Kars, to a different soundtrack

Another evening, another walk. My talisman against homesickness: listening to familiar music as I walk through unfamiliar places. No indie rock for me – I crave the musical equivalent of bubblegum and Doritos, Rihanna and Lady Gaga in my ears as a protective bubble from Turkishness when I am feeling particularly far from home.

The rain-washed Kars streets take on a surreal tinge to an American pop soundtrack. A playground is empty of children; instead, a man with a generous potbelly sits on the swing, surrounded by his flock of geese. Unminded geese and goslings wander the streets; in the winter, they will become Kars’ signature dish.

A boy rides uphill over cobblestones, trying to balance lumpy bags of apricots on his handlebars. A Turkish man with white hair and a sun-weathered face passing a blue gate, carrying bulging bags of bread. A group of construction workers are firing up a metal teapot on the street corner. Music echoes between houses, strings and flutes and twanging. I pass a party: a line of women, pinkies linked, dancers at the ends of the line waving handkerchiefs. The men stand to the side, drinking tea.

Yards are ubiquitously furnished with outdoor couches and armchairs. Patterned carpets are hung to air out on stone walls. Dominoes of cow dung patties for stove fuel are laid out to dry in neat rows, stacked into pyramids. Each dumpster is topped with a stray cat.

After following a trash-filled, weedy ditch, I turn at the river, flanked by miniature forests of thistles. When I can go no further on the soggy path, and not wanting to double back, I take a shortcut uphill through someone’s backyard, where I am accosted by 3 curious boys. I’m a tourist, I tell them, which doesn’t assuage their curiosity in the least; instead, as I let myself out of the yard, they follow, stage-whispering to friends and family members about this lost foreigner. Soon I have an entourage of children that follow me to the edge of the neighborhood. They pick roadside flowers, dragging them out by the roots, collecting a prickly bouquet for me.

The sun drops below the rainclouds, saturating the houses and lighting up the rain puddles. The white minarets are black against the sunset as I turn back home.

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