The New Life – Sun and Clouds over Barcelona

It was a lovely Friday. All sunny and happy as everyday has been in Barcelona. The day before the Sitges Tango Festival had started. It is an old famous festival known for its relaxed and friendly atmosphere, utmost mediterranean. I had wanted to go there for many years but there had always been something that hindered. Mostly work. Now it was happening just around the corner as if it was saying “this time no excuses”.

I went there together with a friend taking the train to the south riding along the Costa Dorada. Beautiful views passed through my eyes. Sitges is a lovely village with an architecture that captures you. There is an old church a little bit uphill situated in a plaza that gives you a wonderful view of Sitges. Soon the dancing started down at the beach. Feeling the sea water under my feet, the sunshine on my skin and the tango music in my ear, I felt this is life as beautiful as it gets. I saw old friends, we went for a glass of cava together, happily chatting, catching up, laughing. Just passing time together until the evening milonga starts. We were first going to dance at a nice open air location in a garden with palm trees, then we were going to continue at the church plaza overlooking Sitges. Creating happy memories for the rest of my life.

It was already late night. On my way to the milonga my cell phone started ringing. I was too late to catch. I saw that it was my good old friend from Germany who called. But he doesn’t really call unexpectedly like this and he knows that I’m here now. So why ? The phone rang again while I was staring at it all confused. Pinar I am really sorry to disturb you like this and I mean it well with you, but I thought you may want to know. There is a coup happening in your country right now. It started just 10-15 minutes ago.

There is a what happening in my country? It was like a slap on my face. An ice cold shower. A knife cut. It was so surreal. I was in this beautiful paradise and my family and everyone I loved and valued in the middle of chaos.

I know what coups mean in Turkey. I have bare memories of the last one. I was still a little child. We were not allowed to go out at nights, there were electricity cuts all the time and soldiers everywhere. My parents would sit in front of the TV every night and watch the news hoping for a reconciliation and a return to normal life. My mom would wait for my father to return home after work, as one was never sure what was happening out on the streets. I know there was much more going on than this, which my child mind could not grasp back then. Fears of childhood remain.

I stopped struck. A coup happening again, while I am here and I cannot do anything about it. It is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and guilt. I am here and my loved ones suffer. Are they safe? Are they secure? Can I reach them? Will I be able to reach them tomorrow too, and the other day? Thankfully I could. Thankfully they were alright. As struck as I am in the middle of the night.

My mom tried to comfort me as sweet as she always is. Pinar, don’t worry about us. We are used to this. This is not the first time it happens. You know that. Everything will be alright. Tomorrow it will pass. Don’t you worry. When you have no options, when there is absolutely nothing in your power to change anything you have to accept what is happening around you. Otherwise you cannot cope. This is what my friends and family doing. Cope to survive.

I am sitting here and watching my country falling apart in bombs, my people killing each other, children dying, moms crying…for what? They wrap it nicely calling it democracy. Killing innocent people to maintain power is NOT democracy. That is hypocracy. My two good friends have babies newborn. One is not even a month old. I don’t know what to think. Will they have a place to call home? Will they be able to write down happy childhood memories like I do?  Stealing those babies’ future is NOT democracy. I find no words to express…

Sun is shining on me in Barcelona. I wish I could give it away to my people’s hearts to tear their clouds away. I wish the same sun would be so strong to awaken my sleeping people, those in the dark. So strong to burn the unsatisfiable egos of madmen, who have forgotton the meaning of human. My heart hurts. Hurts that I am here, hurts that they are there. Hurts for my home, for my people, for the past that made us who we are and for the future that carries more worries than hopes.

A man’s job is to make the world a better place to live in, so far as he is able—always remembering the results will be infinitesimal—and to attend to his own soul.

Leroy Percy

The New Life – Days in Barcelona II

This is now my third week in Barcelona. Time is going with the wind. Everything still feels right and in place. I am getting up in the morning without worrying about the weather. Without the feeling of missing out on something by staying at home. It is a relief. I am taking each day as it comes and I am just being. Nice things are happening.

Since I announced that I moved here, I have received many messages from my friends across the globe. Many cheered up for me who knew how much I have been longing for the south. Some were surprised and some opened their heart to me. They said I have done what they have been dreaming of doing but not daring. They wanted to know how I did it. How did you do? How is it possible?

Why not? We have only one life, which we don’t know if we have it tomorrow. We spend it either by missing our ‘happy’ past or making plans for our ‘happy’ future often in an environment that we force ourselves to fit in. How about being happy now? That we postpone because we are too busy with worrying or planning. How did I do? I stopped doing that. Instead, I bought a flight ticket.

