Thanksgiving & Teacher’s Day

Thanksgiving Day in America is Teacher’s Day in Turkey.
I’ve never felt more honored than I do on Teacher’s Day, but it seems a shame to divide one day between two holidays. I guess that’s just the way it goes, huh?
Someone wrote and asked if I’d be having turkey, but I honestly don’t know. School lets out early for Teacher’s day, and Robert College parents are hosting a gala Teacher’s Day celebration at Bizimtepe (their country club adjacent to the school), complete with a lavish buffet of Turkish delicacies and an array  of adult beverages. Later we’re having a Thanksgiving potluck at school, and all fingers are crossed that someone will come up with a turkey.

I’m not taking any chances, though; I’m bringing the dressing—turkey-less, but dressing nonetheless. What’s Thanksgiving without bread stuffing? I mean, really! My mom’s was the BEST, and her secret ingredient was chopped apples. One year my aunt hosted Thanksgiving, and she had the audacity to put GIBLETS into the stuffing, ruining my entire holiday. My turkey-less stuffing has apples, but it’s a little lean on celery (I did finally find some). The good news, though, is that I found fresh sage. It’s called adaçayı here, which I think translates to ‘island tea.’ Whatever—it smells great. I had to crush it in my palms, filling the kitchen with a tempting eau de Thanksgiving.


Someone else asked if we had pumpkin pie here. Nope. My friend Arvid wrote on facebook about making pumpkin cheesecake (a step up from pie), and I must admit even the thought made my mouth water.
I have one even better than Arvid’s, though. A Turkish pumpkin treat. After the bayram break my student Pelinsu arrived at school with a package of kabak tatlısı (candied pumpkin) from her home in Antakya, an area known for that delicacy.  Ask if I felt honored. This sweet pumpkin dessert is one of my favorites here in Turkey, probably because it’s not overly sweet. Just for your information, Turkish pumpkins are big, white on the outside, and hard as rocks. Some stalwart soul peels and chops them into pieces, after which they are simmered in sugar syrup, grape molasses, or honey. The Kabak tatlısı is then cooled and served sprinkled with crushed hazelnuts or walnuts.
Pelinsu’s gift was a step up from the usual, a little more candied than I was used to, but problem yok! Here’s what a piece looked like fresh from the package:

When I found the recipe, I learned that Antakya kabak tatlısı has equal parts pumpkin and sugar, and it’s cooked until the kabak is almost translucent. VERY sweet. I like to cut sweetness with a little yogurt, so I cut up my kabak,

then dolloped each piece with a little yogurt (the yogurt here is sort of a cross between yogurt and cream),

and  sprinkled it all with nar (pomegranate) seeds for a spark of nutty tartness.

Let me tell you, pumpkin pie could never compete with this amazing delicacy. YUM!!!!!
When in Rome…

(Or Istanbul…)

 

Ottoman, Anka, and Pizza

As I sit writing in the overstuffed brown leather chair with my feet propped on its matching ottoman, I wonder why my footstool has the same name as Turkey’s centuries-long empire. In a quick hunt for the word’s etymology, and I find an unsatisfying explanation that the Ottomans liked reclining on long couches, so the name was attached to couches and eventually footstools. Hmph!

Enjoying the comfy chair and OTTOMAN

It’s been a busy week here, starting Monday evening with a Paul Anka concert. Four of us 50+ female teachers trekked across the city for this concert, wondering what we were thinking, not quite sure what to expect. Anka is no longer the wavy-haired pouty-mouthed fellow I remember, but a trim 70-year-old Tony Bennet look-alike.

 

The younger and the more recent Paul Anka

<http://www.picsearch.com/pictures/Music/Pop%20!!%20Rock/Male%20pop%20singers/Paul%20Anka.html>

He played his audience like a Las Vegas night club crowd, and we reveled in it. People shook his hand, danced with him, and we sang gleefully along to “Diana,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” and “Puppy Love.” Enthusiasm abounded in the packed auditorium of Turkish Paul Anka fans—an amazing concert.
.

I never realized Paul Anka wrote “My Way” for Frank Sinatra and “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones, as well as numerous other hits.  Apparently he kept writing after he left the limelight, developing deep friendships with stars like Michael Jackson and Sammy Davis, Jr.

