Hank Sims / Wednesday, March 5 @ 7:58 a.m. / Elsewhere
Comes news this morning that longtime Humboldt Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Crnich — one of our more remarkable public servants — won’t be running for reelection this year. Instead, Crnich will be endorsing the candidacy of her right-hand woman, County Elections Manager Kelly Sanders.
There will be a dual announcement of Crnich’s retirement and Sanders’ candidacy tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. at the Carter House Hotel in Eureka.
Crnich and her office have done pioneering work in the field of elections transparency. She was the first clerk-recorder in the nation to authorize routine, open-source tabulation and checking of election results — a proposal brought to her by Kevin Collins and the Humboldt County Elections Transparency Project. With software developed by semi-frequent Outpost commenter Mitch Trachtenberg, the Clerk-Recorder’s office and the Elections Transparency Project discovered a critical flaw in black-box vote tabulation software made by Diebold — the so-called “Deck Zero” problem.
“I really like my job, but I’m at the point where I’m able to retire now,” Crnich told the Outpost this morning. “I want to stay at home and pull weeds and sew quilts and stuff.”
Kelly Sanders’ press release follows:
Kelly Sanders, Assistant County Registrar of Voters/Elections Manager, will announce her candidacy for County Clerk, Recorder and Registrar of Voters on Thursday, March 6, 2014, at 12:15 p.m., at the Carter Hotel, 301 L Street, Eureka.
Sanders, a lifelong resident of Humboldt County, has worked for the Registrar of Voters office for the past nine years. She is certified by the the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials and The Election Center of Houston, Texas as a Registered Elections Official.
“I’m running for the position of County Clerk, Recorder and Registrar of Voters because I am committed to maintaining the integrity of the office, and because I have the background and experience needed to do the job,” Sanders said.
Please join Kelly for her formal announcement, or contact her for more information.
Humboldt County Superior Court Calendar: Today
1656 Union St (HM office): SILVER Alert
Savage Henry: To Frame or Not To Frame
James Tressler / Sunday, March 2 @ 6:36 a.m. / Elsewhere
“It was quite a night last night,” said one of the American teachers. He had just arrived at the school. Outside it was a drizzly, cold morning.
“Yeah, my flatmate got arrested,” said a Canadian teacher. She was busy preparing her morning lesson.
“Was it another anti-government protest?” I asked.
“It was about the leaked Erdogan telephone calls,” the American teacher said.
According to my compatriot, who was on his way home to Kadikoy (where we all live) from a company lesson, the majority of the protesters were in the center of Kadikoy, near the Bull Statue. The traffic was all backed up, and police ended up using water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse the demonstration.
“I was walking home when I heard the ‘poof! poof!’ sounds of the canisters,” he continued.
I went to Today’s Zaman, one of the English newspapers, and scanned the headlines. According to the paper, the protest was one of many such demonstrations throughout Istanbul and around Turkey.
The journalist in me was a bit envious of what my compatriot had seen. I had spent the previous night at my flat teaching an online lesson. It just so happens that my flat is located on a street that was out of the way of the demonstrations, so I had missed them.
Not that I’m a stranger to the protests. The past year or so has been highly eventful. We’ve learned to live with dissent. And why not? Life seldom feels dull.
Last summer, anti-government protests were a nightly occurrance – these were over controversial plans by the government to redevelop Gezi Park in Taksim Square. Every night at precisely 9 p.m. the protests would begin, to the sound of people banging pots and pans and blinking lights on and off, waving Ataturk flags from their windows, and then waves of people would begin passing in the streets shouting for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign. In what would later become a trend, Erdogan dismissed the protesters, saying he would not let the country be ruled by what he called “looters,” “marauders.”
By autumn, those protests had faded. But then in December, a massive corruption scandal – reaching the government’s highest levels – hit the headlines. The scandal, which involves alleged bribery and rigging linked with public tenders, has pitted Erdogan and his ruling AK Party against supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a powerful religious cleric who lives in the United States. The embattled prime minister has accused Gulen and his supporters, known here as the Hizmet Movement, of running a “parallel state.”
Erdogan further infuriated his opponents by introducing a controversial new bill that put restrictions on the Internet, a bill that President Abdullah Gul signed this past week. Bear in mind, Turkey is a country with a long history of cracking down on the press and on freedom of expression. It already leads the world in the number of jailed journalists. Erdogan insisted the new law was aimed at protecting children, and labeled critics as belonging to the Porn Lobby.
