Culture Shock

Lately, I have been in such a mood to write and to create that I’ve started doing that mental writing thing, in which I become all too aware of the constant mental babble that occurs in my head. It’s terrible: I unconsciously have a thought and register it, but then I have to listen to myself turn it into something verbal, and then articulate it with the voice in my head. It’s as if there’s no escape. The worse thing is that I don’t ever remember what I was “talking” about when the time comes to journal.

This city is too big. My students keep asking me what I’ve done in Istanbul, and aside from that untypical day when Kuba and I saw the Blue Mosque, we have done absolutely nothing – staying in Bakırköy and exploring around here at the most. I can’t explain to them how overwhelmed we both get – how, when I go out into the city, I have no desire to “explore.” I just want to know where things are. I want to know where a great bookstore is that has books in English. I want to know where we can get a shower head so I can stop hosing myself down like a muddy child in the backyard. Instead, when I venture out of the house, I just feel like I’m in a maze. I cannot comprehend the map of this city. In Prague, there was the river, and I knew that I lived on the west side of that, and that there was Old Town and New Town and I knew where I was if the closest monument was the TV tower, the Charles Bridge, or the Astronomical Clock. Here, it’s just building after building, street after street, and nothing stands out – it all just blends in to this disaster of people being everywhere all at once, leaving their tracks, their trash, their clouds of cigarette smoke. You can’t escape anything, because it’s all the same, all at once, in every place. There is no dark alley. There is no hidden avenue. It’s ugly and it’s crowded, and it’s overwhelming.

Not to say that I don’t like Istanbul… but maybe when it comes to the layout of this city and the physical essence of “Istanbul,” I don’t. I like Turks and I like the food, but sometimes I get sick of women not looking when they’re holding umbrellas, or people being on cellphones in public, or not finding food when I’m hungry. I just want things to be a bit easier, I suppose.

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