.

My biggest thrill this week, though, was Thursday evening when I hosted my thirteen resident students (students from across Turkey who live on campus) for dinner. I’d given them all maps to my apartment, and they began straggling in just as I was ordering pizza after racing home from an after-school meeting. I was on Yemek Sepeti.com (meaning: food basket), an amazing Turkish food delivery web site. There are nearly 200 restaurants that will deliver to my apartment in Arnavutköy, and there’s no extra charge for the service.

Many have a minimum delivery amount of about $5, but McDonald’s will deliver anything—even an order of fries. Amazing. Each of these restaurants has an online menu on the site, and every kind of food is available, from fast food to traditional Turkish foods to high-end fish dinners. Food delivery motorcycles toot up and down the hills of Istanbul day and night, let me tell you.

McDonald’s delivery scooters at the ready… (photo by Norma B.)

 

Anyway, three boys arrived early and helped me finish choosing the pizzas from Little Caesars (yes, we have it here). I ordered five large pizzas, which I thought would be plenty. Most of my guests were boys, though—teenaged boys. Had I forgotten about the bottomless teenaged stomach? I threw together a big salad, and everyone said they got enough to eat, though I wonder. Next time I’ll make a huge pot of stew or something.
.

A few of my guests arrived bearing lavish bouquets, which have brightened my apartment all week—how incredibly sweet!

One of my stunning bouquets

One joy of this spacious apartment is that there’s room to entertain a crowd, and we had space for everyone to sit together around the living room. I taught them to play charades, and I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. Remember, lots of these kids have pretty shaky English, so there were plenty of mistakes and long Thinking Pauses. Ege had us all in stitches with his expressive gestures and facial expressions, mostly just while contemplating. Tuna was laughing so hard he had to leave the room.
.

Libby and I walked everyone back up to campus (she’d been cheated of her early evening walk), and I felt a bit tearful as I bid them farewell. They all had homework, though—the never ending plague of the Robert College student. Many of them work 3-4 hours every night. They’re serious about education here; they see it as their job.

.
That, my friends, was the highlight of my week, and I forgot to take photos. I was just too darned busy reveling in the warmth of these kids. Gosh, I love them.

 

I did take the camera on my morning walk with Libby, and I have a few photos to share from the area around our home here. Enjoy.

One of my favorite streets in town–The Antik Locanda restaurant.

The facade of our local Greek Orthodox Church, with services every week.

 

A local metal-polisher outside his shop.

And a photo of a produce truck that sells on a city street on Saturdays.

Black Sea at Şile and Music at Aya Irini (Haghia Eirene)

Talk about a busy week! My friend Sally  just left after a fun, eventful week. Some people are just darned easy to have around, and Sally is one of them. She revels in every detail of life here, making friends at every turn.

Sally with Çoşkın, one of her many Istanbul friends.

Our friend David and I planned a short trip for Thursday’s Liberation of Istanbul Holiday. David and I worked all day Wednesday at our respective schools while Sally visited Camile (another common friend) in town, then we three met up at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport that evening. I caught a bus at 5:05 here on the European side and arrived at the airport (Asian side) at about 8:15. Over three hours to travel about 20 miles—Istanbul traffic. David was there waiting, and we hunted around for Sally, who’d been there the longest, wandering around wondering where we might be. Poor dear.

We stopped for dinner, then drove just over an hour north to Şile (SHE-lay) on the Black Sea. I’d scoped out a nice seaside resort, but when we finally found it, the entire complex was dark. What??? It was only 10:00! I’d talked to a receptionist the night before, so I tentatively pushed through the revolving door. A clerk materialized from the dark lobby, flipping lights on at the reception desk. Whew!  “Are there any other people here?” I asked in Turkish. He laughed and assured me there were. I didn’t exactly believe him. He certainly had space for us, giving us a corner seaside suite that he said cost twice what we paid. Did we mind?

 

Imagine waking to this view!

We woke to a stunning seascape, and imagine our surprise when scores of Turks were already enjoying the sumptuous breakfast buffet. Apparently the Şile Resort Hotel teems with people all summer, but in October things get a little lean. After breakfast Sally and I donned our suits for a walk up the beach. David, uninterested in swimming, brought his Kindle.

