Let’s Talk Turkey

As usual, my attempts to make this a weekly blog continues to fail spectacularly. Since I ranted last, I have been practicing hypnotherapy, tarot readings, teaching and performing on the streets of Istanbul and right now, I’m part of the magical, mystical menagerie currently roosting in the railway arches of Shoreditch’s Village Underground known as The Imaginarium.
I shall try to post a few blogs over the next couple of days, so watch out.
I’ll start in Turkey.
Istanbul is always a great place to visit, however, this was the first time I have visited where I felt a palpable sense of tension. Turkey is in a strange and delicate place right now. Friends I talked to, told me that the government was systematically rounding up those who had demonstrated earlier in the year. Including arresting members of the army- Turkey’s traditional safety catch against anti-secularism. Those I talked to, were pessimistic about the future of the country. The undercurrent seems to be dissatisfaction bordering on outright dissent for the current ruling party’s actions. But there is fear, friends of friends suddenly arrested, charged and languishing in jail. I sincerely hope that it doesn’t go this way. Turkey’s path has been as twisty-turny as most nations including controversy, darkness and mishap but part of what makes Istanbul so unique for me, is the way it neatly straddles East and West, a cultural ragout and the way Ataturk blazed a path of reform. Turks are proud of their independence and the progressive ideals sown by their leader.
In fact, I was in Istanbul to celebrate Ataturk and his story at a drama festival, so it seemed poignant and entirely appropriate to look into his influence on modern Turkey. You may not know it, but there is a great story regarding the father Turk during the Gallipoli campaign. During one of the pitched battles, a shell exploded near Ataturk. He made a point of being in the thick of it and his men adored him for it. This shell sent a piece of shrapnel into his chest, knocking him off his feet. One of his men ran over and saw that the shrapnel had gone through his chest, Ataturk however, was alive but shaken. He was saved by a pocket watch in his jacket pocket! The watch was given to a friend of his after the war and was unfortunately stolen, so that today, it’s whereabouts are unknown. Whether or not the story is embellished, it makes for a fantastic story and you can’t but help imagine what a different Turkey sans Ataturk would have looked like today.
On this visit I was staying on the Asian side in Kadikoy, enjoying great views from my top floor breakfast lounge across the Bosphorous, minarets of Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque glinting in the distance. I love the Turks, they have to be one of the most friendly and interactive races on the planet. I have many, many anecdotes that I normally dine out on with regards to their famed amiable nature and hospitality however, I’ll give you this new one: I like to go out and walk around a city. I like to orientate and I like to meet folk. On my second night in Istanbul I went to a few of the local bars, some of them less salubrious than others, in fact one or two wouldn’t look out of place as an interior for a Sergio Leone movie. It’s hard initially, to tell their character because the norm in Istanbul seems to be dark windows and small entrances designed to pull you in via your curiosity and the obligatory rictus grin doorman. So I opted on a bar and in I went. Immediately upon entrance I was clapped on the back and told to sit down. I ordered an Efes and within two sips was joined by a lady. It became apparent that she was ‘working’ so I made clear that my companion for the evening was the pilsner and I decided to change the dynamic by getting out my ESP cards. The transformation was instantaneous, the barman, the doorman, the lady and two of her friends gathered around. Pretty soon the pock-marked and scarred proprietor sauntered over and oversaw what we were doing with his shark-dead eyes. I know about seven phrases in Turkish- none of them applicable to what we were doing and the level of English in the room was lower than a Balham speakeasy at five am. So I let the cards do the talking. The reception to what occurred was lovely; a mix of consternation, rapid chatter, a slice of wonder and narrowed eyes/furrowed brows and jabbed fingers indicating that I should do it again. So I let them take over and we had a great fifteen minutes of scratching heads and pondering via carefully measured moustache strokes. I was interested to see if mentalism, that is normally so dependent on language could still affect, still make a profound impression on someone significantly outside of my culture and linguistic framing. Afterwards there was much cheering, a couple of nervous glances and I was invited over to share a brew with the Turkish version of Spinal Tap by means of a devil’s horns salutation. A dynamic duo, one in head-to-toe black leather with studded accessories and the other wearing a classic 70′s East German secret service combo of box jacket, sleeveless mustard cardy and jaunty-collared shirt. Leatherman performed complicated air guitar solos for me whilst Trabant, his keyboardist friend insisted I listen to Richard Clayderman tracks on his iPhone and communicated his great passion for Clannad. They took me on a tour of a few more bars and although we could only communicate by grunts and gestures, we had a great time hanging out. They were entirely generous with their time, humour, drinks and banter. I’m not sure, as the details are a bit sketchy, but I may be the newest member of the band.