Saturday, 31 January 2015


So The Pirate returned yesterday after an extended period of shore leave at the port of Besiktas. And you know she isn't doing too badly. A lot of elongated investigation which involves her back legs at one end of the room and her stretched out neck at the other. She looks like one of those springy toy dogs. She cried a bit in her cage but once she was out she seemed fairly perky. Although she did pass out in a deep sleep across my chest in the later afternoon. Three Paw remained happily oblivious until dinner time when a few choice words were exchanged before they both settled on my bed. This lasted until about midnight at which point I separated The Pirate into a cozy little home I had made for her which seemed very happy to pass out in once again.

I don't expect the girls will ever love each other but I hope slowly to create a harmonious living space for the three of us.

Poor little Pirate though, she came to us as such an orphan.  None of her toys, not even her food bowls made the journey. As soon as I get paid I will have to get her some new toys. It is sad seeing her sit there with nothing to bat.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Pirate ahoy

The Pirate is coming home. I knew it was coming but I have to admit I had a big cry at first. Not because I don't love the Pirate but because of Three Paw and how unhappy she will be. Three Paw is a one-woman-band kind of cat. She loves me ferociously and I know the idea of sharing will be hard. Especially because The Pirate can be less than kind to her and has forced her in the past to retreat into cupboards etc. I am determined though to find a balance. The Pirate never asked to be rescued anymore than Three Paw did and therefore as the person responsible for them both it is up to me to find a way for our fambly to co-exist. I have already made plans for separate toilets, feeding stations and beds and have a naughty closet for time out. I have been fortunate to be able to keep them apart for as long as I did but these times they are a changing. I will always be grateful for the time Three Paw and I had alone.

I feel relieved though too. It's like the shedding of a worn skin. Welcome home Pirate...your fambly is waiting.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Perfect day

Today I woke up feeling surprisingly un-seedy given the generous servings of Sangria I had consumed last night. Maybe my rabies needles have hidden properties! Probably not. I suspect it was the fact that I decided to leave just after the whiskey shots started and I also consumed a decent stack of Vegemite sandwiches when I got home.  
Anyway to celebrate my good health I decided to go on a walking adventure since the weather was absolutely perfect. Like a balmy spring day. I began my adventure  with a metro ride to Istanbul University where I made my way on foot to Süleymaniye's Mosque. The backstreets around here are winding cobble-stone alleys filled with student cafes, Roman arches and cats.  If I were a student at  the university I would definitely want to live around here.
Now I know tourists generally flock to the Blue Mosque  but I actually think Süleymaniye's Mosque  is far superior.  Not only does it have the best bean restaurant at its gates ( a plateful of these will propel you through the streets of Istanbul for at least five hours!) but its grounds are lush and green and lead you to a spectacular view of Istanbul which has none of the touristy clutter of Sultanahmet.

From there I wandered down the backstreets towards Sirkeci train station which had once been the final stop of the Orient Express. It is now home to The Marmaray which is a new metro line that runs under the Bosphorus connecting Europe to Asia. Amazing really.  Now last year I had a student (an architect) who told me not to ride it for at least a year because even though it was now open they hadn't quite finished testing it all. Ah Turkey! Anyway today I decided it was time to be brave so I
took the 4 different escalators down to the platform and waited for my first pan-continental metro experience. I didn't see any fish in case you are wondering but there was a stillness in the train as we journeyed under the sea bed. Like we all knew we were under the sea but we didn't want to mention it directly in case we jinxed it.
Suffice to say, the trip was event free and I arrived in Asia unscathed. I then decided to walk along the Bosphorus towards the first bridge.  There were lots  of really nice picnic spots along the way which were bedecked with colourful headscarves, children on bicycles and men frying köfte.   I want to return here in summer for a picnic because the views of the water are so lovely and at times uninterrupted which can be rare in Istanbul.

After I had finished walking ( poor legs) i took the ferry back to Europe and marvelled at the silvery splendour of Istanbul at early dusk. 

You know today reminded me of the Lou Reed cover of 'Perfect Day'  that the BBC produced in the 90s.

Actually there are many ways today could have been more perfect. If, for example, my family or the Wise Woman or Chaz had been here with me too etc. But it was still a lovely day.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Three down

So I saw the nurse again for my third rabies injection. I think I am going to miss her when they end. Not only because I quite enjoy the injections ( she has a gift - as does the gynecologist I saw this week who gave me a pap smear that bordered on enjoyable!!!)  but because we have such a lovely thing going on. She asks me how I am. I compliment her on her needle-giving ability. I confuse my days in Turkish so we have to revert to a calendar to confirm the next appointment. I tell her to take care. She wishes me the same back. I stumble out of her closet-sized office into the mayhem of a Government hospital. The whole interaction makes me feel alive and invincible and gifted in the ways of ex-patting.

Sunday, 18 January 2015


Yesterday I did what I love to do in Istanbul and I went walking. I took the back roads through Kurtulus towards Taksim before passing through the back streets of Cihangir, down to Karakoy and then on a ferry to Kadikoy. It was  foggy day but the sun was still warm enough to heat my skin as I sat on the boat with all my fellow passengers, who were gazing towards the sky like me. When I got to the other end I had a fantastic breakfast with the creamiest Bal Kaymak I have had since I arrived in Turkey. Sometimes when I am wandering around on my own I think of people  who I wish would visit me in Istanbul so I could share these little magic moments with them.

Come, know who you are...