Yesterday I met a friend. I had not seen him for fourteen years. We had studied together back in the USA. We were both exchange students. He just happened to be around here with his family and we met. What a magic moment. As if no fourteen years had passed. As if we had seen each other only yesterday. His beautiful kids showed me their souvenir toys shyly. Happiness of being here and now and it is priceless.

In the evening I went out for dinner with another friend. A touristy place but we didn’t mind. In a little while a street musician walked in and he went directly towards a big a table to entertain them. I started listening to him as it was impossible not to. I thought I heard him singing in Turkish. But that must be an illusion. Did I miss home already? No. He was really singing in Turkish. He was singing the old tavern songs that I remember from my childhood. My family and their friends used to go out to those taverns to eat fish and drink raki, later the music would start and everyone would dance. He was singing those songs.  The big table was all Turkish. They started to dance and sing along loudly. I sang with them and clapped my hands. Just like back at home, back in my childhood. Then we all started to cheer up together. The musician was not Turkish. And he understood no single word. He just knew and sang the old Turkish tavern songs so perfectly. So perfectly that he filled us and himself all with joy.

I have been seeking these moments. I have been longing for them so strongly that nothing else mattered. That is how I did it. Happiness of being here and now and it is priceless.

If you want to be happy, be. Leo Tolstoy

The New Life – Before Barcelona

What happened that I came to Barcelona? As exciting as it sounds, I really didn’t decide it overnight. It has been a long process of thinking, checking with myself and calculating whether and what is doable.

My life in Munich was what many would consider perfect. I had a well-paid job, a nice apartment in a popular part of the city, a safe environment, friends, plenty of social activities to choose from plus the freedom and the health to be able to do everything. So why change?  This was the question that my rational mind was asking me all the time and convincing me that I should follow him. My emotional core however was a rebel and she was totally unhappy. In the end I could not ignore her any more. I gave in and listened  to what she had to tell me. Well, she was not an easy case.

So, she started telling me all the things she really needs but doesn’t find in Munich. Ok, well what are those things that you want I asked her. She counted one by one:

Warmth. Warmth in all senses. She wants more sunshine and the summer. She said you remember when you were a child, you never worried about the summer because it would arrive. You would have sunshine everyday. You didn’t have to wait for a few days of sun and plan way ahead what you would be doing then. You weren’t sad if the things didn’t go as planned, because next day was another sunny day. You didn’t worry about your clothes, you were just out enjoying the warmth on your skin, day and night. You were free. Then she continued she needs warm people.

Smiles. How do you mean warm people? She said when she goes out to the streets people are hardly recognizing each other. They are so worried to hurry somewhere, get things done, buy something, whatever. They don’t see each other. But you know, at some other places when people see you on the street they smile at you. Just so. Because you are at the same place at the same time. When you are waiting in the line, someone behind you or in front of you start chatting with you and smile. Just so. When someone hears your name he asks what it means and smiles when you tell. At other places people kiss you on the cheek to say hello and goodbye and they smile. She wants that.

Sea. She misses the sea. As simple as that. The sea would comfort her, would give her peace and happiness. She said, when you were a child, your grandma would take you everyday to the seafront, because you loved to throw stones in it. The bigger the stones, the more fun. The seafront was only a hop away from where you lived anyway. The smell and the sound of the sea would wrap you all around, and you would forget about everything else. Later everyday you took the boat in Istanbul from one side to the other. Everyday you smelled it, were out on it. I need that, it is a part of me now.

A cause bigger than herself. What do you mean with that I asked my core. You know, other people call it success and status. They define it through the high salary they earn, through the projects of millions of whatever currency they manage, through the houses and expensive cars they own, through the thousands of miles they fly, through the fancy diners and clubs they attend, the designer clothes they carry. Some even define it through the titles they have at work, the number of employees they are responsible for, the number of important meetings they have been invited to. The list is endless.

She said she cares for making an impact, big or small doesn’t matter. For example, helping an underprivileged person  to gain access to resources of health and education. Help the unhealthy, the elderly, the uneducated have a better life. And I can do this using information technology because this is what I am skilled at. So, I am not dreaming of going to Africa and feeding the children by hand (though it would be nice), but I  can manage or contribute to the projects that enable this.

If I knew even only one person sleeps better, breathes better, knows more because of me, I will feel grateful and happy.  This is a cause bigger than myself, this is my success. If the rest, that is, the title and the money come as a side effect that is fine. Then it is the way it is. But I will not seek them in the first place, that is not what drives me.  

I understood her so well. So well. Then I asked her to tell me what she doesn’t want.

