Sunny days.

Twelve-hour bus to Cappadocia tonight. Bus to Ankara this weekend before a Tuesday flight to Sofia, Bulgaria. Having a hard time believing I’ve been in Europe for two weeks, though half the time the thought is “already” and the other half it’s “only.” Either way, all positive thoughts.

Every once in awhile, I forget I’m wearing my sunglasses. They’ve become a wardrobe staple- a way to ward off headaches. A way to look where I want without giving away what has caught my attention. A way to avoid eye contact.

And so I find myself walking along the Bosporus, watching men fish as their young sons, an assumption, swim in only their briefs (though one wears jeans). Waves of the high water crash up against the wall, showering the fisherman, the children unaffected. A stray dog lays along the sidewalk as the street food vendors heat their grills. Count their change, chop their vegetables, shape the meat in their hands. All with the same gloves.

And I think it’s beautiful, this Wednesday afternoon, this last afternoon in Istanbul.

And then I remember I’m wearing my sunglasses. I take them off and immediately all is more colorful. The water bluer. The tomatoes on the street carts redder than those in the organic section at home. The grass the dog lays beside greener, fuller. The day warmer, the daylight less seemingly near its end.

And as you stroll along the Bosporus, you have a lot of time to think. And so you think about sunglasses as you think about life.

And really, isn’t it just a fact of living, of being human- though you risk creating a headache, a little eye contact, awkward sometimes, is always worth the brighter view.

And, sometimes, it creates a new lens to see through entirely.

An Istanbul Affair to Remember

I wasn't kidding about all the cats.
Six months ago, I told Andrea we’d meet (“honeymoon”) in Paris. Late June, in a frantic “I can only be in most of Europe for a collective 90days max with my visa, and I just booked flights 122 days apart from each other” panic, I bought a $97 Barcelona-Istanbul plane ticket on my cell phone at 1a.m. Honeymoon in Istanbul, we called it.

What a cool, cool choice that was.

Yesterday was the first day I think we were together anxious/angsty/homesick for people at home. The fact we’ve got things to send to the states and a trek around town only told us post offices are closed for holiday for a week and Fedex locations just don’t exist (nor really work for things like postcards) played into feelings of being far, far away.

Afternoon is hot and humid. The siestas were not left in Spain. After our nap, we decided to have a comfortable, like-home, night. Yes, it included a Starbucks splurge (dont judge, you cant tell me Turkish coffee does the trick, it’s not like I’m sippin Starbucks in Italy), and going to see Harry Potter.

I'd made this wordplay earlier in the day, then found this place. Life's weird that way.

We arrive at the theater I’d seen Harry Potter 6 at two years ago. The movie posters hang outside. Online, we’d seen a 9p.m. showing. But at the ticket counter, “Harry Potter?” is met with “no.” It’s not there. We look at each other. Mr. Popper’s Penguins? Sure! “Penguins?” we ask. “Is the talking in English? Turkish subtitles?”

“Screen two is English.” Okay!!!

Except wait. A glance as she plugs in our ticket order- looks like penguins are in five and six, but…

And that is how we almost ended up with two tickets to the Green Lantern.

We leave the movieplex and agree a stroll around town at night would be great.

Great was an understatement.

It’s the end of Ramadan. The Blue Mosque is lit up like Cinderella’s Castle. Food vendors, artisans, performers are out. Children are watching two male puppets fight in a puppet show- we have no idea what is being said, but you know it’s good because the kids would alternate yelling out “yeah!!!!!!!” and “no!!!!” so you would hope the good guy was winning.

The Blue Mosque

It was beautiful. And as we strolled, we talked about how crazy it is we’re both in Istanbul, and on a night like this. So far from the $2 burgers at Chucks we bonded over every Monday.

We look around for dessert. Something cheap, but maybe something with a view. Plus, something sit-down always includes a bathroom. One you can sit-down in as well- we’re not big on the public stalls of just porcelain holes in the ground.

