A Tour Around Suleymaniye Mosque

History, intrigue, and spectacular architecture abound in this city of 10,000,000 plus, as I’ve been reminded by Edda Weissenbacher. Over the years, Edda has compiled a series of historical walking tours of Istanbul, and on Saturday my friend Marnie and I explored the area around the Suleymaniye Mosque with Edda (and ten others).

We began inside the mosque itself, the grandest in Istanbul. Built in 1550-1557 by Sultan Suleyman’s gifted architect Sinan, it is the largest of the nearly 100 mosques designed by Sinan. Since he didn’t become the Sultan’s architect until he was in his late 50’s, that’s a pretty incredible accomplishment. (He lived to nearly 100.)


The mosque sits atop a hill overlooking Istanbul, an imposing edifice to Suleyman the Magnificent, known to be the greatest of the Ottoman Sultans. I just finished reading THE SULTAN’S HAREM by Colin Falconer, a historical novel about Suleyman’s life. Edda’s historical tales all meshed surprisingly well with the events in the book. Hurrem, Suleyman’s favorite concubine, manipulated him into marrying her (though it was unheard of for a sultan to marry a slave), then tricked him into believing that his heir, Mustafa, was a threat to his throne. Suleyman ordered his son strangled by his bostanci slaves. Intrigues abounded in those times, and the unfortunate outcome of Hurrem’s deceptions was that her depraved son, Selim the Sot, succeeded his father, and his reign began the downfall of the Ottoman Empire.



But there was so much more than that on Edda’s tour!

We saw Suleyman’s tomb, with Hurrem’s built beside it within the grounds of the mosque. Sinan’s tomb breathed free outside the walls. Edda showed us the stone where traitors were beheaded, and we visited the mosque that Suleyman had built in memory of his slain heir, Mustafa.



We saw ancient Christian churches (now mosques) dating back to the 10th century, as well as an ancient library. We followed a street vendor wheeling his kofte (meatball kabobs) cart down the cobbled street with the aid of his young son.



One of my favorite things, though, was the Vefa Bozacisi (1876), a boza bar. It looks just like an Irish pub, except that it dispenses only one thing: boza, a non-alcoholic drink made from fermented sweet millet. As we stepped into the bar, a white-capped man stood behind the counter scooping thick, yellow boza from a marble terrine into glasses. He arranged them on the bar and sprinkled each with cinnamon.



We helped ourselves to a glass, found seats at the tables, and tried our first tastes of boza. Most of us liked the thick, custardy drink, though a few were put off by it’s slight tang. As we sipped, Edda regaled us with tales of the area, then a nut vendor circulated among us, sprinkling roasted chickpeas into our hands. We dropped them into the boza, which added yet another interesting taste and texture to our culinary adventure.



In years past, a boza vendor would walk the streets each evening, calling “Boza! Boza!” He would dispense the drink from a canister that he carried on his back, washing the glasses with water from another container at his side. In addition to bottles of vinegar and ornate mirrors lining the walls of the bar, there was of course the obligatory picture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and on the same wall hung a glass case with the silver-bedecked glass used by Ataturk on a visit to the Vefa Bozacisi.

After that respite, Edda continued our tour, bringing us by more ancient churches (one originally built in 598). She showed us the Aquaduct of Valens (first built in the 2nd century and reconstructed in 375 AD), which carried water from the Belgrade Forest (outside Istanbul) into the city, where it was stored in vast underground cisterns.



This tour was incredible. I’d visited the Suleymaniye Mosque before, but with no clue of the historical treasures that surround it. Thanks to Edda, my eyes have been opened.

After bidding our tour mates farewell, four of us joined Edda at a sidwalk cafe outside the mosque for a lunch of fasulye, a scrumptious Turkish bean dish. What a finish! What a day!

What a perfect, exhilarating, fascinating day!



Norway vs. Turkey

Me & Anne Andersen in her school’s library

I can’t help but return to Istanbul with some observations about
similarities and differences between the Norway and Turkey. Bear with me.

First off, it was an absolute joy to fit in. Scandinavian by heritage, my
pale, pasty, long-limbed countenance didn’t attract undue attention (as it
always does in brown-eyed, dark-haired Turkey ). It was a joy to have people
address me in Norwegian–that is, when they did address me, which was seldom.

There’s another difference—demeanor. I continue to find the Turks a warm and
welcoming people. Whenever I ask for help, they more than comply, whereas
Norwegians are minimalists at best. Garrison Keillor depicts them correctly as
stoic, reserved, and understated. Just after I arrived in Trondheim, I asked a
woman for information about the exchange rate. Her answer was an abrupt “No.”
No apology, no explanation, just the clear message that she couldn’t or
wouldn’t help me. On the other hand, if a Turk didn’t know the answer to my
question, he or she would ask everyone at hand until they found someone who
could help. Different. As my friend Tony said, “Not weird or wrong, just
different.” It’s a good attitude to have about other cultures.

