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Layla, Majnun, Clapton and Me.

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Every time a Turkish person hears my name they ask the same question: Oh, Leilla? Where are you from? They seem disappointed, almost offended, when they hear my name's inspiration: Eric Clapton. But why? Surely they cannot dislike one of the most influential guitarists of all time. Perhaps, full of Turkish pride, they wish that my name were more relevant to their grand Ottoman history. Little do they know by being named after one of the greatest rock and roll songs in history my name actually predates the Ottoman Empire and most of the Middle East as it exist today, dating back to the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century.

In fact, my name was indirectly inspired by Persian poetry, as this was the inspiration for the legendary song. Clapton had fallen in love with Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend George Harrison, and was completely consumed by it. Another friend of Clapton's who was in the process of converting to Islam, Ian Dallas, introduced him to the 12th century story of Layla and Majnun, written by the Persian poet, Nizami Ganjavi.

Little known in the West, Layla and Majnun is one of the most popular stories in the Islamic wold. Considered by some to be the original Romeo and Juliet, it has inspired legends, poems, songs and epics from the Causcasus to Africa and from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. As is common with Turkish names, the hero’s name mirrors his fate; 'Majnun Layla' means ‘driven mad by Layla.’ The story also inspired a Turkish colloquialism: to "feel like Layla" is to feel completely dazed, as might be expected of a person who is literally madly in love. The story also struck a chord (so to speak) with Clapton and inspired the name of his song, and indirectly, the name of me.

As the story goes, Qays was a beautiful boy who met his fate, Layla (named after the Arabic word for night for her large, dark eyes), at the age of ten. At that young age they both succumbed to a devastating love that would last their entire lives. Here there are differing versions of the story. In one, Layla's father had already promised her to another man and thus refused Qays' request to marry Layla. In the alternative, their love was noticed by others and became the object of gossip and scorn, so Qays refrained from seeing Layla and harming her reputation further. His heart broke and he slipped into melancholy until he heard that Layla's tribe had denied her right to see him in order to protect her (and their) honour.

Upon hearing that their love was forbidden he tumbled into madness; Qays became Majnun. "A madman he became - but at the same time a poet, the harp of his love and of his pain." Poetry became his salvation from the sorrow of heartbreak, the same instrument used by Clapton 13 centuries later.

Majnun retreated into the wilderness where he became unkempt and did not know good from evil. His father took him on a pilgrimage to Mecca to seek Allah's help in freeing him, but his madness only intensified. He struck the Kaaba and cried, "none of my days shall ever be free of this pain. Let me love, oh my God, love for love's sake, and make my love a hundred times as great as it was and is. Love is all I have, all I am, and all I ever want to be!" He thus continued to wander "like a drunken Lion" chanting poems of Layla's beauty and his love for her. He remained in the wilderness, preferring the company of animals to men despite the pleas of his mother and father as they lay on their death beds. Many people came to hear him and wrote down the poems he spontaneously spoke.

These poems eventually reached Layla, who had been holding their love quietly. As the poem goes, "she lived between the water of her tears and the fire of her love, yet her lover's voice reached her. . . . No tent curtain was woven so closely as to keep out his poems. Every child from the bazaar was singing her verses; every passer-by was humming one of his love-songs, bringing Layla a message from her beloved."

Layla refused suitors and instead wrote answers to Majnun's poems and cast them to the wind. Eventually a passer-by realized their hidden meaning and for whom they were intended, so delivered Layla's replies to Majnun in the hopes he would be rewarded with some of the poems that had become so popular. "Thus many a melody passed to and fro between the two nightingales, drunk with their passion."

Eventually Layla was married to another but refused conjugality. Majnun heard of her marriage and of her faithfulness. You can almost picture Majnun in the wilderness, scratching Clapton's lyrics into the dirt:

Like a fool, I fell in love with you,
Turned my whole world upside down.
Let's make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.
Please don't say we'll never find a way
And tell me all my love's in vain.

After the death of Layla's husband she openly mourned her love for Majnun and died shortly thereafter. Madder still with grief, Majnun died at Layla's tomb and was buried beside her.

Clapton was profoundly moved by the story of the boy who fell in love with a beautiful, unavailable woman and descended into madness without her, as it mirrored his own life. Clapton wrote 'Layla' based on his reaction to the story and hoped its message would convince Boyd to leave Harrison for him. Eventually she did just that, but the marriage was not to last.

His is but one chapter in an extensive list of great works inspired by the 7th century story, a list which I am happy to report includes me. So, my apologies to all the locals who mistook me for a Turk, but as it turns out, my story goes back to a time when the Ottoman Empire and Islam itself were but babies in the womb.

Posted by LeiCran 11:40 Archived in Turkey Tagged educational Comments (3)

Wanted: More feet.