It was at this time, I think, that some of us began to see the pattern. Any time one disagrees with the prime minister, they are put down in some degrading fashion. Last summer, they were called looters and marauders for protecting a park, now they are porn freaks because they want to protect Free Speech. To be honest, I kind of find these labels amusing; I mean, they are at least more creative than the ones we use back in America. Erdogan seems to understand the power of making issues black and white, and then using his enormous political acumen to draw his supporters to him. You may not like it, but as Bush showed with his “You are with us or against us” speech on the eve of the Iraq War, it can be a bloody effective approach.
Until now maybe: There is the latest newsflash: a tape recording in which Erdogan back in December reportedly warned his son of the impending bribery arrests and to hide his cash. The tape was leaked to the Internet, and had more than 2 million views on YouTube. The prime minister angrily asserts that the tape is a “fake,” while the opposition calls upon him to resign.
Meanwhile, the protesters have taken to the streets again, as they did on Tuesday night. As usual, they call on the prime minister to resign. As usual, the police come with their water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. It’s amazing how used to it we’ve all become. On Facebook, one of my English friends joked: “Walking home last night, caught my first whiff of tear gas in the New Year.” Others affectionately refer to the demonstrations as Istanbul Gas Festivals. (On a serious note: many people have been arrested, injured a a few even killed in anti-government over the past year.)
As for me, well, I’ve tried to just keep the whole equation in my head. One of the lessons I learned while covering politics for The Times-Standard, is that the story always marches on, whether you are there or not. It’s important to reserve judgment, keep your eyes and ears open, and watch as events unfold. Talk to as many people as you can, and get as much information as possible.
One of the more interesting developments is the upcoming elections, which are slated for April. They are the local elections. It will be interesting to see how last year’s Gezi Park protests, the corruption scandal, the controversial Internet law and the alleged tape recording will affect Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which has been in power for the past decade.
Some of my Turkish friends seem to think that the overlapping scandals will do little to shake AK Party’s grip, as they remain popular in much of Central and Eastern Anatolia, which tend to be poorer and more religiously conservative. Also, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who have poured into Turkey the past couple years have been given Turkish citizenship, and are sure to vote for the incumbent government which has given them refuge.
Others, such as one of my old flatmates, suggest that the split between Erdogan and Gulen, who were formerly allies, could strike a substantial blow, as Gulen’s supporters could leave the AK Party and vote for the opposition.
I see I have drifted perhaps too far into this political quagmire, at least too far for it to be of much interest to friends back in the States. What I meant to portray from the beginning, was how it is viewed by those of us foreigners who live here. Most of the time, as foreigners, we sort of coast along, buoyed by our love of adventure and the excitement of living in a different culture. Istanbul is a vibrant, fascinating city, with thousands of years of history, and Turkey offers a wealth of culture – from the ancient city of Troy to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, and the Roman ruins at Ephesus, enough to keep your wanderlust busy for a lifetime.
But Tuesday night’s protests – and they are merely the latest, and surely not the last – are a reminder that the country is in the grip of a power struggle, an identity crisis, where the endgame remains elusive, out of sight. As foreigners, perhaps we’re better off minding our own business. But as the tear gas canisters go off outside in the night, and the streets fill with looters, marauders, porn freaks and God-knows-what-else, it’s getting harder to do so. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
James Tressler was a reporter for The Times-Standard. His books, including the recently published “Lost Coast D.A.,” are available at Lulu.com. He lives in Istanbul.
James Tressler / Sunday, Jan. 19 @ 9:42 a.m. / Elsewhere
I had to get up very early on Thursday morning to meet Çetin.
After many months, my work permit had finally been approved by Ankara authorities. Now, we just had to take the documents to the Foreign Police office in Istanbul to have them registered in my residency permit.
We met at the pier in Kadikoy to get the ferry boat over to the European side. It was just after six o’clock, and the first of the morning’s first commuters were arriving – mostly civil servants, a few university students. The Bosphorous itself was calm, and the sea birds were still sleeping on the crests of gentle waves.
