Tag Archives: Istanbul

marine-induced-semiotic-delirium

IMG_5359 Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea
– Keats ‘On the Sea’

Kupang is not Kupang: it is Tangier, Barcelona, Venice, Castellorizo, Istanbul, Kas rolled into one. Day 500. Day 9 at sea. Nothing is itself anymore. Under the solvent influence of the sea memories and vistas are breaking apart, dissolving. They’ve lost their crystalline objective quality. Physical form is detached from meaning. Signifiers bear no relation to signified. Places have lost their peculiarity. Everything is the same.

To my eyes, vexed and tired as they are, everything is composed of common attributes. Nothing is unique. Even the people I meet are not themselves anymore, they remind me of people I’ve met in other places. I glance about me at the boats, the shops, the cars lining the foreshore of Kupang and I’m confronted by a queer sensation. Places have lost their unique aspect. One is the other. One stands for all. Everything is familiar and strange. I’m neither here nor there.

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75 nautical miles northwest of Kupang we pass a village in the Solor Archipelago that, for all appearances, could be my Yiayia’s birthplace on Castellorizo. The Solor village convenes in a crowded fashion around the nucleus of mosque and marina, but substitute mosque for cathedral, coconut palm for plane tree, satay for soutzoukakia, and it could be Castellorizo, could be Istanbul, could be Tangier. The configuration is different but the elements are the same: trees, shops, houses, roads, parks, schools.

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The outcrop of rocks on the foreshore of Kupang is to my eyes, Sydney Cove. The sinuous camel-hump profile of Banta Island is the Olgas. 9 days prior , off the East coast of Lombok, we passed the Wallace line, the ‘faunal boundary’ between Asia and Australia, so it’s conceivable that the coastline here was once part of the Kimberley, part of the landmass I call home. None of us are strangers. All of us are kin.

Approaching a city from the water smooths out the differences. Buildings, objects and people come into focus slowly. There’s time to recollect. As Lea steers the boat headlong into the breeze and Keith drops the pick I hold on to Richie, hoping his presence will anchor me to the moment, preventing me from drifting 14,000km to Tangier, where 16 months ago we strolled along a seafront promenade not unlike the one here at Kupang and found ourselves seduced for the first time by the grace of mosques, palms, and the heady piquancy of anonymity.

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East is east

Not to touch the earth,
Not to see the sun.
Nothing left to do but
Run, run, run.
Let’s run.
Let’s run.
– ‘Not to Touch the Earth’, Jim Morrison –

The dispersing of students after the PDC brought us to the steady conclusion that it was high time to make tracks. With our new recruit, Sam, we packed bags and gathered our strength. Let’s go! “To the East, to meet the Czar…”

The train tracks ate up the miles. Shades of KLF Chillout Album as ambient sounds, lights and the sporadic music of doors opening and closing rippled through the carriage. Lying prone on the grimy floor of the 2nd class carriage. Smudgy faces through compartment windows, cigarette smoke from the toilet. Night tasting like ash and Sal, or was it Dean Moriarty, whispering in my ear… “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” 

With inertia overcome the road became our only goal. East, ever east.

Train-bus-train-bus-bus. In 31 hours we unravelled the 1,200km from Malin to Istanbul. 2 borders in 12 hours.

4am Istanbul. Nothing to do. Dark. A mist of rain. Find bearings. Coffee. Wait for the train station to open. Train tracks under construction. Change of plan. A bus. Otogar. Ankara. Peak hour traffic. Miss our stop. Run. Sweat, sweat… the Dogŭ Express. Made it! “Let this be a lesson to us,” Richie warns, “you always need longer than you think!”

Our third night since leaving Malin, our first bed: 4-berth carriage aboard the Dogŭ Express. Clean sheets and a pillow. Luxury!

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Season of the harvest

We arrived in Plovdiv’s Yug Bus Station feeling grateful for having escaped the intensity of Istanbul and the foot-swelling all-night bus journey.

Bulgaria – our seventh country in as many months!

As we sat in the bus station chewing greasy breakfast pastry we speculated about the many permutations of fried bread we’ve eaten during our 7 months on the road, and wondered what was ahead in the way of fat and flour.

Thankfully, in Bulgaria, there’s no reason to live off grease, cheese and coffee. Gripped by a late-season glut of tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants, grapes, peaches, plums, apples and pears, Bulgaria’s towns and villages were awash with colourful market stalls. To impoverished tastebuds acclimatised to the bland horrors of English supermarket food there was no doubt that this was some of the best food we’d ever eaten. Who knew tomatoes could be this good?

In a region of central Bulgaria known variously as the Valley of the Thracian Kings and the Valley of Roses we were delighted to find that not one household had neglected to fill their backyard with a variety of fruit trees and heirloom vegetables. Walking the streets of Kran was a moveable feast, hands darting between railings and over fences to snatch mouthfuls of red currants, black grapes and marble-sized cherry plums.

“Incredible edible” exclaimed Richie, marvelling at the absence of ‘ornamentals’. Not a single municipal council-planted acer, plane tree or horse chestnut was in sight. Instead, sour cherries, walnuts, plums and sweet chestnuts lined the village streets, flaunting their exceptional ornamental value while at the same time, dropping fruits and nuts into the palms of passersby. Not wanting to be outdone, even the pavements yielded a crop; enough fat succulent purslane to furnish many a late-summer salad. Continue reading

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The edges of Istanbul

My sweat hanky is working over time. I’m dabbin’ my way uphill, getting nowhere. I’ve got the Bosphorus between my shoulder blades and the Marmara pooling in my waistband. My body of water is about to burst its banks.

