Gay Pride 2015 in Istanbul

A proud nationalist

A proud nationalist

Proud couple

Proud couple

I just watched “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement,” a documentary about two women that fell in love in 1960’s America and waited 42 years to get married. It’s the first film I can remember that made me feel nearly every imaginable emotion ranging from joy to sorrow and anger to hope. In the end, I sat and cried. Perhaps it’s AHH_8575 copybecause of the “time of the month” we women suffer from, or maybe because it’s the most perfect love story I’ve seen (I’ve seen a lot). These two women are the epitome of love for every generation regardless of sexual orientation. Despite being “straight” in sexuality terms, I believe that (consensual) love is love regardless of who is involved in the loving process. There is so much hate in the world that requires infinite love to defeat it.

I tried my chance at supporting the right to love in Turkey at Gay Pride in Istanbul a few weeks ago. I left my very straight boyfriend drinking beer at Nevizade Street in Taksim to join the march down AHH_8607Istiklal Street. In order to even get to Istiklal I had to pass through throngs of riot police. As I passed a group of these young (sexy) police, I said “Kolay gelsin” or let it be easy, in terms of working. They said thank you and off I went to Taksim Square wherethe masses were formed to start the parade. About five minutes into my walk the sounds of tear gas being shot caused every to run towards the nearest shop. I ducked down and pushed through the quickly closing metal gate of some random clothing shop. There was no air

“We are normal”

circulation in the store, and the locals and two German tourists were chattering about what the fuck was happening. After a bit of translation, the guy controlling the gate opened it and let me out. When I stepped onto the street I ran into TOMA, the lovely water canon vehicles we have come to accept as part of the street scenery in various cities around Turkey. Clearly this wasn’t going to be a Gay Pride parade, but a battle with the police, yet again, over freedom of expression.

I got my ass off Istiklal at the nearest side street, as an American woman with a camera during a “protest” in Turkey is somewhat of a Molotov cocktail. My dear friend (who will remain unnamed for security reasons) was in Cihangir, a neighborhood

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets

nearby, but away from the conflict in Taksim Square. He and his fellow gays had tried to reach the square, but were blocked by police. So the fun began. There was a

Ninja and friend

Ninja and friend

lively and picturesque organization of people in the Cihangir area, so we were able to laugh along with the many colorful people that passed by. When tear gas came and people ran we retreated to a side street for a few minutes. This continued for an hour or so. The police remained, but quit firing tear gas, so we were able to stay in the streets enjoying the scenery with friends and watching the creatively costumed people celebrate. There were 20-something hipster girls holding signs saying “So what if we’re lesbians,” and “What kind of world is it

Flying the freedom flag

Flying the freedom flag

where everyone is loving”, alongside various chants that usually ended with an empathic “Ay ay ay!” in a high pitched scream of pleasure similar to an orgasmic female. The afternoon had finally reached an air of a proper gay festival. After some time, we gathered the courage to venture to Istiklal St. We fucked up.

A few friends managed to walk the pedestrian street towards the main area of commotion, but found themselves blanketed with tear gas. When they ran down side streets to find fresh air, AHH_8584they were met by men beating them with sticks. One friend described the situation as a horror movie. The government was clearly trying to silence any opportunity for free speech yet again. My crew of three and I walked as far as we could until the gas burned our eyes and nostrils. This day of celebration was becoming really fucking exhausting.

We retreated to a restaurant with a Bosphorus view to reenergize and recollect. After food and beer, we were ready to join the celebration again. My friend and I wandered

“There are trans males”

easily down Istiklal to the main area where people were drinking, singing and dancing in the streets with happiness. After maybe half an hour, tear gas was fired directly at us, so everyone scattered like cockroaches in a Bronx apartment when a spotlight is shined into their tiny eyes. I ran for the nearest doorway that just happened to be a cozy little bar I had visited a few years before. The owner was telling people to run up the stairs so he could close the doors. As people inside coughed and wiped their eyes from the gas, I searched for my friends. I found AHH_8478 AHH_8503 AHH_8530two, but the others didn’t make it in. So the search began for the others, who of course had dead phones from the long day of updating the situation on social media.

We watched with nervous energy, from a broken window in the bar, people on the street conversing, aka yelling, with the police. After about 10 minutes the streets remained empty and the police seemed to return to their corner, so I peed like I’ve never peed before, and headed outside again.

