At first, she was just a friend of a friend of a friend I was to stay with for a couple of months before finding my own apartment in the city of Essen, North West Germany. She would be working on the day of my arrival so she arranged to have others pick me up from the train station and bring me to her loft. The first I knew of her was through the pictures she hung of herself on her walls and the way Hüs and Annette introduced me to her remarkable home. “Look… look here,” Annette exclaimed, gesticulating towards a coffee table made out of an industrial lifting pallet.


Arzu was born to a retired sea merchant and his wife of mixed Turkish and Greek origin. Like many other Turks, her family had immigrated to Ennepetal in post war Germany. As she grew older, she nurtured her interest in the arts and crafts until it was moulded into a career of artisanship and carpentry. “I make homes”, she would say over a cigarette, meaning it quite literally.


I’ve had a visitor or two tell me that the first thing you could tell about the apartment was that those who dwelt there bled once a month. Walls painted in contrasting shades of white and deep ruby red framed her surrealistic paintings. They were consistently rich with strong, sensual imagery of a female as ambiguous as she is complex. Spaces were furnished with salvaged items from thrift shops, flea markets or cleared out evangelical churches. My favourite? A full length gothic mirror or perhaps mosaic tiles set in white, red and blue which she used as a countertop and modelled her kitchen around. Bookshelves smiled under the weight of art books, Feng Shui bibles, the Koran, a complete “The Lord of the Rings” set and curiously, “A History of Mistresses.”


“I think friends find me strange because I don’t use simple pieces and worst of all I decorate – That is how I am. I look at something and can tell whether it is Arzu. I cannot be any other way.”


The spaces she lofted into a home were benevolently ruled by three female cats that complemented the space like they were living throws and cushions. All terribly misnamed; the bossy, slightly overweight British shorthair with a penchant for vigorous back rubbing was called Fable; the tomboy with a remarkable ability to call birds from windows was Ashanti; while my personal favourite, who would curl up with me in bed, would have to be a docile long-haired princess doomed to be known as Poison. I always believed that these cats could be personified in Arzu – her confidence, sexuality, self-sustainability and ability to nurture.


There was no doubt she loved animals; for company, in her house or on her plate. She once brought home an adequately sized stretch of rabbit fur she intended to make a purse out of. She shared my love for well marinated Argentine steak. There were cowhides on the floor and real fur throws hanging in her bedroom. The last thing I expected her to pull out of her suitcase from Bali were two severed buffalo heads, which she let to decompose for an evening in our bath tub before quarantining them to Annette’s balcony.


Arzu is one of those people able to live in decadence for days on end, and then whip up a storm, dust every corner, rearrange furniture and even repaint a table or two. She’d grin, “A normal person would have just dusted this.”


She admits that she owes much of her fierce determination and confidence to her father. One day, as a toddler accompanying her father on the farm, he gave her a little basket so she could carry some of the harvest. She would laugh, telling me that although young Arzu was only carrying a few stems of barley, he must have asked his workmen to over emphasise to her how much she had managed to carry all by herself.


Before four weeks had passed I could not help asking her whether I could keep my room. She answered, teary-eyed, that she was just relieved I liked it there. Now, a year later, I hold her responsible for my stint at painting during my stay in Germany after years of not picking up a brush. I reminisce over the time we spent sketching ideas in IKEA when she decided it was time to redo the sitting room. I smile from time to time when I open my closet and remember the evening she gave me a bag of lingerie she never wore. And when I think of her, she is sitting cross legged and barefoot on the sofa in bleached white slacks, with coffee and a cigarette, Fable purring at her side.

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