The Capo and the Turkish Bathhouse

Turkey 22

545251_10200105709347162_639330992_nThe Capo and the Bathhouse

Catalino didn’t walk down the street, he strutted.  Swaggering gracefully but powerfully, like a mafia don dandy from another era. His skin was brown, his hair a streaking, oily coal-blue and his eyes were a burning black. It only added to his vaguely menacing appearance that his eyes were set so deep into his skull. His Gypsy style looked to me basically Mexican–gaudily-laced jeans and dress shirts,  a large silver belt buckle that said something about “vaqueros y mujeres”. 

He preferred the name “Il Capo”, the name for the guards in the Nazi concentration camps. He’d been in and out of prison his whole life. Originally from a small village in Romania, he’d managed to find a way to Norway with his female companion, Sylvia, whom he ignored or ridiculed.  He didn’t mind the prison stays in Norway certainly when compared to those back in Romania. To my knowledge he wasn’t a violent criminal, but like many Roma, was a man ordained by fate to petty crimes and general thievery. Perhaps he could find a manual laboring job but would the Vikings bother to trust him? Seeing the man from first from forty yards away, there was no denying he was a member of this shunned tribe. 

Isa the artist had brought them to Turkey in the hopes that the couple would feel more comfortable, more at home among a people who didn’t look dramatically different, whose culture they might connect to. Catalino communicated to me in a gestured Romanian-Italian while I responded in a more heavily gestured Mexican-Italian. Catalino was annoyed by my then-slumped and morose appearance. He would sometimes grab my shoulders and pull them back, to encourage my spine to fully elongate.

Due to sudden romantic and employment complications, Isa recommended I take myself and the dear Capo for our first visit to the hamam, the Turkish bathhouse. The Turkish bathhouse evolved from the Roman bathhouse, however the modern hamam is hardly the equivalent to whatever the Romans were doing 2,000 years ago.

The local bathhouse was connected to a mosque. We paid the small fee, were handed towels and shown to our changing rooms. I stripped and wrapped one towel around my waist and another on my shoulders, my white slippers neatly hugging my feet. Catalino and I were guided to the sauna, shoved in, door closed. We sweated outrageously for ten minutes. The sauna was like a Lakota sweat lodge. An older, mustachioed bathhouse attendant opened the door and guided us to a raised, stone table-like structure in the middle of the room. There was a large window on the ceiling allowing the yellow light of the sun to come down. Before modern times the window would’ve just been a large hole.  There was perhaps six bathhouse attendants, all shirtless, towels wrapped firmly around their waste, white slippers on feet. All but one younger man were fat in a sturdy way, body coated in hair, usually balding with the moderate mustache hugging the upper lip. Just what I had imagined.

We were instructed to lie on the raised structure, face down, side by side. The Capo had already begun to demonstrate hesitation. I could hear him speaking to me in my head, in accented English “what the fuck have you brought me to, man?”. I got the young attendant, while Cat got a particularly hairy older one. The blonde man began to massage me. My arms and legs are stretched. Moderate touch slowly turned to forceful pushing and holding within a short time. “Kick-box” he kept repeating. More circular, strong rubbing. He got onto the table, then basically sat on top of me. I glanced over at Catalino who was staring at me wide-eyed. The hairy Turk was completely on top of the poor Gyspy now, wrapping his legs around Cat’s, the large body crushing into his back. Catalino looked alarmed. I wasn’t sure if he was being crushed or feared he might just start enjoying this sweaty sadism too much. The blonde grabbed my arms and pulled them back hard while he continued on sit top of my me. My head and upper body went into the air, his crotch grinding into my ass. Forceful touch turned to massage that hinted at violence. I had never gotten a Turkish massage, not from a man at least. It was beyond a deep tissue massage, or painful : this was a real man’s massage.  I glanced back at Catalino. His head was buried into the stone now, body still clenched. “Kick-box, Ame-r-ee-ca”, I heard again as the blonde’s skinny hands were pushing into my neck and shoulder blades. 

