Istanbul 2017.5.19-21

(Advertising: my new UK election comedy:

Listening to gulls singing and other birds growling like dogs, from the 6th floor of Dedeman Hotel.
It’s about a half-hour walk south to Beshiktash at the Bosphorous river, so I walked all the way down. Why do taxis keep honking horns when they pass me and there is no one in front? I don’t look so different. Maybe they are horny.
Be careful if you walk far on main streets here, some wide crossings require a leap of faith, these are freeway exits at high speed. A man asked me a question, perhaps for money, and when I mentioned speaking English he dismissed me without another word. Fair enough.

Eye-level billboards of the Chillout festival are near the bus stop, showing a very harmless lady giving a peace sign with crowds behind her. In the next, more pretty ladies stylishly laughing but not drinking, definitely not rebellious or subversive, dressing up expensively in the Smirnoff ‘Limits Off’ realm. I really hope the festival scene lives on and thrives here, some people think it might be on the edge but it was really busy. Go and visit, the range of bands is well worth it, and the nature reserve at Life Park is huge.

So I’m still walking down, banners of Ataturk, the pro-secular ex-leader, blowing in the hopeful summery breeze and red national flags are stretched over most buildings, over large web company logos, one flag is about 5 floors high. Sometimes I think the Turkish flag shows a hammer and sickle. I pass some fast food bars/restaurants I wouldn’t be comfortable in, many quite similar, not very Turkish at all, more American diner style. I have faith and keep going. A band plays mournfully beautiful music in the front of a smaller restaurant that is not a chain, but the waiter rejects me. He’s actually very nice about it. I ask about falafel, vegetarian food, but English is not an option. Fair enough.

Past the video game shop with a bar and a lot of activity, the Cafe Nero and Starbucks next door to one another, the giant Pizza Hut and KFC with worried people sitting there… that sort of thing. The sense of getting on with life gently and ignoring hesitation is in the air. Stray cats hang out here and there. An elderly man beckons punters with his weighing machine, and no one is remotely interested. He seems too old to be doing this and my feeling of guilt continues.

The alley where music is coming from attracts me to the right turn. I walk through the close tables full of happy diners drinking wine as musicians play between them. Cafe Urbo (I think) is one, but the one who had a free table for one was Hayat Memet Meyhanesi, and I rate it highly. It was more than I hoped for, sitting outside, and eventually sharing the space with musicians playing traditional songs everyone knows well and sings to. Cymbalom hammered, violin covered in resin powder, darabouka, and they all sing. They seem equal to the young and middle aged wealthy and modern guests, and when these young men ask for money no one pays as far as I can see.

social generalisations based on feelings

I feel welcome but also like I’m intruding on the fluent community in a Beshiktash restaurant that seems to be for locals. In London people would rarely sing together in a restaurant with strangers with such solidarity, unless you get off the beaten track. The sense between people here that I can’t sum up and describe, can’t be summed up or completely described. ‘Hipsters’ sing together with such familiarity in the big city, and the lady passing to sell flowers laughs when rejected. So there are my broad generalisations on a short visit; next thing I’ll probably find out is how wrong I am, how this is only a tiny neighbourhood of a big city, how individualist a lot of Turks are, but the community manners expected of people are strongly evident here, more than in England.

A lady looks at me and then at her friends, and a man puts his mouth to his lips ‘shh’.

I’m that guy that stands out, proudly wearing my Radiohead shirt in the corner, having Yeni Raki like a good tourist, an unsuspecting hipster dining on delightful food: Mantar Güvech is round white mushrooms covered in cheese and fried with spices, with tasty oil. PatlIcan SatatasI is a salad of smooth aubergine in a haze of cooked vegetables like tomato, which you often get in London, but this one is very good. I only ordered 2 starters and also got a mixed salad (enough for 3 people), a white garlic salad also smooth, similar to the aubergine and delicious, some bread, and a block of cheese. The melon was really the best I’ve ever tasted, which seems to come with these things too.

Morcheeba people

In London Heathrow Airport I noticed a friendly group talking about sound checks in the boarding queue, as I wondered why all these people are going to Istanbul. When waiting for luggage in Istanbul, I saw them and asked if they are playing at the Chillout festival and they are. It is none other than Skye & Ross of Morcheeba, who are playing after us. I remember their songs from the early 2000s ‘trip hop’ days. They are complete with keyboard, drums, bass and guitar, and Skye has a great voice as ever, and quite an amazing outfit that reminds me of Alien. When she gets the audience to sing, she seems disappointed, and we chanted together with their song ‘Shining Gold’.

Skye & Ross of Morcheeba

Life Park is the place for Chillout Festival in its 12th year, in the downtempo, electronic and indie scenes, apparently one of two big festivals in Istanbul and about 10,000 people for a city of 20 million. The more I research the bands invited, the more Tiger Lillies stands out as comic relief. It’s a good variety and I hope they have continued success. Nicola Cruz makes some wonderful wobbly tribal ghost rhythms that go on and on, deeper through layers of consciousness. Alafia from Brazil made me dance for an hour. I recommend it if you want Brazilian/African hip-hop jazz with 2 rappers, saxophone solos, keyboards, percussion, singing! It’s a shame we will miss Tony Allen the day after. The festival leaves a goodie bag for us each in the hotel! It has a little Turkish delight, olive soap in a small a tin that sounds good, Turkish coffee powder, postcard.


the set

After chilled-out Jose Gonzales, The Tiger Lillies take to the main stage for a line check, and the sound was good for a big place. The audience seemed to like it. A festival always has different things happening together, activities, shops and stalls in the vicinity, so they are not focused enough for most of the slow songs on the new album. But there are definitely fans here. Someone keeps calling ‘Vagina!’.

They have a Yamaha Maple Custom Kit which I do like. The snare was thin, almost piccolo, no time to measure it.

I told Nicola Cruz I like his music, so he gave me an LP!… I’ll have to carry it by hand. Last time I put a vinyl in a suitcase it cracked.

airport contemplations

The visa for Turkey is easy for us to obtain. I visited the website, pay $20.70 and print it. Some are doing it the night before, others are waiting until they arrive and getting it in the airport. It seems more like an entrance tax. Mine was checked in London. Since we’ve been here with the Hamlet crew last year, the bloody bombing of Ataturk airport took place. It certainly doesn’t seem any different to me.

When we left Istanbul, to avoid long queuing before departures, a friend suggested entering Arrivals, which had no queue. We still did a security check but it was a lot faster.

mobile noise
There are so many layers of sound in a public place. The babies wailing are sometimes harmonising. Machine noise medleys with many things I cannot isolate or notice, but they are all fine. The sound of a mobile phone video or ringtone stands out from all these. It doesn’t fit with ‘actual’ sound. In its fabrication it creates a different physical vibration in which that side of my body feels physically defensive. I’m quite sensitive to sounds, but even the jets blowing outside, the beeping vehicles reversing, conveyors and escalators, babies crying are even relaxing. Why does the mobile phone make such a stressful feeling like I’m being forced to stay awake?

duty-free state of mind
I’m a potential whiskey customer, standing next to a potential whiskey customer, as we stare at variations in whiskey quality available. Is this for a special occasion or am I just curious about the long hours within 2 weeks in Séte, France, and pretending I haven’t done this before? As another man stares long at the Jim Beam and Talisker, contemplating the price of special occasions, maybe I am telling myself not to buy booze.
I can’t be bothered with this now, it’s too much (emotional) baggage.