Monday, December 17, 2012

Redemption...


"There is a way to be good again"
― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

I enjoyed the Kite Runner as a movie, not because of the plot necessarily ( I found some of the final scenes a little unbelievable) but rather because it was shot in a city I had the honour to live in for almost ten years. Watching an ancient Silk Road city in the wilds of North West China being invaded by DreamWorks was amusing if a little bizarre. The local population took a few months to realise that their city was playing host to an extremely wealthy guest, then they wised up and started to cash in.
I'm still not sure what the reaction would be of the more conservative elements in the town if they had realised what the theme of the movie was let alone some of the scenes it showed!

Watercolour on paper.






Saturday, December 1, 2012

Suleiman's Press


The rains have arrived. The roads are clogged with traffic as streams flow down the hills and overflow the drains. The venture capitalist umbrella sellers are out touting their poor quality wares as if to prove that the laws of supply and demand are ever with us. Public buses are crammed with depressed commuters and crawl along in the diesel and rain with their windows steaming up. Cars barely travel faster than buses though at least the drivers can smoke whilst they wait in the traffic.

As I've remarked before, whilst this weather is somewhat depressing for me, the locals are thankful to God for rain and never cease to point out to me that it cleanses and revives. Their connection to an agrarian society is maybe a generation closer than mine, they maintain a hobbit-like love of the land and it's produce.


The collection of artifacts I discovered in an old Ottoman market place continue to fascinate me, the above item is some kind of press.



Monday, November 12, 2012

Ten Least Painted Scenes of Istanbul - Writhing Iron



....That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness....
Edwin Muir - The Horses



Chains are crafted, forged, fashioned. Their strength is put to use and they stretch, pull, twist and buckle to the will of industry and power. They also seem strangely human, their strength wholely dependent on others like them, if one's integrity fails all feel the collapse, and they rest curled up silent and vulnerable.



Friday, November 2, 2012

Counting...



Standing on the bus today I noticed a whispering sound. Buses here are usually very quiet, urban dwellers the world over seem to prefer silence on public transport. I sometimes feel a sense of unease if my mobile goes off on the bus, not only can some people react in fear to being near mobile phone radiation waves (I'm serious), but they will be able to hear my less than perfect Turkish bouncing off the walls of the vehicle and they will all instantly know I'm a foreigner. 

Anyway, I heard whispering, it was coming from a lone woman sitting by the window staring out at the passing street, she had in her hand a small counting device. My guess is that she was counting how many times she was saying a particular prayer, undaunted by the fact that her prayers were audible as a whisper she frequently checked her 'score'. 

It's these little details that I find fascinating here, here we are on a bus that looks much like any bus in the world going a long a pretty unremarkable street and yet there are glimpses of an inner world and belief system that are very foreign to the culture I was raised in.

I remain commited to rusty objects at the moment, although it's taking time and practice to get the results I'm after, still not there yet.....

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Motley Crew



The weather has just started to turn, the heat of summer is slowly mellowing to a warm autumn. The sheds for the animals are starting to be built on spare pieces of ground round the city in preparation for the Eid at the end of October. 

I'm still trying to paint, although I feel I have a long way to go before I produce what I'm really after. Here's the latest, an attempt...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Suleiman's Door


The door must have seen a lot. The building of which it is a part was started in the 1540s on the shores of the Golden Horn, Istanbul. Supposing that it didn't see those long distant times I imagine that it loyally hung through much of the twentieth century at least, which means that it still saw alot; the War  of Independence the rise of modern Turkey and maybe the last of the Sultans.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Suleiman's Flask



The unseen side of old Istanbul holds many treasures. A friend was taking me on a tour of the historical mosques of the city and we visited the Arab Camisi (Arab Mosque) situated on the Galata side of the Goldern Horn past the bridge. It's in a delightful part of the city filled with hardware shops and markets filled with tools and drills. The really interesting thing is that some of the places where these markets and shops are housed are astonishingly old.

Suleiman the Magnificent apparently sought to foster trade in this part of the city by building various commercial estates, places where traders and craftemen could work and sell their wares. On one of these walks through this area we stumbled across a two storey structure surrounding a cobbled courtyard with the characteristic Ottoman bricks and arches. Built in the 1540's It is still being used today as a place for blacksmiths and metal workers, it's wonderfully run down and overgrown.