As the ferry boat cranked up, the sea birds awoke, and they followed us, swirling about, as we began the journey. Çetin, who was going along in case there were any problems, rested his head on his chest and dozed. He’s a short, wiry Black Sea Turk, with salt-and-pepper hair and a gruff manner. At the school we call him, Kızgın Çetin (“Angry Çetin”) because of his notorious short temper, but in these situations, where as a foreigner you have to deal with the authorities, he’s a blessing.
Anyway, while Çetin dozed, I went and had a cup of Turkish tea. It had been a long time since I’d taken a ferry boat over to the European side, and I’d never taken one so early in the morning. The vast city, stretching across two continents, as seen by ferry boat, is always the city seen for the first time, to steal a phrase from F. Scott.
We passed the shipyards, which at that hour were still quiet, and a fleet of silhouetted birds perched along the sea wall. Only the lights of the Blue Mosque could be seen as we rounded Golden Horn. The Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace were still dark.
We rounded the Horn, with the European side of the city approaching, Galata Tower nestled high up in Beyöğlu. The morning traffic on the highways and bridges was slowly beginning to pick up. We on the ferry boat, with the blue-grey waters churning, felt like lonesome travelers in the dawn, with all the great city spread around, rocked and nurtured by the centuries and the sea.
We arrived at the iskele at Eminönü.
“Hadi, gel, James! Come on!” said Çetın, who woke up and immediately set off in his brisk way. We weaved and dodged crowds of commuters.
It always felt different arriving on the European side. There was the bustle of people on their way to catch the buses and ferries, the street sellers already hawking their goods, the bell and hum of the trams, the car horns … Not that it was any different from our side of the city in that respect, but it just seemed at times as if the tumult here seemed to have its own destiny, as we on the Asian side had ours.
The Foreign Police office was located in Fatih, a district some distance from the waterfront. We would have to get a tram, then transfer to the metro. But when the tram came, suddenly the lights went out on the tram. A message on the loudspeaker, in Turkish, informed us that the power was out on the tram.
Cursing in Turkish, Çetin signaled hurriedly for me to follow. We got off, along with everybody else. We crossed a busy intersection. Çetın enquired at a kiosk about buses, then we crossed under the roadway and eventually found a bus that would take us all the way to Fatih and directly to the police station.
It was a grey morning, and the bus took us out to the old Roman aquaducts, past the ancient Constantinople walls, and soon we were in the Fatih district.
We got off the bus, and went to the headquarters. It had been three years since I’d been there (for my residency the past three years, renewals had conveniently been done in my own neighborhood of Kadikoy). Here now in Fatih, everything looked pretty much as I remembered it.
That morning the Foreign Police office wasn’t too crowded. We passed through the security check point, and up the steps to the main compound. So far so good, I thought. We’re here, half the battle is done. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for our number to come up, and to get the business done.
But in the back of my mind, there was the anxiety that always comes when having to make the journey to the Foreign Police office. Memories of Prague, of waiting outside all night alongside hundreds of people, everyone tired, frustrated and rude, sometimes the crowds often erupting into violence. The hassles, the run-around, the bureaucrats with their seemingly endless capacity for finding reasons to make you come back another day … these things floated in the back of my mind.
More than those Prague memories were more immediate concerns. In the wake of an ongoing corruption scandal, hundreds of police have been sacked in Istanbul, and all over Turkey. The scandal has been seen by the press as a political battle between the country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supporters of a retired conservative religious cleric, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan has characterized the scandal as a “foreign plot” aimed at unseating his ruling AK Party, which has been in power for the past decade. Also, local elections are just a few months away.
With all the upheaval in the police force, and the attendant political backdrop, I wondered if there would be some spillover effect. Perhaps there could be a backlash against foreigners living in Istanbul, sudden, inscrutable changes in policy regarding work or residency papers. It was early morning, bleary-eyed speculation, I know, but these thoughts lingered with my ever-present unease when in the presence of large numbers of police.
Anyway, we went upstairs to the second floor, where people were already waiting. It was by then a little past eight o’clock. The offices wouldn’t open for another half hour. Çetın, as was his way, nervously and periodically double checked my passport, residency and working papers, and paced around.
There were scores of people. Most of the women occupied the available seats, and men stood in clusters. I heard lots of Arabic, especially from the groups of young men, who appeared to have one man as a sponsor, who was helping them with the process.
“Are they Syrians?” I asked Çetın.
“Evet,” he said, nodding. “Suriye.”