Security. Many of us need security. We generally define it terms of a house, an apartment, a flat to rent or ideally to own, a job where chances of getting fired are low or none, many material possessions that gives us the feeling that they belong to us and that we can afford them (so we are good). We need people around us all the time so that we do not feel alone, that we do exist. My core is a rebel. She didn’t want these things. She said I want to be free. I want to be able to live with the people I do like to live with, to work with the people I do like to work with, to contribute to a cause that I feel meaningful and do my best for it. I want to be in a place, which I would love to call home. I do not want material possessions that bind me to place because I now have them. I do not want a work that I have to go, so that I can pay for my high rent in a city I do not want to live in and to buy the things I actually do not need. They burden me. 

Perfection. This one was her secret and the one that took me the longest to understand. She didn’t want all the perfection around her. The system is perfect; everything is on time and functioning. Everybody commits to the rules so things will never fail. Perfection is everywhere, perfection is expected. Not matching up to that perfection will be punished,  it will be criticized. It will make you feel bad, because also that it is expected that you feel bad. You should feel bad. You know what, I do not want to feel bad just because I have been five minutes too late, I that I have been walking on the biker’s lane, because I was waiting in the wrong line and now as I result I created a little chaos. You can also smile at these things instead. No? Besides, you know what I already expect from myself to be perfect, and I try to do my best. I feel bad if I don’t. So, I do not need other people on top to tell me that.   

It is about the little things. A little bit more tolerance, acceptance because we are humans. We are humans. We are not perfect. Perfection the way we define it is an image, it does not exist. With all our good and bad sides, we are humans and we fail. We will fail, and we will be reborn as better people. At the little failures of ours’ and of others’ we will smile. Out of the bigger failures we will learn and grow. This is how I see the life and I want to live in an environment that sees it this way too. I know it exists, I have seen it, I have been there, it is truth. Take me there.   

Take me there. So I took her there.

In Barcelona she has the sea that she has been longing for, she can be in it, hear it, smell it, watch it. She has the sunshine everyday. She doesn’t worry about missing a rare sunny day, because the sun shines on her everyday. She has the smiling people. Daytime, nighttime, in public offices, on the streets, she has people chatting with her while waiting in the chaotic lines.

I also released her from most of her material belongings, all she has now are the two luggages and a bag. She is now as free as a bird to move around as she likes. I am now trying to find her a cause bigger than herself and I know I will. I am not the only one in this place, who thinks and feels like this and the alikes find themselves. I will find her her cause. As for the imperfection, I think that one looks good too. Although that one will take a little more time to understand.

Now my rational mind is a bit upset, because he feels inferior. But he doesn’t need to. I listened to him, too. I did not come here without prior research, without checking the grounds, the jobs, the housing, my financial situation, my family and their needs, my healthcare and all what our safe and sound minds tell us. I listened to him very carefully. Just that, this time I followed my core and I smile.

The ultimate source of happiness is not money and power, but warmheartedness. Dalai Lama

The New Life – Days in Barcelona I

This is the name of a book by Orhan Pamuk, one of my favorite authors. The New Life. I never thought one day I would refer to my own life as such. My new life is very new. It is only one week old and it was born in Barcelona. Like any other newborn it is calm and sweet. I have been wanting it and planning for it, nevertheless it was not an easy birth. Now that it is there, I am happy. There are two reasons, among others, why I wanted to move to Barcelona: it is at the sea and it is warm. Warm in all senses. I felt it several times already in my first week.

My new life doesn’t include a job. As yet. So last week I went to the unemployment agency to register. As  you would expect, there is so much paperwork to be done and dependencies, and deadlines and requirements. Bureaucracy at its best and I speak no word of Spanish. As yet. One could expect horror. I had one of the most heart warming experiences in my life.

I walked into the office and started to talk in English to the lady at the reception. She grabbed another young colleague of hers, who spoke perfect English. I told him what I needed and it turns out I missed a document, which there was no way for me to get as fast as I needed. He told me not to worry, that there is a solution for everything. He talked to his colleagues, made a few calls and found a way to do it without that document. He simply went out of his way to help me. He never put his nice smile aside, and told me how much he appreciates my move, that I came here with no Spanish, trying to do all these things. My heart warmed up.

I had to  go back to the office next day to complete the process. This time there was a lady to help me. She put every effort to speak her best English with me. She did everything to make me feel comfortable and at home, while she said I was a guest and it was her duty to make me feel welcome at my new home. That she knew new beginnings are always tough, but she appreciates so much that I came here and that I try. Whenever I need help and have questions I should come and find her. I almost hugged her.

