Sunday, January 13, 2008

happy leap year.

since new years i've pretty much been a recluse in my room, finishing up two term papers for my grad classes and scrambling to get two last-minute applications to MA programs in geography together. (wish me luck.) i'm loving the queen's gambit by walter tevis. . .getting invited to eat fancy food in a bunch of people's apartments. . .crossing my fingers for obama. . .and, as usual, hanging around laura a bunch. she gave me the most amazingly-wrapped gift: a beautiful print she did - now up on my wall - which came rolled in a hand-colored map of eugene:

and outside my window this month: snow!

this is "lojman 106" where i live. as you can see there is NOTHING near it . . .except lots of mud currently hidden by the snow.

and these are a few views from atop the ankara kale (fort/castle) at sunset.

“Travel (like walking) is a substitute for the legends that used to open up space to something different.”
- Michel de Certeau, from The Practice of Everyday Life

Saturday, January 5, 2008

ich bin ein berliner.

when americans ask about my travel experiences, a common response is: but you've never been to europe. it's true that i've traveled in a round-about way compared to most americans; turkey seems incredibly developed and comfortable compared to most places i've been. yet other than a vague desire to experience the romance of paris (and see berlin after wings of desire) i've never really thought about visiting europe until arriving in turkey. now my heart is totally set on madrid and prague and helsinki etcccc. someday!!! - but with a winter break, cheap(ish) tickets to germany, and a friend with a german-history-major who'd never been to berlin, a trip to germany sounded nice. i ended up remembering german words i didn't even know i'd learned and falling head over heels in love with berlin.

brian and i flew ankara ---> munich ---> berlin (only missing one flight!) and met up with megan the next day. we stayed in a hip yet relatively cheap hostel near the tv tower and started off with a highly recommended free walking tour of the major outdoor historical sights (the brandenburg gate, the pretty amazing memorial to the murdered jews of europe, checkpoint charlie etc. etc.) i dragged brian to the berlin state library where a scene in wings of desire was filmed - however, without a library card, we were left to the purgatory of the lobby. we spent a lot of time at museums on museum island and beyond; the architecture of the jewish museum was especially impressive. much to brian and megan's dismay, i spent way too long at the hamburger bahnhof museum for modern & contemporary art awing at bill viola's "he weeps for you" and ceal floyer's "working title (digging)" (not to mention paul mccarthy's "santa chocolate shop" - faint of heart, beware.) when i found them waiting in the lobby as i was barely half-way finished, we decided to split up and meet later for döner kebab (way better in germany than turkey and fun to surprise vendors with bits of turkish) and (accidental) dancing at a gay bar covered wall-to-wall in HOT PINK FUR and christmas lights. i half-seriously considered a convenience-marriage proposal in exchange for an EU passport.

cold and tired but happy to be in a city with both burritos and indian food, we ate, drank beer (and absinthe - not particularly amazing), wandered, and relaxed as i bugged brian to translate and explain everything. checking out various sections of the berlin wall was interesting & only added to the amazingness+confusion of the history crumbling everywhere in berlin.

other highlights included a pair of foxes darting around in the snow of a construction site, the silliness of a giant snow tubing hill built right by the sony center, 10 euro tickets to a performance of handel's messiah in the incredible berlin philharmonic hall, and hipster girls-in-skirts rolling by on old bicycles every few minutes. we also stopped by the beautifully chaotic christmas market near our hostel almost every night to gorge on chocolate-covered apples, bratwurst, mulled wine, and the occasional cup of (disgusting but hot) grog. imagine christmas lights, a maze of handicraft stalls, a mix of steaming/greasy and colorful/sugary food, crowds of frazzled families and giddy teenagers, carnival rides, and buskers playing christmas carols on giant-cranked-music-boxes and the rims of water-filled glasses. a flash:

then: a contrast. megan and i visited the remains of the sachsenhausen concentration camp, a 30 min. train ride from berlin in the town (literally) of oranienburg. we left later than we'd planned & arrived as the sun was setting somewhere behind a thick, menacing gray sky. as it got dark we were the only visitors and still a long walk away from the entrance, quickly turning a haunting, somber experience into a distressing and borderline-terrifying one. walking through a fully-furnished prison and barrack alone with megan in the pitch black was more than i could handle. it was truly the landscape of death. i didn't take any photographs there, but imagine this (stolen from the internet) at dusk with the bleakness of fog and flurries:

that's "work will set you free."