After our  extended punishment we were directed to stand up and taken to a fountain on the side of the wall and told to crouch. There was water flowing in three temperatures: very hot, lukewarm and ice fucking cold. The attendant, crouching beside me filled a bowl of the ice cold and dumped it over my head. The rush of the water was like jumping into the Pacific. Feeling slightly violated due to his crotch-to-my-ass-grinding, I looked up at him and said in English “a warning woulda been nice”. He eyed me once then refilled the bowl and dumped the lukewarm water over my head. “Re-lax” he soothed in Turkish, then slapped me lightly on the shoulder. He moved to the hot option and my body rejoiced as the fire water went down my back. “Evet, evet, Keek-box”. He moved back and forth through the three options. I suddenly found myself truly relaxed, my mind calm : grateful and happy. I glanced over at Catalino who was experiencing the same dousing. He looked lifeless, his body folded into the ground. He finally looked up, nodding at me, relieved. He knew it would be over soon.

“Evet, evet, Ame-r-ee-ca. Fee-neesh”. I stood up. He nodded at me proudly and offered his hand. His grip was firm for a Turkish handshake, his blue eyes looking straight into mine. I turned and began my way up to change, my Romanian friend in tow. As I stepped out of the dressing room, a man who didn’t attend to either one of us stood on the steps, asking for further fees. A year before I would’ve paid him something, today I ignored him. I thanked the other men and called Cat down the stairs. I stepped out the door and felt the summer wind on my neck. My body was clean, my muscles relaxed, my mind without any care or frustration. It was obviously the most effective massage I’d ever had. I felt temporarily cleansed. 

  Catalino looked over at me. His dark face still held a lingering look of alarm and violation. “Multo bene, eh?” I asked him. He shook his head, mildly disturbed at mere the suggestion. I guess they did it differently in Romania. 

Vietnamka and the Proper Way for a Man to Light his Cigarette.

yanko-6 Bulgaria

8. The Vietnamka and the Proper Way for a Man to Light his Cigarette:

An enormous green army truck ambled up the drive way. Gray skies, drizzle, around 8:30 in the morning. I held a cup of nescafe in my hand and a cigarette in my lips, leaning against the doorway of my cabin, less than ten feet from the road. I thought to myself “What the fuck are we doing with this?”. Lecho, Yanko and Ivan were coming from the house in the opposite direction. The truck stopped at the gate close to the cabin.

A taller, long-nosed man in his 40’s climbed out of the vehicle. He was wearing a black leather cap and black wool jacket. Yanko and Lecho greeted him. Krassi was coming down the hill, beginning to bark his orders from 20 meters away. The man acknowledged me and held up my coffee mug back. Lecho and Yanko glanced over. The door was open and Naomi was lying in the bed naked in full view. I left the door open a few more seconds and then stood in it, blocking any view without making anything obvious. Part of me was proud to show the boys the pretty girl I put my cock into at night but the better part of me knew the tasteful action. Naomi was stirring. Yanko was motioning for me to come towards him.  I grabbed my jacket from the chair and shut the door, throwing my cigarette into the wet stones below me.

Yanko spoke some English. I was trying to pick up on Bulgarian. With effort, we managed to communicate decently. There was an understanding of some kind. “What the hell is this?” I asked him. He grinned and in his thick accent informed me, “dis… Vietnamka. Russian Army use. Now we have for work.” Ignorant and confused, I asked “Vietnamka? Why not Afghanistanka?”. Yanko drank a bit more from his coffee, understanding, “za-shto Russiya in Vietnam as well,”. Right. Supplies were sent somehow. “Well, what are we using it for?”. The young Roma man from the east of Bulgaria smiled and responsed “to-day, we cut down many trrrees.” “Gde?” I asked, confusing Russian with Bulgarian. He turned around and pointed at the mountain in the distance, clouds hiding the top. “Tam. Tazi PLA-NEE-NA,”. He paused, then remembering his word, shouted “MOUN-TAIN!” Yes, real organic farming.

Naomi opened the door to the cabin, now dressed and waved at Yanko and us. All the men paused to stare at her. “Do-bray ootra” she called out happily to the group, the men repeating it back slowly as if under some trance. She walked up the hill towards the main house. I watched her, then glanced at Yanko, still watching her walk away. I jabbed him slightly in the in the arm. He smiled and looked down at the ground.

“Mnogo krasivi”. Very beautiful.