Somehow, we got ourselves ushered up five flights of stairs to the ritziest restaurant in Istanbul, on its rooftop terrace. To my left, the Blue Mosque. Behind me, the Hagia Sophia. And there are candles and mood lighting. We are far, far too backpacking scummy to be at this restaurant.

But, forgetting the obscene amount we paid for heart-shaped desserts, there was nowhere else we should have been last night. Though it looked like a date, it was just two very happy girls discussing life, once again, on their best-friend honeymoon in Istanbul. Our waitress, Giselda, went to take a picture of us. Raises then lowers the camera, laughs. “Your smiles.”

Giselda was the best.

There are so many places I want to be and miss right now, but last night, we were in the right place. A brand new experience… And a pretty stellar one.

“Do you need diamonds? Because I will SO haggle for diamonds.”

Somewhere in the past five days we flew to day five in Istanbul. Does that make sense? That’s how it feels, anyway.

Istanbul 2011 trip is different from Istanbul 2009. Quieter. I’m much less nervous. I quite enjoy sitting down to lunch with a waiter who calls Andrea and I “Shakira and Jennifer (Lopez).” Our days have been spent being tourists, sightseeing, haggling in the Grand Bazaar (“Spend your money, please, I need money, I want to get married”) talking, spending low-key time in our honeymoon suite. Sleeping until too late, staying up laughing until the morning call to prayer is heard throughout the city.

The big-mimed beers.

Andrea and I travel SO well together. We’re on the same budget, we want to do the same things. And when we don’t, that girl is just fine going into the palace museum while I fall asleep on the palace lawn and get to watch a snuggling couple get the midday sprinklers turned on them. We both like afternoon naps, we both like Skyping each other’s friends and we both quite enjoyed karaoking “Truly Madly Deeply” at midnight in a Taksim Square bar after my miming “the big ones” got us obscenely large .7L beers the size of our faces.

We’ve had our share of mishaps and adventures. The Topkapi stop? Not where the Topkapi Palace is. Actually, about four miles and twenty minutes past it. Also good, trams that reverse direction mid-trip. “Uh, hey Andrea…” And waiter, I’m no dummy, I can do math, I’ll take that five in change you still owe me.

We laugh a lot. We laugh until we cry, a lot. We picnic with the hostel’s cats. We both kinda smell like we need to do laundry, and we’ve accepted that.

“Somebody to Love.” Singing me has a face for talk radio.

Today, just outside the city center, we stopped to grab our daily lunch of doner kabobs. A woman stopped to talk to us. She’s Turkish, but comes here this time from Canada. She is Muslim but married to a Christian man, and tells us nowhere in the world do the religions and cultures melt together like Istanbul. Her name translates to “Star,” stemming from her birthday being December 27. She is 47 years old.

Her eyes widen at our travel plans. She tells us to stick together, be careful, have fun. She tells us to check out the Turkish men. “I am married, I cannot. You are young.” (you can look! We say) “Who wants to look?? I want to eat them up! They are just so good! And you can be skinny, fat, blonde, brown, it doesn’t matter they will love you. Nowhere in the world are the men like here. They didn’t used to, but now, they respect women.”

“And listen to me girls, let me tell you, when you pick one you want to marry, you have to do this. Watch him with his mother. Because, the way he takes care of his mother, that’s the way he’ll take care of you.”

Noted.

Reunited and it feels so good. And hot, and kinda sticky.

With my bi-coastal living and tendency to change locations frequently and make dramatic decisions like backpacking for four months, I successfully create opportunities for movie-worthy emotional airport reunions. The latest, with one of the loves of my life, Andrea.

I burst through the sliding customs door and saw her. Shrieked. Ran toward her (and the glass partition that would continue to separate us). Moved in an awkward slow-motion run along the partition looking sideways at her and seeing that she’s in tears already. Laughing as we hug. “I did this wrong!! I should have been taping! There should have been a sign for you!”

My new friend Malia laughs at us. We’d met on the plane- she’s working for room and board for a family in Turkey after just doing the same for three months in Spain, through workaway.info. She recently broke up with her boyfriend of three years because three years ago she told him of her intentions to do this and he thought she was all talk. Whoops. Anyway, Malia and I will travel together soon (“I looked back at you on the plane and you’re just sitting there grinning. I thought, ‘this girl is cool.'” I’m such a weirdo sometimes).