Must be in good condition. Coming to a good home.

sunny 10 °C

I need more feet: two to carry me between life-highlights, two to kick my heels with joy at the fantasy life I am living, and another two to dig my heels in, feet firmly planted, so that I cannot be moved. Let's reflect on the past few weeks so you can appreciate my pedi-predicament.

Two weeks ago I handed in the final essay of my masters degree (BOOOYA!). Having two legs was just fine at that time because I was moving in one direction: completion. Once I had crossed the academic finish line I was full of boundless energy, more than these stems knew what to do with. They treated me to a personal best run of 21k because I had the time (why not?) then trotted me up a tarmac staircase and onto an airplane headed east for a victory lap with Emilie.

Joined by Seb, the three of us made excellent use of all our limbs as we explored the area around Trabzon and Kars. Initially, however, the 5 am departure caused our extremities' energy to be subdued as we wandered through the faded and scratched out frescoes inside the Sumela Monastery.

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We broke bread in the spirit of Christ (and olive tapenade) but it took a meandering bus ride through the countryside toward Kars to revive our tired limbs.

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Not wanting any residual Soviet stiffness to creep into our bones, we made haste to escape into the ruined fields of Ani. Mottled sunlight on lazily-rolling hills illuminated centuries-old stone buildings, formerly the Armenian capital.


The peace and striking beauty of Ani was so great that amazement manifested into movement and we became Mexican jumping beans, bouncing and leaping through the fields. If legs could sing ours would have put a southern gospel choir to shame. It was incredible.

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Ours were not the only feet hard at work, though. Soon our flailing sexped was joined by a multi-hoofed herd consisting of cows, goats, two shepherds and one ass.


It is not every day you can befriend dashing young Turkish shepherds and ride their donkey through such a landscape. We celebrated our new bond by sneaking into the fenced off area and taking silly pictures, as you do.

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Of course no trip would be complete without a freak storm, so we were lucky that unexpected hail, wind, torrential rains and cracking lightning directly overhead marked our frantic scamper back to the bus.


The energy in our limbs was similar to that in a rising crescendo: every sight was a note higher; it made our hair stand on end a little more and our smiles a little wider.

Of course our legs could hardly contain themselves, so the following day when we rounded the final bend of the grassy trail high on the inside of the gorge leading to Seyan Kale it is a wonder they didn't high-kick us directly into the river below.

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When our crescendo reached its climax beauty was everywhere. Wandering the dusty, forgotten streets of Kars we stumbled upon precious old men who tugged at our hearts by simply walking down the street or sitting on a bench.

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It was around this time I began to wonder if I could use a few more limbs to make use of all this happy energy. I bet octopi have no problem expressing themselves when they are super duper happy. Lucky spineless jerks. And it's not only that. On top of having a lot of happiness to get out I also feel like running in many different directions: back to Istanbul to get a job, to the nearest travel agent to cancel my flight home, to the magnificent Mediterranean seaside to cannonball into its salty embrace. It's not easy having such a wonderful life. I expect you are full of pity, and I thank you for that.

Posted by LeiCran 13:08 Archived in Turkey Comments (2)

It's a whole new 'Bul game

sunny 30 °C

This is not the Istanbul I know. Touring the famous parts of the city has become exhausting and the throngs of tourists (of whom I am nothing alike) annoy me to no end. The men selling balık ekmek in Eminönü wear little stupid hats now, belittling their ottoman roots. They never did that in the winter. Cute waiters with perfect English keep asking which hotel I am staying at. I LIVE HERE. I am nothing like these foreign people who whirl through town like the dervishes they buy overpriced tickets to see. This is my city! The ferries, the chaos, the history, the rakı, the beautiful cats, the mangy dogs, the Bosphorus, the broken pavement, the spices, the casual backgammon and nargile, the çay, the cultural richness, the silhouette of the most beautiful city in the world from the Asian shore - it's all woven into the tapestry of my life now. Taking a drunken dolmuş between continents (where I write this now) is a normal part of my routine. My limited understanding of Turkish is my constant inner monologue, and bartering my way down to a 'Turkish' price for things is a precondition for any sale. Being told that my accent sounds Turkish makes my head buzz (in a good way). I have seen more of Turkey than most of the Istanbulus I've met here and eaten pretty well every important Turkish dish. My name is Turkish for goodness sake! I feel uncomfortable exposing knee or shoulder regardless of temperature and expect men to move on buses so I can sit beside another woman. I have internalized countless cultural habits, most of which I probably won't be aware of until I get home and feel completely out of place. I have fallen in love HARD with this city and this country in a personal way. Istanbul is in my blood.

My eyes burn thinking of this next sentence: How will I ever leave?

Posted by LeiCran 22:32 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)


makin it rain on dem clothes

sunny 25 °C

Buying things feels good - fact.