The truck turned around and we all loaded up. Yanko, Lecho and I sat in back. We stopped to pick up another man a kilometre down the road; a short, round, elf-like man, barely five feet tall with very thick hands and a bulbous, round nose. His face was red, his eyes tiny. He waved at us and loaded into the front with the driver and Ivan. Soon we veered off the gravel road, onto a steep muddy path that lead up through the trees. The truck didn’t really fit but the man driving was unphased. Occasionally branches or limbs would block our path, but with enough gas power the Vietnamka was able to rip the trees to pieces. The drizzle had turned to rain now. As we climbed on we would occasionally get stuck, or begin to slide to the side or in reverse. Control was maintained within a time that kept the truck from flipping into the forest, killing us all.

We passed through a long-clearing, again following the pattern of sliding to one side for several feet, reversing, stopping, sliding backwards, stopping and jolting forwards once again. We eventually found our site. I glanced behind me at the long road down. In the yellow open field it looked like someone had done donuts.

The driver’s name was Rumen. I liked his demeanor and his black leather cap. A straight, middle-aged family man could never pull that hat off back in America. Yanko told me he was from the village as well, “dobre chovek”, he reassured me, a good man. Rumen and Ivan went up the hill to begin cutting. They would slice the trees up and roll them down the hill to us. Rumen carefully gripped his chainsaw and climbed up the hill. Ivan followed behind, with a chainsaw in one hand and a two liter bottle of Zagorka beer in the other.

Their cutting began with our gathering soon to follow. I could see Rumen cutting carefully, aware of what was around him. Ivan managed to cut with one hand and drink his Zagorka with the other. Occasionally he would turn away from the tree while still cutting, yelling at Yanko down below. Chainsaws do occasionally bounce back at you. The hardened old man at least looked like he knew what he was doing.

The logs were wet and heavy. Me, Yanko and the hardworking, kind elf loaded one after another. They were piling up. Half hidden in the fog, Rumen stopped his cutting and yelled down at us four or five sentences in Bulgarian. I didn’t understand and didn’t pay much attention. He looked over at me and then Yanko. The cutting began again. Another log was stuck in front of me and I began to pull it out of the mud. I heard a tumble and glanced up. There was an enormous tree rolling alarmingly fast in my direction. I managed to jump up right in time, as the over-sized log rolled under my feet and down the mountain. Amused, I yelled “Za-shto, Roumen? ZA-SHTO???”. (Why Roumen? Why?).

He looked down and called out more sentences in Bulgarian that I didn’t understand, worried and confused at my inaction in the face of a clear warning. Yanko called up “Toy ne razbirii dobre Bulgarski!”. (He doesn’t understand Bulgarian very well). In Bulgarian, the conversation between the two parties continued. “What?” shouted Roumen. “Da, he’s American, not Bulgarian,” Yanko informed him. A short pause. “American???” shouted Rumen back down.  His voice, incredulous, blew through the forest. “Then what the hell is he doing here?!?”. Yanko translated and we laughed at each other, which seemed to relax Rumen who eventually laughed himself. The cutting and gathering began again and wouldn’t stop until lunchtime.

The rain had stopped. The sun was peaking out of the white-purple clouds. We sat on logs in a semi-circle It was twenty past noon when Naomi showed up with pizza for everyone. We each ate our own pizza. Naomi giggled and pranced around. Yanko, Ivan, and the elf man enjoyed the show. Rumen tried not to, while the old Letcho just shook his head and grinned at me. Before leaving Naomi made sure to give Letcho a kiss on the cheek. Letcho turned even redder than normal. I kissed her good-bye and she waved to all as she frolicked down the hill. Rumen taking a sip of water studied my face. He tilted his head down the hill and in Bulgarian let out, “Oh. . .That’s why you’re here,”. The elf man finished his pizza, stuffing it into his fleshy face.


By four we’d filled the giant Vietnamka. That would be enough for today. Yanko, the elf-man, and I got to sit on top of the logs in back. The truck labored into the clearing. Although the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, the mud was still ample. As the truck shifted and slid to the left and then the right, I began to position myself half way onto the very back of the truck. If the truck was to flip over I could just fall backwards. I comforted myself with these thoughts as the truck tilted and groaned down the incline.