I’ll never forget the Norwegian man who stood silently at the top of a ski
hill as I scrambled and slid my way up it in some aberration of a herringbone.
I pulled over to let him by at one point, but he would have none of it. In
spite of my embarrassed smile and apologies when I finally reached the top of
the hill, he just gave me a withering look and skied off. At least I thought
it was withering–maybe it was just a nonintrusive stare.

I have to admit, the Norwegians I met in social settings were quite different.
We met a man outside the ski hut who waxed prophetic about his broken wrist,
the ski trails and his folk dancing group. At a subsequent evening potluck, a
few people even engaged me in conversation about my impressions of Trondheim.
My theory is that Norwegians are saving their energy for the outdoors; I’ve
never seen a people so enthused about nature. It’s exhilarating. I marveled at
how they lounged in the snow on the mountain, taking the elements as they
came. I loved seeing people ski along the snowy sidewalks during a snowstorm
and bike the city streets in snow, sun, or rain.


My friend Anne told me that Norwegian preschools are of two types: one where children spend half the day outdoors, and the other where they spend the entire day outdoors. Can you imagine? Anne’s school (Trondheim International School) has a muddy hillside
playground (currently off limits until some grass grows) where there’s a huge
rope swing. Children clamber to the top of the hill and sail out on the swing.
As you can well expect, they come back into school muddy. They’re hosed off,
change into their indoor shoes and clothes, and head to class. It’s amazing.
(They have double sets of both indoor and outdoor clothes, a total of four
outfits.)There’s no overprotectiveness when it comes to their natural world, either.
Tree climbing and fast sledding are an accepted part of playground activity. I
guess they don’t have a lot of law suits.



At our elementary in Turkey, the children are kept in whenever there’s a sign
of inclement weather. The elementary has a commons hallway where children
play if there’s a drop of rain, cold air, or–heaven forbid–MUD! I think it
may relate to their intrinsic fear of drafts and cold air. In their defense,
though, on any beautiful evening or weekend the Turks take to the fields.
Every tree, no matter how skimpy, harbors a family picnic, complete with
blanket, picnic basket, and mangal (Bar-B-Q ). The Turks love the outdoors
when it’s at its best. The Norwegians love it no matter what it brings.


The last thing I want to mention is clutter. I was truly impressed at the
cleanliness of Trondheim. Most buildings are two stories high with slatted siding
and paned windows. Stores are only different in that they post a small sign
indicating the business inside. There are some stores (though few) that have
display windows and neon signs, but the general rule is order. In Trondheim,
at least, buildings are painted in muted shades of red, blue, green, and
yellow. It’s lovely.



Turkey is quite different. If there’s an overriding architecture, it’s
concrete (perhaps because of earthquakes). I’ve been told that Turks have a
love affair with concrete. Storefronts compete for space along every sidewalk,
often with ten or more in a block. Outdoor displays spill merchandise onto the


Of course, that’s also the charm of Istanbul. Constant chatter and
banter is also part of the Turkish shopping experience, as well as a proffered
cup of tea. You wouldn’t find THAT in Norway.

So is Norway prettier? Nope. Friendlier? Not a chance. Cleaner? Obviously.
Richer? Absolutely.

Norway and Turkey are both wonderful countries—considerably dIfferent but each
stunning in its own way.

Spring Break in Trondheim

Spring break finally arrived, and I couldn’t wait to get to Trondheim to see my friends (Anne, Tony, and Nona) and to SKI! I’ve really missed skiing these past two years, so imagine my delight when I arrived in a snowstorm. Hooray! (Cross country skiing just isn’t big in Istanbul, even when there’s snow.)

Saturday afternoon we wandered the city in the snow, then opted for a movie. The city was deserted, as Norway closes down for Easter week, including Easter Monday. No buses run, no shops are open—Norwegian businesses are clearly less mercenary than American stores.


Snowy Trondheim riverfront
Easter Sunday we headed eagerly to nearby Bymarka Mountain Park to ski. Bymarka is a huge park that covers an entire mountain, and it has hundreds of kilometers of ski trails, as well as a ski jump. We stopped midway for a lunch of waffles with jetost (sweet goat cheese), lefse, and cocoa. I was amazed that rather than sitting inside, people settled happily into spots in the snow while they ate. Norwegians are DEFINITELY outdoor folks. All along our tour, we saw groups nestled into snowy settings everywhere, picnicking, sledding, and just enjoying the day.


