07/01/2014 - 07/25/2014 90 °F
Happy to write that I am traveling again. Not quite Soul Travel since I'm being paid to be here and Turkey was not even on my bucket list. Yet, by the end of this, I have a feeling I will recommend that it be on yours.
See the red dot called Belek? This is the place I have called home for the past month, and the immediate conclusion I've come to is that, my theme of 2014 must be extremes. Extremes as in one or the other with not much in between. Allow me to explain: I went from the austerity of Ashram living in Rishikesh and toilets without running water in Darjeeling to extravagant Turkish resorts and 3 ply toilet paper. I went from from carrying my my own bedding in case of dodgy hotel sheets to a villa apartment with a maid I've never seen who changes my sheets and towels every 3rd day and leaves Godiva chocolate on my bed; from befriending poor Indian families who sleep either on the streets or 5 to one room to performing for uber rich Russians paying $1000 a week, per person to be a guest at the resort with separate accommodations for the British tutor who teaches their children English during the summer holiday; from roach infested Sleeper Trains to a luxury Mercedes Van complete with leather seats and glass water bottles that picks me up and drops me off everyday. I went from not dancing in three months to performing 6 nights a week; from meditating 8 hours a day in silence to rehearsing 8 hours a day to all the annoying summer electronic dance music hits that will be the bain of my existence come the end of September when this contract ends.
THE GIG: I perform 6 nights a week from 10pm - 1:30am at the hotel's newly constructed Beach Club known as Quis. Think Nikki Beach, Miami. Villas, cabanas, lots of white, waiters in linen button downs, fruity cocktails, men in crisp, bright colored khaki shorts and Bally calfskin boat shoes, and women in the newest resort wear collections, all overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We are 5 girls total - 2 LA girls (not including myself), 1 Brit and 1 Vegas girl with a thick Cuban accent. We perform (4) 15 minute, choreographed shows a night scheduled in between singers, a saxophone player, Euro DJ sets and live bands. If I reduce this job to its lowest terms, even though it puts knots in my stomach, it is basically hotel entertainment. We parade in cool, crazy costumes and headpieces and dance meaningless choreography to encourage Mommy and Daddy to leave the kids in the suite with the Grandma or the Nanny and come out to play. We are there to do 3 things: (1) get them dancing, (2) remind them that youth is still within reach, and (3) encourage them to have as good a time as we are pretending to have.
I hate that my years of training. sweat, blisters, pulled muscles, broken egos, and love for the art of movement can be reduced to mere entertainment for the wealthy but, the saying "do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do" brings me some ease. I love performing, no matter the venue, and if hotel entertainment is the means for me to travel to all of the far off lands on my dream list then, I suppose, I surrender.
THE RESORT: Maxx Royal is beyond anything I've ever seen. It's steroidal. There's a number of boutique clothing shops, a water park, arcade, cinema, bowling alley, 2 gyms, a chocolate shop that I spend way too much time in, 4-5 restaurants, a Macaroon sweet shop, an Olympic sized outdoor pool, a golf course, a performance hall, spa, and a dinosaur park.
The BUFFET: grossly gratuitous , decadent, overindulgent, abundant, outrageously extravagant...shall I go on??
Russians make up the majority of the hotel guests sprinkled in with a few Brits. Spaniards and Italians are hired to work the restaurants for the summer. The owners, managers and DJs of the hotel are European jet setters who travel from Milan to Istanbul like we travel from New York to Miami. They are the ones whose lives I think are so cool when reading W magazine about people who hop from one foreign, white, sandy beach to the next. They open this new, fancy hotel or that hip, fusion restaurant. It seems like a life of luxury and decadence and in many ways it is, but up close, off the glossy magazine pages, they are all stressed, lacking sleep, and addicted to caffeine and cigarettes. Most of the Beach Club staff, including myself, are here to make some summer cash and then return to their lives in the US, Italy, Spain, Ukraine with the means to pursue whatever or whomever was left behind when agreeing to come to Turkey.
