and then the taxi pulled away. There was an uproar.
The attendant tried to placate us, telling us that another taxi was on its way to pick up the overflow. We said we should have been on the taxi that just left. He asked us to return to the gates, but we told him he would have to start from the back of the line and convince them to move backwards before we would shift. He assured us we'd be the first people on the next taxi. By then it was a moot point. The crowd had dwindled.
The water taxi ferried us under the three bridges en route to its final destination. The day was sunny and cool. At the terminal, Lin bolted for the festival. Sugi's brother had called to make sure we would all leave early; he was afraid they'd run out of food. A band played on one side of the tiny street, sandwiched between industrial buildings. The line stretched. I ran into Zoe, my neighbor, and we chatted before Lin called to tell us she was in the front of the line for the restaurant from which the crab was being shuttled to the outdoor stands. She said that Jean was on her way.
We sat down and ordered. The waitress told us they were out of crabs. Lin pleaded. The waitress said she would see what she could do and disappeared into the kitchen. She returned to tell us that there were plenty of crabs, but they had run out of sauce. Lin told her we'd all have crab and to bring salt, pepper, butter, and hot sauce; we would improvise. And if there were any sauce being brought back in empty trays from the outdoor stand to bring some of that. The waitress looked surprised and then laughed. When she returned, she said they had found another vat of sauce. We waited. And then the crabs came.
I made a mess. Sauce ran down my arms. Lin sopped up her sauce with bread. Crabs were ripped apart, the meat sucked out of their shells. Sugi ordered a second plate. When we finished we were still not sated. Lin wanted a Thai iced coffee and Jean suggested Rice, just around the corner. We told Sugi where we were going and walked back into the festival.
At one end of the street a wrestling ring had been set up. Two professional wrestlers were tearing each other apart. As we approached, one grabbed the other (a bald, masked man) by the hair and lifted him up for a suplex. The ring shook. Moments later the tables turned and the unmasked man was on the mat, pinned. As he got up, delirious, he asked what had happened, then attacked the referee. The ref returned the attack and soon the wrestler was back on the mat. Jean and I took pictures and then hurried to join Lin, laughing over what we had just witnessed. (Is professional wrestling a big part of Singaporean culture?)
At Rice the Thai iced coffees were delicious. Lin ordered rice pudding; Jean rice and plantains wrapped in bamboo leaves. We ate and drank until we were sated. And then we parted ways. Sugi returned to the river with her mother and brother. Lin and Michael went north to Williamsburg to see a loft. Jean went home. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory and to continue sneaker shopping. But I still haven't found a pair I want in my size.
Belly button art
Walking up West Broadway, a man asked us if he could take pictures of our belly buttons. Charlotte demurred; I said ok. I asked if I needed to sign a release form. He was showing a photocollage of bellybuttons in the form of the Mona Lisa. He said he was selling prints for xxx. Charlotte said it was a little pricy and he dropped the price by 33%. He said he was testing the market. Charlotte thought about it and said yes. She was his first sale, purchasing number 2 out of a series.
He walked us into a store to package the frame. I asked him why bellybuttons, and he said that was a story. That he would tell us after the sale. There was a confusion with the invoices, and once that was settled, we left. The story was forgotten until we reached the corner. I guess I'll have to go back.
August 7, 2004
Stuck on the island
Charlotte called at eight this morning. "There's a problem," she said. Hertz had overbooked their cars for the weekend. A line of people stood ahead of her. Some walked across the street to try one of the four other rental places on the upper west side. Two people remained in front of her. She said she would wait for cancellations, but it didn't look hopeful. I asked if Hertz was contrite. She said no. I was amazed. Then I went back to sleep.
Maybe I should have stayed home (the locked door might have been a sign). But Teru im'd me asking me to dinner. He was cooking up the leftover food from his Wednesday night dinner. He said there would be fewer people and to come by around nine. I told him I'd bring hard cider. I was late (see below).
Dinner was great. Afterwards, remembering Nina's comment on karma, I did the dishes. Gigi told us about a loft party on Broadway a friend of hers had invited her to. Bring whomever you want, he had said. DJ Dmitry (formerly of Deee-Lite) was to play. The party turned out to be in his apartment. As we were leaving Teru's for the J train Mavette looked around her and said she'd never seen so many guys carrying bags, not to mention that they were all bigger than hers. "I guess it's the photographer thing," she said.