Andrea and I had an epic reunion and took the forty-five minute back to the Stray Cat Hostel. My plane had landed at “Istanbul’s second airport,” on the asian continent. Did I mention she’d sent her day going to the airport and waiting to pick me up? What a pal. We grabbed kabobs at Bambi Cafe in Taksim Square and walked the ten minute steep decline down to our place.

The Stray Cat Hostel. There are kittens in the common room. I shared my breakfast spot with an orange tabby cat this morning. In our honeymoon suite, Andrea and I have a double bed, and our own bathroom. Outside at night, a bar nearby plays “Moves Like Jagger” often.

I was last in Istanbul in July 2009. I remembered it being frantic, intimidating, in your face. People always yelling at you, downright emotionally exhausting. Reading my SAS blogs from back then, I often realize I’ve forgotten so many stories, that I worried I hadn’t absorbed anything in my previous fast-paced trip abroad.

Not the case at all. I find myself remembering streets, restaurants, where the visitors entrance is to places, hills to avoid, what is near where, etc. And it makes me relieved, because I traveled well, not just as a tourist, but an observer. That is, after all, the most important goal this time around.

Este, Esa y  el Otra Cosa:  Final Thoughts From Spain

One night, Dad and I got to a cafe and when I tried to ask for two minutes in Spanish, she said “¡Sí, dos mohitos!”

Stretching when you’re walking all day every day is vital to keeping you healthy and in shape for the next walk. And if you ask me, after watching Dad, there is no better room to do it in than a circular room at the Prado museum with a bunch of Roman statue men facing inward.

I had a great conversation in Spanish with a taxi driver, who asked me which was more beautiful, Santa Monica or Santa Barbara. When talking about how I live in NY (state), too, he said “New York. The city with all the electricity.”

Prostitution is legal in Spain, but the question that never needs to be asked out loud is “but do they hold licenses and certificates of good health?”

Waiter: “English menus?”
Us: “Yes, how did you know?!?”
Waiter: “…You said ‘two, please.'”

Best bad Spanish moment:
Cashier: “one of these?”
“Yessay!”

My last conversation in mimed Spanish: I reclined my seat on the plane to Istanbul, to the loud and talkative reaction of everyone sitting behind me in row 11. After profusely apologizing because I was certain I’d slammed the knees of the man behind me, but being confused because they were all smiling… Ahhh. They want to know how to recline their seats, and I will act out that they cannot, because they are in row 11 which does not recline because row 12 is the emergency exit row.

I’m such a nerd.

********

Spain friends!

I spent my last night in Barcelona at a hostel, and immediately met fantastic people. 

Zach, 23, Florida, UCI and Fordham. Quit his job to travel.
Kat, Canada, traveling for a few months until she gets her nursing job assigned in Australia.
Ben and Hugh, Australia buddies, “on holiday.”
Arpie, Armenia.
Tau, Germany.
Raphael, Switzerland
Sebastian, France.
Jeremiah, SoCal, UCBerkeley.

Istanbul update comes tomorrow. It’s just a whole lot of love.

A Different Kind of Writing Day

I taped my metro and Museo del Prado tickets on the same page of my journal, and with thoughts from a friend, ended up with this – written at breakfast on my last day in Barcelona hours after Dad left for the airport. I hope you enjoy. As always, any feedback, comments or ideas you have will be greatly appreciated. Writing better is always the goal.

PAINTED FACES

By Janae DeRusso, August 2011

One
He created her with bold strokes-
heavy with the brush though the details faint.
He focused on her bright eyes in particular,
as though she’d been made to see rather than be seen.
A modest success, if no tour de force,
she holds her place in the museum,
but she’ll not be a Rembrandt to be remembered.
A face among a thousand frozen others,
her frame rests in one of the hall’s less looked-upon spaces.