They were men, of varying ages, and their wives and young children. I thought about the ongoing civil war just over the border to the southeast. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured into Turkey over the past couple years. Many of them are still camped out in tents at the border. But many have made their way to Istanbul as well. I’ve even noticed on Facebook a Help Syrians in Istanbul page, which allows people to give donations and assistance.
One Syrian woman, covered in traditional Muslim dress but her face uncovered, waited along with three children, all of them dressed warmly in winter coats.
“If you’re too hot, take off your hats,” she said, addressing the children in perfect English.
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her where she had learned English, but then thought, no, this isn’t the time or place. The woman probably just wants to get her papers in order and get the hell out of here, like you do.
Just then, Çetın called me from inside the office, which had opened. We went to an available counter, and Çetın handed the clerk my papers. The clerk asked Çetın various questions, and typed things into his computer. I let Çetın take care of everything, and just stood mutely, like an Ellis Island immigrant in “The Godfather” movies.
Always, on such occasions, I am reminded of how our ancestors newly arrived to America must have felt; it’s a humbling, depressing, odd feeling – vitalizing and yet devitalizing at the same time. You feel some sort of self-abnegation going on, and you feel handicapped because you are not equipped enough with the language to deal with all the technicalities yourself. You’re supposed to be a journalist and teacher, an educated person, and yet in those moments you sometimes feel stripped, exposed, child-like.
Suddenly, interrupting these thoughts, was a dialogue between Çetın and the clerk. Evidently there was something wrong with my papers. Angry Çetın came out of his shell, his voice taking on the harsh elements we at the school knew so well, like when we walked on his freshly mopped floor. I silently rooted for him to conquer this pesky weasel of a clerk. Çetin, battled on, entreating, employing subtly phrased logic, wiping his brow.
In the end, Çetin threw up his hands and stifled a curse. The clerk handed back my papers, with an accompanying note.
Çetin shook his head as we went downstairs and back outside.
Meanwhile, wild scenarios play out in my head as we go to get the metro, scenarios that mostly involve sudden deportation. What would I do, go back to America? I didn’t have the money for that. And what about my girlfriend? What about my work? What about my life here?
Well, don’t panic. Stay calm and let it ride out. Remember the time three years ago, when your visa was expired and you had to leave Turkey for three months, and how you were able to make your way back to Prague, taking an overnight bus from Istanbul, and how you rode out the winter in Prague and in the spring made it back.
Anyway, you still don’t even know what’s going on. We have to go back to the school, Çetın says. His explanation is vague. Something involving the papers, an ‘I’ un-dotted or ‘t’ un-crossed. It was always the way. We would have to go back to the Foreign Police station on Monday. Don’t pack a bag yet.
On ferry boat back to Kadikoy, Çetın dozed again, while I looked out at the grey sky and heavy seas. The sea birds were following us again.
My phone rang. It was my girlfriend Ozge. She was flying out that morning to visit her family in Mersin.
“Is everything alright?” she asked. “Are you finished with the police?”
“Everything’s fine,” I said. “We just have to go back on Monday.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “You sound different.”
“No, everything’s fine. Call me when you get to Mersin.”
“All right, baby. Be sure to feed the cat.”
She rang off, and I went back to looking out the window. I thought of the Syrian families back at the Foreign Police office, waiting to get their residency permits, so that they did not have to go back to their war-torn homeland. Well, remember: someone always has it tougher than you.
“Hadi, James!” said Çetin, motioning as the ferryboat arrived in Kadikoy. “Gel! Come on!”
James Tressler is a former Times-Standard reporter. His books, including the recently published “Lost Coast D.A.,” are available at Lulu.com and Amazon.com. He lives in Istanbul.
James Tressler / Sunday, Jan. 5 @ 6:33 a.m. / Elsewhere
There was a time when the Ottoman Turks were famously dubbed by Western leaders as “the sick man of Europe.”
This label, which alluded to the swift and terminal decline that engulfed the once-proud Ottomans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rankled for years, even decades afterward. Even after the new republic modernized under the leadership of M. Kemal Ataturk, the Turk seemed forever destined to linger in the backwater of current affairs, a beggar at Europe’s back porch.
When the Eurozone crisis hit a few years ago, spreading its tentacles from Ireland to Portugal to its long-testy neighbor Greece, Turks could indulge in a bit of schedenfruede: Now it was Turkey’s time to be in the sun.