The J train stopped at Essex. And then continued on to Bowery.
A sign beside the door of the apartment said to take off our shoes before entering. A pile stood in the foyer. Adam looked at me and asked, "Is it worth it?" I said it wasn't so hard taking shoes off and putting them on again, to which he replied, "Yes, but the question is which shoes will you end up walking out with?"
The music was great; the living room was packed. I danced and then stopped and then danced again. He played a remixed version of "Groove is in the heart," following it up with Prince's "Controversy."
At around two, I said my goodbyes and walked home. I have to get up early to go to the Dia:Beacon with Charlotte. I've booked us into the 10.30 walkthrough of Michael Heizer's North, East, South, West. It's the one thing I wish I had done on my last trip up there.
August 6, 2004
I'm late for dinner. I was going to be late already, but now I'm going to be very late. I finished dressing, put on my shoes, grabbed my bag, and turned the doorknob. It squeaked. The door didn't open. I turned the doorknob again. It squeaked, but nothing happened. I locked and unlocked the door and turned the knob. It squeaked. That's when I realized the doorknob wasn't working. The knob turns but the mechanism doesn't.
I called Tara to see if she could open the door from the outside, but she wasn't home. I called Teru to tell him I would be late. He asked if he could send provisions. At least I still had the internet, he said. I called the superintendent. "You're inside the apartment?" he asked. Yes, I told him. And I can't get out. "Give me fifteen minutes," he said. I guess there's always the fire escape . . .
Quarters and bills
I caught myself hoarding quarters and dollar bills. Last weekend I was constantly making sure I had enough for San Francisco's Muni system. And while quarters are always useful (for the laundry), I can't think of use for the stack of dollar bills I've collected. Except for, well, *ahem*.
August 5, 2004
If you're going to San Francisco . . .
Last Thursday I got up at four in the morning to catch a seven a.m. flight. I had gone to bed at one. I got up wondering what I was thinking booking a flight so early.
I slept on the flight. Midway through I noticed that the headrest could be bent to sandwich your head. I slept much better after my head was suitably encased.
In San Francisco I took a van to Yuki's place in the Sunset. Ed was standing on the driveway. I dropped my bags and we walked to a small Chinese bakery for breakfast. We then walked to the N-Judah where he met up with Jean to go running. I took the train downtown to meet Yuki for lunch.
We ate at a small restaurant reminiscent of the Grey Dog in New York. Over the weekend a few people mentioned that they felt the Grey Dog was the most San Francisco restaurant in New York, with its chalkboard menu. I had a burger. Veggie burgers were not on the menu.
Yuki's offices were cool. Manga lines the walls. When I signed in, the two names above mine were Ed and Jean's. I asked the receptionist if they have few visitors. She told me that most people forget to sign in.
After lunch I met up with Jen. She took me on a tour of the Chronicle Books offices and showed me where our mutual friend Kristen used to sit. She introduced me to a few people and noted their connections to Kristen or herself. One woman had just returned from Cambodia, where she had spent three weeks visiting her family. Another was Kristen's roommate back in the day.
We walked out to get a tea and then she had to return to work. That weekend she was going white water rafting in northern California. Ed callled and we met up at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. A contemporary art and street culture exhibit fills the gallery space. A wooden skateboard bowl installation takes up one room, and the sounds of wheels grinding serves as the soundtrack to the show. Downstairs, photography, video, and paintings by the likes of Ryan McGinness, Mike Mills, Spike Jonze, KAWS, James Jarvis, and Mike Gonzolas are exhibited. Upstairs, an exhibit explores the roots of the street culture movement featuring work by Neil Blender, Henry Chalfant, Larry Clark, R.Crumb, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
After we wandered around the garden area. Ed pointed out that you could walk behind the waterfall. He called Jean and we arranged to meet at Carina's to watch Before Sunrise. My lack of sleep caught up with me as the sun set, and I snored during the crucial final scenes.
We met up with Yuki in Japantown, the restaurant choice determined by what was open (all the restaurants seemed to close between nine and ten. The mall was empty. We ate an ok Korean restaurant after the packed Japanese restaurant we had chosen told us the kitchen had just closed.