These things happen in a country with a high rate of unemployment. This man and  woman could have easily seen me as an intruder, who is trying to grab the opportunities of  their people. Coming here claiming their jobs-rare-to-find, without even speaking their language. Everything is a matter of perspective. I can’t imagine that crossed their mind a millisecond. Instead they embraced me with their big hearts and smiles. My heart is warm.

Today is the first day of my second week. I am installed, all paper work done. I know where to shop, have a Spanish mobile phone number and I even started receiving mail. I found a language school. I am starting to learn Spanish, so that I can return the warmth I receive in their own language.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. William Shakespeare

Seattle 2016

I went to Seattle at the end of March. I have to admit I was not not very enthusiastic about it. There is a story behind it. Today as I am writing this, I am so grateful I went. I had wonderful three weeks.

I went to Seattle because of Jonas, my friend and my former mentor at Microsoft. He is one  of those persons that if you didn’t meet him in your life, you missed out on something. Jonas knew about all my plans that I was going to stop working at  Microsoft soon and that I was planning to move to Buenos Aires (over Barcelona). He supported me, as he always did, but he also kept telling me I should come to Redmond (Seattle), which is the Microsoft mothership. He said there are thrillingly exciting projects for a person like myself. I should at least catch a glimpse of them before I exited.

I was not so enthusiastic. I had made up my mind, I had my plans and I wanted nothing and noone to keep me from my way. Besides, I had just returned from Buenos Aires, where I had stayed for six weeks and Microsoft in Redmond looked like another planet to me. Yet I liked Jonas, he has been a great mentor to me, and a good good friend and I knew somewhere deep in my heart that he was right, that I should give it a try.

I have to tell you, I packed my luggage for the three weeks in Seattle only in the morning of my flight (I truly hate packing), which I also almost missed because of some complications at the airport.  At that time I would have been indifferent if I did. Now in hindsight, it would have been such a pity.

Once I was there, Jonas and his family including the cat gave me a home in every aspect. It was lovely. With them I discovered the city and the whole area. Seattle is made up of Seattle the city (west side) and two more towns on the east side of the lake: Kirkland, Bellevue and Redmond. The whole area is absolutely beautiful. You get the lakes, the mountains, the green grass, very kind hearted and helpful people, with a European touch on top. If you are yearning for a bohemian kind of life, you will get  that too.

I stayed at Kirkland but I walked literally everywhere. Waking is my latest passion. So I walked from Redmond to Kirkland, from Bellevue to Redmond, from Kirkland to Bellevue, miles and miles and miles. Everywhere is green, actually forest with trails, so you always have the option to walk if you want to. I learned that Redmond equals Microsoft. The town is the company and vice versa. I so much appreciated the fact that Microsoft did so much for its employees’ wellbeing, so that they can work (and live if they please) in such a huge forest that smelled wonderful.

In the Seattle city, the Fairmont area is awesome. It has many many little coffee shops, where people hang out with their books or friends for hours and hours. It is right at the canal, so there are lovely sunsets. For those who are in tech as myself, Google’s offices are also there, which have very petty views of this canal. By the way Seattle also has great coffee, which they are proud of. The put every effort to make it the best and they succeed.

If you like the not-so-mainstream, alternative life style, Capitol Hill will be for you. It is a lively part of the city, with many restaurants, shops and towns which are unique in their own way. You will see young people with hair in all colors, extravagant clothes hanging out on the streets. Very nice.

And then there was tango. Seattle has a lovely tango scene with beautiful dancers, who will be friends with you, will take care of you, will not only dance with you but also listen to  you, will show you around and will be truly interested in you. Even before I went there, they created a FB group and put me in there, so that we could be connected during the three weeks I would be there. With them I had not only great tandas at nice milongas, but also new people in my life whom I would now call friends and would hope and love to see again.

Three weeks went by very fast, and I did get more than a glimpse of the thrilling projects at the Microsoft mothership. Also there I met wonderfully friendly, very smart, enthusiastic and kind people, who wanted to do a great job, while always caring for and respecting the others. I did not relocate to Seattle out of many reasons, which are truly because me and has nothing to do with the city and its people. These two are lovely. My heart is beating for my plans and I learned to follow my heart.

I am grateful to Jonas that he convinced me and the three weeks that Seattle has given me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Naples Part II

I had told you, I have much to tell about Naples. Here is Part II. I was so happy with my lovely B&B and was therefore full of happy energy. I set out to explore Naples. I walked all over the place. Until my feet hurt. I wanted to see the sea as soon as possible. Immediately. Like a little child who can’t wait to open his Christmas presents.