The picture is of a water pump fastened to what I could only think was the base of an old Byzantine pillar.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ramadam



It's really hot here, it's humid and steaming. It's also Ramadam, the month of Muslim fasting where the faithful go without food and drink for the hours of sunlight, which is about seventeen hours of fasting a day at the moment. 


This means that as soon as the sun goes down and the call to prayer rises the 'iftar' meal is celebrated. All is quiet for an hour or so as people usually eat a hearty meal and enjoy the company of friends, family and neighbours. Breakfast is prepared in the early hours of the morning before sunrise, then all goes quiet as people sleep a few more hours before they go about their day's work.


There is something really wholesome about this time of fasting; a bit of abstinence, alot of social eating, reconciliation and family. I understand that Muslim olympians face a real struggle, the last time the Olympics coincided with Ramadam was in 1980.


The picture above is a watercolour of a rusty pulley lying in the dust on a Turkish quayside.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Being Rained On

In case there is a host of people in near frantic anxiety checking hourly to see if I'd written another post, sadly wondering when the next flash of MacDonald inspiration would sear the blogosphere? There won't be any new post for a few weeks. I'm in the UK being rained on and will be for a few more weeks. Painting will have to wait until late July when I return to the sun.


In the meantime I've been to the Tate Modern and dosed up on a bit of culture along with an Alfred Wallis exhibition in Cambridge which was good for the soul.
I missed the Art of the Real exhibition which was a shame and the Times Watercolour Competition remained uninspired by my fish pictures, my mother in law has just told me that indeed they are uninspiring, never mind.





Trivia question - who painted the above picture?

Friday, June 29, 2012

‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme’



I know this is a difficult poem, please give it a chance.....

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme; 
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells 
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's 
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; 
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:         
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came. 
 
Í say móre: the just man justices; 
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;         
Acts in God's eye what in God’s eye he is— 
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places, 
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his 
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Minibus Travel - The Guide Part 1



I saw a minibus with the slogan in English stuck on the back 'Dancing with the Wolves'. I assumed this was a reference to the movie of many years ago with a 'the' put in for good measure. 


For the unitiated, minibus drivers in Istanbul are, putting it politely, the wolves of the road. Apparently they own the roads, no really, they do! If there is a traffic queue at lights or anyway for that matter they have permission, granted by themselves, to completely ignore it and push to the front using their horn as if they have a critically ill patient on board whom they are taking to the emergency room. They carry an arrogant impatience with anyone else who happens to enter their world (i.e. use a road they are on) and take great pleasure in pushing as many people on board as is possible despite the weather, heat, lack of ventilation or lack of seats. 


I quite like minibus drivers when I'm on a minibus, it's like being on the side of the pirates in a Black Beard movie, you know that they are not bound by regulations of the road and will get you where you want to go without taking prisoners. If I'm in a car I avoid them and patiently come to terms with the fact that they are the bosses despite minor issues like traffic lights, right of way etc...


As Turkey is rapidly modernising, for anyone coming from Asia Istanbul presents itself as a modern European city. The traffic however, is filled with modern cars which are being driven in a manner that would be more appropriate on the streets of Mumbai.


This has nothing whatsoever to do with the picture above - Üsküdar Hooks, a watercolour.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ten Most Painted Scenes of Istanbul

Sultan Ahmet


The city is finally bathing in heat after an unusually wet spring. The schools have closed for the summer and the traffic should start to calm down soon. The tourists are swarming around the usual sights and sounds whilst the rest of the city plods on. 

Ramadam will start on the 20th of July this year and will be harder than last as the month of fasting year by year starts ten days earlier. The following few years will be even harder as the the fast falls in the mid summer months with long hours of sunlight.

I could try and paint the tram this summer, it has to be done at some time.




Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lots of Painting

Well it's been a busy few weeks and I'm realising that with one thing and another the end of May to the beginning of June is the busiest time of the year for me. Two birthdays, a wedding anniversary, exhibitions etc... So painting has been pushed to the margins for a week or two, not for long though.


There are many inspirations that have been bombarding me and as usual old Ottoman tiles are one of them. 



Having said that I oversaw the painting of a couple of huge walls last week with about 30-40 children (not all at once). It was a really inspiring event, we took a child's design, we chalked it on the walls and the kids covered the walls with colours. A colleague and I touched up a few parts here and there, but the result was a work of art designed by children and executed by children.