 

We picked shells and marveled at the pristine water as we strolled along the deserted beach.

 

Gorgeous shells–but small

Sally and David strolling on ahead…

after we all snapped  photos of the unique beach litter.

We chuckled at a discarded computer that had washed up on shore–what was THAT about? Though the Black Sea water was cool, it was warmer than most of our northern Minnesota lakes. Finally Sally and I found the perfect place for a swim, which we did. Well, first we waded out for what felt like about a mile Finally Sally dove in, and I joined her in water so shallow we couldn’t frog-kick without scraping our knees.

The water was still shallow quite a distance out from David–camera and Kindle in hand.

Finally the bottom dropped off and we headed out to a small rocky island, feeling a bit like sea nymphs cavorting in the sun. The water was so clear we could see ripples in the sand 20 feet below us.


We spent the afternoon wandering Şile, relaxing over a fish lunch in a seaside cafe, and strolling along the breakwater. At 5:00 scores of boats left their crowded moorings to head out for the evening’s catch—probably the most action the Şile harbor sees.

Sally, David, and I in front of the Şile Harbor fortress.

Şile’s fishing boats moored three deep.

A fisherman mending his nets.


A fishing boat off for the evening catch.

 Friday Sally and David trekked over to Üsküdar to see the stunning Şakırın Camii, the only mosque in Turkey designed by a woman (see my blog for May 25, 2009). As they were leaving, the mosque was stormed by armed bodyguards making way for a visit by Prime Minister Erdoğan. His mother had just died, and he was looking for an appropriate grave site. Apparently that kind of security is common here.

On Saturday evening we joined friends for a concert at the Aya Irini, a Byzantine church inside the walls of Topkapi Palace. The church is renowned for its incredible acoustics, and there are unfortunately only a few concerts there each year. We entered the church through an arched stone entrance and down a long, wide stone ramp. The 1500-year-old structure supposedly stands on the site of Constantinople’s first Christian church. The main sanctuary was flanked by collonnades with a high gold semi-dome at the front, painted with a huge cross.

The Aya Irini in all its splendor before the performance

Already awed at the splendor of the sanctuary, my spine tingled as the orchestra’s first notes reverberated across the centuries. I felt that same excitement when a costumed chorus filled the ancient cathedral with the booming strains of “Carmina Burana” (Carl Orff). Oh, my goodness!

To hear the magic of “Carmina Burana”, click this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD3VsesSBsw

Monday afternoon a group of students in my English class presented a reenactment of the myth of Pandora. Their chosen accompaniment? ”Carmina Burana.”
Small world.

Sunday trials in Arnavutköy

The weather is cooling off for us here in Istanbul, and I’ve just welcomed my first guest into my spacious Arnavutköy home—Sally Nankivell from Grand Marais. She’d visited the last time I was at Robert College and couldn’t resist the temptation of another trip (lucky me).

Sally arrived on Sunday morning, and I was committed to a parent’s open house at school.

Students chatting outside the building before school.

 

My friend David (who knew Sally from her last visit) offered to meet her at the airport, a godsend. I sent him off with a set of keys, then took Libby on her morning walk, planning to do some editing and writing before I headed up to school for the open house (my writing has taken a back seat lately). Just as I reached our  building, I was hit with a devastating realization: My keys were still in the apartment. ARAUGHHH!!! This had been my greatest fear since moving in, as I had no landlord.

 

Libby and I had enjoyed our FLAT walk along the Bosphorous.

All was not lost, though, since I’d anticipated this very dilemma. I’d had an extra set of keys made to leave with the guards up at the school. I’d explained to them in my shaky Turkish that I might need them if I got locked out. Thankful that for once I’d thought ahead, I forged on. It meant a serious uphill climb and a wasted hour, but at least I’d have time to change for the open house. Heck, I told myself, it was good exercise and a gorgeous morning.

