marmara sunsets and strokes of serendipity

I find it a tragedy to quantify time. It does such a disservice to the marvels of the human experience. Equalizing, systemizing, reducing existence to mere numbers.

For example, I am now beginning my fourth week in Turkey. Almost twenty-eight days. One month. A twelfth of a year. And yet, I’ve done more these few weeks than I did in four months in uni (barring, perhaps, a thesis). I’ve met countless others that have moved me more than most of those I’ve met in four years. I’ve eaten some of the best food I’ve had in ages (a post on this in the coming weeks). I’ve seen beauty surpassing my wildest dreams. I’ve fallen in love with a country that, weeks ago, I hadn’t ever stepped foot in. I’ve realized that the things I thought I knew are slipping through my fingers like grains of sand, and that thoughts I’d never entertained are changing my perspective entirely.

I’ve lived an entire lifetime, really.

But a lifetime seems so short when quantified, and the tragedy is that I’ve only got four more.

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a lifetime in thirty hours

I’ve never experienced a city quite like İstanbul, a city so alive. It has a spirit of its own; a life beyond merely its people; a heart that beats in rhythm with the trains weaving through narrow cobblestone roads and the cerulean waves of the Bosphorus. Up, down, up, down.

I was in the city for only two short days — a mere thirty hours — but it was time enough for the realization that İstanbul is also totally and unequivocally, a “she”. Arrogant, temperamental, and frighteningly beautiful in the way only a woman can truly be.

She is loud and brash, with her unmoving cars blaring their horns in frustration and impatience. She has an intimidating beauty about her, with the slender minarets of her many camiis towering over the city like soldiers posed for battle. She is young and new, with university students crowding her bars and cafes, expensive stores and boutiques lining the fashionable districts of her Asian half. She is timeless, with a wisdom beyond the ages buried deep beneath the foundations of stone mosques and crumbling towers, centuries of brilliant minds strolling through her ornate doors, leaving behind a legacy that has yet to fade.

Above all, she makes you feel small and insignificant.

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turkish lessons and familiar faces

I realize day by day that I am slowly falling into perfect sync with this city. Not even the city itself, really, but its spirit? Essence? Heart? Something saccharinely transcendent, in any case, but the sentiment holds nonetheless.

It’s weird, since my speaking abilities are still rudimentary at best. But I can’t help but feel as if I belong here, somehow. I can hardly string together a sentence of my own, but tamam’s and efendim’s roll naturally off my tongue as though I’ve been saying them my entire life. It surprises me, but it makes me smile.

Musicians

I’ve barely been in Bursa ten days, and yet it feels like I’ve spent a lifetime here; walking through Turkish markets, ordering kebap in unassuming cafes, replacing all liquid with çay and Türk kahvesi, hearing the musicality of the language at every turn. Everything about this place is familiar, warm. Welcoming.

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on cups of çay and paper fans

Day four in Bursa. It feels as though I’ve been here a month. My mind is nothing but a jumbled mess of broken Turkish and deteriorating English, recalled through a cloudy haze brought on by summer heat.

It was only today, though, that it really hit me that I am well and truly in Turkey, strolling through the Ulu Cami and feeling inexplicably insignificant against the majesty of its domes. It felt nice in the same way one feels nice after a good cry and a warm bath, almost as though you’re a different person by the end.

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merhabas and metro tickets

Turkey

Crossing the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul to Bursa, 36 hours after having departed from Dulles. The smell emanating off of our collective group can only be described as “ripe.”

I am currently writing from a very comfortable couch in a quintessentially, Turkishly furnished living room, floor #2 (which is actually the third) of an apartment complex situated in the heart of Nilüfer, one of Bursa’s three main districts.  I have been here (in Bursa, not on this couch) for about all of one full day, and I have four main observations to make about Turkey at this point in my two-month visit:

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bostonian days and cambridge nights

There are two things I’ve learned these past few days:

  1. Overnight train rides are the absolute worst, particularly when you try to curl your entire 5’8 frame on a seat designed for one adult butt. Anachronistic update: Even better when a 10-hour ride ends up taking 14 and you’ve wasted half of your final day off, but I mean, who’s counting.
  2. There’s nothing quite like being in the city during autumn.

Really though. Towering buildings, bright lights, the sound of boots clacking against cement footpaths, jackets and scarves blowing lazily in the breeze created by long strides between rows of shops and busy streets, lines extending to doorways of cramped cafes and coffee shops, seeking refuge from the cold in dusty old used bookstores. I love it all.

This is also, incidentally, Arfa’s glorious view from her dorm room window, so safe to say that I am mad jealous.

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toronto & montreal…

…or, “A Study in Walking Many Kilometers from Restaurant to Restaurant.”

I have been noticeably absent from the blogosphere these past few weeks, seemingly having left this poor old thing by the way side in abandonment. But this is not so, dear readers, for instead, I have been frolicking up north, traipsing about mid-70 degree weather with not a care in the world save how little time I had to spend in the company of good meals and good family.

So now, to make up for my absence, I will give you an extremely extensive, food-filled account of my adventures in Canada. Read at your own discretion.

I’ve been to Canada before, though my previous forays into the country only ever extended as far as a minivan with the parentals in Oakville, pawing at the outskirts of Toronto. My aunt and uncle live in town, and all three of their children – cousins much older and wiser than myself – were there this time around (which, actually, is an astounding feat).

This summer saw a trip made to the same house, but under much different circumstances: most notably, the absence of the parentals. Yusra, Mus and I made the trek this year (in the same minivan, of course, though now with an iPod jack so I don’t have to spend a good 3 hours of my time sitting in the passenger seat with the laptop overheating my lap, running through a pack of blank CDs to keep the merriment going as we drive 80mph on the interstate – true story). We were in Oakville for five days, alternating between exploring the town and Toronto, before making the 6-hour drive east to Montreal. A short week abroad, but a welcome change amidst a monotonous Virginia summer.

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hola, buenas, chao, y hasta

June 24, 2011

Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve learned quite a lot. That is, of course, the general aim when one studies abroad, but what I’ve learned stretches far beyond the limits of an entire semester’s worth of two classes condensed into four short weeks.

I’ve grown to love a new country; I’ve gained a level of confidence in my speaking ability which I never would have had otherwise; I’ve learned many useful [mostly inappropriate, though colloquially acceptable] new phrases; I’ve adjusted to a new eating, sleeping, and academic schedule; I’ve been introduced to beautiful architecture, delicious foods, and amazing sights; I’ve met incredible new people; I’ve found myself feeling lost and uncertain; and I’ve found myself breaking out of my comfort zone and adapting to a new way of life.

But most of all, I’ve learned that I still have so much to learn about the world.

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arabian nights in the south of spain

June 20, 2011

I’ve already mentioned the dichotomy between Spain and Portugal, two completely different environments for two countries so close to one another, but I didn’t realize that the same feeling could exist within Spain itself. Of course, in the back of my mind it was obvious; after all, the United States is an enormous mixture of cultures, accents, cuisines, and ambiance, so it would only make sense that a country as old as Spain, rich with a history of regionalism, would be similar.

Mostly, though, I think it was the prevalence of Arab culture permeating through the narrow streets of Granada, subtly transparent as it was, that really struck me.

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