As we found more stable ground, I pulled out a cigarette and lit a match. It failed to light and I tried again.  No success. Yanko moved over at me confused at my actions. He took the cigarettes and matches into his hands and opined “Look, in Bulgaria, man light cigarette like this,”. He took the match and with his wrist tight and palm facing downwards, struck a solid, straight bold line across the matchbook. “TA-KA”. He lit his cigarette. “Woman”, he continued, “light cigarette like this”. He held his wrist limply, flipping it forward, three fingers upwards as he completed his strike of the matchbook. “Ta-ka. Ti Razberash? Understand”. “Da, da”, I shook my head. “Now you, “ he said as he handed me back the book and smokes.

I took a match and cigarette and repeated as directed : wrist firm, solid striking motion downward. The fire moved from match to cigarette. “Perfect, da, da,” Yanko called out. “Like real Bulgarian man. Strong man.”. I enjoyed my cigarette and Yanko looked up the hill behind us. Then a branch came out of nowhere and smashed us in the face. yanko-3

Attack at Gumushuyu: Gas bombs, burnt hands, hot chai

There were at least a thousand gathered at Gumushuyu. We were on a huge, sloping hill, to our left was the Beshiktash football stadium and straight ahead, falling downward across the highway onto the shores of the Bosphorus, the Ottoman government palace. Days before, members of Carshi, Beshiktash football’s  hooligan gang had hijacked a bulldozer and drove it into the gates of the Palace. The hooligans were quickly subdued but the effect added further momentum to the protesters’ cause. Reports and photos of the hooligans, joyously steering the ‘dozer through the gang of fleeing cops no doubt brought at least a faint smile from millions from Izmir to Rize. The flagrant abuses of the police force was obvious—the ridiculously overhanded attacks by the AKP government had angered millions of Turks whose politics might be generously described as moderate. Camped upon the hills of Gumushuyu were families, students, elderly couples, middle-aged secularists, drinking and eating like a picnic. It wouldn’t last.

As one moved further down the hill and approached the highway and the police lines, the ages of the protesters gradually decreased. At the very front were masses of exclusively young men, testosterone-filled, likely sexually repressed teenage boys itching for some confrontation with the police. The cops themselves numbered at least 300 strong, with a few water cannons added to their arsenal. Jack-booted and helmeted with war-time gas masks, many of the cops clutched thick, pipe-like guns–tear gas guns. The sun was going down and with its falling, the mood was changing. The boys at the front grew more restless, insults were exchanged between the government forces and rebels. Some began to chuck small rocks. You could easily feel things were changing — the hum was getting louder. Like two sides staring at each other before a battle–something was eventually inevitable.

One of the biggest differences between this and a traditional battle is that in Gumushuyu, only one side was armed. Albeit overwhelmingly with tear gas guns and water cannons filled with acid water and less with actual bullets. No doubt there were real bullets in the wait, but it would have been regime-suicide for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. It’s been  decades since the Turkish government openly gunned down its own citizen protesters ( That is excluding the conflict in the Kurdish regions in the east that dragged on as if the Turkish army needs something to do with its millions in military aid from America and the hands of nearly every Turkish male citizen from 18 to 20 years of age. Shooting bullets had been ruled out for now, but covering the city of Istanbul in a blinding blanket of tear-gas had somehow been ruled advisable).

More rocks were thrown. I’d wrapped a sweatshirt around my face in semi-effort to protect against the clouds of gas we knew were coming. A skinny teenager ran up to me–no goggles, no mask, adrenaline at full level. All I could make out was “Arkadashim”, my friend, but even an idiot would know what he was asking for. Without hesitation I removed the sweatshirt and ripped the cheap fabric in half. He kept speaking to me in Turkish, smiling, hugging me and giving me the trademark Turkish male head touching. I like that. All had become temporary brothers but this custom of gentle male-head butting is customarily universal across Anatolia.