Well, as they say in Istanbul, don’t trust the weather. Things change fast.
This past week has seen some strange and remarkable events. Scores of people – including sons of high-ranking government officials, one of the country’s top builders, and the general manager Halkbank — have been detained in a massive corruption probe. In the same week, dozens of policemen working on the investigation have been sacked.
At the center of the storm lays what appears to be a power struggle within the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, setting the stage for a showdown of sorts between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a powerful conservative religious cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in retirement in — of all places — Pennsylvania, USA.
When the arrests began — a shockingly swift operation — it seemed almost surreal. “My God, it’s unbelievable,” said my girlfriend, Ozge, as we watched the live footage on Turkish TV, showing various sundry people, some of them covering their heads, being whisked away in handcuffs.
Police reportedly confiscated some $4.5 million in cash stuffed in shoe boxes during a raid to the Halkbank general manager Suleyman Alan’s home. Police allege the money came from Iran in the form of bribes. News reports have suggested that the money was used to help Iranian businessmen (remember economic sanctions have put severe restrictions on Iran) obtain Turkish passports, and other favours.
Also among those detained were the sons of the Interior Department minister, the Economy Minister and the Minister for the Environment .
These arrests, a result of a second probe, stem from alleged bribery and questionable building contracts in the country’s booming construction sector, allegations that also engulfed the mayor of Istanbul’s historic Fatih District. For instance, bids submitted by competing companies for government projects are said to have been “leaked,” allowing the favoured company to adjust their bid accordingly.
All of this, which I very briefly summarize, has taken the country completely by surprise. The AK Party has ruled the country for the past decade, ever since a 2001 economic crisis led to near-crippling inflation and devaluation of the Turkish lira, and toppling the then-ruling Republican People’s Party, or CHP, from power.
AK Party, and in particular, Prime Minister Erdogan, came under fire this past summer when police were accused of using excessive force against protesters over the government’s plans to develop Gezi Park near Taksim Square in Istanbul. Erdogan dismissed the protesters as “çapulcu” or “marauders.” Dozens were arrested for taking part in the demonstrations, which drew worldwide attention (see Letter from Istanbul: The Taksim Square Protests).
But despite the worldwide attention, and general sympathy for the protesters, Erdogan and his party appeared to weather the storm.
This past week has also seen its share of protests, including one attended by several hundred in my neighborhood of Kadikoy, on Istanbul’s Asian side. The protesters marched past a Halkbank office, waving signs and banners. Many called on the country’s leaders to protect Istanbul’s parks and historic areas from the greed and corruption of developers and politicians.
Meanwhile, the ongoing scandal — the largest corruption probe in Turkey’s history — may prove a kind of turning point, both for Erdogan and his ruling AK Party. Erdogan has reacted curiously, calling the probe a “dirty” action, a “plot” by outsiders. He even openly accused a U.S. ambassador of being somehow being involved, a charge the ambassador emphatically denied.
Turks, meanwhile, have reacted to the past week’s events with shock and rising anger.
“I didn’t sympathize with the Gezi Park protesters,” one young Turkish man, an engineer, said one evening as we sat with a group of friends. “But this (scandal) is different.” He was particularly enraged by the Halkbank bribery allegations because he banks there.
“That’s my money they’re playing around with,” he said, his eyes flashing.
Still, for others, the corruption scandal comes as little surprise.
“It’s like in the movie ‘Casablanca,’” my student Mehmet said, recalling the famous Claude Raines line about being, “Shocked! Shocked!” to find that gambling is going on in the casino. Mehmet is a human resources manager with one of the country’s leading Internet providers. “You can’t tell me that for all this time nobody knew that these things were happening, and now suddenly it comes out.”
According to Turkish news reports, the roots of the controversy reach back to the past year or so, when Erdogan called for a ban on so-called dershanes, or study halls, many of which have been funded by the conservative cleric Gulen. (As an aside, many of Gulen’s critics in Turkey have long harboured suspicions that he fosters a hidden agenda to restore Turkey to a more Islamic-style state, as seen, for example, of the growth of his “religious schools.”)
So the story goes, these critics allege that Gulen supporters, known here has the Hizmet Movement, which occupy posts in the government, the judiciary and police forces, orchestrated the corruption probe. Meanwhile, Erdogan supporters, so it seems anyway, fired swiftly back. As I said, numerous police officials have been sacked, including the Istanbul chief of police, who was reassigned.