A work in progress....
Life will calm down in a week or so....







Monday, May 28, 2012

Exhibition in Istanbul


In case you're passing through Istanbul in the next few weeks, here's an exhibition I'm taking part in opening this Friday.....

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ottoman chic


My pictures are taking while to produce at the moment what with my recent experiments with 'Art of the Real'/ultra realism etc...  I'm being drawn more and more to rusty objects and walls with graffiti etc.. I blame David Poxon's captivating work which is going on exhibition shortly in London.


In the mean time I remain in awe of Ottoman design and genius for pattern and style. More of this next week as I go to the heartland of Ottoman tile making in Iznik.


Watch this space.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Last week I visited the annual exhibition of work of the local government run art and crafts courses (ISMEK). It was stunning, there was Islamic calligrahy, ebru, ceramic work, tezip and a lot of poetry and roses.  Some of the work was sublime. 


Almost all the women there there were headscarved, which in this country means that they are aligned with the religious conservatives. It's these people that you won't see at the Istanbul Modern art gallery down on the Bosphorus, which appears to be the anti-thesis of religious conservatism. No surprises there then, but regardless of one's religious views the beauty and skill exhibited in the ISMEK work was amazing.


I really hope these two worlds talk to each other, I suspect they don't. Why doesn't the word know about ebru?


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgg0GIfbszg

My work is taking longer to produce than I'd want at the moment.... watch this space...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Moored.....



Forrest Gump asks a question towards the end of the movie where he explains that sometimes he thinks that people have a destiny, but at the same time he feels that maybe we're just feathers floating randomly around on a breeze, as it were. 


Whether we as individuals forge our own destinies, or whether we are products of the past and the traditions that have worked upon us remains a debate that will never be resolved for most people. Both of Forrest's options imply that despite the array of consumer options that surround us, we are actually rarely free to choose.


True freedom? I wonder if it is bound to character and is something which we learn through practice and discipline?


Saturday, April 28, 2012

As Through a Glass Darkly - 2


So the old guy had a pain in his stomach. My colleague suggested that the local hospital did a scan to see what the problem was. A few days later we discovered is was cancer, he was assured by the hospital what with treatment and surgery he would recover.

My last recollection of sitting and talking with him was as he sunned himself under the blue autumn sky on an old wooden bed placed outide the small concrete room he and his family called home. He was drifting in and out of sleep and struggling to make sense of what was going on around him.

I can remember struggling to say words of comfort but as always in those situations they were faint whispers of hope settling as feathers on a spent life. 

He had lived a full life, he left behind a wife and a georgeous little girl, she'd been abandonned at birth but they had taken care of her and raised her as their own. 

As through a glass darkly.....




Sunday, April 22, 2012

As through a Glass Darkly

Watercolour and ink on 300gm paper emacdonaldwatercolours.com

The sun has arrived. The city is basking in balmy spring weather enjoying a long weekend as the traditional 23rd April Children's Day celebration falls on a Monday this year. The schools will be full of singing, dancing and poetry readings to celebrate this important day. Held on the anniversary of the founding of the parliament in 1920, the holiday is viewed by Turks as a gift from Ataturk not just to Turkish children, but to children of the world. 

Not sure what to say about the picture, you either 'get it' or you don't.



Sunday, April 15, 2012

Did Shakespeare Suffer?




'What did you do today?' I'd ask my son after returning home from school. I should point out that school for him at that tender age was a class full of seventy children sitting three or four to a bench in a small town in Central Asia.
'We had maths today'. He'd say. Hoping that his grasp of maths would an improvement on mine I'd eagerly ask what he'd learnt.
'Well I wrote a poem'. I 'd reach for his maths book and find in between the pages what I'd consider to be a great piece of writing (well I am his father) about dragons flying by and whistful longing. School was hard for him at that time (although it should provide him with a set of excellent dinner party stories later in life) and he'd escape to his  imaginary world to find strength.


'Well it certainly is bringing out the artist in you.' I'd think to myself whilst battling feelings of guilt for putting my son through a daily schooling experience which was unorthodox to say the least.


This one is for sale:
http://emacdonaldwatercolours.com

Monday, April 9, 2012

Struggle...