As the owner of the bar unlocked the door, I held my heart and said thank you. He embraced me with a death grip that helped me relax and prepare myself to hit the streets. His hug reassured me we would be OK and to keep up the fight. At least in my panicked state that’s how it translated. I walked out the door stronger and ready for more. I ran into two friends that were looking around the empty the street wondering what the hell happened. They had been in a nearby club, so they weren’t gassed like the rest of us, but instead were dancing freely in love as they should have been! We hugged and cursed the police, then ventured onward to find our missing

Love

Love

friend who turned out to be having tea and simit far from the conflict zone. Moral of my story- people should have the right to love as they choose (when the other party consents); the Turkish government is hell bent on killing any freedom of expression and happiness, and I will always fight for people that are oppressed or persecuted. Love each other and let others love each other. It is this simple.

The Best Turkish Wedding Ever

Maybe because she was one of my first friends in Turkey or maybe because she’s a stunning and humorous woman. Regardless, Ceren got married and I was blessed to be a part of it.

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Ceren and Naz

What was planned to be a “girls” weekend in Istanbul turned out to be a fucking wonderful and enlightening experience. Leaving dry and dusty Ankara behind, I embraced the 4-hour drive (riddled with monsoon rains) and tried not to think of the inevitable cosmopolitan traffic that would no doubt be waiting for me.

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Naz

Arriving late in Bakirkoy, my friend Anika and soon to be new friend Chelsea, were nearly 10 sheets to the wind when I arrived. The sangria was deliciously fruity and the conversation entertaining, candid and much needed. Some of us suckers in domestic relationships forget all too soon the inherent spirit and empowerment born from close female relationships. I haven’t forgotten the need for a proper ladies night, but I had forgotten how lively we can be when unleashed and unbridled.

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Ceren and Fatoş

The following hung over morning consisted of meeting twin girls who would be my bosses for the summer, an attempt at going to an overcrowded kuafor, ne hairdresser, and dolling myself up for a wedding I had anticipated for nearly 2 years.Image

Hair curled, heels on and dress covered in cat hair, I went with Ceren’s sister Derya and niece Naz to the family home. I walked in to a room of older women (and 2 men) waiting to send Ceren into her next life.   There was a heaviness in the atmosphere as Ceren and Derya’s father died 2 years ago and though not physically present he was very much in the air. Ceren was in a perfect dress that matched her raven hair, dark eyes, and red lips; nervous smile and impatience intact.

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Derya and Mum

The Cevahir Hotel in Bostanci is nothing short of grand, providing a lush green lawn facing the Marmara Sea. I sat with the family as we had arrived too early for cocktail hour, however conversation was very little due to my serious lack of Turkish. A young cousin played the role as translator for me, but by the end of the night he was a man of few words. I had exhausted yet another translator. Naturally.

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Ceren and Emre

The wedding was full of lights, smoke machines, Turkish love ballads, American pop songs, deliciously prepared and presented food, and limitless alcohol, and a belly dancer. What more could a girl in heels and creeping (down) strapless dress ask for really.

The following hung over morning consisted of Anika and I dragging our asses off Derya’s couch, primping young Naz and hitting the streets for more. Anika and I met 2 of my lovely students in Kadiköy for breakfast/brunch/tea and loose talk. The “girls” weekend continued with more laughter, more enlightenment and more solidarity. Ah, how I miss Istanbul.

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Fulya, Yasemin and Anika

Anika and I then proceeded to sit in traffic for the next 3 hours attempting to reach a tulip-laden park where her friends were having a picnic. The drive along the Bosporus through Istanbul’s most expensive neighborhoods elicited emotions of awe, appreciation, jealousy and conversation about Ottoman history. We finally found Emirgan Park and I must admit the tulips were breathtaking, however the never-ending tour to get there had us a bit frazzled. After sitting in the parking lot for nearly 45 minutes waiting for a space, cold beer calling my name as Anika had began to imbibe as co-pilot, we finally rested the Fiat. By the time I stood up, my left calf was broken and shaking at the idea I would have to use the clutch again in another couple of hours. Nevertheless, we arrived and rejoiced at standing up in fresh air.

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The Naz

The girl’s weekend had ended as the boyfriend was there, however my reenergized spirit was blessed to have had the insights, the laughter, the gossip, and the camaraderie.

Cheers to the ladies.

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Boys on Bikes and Other Musings from the City

And there we went, on another adventure in travel, sports (not me actively) and general debauchery…

Image    The boyfriend works for Pirelli, the official tire sponsor for the SBK Superbike FMI World Championship in Istanbul September 15th.  He was invited to schmooze with colleagues and/or drool over expensive motorcycles.  And it was an opportunity for me to breathe petrol fumes and watch sexy boys on fast bikes.  It was a win win.

