Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Istanbul, oh wow!

The madness of the last few weeks has been dramatically exchanged for pure bliss. Max-e and I are in Istanbul, en route to see our kids and granddaughter in Bugaria next month.

No matter how many photos you see, or how much surfing you do online to get an idea of the place, nothing can possibly communicate the reality to you, because Istanbul is not a place to see, it is a place to EXPERIENCE.

Writing this post is going to be a real challenge for me, I am so prone to using superlatives in my normal life that I just don't know how I am going to express the enormity of this place, not only in actual size (20 million people, not counting the swarms of tourists!) spread across 7 hills and positioned on two continents, but in terms of age and impact as well.

We arrived on Saturday at 6am, and a shuttle took us to our accomodation in the heart of Sultanahmet, the ancient area where many of the "must see" sites are clustered. We hate regimented travel, pre booked and structured tours make us claustrophobic. So we booked the first two nights only, just to give us a base to orientate ourselves from and from here we will go where the road takes us.

We decided a casual hostel would be much more our cup of tea than having to look respectable at a hotel. We really hit the jackpot. The Mavi Guesthouse is the most inviting fun place and the owner Ali (who has never heard of the word "sleep") makes sure his guests are welcome, looked after and well informed. He organises forward travel at really good prices, protects young visitors from chancers, and generally makes you feel completely at home. Facilities are spartan, but for us that is part of the experience (just as, if you look back to our Lesotho trip, our nights in the mud hut were WAY more enjoyable than our night in the luxury hotel) and we have met such a cosmopolitan stream of people (90% a lot younger than us) that it enriches the travel experience enormously. We all sit and exchange stories on the sidewalk in the mornings and evenings, before rushing off to see the sights or shop or whatever the day holds.

In South Africa, we get excited about our historic buildings that are 200 years old, so you can just imagine how this place, where history is counted in millenia, has blown our socks off. Staying on a hilltop in the historic heart of the city, with a section of the ancient city wall right across the narrow street, is just awe inspiring. We stroll across the street when we wake up, sit at a table and chairs set up on the sidewalk next to the wall (bravely risking pigeon poop on the heads!) and eat a typical Turkish breakfast consisiting of a bottomless basket of freshly baked crispy bread, fabulous creamy Turkish cheese, boiled eggs, tomato and cucumber slices, washed down with a choice of coffee, tea or the delicious apple tea that is a staple here.

From here, a short walk up the hill brings you to the entrance of the Topkapi Palace on your right, and the Hagia Sopia on the left.

Further down the road is a stunning park, with big fountain in the centre, and the spectacular Blue Mosque behind it. In any direction you care to turn, there are delightful narrow cobbled streets winding down from the hilltop

Getting into the spirit of supporting local entrepreneurs, Max-e had a shoeshine on the sidewalk. Note the amazing brass apparatus, lovingly polished as thoroughly as his shoes were!

One thing it took us very little time to discover is the delight of buying food on the streets. There is a regular stream of men pushing barrows, or balancing piles of bread on their heads, or selling fresh fruit.

Pavement booths have chicken and lamb on a rotisserie, which gets sliced off as you order, mixed with lettuce and tomatoes and a lovely green pepper sauce served in a bread roll (in the Middle East they are called schwarmas, the Turkish name is Doner, pronounced "dernesh"...) and Max-e is ecstatic because so much of the local cuisine is cholesterol friendly and dairy free.

But there are also any number of charming restaurants, with sidewalk areas and also roof terraces, from where you can relax and enjoy views of the city that leave you limp with delight.

What better way to end the day than with a stroll to the edge of the Bosphorus to see sunset over the exotic Istanbul skyline, followed by a delicious Turkish meal served on a rooftop terrace, on a balmy summer night.

followed by a stroll through the park back to the hotel...

(It took me so long to edit the copious photos i keep taking, we are no longer in Istanbul, but living in a cave in Cappadocia. So there is tons to catch up, but I promise it will be worth the wait!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

equilibrium returns.... whew!~

Sorry about the previous rant... i considered deleting it, because it is uncharacteristic of me to let things get me down that much... and I essentially am a "glass half full with lots of potential for more filling" kind of girl. But I see this blog as a journal of my life, warts and all, to look back on one day and remember how it was.

Anyway, there is nothing like a day away at a spa, sitting in the jaccuzzi with a wonderful friend who is a great listener (and offers some pretty good advice too!) to put things back in perspective. I also got some helpful comments on the rant, and all in all think that it is largely my fault for being so idealistic, naive and intense.... I shall tackle things from now on with a more considered approach, and not expect overnight results. Toddler steps and teamwork is the name of the game.

So watch out world, I'm back, rested, wiser, calmer, and still looking forward to my holiday, but not as a reason to run away, but rather to replenish my energy so that I am ready to do whatever needs doing when I get back.

Who needs a roller coaster?

Sheesh, being a bleeding heart idealist who takes on Quixotic challenges is SUCH hard work!

I poured heart and soul into COPE for three months leading up to the elections. I won't go into it all again, as I have covered the reasons in past posts, but it seemed so vital to me to challenge the big majority of the ruling party, as the writing was on the wall that our hard won democracy was under threat from individuals intent on their own personal gratification.

I heard yesterday that the person I spent most of that time helping returned to the ANC in a fanfare of publicity. He had warned me it was imminent, and given me his reasons.