The Gig is pretty easy and I often harbor guilty feelings Skyping and Snapchating friends and family with the view of the Beach Club, pictured below, as my background. I am working hard some days and other days, hardly working. It is not very challenging work or life changing or even artistic. The hardest thing I have to do is deal with is the Turkish lackadaisical manner of doing business which has delayed small issues like paychecks and work visas (sarcasm) and staging dance numbers in the 95 degree heat and humidity on the outdoor stage. But, even then, the Mediterranean Sea is in clear view the entire time so how can I even begin to open my mouth to complain?
Yessi, the Cuban dancer with the thick accent, says she feels similar knowing that her family in Cuba has never seen wealth like this. Just as the feelings of guilt begin to water down our Mojitos, my roommate India, the Brit, makes us both feel better when she reminds us that we don't tell our friends back home the whole story. "We don't Instagram pics in our cramped dressing room which doubles as the wait staffs' bathroom! To be fair," she says, "there's five of us in a dressing room and they only give us four chairs!" And there it is...truth. Instantly my Mojito tastes better.
I have only been here one month but, so far, nothing about Turkey has touched me the way India has. The excessiveness of the resort is just a constant reminder of how uneven life's playing field can be. Every time I circle the buffet trying to choose what to eat, I think of how little the people in India, or any poor place in the world, need to sustain a life. And unfortunately for those reading, there are very little embarrassingly, funny stories that I can relate back to you in such a squeaky clean, 5 star setting. Sometimes, I cringe sitting in the airy lobby of Maxx Royal, reading the International New York Times about the latest Gaza Strip-Israeli and Ukraine-Russia catastrophes, knowing the hardest decision that the guests surrounding me have to make during their day is by which pool to lay or in which restaurant to dine. And that is not a judgement on those who live that life. Perhaps worse than living life oblivious to the world's problems, is being me, the voyeur in the middle wondering which side to choose; wondering whether to start a non-profit benefiting the Left or take a joy ride with the rich man in the Aston Martin on the Right.
As this travel is a learning experience about myself, I can safely say that I am leaning Left. Even with the grandiosity surrounding my day to day, the most beautiful thing I've seen so far are these women.
It was a photo I took while at the newly constructed Maxx Royal in the sister resort city of Kemer. Kemer stands about an hour and a half West of Belek on the Turkish Riviera. The resort just opened last week and is as decadent and massive as the one I've described in this post. We will begin shows at both locations once the hotel is up and running. We came here last week to perform for VIP guests invited to celebrate the hotel's pending Grand Opening.
When we arrived, the hotel looked as if it was no where near being ready! A total construction site...as in we should have been given hard hats walking in some areas. Our rooms, while beautiful, had no electricity and dust everywhere. But for the first time, I felt like I was in Turkey (from the construction worker B.O., it smelled like I was in Turkey too)! There were locals everywhere, carrying bricks, sod, rocks, towels, granite to and from. From my 3 story balcony, the scene looked like a colony of ants creating a masterpiece. I snapped this picture while walking to the Beach Club where I was to perform. The women were so beautiful; too beautiful to be lugging rocks in a wheel barrow. They were kind spirits and they were intrigued by me as well and so they were more than happy to stop their labor and pose for me. Looking at their faces, I wanted to know everything about each of them. Their stories, hopes, dreams, fears and all that lead them to end up in front of my camera phone while holding a pickaxe.
I immediately finalized my request to the producer to change my return date to a few weeks after our contract ends on September 31st. So from October 1-16th, I will hop back on my Polka Dotted Unicorn and travel! There is no way I can come to this part of the earth and not! I mean, Turkey is like the beginnings of the world! And it's right next door to Jordan, Isreal, Greece, Egypt....I figure more photos like the one of the women above await me in a country so rich in history. The idea of another 3 month Soul Travel adventure dances back and forth through my mind Tempting . So tempting. But I want to return to the states for my 10 year college reunion at Northwestern. Although, I don't think anyone who knows me would be surprised if I pay the airline change fee to extend my return date and hope that the 11th year reunion will be just as good!
Will write more soon...but as a not-so-side note...
This post is dedicated to my Father, Jacob Collins, in celebration of his 70th birthday. His own travels have taught me so much and and all of our kitchen table debates have allowed me to see the world with open eyes.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!!!