So we headed west into the sunset towards my first Turkish love, Istanbul.  After an only slightly white-knuckle four-hour drive, we arrived at our friend Veli’s to find him busy cooking meatballs and arranging a smorgasbord of Turkish cheeses.  Our conversations ranged from solving world issues to pure absurdity depending on the flow of the wine.

Up not so early, Cem and I filled our faces with a traditional Turkish breakfast of tomatoes, cheese, olives and bread then bounced our way to Istanbul Park for some adrenalin. Image

Unfortunately, Turkey doesn’t have a massive following of race fans (damn my American drag race upbringing), so the crowd was almost nonexistent.  On the flip side of this, the bathrooms weren’t overflowing with human waste and there were virtually no lines for concessions or backed up traffic.  The highlight of the day was watching an incredibly adept and possibly a bit insane young stunt rider from Poland.  Motorcycle stunt riding involves an impressive amount of acrobatics both of the bike and the rider.  Wheelies, stoppies and burnouts are common stunt practices, but words can’t describe the visions of these tricks and the finesse of the riders.

Image    In celebration of being back in the grand metropolis, we gathered friends in central Istanbul, the now infamous Taksim Square in which we drank, sang and danced, as friends do.  I had my snowboarding goggles and handkerchief ready in case of police clashes, which had started again in the major cities across Turkey the week before. The riot police were in full force, occupying nearly every side street, tear gas guns in hand.  Alas, there wasn’t any disturbance and by the time we left the area most of the police had retired to their humble homes as the drunken people stumbled their way to somewhere.

Image Sunday was race day, which motivated us to rise a tad early.  The spectators at Istanbul Park were filling the grandstand and the long-legged beauties sporting various brands across their voluptuous boobs were strolling among the people lucky enough to be in the paddock.  The hero of the race was the one and only Turk, Kenan Sofuoğlu, who instilled a sense of national pride among the race fans.  When he took the win, the people chanted, hollered and waved their Turkish flags.   It was a heartwarming scene to watch the (minor) masses of people full of laughter and camaraderie.Image

Sweating, Swearing, and Laughter

Some of the best adventures in life come from spontaneous ideas or moments.  Or not.  Depends on the situation I suppose.  Cem (Jim) and I, or just I, made a rash decision to divert our plans from hiking in Ankara to driving to Istanbul for a Red Bull DIY flying contraption event.  I’m pretty sure Cem was relieved he didn’t have to entertain me by walking around a lake.  Instead he had to entertain my notion of walking through throngs of sweaty people under the near summer sun.  At least there was a sea breeze.  A breeze that smelled like dead fish, but a sea breeze nonetheless.

southern Istanbul

southern Istanbul

As we strolled (and threw elbows) at the Red Bull Flying Day in Caddesbostan, I sometimes played the leader and sometimes just followed.  Usually when I followed, the leader would turn around and say to the group (4 guys and I), “Where are we going?”  In which I would shrug my shoulders and look around at the people standing, sitting, sleeping, all in a sweaty daze.  While the event has great potential-the common person making a “flying” machine that is pushed and either takes off or drops into the water below, there was too much talking and nonsense between the action to keep anyone’s (my) attention.  And being that I was with 4 adolescent boys, oops, 4 grown men, I made the management decision to get on a boat and head to the Prince’s Islands.

Veli

Veli

Off we went, on the Mavi Marmara floating people vessel (not the boat from the Israeli attack in 2010), from Bostanci to Heybeli Island.  On the 40-ish minute trip, I soaked in the sun, the sea spray, and the sight of the immense development of high rises from the Blue Mosque to Tuzla ( a seaside town 2 hours from “downtown” Istanbul.)  The Asian side of Istanbul is a developer’s dream, however it just looks like a cluster fuck of village houses-meets-upscale highrises.  I suppose it’s too late for creative urban planning.

On dry land, my partners in crime (sort of), Cem, Veli, Osman, and Emrecan, buy hats for sun

Hats and Smiles

Hats and Smiles

protection (Veli and Osman), smoke the long anticipated cigarette (Emrecan), and watch the hilarity of what is, and what will ensue (Cem and I.)  Hats bought, cigarettes smoked, laughs laughed, we rented bikes and headed uphill.

The old villas, the street cats, the horse-drawn carriages, and the wandering punk ass teenagers completed the island environment.  As we huffed, puffed and laughed our asses off up and down the AHH_3093hills, we took a moment on a hilltop overlooking a bay littered with yachts and, naturally, took a jumping photo.  When in doubt, take a snapshot of you and your friends jumping.  Priceless memories.

One of the many things I love about Turkey, especially Istanbul, is that I can hop on a boat, land on an island, fuck about a few hours, then jump on a boat back to civilization.AHH_3254

Life is good.

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