Friday, Ed woke up early in the morning to go to the SFMoMA. I slept in. I had lunch downtown in the ferry building then met up with Ed for Thai food and shopping. After checking out the North Face store we went to REI. Yuki called and asked us when we were heading to Lin's reception. Soon, we told her.
The reception was in the Crown Point Press building. I had spent my first two days wandering from one publishing house to another. Michael's former guitar teacher led a jazz trio. The room slowly filled with people. The hors d'ouerves were great. From a lightly fried risotto ball to meat skewers to summer rolls to tuna tartare. The party ebbed and flowed. Children ran about the room. I saw people I had met in New York, but seemed to lack the opportunity to talk to them.
Everyone seemed tired at the end. Plans to continue at a bar never coalesced. Lin had been diagnosed with bronchitis and was supported by pills. People drifted off. Yuki, Ed, and I went to the Metreon to see a movie. We ended up at The Manchurian Candidate, the best parts of which were the cinematography, the satire on the way tv presents its news, and the background chatter that runs throughout.
Saturday we had dim sum in the Sunset, wondering why the place we chose had so few white people. The food was good, if expensive. Afterwards, Ed and I went to North Beach to catch the jazz festival. Yuki went home to pack in preparation for her move. At the park, they were between sets. We called Yuki to convince her to move her boxes from storage in the afternoon, leaving the rest of her move for the evening. We stoppped by City Lights bookstore and then went downtown to her storage facility.
We called a van cab to help us move. The driver talked about his degree in computer science and the dot com bubble and burst. Throughout, he told us he kept driving a cab. Now, he's not sure what's on the horizon. There are potential gigs but nothing certain. It's hard to make a living.
Ed and I returned to North Beach to catch the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, who had come all the way from Brooklyn. The band settled into a groove and never got out of it. At six we left for the Embarcardaro where we met Yuki to see Before Sunset, which I liked much better than the first. Julie Delpy was very effective, if Ethan Hawke's character proved still slightly annoying. Jean explained his character well to me, however, as an American adolescent travelling through Europe who never quite grew up. The amazing thing about the film is that I felt the actors weren't acting so much as documenting themselves on film.
We went to the mission for dinner, where I had a prawn burrito, wet. A mariachi band played in the corner; a uniformed guard lingered near the door. Back in the sunset, Yuki packed the rest of her things and we called a cab to move. Back in the Haight, we inflated the air mattresses and went to sleep.
Sunday I met up with Oliver, Sharon, and Jeff in Oakland. Jeff made a fantastic tofu scramble with roasted potatos on the side. The breakfast was amazing. We talked about the Beautiful Losers show at Yerba Buena, Jeff's new book, his website, design, the DNC, and Apple.
Oliver and Sharon drove me back to the Sunset. They left to go apartment hunting and I called Jean. To kill time before meeting with her I walked down 19th. On one corner I spotted a familiar car and as I walked closer, Sharon waved. They had seen one apartment and were waiting for their next appointment. They decided to drive around looking for "for rent" signs. We called a few and saw one before Jean called me back. I said goodbye to them again and walked to meet her on the N-Judah line.
We stopped by a friend of her's house and had tea. They chatted about friends and what they all were doing. I listened. I had met a number of the people they mentioned, or knew of them. The common link was Stanford.
From there we walked back to Yuki's to pick up Ed. Then we walked the hills to another of her friend's houses. She's staying in a doctor's house with floor to ceiling windows that overlook the houses in the valley. We went to a Mayan restaurant near her house and then dispersed. Ed and I walked Haight Street and then met up with Yuki at Crepes on Cole for a coffee.
Monday I shopped for sneakers. Ed called in the afternoon and we met up downtown for lunch with Jean before Jean and I had to go to the airport. The waiter at the pho place repeated all the ingredients of everything we ordered before writing it down. His delivery was short and sharp. Lunch ran long and, running late, Jean and I took a cab to the airport, where we arrived early. I bought an ice cream, but had to wait outside security. The guard said they would have to put the cone through the x-ray machine and it was already melting. "You never know what terrorists might hide in there," he told me, the proceeded to tell me about finding a knife hidden in a lipstick container.
