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Orhan Ayyüce: L.A. Love At First Sight

KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from architect, Archinect.com senior editor, and Cal Poly and Woodbury University professor, Orhan Ayyüce:

CHAPTER ONE

"I come from Izmir, Turkey.

"Izmir is a port city -- it has the country's second-biggest port after Istanbul. Izmir also is a really dense urban environment -- four million people live in an area one-tenth the size of L.A.

"I was a high school dropout, which is unusual in Turkey. I spent one year hitchhiking. This was in the mid-`70s and I had long hair and a ponytail. That was the height of the beatnik and hippie movement.

"People would come from Amsterdam and London to Turkey, spend the winter there and then continue on their way to Katmandu. Can you imagine that in those days Western hippies traveled freely through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India?

"My sister ended up going to Sacramento to study, just for a short period of time. She felt really lonely. She called and said to me, 'I need somebody from the family. Can you come? You can learn a bit of English and then we'll return back together.'

"I loved being in Turkey -- the Aegean Coast, the Mediterranean -- it's a great place. But I was young and life is beautiful and I said, 'Okay, great.' I flew into New York, had to change airports, and negotiated the taxi driver's price from $20 to $15 even though we could only communicate with gestures. I'm from a port city, I'm used to these things.

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"Arriving in Sacramento was a little bit of culture shock. All of a sudden I had gas stations on every corner and nobody walking on the sidewalk. I said, 'What the hell am I going to do here?' There's nobody to talk to.

"I learned English in three months by evening school courses and watching late night television. Few months later my sister went back to Izmir as planned. But as one adventure -- girlfriends and the like -- followed another, I stayed.

"I enrolled in a local community college. I met this one teacher, Walter Harvey, who was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright. He said I should take his class. He made me like architecture.

"I was looking for a school to transfer to, to get a university degree. Walter told me to go down to Long Beach or Newport Beach -- it's one of those places. He said there was an AIA [American Institute of Architects] convention occurring there. I got in a Volkswagen Fastback and I drove straight down.

"There was a five-minute break during one of the sessions. I met this gray-haired woman. I lit her cigarette and she asked me what I was doing there? I said I just wanted to meet some architects and learn where I could go to school.

"She said, okay, 'If you have a car, tomorrow go to this place in Santa Monica called SciArc, it's a new school. Ask for Ray Kappe and tell them that Esther McCoy sent you.'

"I did exactly what she told me -- except Ray Kappe wasn't in so I met the second in line, Bill Simonian. Esther McCoy! I had at the time no idea she was such a big architectural figure in Southern California.

"I enrolled at SciArc. Being an architecture student is a great way to see a city. Two years after I'd arrived in the United States, I finally felt at home.

"I remember walking along Wilshire corridor and seeing building-dense areas, which I like. And the weather was the same as where I came from. The plants, flowers, fauna, the coast -- everything was familiar. Los Angeles was love at first sight.

CHAPTER TWO

"Beginning in '78 I lived for two years under my desk at SciArc. Then I shared a house, also in Santa Monica, one block from the beach. Rent was $200 per month.

"I went to New York for a couple of traveling semesters. Then I came back and moved to Venice and then a Santa Monica trailer park.


"Over the years, I've also lived in West L.A., Echo Park, Topanga Canyon, Venice a few times, and for six months on a sailboat in Marina Del Rey. I'm forgetting some places. Hollywood, Downtown, by Al's Bar. Finally, I'm now in Glendale, in an Armenian neighborhood. I really l love it here. Everything is within walking distance.

"I moved around for various reasons. I've owned property, I've sold property, I've lost property. I've rented. I was homeless at one point. Since I don't have any strong roots in this country, like if my parents were here or have kids, I could go stay in different places. Besides, I'm an American citizen now. The average American moves many times, more than anyplace else. I think average ten times or something.

"My mother in Turkey is still living in the same neighborhood where she was born. And she's 85-years-old. Whenever I go back for a visit, all my old friends are still there.

"It's different here. Los Angeles' car-oriented culture introduces a rule of mobility. You could be living in West Side and it's not that big of a logistical move to commute Monrovia or West Covina. It's thirty minutes by car. So it's entirely possible that you still have your same coffee shop and you have your same job but you live somewhere where you can afford and commute.

CHAPTER THREE

"There are two distinct kinds of immigrants. There are those who come here for creative reasons, for freedom of expression.

"And there are the immigrants who come here full of the desire to become powerful, to become somebody, through the material world.

"The ones that seek the material world, from the minute they arrive they see this "hard working" entrepreneurial freedom and they start to make money. Those are the immigrant stories you normally hear. That's what America means to many people.

"Like when I go back to Turkey, a lot of people will ask me how much money I have? Or if I have this if I have that? When I say, 'I have none of those things,' they look at me like I didn't really make it here.

"But I didn't come to America to 'make it.' I didn't have an 'American dream.'

"I came for three months to be with my sister. But what has really attracted me the most to the United States -- and I think it happens to a lot of creative people when they arrive -- is that, it immediately feels very free. I think it has something to do with the geography of this country.

"You feel the space -- kind of vast and free. It feels like you can almost do anything. And you also no longer have your scrutinizing neighbors -- like in Turkey where everyone is looking into each other's face.

"And if you are creative, this country -- and Los Angeles -- is an incredible place to be. You can travel, you can stop, you can say things and nobody is going to come and arrest you for what you say.

"I have to give credit -- the United States is really a good place for speaking your mind. I'm very critical of the country today in a lot of ways -- like politically. But as far as basic individual freedoms go, it's a free country, or it used to be. And geographically it's a beautiful country too.

"Things have changed since I came here. Beautiful as it is, America has became a very sinister place in the last 25, 30 years. Society became more everyman for himself. All of us have to watch our ass, watch our back, what's going on. The people don't have interest in your good will anymore. If they can [mess] you up they will. Everybody became extra introverted. It became harder to make new friends and meet people.

"I think this has a lot to do with the electronic revolution. And it's not unique to this place. I hear a similar story form my mother when I talk to her on the telephone. She has similar issues living in an urban environment in Turkey.

"I was lucky that when I arrived in this country, it was still somewhat innocent. It was just losing its innocence because of the Vietnam War. But you could still come here and meet great Americans, which I did.

"So I don't have the cynical sort of attitude that some Europeans or Asians who come here these days have. They don't like it and they look down on America and say stupid things like this place has 'no culture.' I don't have that. I really like this place, culturally it is very rich for an observing eye.

"And I was also lucky enough to be introduced to basic values of typical Americans with decorated polyester pants. That meant honesty, generosity, hospitality, courage and bravery. These are great people. I don't know if that generation, if that kind of mentality, still exists. But I'm very happy as an immigrant that I saw a snapshot of it.

"Americans are still original, innovative people. Americans were inventors, always. I think because they feel free inside, they are very expressive people. Americans won't feel awkward walking in the streets of Paris with an odd-colored shirt and a cowboy hat, asking for a Coke with their croissant. I love it, why not?

"That's classic. That's really beautiful, actually. Too bad for the French that they don't see that! Other people can talk about the 'ugly American.' I don't believe in the ugly American. I think the ugly American is really a beautiful American.

"The same is twice as true for Los Angeles, it is a great city with all its problems with cars, pollution, poverty, gluttony etc. Even though it sucks the lives of many immigrants into the thin walls of its dingbat apartments, it is my home for more than thirty years. I am a resilient character; I enjoy and identify with big, complex cities like this one."

-- Orhan Ayyüce
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)

Photo: Self-portrait by and courtesy Orhan Ayyüce


Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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