I'm reluctant to write the word 'Jihad' here as one wonders if the very mention of that word puts one on some list somewhere whereby I'd get some unwanted 'followers' tracking my every move etc.. 

'Neyse' as the Turks say (anyhow...) it's actually a good word that denotes struggle. It describes the wrestling that goes on between one's 'flesh' (nefs - http://tureng.com/search/nefs) and the spirit. Wrestling with one's 'flesh' (an old fashioned concept) is not something I noticed having a particularly high priority rating in the West these days, an interesting worldview difference.....

I continue my experiments with more abstract work.... 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lament




So a friend died, he was a young man in his thirties. He died in a single roomed hovel he and his mother called home. He died of tuberculosis. Getting the medicine was too complicated although it was supposed to be free. 


His old mother used to smoke, this was unusual in the muslim women of Xinjiang. Too poor to afford cigarettes she'd smoke roll-ups. Roll-ups were a part of an elaborate ritual I remember my brother conducting back in the 80's when we were students. Ironic that this elderly woman had no notion of such rituals but used to use a pair of tweezers to hold the very end in order to smoke the last dregs, the butt end would disappear into her toothless mouth. 


The last time I saw her was at her son's funeral, he was placed in a cold hard Xinjiang grave though the grief of his mother was warm and tender. In the words of an old Hebrew lament:


“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?



She died a few months later.  

This one is for sale:



Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wounds



Feeling a little philosophical this week......

Life is a wounding experience, I think this is universally the case. We protect our children from possible sources of injury both physical and emotional but are impotent to prevent the inevitable hurts that life inflicts. 

There are different responses we have to all this, the most human is usually to seek out someone or something to blame (assuming there isn't already an obvious perpetrator). Justice is often the cry of our hearts at such times.

The most striking people I have met in my life are those who are somehow free and deep enough to absorb the pain and yet continue loving. Whilst seeing the need for justice, whilst feeling pain, they also seem to be unbound by the negative cycle of hurt upon hurt.


This one is for sale if you're interested:
Wounds
watercolour on 300 gm paper
32x45cm
$250
watercolouristanbul@yahoo.com

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stigmata



Sleep sleep old Sun, thou canst not have repast 
As yet, the wound thou took’st on friday last; 
Sleep then, and rest; The world may bearer thy stay, 
A better Sun rose before thee to day, 
Who, not content to’englighten all that dwell 
On the earths face, as thou, enlightned hell, 
And made the darker fires languish in that vale, 
As, at thy presence here, our fires grow pale. 
Whose body having walk’d on earth, and now 
Hasting to Heaven, would, that he might allow 
Himself unto all stations, and fill all, 
For these three days become a mineral; 
He was all gold when he lay down, but rose 
All tincture, and doth not alone dispose 
Leaden and iron wills to good, but is 
Of power to make even sinful flesh like his. 
Had one of those, whose credulous piety 
Thought, that a Soul one might discern and see 
Go from a body,’at this sepulcher been, 
And, issuing from the sheet, this body seen, 
He would have justly thought this body a soul, 
If not of any man, yet of the whole. 
Desunt cætera 


Monday, March 12, 2012

The Angry Mountains



Mountains are moody one could almost say fickle. In the high Pamirs a year's seasons could pass in an afternoon. This scene was of a small Tajik village perched 14,000ft up beneath a mountain which rose a futher 8-9,000ft. The place was cold at night, the air was thin and the villagers rosey faced as all mountain dwellers seem to be, something to do with oxygen and altitude.


I miss these scenes, rainy Istanbul (yes it's still raining here) is a challenge, still mustn't complain.


watercolouristanbul.com
emacdonaldwatercolours.com

Friday, March 2, 2012

Anarchy in Beyoğlu



This one has been a while in the coming. The forces of nature and feral youth eat away at an old Ottoman water fountain in the city of Istanbul. The ornate Arabic script in the marble is a wonderful contrast to the gleeful graffitti of some left-leaning iconoclast.

We often talk of economic development here, usually in reference to the break-neck speed of Turkey's recent economic growth. In my experience of living in 'developing' countries, the 'West' remains the model of economic development despite it all looking a little dishevelled at the moment what with deficits, bankruptcy and defaults all round. 