We’ve eaten nothing all day but soup and dried apricots; add to this a 12 hour bus journey, traffic jam, two mis-directed metropolitan bus rides, and an hour-long ramble uphill in pursuit of a doss-house – we’re shattered. We hope we arrive at Serbia Travel House before the map dissolves in our hands, ashes to ashes, tree pulp to tree pulp.

Two distracted Russians pop up out of nowhere in the darkness to join in our search for the Serbia Travel House. A wholesome dinner and good night’s rest would do the job but there’s no room at the inn – we join 24 bodies on the floor. We’re too tired to feel alarmed by the conditions, or the snaking queue for the toilet. We brush teeth, store our bags and join the pyjama-party-refugee camp on the floor.

The following day when we’re feeling brighter and more responsive we’ll be able to learn about the lives of the other travellers here including the doe-eyed Syrian who is the only genuine refugee. There’s also a couple who have been on the road continuously since 2004 – living on 350Euros a month between them.

The next day over a tahini bun and Turkish coffee it becomes apparent that we’re in no fit state to enjoy this experience… we’re in Istanbul but we’re minus the stamina to enjoy it. We’re minus the will and the inclination too. What to do?

We blame the heat. We blame ourselves. We use the Lonely Planet to stimulate an appetite for exploration, hoping the centrefold photos and suggestive itinerary will be enough to arouse us into action. Maybe some of that Turkish viagra at the spice market would help our cause…

We take a freshly squeezed orange juice instead and find our way to an independent English-language book store. The shop-boy is enthused by the Turkish cookbook I’ve picked up. I have no intention of buying it. “We’re such bad tourists,” Richie whispers. It’s true.

Richie and I spend the next 2 days in Istanbul being really really bad tourists. All our leads come to nothing: the archaeology museum is closed; the boat excursions up the Golden Horn have come to a halt due to ‘renovation’ (of what? The boat? The river? The Golden Horn?) and the Grand Bazaar is closed too. It’s a relief. Except for a visit to Aya Sofia and the Basilica Cistern we eschew the ‘attractions’ and make for shady places where we watch people and scrape our scattered senses into little mounds of dirt that we push around with our toes and fingers. We chew corn, take photos, stop for tea. Dab dab, swipe swipe, the water keeps on coming.

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Balloons over Goreme

Who knows if the moon’s / a balloon, coming out of a keen city / in the sky – filled with pretty people?

– E. E. Cummings

On our last day in Goreme I wake to the sound of balloons exhaling. It’s after dawn. What time exactly, I don’t know. Since leaving my watch in Morocco and the mobile phone in Greece time has become a loose bracelet on a long long arm.

Today, however, time is relevant. The bus to Istanbul departs at 8:15am and we should be there by 8am. I’d like to have a good breakfast, and of course, there’s the tent and sleeping bags to pack away. The empty yard and the pink-around the edges sky tells me it’s 6am, 6:30am at the latest. We’ve enough time to pack things down leisurely and make sure we have enough fresh apricots – picked and washed – to see us through the long journey to ‘the bull’ – ‘is tan’, that is.

In Australia apricots are a luxury. They come in undersized overpriced bags at the supermarket, or in massive sacks at pay and weigh stores, like Mick’s Nuts in Brisbane. I like the brown unsulphured ones. They come from Turkey. 86% of the world’s supply of dried apricots come from Turkey. And guess what? We’re in Turkey… and it’s apricot season.

The 3 kilograms of golf-ball sized orange globes that I laid out to dry in the sun 4 days ago has shrunk to a measly two cups of dried fruit. What they lack in volume they make up for in flavour – intensely aromatic, even perfumed, and stickily sweet. If there’s an upside to 41-degree days it’s the speedy conversion of fruit into confectionary.

The dried apricots last all the way to Istanbul and well into the next day. I claw the orange shreds from gaps in my teeth as we pass the flat expanse of Turkey’s bread basket. A salt lake takes up my attention – and the whole of the horizon – a shimmering mirage in white. It could be Australia or Peru. I think of my brother in law, Daniel, and the bogus gravity defying photographs he and his mate, Tyler, took in Bolivia.

I think of the balloons in the sky over Goreme and how beautiful they looked sailing above the fairy chimneys, rising and sinking in time with the exhalations of the gas bottles. Never mind how contrived and touristic a spectacle it is… tour groups, quad bikes, balloons, beer, tourist cafes, handicraft stores… none of them have managed to effectively dismantle the enchantment of Goreme.

I wonder if the tourists, way up there in the sky, on cloud number 9, were having a good time? Were they weary from the 4 am shuttle bus to the launch site? Angry that the champagne they’d been promised turned out to be fizzy pop? Or that the conversations they were having were drowned out by the blast of combusting fuel… Were they warm enough up there? Were they missing something crucial, something that can only be experienced at ground level.

The details.

Like all good things when you travel – the apricots and the spectacle of the balloons – were free. Cost nothing. The balloon ride, on the other hand, cost 120 euros p/person. Life is sweeter with two feet on the ground and a gob full of reconstituting apricots.

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