the whole thing was surreal and more difficult than i'd expected. i spent the following day (dec. 24th) nursing a hurt foot (from awful boots) alone on the s-baun ring. . .circling around. . .trying to process things.

we actually managed a nice christmas eve despite being far away from our families: some wine at the hostel, a super-fancy meal at a very euro restaurant where we accidentally ordered refills of our giant glasses of beer instead of the DESSERT MENU (but went with it + a banana split all the same), and a tipsy midnight church service at a big lutheran cathedral called the berliner dome. although the service was in german, a children's choir sang haunting, angelic songs that transcended language - it was beautiful. you can see the dome here from a christmas market:


and our christmas eve self-portrait here:

although the dollar/lira vs. euro exchange rate was almost prohibitively awful throughout the trip, we still stocked up on face wash, conditioner, and other relatively expensive turkish goods (thanks to importing costs) before leaving. coming "home" (on christmas day) was a strange experience; the juxtaposition of returning to ankara after berlin helped me see ankara with fresh eyes. i realized i'd been subconsciously self-censoring my individuality/gender performance in turkey - i'd grown meeker, quieter, and more careful with my body movements - whereas in germany i felt more free to move and dress and randomly sing on the street as i pleased. i suddenly missed things as banal as efficient public transportation and international cuisine to thought-provoking contemporary art and the presence of vibrant, alternative subcultures i could celebrate and understand - not to mention the familiar pleasures of stumbling across all-girl accordion punk band shows and squatter kids playing beautiful acoustic guitar on the subway with their dogs. most of this is can be found in istanbul and, to some extent, in ankara, even though my lack of turkish keeps any meaningful understanding just out of my reach. but, in another way, the individualistic mindset isn't the same in turkey. my ability to be the woman i want to be feels stunted. maybe all this has to do with being abroad and yet not visibly a foreigner for the first time - and probably because berlin is just an amazing city as far as cities go in general. but the trip solidified my decision to leave turkey after this year. while there are obviously incredible experiences unique to living in turkey that would only grow as my turkish improves, i really felt the benefits of existing long-term in a more accepting, liberated society (ironic coming from germany.)

i also experienced my first earthquake!! - on december 27th around 2 in the morning when i awoke to my entire bed shaking. since our building is brand-new and got finished in a hurry, laura and i (unintentionally??) took whatever genuine element of danger existed and went with it, getting dressed, searching online for earthquake survival tips, and freaking ourselves out over the 1999 earthquake in İzmit that killed around 17,000 people (including the father of one of my friends here.) it turned out to be a 25-second-long 5.5 magnitude earthquake, preceded by a 5.7 magnitude quake the week before while i was in germany. there are now several big cracks in the walls of both my classroom and laura's room.

i spent new years drinking gin & losing at monopoly in my apartment building (sorta more fun than it sounds.) now it's back to teaching (i love my students so much!!) and finishing up the work for my grad classes (i'm so stuck!!) after our coveted trip to syria was fully confused by time constraints, train logistics, and visa difficulties, michelle and i decided to go ahead with a pair of relatively cheap tickets to cairo for our february break. i'll be visiting a friend of mine from semester at sea and hanging around with my co-worker paul who studied abroad there & is excited to play tour guide. thanks to my aunt who gave me the christmas money to afford it!

happy new year, everyone! if you're reading this, chances are you're dearly missed.