However, one can sense a smug sympathy toward Europe emanating from those here for whom economic collapse was a terrifying reality here just over a decade ago. One can also sense a feeling that after many years of being refused entrance to the EU maybe Turkey neither needs or wants membership, many talk of a neo-Ottomanism that looks to the Middle East now. 

All the same, neither the ornate decorative Arabic style, or brash offensive Punk icons will be the future of this culture. We'll wait and see.

At the moment I'm adopting a very realist approach to my subjects, not sure how long this will last...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ten Most Painted Scenes of Istanbul



One can sense some kind of competitiveness  as one looks from the massive bulk of Hagia Sophia across the park to Sultan Ahmed. The latter is infinitely more beautiful, Ottoman chic at its best. The former is intriguing much older and full of mystery and sadness, its size too reduces the first time visitor to astonishment. It's strange to see such important, symbolic, historical monuments so close to each other, good for the tourists I suppose...


The picture itself is a watercolour, the jpeg doesn't do the background any justice as it is a light hue of purple.


watercolouristanbul.com

Sunday, February 19, 2012

More Tombs....



'So how old is this tomb?' I asked the young boy in his early teens who was following us around this strange old graveyard on the Silk Route.
"It's really old, probably 1960s' he answered.


Strange really, it's not exactly the epitomy of 1960s Chinese communist architecture! To be fair to our companion that day, he was sadly ignorant of the rich, long history of his people and the ancient status that his town had occupied in centuries past.


The city of Yarkand sits on the Silk-route that skirts the southern edge of the Taklamakan desert in North West China. 


emacdonaldwatercolours.com
watercolouristanbul.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Izmir Trees


Trees are definitely alive. I mean, not just alive, but aware, conscious. John F. Carlson in his 'Landscape Painting' classic also implies that trees have a higher state of being than your average lumberjack would acknowledge, so that's good enough for me.


Tolkien seems to have been preoccupied with trees. Although dare I say it in this Lord of the Rings besotted generation,  Tom Bombadil and the Ents were his least gripping moments in what I would say was a great read (notice Tom Bombadil isn't in the film).


The above trees were 'meditating' near me for a few days some years ago in Izmir Turkey and I was charmed by them.


watercolouristanbul.com
emacdonaldwatercolours.com

Monday, February 6, 2012

Awaiting Rebirth




The traditional houses of the people of Istanbul were made of wood. The vast majority of buildings you'd see in the city now are reinforced concrete apartments. I'm told that forty years ago in the place of most of the apartment blocks you see now there would have stood wooden houses.

Apparently due to the costs of insuring these dwellings because of their susceptibility to fire most of them were torn down. Now many of those remaining have preservation orders on them which means in most cases that they molder away. The lucky ones are beautifully restored and often have a grace and beauty that puts the modern ubiquitous apartment blocks to shame. I'm also told that they are a lot better in an earth quake!

This is a watercolour painting of a detail of one these old buildings, 'Awaiting rebirth'. In the past I've favoured free flowing watercolour techniques, 'allow the water to do the painting' has been a principle of mine. In my most recent phase I have allowed the subject to dictate what is going on which which leads to far more controlled, almost photographic result. Realism has never been a aim of mine but it works for this kind of subject.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Brussels and Istanbul

emacdonaldwatercolours.com


The first response I get to this little ditty is "Why brussels sprouts?". Good question.

The first meal I ever cooked with my wife to be was brussels sprouts in cheese sauce (not my idea, not that good actually, only for the commited sprouts fan, pity for the other ten people we were cooking for in that student house).

I never remember seeing them in Asia until I got to Turkey, they have cold brussels sprout salad here, doesn't sound good to me, or even to my wife actually. Here's a link to the recipe if you want, let's hope the website doesn't crash under the pressure... http://www.food.com/recipe/turkish-brussel-sprouts-bruksel-lahanasi-423951

I suppose for the purpose of this picture, sprouts are green and these apples are red, the colours bounce of each other nicely.


emacdonaldwatercolours.com
watercolouristanbul.com





Monday, January 23, 2012

Snow....




I really like Krista Howell's work Last Year's Snow. She has skillfully captured the freshness of fallen snow on a delicate branch with light breaking through. Snow can indeed bring out the best in a location, although, it really does depend on where the location is. 


