A busy, sunshiny day in Kurtköy

First off, a language lesson. The closest city to our campus is Kurtköy, which means “Wolf village.” The o has a sideways colon over it (ö if your computer reads Turkish), so you should purse your lips and push your tongue forward when you say it. To pronounce Kurtköy correctly, then, first say Kurt, then pretend you’re kissing someone (maybe considering a French kiss), and say the last part as though it rhymes with BOY. Enough of that. Suffice it to say that Turkish isn’t all that easy.


Well, the sun FINALLY came out last Friday, nearly all day, as I recall, and my spirits were high. (We’ve had sunshine two days of the last 19, so it was a welcome respite from the rain.) At 2:15 I hopped on the Kurtköy street market bus with a plan to spend about 10 Turkish Lira (around $6) and not bring too much home. Everything here is sold by the kilogram, which is 2.2 pounds, and I often buy too much. I try to limit myself to a half-kilo, and even then I’m ashamed to admit that my delectable veggies are known to rot in the fridge. Sigh…

The VERY busy Kurtköy Market

As I stepped under the high-strung tarps of the market street, I was first drawn to a display of fresh strawberries. They were early berries, quite expensive, maybe about 6 or 7 lira/kilo. Not too bad, I guess. As I was considering, the vendor smiled and handed me a çilek. Sweet, firm, and red through the middle. DELICIOUS!  I was in his power. I bought a half kilo of berries and added two pomegranates; my total bill was a whopping 6 lira (about $4). Then off to the veggies. I bought a half-kilo each of carrots (6) and tomatoes (9) for another 4 lira ($2.50).

A careful shopper squeezes the cabbages.

A few spices, some Turkish string cheese (better than any you’ve tasted), and six sheets of yufka (a thin phyllo-like pastry) cost me another 4 ytl. I was over my limit. Ah, well. Amazingly, the Turkish words I thought I’d forgotten came back as I needed them. Whew!

The more expensive beefy tomatoes at 7.50 TL

For the next half hour I wandered, reveling in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Friday market. Tarps were strung high over the cobbled streets, protection from both rain and sun. Vendor after vendor called out in sing-song, “Bir Lira! Bir lira!” (one lira), some in deep booming voices, and others in clear, shrill tones as shoppers strolled by. The entire market is a cacophony of voices. It amazes me that the reserved, scarved women can make themselves heard over the din, but somehow they get their shopping done, often bargaining with the vendors. (At these prices, I don’t bargain.)

A Friday shopper pays a lira for her bananas.

Many of the shoppers pull little two-wheeled carts, much like a nylon wastebasket on wheels, and occasionally someone rolls by in a wheelchair. The street market is by far the cheapest way to buy produce, sundries, clothing, linens, and even shoes; many Turks can only afford to shop on market day. We teachers go because it offers the most delicious produce, and we just plain love being there. Maybe lots of people feel that way.

Many of the vendors stopped their barking to welcome me (an obvious yabanci—foreigner) to the market, and others invited me to snap their pictures. Could it be my permagrin? Who knows? It’s just all great fun.

And for goodness sake, the SUN was out!

Of COURSE I’ll take your photo, boys!

…and the egg vendors…

As well as one last cheerful vendor. Guruşuruz! (Goodbye!)

Another rainy Sunday in Istanbul

Let’s see. I’ve been in Istanbul for 12 days now, and I think it’s rained for 10 of them. Today was looking good for a while (sunny while we were in school), but it clouded over before we got out, and I had to drag out my umbrella for the walk to study hall tonight. Sigh… It frustrates me that the weather affects my mood, but it seems to be all about sunshine for me.

Last Saturday (damp) my friend Dee invited David, Andrea and me (all singles) to a VDS dinner (Valentine’s Day Sucks). Great food, delightful company, and a little too much wine. Oh, well…

In spite of a steady drizzle on Sunday morning, I decided to hop on the service bus to Taksim. It leaves bright and early, and believe me, I wasn’t all that bright so early. Since my only off-campus visits had been to malls (4 times) since my arrival, I needed a CF—a city fix.

