I have never visited Turkey or the magnificence that is Istanbul. It has been on ‘my list’ ever since I lived in France and heard rave reviews from the many travelers with whom I crossed paths. My good friend, Sissy, on the other hand has not only been to Istanbul, she has fallen in love with the place. Sissy is the lead singer of the group Wax Poetic, a band with its roots in Istanbul. Concerts and various recording sessions have many times taken my friend across the Atlantic to a far away land that has since captured her heart. In fact, I remember one of the first times she returned from a trip and the instant excitement I detected in her voice as we rehashed her experiences. The passion she felt for Istanbul was strong and immediate, a connection that I could relate to from my time spent in France. So when Sissy began fervently posting messages about the current revolution happening in Istanbul, I felt for her longing and knew I had to plead with her cause. Instead of me writing a news-like post here, I decided to share with you the emotionally charged, eloquent words of my friend. She has a beautiful story to tell and an important message to pass along. I understand the longing for a foreign country that feels like home, especially in its time of need. My thoughts are with those struggling in Istanbul and I hope yours will be too. Without further ado…
“I never thought I would get a tattoo. It was all sophomoric flirtation, mostly to make my parents’ hearts race, until just over a month ago. April 30th ended my band Wax Poetic’s third tour in Istanbul, the week devoted to promoting our most recent album release while simultaneously recording new material. Rapturously cycling from sessions at Babajim Studios, performances at Babylon and Nublu, parties at Minimuzikhol, quick naps in Galata and Chingir, our ambitious artistic pursuits had orbited within a five minute radius of Taksim and Gezi Park.
On the last day, hoping to finally relax with my best Turkish friend Basak and bandmate Brandon, we boarded a boat tour up the Bosporus. However, with each passing neighborhood the seemingly endless sprawl of Istanbul’s population overwhelmed me with awe. Only when circling back to the port did my thoughts shift into focus, finding solace in the overhead view of the Bosporus bridge—its stretch of grandeur from Europe to Asia a worthy reminder of the only naturally occurring transcontinental city. Feeling a second wind, I realized an internal change had occurred on the European side, so pressing that there was no choice or moment but now to document it. Having yet to set foot in Asia, Brandon and I were led by Basak from the spacious tourist boat to a ferry packed with Turks. Danny Garcia, a man hard-pressed for appointments, could fit the three of us in for something small.
We arrived at Inkstanbul Artcore, and the awning’s bold red and white stripes sent alt-echoes (perhaps intentionally) of the Turkish flag, connecting colors in a constellation along the waterfront. The blue between two continents had allotted us just enough time to decide on “something small”:
Basak suggested “Aşk,” the Turkish word for “love,” embedding the language of the city that now felt like a second home: its sounds, smells, and sights a backdrop in the transfiguration from friendship to family.
Brandon suggested wrist placement, as his first tattoo circles the mark of living, his pulse.
I inserted a treble clef in the place of “ş,” linking the word with why I was in Istanbul in the first place: Ilhan Ersahin was inspired to include me in his band having encountered my life’s devotion to musicality.
Danny’s demeanor was stern, but having impressed upon me the weight of this decision, he led Basak and I to the tattoo room. His tough exterior dissolved as I sat in the chair. After pausing to assure I was calm and ready, he deftly began to tie the principles and letters to one another. His artistry somehow created a font that reflected my person, even having only exchanged a few sentences. A box of newborn kittens were my reward, and while I held one inches from my new ink he shared about his stewardship of the neighborhood strays. It was time for his next customer, so we found a communal cab headed back to Europe.
From a new vantage point, we closed the circle of the day’s events by crossing the Bosporus Bridge from above. In a similar dance to the nights of my stay in Istanbul, the bridge’s lights began to pulse as sunshine faded to ebony. Our destination was Taksim Square, and upon arrival I asked Basak if I had been there before. “Dozens of times,” she replied, as I noted a budding frenetic energy as the source of its distanced familiarity.
The following morning, I approached the typically accommodating taxi stand with my suitcase but was met instead with empty streets and dozens of patrolling police officers. With no transportation options to the airport, my stay was extended a day because of the national holiday created to control protests. When I was finally able to leave, my thoughts and actions moved past the days in Istanbul, even though my heart had failed to join them. This was all until …
The news of the Turkish Protest Movement leaked into my newsfeed. As a primal reaction I reached out to my family in Istanbul to assure that they were safe. Hearing stories of the police’s revolting brutality, gas infecting the homes of infants and elderly, and the citizens’ (old, young, left, right, gay, straight, secular, religious, radical, indifferent) bravery regardless, I desperately asked if there was anything I could do. Their response: “share share share” …
This is why articles, photos, and stories of the Turkish citizen’s brave efforts have overtaken my Facebook and Instagram. The revolution is not being televised in their country, and yet social media has emerged to spread the beauty of their cause and severity of their plight. A formally apolitical citizen, I have been inspired because regardless of creed, party affiliation, age, orientation, sex, nationality, or inherent love of Istanbul, their message is about the essence of Democracy. If you prefer a shopping mall or park, have tattoos or not, the basic rights of respect for peaceful protest, the freedom of expression and the exchange of information, and the duty of government and police to protect and honor its public’s interests are causes any real or Facebook friend of mine should be able to get behind. I am urging you to follow the press on this movement, share this post, share articles and photos, sign petitions- do anything you can to bring awareness to the situation in Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is an authoritarian liar, from his suggestion that Twitter is a “menace to society” to his delusion that the thousands crossing the Bosporus Bridge to join the protest were mere hundreds. Let’s show him that his opposition is an uncontrollable number stretching from Europe to Asia to America and back.
A friend asked today about my tattoo, and I realized its meaning had been given new life beyond my initial intentions.
Basak’s idea has expanded to the principle that care and interest in not only the cultures but also the plight of our brothers and sisters internationally is vital, enriching, and pivotal in understanding the potentially reflective issues occurring domestically. Moving from the debilitating notion of “us” vs. “them, promoting the causes of others, especially as their words and actions assume ours, has the power to affirm an undeniable “we.”
Brandon’s emphasis on the pulse alerts me to how collaborative passions push my heart to beat with intensity. Feeling the heart of this cause in an authenticity that eliminates distance, I will be unable to return to the monotonous cadence of complacency.
My musical and personal efforts moving forward will always be informed by that week in Istanbul and the intense struggle of the studio. Trying take after take in pursuit of artistic perfection, we tirelessly pushed on in a truly taxing labor of love. “Art isn’t easy” Sondheim reminds us. That is why, having completed the session, we all laughed, cried, smiled, and hugged in one of the most profound moments of my life.
Finally love, rooted in music, movements, any source beyond the traditional romantic connotation, can supersede our own or other’s intentions, creating a new breathing force.
Although Erdoğan touts these past few days as the fleeting act of extremists, the realty of my body’s new mark of permanence reveals a message I’ve always understood. Trees and tattoos are interchangeable and perhaps irrelevant parts of our bodies and stories, as causes and crests are a mere impetus in the collaborative reminder that the fight for more will always be worthwhile. We should make every effort to support our relentless Turkish friends (and others in similar turmoil, for that matter) until the love of the life they are demanding becomes an impossible sound to ignore.”