I used to live near a city in China where the pollution levels were off the charts. The name of the place in Mongolian was translated as 'Fragrant Meadow'. In the winter, indeed in the summer too, truth be told, the name, I'll write it again, 'Fragrant Meadow' was a cruel joke. The air was so thick with coal smoke in the winter that snow would turn black very soon after falling. Alongside the roads would be piled up black snow and the temparatures were so cold that the piles would remain well into the spring. So my gut reaction to snow it one of a sense of foreboding, flight delays, pneumonia, pollution, slippery roads, and bad hospitals, a bad combination.


Now that I've excorcised those difficult recollections I'd better explain the picture above. It's urban snow, sludgey, dirty, warm, wet, ugly urban snow in a gutter. All the same I thought there was some understated beauty in it somewhere, you have to look hard.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Art of Seeing

Galata tower, watercolour and pastel 

Snow is good, it teaches you to see. Learning to see is something it's taking me a lifetime to understand. One can see a scene so many times and one instinctively knows when it's beckoning to be captured on paper.  It seems that something clicks in the mind and one just knows how to go about the work ahead. It also interestingly seems to be pointless to try too hard before that mysterious moment of ripeness in one's imagination.


So indeed snow brings our surroundings to life, contrasts, cajoles and rewards our seeing with great freshness.  


I wish I could be so positive about the effect snow has on the traffic in this great city.



Monday, January 9, 2012

Peppers, Aubergines (egg plants) and the Fall of Byzantium





So apparently 50,000 people were taken away into slavery when Constantinople fell in 1453. Apparently this was not unusual, the Byzantines would have done the same were the situation reversed. Part of the point of medieval warfare  was the promise of booty and this came in human form as well as material form. According to some, the crusaders of 1204 inflicted far greater sufferings on the city than the armies of Mehmet the Conquerer in 1453.


In an era when ancient-world slavery was only slowly going out of fashion and the European early modern type was yet to take off, being conquered was a little bit like being taken hostage (if you survived the slaughter and if you were a man). If you had rich friends who would buy you back you were lucky, most however would have had to be content to start a new life. 


I find it hard to emotionally grasp the magnitude of a situation where some mother or daughter after finding themselves on the losing side of a seige, suddenly becomes one of the wives of a foreigner who killed their husband or father!


Apparently some of the Greek nobles captured after the fall of the city converted to Islam, historians wonder if this was not just a prudent move under the circumstances but rather a heart felt conversion after feeling catastrophically let down by the god of Byzantium. The Ottomans and their god did indeed seem invincible even if the fall of the city was a relatively close run thing.


I'm beginning to enjoy the way that watercolour works with vegetables....
emacdonaldwatercolours.com





Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Weather



'Oh well, it's raining again'.

It's the kind of comment that comes naturally to a Brit. According to the author of 'Watching the English', commenting on the weather is a way the British have contrived to be able to speak to complete strangers without running the risk of being considered mentally ill. Thus one can safely engage almost anyone in conversation whilst waiting for a bus, for example, simply be commenting on the state of the sky above.

This doesn't always work in foreign climes. For one thing Mediterranean peoples seem to be a little more relaxed than Brits and don't necessarily need such techniques. When I find I myself defaulting to this social game here complete strangers seem to think that this poor foreigner, for some bizarre reason, actually does want to talk to them about the weather, more often than not they are happy to humour me. 

In fact the conversation can very quickly get fairly theological. Living in places where there are frequent water shortages in the summer, heavy rain is viewed as a blessing from God. As a result of this I can often find myself the object of a well meaning homily on why we should actually be grateful for the rain as it is a blessing from the hand of God. I do need reminding but that was more than I was bargaining for, I usually dutifully concede that, yes, indeed we should be thankful.

Despite that I can at times feel a little cheated. I don't like rain and I've appreciated over the years living in places where it doesn't rain much, so I can't help but feel slightly aggrieved when a city that considers itself as situated in the Middle East has more annual rain than London. I should add that Istanbul does get most of it's rain in the winter unlike London where the rainfall seems to be every other day all year round. There are times when I can almost feel myself saying that I want my money back!

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis depicts Purgatory or Hell as a bus stop in a dull, grey, rainy, urban setting. I wonder if he'd visitied Istanbul in rush hour on a rainy January evening.

The picture above is Istanbul on a good day......






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