Another
Six-o-one. Her palm hits the alarm
and she exhales a sigh as it falls silent.
In the mirror, she paints her face-
she uses awkward hurried strokes-
and focuses on her tired eyes the most.
She’ll run late for work but pines to be seen.
En route to the cubicle, she boards the metro,
among countless hurried faces just another,
and her frame shares another’s personal space.

Both
The sun sets; the crowds board the metro home.
Once more, alone. Her story hangs on the wall,
as much as most people care to know, anyway.
A name, a date, an accomplishment shared.
Seven seconds- the average attention span,
though a few will linger, if only to bide time
before their next meal or to tie their shoes.
A few will ask questions about her to feel important
only to be easily distracted from her all the same.

But the image of her is recalled by one,
as conceivable among a crowd of many.
It’s a captured moment of a longer story past,
and as only time will tell, perhaps future,
as someone beyond the frame of daily routine
and the walls of tempered expectations
uses a photo of her painted face as a bookmark,
saving his spot in the unfinished story
with the intentions of returning one day.

We Can Do The Tango Just For Two

Tonight’s post coming from someone hoping you check out talented friends from upstate New York… Give a listen to Karma’s Army’s latest EP. Everyone loves a tribute to Grandpa… Check out “Hey There Pop.” Listen, download and share if it moves you. If you’ve made it to this blog, I think the writing will.

Somewhere in the last five days, Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy became my Spain “getting ready” song. Don’t know if it’s the “dining at the Ritz” line, or that from my iPad and as seen here, I “write my letter, feel much better, use my fancy patter on the telephone.”

But Spain, six days in, let me feel your heart beat (go faster, faster) can you feel my love heat?

Cons of the get ready song is the next track has Dad and I walking down the streets with “I want to break free” as our walking-with-purpose theme song, which we occasionally “break” into.

You know, Spain’s parks do not disappoint. Parque del Retiro is absolutely amazing, with its palaces, rowboats on the lake, statues, green. So green.

Life continues to be a series of very cool things falling in place. As we stand overlooking a garden in the park, a parade of people enter, singing, chanting, playing instruments in what appears to be some sort of demonstration. We notice at the front a huge American flag. And wait, could it be? A second flag, the California State one!

Well, we’re obviously about to be very popular people, I think.

Or we’re about to get sacrificed.

Nope. On the one day in our lives Dad and I will be walking end-to-end through Madrid, it is the last day of the World Youth Celebration, an event held for Christian youth every three years in a different city. This year, this week, Madrid. There were over 1.5 million people from countries all over the world in Madrid for the festivities. All singing songs. All carrying their nation’s flag. All celebrating in every plaza we walk through.

The energy was incredible- I don’t think we could’ve picked a better single day in our lives to be in Madrid.

Life is a Garden. Dig it.

Facing backwards on the train,
Backwards on the train…
Sittin here and gettin puke-y
Moving backwards throughout Spain.

We spent Saturday night getting lost in Madrid and stumbling upon hundreds of bars, restaurants and an energetic, vibrant nightlife. Up and down the streets we went until we ended up far enough away a taxi sounded fantastic. Good call- that ride back made us realize we were faaaar from complimentary-champagne home.

The next morning we went to the Jardín Botánico across from the Museo Nacional del Prado. So much beauty, so many thoughts, so many poem ideas. All that fancy writing will be unloaded here for your viewing/critique soon.

We spent the following three hours in the museum, looking at hundreds of paintings of Dumbledore and his friends, and read story after story. I’d never found myself more interested in a museum than I did Sunday, though Dad and I joked after getting a bit fatigued no more portraits could possibly interest us unless they were of our own faces.

Sunday night- Flamenco Show at Corral de la Moreria, a tablao/restaurante in the 1,000 Places To See Before You Die book. I think that marks my second on the list – my Turkish bathhouse from July 2009 made the cut. Here’s the scene: It’s a small restaurant with a small elevated stage in the back righthand corner. The first table is flush against the stage, we’re at the third table, just three seats and two thin aisles away. Dinner comes first (“ma’am, your dinner comes with a half bottle of wine, would you like red or white?”) and the show follows.