A typical corner “convenience store” in Istanbul

There’s no traffic on Sunday mornings, so we got to Taksim in less than an hour. First I took the funicular down to Kabataş, then caught the tram to Sultanahmet (the old city). My goal was to visit my friends at the Harem 49 rug shop to share my amazing Mexico experience.

Here’s my tale:

When Susie and I visited Cozumel in January, we noticed a shop called Istanbul Carpets. Right. “What are the chances that anyone speaks Turkish in there?” I asked. Susie urged me to check it out, so I stepped inside and said, “Merhaba. Nasilsiniz?” (Hello. How are you?) Well, one of the two men sitting by the window jumped up and strode over to me, answering in Turkish, grinning warmly, and extending a hand for a handshake that became a hug, complete with cheek-kisses. Very Turish. We continued a short conversation in Turkish, which was about my limit (I’m not exactly fluent yet). To make a long story short, Engin, the shopowner, used to work for Hussein at Harem 49, my favorite Sultanahmet rug shop. Not only that, but his cousin Ümüt works there now. I mean, what are the chances of meeting a man in Mexico who knows the same people I know in Istanbul, a city of over 15 million? Amazing.

Engin and I pose in his Cozumel rug shop

After chatting with Ümüt over a cup of tea (admiring photos of his beautiful son), I headed off to do more exploring. I wandered my beloved cobblestone streets, snapped a few photos, then climbed to a rooftop restaurant to enjoy a cappuccino and warm my toes (not only was it wet, but damnably cold as well.)

After buying an evil-eye keychain for my new lojman (apartment) key, I hopped back on the tram toward Taksim. I still had three hours, but no point in pushing my luck. The drizzle had abated, so instead of taking the funicular back up the hill, I opted to hike up and pay my respects to the Galata Tower along the way. I ducked into a little restaurant for my first bowl of mercimek soup, my FAVORITE—a lentil soup beyond compare. They serve it with a mountain of white bread for a whopping 3 Turkish Lira ($2). I didn’t eat all the bread.

The famed Galata Tower

Ah, mercimek soup!

When I got back up to Istaklal, I still had plenty of time, so I decided to check out the new exhibit at the Pera Museum, a Koç family art museum. This museum is a class act, with rotating exhibits on the top two floors and permanent exhibits of Turkish art and ceramics on the lower floors. The featured exhibit was a collection of impressive storyboard paintings by Japanese filmmaker Akiro Kurosawa, but I was most taken with the Turkish artwork this time. Maybe because I’m so happy to be back.

Now that I know the city well from working on a guidebook of historical walking tours, I actually feel like I’m stepping back in time when I see these centuries-old paintings. I’m fascinated with what the seaside and city once looked lik

Stepping back in time through Ottoman art at the Pera Museum

My favorite painting is a mere century old: the “Tortoise Trainer,” probably the most famous (and valuable) painting in Turkey ($3.5 million).

It was painted by Osman Hamdi Bey, an amazing man who was not only an accomplished painter but also an archeologist. He established the Istanbul Archeological Museum, no small task. I’ve read that this painting depicts Osman Hamdi Bey’s frustration with getting the Ottoman rulers to change with the times. The implication is that it’s like training tortoises with a flute, and tortoises have very poor hearing. Interesting analogy, huh?

The Tortoise Trainer, by Osman Hamdi Bey

Even the elevators at the Pera are painted!

A quick hello to the ceramics display, then off…

Finally, a trek through the rain to the service bus, provided at no cost by the school. Lucky us.

So—there’s my rainy Sunday in Istanbul. Here’s to sunny days ahead!