An explosion came followed by a small cloud of smoke that rose from the police lines. The cops had fired a warning shot. This just prompted a hail of rocks and jeers from the young men at the front. Up on the hill, further back, crowds sat pensively, sensing something brewing but mostly, perhaps assuming themselves safe with their distance. The hill was at least 250 years away. The change then came suddenly; a cacophony of shots rang out, 8-9, BOOM-BOOM-BOOM, quickly in succession. Within less than ten seconds, the air below was billowing with white gas, from the top of the hill it was impossible to make out what had moments before been perfectly clear. Cries of anger and panic flowed up the hill. The younger protesters were pushed back, fleeing the gas and retreating up the hill. I could smell the gas from my position up on the hill easily by now. That smell had become the little devil to all of us. I had a sick exhilaration from this smell; while a disgusting scent that will make your eyes and throat close up within a few seconds of exposure, that smell was a signal for my nervous system to send shots of adrenaline  and joy spurting through my body. The gas canisters then reached the hill, screeching downward from the sky. A canister landed within 20 feet of me. That was when the Chaos reached us.

The hundreds, reduced to a semi-frightened mob, fled up the hill. A fat, old woman fell in front of me. Another young man and I hoisted her up. Another gas canister landed closer. I couldn’t make out 15 feet in front of me, we were all in a cloud; a wreaking, annoying bitch of a cloud and ran into your throat and made your eyes cry shut. The fat old woman moaned something. Another gas canister landed further away, I couldn’t see it but you hear them hit the ground. The man called me again and we together dragged the woman up the hill, at least getting her up the most difficult parts. Yet another gas canister shot into the mud from the air. Excessive.  I watched the canister begin to sputter and puff out gas from both ends.There was some newspaper on the ground. With these thin layers of paper I filled my hand and then, a profoundly idiotic move, picked up the burning canister and hurled it back down the hill. Now picking up tear gas canisters that have just been shot at you and old women sitting close to you and hurling that back at the paid thugs is not anything to argue about in my opinion. I would estimate most than half of all canisters shot were picked up and returned to their source.  Turks are firey, fighting people. You can’t compare our Occupy with their uprising. We look like cowards; obsessed with minute theory, gender, race and class political correctness, doomed to destroy each other before the government even begins putting any effort into it. Not so with the Turkish protesters. Most of the people resisting at the very front were young men. The protesters  didn’t hold meetings and encourage a 50-50 male/female breakdown in these situations, telling the young men that many should hold back and let for an equal representation of genders, ethnic groups and sexual orientations in front; they just did whatever the needed to do and brothers and sisters supported each other as was seen fit.

When you pick up a burning tear gas canister, it doesn’t burn at first. At first you feel nothing. Then, the expected stinging, under your skin burning. Before I picked it up I knew it was coming but did it anyway. The more it stung, the more my anger at myself grew. I made my way out of the madness, I could barely make out the ground. I could spot the bursts of light coming from the tear-gas guns becoming surprisingly close. People were carrying those who’d succumbed to the poison in the air. I felt like a coward but had no gas mask and could no longer breathe. I followed others into an alleyway, the buildings blocking off at least the core waves of gas.

I wandered through the haze. I had been away from my group for the whole night now. That momentary sense of loneliness in a crowd that was essentially one, temporarily united unit was symbolic of the isolation I had then imposed on myself, pushing anyone away who got too close. These thoughts came and went throughout the train wreck around me.  Hazy alleyways, people running here and there, the sounds of explosions coming back from below. For reasons I cannot recall, I found myself in some sort of nurse’s or medical clinic within minutes of wandering these alleyways. There were six young Turkish nurses wearing white coats with one ancient leathery-faced old man with that typical, wondrous beak of a nose. I  was wearing a Kemal Ataturk shirt, but had just recently and somewhat accidentally, shaved a mohawk onto my head. That, added with the forearm tattoos and the obvious fact I spoke poor Turkish might not bode well with older, more conservative Turks. Erdogan himself had insisted the protests were being led by “foreign hooligans”. Perfect, as this dawned on me, I didn’t look the part at all. The old man tried to communicate with me, eyeing my curiously but one of the young, blonde nurses cut him off “Yabanjeh” (the Turkish word for foreigner). He stopped his question, reassessed and offered me tea. He even bothered with asking how many sugar cubes I wanted. This kind of hospitality, in the most unusual of circumstances, can strike some of Western foreigners as jarring and incredibly touching. We westerners don’t treat each other like this. We’re too overwhelmed with competing and have all been taught our whole lives that if someone is in a bind, it’s by their own doing and one shouldn’t exert too much energy on their comfort.

