I was trapped away from all my children in Turkey for four months at the beginning of Covid-induced flight shutdowns and border closings. As I was being turned away from the last, full flights going to Morocco, a friend in the travel industry warned that I could be there for a few months. I hoped he was wrong, but I moved from my hotel to a cheap Airbnb place just in case.
“Artist’s Apartment” in the listing title caught my attention. I overlooked what life was like for me as a younger artist, instead just thinking it’s a cheap place and golly I love supporting my fellow artists.
Initially it was fine. If I had been there for just a few days, I wouldn’t have had a single complaint. I wouldn’t even have noticed the kitchen was not the same kitchen shown in the Airbnb listing. As the days slowly flowed into weeks my dear friend began pressing me to find another place. I didn’t really get why she was concerned. Again, I was separated from my children and far from a clear state of mind. My friend had seen just glimpses of the apartment during chats. What really bothered her was the view of the balcony (guests were not supposed to use it, but I occasionally did).
The balcony was boxed in by the backsides of several apartment buildings, many apartments having balconies of their own. I had a street for my front view and direct access into the lives of hundreds of people for my rear view. At home I watched the sunrise over arid, argan tree and cactus-covered mountains. Evernight it set behind the Atlantic ocean. In Turkey I only noticed a slight glow above the buildings at sunrise and sunset.
I threw myself into an obsession over representing these oceanic sunsets. Sleeping no longer than three hours at a time, I would sit at the dining table late at night and early in the morning scrolling through vectors, classic paintings, modern paintings and other jewelers’ renditions. I especially loved the “Oriental” Turkish interpretations of waves and clouds. They are soft and swirly, kind of like me.
My friend regularly visited Turkey and her main concerns weren’t about my views. In the first days of lockdowns there were spikes in domestic violence reported across cultures. A few murders occured in Turkey. I had mentioned to my friend hearing constant squabbling coming from the surrounding apartments, the sounds carrying too nicely in the hollow of the collective, unmanaged backyard areas. “The squabbling” was truly escalating tempers and abuse. As I was denying the trauma being extended to me, my increasing knowledge of my building was finally pushing me out.
When I heard a small kitten crying in the stairwell I went up the two remaining flights and discovered the other apartments were empty. One looked like it was broken into. An unlatched window in the upper roof is how the cat got in and was big enough for two people to come through at the same time. I took a trip to the basement where I found a small space at the bottom of the stairs where someone was coming in and probably sleeping.The last straw: the entire building was easily accessible from the backdoor which led out into the shared space with hundreds of other apartments. So much for “secure building.”
Moving day saw me at my worst. I didn’t want to move, I wanted to go home! I didn’t want to walk into more unforeseen problems. My new host, who my dear friend helped me find, was telling me “…that money wasn’t an issue. If you can’t pay, you don’t have to…” but also, “…how much could you pay?” Meantime, my soon-to-be ex-Airbnb hosts were trying to extort me for more money.
All of this happening during a pandemic, worrying constantly about my children, worry about my health as I have conditions dangerous to tag along with Covid, not having enough money to support this second household I had abruptly become, and being in a country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t even want to be in. I could not think straight.
The selling points of the new apartment were great: maybe free or at least low cost, near the Blue Mosque (not that I cared), a view of the Bosphorus (not the I cared), safe and clean – okay, that sounded delightful. Indeed it was a lovely apartment in a quaint and super quiet neighborhood as all the hotels lining the streets were empty. But my view of the Bosphorus – that made me laugh and still now I chuckle at that selling point. Between a crack of hotels heading down the cobbled road I could see a thin strip of the famous straight. The view from my small kitchen window was slightly better, but note: small. And high, as in I had to stand at the kitchen sink to see out the window. The sun still disappeared somewhere beyond the ancient rooftops.
I know I sound thankless. But truly, it just made me more thankful and sick for my home, where I regularly stare out at crystal waves infinitely folding into the ever evolving blue waters. After a storm the “mouja” are inky, almost black. On warm days they are nearly turquoise. I did see the day the Bosphorus ran turquoise. That was beautiful. But it didn’t touch my hunger for being reunited with the immense Atlantic ocean and all its glory.
In part two I’ll tell you all about my homecoming and the making after much drafting.
*Apologies for my horrid sketches, that’s a talent I can not claim.