Hanging out in Gülhane Park

Lately I feel as though I’ve lost my bearings. It’s certainly not the first time. If you know me well, or if you’ve read my excessively personal post, “So, why are you going to Europe?” you might have gotten the idea that this is normal for me and I suppose it is. I like to leap far ahead and once in a while I’ll realize I’ve been on a course that should have been altered and I’ll have to stop and assess what it is that I’m actually doing.

We have been here İstanbul for a more than a month, 41 days to be exact. Now, that’s not a very long time in most people’s lives to be sure. You can spend that much time sitting out traffic tickets in the county jail, if you’d rather not, or cannot spend the money to pay them off. It took us only 43 days to fly to Madrid, hop over to Lisbon, catch a train up to Porto, another down to Lagos, then a bus to Vila do Bispo, a car to the farm, travel on foot back to Bispo, catch a bus to Seville and another to Barcelona, take a train back and forth from Barcelona to Igualada a few times, book passage on a ship to Savona, another train to Livorno, make a few road trips to Pisa, Florence, and Voltera, catch yet another train to Rome, and book a flight to Malta.

What I mean to say is that within the context of the Adventures of Hobo and Lefty (the name of the graphic novel and subsequent cartoon series to come), two weeks is a fair amount of time to be doing anything. And what exactly is it that have we been doing here all this time?

We did a lot of wandering and exploring at first. Joe, an old friend who has been living here for years, took us to the Hagia Sophia and a number of other fantastic places that everyone visiting for any amount of time should see. I met an activist who had once been imprisoned for 11 years. We discovered an anarchist cafe with some of the best food and lowest prices in Beyoğlu, at least as far as we know. During the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, we witnessed numerous demonstrations and press conferences by various groups denying it ever happened.

For some reason, it hasn’t occurred to us to write about a lot of this stuff.

Of course, we have written at least a few posts about our experiences in İstanbul; a game of cat and mouse with the police on May Day, our interactions with the children of Tarlibaşı (pronounced Tarlabahsheh) and we’ve posted a few goofy videos, but there has been a noticeable decline in our “creative output,” for lack of a better term.

What’s happened?

We traveled here mostly on our own dime, with some generous donations by some wonderful people to fill in the gaps. We ran out of money. It wasn’t really a surprise. We knew it was going to happen and we had expected it, albeit a bit later. So, when we got to Turkey we looked for jobs and then we found jobs, and heaven knows that this changes everything. Nathan teaches English. He might even be good at it. I copyedit for a newspaper and I haven’t yet been fired. We’ve gotten to know a few really nice people around here and we get together from time to time.

These things have dramatically reshaped our lives. They’ve partially reshaped the way we think. Before we were just passing through a given place and our hosts were keen to show as much as possible during whatever time we had. Now the sense of urgency has completely evaporated. It’s weird and I hate to admit it, but there have actually been a few days where I’ve done very little at all.

In my mind, this current reality casts a huge shadow of doubt over the whole journey.

We’ve been using the term “vagabond journalist” to describe ourselves even though the latter half was never quite true. We’re not journalists, though we are writers. Technically we’re bloggers but I sort of dislike this moniker. I do technically work in the field of journalism but still I think the term applies to something different from what we’ve been doing. The term “vagabond” was the modifier. It’s took away some of the pretense and posturing away from the word “journalist.” But are we really vagabonds?

For the first two months, Hobo and Lefty were two guys who quit their jobs and skipped town to go wander around in faraway places to learn new things, especially from the people struggling and fighting in an austerity-ravaged southern Europe. Along the way, we’ve managed to tell a story or two to reflect that. More often we’ve told stories about our own personal experiences, our own little adventures and escapades.

So, we’re like Hemingway, only less talented and less interesting.

Last night I asked Dilara, a new friend, if I still qualified as a traveler considering the changes in my pace of life. She found it amusing that a person who doesn’t have even an address and has been gainfully employed for less than a month, would consider themselves to be stationary just because they had not crossed a national border for a few weeks.

“But you are traveling,” she said. “Are you moving here for good? Aren’t you going to Greece soon? And what if you decide to stay there? Yes, you are a traveler for sure.”

Neither Nathan nor I have been paid yet — we both get paid monthly — but we will soon and that’s got me thinking about how to get back into the original spirit of this whole affair. I didn’t leave my own country with the intention of settling into a new country. I’m not sure how long I’ll really be here — some people I’ve met came for a short vacation and have stayed for years — but for however long my stay turns out to be, I fully intend to use the city as a sort of home base from which to make excursions in every direction.

The longer I stay put without venturing to places yet unknown to me, the stronger the pull of my homeland is. I have in mind to write something soon about our subconscious ties to the lands of our birth and the difference between embracing those ties and being a national-chauvinist.

I’ve got to get on the road, at least for a short trek.

I’ve set some Skyscanner alerts for cheap flights to a handful of places, Athens being by far the most important. I came to Europe because I want to go to Greece most of all. I’ve wanted to go to Greece since the radical left, anti-austerity SYRIZA came within an inch of winning the 2012 elections and that desired greatly intensified when they finally did take power 4 months ago. I still believe that the most significant social and political events on the continent are yet to come. I still believe that Greece is the most important place in Europe right now. I’m going to Athens soon and there will be plenty to say about it.

Some of those things, with any luck, will be the most positive things I’ve had to say about anything for just about a year now.

In the meantime, I suppose I need to try to snap out of my current malaise and remember that I’m in one of the great cities of the world during a very tense and potentially very interesting moment in its history. Provided that the paper for which I work doesn’t get shut down (and that I don’t get deported for working there), I’ll be in Turkey long enough to see how the June 7 elections will shape the future of the country. I believe they will in pretty dramatic ways. There’s a lot to say about all of that and it’s the subject of a post that I have been putting off for some reason.

And today?

It’s a nice spring day. I’m sitting in the grass in a park full of blooming flowers. I’m going to sit here for a while and drink a glass of tea. Later, I’ll probably take a walk up İstıklal; the street that runs more or less from Galata Tower to Taksim Square. I’ll buy a fresh-squeezed orange juice for TL1 (one Turkish Lira) which comes out to about 27 cents. Then I’ll hop on the back of the tram with the children — my preferred way to travel up and down this street — and we’ll all wind up in the Facebook photo albums of a dozen or so tour groups.

After that, I think I’ll sit down somewhere with another glass of tea and try to write something that will be worth reading.

– Jason

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