No hope of climbing to my fourth floor balcony (the white one)

I huffed and puffed up the final stairway to the guard station, where I explained my plight as best I could. The two guards on duty hunted high and low for the key I’d left there, but it to no avail. “Anahtar yok.” No key. Didn’t they understand? I reminded them that I  had left my key there, and I had to meet with parents in less than two hours. I was looking mighty scruffy in dirty jeans, a t-shirt, sneakers, and bed hair. Would I dare appear to parents like this? Would they balk at trusting their teens to such an airhead? I found someone to translate for me and learned that the guards had passed the key along to the housing supervisor. Unfortunately, she wasn’t on campus, and she wasn’t answering her phone. Sigh…

I decided to climb up to my office to get a little work done (another 99 stairs), but I couldn’t find my reading glasses. This was NOT my day.

I finally got through to Elvan (the housing supervisor), who found someone to retreive the key from her office. My compatriot Reagan took pity on me and kindly drove me home to change. Though there was no time for a shower, at least I was able to don nicer clothes and sort out my hair.

Open house went fine, thanks to my charming translator Irmak—less than half of the parents spoke English.

When I returned home, David and Sally were already lounging in the living room. It felt great to collapse and chat with them for a while and leave the morning’s trials behind.

My living room, where David and Sally awaited me.

My upstairs neighbor, Füsün, had invited us all up for coffee, so we shook ourselves awake to head up. We’d had no idea what a treat we were in for. Füsün’s apartment is two stories—both with breathtaking views of the Bosphorous. We chatted on her rooftop terrace over Turkish coffee, prepared by her charming mother Şukran (from Izmir). I was tickled to meet my new neighbors and look forward to good times with them.

Oh—my doorbell just rang: Füsün’s mother had come down with a tray of three dishes of walnut-sprinkled vanilla pudding. Sadly, David is back at Koç and Sally is visiting our friend Cemile. Guess I’ll have to eat them all myself…

Bummer.

A neighborhood cat supervising the neighborhood from the safety of a car roof..

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

CH-CH-CH-Changes (apologies to David Bowie)

A few days ago I had an appointment with Edith, our community’s holistic healer—acupuncture, massage, pressure points, etc. She welcomed me with a warm smile, and though I think she may be nearly my age, she looked even younger than I remembered her. As she massaged my weary legs (thanks to the hills of Istanbul), we talked at length about all the recent changes in our precious village of Arnavutköy.

These fishing boats sit along the quais at Arnavutköy.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that the Abracadbra, my favorite seaside restaurant, had closed. The neighboring fish restaurant has taken over the building, and I mourn the loss of that funky restaurant that once adpated classic Turkish foods into gourmet delights. Rumor has it that licensure was a problem, and the bribes were \too expensive. Hmmm…

This corner used to be the deep-red Abracadabra Restaurant, now annexed by Sur Balık.

 

 

Happily, a plethora of Ottoman houses have been refurbished, and others that were beyond repair have been torn down and rebuilt. I watched one being torn down a few years ago, and it’s now a towering Victorian-looking mansion ready for new inhabitants.

One of Arnavutköy’s stunning refurbished Ottoman homes.

This one is across the street from my apartment building…

Who could help but be charmed by this entrance?

Many Ottoman houses await their turn—hope it’s not too late for this one!

Another nice change is a few pet stores, one just three blocks from my apartment. Libby is thrilled. She’s also pleased that the cat population remains unchanged—unless it’s increased a bit. There’s no lack of cats to chase as we walk up and down the cobbled streets of Arnavutköy each morning and evening. A few Toms have the guts to stand up to Libby, who knows when to turn tail and skulk off.

A surprise awaits Libby around every corner.

The newly cobbled streets were completed before my last departure, and I continue to find them immensely charming.

I wrote a few years ago about a gecekondu near my old apartment that had been demolished one night; the remains remain. A second one just below it has also been destroyed. What I wouldn’t give to know the real story behind all that destruction. It infuriates me. Why them, when the city’s entire hillside is rife with gecekondus (hastily built homes)?

There were three small grocery stores on the north side of the village, and the largest of the three is closing down as I write. The other two are franchises, obviously hard to compete with. Edith told me a bank will be moving in. That’s a little scary, because of course we fear that this sweet village is going to become a high-end tourist destination like Bebek, the next community up the Bosphorous. What can one do?