All of this has happened so fast, and the situation continues to evolve in a very disjointed, fluid, even byzantine manner, so that it’s difficult to get a pulse. For instance, on Monday, the news reported from now on, journalists will be barred from police stations. Police reportedly said the measure was taken to protect the “integrity” of the ongoing investigations. All journalists were told to hand in their police press passes.
“How am I supposed to make a living?” complained one veteran Turkish crime reporter. “Am I supposed to just wait for the police to call me when something happens?”
Such a move should not seem that strange, since Turkey consistently ranks among the top countries for jailing journalists. Still, it would seem that transparency would be important for all sides at this point.
On many Turks’ minds is the troubling thought that the scandal could lead to an even bigger crisis within the country. Some even fear it could lead to a civil war, although at this point that prospect seems unlikely. Over the past decade, Turkey has enjoyed an economic boom that has been the envy of much of the developing world. The 2009 economic crisis that crippled the United States and much of the West left Turkey largely unscathed, bolstered by its strong construction, energy and manufacturing sectors.
The Syrian conflict, which since it began has left more than a quarter million refugees in Turkey, continues to pose problems and questions, but thus far, Turkey has managed to remain largely out of the conflict, for better or worse.
However, this latest scandal could prove to be the greatest test Erdogan and his party have faced — a war from within. The local and district elections, just a few months away, may provide the first glimpse of how great — or little — the controversy will play in (re?)shaping Turkey’s political landscape. As a NATO ally, a key player in the region, Turkey’s fate should remain a close concern of the West, despite its tendency to waver at times. Meanwhile, the consequences of this mess, whatever they may be, are likely to linger for years.
Certainly, Erdogan and his ruling AK Party will want the scandal to pass quickly, and his rivals will want it capitalize on it to gain ground. Troubling issues remain. For one, as a journalist, I take issue with being denied basic access to the police. Also, judging from some of the allegations that have emerged, including Erdogan’s accusation that the scandal is a “plot” by outsiders, there seems to be a lingering tendency, almost a de facto turn of logic, by the country’s leaders to dismiss every alleged misdeed as a plot to overthrow the government, and to jail all alleged conspirators, silence all dissent.
If that indeed is the case, then the original “sick man of Europe” may be back. Let’s hope not.
James Tressler was an award-winning political reporter for The Times-Standard. His latest book, “Lost Coast D.A,” is available at Lulu.com. He lives in Istanbul.
James Tressler / Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 @ 9:38 a.m. / Elsewhere
“Don’t go back to your house. Just stay here and rest.”
Outside the morning was sunny and bright, and it was hard to believe it was December. Ozge was showered and dressed to go to her job at the museum. She had on her usual dark colours, the colours that matched her lovely dark hair and almost Russian features.
“Do me a favour,” Ozge added. “The cat made a mess near the planter. I will try to get a proper litter box later today. If you have time, can you hoover it?”
“OK,” I rolled over and kissed her sleepily. “Bye, babe.” She pulled the covers up over me and I closed my eyes.
When I awoke sometime later, she’d already been gone more than an hour. I got up, and padded into the living room. The cat was lying on the sofa. It was a light brown and orange colour, with a white belly, and we’d estimated its age at about three months. The night before, she’d been hanging around the doorway downstairs when Ozge buzzed me up. I’d had a few beers, and on impulse brought the cat upstairs. That evening, over a bottle of wine and more beer, we’d tossed about possible names, settling tentatively on Kedi Hanim (Ms. Cat in Turkish).
So now Kedi Hanim was lying on the sofa. She’d slept there, on one of Ozge’s old t-shirts. The poor thing was tired, maybe even a little ill. Hell, the streets were getting cold at night. Ozge had found some lice on Kedi Hanim and was planning to take her to the vet as soon as possible for shots.
I sat down on the sofa and went to check Facebook. It was snowing back in California, and Dave had posted photos. Anthony was in the Ethiopian Highlands, “falling in love with this beautiful country all over again.” A Kurdish guy whom I’d friended but didn’t remember meeting was posing with friends on the Bosphorous. I couldn’t understand his status update.
It felt weird being in Ozge’s flat without her being there. It felt a little like when you were a kid and your parents were at work.
“That’s us, cat,” I said. “We’re two kids at home while Mommy is at work.”