Turks, like many people not from the United States or Western Europe, take a different view. If you simply wander off into the hinterland of Anatolia, as long as you show basic respect and decency, you will more than likely be welcomed into and fed in homes wherever you go–even if you speak 3 words of their language. But it’s not just in smaller towns or the countryside that one will encounter this. Istanbul is a massive, sprawling red-roof tiled monster, an ancient, modern city-state and yet in almost any neighborhood, especially the poorer ones, you will find people offering you tea, meals, advise without any expectation of gaining anything from you.

The old man placed an ice block in my burning hand, served  me my tea and asked if I was hungry. I thanked him and told him I wasn’t. The blonde nurse returned with two other women who brought some sort of hand cream, more ice and bandages. We waited for the ice block to melt. The old man sat down with me, eyeing me but not in a hostile manner, perhaps wondering what the hell I was thinking picking up burning objects or what I was doing in the middle of a tear gas “festival” or what I was doing alone. He had to be pushing eighty. He seemed concerned though. He kept an eye on me while he watched the a football game on tv. Perhaps the government was broadcasting the images of the protests, perhaps it wasn’t. During the first 24 hours of the protest’s eruption, videos, images or reports of it had been completely non-existent. CNN Turk (the Turkish CNN affiliate), famously showed a documentary about penguins instead of mentioning the brutality and complete chaos erupting throughout the historic center of Istanbul. This night was a few days in though. Perhaps it was being broadcast somewhere.  The nurses eventually returned, applied cream and wrapped my hand. I thanked all of them repeatedly and got up to leave, still feeling extraordinarily foolish but warmed by their unfazed kindness. The hospitality from nowhere helps any viciously isolated American. I might be a yabanjeh hooligan fool but it didn’t stop them from going out of their way to give me basic first aid and share a cup of tea. My right hand was unburned and I offered it in thanks to the elderly man. He shook it and then tightened his grip and held it “Kolay Gelsin, gench”.

“Take it easy, young man.”

Are we not Men?

Are we not Men?

Oliver Vog is a talented tattooist from Cologne. I met him in the back of Danny’s studio, drawing away Turkish and Ottoman themed flash. Perhaps he had been promised customers, perhaps not but few had arrived since his announced arrival in Istanbul. Not having anything to do with Oliver’s work, which as mentioned was excellent, but due to the almost serious collapse of Istanbulites taking of tattoos. I looked over his fezes, flaming daggers, evil eyes and hookah pipes, ready to be burned into a Turk’s skin at any moment. Oliver was tall, blonde, blue eyed, with a sturdy, stocky body. Like any artist of his trade, he was covered in evidence of his craft. His beard had a sight point in it and the fedora fit on his hat without an ounce of pretentiousness. He had a soft, voice of a medium tone and spoke to anyone in the most respectful way possible without being timid. He beamed with an understated kindness, but also stood with the confidence of a man who would cut your throat if he needed to— the type of person you might want to count as your friend in the time of an unexpected catastrophe.

“Vud yu like a tattoo?” he asked as he watched me look over his art. I lamented that I hadn’t the money to spend on tattoos at this particular moment in my life. “I’m waiting to make it big as an English teacher in Constantinople” I said. “Oh no, ther vil be no charrge. I vant to practice mein flower. Can I put it un your laig?” the gentleman from Cologne asked. I agreed without a moment of hesitation. “Too eager”, I immediately thought. I felt like I was committing some minor sin, allowing a thoroughly accomplished tattoo artist from a country with hoards of serious artists of this marking of the flesh trade, but I couldn’t say no. He had offered, it would actually be an insult to refuse his flower.

“Haus you leg?” he asked in his excellent but Tuetonically-flavored English. “My legs are mostly empty.” “Vunderbaar. De side of the shin vould go nicely.” I agreed but warned him that there would be much shaving required before he could begin The Marking. “Dun’t vurry, I have verked in Turkey before” he remarked with a lovely grin.