And spending money feels particularly good when it is on those things we know we shouldn't buy. A great example of this is the pile of denim in my closet worth hundreds of dollars that Istanbul's cuisine is currently preventing me from getting my money's worth from. We do know better, but consumerism is in our blood. Maybe it's the connection we feel with others when the money (or plastic) passes between us, the lingering eye contact, joke about the weather. Maybe it's a need for control over our environment. Maybe it's escapism - certainly I would rather be shopping than studying, no brainer! But the bottom line is this: purchases make us happy.

My inner hippie doesn't really like that. Why should we turn to external things to make us happy, especially when in so doing we support large corporations that do little to make the world better? I would rather feel fulfilled by organic experiences like swimming in the ocean or having a great run, something that doesn't cost or benefit anyone but myself.

Unfortunately, the reality is that neither the world nor my own brain are like that. If I wasn't the financial equivalent of a high school graduate I would be on Istiklal right now embracing my inner consumer and flaunting all my new digs to my inner hippie. Sadly, as the end of this experience draws near my budget has more than dried up, and chances of a jubilant shopping spree are literally miles away.

Or so I thought, until last Tuesday when Emilie and I went on a mission to track down the elusive Tuesday Market in Kadikoy.

This is not just any market. The Tuesday Market, or Kadıköy Salı Pazarı, is a small village of stalls selling everything from scrunchies and undies to vegetables and fish.

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And it is massive. If markets were whales it would be a mature blue whale: gigantic, overwhelming, and awesome. Walking the length of the market with frequent stops took us about an hour and a half. It was a pleasant walk too, because just like every other area on the Anatolian side, people treated us like locals and didn't pester at all. Piles of colourful fruits were a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, and of course we were offered samples as we strolled. Soul: soaring!

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Such an experience on the European side of the city would not be anywhere near as pleasant or as inexpensive, but here in sweet Kadikoy there was no sales pitch and nothing cost more than 10 Lira! That's 7 dollars! There was no bartering or trying to see how low you could go, because when you asked it turned out the price was way below what you'd have tried for anyway. There was absolutely no reason to walk away. 5's were dropping out of my wallet faster than you can say Insufficient Funds. It's a good thing they were selling umbrellas because I was makin it rain on dem clothes.


Actually I need to take back that part where I said the best part was the price. In truth, my inner hippie has the final say on this one (she's been having the final say on a lot of things recently. I also gave up meat last month after watching Food Inc. Terrifying. Watch it.) and the best part of the whole show was the fact that at the end of the day locals profit, not corporations. It is a unique shopping experience because the person you pay keeps the money, instead of putting it in a till to be collected and counted and blahblahblah until some fat cat collects his ridiculous share. You can actually talk to the person whose business you're supporting.

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I find it sad and exciting that such an experience should be so foreign for me. It's sad because it shows how disconnected I am from my purchases in big grocery store chains back home, and as a result how ignorant I am about what I am supporting. On the other hand, it's exciting because it gives me a new project once I get home: Operation Farmers Markets! Plus, it makes the Salı Pazarı exponentially more refreshing.

Unpacking my bag of bargains was a delight. Despite the clown-car effect of one thing after another emerging from my shopping bag, the entire experience was very low on the PPR-scale (Post-Purchase Regret). If anything I felt GOOD because I had not spent much but I had supported locals and avoided giving my hard-borrowed money to corporations (I believe it's what my student loan would have wanted). My inner hippie and inner consumer had finally found a compromise inside the Salı Pazarı allowing me blissful comftabroke satisfaction.

Posted by LeiCran 10:01 Archived in Turkey Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (2)


sunny 31 °C

Damascus was a hoot and, owing in large part to our hosts, one of the funnest cities in the Middle East. Sorry Beirut, but the 2010FunFest Award belongs to da clubs in Damasc.

It's safe to say we did NOT expect our visit to be this way.

We had no idea what Syria would be like. We expected to wander the city as quiet observers and get caught up on Anna and Salim's experiences casually, maybe with a quiet drink or two.

We were greeted with a massive brunch expertly prepared by Salim while Anna told us about her life and future internship plans. This was followed by a whirlwind tour of the Old City, including Straight Street (shout outs to the Bible, holla!), the city gate where Paul (formerly Saul) was lowered in a basket to escape the hoards of angry Jews who wanted his head for converting to Christianity, the Great Mosque (second in importance only to the Blue Mosque and Mecca), and other super-famous sites such as the ice cream shop where they beat up the ice cream before they serve it. I like that. I'm going to beat my food into delicious submission more often.





That night while Anna was in Arabic class Salim took us to a beautiful old mansion for dinner. The food was some of the best I've ever had. There were many bowls of different dips, such as mind-blowing humus, babaganouj, a red spicy one - you know what, I don't even want to talk about it because I'm pissed off that I probably won't ever eat it again. Suffice to say it was a sacrifice to chat because that meant time spent not eating.