Farewell to this super market that was open just yesterday–these bins filled with produce.

Robert College feels much the same to me, though of course many of the staff have moved on to other schools. Turnover is inevitable in schools that employ foreigners, and its always hard to see good friends go. I’ve returned to the same attic office with three of my former office mates as well as four new ones. With eight of us, it’s a busy office. Oh–and the step-climbing hasn’t changed, either. I climb 99 steps to our attic each morning and add something between 200 and 400 more steps each day—and that’s just going UP! (Hence, the visit to Edith.)

An early morning shot of Robert College–prompted by the Morning Glories.

One change that makes me a bit sad is our night view. They finally finished cleaning the facade of the picturesque Kuleli MIlitary School across the water, and it looks gorgeous during the day. Unfortunately, the night lighting is bizarre–white towers with gold lighting between them. Some changes just don’t work for all of us.

Another thing that’s still the same is an ancient ruin just below my balcony. I look out on ancient brick-and-stone arches from who-knows-what kind of structure. It’s reassuring to know that some of these relics are being preserved in spite of the escalating property values in this picturesque Bosphorous community.

This ruin still stands just below my balcony.

Hooray for Heritage!

Back in Istanbul yet again!

One week down and twenty-three to go. Actually, that’s not the way one really looks at time in Istanbul. It’s more like, “Oh, dear! I only have twenty-three weeks left!” Really.

.

Having been stateside for over a year, returning to Istanbul was like coming back home. Libby and I were met at the airport by Adem, our kindly driver who delivered us to a spacious, bright, and breezy apartment—the best digs I’ve had in my years over here. I’m sub-letting it from a Robert College trustee who lives here in the summer, and she’s been more than kind in sharing her world as well as the name of her precious cleaner.

A neighborhood fixer-upper in Arnavutköy

I arrived in time for the third day of workshop, as I’d stayed behind for my nephew’s wedding in Boulder, Colorado. Since I missed his sister’s wedding a few years before,  I enjoyed catching up with both of them and meeting their incredible partners. Ah, new beginnings!

It’s taken me a week to catch up with the time difference (9 hours from Boulder), and I finally feel human as I enjoy the evening breezes wafting through the apartment. I just downed a delicious tomato sandwich, thanks to Arnavutköy’s Tuesday Street Market. The tomatoes were incredible—like the homegrown beefsteak tomatoes I remember from years ago. Each vegetable stand featured tomatoes sliced open to showcase their solid, red interiors, tomatoes you’d never find in a store (even here). I paid 1,5 TL a kilo, which comes out to about 40¢ a pound. Yup. Amazing, huh? And let me tell you, that tomato sandwich was DELICIOUS!

Some incredible tomatoes at an enviable price (40¢ a pound)

Last weekend Libby and I trekked to Burgazada with my friends Sandra and David and Sandra’s friend-of-a-friend from New York. Burgazada is one of the Princes Islands, located in the Sea of Marmara not far from Istanbul’s shore. It’s about an hour-long ferry ride, and we sat on outside benches to enjoy the warm air and stunning views of the city. Cars aren’t allowed on the Prince’s islands, which makes for an idyllic setting. Horse carriages and wagons provide the only transportation, both taxis and delivery vehicles.

We hiked up to Sandra’s apartment and relaxed on her balcony overlooking the sea as we sipped coffee and indulged in a variety of local pastries. My favorite was a sesame paste roll, much like a cinnamon bun. After that we trekked to the height of the island to visit an ancient “KILISE”—church, as well as a very sweet Greek Orthodox graveyard nearby. The big bonus on our hike, though, was a massive fig tree heavy with sweet, ripe figs, ours for the taking. Oh, my!

A rough sign below the church (kilise) on Burgazada’s hilltop.  

The interior of the Monastery of the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ.

 

These ancient (and recent) graves overlook the Princes Islands and Istanbul in the distance.

We hiked back down the island to the pier, where we sat in a shaded seaside cafe to spend two hours feasting on mezes (hors d’oeuvres), salad, and fresh-caught fish. YUM! Libby got only skin, which she didn’t mind a bit.

Doug, Sandra, me and David revel in our fresh fish lunches.