Changes. Yes, many changes. A new president, for one. (We DID it!!!!) This new year has brought smaller changes, too. I’ve grown a titch bulkier and developed a few more wrinkles (I’m nearly 60, you know). I also acquired a new car, which compelled me to pursue another stint of teaching overseas. Where? Well, where else? Back in Istanbul, of course.  I said goodbye to family and friends, skis and snowshoes, and…

Goodbye Libby, Erin, Matthew, and Mitsy!

Goodbye Libby, Erin, Matthew, and Mitzy!

Goodbye, snowshoes!

Goodbye, snowshoes (and snow)!

I just arrived at the Koç School campus on Saturday—a drizzly, sopping afternoon. I was detained FAR too long at customs (an expired residence permit necessitated much discussion among the police and a hunt for the official stamp to CANCEL it). I was greatly relieved to find that my driver had waited the extra half hour for me. I dozed through most of the hour-long drive to campus, waking for a few moments just as we crossed the Bosphorus. It’s always a joy to gaze up and down that incredible waterway and marvel at the the Rumile Castle just beneath the bridge. Ah, Istanbul!

After settling into my lojman, a cozy little two- bedroom just like I had before, the sun peeked out. Hooray! I tried to shake myself awake with a walk around campus (about 3K). Things are pretty green here, with iris shoots pushing up and rosebushes leafing out. Everything looked pretty much the same as before, except for a recent addition to the high school. As I continued around toward the elementary, though, I wondered about the huge wooden structure looming ahead. My goodness—A HORSE! I kid you not. There’s a monstrous Trojan horse planted on the elementary playground overlooking the tennis courts. It has a wooden mane and tail, and its body is a vast room with barred windows (apparently to prevent accidental falls), easily large enough to hide a hundred soldiers.

The HORSE by moonlight

I assume you realize that Troy is located in Turkey, southwest of Istanbul where the Aegean Sea meets the Dardanelles Strait. I haven’t been there yet, but it’s on my list. Previously thought to be a mythical city, Troy first appeared in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (these works date somewhere between 600 and 900 B.C.). You know, Helen of Troy and Odysseus and all that? Well, the actual remains of 4,000-year-old Troy were discovered in the 19th century, and many of its treasures now reside in Russia and Germany. Yes, my friends, Troy is right here in Turkey. AND—on the Koç campus.

The HORSE by day

I’m not sure who masterminded this structure, but I understand it’s been rather controversial. Can’t imagine why! They had to install lights and a closed-circuit camera in the beast’s belly to prevent untoward evening dalliances by students living on campus. Maybe teachers, too, huh? Who knows?

I can’t help but chuckle as I think of the shenanigans that may have ensued before the camera was installed. Here in Turkey we tend to react to situations in a knee-jerk fashion, so I assume there was some impetus for the expense of a surveillance camera. Ah, Istanbul!

Big Brother is watching you—Troy or 1984?

There’s one more notable change here at Koç. We have security systems for every lojman (apartment) with a blinking red light above the door. Apparently in spite of our much-appreciated 24/7 guards cruising campus, someone discovered a prowler in their house one night. We’ve been warned to keep all our doors locked, there are new motion sensors on the chain-link fence that surrounds the campus, and every lojman has an alarm system, complete with a blinking red light over the front door.

Our added security…

I haven’t done too much walking yet, as it’s been raining most of the week. My friend Ileyn joked that she expects to see pairs of animals queuing up on a nearby hillside. Did you know, by the way, that Turkey is also where Noah supposedly built the ark? Mount Ararat is in Eastern Turkey, and I hear that’s the place. Check your National Geographic archives. I just hope this rain doesn’t continue another 35 days and 35 nights. I mean, enough is enough!

I’ve noticed a few other changes here, too, thanks to our new high school director, Koray Özsaraç. He’s improved the climate of the school: the kids are in uniform, the teachers seem happier, and the halls are quieter. He’s also put an end to students butting in the lunch lines (though I’m still waiting for the day that teachers get to step ahead of the kids).

Well, it’s good to be back with people I know and love. My classes are rolling along, and I look forward to my first trip into the city this weekend. Ah, Istanbul!