Once the miracle ended we sat around digesting and played backgammon with a sheesha in the courtyard of the mansion with live music, as you do. NBD. We rejoined Anna and had drinks with some of their friends at a bar filled with expats, tended by a Spaniard (there is your random detail for the day) then headed to a nightclub to watch a friend of theirs DJ. The bar was packed full of Arabic students and lucky-ass kids of diplomats who think it's normal to speak 18 languages and travel the world on someone else's dollar. Little envious, not going to lie. ANYway. It was so fun! We were clubbing in Damascus and it was awesome!

I had a moment on the dance floor. It happened after Emilie and I invented a new dance called the 'boobie robot' (pretty self-explanatory) and just before a schweaty 3-way NPSIA bear hug. It was one of those moments when you're overwhelmingly thankful for everything happening in that moment: the people, the place, the energy; everything. I was pondering how I came to be partying in Damascus with Em and Anna on holiday from my life in Istanbul. Who AM I? It was all so obscure and wonderful, plus MJ was playing. I felt like a pot boiling over with happiness but instead of laughing it out or doing some exaggerated air-punching to the music I was overcome with nerdiness and shouted out: "R2P! Responsibility to PARTY!" (if you're laughing right now and picturing humanitarian aid workers distributing corkscrews and teaching villagers the rules of beer pong, you too are a nerd)

The following day we slept until 11 (ha!) then headed to the Mar Mousa monastery, an active site of ecotourism and prayer that was founded in the 4th century. It is carved out of rock up on a cliff so that the buildings seem to hang suspended over the valley beneath. We brought books and planned to spend a few hours perched on a rocky ledge with a sweeping view of the barren Syrian countryside, but alas it was way colder than expected and we didn't last long. It was fascinating to see how they lived and try to understand what would compel anyone to stay for any length of time (one guy had lived there a year, another girl 3 months. Tensions were flaring).

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The most notable part of that experience was leaving (well, trying to). We were 30 minutes early to meet our taxi so had to hang out at the foot of the Grouse-Grind-esque staircase to the top where there was a little parking lot. This is where things got weird. It seemed normal at first: there were families out for a picnic and young guys riding around on motorbikes. But hold on, the families were picnicking on rocks (there was no grass in sight) with their blanket spread out directly beside their car, using it as a wind-breaker of sorts, and the young guys were popping wheelies and racing around the parking lot in a display of bravado that bordered on intimidation. They all had furry seat-liners on their bikes too which made it look like they were riding some sort of motorized and very dirty sheep. So there we were between families picnicking on a cold, windy day sitting beside their car in a gravel field, and young guys racing past us and popping sheepie wheelies inches from where we were standing. It was so weird!

That night was another one of those 'I can't believe this is happening in Syria' nights. We celebrated Anna's birthday with another gourmet meal prepared by Salim then casually inhaled a few spirits, all to fuel a ridiculous drinking game and 4-hour living room dance party. The drinking game was called 'Vache sans Ash' and involved math and singing in French. If you screwed up you drank (obv) and got an ash mark on your face. So fun.



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We slept for a whopping 3 hours before we headed off to Beirut for the night which may be part of the reason we didn't experience the Lebanese nightlife. But that trip will have a blog of its own.

To top off the 'Syrian....but not' tour of Syria, we spent our last night at a Qatari symphony. We sat in the first row beside the composer, for $4! It was incredible, unlike anything I've heard before. Em and I both had goosebumps. Sadly the CD wasn't available so it may have to stay a fabulous and random memory.


After a rooftop sheesha session and another 3 hour sleep I was off. That trip through Aleppo was the one that really affected me (see http://leillac.travellerspoint.com/23/ ) but on the bright side, I did bond with the taxi driver who drove me from Aleppo back to Antakya, despite a rather formidable language barrier. I think I sold him on being friends after I forgot that the starter was broken and turned off his engine to save gas while he was buying me juice, or maybe it was when I passed out, head back, mouth open for a few hours. Hard to say when my charm won him over exactly. Nevertheless we bonded and hung out for the afternoon until my flight. He and his friend took me to see the cave of Saint Paul - the first ever Christian church! Paul (formerly Saul, who escaped from Damascus in a basket as previously mentioned) traveled to that area and preached the gospel in secret from that cave. How cool is that? It's easy to see that Christianity is actually a Middle Eastern religion when you're in this area. I was in the cradle of Christianity. Awesome.

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Safe to say Syria was not at all how I expected it to be, in all the best ways! Big thanks to Anna and Salim for being great 'responsible' hosts. R2P4Life!

Posted by LeiCran 12:12 Archived in Syria Tagged luxury_travel Comments (1)

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