I had my second rabies needle the other day. The room in the hospital where it is done is the size of a broom cupboard. It has an unpainted wooden door with no signage whatsoever. I am beginning to develop a nice rapport with the nurse.  She always says gemis olsun to me when she finishes which means get better soon. I think she is referring to the needle pain and not rabies :-)

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


Wilbur and his chief carer, Hilary
Last Sunday I went to a funeral for a street cat called Wilbur. Actually, I didn't just attend I also took on the role of grave-digger, body arranger, flower arranger and mourner. There were three of us at the funeral ( plus Wilbur) as well as an endless array of other cats who rather excitedly thought we were digging them an enormous toilet hole. 

Wilbur had been a beautiful ginger boy who lived on the streets of Cihangir with permanently dislodged hips. He must have been in a car accident at some point but he was always joyful and loved his cheese. His death was sad but really he has been one of the lucky, loved ones. 
My beautiful lost boy Simit

I feel his funeral wasn't really just for him but for all the other street babies who lived such hard lives and struggle through the heat and the cold without a real home. In particular, I feel this funeral was also for my darling Simit who I learned on Christmas Day had also gone. O how I had loved him. The local emlak guy had rather helpfully suggested that poor Simit had died of a broken heart after I had gone to Australia.  Terrible. I was devastated to learn he had gone but I have to say the bitter cold of last week makes me glad he had not had to endure it with his terribly thin bones and his gorgeous fat heart. I wish I could have given Simit a burial like Wilbur.

Immediately after the funeral a tiny kitten with a terrible eye infection ran past and I grabbed it to take it to the vet. Poor thing bit my finger until it bled and then died later. Now I have to go through a course of rabies needles at the Government hospital which I have to say is an extremely grim place. I am not the least bit concerned that I have caught rabies. I am sure the kitten was fine but Turks are very afraid of such things. To be honest I am more worried about catching something else at the hospital every time I am there.  ( I have to have 5 injections!!!) The amusing thing is while I was waiting for my first injection I saw about three cats running through the hospital rooms - probably on their way to bite patients - ha ha!! The hospital really was  a mass of people and gurneys and dirt to be honest. What amazed me is that somehow, eventually, i was able to locate the exact room i had to go to in order to have my needles. It made me feel proud in an odd sort of way of my intrepid nature and my ability to navigate things all on my own.

Rest in peace, Wilbur.

Rest in peace, my darling Simit.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Snow Daze

Right now my parents are sweltering in Brisbane humidity and Three-paw and I are freezing our little toes off here in Istanbul. The world is indeed a topsy-turvy, ridiculous place.
The Pikap ( on another night recently) but it
 gives you a sense of its fine ambiance!
I, of course on a purely personal level, am delighted with the snow. When I used to live in Switzerland snow was of course exciting but it didn't really affect you. It just meant snot hardened in your nose that bit quicker. But in Istanbul -  glorious, mad Istanbul -  snow days mean school closures and school closures mean business closures and this means no of joys. Last night  some of the teachers and I had one of those delicious impromptu pub night at the Pikap ( a local pub in my new area) where we played Taboo and drank raki and ate lots of cheese. It reminded me of the snow day we had last year which ended up in much the same way.

Except even better this year, the next day was declared a snow day as well!!

My neighbourhood
Of course snow days are not good for everyone in this city. Not good for street cats and street dogs and especially for the poor Syrian families huddled on cardboard sheets. In comparison to last year, I have seen a lot less families on the streets which means the Government must be doing something, somewhere...but it is still truly awful to see young children and their parents begging for money, food, shelter. With the help of the wise woman I have been at least been able to dole out blankets, food, shoes etc on an ad-hoc basis although sometimes it feels like so little, it feels like nothing at all. But I think it is important to approach it as making a difference in someone's moment, at least helping them along to the next point. Today, for example, I gave a little girl a brand new jacket. Blue with owls on it and a neon pink inlay. She was so excited when she saw it she ripped off her threadbare little jumper, threw it in the snow and stretched out her arms to me as if to say ' dress me.' She felt so proud in her new jacket and it gave my heart a mixed feeling of blessing and despair. I do believe that little children need to be given colourful things sometimes. Things with cute animals on them, new things that they can hold and say this is mine and I am a child.
I don't think though by giving her this jacket today that it made me anymore special than anyone else. Some people ( particularly on facebook)  have called me an angel and it kind of embarrasses me. I am not an angel. I don't do angelic things. When I give that girl a jacket I just do what so many others are doing every minute of every day and to be honest I wouldn't even write about it here except that I wanted to highlight the importance of giving colour and light to the vulnerable young.

Hopefully for that small moment, giving them a glimpse of childhood. Something many of us in the West take for granted as a right.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Fez Food

This is not Fez Food but a picture of my favourite restaurant
 in old town Damascus, taken back in 2009.
So I decided to start 2015 by going to the only Syrian restaurant I know  in Istanbul. It is over in an area called Yusufpasa which is in the more conservative quarter of Fatih. Generally, when I tell my students I am going over that way their first response is 'Why?' followed by 'Be careful.' I suspect their response is a combination of prejudice, exaggeration and a little bit of truth. Anyway this is the first time I have been there on my own and I have to confess it did have a different vibe to the times I have been with company. Not sinister exactly but I felt watched and I was definitely approached much more than I have been in the past. Happily my restaurant (Fez Food) was open for business and, as I have to come expect from all Syrians, the staff were extremely kind and welcoming. I ordered my supremely favourite dish Fattoush and as it was being prepared a portly Syrian chef came out with a steaming plate of chicken schwarma, bread and yoghurt.
'For you,' he said. 'Free.'
I spoke to him with my limited Arabic and found out he was from Aleppo.
'Aleppo,' he said. ' Big problem.'
I told him I had visited his beautiful city in the past and he put his hand to his chest as if to say thank you.
Suffice to say my dinner was lovely and as I left they all waved from the kitchen, confirming what I already know, that the Syrians are by far the nicest people I have ever met.

May 2015 please bring them the peace they so richly deserve.