Flamenco dancing. Intense. Passionate. Romantic.

Sweaty. I mean, I’m all for a little bit of shine on a hot guy onstage. How to put this accurately…

The guy every girl in the room is supposed to want to bang?

It’s raining from his face.

His chin, his nostrils.

His nipples and kneecaps.

And when he whips around, spinning on his toes?

Like a child’s sprinkler head in summer.

The best part of all was the young woman next to me, beautiful smile, polite, proper… Stuck in a massive fit of giggles, to the point of tears, throughout the entire performance.

It was a tremendous show. Afterward, around midnight, Dad and I walked over toward the cathedral and palace. Standing in the emptying courtyard between the two landmarks, lit only by old-fashioned street lamps, it was a breathtaking setting.

Just as we began to stand there, in one of the more poetic moments of my life, the plaza was made all the more stunning as a bolt of lightning cut across the sky behind the cathedral, and those that followed lit up the area for the next several minutes.

You can’t plan, or ever recreate, moments like that.

Drunk on life.

Day 4. We return to Sagrada Família to get inside. It’s beautiful, astounding, insanely detailed. For more information, redirect your attention to Wikipedia… We’ll move on.

We had our final coffees at Cafe Zurich, marking four days in a row in one of two similarly placed tables facing the center and the exit of the metro. A perfect place, and surely a future poem subject. Dad and I already had tired laughs on the first day as we tried to artfully describe it and came up with “epicenter of the people.” We’ll go with that.

Get to the train station, I continue this pathetic search for tape. Ive collected my tickets/passes/receipts along the way, all with the idea they’d be taped in my journal and written around. On day 5 now, I still haven’t found it. Anywhere. Got myself trapped in a pharmacy yesterday as the cashier insisted I buy Dr. Scholl’s medical tape. “YES, it’s tape! What you want!” Soon though… The journal already looks well traveled. Because it’s been around town. 

Also because I left a half-eaten chocolate chip granola bar in my purse on a hot day. Come on, Janae.

We took the high-speed train to Madrid and arrived just before eight o’clock.

For someone about to live in hostels for three months, and fairly comfortable anywhere, I’ve been living comfortably these first few days. How you ask?

An hour after checking into the hotel, I’d gotten myself hammered from the complimentary bottle of champagne. Realized this as I slipped on my post shower robe, reached for the glass for another sip, then reached for the towel and realized the towel bar was heated. HOT. 

And giggled my rear off. And made a call to share bottle-of-bubbly giggles with America. Ten minutes later, I’m standing locked out of the room as the metal key the size of my hand spins in the lock (yeah, you have to push and twist).

My standards haven’t changed. I mean, I won’t go anywhere that doesn’t have a bidet and three closets now, but other than that.

Life is good.

Day 3, the last part.

After our satisfying, yet so not what we intended, snack, we boarded the bus and opted to ride the rest of the stops and view from the bus. It was already getting late in the day – and how do you see everything in a day? You don’t. 

The hop-on-hop-off bus is great. Greatest from the exterior top deck. 360 degree views, fresh air… Dad and I agree to make the move up as soon as people upstairs get off.

The next seven stops, nobody upstairs moves. We know this because each time, I unplug our information headphones, stand up, say okay get ready to move. And each time, no one would come down, I would sit back down, and we’d spend the next two minutes detangling our mess of headphone cords, giggling.

We finally get upstairs, though two seats together aren’t available. I take the nearest empty seat next to a young man who turns to me, grunts, and points. He had apparently just seated himself as well… His girlfriend was standing above me. Oops…

We were upstairs for the entire port, Olympic and gothic areas. It was a beautiful drive, followed by naps, showers and a fantastic dinner under the moon.

********

It’s dark and we’re fast asleep. The hotel room door opens and we hear voices. 

Someone is in our room. Dad: “What is going on?” My brain: “Oh my god drunk people are in our room because they got lost!!!!!!”

No. Gosh those blackout curtains are good… It was already 9:30a.m. on Day 4, and it was housekeeping.