Of course, I’ve been working, too. School started Monday, and I love all three of my classes. Of course, most RC kids are incredible, which is probably why I keep agreeing to come back. They’re respectful, quiet, and diligent. Unfortunately, many are also sensitive. I’ve seen my share of tears, especially from a few who know very little English. This prep year is daunting for them, but they’ll all be on the same page by December. I often wonder how I’d react to being thrown into a classroom where we only spoke Turkish. ARAUGHHH!!!!

Opening Ceremony at Robert College–in their outdoor arena/maze

It’s been a busy week, settling in, learning about our new ThinkPad computers, planning for my classes, and walking Libby a few times a day. I just stopped to get copies of my apartment keys, and I’m proud to say that I was able to communicate clearly with the anhatarçı (key maker) in Turkish.

Harika! (Super!)

Last days in Istanbul

Eventful, disheartening, and affirming. My last days in Istanbul.

Why? Well, the last weeks of school have certainly been eventful with exams, farewells, parties, and a delightful LP Celebration for the last day of school on Wednesday. The teachers topped off the celebration with a farcical skit incorporating characters from the books they’d read this year (penned by Jake Becker). It was great fun for everyone, particularly us teachers.

Teachers' feetTeacher’s feet line-up (waiting for our cues)

Alison lets Jameson have it

Alison (Scout, To Kill A Mockingbird) lets Jameson (Phil, Nothing But the Truth) have it.

Karla Mayella

Karla (Miss Mayella, To Kill A Mockingbird) points out the chiffarobe for Jason (Kevin, Across the Barricades) to reach a copy of Animal Farm.

Sylvia & Kevin

Jason and Charlotte (Kevin and Sadie, Across the Barricades) run into each others’ arms.

Me and Molly

Me (Aunt Alexandra, To Kill A Mockingbird) and Şebnem (Molly, Animal Farm) look on.

Jake Ambrose

Author Jake (Jonas, The Giver) tries a drink from Ambrose (Dolphus Raymond, To Kill A Mockingbird)

Atticus Reagan

Reagan (Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird) explains the deeper meaning of it all.


Teacher curtain call

Curtain call, starring a good many of the Robert College LP English teachers.

More eventfulness: Mayu and Genya returned from Cappadocia to Istanbul Thursday night, and we shared a flurry of activity during their last three daysRumile Castle, Sultanahmet, a farewell dinner on Musa’s balcony overlooking the Marmara, and a Sunday trip to Ortaköy with a Bosphorus cruise. A great finish to a welcome visit.

Mayu, Genya Rumile

Mayu and Genya climbing the Rumile Castle Ramparts

Rumile steepSighting down the ramparts (note fearless Libby)

Rumile castleThe Rumile Castle, Istanbul

horse cartAn incongruous sight just outside Arnavutköy on our way home.

Mayu over IstanbulMayu over Istanbul

Musa's feastMusa’s wonderful farewell feast (imagine the Marmara view)

Me and UygarMy friend Uygar made it to the dinner while en route to Spain

Monday morning dawned cool and brilliant, and I eagerly set off for Libby’s morning trek before hiking up to school for a day of meetings. We were heading down the hill behind my house when BANG! I crashed to the ground. Wondering how I had fallen, I took stock of myself: sore elbow, skinned knee—but coffee cup intact (it’s stainless steel). As I got up I noticed a sharp pain in my foot. This is the disheartening part. The long and short of it is that I have a double fracture in the bones of my left foot and am now the proud owner of a hard cast, a “walking boot,” and a sparkling new set of crutches. Sigh…

foot and computerHere’s my new reality.

My plans for the week flew out the window. No dinner and dancing at the RC year-end gala, no tango night with my friends Aşkin and Soner, and no attending Duygu’s wedding with my friend David. Another sigh. Disheartened, but NEVER beaten!