We skied 15K, then returned Monday for yet another 5K. ARAUGHHH!!!Muscles screamed from every part of my weary body. Of course, I was smiling anyway; it was welcome pain.

I’ve always considered myself a competent cross country skier. Not great, mind you, but good enough to take on nearly anything. Well, these mountain tracks are challenging, and the experience was humbling. Mere three-year-olds raced by me, as well as skiers nearly twice my age. Children too small to ski are pulled behind mom or dad in a Pulke, a cozy ski sled with a windshield. Tony skis with his dog Major attached to retractible lead, as do many skiers. Skiing is definitely a family affair. In fact, Anne and Tony had to borrow equipment for me, as there is no such thing as ski rental here. Everyone has their own gear.


Trondheim is gorgeous—mountains, lovely multicolored buildings, a river (Nid) through the city, ancient cathedrals, and the fjord–ah, yes, the fjord. After our Easter ski, we took a drive along the fjord to revel in the picturesque shoreline punctuated by fishing huts and lovely farms. Norway is obviously a prosperous country. In fact, it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And it shows. People aren’t ostentatious, but I saw nothing that even approaches poverty. And NOTHING here is cheap.

Monday night we ate at a little restaurant called Tavern Vertshus Siden 1739. That would make it nearly 300 years old, wouldn’t it? My goodness! It was a charming place, with a maze of tiny rooms leading off the main bar room. The tavern must have been an inn at one time, still decorated with rugged antiques. We stepped back into another century. We chose the buffet menu of salad, boiled potatoes, and spare ribs with BBQ sauce to die for. YUM!

I’ve also done other tourist things. We toured the gothic Nidaros Cathedral (circa 1000-1100), which houses the tomb of St. Olaf. Dark.


Then Tony guided Nona and me to a number of secondhand stores, where beautiful Norwegian sweaters can be purchased for five to thirty dollars. Not bad, compared to the $300 retail prices. Then yesterday we visited the National Museum of Decorative Arts, an eclectic collection of items from the 1700’s on. We’ve also meandered much of the city in pursuit of its many statues.


Our last stop yesterday was the public library, one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. We had a mid-afternoon latte in the library coffee shop, then headed home to make a delectable creamy fish soup. YUM! Today I helped out with a Macbeth project at Anne’s school, and tomorrow–who knows?

The snow has melted, and the sun is shining. As I often say, life is good!

My Favorite Turks

Let me tell you about something important to me. Yesterday was the last day of class for my IB certificate seniors, kids I’ve taught for two years. I love each and every one of them.

I decided to make flourless chocolate cake, (two cakes, actually) and invite them to my lojman (apartment) to celebrate a rewarding two years together. As I raced out of the building at 1:40, four of them met me outside and walked with me to my lojman. I recruited them to whip up topping (the directions are in THEIR language, after all), slice strawberries, and serve my very favorite, bitter-chocolate-rich cake. They dove right in. Libby was excited to see them, but got a bit shy once all 20 of them had arrived. She spent the rest of the party under the bed.

My Kitchen Crew
I’ve never had a relationship like this with an entire class–I LOVE these kids,! All 20 of them. Of course, it hasn’t been perfect all the time. I’ve been frustrated with them on occasion, as I’m sure they have been with me. IB was new to all of us, and we had to feel our way through it. They showed their mettle with insightful class disscusions, analytical writing, and incredibly creative class presentations. Part of our Wednesday gathering was remembering the hilarious things some of them did this year: Zeynep as Paris Hilton, Iraz wandering the classroom as a homeless person, and Selim Can (John) as a Macbeth Mafioso. None was more hilarious, though, than the interview of Haluk, a poor African person, giving straight-faced gibberish answers to his interpreter, who translated them into English for his interviewer and audience. I can’t belive we didn’t wet our pants , we laughed so hard.

Together we’ve weathered comparative commentaries, mock orals, and individual oral presentations, and somehow we’ve bonded through it all. As I said, I LOVE these kids!


It makes me sad to hear that some senior English teachers are relieved to see their students leave. O.K. I admit that even my 20 proteges have been a challenge lately. They always have OSS workbooks in their laps. It takes me five or ten minutes to settle them down at the start of class. Sometimes one or two of them even fall asleep in class. (NEVER have I allowed that in my 32 years of teaching–these kids are WIPED.) They study non-stop,seldom getting to bed before midnight. Their lives are ruled by dershane classes (cram school) and the OSS. English class is mere fluff at this point. I’m sorry they have to go through this, but in spite of it all, I’ve done my best to prepare them for the IB exams in May. I think they’ll do well if they try. I hope they do.