Kedi Hanim wanted to crawl into my lap, but she kept scratching at my balls, so I put her back on the t-shirt.
It was bizarre, the fact that suddenly we had a cat. When I’d brought her upstairs the night before, bundled in my coat with one hand, and clutching a bottle of red wine in the other, I had meant it as a kind of cavalier joke, a thing of wit. I would show Ozge the cat, she would appreciate it, and then I’d dump her back outside. I’m not sure if I even thought it through that way.
Anyway, when she opened the door, her face registered this surprise. “I saw only the wine,” she told me. “And then it turned into a cat.”
Now, it was morning, with all the bright sunshine coming in from the balcony, and it was a sober feeling, and the cat was still there, looking all brown and orange and white and tiny and real. “I have a cat now,” Ozge had in a low, happy whisper, sometime in the night. “I have a cat now, and a boyfriend too. Before I was alone, and now suddenly we are three.”
She was happy. She said she had always wanted to get a cat but never got around to it or something. Years ago, as a girl, she’d had a dog, with a big, sad, droopy face, and she had loved the dog and it died. She still had a picture of the dog on the refrigerator in the kitchen. She’d had a fish too and it had died, but she had never had a cat until now.
There we were, me and the cat, sitting (and lying) on the sofa, while friends battled snow in California and stood enthralled by the Ethiopian highlands, and strangers-turned-friends posed by the Bosphorous and Ozge worked at the museum. It was Sunday, and weekends could be busy at the museum. When she got home later she would want to work on some translations on museum management that she was doing for her masters at Istanbul University. It was difficult, meticulous work. Ozge said in Turkey professors used their students as slaves, always made the students do their work for them.
I went to the kitchen. Kedi Hanim followed me. Ozge had set some crumbled bread in a small dish on the floor, along with a little milk, even though it gave the cat the runs, but she wanted to ask her friends at the museum about proper food. At the palace lots of cats lived there, and were fed every day by the staff. I looked in the fridge, there was one beer left. I took it out and let the cat eat and went back to the living room.
On the BBC , there was a report that Nelson Mandela had died. There was an update on the unrest in the Ukraine. I went to the Hurriyet Daily News. More people were being charged in the Gezi Park protests. I thought about the fact that I hadn’t written anything in more than a month. The new underground that ran under the Bosphorous, connecting Europe and Asia, had opened up a few weeks ago. I hadn’t tried it out yet. Hank at Lost Coast Outpost said he would run the story.
I finished the beer. On my birthday Ozge had taken me to a good fish restaurant in the neighborhood, and we hadn’t been able to finish the bottle of raki, so we took it back to the flat. It was still on the shelf in the kitchen, so I poured a little in a glass and topped it with water. The cat followed me back into the living room.
On Youtube, I found a Marlon Brando documentary and put it on. It was a pretty good documentary, with people like Robert Duvall and Benicio del Toro giving commentary. About halfway through it, I realized I was out of cigarettes. Would need to go to the shop. It was just downstairs, out the gate and across the street.
Keys. She hadn’t left any keys. It had never come up. There were a few butts in the ashtray, I could smoke them. It was just noon, and Ozge wouldn’t be home from work until six. Just have to kill time until then. I put the Marlon Brando documentary on and watched it for a while. The cat’s feet were still dirty. We kept the bedroom door closed so she wouldn’t get on the bed. On the Internet the night before we’d done some research on AskYahoo. Some one had recommended using a damp, moist cloth, and rubbing it on the belly, so that the cat would be encouraged to start cleaning herself.
I went to the kitchen and found a rag near the sink, moistened it and brought it back to the living room. The cat was asleep. Her little paws were almost grey, so I began rubbing them with the cloth, watching some of the grey come out. The cat awoke languidly, and did not resist, so I went on and cleaned her other paws. By then she was awake, and turned over on her belly, so, following the Internet instructions, I began applying the cloth to her belly, and watched the Marlon Brando documentary. It was on the part where he showed up on the set for the filming of “Appocalypse Now.” The director Francis Ford Coppolla had told him just two things: to get in shape, and read Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Instead, Brando showed up overweight and without having read the book.