The rear of the plane was empty. A number of people had opted for an earlier fliight and during meal service we were offered two. Jean and I were both starving and, even though the food wasn't good, we said yes. I had rice and pasta. And then I watched Mean Girls as Jean took photographs out the window of the plane.
J train blues
Teru hosted the first lightstalker gathering. For two hours he made stir fry for 30+ guests. The serving plates refilled as soon as they were emptied. Rice noodles, tofu, imitation crab meat, chives in garlic poured out from the wok. People arrived bringing beer and wine, grabbed plates and filled them with food. Teru's high school friend brought brownies.
At 11.30, I started to make for the door. Maki said that she was heading back to the city as well and we decided to catch the train together. Gigi and Nina were leaving at the same time and after a prolonged series of goodbyes (Maki still had an entire night of retouching to do) we made for the J train.
As soon as we climbed the steps to the elevated platform, the train arrived. We practically did cartwheels. The train wound its way through Brooklyn and then over the Williamsburg Bridge. At Essex, the train stopped and opened its doors. We chatted and waited. The doors remained open. A crowd of people transferred from a train across the platform. We chatted and waited. The doors remained open. I turned to Nina and said, "We're not moving." "No," she replied, and then a bell went off. She smiled and pointed. An annoucement was made to stay clear of the closing doors. Then the train moved. Backwards. We looked at each other as the train climbed back out of the earth and creeped over the Williamsburg bridge heading towards Brooklyn.
At the first stop in Brooklyn we got off the train and walked across the street to the Manhattan bound platform. Gigi was convinced we had each done something wrong that day. Nina said we had just talked about how we had left Teru's without doing the dishes. She called him to apologize. He said that after midnight the J does the shuttle thing. She said we should have known.
She was amazed we had sat in the Essex street station for so long without realizing what was about to commence. She said she should have known when the bell went off. She said a bell is the signal that the train is changing directions. We sat at Marcy Avenue. The rain started and then became stronger. We waited.
Gigi told us a story of what she might have done wrong that day. She had been walking across the street to do her laundry. A model was walking across the street with a laptop. The photographer was stepping back to try to get her carrying her laundry into the shot with the model. She glared at him. As a photographer, she felt badly as she had been in the photographer's position, but she just wasn't in the mood. Nina said she hadn't really done anything wrong, but Gigi said that it was the fact that she wouldn't have signed a model release if asked. The moral according to Nina? "Stay in the frame."
August 4, 2004
I returned home to find a package from Patty. Inside were shirts from Carb Couture. I put on the "i eat carbs" shirt and walked around SoHo this afternoon. My neighbor wants one. Evan's assistant wants one. In the Lounge store on Broadway, a salesperson stopped me and asked me where I got the shirt. He said it was too funny. Tomorrow I'll try the "be a man, eat carbs" shirt. You can be one of the first to sport one of your own. Check out CarbCouture.com
August 3, 2004
San Francisco living conditions
Yuki warned us it would be like camping indoors. Ed and I both asked if we could stay with her and she agreed. She warned us she would move during our stay from a share in the Sunset to a studio in the Haight. We offered to help.
The first two nights we stayed in the Sunset apartment. Four rooms encircled a small tile courtyard. Yuki's room was next to the kitchen, and her room must have been a living room or dining room before the apartment was partitioned.
For the days we spent in the apartment, we never met her three roommates. We heard them through the walls, talking or walking up and down the stairs, but they seemed to vanish whenever we stepped foot outside her room. On our last night, as we were moving, Yuki knocked on her roommate's door to hand him the keys. I don't remember what he looked like.
Her apartment in the Haight was a vast improvement. The studio is situated on Carl, along the N-Judah. In the mornings, you can hear the weight of the train passing on its steel rails. Windows in the back look out over UCSF.
She had borrowed an air mattress from a friend and bought another one to use for the weekend. Her friend had told her the mattress was a double, but when we inflated it we found it to be twin-sized. At night, we pushed the two mattresses together. To keep them from pulling apart, we put boxes and luggage at the foot of the bed. The first night a mosquito kept us up. We were too tired to get up to kill it and so we tried to sleep and suffered. The mattresses slowly separated.
The second night proved better, if only I was too exhausted to be bothered by anything. But you couldn't beat it for the location or the price. Or, most especially, the company.