The bed was prepared, the mass of hair was scraped away, the equipment and ink was readied and i lied on my side with one of Danny’s classical art books, on Degas or someone like him. “Figures… I picked the only impressionist who officially sided with the fascists”.
Oliver turned on his machine, dipped his needle into the ink and moved towards my leg. I waited for the prick, that precious injection, the joyous Little Stab to begin. I kept waiting. I felt the faintest sensation, but nothing more, as if he was keeping the needle above my skin. This continued for minutes. “Oliver…you can put the needle in completely…”
“Wat? I am. I have a special majchine.”
Oliver, inexplicably, had a machine that was considerably softer than what I was used to experiencing. His speed was standard for outlines. I felt mostly nothing for the first thirty minutes. However, that feeling drastically changed as he worked his needle towards and above my shin bone. Now I felt it—yes, you couldn’t miss the needle marking you into the shin. Professional muay thai fighters, being used to taking kicks to the shins endlessly throughout the day, will roll steel bars back and forth across them at night, the permanently kill the nerved. Let me just say I am no muay thai fighter. I played soccer as a teenager. I had always wished the game was a little more violent than how we play it. I felt like some punching, full body shots and sidekicks should’ve been allowed (Rugby wasn’t offered in Georgia at the time and I found American football stupid, never understand the constant stopping and starting,  in addition to all of those pads and smothering, blinding helmet.) But there was and still is a distinct unpleasantness of being kicked in the shins, even for the most seasoned sado-masochist macho-striving teenage adrenaline-slave. That feeling of a direct, solid smack to the middle of the shinbone when your shin pad had moved off to the side, can knock all but the most determined human off their rhythm.

Now, I wasn’t having to suffer through some redbulled-up young man straight up leg cracking me, but I was getting a new experience, the more relaxed and acute sensation of a prolonged needle jabbing into the shin. It was worth it. After the initial surprise, I began, like many others to thoroughly enjoy it. Oliver moved back throughout the 8inch x 5 inch area. Outlines, colors, shading. It would take him over two hours, as this required diligence. Towards the end I began to show the a dreaded Weakness. This was a serious mistake in these areas.

One did not, could not do this. In pre-modern societies, from Tahiti to Japan, a major purpose of the tattooing of one man to another was this necessary demonstration of strength and to keep this poker face to the Master in the face of hours and hours, many times days of pricking and poking of a needle in the hand, into the flesh. Among societies in Polynesia, one did not leave boyhood unless he had, among other things, correctly lived through the process of near-full body tattoos. Rites of passage, uniform to pre-modern societies, are almost gone from our’s.  The comedian Joe Rogan has remarked “The Universe favors bravery. It doesn’t want weak bitches (men) spreading their seed”.  In the United States among our younger generations, this is not a sentiment that can be said to be uniform or even held by the majority of males or females, where displays of traditionally masculine characteristics can have any male accused of sexism and misogyny . Not so in Turkey or in the Great Nation of Deustchland for that matter.

I was just getting a tattoo, like billions of others. This was not some difficult, remarkable feat. However, fidgeting, moaning or bursting into tears is not seen as appropriate behavior by almost anyone. Ayca noticed my discomfort and ratched up some Tom Waits on the stereo. I’m not sure if Ayca cared at all for the melodic moaning of Waits but she’d noticed I had showed a recent, mild obsession with it. Oliver also noticed my discomfort. “Hoe are we doing??” he asked over the hum of the machine. I said I was fine, but was admitted I might need a break soon. “I am almost don mae friend. Do you feel it now?”. I had to tell him I did. “Dat is fine” he said as he continued to work, but then paused, looked into my eyes and gently but firmly asked “But are we not Men?”

Oliver produced a valuable tattoo that sweltering, summer day.



A young Roma girl sells water bottles and watches as men dance an early morning horon, a traditional Anatolian circle dance in Taksim Square.

As an American, an element that made the mass protests in Taksim Square so interesting was the level of enjoyment people got between the breaks of struggling with police tear gas and water cannon attacks. The young men here traditional circle dances that are used in celebrations thoughout Anatolia, the Caucauses, Bulgaria and the Middle East. These dances are familiar with young and old even in modernized cities like Istanbul or Ankara.

At night, while people filled Gezi Park with their tents and sleeping bags, men take out Turkish instruments and begin to play songs. Three singing turns to a dozen singing turns to 6 dozen or more singing. Turkish youth can defiantly sing their folk songs at a moment’s prompting.