I’ll miss them all. I’ll miss them a lot.

Four of them are coming to the States next year–Zeynep to the University of Chicago, a mere 11 hours away. Denizhan will be at Middlebury, Iraz at Brandeis, and Haluk will be somewhere out East. I’m sure Selim Can will join them the following year, either at Harvard or Yale. I’m sure I’ll visit each of them.

Of course, I’ll return to visit the others in Turkey, maybe next winter. My ticket home this summer is a round-trip fare :).

As I said, I LOVE these kids! How lucky can one get?


Leader of the Pack

Producing a play in Turkey is quite a different thing—at least at the Koc School. Oh, there are scripts, actors, music, choreography, costumes, rehearsals and set, of course, but everything is done quite differently. It’s been a real eye-opener for me. Perhaps it’s because we work with a privileged clientele. Perhaps it’s because our students travel great distances to school. Perhaps it’s because our juniors and seniors are obsessed with preparing for the OSS exam. Whatever the reasons, the Koc (“coach”) production of Leader of the Pack has been quite different from anything I’ve ever experienced.


Director Larry Bent, Musical Director Dan Kapp, Choreographer / Costume Designer Lisa Kapp, and producer Marnie Paulus began the process last spring, recruiting actors, teachers, and staff for the production. Auditions were held in May for the gala 50’s musical based on the life of Ellie Greenwich, who composed many popular rock songs including “Chapel of Love,” and “Leader of the Pack” with husband Jeff Barry.

Typical of high school productions, the girls outnumbered the boys ten to one. After weeks of recruiting, they decided to pare the script down to accommodate the primarily female cast. Good call.

Rehearsals began in September for the March production—a seven-month rehearsal schedule! WOW! (My longest rehearsal schedule for a musical was eight weeks.) In spite of the fact that rehearsals were only held twice a week, attendance was abysmal and some cast members dropped out.

“Our overall attendance was about 75%,” said director Larry Bent. “A few weeks before opening we’d never had the full cast for the group dance numbers.” He’d about had it a few times, but somehow the directors all hung in there.

“I wanted to drop out, but my mom wouldn’t let me, and I’m GLAD!” said Lara Ankan of her experience. Turkish kids don’t often have opportunities to make a commitment like this one; their schedules are too tough, and even extracurricular sports mean a few practices a week. The 25 cast members who stuck out the year were jazzed about the production once they got onstage. The directors started smiling, too, those last few weeks when the show looked like it might pull together. It did, and then some.


Beyond the 7-month rehearsal schedule, though, what was so different? Well…

First off, the custodial staff built the set, a very sturdy affair that looked professional–in fact, it was a set of three record-disc platforms with professionally-screened labels on the records. The art department painted the scrim (obviously purchased) and flats for the backdrop, and students were excused from classes to do the work. At home, set construction happens on evenings and weekends, and it’s volunteer labor all the way.

Dancing shoes were custom-made for each member of the cast, at a whopping cost of $30 each. (I ought to) That really alleviates the last-minute scramble for footwear. Gold lame vests for the musicians were custom made as well, at a whopping $3 each (fabric scrounged from the school’s very minimal costume loft, which is mostly graduation robes).

Long before the performance, Dan Kapp hired a professional piano player to round out his volunteer orchestra, and they sounded GREAT! (My 9th grade musical protégé Ugur Kupeli played the drums.)


During the last month of rehearsals, treats and meals were supplied for cast members. During the performances, a meal was served before the production, then healthy snacks, water, and sandwiches were provided backstage for everyone. Go figure! The school not only provided service bus transportation for the cast, but also for teachers and families who chose to attend the production. Now THERE’S a budget item!

Another phenomenal difference was the volunteer help. More than 100 people were involved in this production, from actors to stage crew to musicians, costumers, stage crew, and supervisors. It was an incredible cooperative effort by many dedicated people.

The Leader of the Pack budget of just under 20,000 New Turkish Lira (about $15,000) paid for scripts, royalties, costumes, and who-knows-what else.

As always in the theater world, the production finally pulled together. Everyone started attending rehearsals (at the same time!), the ever-charming male lead finally learned his lines, and last-minute costume alterations were made. When opening night arrived, excitement was high. Bouffant hairdos and light pink lipstick were added to the mix, and the cast stormed the stage. The show was a smash—the first musical in years to be produced by the Koc School.


I just have one question. How come these kids speak with a Turkish accent, but it disappears when they sing? I just don’ t get it. Maybe that’s why they have English teachers…