I need water. I have to see it, smell it, be in it, live it, be it. I walked down the street, Via Toledo, and there it was. So, I had arrived at the Duomo, had passed the theater/ opera house, and I had landed on this piazza where the grand blue sea was right below where stood, all in my eyes. I think I stared at it right there for half an hour if not longer.

Feeling comfortable that  my sea was right there, I felt ready to go back to the city and see more of it. After all I could walk back any time, and see my water again. What a relief. What a city. I don’t know if it is for everyone. Naples is grand; and sad… Have you read Istanbul? Orhan Pamuk’s book about my city. And his. There he talks about “hüzün”; which is an authentic Turkish word that is hard to translate. It means something close to “melancholy”. A unique sense of sadness. He says Istanbul has it. Because Istanbul mourns over its forgone grandiosity. Lost Konstantinople.

I don’t know if Napoli mourns. But is has exactly that kind of melancholy. It was grand. Now it is tired. It is like an aged lady, once a diva. And therefore I fell for her. She still has her noblety, beauty, classic beauty, and then some. Her old historical buildings are run down, but they shout at you that they have been once homes to the kings and queens. That princes and princesses were born to their hands. Such is Napoli.

I walked and walked until I could no more. I walked in the streets where I could see the bed sheets hanging in between the balconies, just like in those pictures famous for Napoli. It was windy, so that they were swinging in the air, in all colors, big, small, plain, with flowers, with dots…

It was afternoon, I had got hungry and had missed my sea. I decided to have late lunch early dinner somewhere, where I could see the water. I found one such place close to the pier. It was nice and peaceful, and they had not tried to pull me in shouting at me with their menu in English.

My waiter was from India. During he served me, he told me all his life story. That he had arrived there with the hopes of earning much and going back home. It quite didn’t happen. Now he was sharing a flat with many others, working to pay for his rent and missing home much. He didn’t really know what he should do. He was a very polite, kind and nonetheless positive person. He smiled all the time. And he did it genuinely. I sat there for a long time, had the delicious mozzarella di buffala native of Napoli (actually I think even Capri, but more on that in Part III), watched my sea and it’s endlessly calm blue waters until my eyes hurt. Then I walked back home. Home to my lovely B&B and to Chiara, whom I knew was waiting for me to tell her my today’s story.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

My Father’s Turkey

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My father always used to tell me how Turkey and Istanbul once was. His Turkey, his Istanbul. I loved to listen to his memories as if they were tales. My father used to tell me Istanbul was a place full of public beaches. Families and singles would hop on a tram, go to the next public beach and spend a nice summer day there. He used to tell me people would always dress nicely when they went out to the streets, out of respect to the others. They would greet strangers on the streets if their ways crossed. He used to tell people would discuss poetry, politics and arts at long dinners while drinking raki to the fish they ate.

My father used to tell they were proud of their young democracy, they respected those who went to mosques to pray, just as well as those who didn’t go nor prayed. Women with head covers were respected as so were those without. Nobody questioned, nobody judged. Nobody asked why their hair were so apparently visible, or why not…Things were just the way they were

My father was a kind gentleman, who never said a bad word to anyone, even if the price he paid for it was to be looked down upon or be considered a weak person. He increasingly grew sad to see his Turkey and his Istanbul descent…

He saw Istanbul’s streets getting more crowded, and then more crowded and even more crowded, so that it became impossible to greet neither the strangers nor the acquainted faces. He saw people becoming more and more disrespectful to each other because the life got more stressful as the competition for resources got higher and tougher.

My father’s Turkey was a place, where everyone were sisters and brothers,no matter what religion, what ethnicity. Everyone was proud to have had established an enlightened republic after the Ottoman Empire and the yearsof war. Everyone was hungry for knowledge and the word ‘human’ was written in capital letters.

My father didn’t live long enough to see what I saw.

A week ago I saw the Taksim Square turning upside down…I saw the demolished cars and busses, I saw the young people running away from the police as these were chasing them with pepper gas sprays.

I used to go to operas and to the concerts of the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field… I used to get on the bus that crosses the bridge to go to ‘our side’ with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field…I used to go the the Borsa Et Lokantasi to eat the famous ‘doner’ and the baked milk rice pudding with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field…

Then again, I saw the hopeful, determined, proud, open minded young Turks, who sat in front of the beautiful green trees of the Taksim Square to protect them from being torn down…I saw them uniting their hands, minds, dances, songs and hearts to protect the democracy in Turkey. I saw the ray of light at Taksim Square.

My father didn’t live long enough to see what I saw.