I will warn you that this post may be both over the top and rambling because I AM SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED because I just found my apartment. And I found it in the best way possible, through my most trusted, reliable, and beloved Turkish friends.
I’ve been feeling kind of unmoored lately, looking for an apartment, being in a strange city, not understanding the language, and I think the fact that I have so much time on my hands at the moment makes matters worse so I decided to go buy some big paper and start drawing. I know it will make me feel better.
I took the tram across the Golden Horn to Sultanahmet (I just like saying that, it sounds so exotic and also like I know my way around but it’s actually the easiest thing in the world) and stopped by the hotel just to say hello. Mike was the only brother I saw on my visit last week so today I confused the other two brothers. They all assume I’m on vacation and staying at the hotel and get very confused when I just wander past on the street. So I explained to Alp and he asked me where I’m living and I told my story. He asked how much I wanted to pay and next thing I knew he was on the phone, then he was drawing me a map and then I was standing in a palatial (only slight exaggeration) apartment with a panoramic view of the Marmara Sea.
The best part about it is that when Alp’s friend Musa opened the door I knew him! He manufactures the new kilims the brothers sell (they have too many thriving businesses for me to even begin to explain, they need their own blog for that). I’ve seen him around the hotel quite a bit but we never really spoke. I do remember that last time I was visiting Istanbul I was sitting outside the hotel in the café when Musa arrived and Mike said, “Do you want to see the best carpet in the world. No, really". And we went inside where Musa showed us an amazing rug made of baby alpaca wool, dyed deep red with natural dyes. They take 6 months to make. It was gorgeous. So I remember Musa.
He explained that he works on the bottom floor and the top three or four he rents to his friends. He bought the building years ago so his friends from outside the city would have a place to stay when they were visiting or going to the hospital, and now he still rents it out as a guesthouse for friends. He takes me to the top floor apartment. It’s big and I love it right away. It has it’s own personality but it fits me. Musa walks over to the windows, says “wait, Kelly, look” and when he pulls back the curtains I am so overwhelmed I don’t know what to say. The view is spectacular. We are looking out over the Marmara Sea. The houses descending down to the seaside are not old and decrepit and picturesque like the ones where I am now, they are beautiful. And there is nothing obstructing the view of the sea at all. You can LITERALLY see for miles out over the Marmara Sea, dozens and dozens of ships. He jokes that he keeps an eye on how well the economy is doing by counting the ships.
The place itself is spotless, the building is well kept, stairwell lit, it’s completely quiet. It’s furnished and I was looking forward to the fun of furnishing my own place, but he’s a textile guy so he has WAY better stuff than I could afford. The price is high, but only a tiny bit higher than the very depressing places I looked at this morning in Cihangir and it comes with a refrigerator, oven, air conditioning, and well, Musa, none of which are included in other places so I will save thousands. I don’t have to buy so much as a sheet, towel, or spoon.
We go downstairs to his workshop to talk and I can’t help laughing. It turns out he makes all the beautiful kilims that I have spent hours and hours looking at as they were shown to customers and friends at the hotel. Life really is amazing sometimes. Musa weaves some of these kilims himself and some are done to his specifications by women in the villages. They are made of silk and have a very distinctive and unique tulip design-- tulips are native to Turkey and are one of it’s national symbols.
He has also designed some very beautiful and abstract rugs, some of which are familiar to me and some of which are new. During the conversation I tell him I draw and he tells me I should design something for him and if he uses it he will weave one for me and one for him. He teaches weaving on Tuesdays and Thursdays to women from the consulates and Robert College and offers to teach me to weave. When I tell him I know how to knit, but only a little bit and only scarves he says, “scarves? Do you know I make Mike’s scarves?” This is really all too much. Apparently Mike gets the fabric from Uzbekistan and Musa dyes the scarves, the familiar Mike scarves that only he has, or so I thought until Musa pulls out his stash.
He is a master dyer and explains some of that to me. I have always been fascinated by that for some reason and he promises to show me his workshop. We start talking about what the natural dyes are made of. The most fascinating is the purpley-pink color that comes from cochineal, tiny bugs from South America. I’ve heard about it, but Musa has containers filled with cochineal, and madder root, and buckthorn. He gets small tea glasses filled with hot water and starts dropping the powders and creatures in them and the colors come right away. I ask if he thinks I could paint with it and he says “why not?” I’m getting really excited by all this.
He asks if I can wait a few minutes because one of his other tenants is arriving soon and he wants us to meet, and we spend the time looking at pictures of his 15 year-old daughter who is in Seattle studying English for the summer. He obviously adores her and says he misses her and can’t wait until she gets home. It’s very sweet and she is gorgeous.
Eventually Galip comes in. He is one of the other tenant’s and has just come from Seattle. He travels back and forth between Seattle and Istanbul and Musa’s daughter is staying with his wife. When Musa introduces me and says I’m taking the apartment Galip says, “the top floor? I want the top floor and you would never give it to me!” and Musa says, “Well, I like her.”
I’m looking forward to meeting the other tenants and assorted friends they discuss. They are all connected to consulates and colleges and embassies here, and Galip says his friend who is on the board of Stanford is coming soon so they will have a party on the terrace so that Musa's daughter can meet her and discuss Stanford. There is a terrace on the top floor that Musa uses as a retreat but he told me if I want to have a party I just have to tell him and he will give me the key.
I have to get going. Musa invites me back, he wants me to meet the weaving women but this week I think I am busy at just those times. I tell him I will come as soon as I can.
As I leave my head is spinning, but the more I think about it the more I know I am taking this apartment.
As I’m heading back to the tram I pass the hotel again. Alp is gone, so I will have to thank him later. As I come to the travel agency up the block the owner kisses me on each check and says, “You’re back AGAIN?!” He always teases me about how often I come so I tell him I finally had to move, it was getting too expensive to travel back and forth. I tell him I am going to be his neighbor because Alp helped me find a good place and he says, well of course, we think of you now as “la familia”, you are not a guest anymore at the hotel.
A customer comes in so I head off with a big, stupid grin on my face. I finally feel like I’ve found my place.