Ozge messaged on Facebook. “How is the cat?” “She’s sleeping on the sofa,” I wrote. “I’m cleaning her.” “J Love her and you. Do you need anything?” “Just some cigarettes – and beer.” “OK. See you later xx”
By the time the Brando documentary ended, I had finished the bottle of raki, and smoked all the butts that had anything on them. I got up and paced, feeling trapped. The cat eyed me curiously from the sofa. I calculated. It would take only about two minutes to run down to the shop. I could close the cat up in the living room, then leave the door of the flat open just a crack, the same with the outside door. I had a key to the gate. If only the neighbors didn’t notice. Ozge and I weren’t married, and it wouldn’t look well for a strange man, a yabanci, to be seen slipping in and out of Ozge’s apartment. Some of the neighbors had seen me once or twice, but still, I might look like a thief.
I didn’t worry about the flat. It was a nice neighborhood, even a bit posh, and the shop was only two minutes away. I slipped on my boots, put on a hat and coat. I closed the living room door, with the cat looking at me from the sofa. She didn’t get up. I gently closed the main door, leaving it barely open, then slipped down the stairs, trying not to let my boots make too much noise. The outside door I left open, unlocked the outside gate and whipped across the street.
There were two men behind the counter. I must have been nervous, if not a bit drunk, for they eyed me with what seemed to be suspicion. “Lark mavi,” I said. The first man got a pack of Lark cigarettes and took the money. “Iyi gunler,” I said, and hurried back outside.
I went through the gate. The main door had shut somehow while I was away. Shit. I buzzed a random number. I was expecting an inquiry, since it was a nice, respectable neighborhood. But to my surprise, the door buzzed. I went quickly up stairs. Outside Ozge’s flat for a moment I thought that door too had been shut. Her neighbor, a middle-aged woman, had opened her door and was looking at me. She said something in Turkish I couldn’t catch. “Ozge çalışiyor,” I said. Ozge is working. She said something again, but in a kind of gentle, warning way, she didn’t sound angry. Desperately, I wished her good day, and tried the door. It was still open. I went inside and closed the door, breathing in relief.
I felt a wild, falling feeling, like everything coming down. The woman would complain, maybe even call the police. I would get Ozge in trouble, maybe even thrown out of her flat for having strange men around. Ozge would be angry for my causing trouble. “Why couldn’t you just wait?” I could hear her saying.
Jesus. I felt like a kid, waiting for his parents to come home and find out he’s broken the window. Settle down, it’s alright. I had a smoke, and sat down. The cat had awakened when I came in, but now settled back in her spot on the sofa. My partner in crime.
A while later, I went into the bedroom, closed the door and laid down. I fell asleep and when I finally awoke it was after five o’clock. I passed the plant box in the hall way and saw the dirt around it, and remembered Ozge asking me to hoover. I found the vacuum in the spare room, which she used as a study, plugged the vacuum. It was really easy and fast. The job was done. It hadn’t been a completely unproductive day. I went to the bedroom, and careful to shut the door, had a nap.
That evening Ozge had to work on her translations, but didn’t feel like it. Her father called and she talked for him for a while. For her master’s she had to come up with an idea on how to use an old Ottoman school that had been built by the great 16th Century architect, Mimar Sinan. He was considered in his time the Michaelangelo of the East, for he built some of the most important mosques in Turkey, and even in Bulgaria and the Ukraine. Ozge told me about him after she hung up with her father. Her father was a retired museum curator.
“He suggested that the school be used to showcase the style of Mimar Sinan, a kind of exhibition,” Ozge said. “You know, he used to design everything in miniature before he built the buildings.”
We were sitting on the sofa. Ozge had brought some beer home. I’d drunk most of it, but now she had some of mine. On Youtube, we’d found some George Carlin, and Ozge was comparing him to a certain Turkish comedian who had a similar style. Kedi Hanim was sleeping.
“I think she might be ill,” Ozge said, stroking the cat. She sighed. “Uuff! I checked with friends. It’s going to cost a fortune to get all of her shots, and this is right before payday. But she needs them as soon as possible. She has lice. You see?” She pointed to some tiny black dots on Kedi Hanim’s belly.”
Ozge sighed again. “Let’s lie down,” she said. We stretched out on the sofa, careful of the cat.
“Your two girls are tired, your two cats,” Ozge purred, her head on my chest.
Soon they were both asleep.
James Tressler was a reporter for The Times-Standard. His latest novel, “The Lost Coast D.A.,” is currently available at lulu.com. He lives in Istanbul.