Beneath the politically correct "tell me what you want to hear and I'll say it" approach of the ruling party lies a sinister reality that is not openly discussed. The bottom line is, if you are black and in business, you either need to belong to the ANC, and part of the crony system, or you can forget about getting work.

So people who joined COPE because they believed in change, freedom of political association and a healthy opposition to keep the politicians honest, find themselves out in the cold. They face 5 years till the next election, in a fledgeling party that has little funding and is unable to offer them paying positions, so they have the agonising choice between feeding their families or following their ideals.

In some cases it is even worse. Assinations have already taken place here, and the authorities were "unable to make arrests". My friend has been threatened (not the first time) that if he does not support the ruling party he will be killed. So much for democracy and political tolerance, South Africa might wear a veneer of it, but it is wearing thinner by the day. Anyone who believes in the facade of South Africa as a beacon of hope, showing that true democracy is possible in Africa (I was one of them) is delusional.

All that said, and I do understand the huge pressures to return and take up the cushy job offerred, I still feel betrayed. I also doubt my ability to judge people. Was he just an opportunist all along? And if he was one of the Mbeki-ites who saw no future in ANC politics, and hoped that COPE would nicely fill that gap, so he joined for a position in the new party, only to leave when there were not enough to go round, how many others have the same agenda?

I am left with the horrible feeling that I wasted three months of my life, sacrificed time with my family etc to help a bunch of opportunists. I suppose time will tell how many genuine people stay behind and don't cave in to the pressure, for whatever reason. But they will do it without my time or effort, I'm moving on to my next windmill!

Speaking of which... the art gallery. It is a community art centre, non profit organisation, run by volunteers. It has been going for 90 years, and at one time was a highly respected player in the Port Elizabeth art scene. However, as happens with so many similar organisations, the people who are able to volunteer (either because they have the spare time, money or passion to do so) are not necessarily the right people for the job, they are just the ones who are willing to do it. (I include myself in that statement.) So internal politics and scrambling after ever decreasing funding had eventually reduced it to a pitiful shadow of its former self, hardly making a ripple in the art world, just limping along trying to stay afloat. It is, quite frankly, regarded by most leading artists as a place for blue haired whites to sit around painting flowers, so it was neither supported by leading artists, nor the black community.

Along came yours truly, full of Quixotic zeal to turn it around. Make it relevant to all artists, help those in the poorer areas to exhibit, source funding, get mentors among experienced artists.... draw the top artists back by raising standards... yadda yadda yadda, you get the idea.

But I have encountered a Catch 22 situation. I rushed off and networked with all the non-white artists I know. I invited them onto the committee. (I must make it absolutely clear, the invitations were not based on skin colour, as token blacks, but because the people I approached have a lot to offer, are skilled artists and communicators, and as a bonus they have good contacts to help get the word out that our services are open to all.) I asked for contact details so I could send out invitations to exhibit. You know what the response has been? "How many blacks are on your committee?" I answer 1. The reply?
"Well it is obviously still white dominated, so I'm not coming on the committee." (The same has happened with exhibitions.... the invitations were ignored, and so at exhibitions the remark is... "see, it's still for whites!" ) ........... so I need blacks on the committee to send a message that we are not a racist organisation, but they will not join because there are too many whites on the committee....

I was therefore delighted when an young black artist from a remote rural area in the Eastern Cape said he had sourced funding, and hired the gallery. When the due date was approaching, I suddenly got a call saying he was now exhibiting at Fort Hare, and would not have work ready in time so he wanted to postpone. This is not how one treats a gallery who is mounting a solo exhibition, but because of the whole "bleeding heart trying to accomodate the emerging artists" thing, I gave him the date he asked for in July, and used the gap he created to renovate the gallery.

After no response to my calls and e-mails for the past two months, I finally got a letter yesterday saying he was cancelling as he can't get funding... (he already had it so I assume it was used on something else.)

Now, apart from the inconvenience of finding a good exhibition at short notice, and all the work involved to change the press releases, etc, the worst thing is what this has done to my efforts to bring about a change in perceptions of the gallery.

I assumed some of the people who have been on the committee for years were just clinging to the past every time I encountered resistence to my efforts to draw in artists from other cultures. But I am beginning to realise most of them are simply dissillusioned because past efforts to do so have failed. And this simply reinforces that resistence. So the next time I want to help emerging artists, I will again have to battle through all that negativity, from both sides. On one hand the dissillusioned ones will not want to open us up to being jerked around AGAIN and on the other, those who do not know all the inside stories will look at the gallery and say "see, all whites still...." aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrggghhh!

I never thought I would have to beg people to make use of facilities that are being offered to help them, but it is OVER! From now on, no favours, no special treatment. Business is business, you make the grade or you don't, same as anyone else. We will help where we can, to mentor and network for funding, and offer open exhibitions, but that's it. I suppose that means we will continue to carry the label of "colonial relic"... pity, because that is so far from the truth.

I felt so dis-spirited by all this yesterday, i went and ordered a pizza and a chick flick, and had a small pity party, but all I got was heartburn!

Windmills are pretty, but tilting at them wears a bit thin, the damn things just don't budge! So in a week's time I'm dragging my tired and disillusioned butt off for a holiday. Hopefully I will return refreshed and ready to tackle the next windmill that rears up in front of me... but for now, they must all just spin on unchallenged, enough is enough!!!