Hamam Night

Before stepping out I snapped a picture from my balcony.  Istanbul has the most incredible sunsets and I am lucky enough to have the best view of them from my apartment.  I met my new friend Samantha Zaza at our usual cafe in Cihangir, where we enjoyed a pre-hamam tost and coffee.  I have been following Samantha’s blog for months, since before I left the states.  Her work is an incredible inspiration for me, and somehow I knew she would be a great person to have in my life.  You can see her work and follow her adventures here.  We finally met in November and since have enjoyed many fabulous meals and endless coffees together.

After debating on which hamam to go to we decided on Çemberlitaş, but upon our arrival, we found a filming crew inside the front door and realized it was closed for some kind of movie or t.v show.  So, we walked back towards my other favorite hamam, Cağaloğlu.  Samantha and I both yearn for some kind of life drawing experience and had planned to surreptitiously take our sketchbooks into the hamam and draw the bathers.  However, we asked before we went in and were declined, as to be expected.  So we enjoyed our massages, the hot marble, the steam and being bathed by lovely Turkish women.  The whole experience was much needed for both of us and I appreciated every minute of it.  Being in a hamam is like stepping back into time, a surreal experience when two girls can sit in the nude together and talk as if they were sitting at a cafe.  After our scrub down we sat on velvet pillows in the…I guess you would call it a locker room, and drew each other in our towels.  We were clean and relaxed and we did manage to draw in the hamam after all.  There is something about the steam and the hard marble and the scrubbing that takes it all out of you, and we found ourselves famished when we walked back into the chilly night air.  What could be better than a fresh fish sandwich after a Tukish bath?  So, we rushed onto the tram and headed to Eminönü.

Samantha told me about how she will always get her ekmek balık in Eminönü and never Karaköy.  As she was explaining this to me and the whole loyalty issue of going to the same fish restaurant and how she would walk over the bridge from Karaköy to Eminönü just to go to her fish place, we realized that we had just missed the tram stop for Eminönü and were now going across the bridge to Karaköy.  I have never missed a tram stop, ever!  And neither has Samantha.  We couldn’t stop laughing about our “hamam brain” as we walked back over the bridge to Eminönü to find Samantha’s favorite fish place.  Ahhh, hamam, drawing, ekmek balık and finally a few beers in Taksim to close the night.  I think we’ve found a new ritual!My drawing of Samantha drawing me in the Hamam.Samantha’s drawing of me drawing her in the Hamam.

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Melek

I Try my best to learn at least one new Turkish word every day.  About a week ago my word was Melek, which means Angel.  And a few days ago, I found myself drawing an angel.  One that is mysterious and beautiful, neither male nor female, and certainly not human.  I have been obsessed with the face after seeing it last year, a newly uncovered masterpiece, and such a compellingly strange image.

I walked to Hagia Sofia on a crisp and sunny winter day to meet Trici Venola, who is working on some small ink drawings of mosaics.  After wondering around in the upper gallery for a while and not seeing my dear friend I spread my paper out over the viking graffiti and started to work away on the melek.  Pen work is unfamiliar to me but at the time it felt great.  I had the sun shining on my back and the whole interior of the great basilica in front of me.  About half way through my session a security guard approached me and began chatting away in Turkish, asking me my name.  Gabrielle I responded, Melek gibi.  He was quite amused with the fact that I had the name of an angel and I was drawing an angel.  He then asked if that was my friend sitting over there, and gestured behind him.  I responded in Turkish Evet! Benim arkadasım!  Nerede?  In other words, where is my friend?  He pointed around the corner and I thanked him.  He walked away and wished me luck on the drawing.  I worked for a few more minutes and then picked up my things and wondered over to Trici, who was perched on the marble and drawing the same angel!  The security guard was talking to her now and saying excitedly “Gabrielle! Gabrielle!”  I saw her nod to him as I approached and we all laughed when she finally saw me and said, “oh I thought he was talking about the angel’s name!”  I was so happy to see her and we drew together until it was too unbearably cold.  Our drawing sessions are always followed by coffee, bites to eat and conversation.  Hemingway once said that he feels empty after writing a story.  I feel the same way after a drawing, so a hot coffee is always appreciated.  Drawing the angel in Hagia Sofia felt so good, and I am looking forward to a long istanbul winter of sketching with friends.  You can see Trici’s Hagia Sofia drawings and her other works on her fabulous blog.  Here are a few versions of my melek!

Warm Winter

For a Wyomingite, winter is warm in Turkey.  Especially when friends are visiting!  Thank you Aubrey, Amanda and Brett for coming to this incredible city and exploring it with me.  When I look back on your visit I will think of nar suyu, endless antique shops, salt fish, dancing at 360, the warm sun, falling leaves and of course carpets carpets carpets!