Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Orienting expressed

In 1890, the newly opened Sirkeci Station was the last stop on the Orient Express, that fabled train route that led from staid Vienna to exotic Istanbul. Then and now, it is as far east as one may travel by rail, arriving in the Old City along the shore of the Bosphorus, skimming the outer edge of Europe.

The building itself is small. But the ornate, eclectic architecture - compass rose windows under variegated stone arches, vivid plaster echoed in the solid red brick and white marble fa├žade – does not hint at the final decades of a crumbling Empire, but of the entrance to another world. 120 years later, Sirkeci Station is the anchoring point to our currently charted journey, as new residents of Istanbul.

Abit and I have taken up temporary residence at the end of the line. Literally, as the Sirkeci train tracks end just beyond our street (that narrow space to the right of the ‘hotel’, above). It’s somehow welcoming that those tracks, which long travel east and finally circle the Old City, end up heading west for their last few hundred meters, since we frequently find ourselves traveling in multiple directions.

The end of the line has become our beginning. The hustle and bustle that encircles us will invigorate our days here, after long times in quiet, out-of-the-loop places. The trains to the north of us and the trams that endlessly wind their way through this ancient neighborhood remind us to keep going forward, their (thankfully) near-silent electric powered movement the backdrop to planning our future in this megacity.

If the streets become too hectic, we can look toward the water, just beyond the station, from our 4th-floor windows. Or walk the few blocks to Gulhane Park, the rose-filled green oasis surrounding the Topkapi Palace and the Archaeological Museum.

Beyond the roofs to a compelling view of rolling if densely populated hills, massive bridges and a busy waterway, though this photo is atypically devoid of traffic.

Our street is lined with buildings soon to be torn down to make way for the new underwater tunnel that will connect Sirkeci to Hadarpasa, the station that links greater Istanbul with Asian Turkey…in other words, 97% of the country. But for now, we can see the dome of the station as we walk home to our small studio, a nondescript but extremely affordable interim home (with the window open and hinting pink, top left corner)

Five minute walks south takes us to the tourist mecca of Sultanahmet or the vast shopping area of the Grand Bazaar. Places we’ll be spending time in by day, researching and developing, or being inspired by the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, to name just two on a very long list of nearby wonders. And by night, mingling in the restaurants and listening to the Babel of languages spoken in this crossroads of the world.

Otherwise, while we’re getting our bearings within the coiling lanes of this timeless place, I’ll be here by the window, gazing out across Sirkeci Station and the Bosphorus and plotting new directions.

What reorienting moves have you made lately?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Grist for the mill

SFO International Terminal. The flowery taste of jasmine tea takes my mind back to those years I spent traveling to Hong Kong, Osaka, or Seoul from this very airport. 16-hour slogs across the Pacific, flying most often into the old Kai Tak, coming in so close between the highrises you could almost see what families were eating for dinner.

Today, I’m also headed back to Asia, but to the other side of that vast continent. No, wait. I’ll only be seeing Asia at the end of this journey, 14 hours airtime, inshallah and volcano willing. I’ll see it when I look out the windows of our new apartment in Istanbul’s Old City.

After years of living in Anatolia, technically Asia, we’ll be living for now in Eminonu, near Gulhane Park and the Topkapi Palace, at the mouth of the Golden Horn. Technically Europe, within the 3% of Turkey that sits on that continent. Within sight of the massive San Francisco-style bridges that span the narrow waters between Europe and Asia. A more profound concept than merely connecting San Francisco and Oakland, though visually there’s not much difference.

Another six months spent working away from Abit behind me, with any precious downtime spent plotting our next move, I’ve plenty of grist for my mental mill. Inexplicably tethered to another winter toiling amid the grapevines of Napa’s lovely valley, I constantly found myself drawing comparisons in appearance to our Aegean valley. But I realize now that both valleys, while enticingly full of comforts, offer little in terms of long-term sustenance.

I’ve determined to leave them both behind, to pursue a vision that better suits us. No more skimming along the surface of our creativity…time to dig deep in a place that better provokes our muses. No more half-years tending to the whims of clients, no matter how spectacular those before-and-after interior photos may be. My interior renovation, another new space that Abit and I will create together, may be a work in perpetual progress, but it’s work that is so much more satisfying.

So, after one last sumptuous almond croissant at Bouchon, and a few macaroons for my family, who are the major bright spot of any time spent in California, I’m leaving this golden state with its current economic woes. Like that old song, I do leave my heart here when I go. Or maybe I have multiple hearts, because high on a hill in the Old City, that one’s calling me back to Turkey. More than one heart, more than one home, more than one way to live. Seeking out places where parts of me blend, yet other parts don’t. Instead of viewing it as various parts of me though, I’d rather see myself as being a cultural chameleon – having the ability to recolor myself, wherever my heart takes me.

And to keep building bridges across continents, and between cultures. 

What interior renovations have you made recently?