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    Taksim Performers

    Performers from Ecuador in Taksim Square.

    I met Ecuadorian performers in Taksim Square. They knew very little English and practically no Turkish, except “on beş” (meaning “fifteen,” the cost of their audio disc). So, we spoke in Spanish. The girl (pictured above) explained that they come from a town outside Quito. She arrived in Istanbul, along with her family (uncle and brother) and close friend (pictured above), a few weeks ago. They plan to spend time here — about 2 months — playing music, dancing and, hopefully, making some money. Then, they will return home.

    Singing for their curious Istanbul audience

    The Turkish audience members were interested, no doubt. But they also seemed confused, as if they didn’t know how to act/what to do. A large circle enveloped the performers while two gypsy children ran through the crowd, playing games.

    “The South American performers began coming here about two years ago,” my friend, Fatih, explained. “That’s when I first saw them in Istanbul.”

    Tourism is a strange thing. When I watched the performers, I thought about being an “outsider.” For example, I’m an outsider here in Istanbul. I’m the recorder. I’m the observer. ..taking photos, writing blog posts.

    But, at that moment, the Ecuadorian performers were outsiders. Loud, excited Turks took flash photos — displaying the Ecuadorians like tourists sights — like the Louvre or Acropolis.

    And, in a way, the Turks were outsiders, too — peering into a very foreign culture, probably tailored to seem even more exotic and strange, even more indigenous and removed than the real lives of the performers in Ecuador.

    And I wondered ..was this even their “indigenous” culture? The clothing and dancing seemed American Indian, like Cherokee or something — not Andean/Ecuadorian!

    The whole thing was a bit surreal — the Ecuadorian performers, the awe-struck Turks, the rambunctious gypsy youth. And me.

    Most people didn’t buy the music or donate money. They were  just interested from afar.

    And the experience was both obnoxious and a strange relief — to not be the recorder for once.

    Dancing for the audience

    I tried to ask the girl what she thought of Istanbul — the people, the food, the life. She didn’t have much to say. She was more quiet, perhaps. But very kind. And her friend — the young guy — was so charmingly youthful. I figured he must be a  playful jokester back home.

    There were so many questions left unanswered. No doubt, it’s expensive to fly out four people to Istanbul, especially during the tourist season. What do they do in Ecuador?

    But, most of all, I wondered about their daily lives in Istanbul, before they hit the streets in the evening. What do they eat? What do they do? Who do they talk to? And when they go home in the morning, after a hard night’s work …what do they think of the whole thing?

    Gypsy kids running through the half circle surrounding the Ecuadorian performers. A surreal blend of old world Europe and the globalized tourist industry.

    Gypsy/Roma kids taking a seat by the subway entrance to watch the Ecuadorian performers.

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    The first thing that came to mind when I read the Craigslist post.

    I was aimlessly browsing through Turkish Craigslist and came upon THIS:

    Turkish Female Pop-Star For USA Break-Thru (New York City/LA/Nashville)

    I am seeking a female pop singing star from Turkey to break through to USA market. Songwriting a plus. Candidates must be HOT (amazingly good looking and sexy), highly talented (strong music background, exceptional vocal abilities), have dancing ability (preferably Turkish belly dancing), and be willing to emigrate to the USA, at least for several years. If Shakira (from Colombia) could do it, imagine how big a Turkish star could be. This has not been done yet, and will be the first Turkish artist to achieve worldwide fame through domination of US pop market. Very serious inquiries only, must have exceptional talent, ability, look, image, etc. Must have professional recordings and videos in Turkey (do not have to be commercially released). All music will be re-recorded and produced from scratch. Must speak English or be willing to learn quickly. Must be between the ages of 20 and 32. No intermediaries, I will only deal directly with artists. I am a producer and music marketer with high-level music industry contacts and strong track record of major label successes. Send link to website, or MP3s, artist bio.

    This makes me think I should repost a crazy Turkish Craigslist listing EVERY WEEK.

    And who is this guy? Some greased-up wannabe agent? The listing of NYC/LA/Nashville already makes him look poseur and ridiculous — choose a city, man! But Nashville is definitely the best. I’m sure the country music industry is DYING for a belly-dancing Turkish vixen.

    But, best of all, who finds full-fledged, insanely hot pop stars on Craigslist?

    But, then again, I shouldn’t be surprised. It is, after all, Craigslist (and I mean that in the best possible way).

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    May 21st, 2010adminHollywood, Los Angeles, Surreal Travel

    Beverly Hills from the Bus

    Beverly Hills from the Bus

    Here’s the thing about LA: It’s deceptively normal! If you spend enough time in Los Angeles, and you see a monstrosity of a rhinoplasty center across from a children’s playground, and then you see a Scientology center, secretly (but still ostentatiously) housed in some Hollywood mansion, it becomes (somehow!) normal. Really, I don’t know how it happens. But it does. Personally, I grew desensitized after a few days. Probably because I had no other choice. And I used to live in LA, so I’ve accepted the insanity. But if you want to experience LA — and really “experience” the town — you have to drop the spectator’s awe. And just accept that, yeah, there’s a rhinoplasty center across from a children’s playground.

    And I love LA, which is not a cool thing to say in San Francisco. But, okay, here’s an example: I met my friend, Gia, on Santa Monica Boulevard in the West LA district. We shared $4.95 glasses of cabernet at a crappy late-night diner. This place is, basically, a dump. Most of the employees are surly and bored, the food is tasteless and the decor is 1970s (in a bad way). But I had a great time! I can’t quite explain the appeal — but I knew it wouldn’t happen that way in San Francisco. Or, here’s another example: I went to see a screening of Wizard of Oz at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery …and the movie was projected onto Rudolph Valentino’s mausoleum — a truly palatial way to be buried …one would think he was Genghis Khan. But, no, he was just an obscenely lucky Italian boy who played a sheikh, cavorted with Hollywood ladies and was maybe gay.

    LA is so strange! Yeah, I know, LA is a massive, diverse thing. The sprawl alone makes it impossible to categorize. But there’s something so darkly absurd, yet appealing, about the peculiarities of LA culture.

    Not to mention, many of the town’s perceived priorities (if we can draw any conclusions from architecture and urban planning) are completely bonkers. From Valentino’s mausoleum to the overwhelming car culture, to the drive-in ATMs and Starbucks, it doesn’t seem entirely “real” …or, in my case, fully livable. There’s this psychedelic sub-reality of what’s really important. And it’s interesting, in part, because you wonder if everybody else is “in on it.” Are they also keenly aware of the weirdness? Or do they no longer care? Or do they actually take it seriously?

    I remember one time, in Istanbul, somebody asked me, “Where are you from?” I said, “California.” Then the man inquired, “Where? Los Angeles?” I began explaining that I’m a San Franciscan who studied in LA during my college years. But he didn’t care about San Francisco. He just interrupted me, “Ah, Los Angeles! I would love to go there!” And I just imagined his completely inaccurate image of the city, which he probably treasured. Maybe it was a combination of his priorities/proclivities — hot women, beaches, whatever. But, anyway, that’s what I love about LA …the fact that some Turkish guy, serving coffee, was so entranced by a land inhabited by drive-in ATMs and late-night diners selling $4.95 glasses of wine.