Then comes the affirming part. Of course, people at school were more than supportive. I was excused from meetings (obviously), and Tulu arranged a driver to take me to the airport. Once word was out, I was offered their condolences and support at every turn. I got a call from my niece Laura, who was visiting Olympus on the Mediterranean shore. She and Yvette decided to come back to Istanbul to lend me a hand, cutting their Mediterranean tour short. They’ve been incredibly helpful with the two L’s, laudry and Libby (walking). Poor Libby had only been to the bottom of the apartment steps to do her daily you-know-what; the first time they took her for a walk, she pooped three times (much to their glee). They’ve also helped with packing, errands, cooking, and cleaning. True godsends.

new Prime MinisterYvette and Laura (my saviors) are over the moon about their new Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard

But there’s MORE affirming stuff: My friend David came all the way over here from Koç to bid me farewell and join us for dinner (well, he had to pick up some things I’d bought for him in Sultanahmet). That was lovely.

Then last night my friends Aşkin and Soner (who were originally going to meet me for their weekly tango night) drove all the way here from Gebze to say goodbye. “You can’t say goodbye on internet!” Aşkin scolded. It took them three hours to drive here, and they were only able to stay for two. Gosh, I love those guys!

The list goes on, including my trip down to Arnavutköy to close my bank account and run a few errands (with Laura’s help). As we were hunting for a taxi back up the hill, a taxi driver with a passenger in the front seat told us to hop in. He took us home and refused payment. Now would THAT happen in the U.S.?

Yasemin & LibbyLibby’s new friend Yasemin stopped by to take her for a walk.

photo 3

Yasemin walked Libby through a campus woods last week.

Tomorrow Libby and I are off to Germany for a few weeks of travel with friends and family. Jana has arranged for a larger car to pick me up and deliver me to the train station, and my friend Deidre is taking the train to Bremen to help me with the transfer there (me, crutches, suitcase, and dog). I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to bike around Oldenburg with Deidre, but we’ll make the most of things.

nap timeLibby and I resting up for the big trip. Welcome to my world…

Next Thursday Deidre’s friend will help me and Libby take the train back to Hamburg, where I’ll meet my sister Laura and her family at their hotel. Our dear friend Jana is marrying Olaf the next day, which is the impetus behind this trip to Germany. I imagine I won’t dance too much at the wedding (duh!), but it’s happening in a small castle. What fun! After all the festivities, Laura’s family and I are flying to Munich, then heading off into the alps. I can’t wait to travel with Matt and Erin, although I’m going to have to pass on the hiking. Sigh… At least I get to be with the people I love.

That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Clapton and a Cruise

Here I am, reporting in with a few stunning events from my week. Sometimes I wonder whether I have more than my allotment of “golden opportunities” or whether I’m just easily impressed. Who knows?

I spent the weekend exploring Sultanahmet, Ortaköy, and the Kanyon Mall with my friends Mayu, Genya, and David. I snapped a photo of a simit seller in the Büyük Valide Han,

Simit seller

Simitçi at the Büyük Valide Han

and later as we enjoyed afternoon tea at the Taş Han, Mayu and Genya donned historic headgear. Couldn’t resist yet another photo.

Mayu and Genya in costume

Mayu and Genya a la Turka

While Mayu and Genya shopped in the ultra-modern Kanyon Mall, David and I sat over lunch listening to a blues band playing in a nearby courtyard. Nice.

Kanyon mall

The Kanyon Mall—amazing!

Sunday night David and I shared dinner with Mayu and Genya at the Abracadabra Restaurant (third story balcony overlooking the Bosphorus) before attending the Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood concert.

Genya's boat

Genya supports a ship as it navigates the Bosphorus

Genya asked whether we would be standing for the concert, and David assured him, “Of course not. We’re too old for that. We’ll sit.” After dinner, David and I set off on foot for the concert, eager to get good seats in the general admission venue. Traffic was at a standstill, and the crowd thickened as we approached the open air arena beside the water. We were herded down behind the arena, moving slowly in a mass rather than a line. Ferries from the Asian side of the Bosphorus unloaded hundreds more attendees, further condensing the crowd. As we waited, we chatted with our Bağdat Street dentist friend and his wife—both music aficionados.

Eric Clapton concertMobbing the gate at the Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood concert

As we approached the arena it became apparent that there was seating only for the Istanbul elite. We would be groundlings, packed into the open arena like sardines. I wondered whether I’d be able to stand for two whole hours, but I was willing to give it a go.

“Speaking of ‘go,’ where are the bathrooms?” I asked David.

“Somewhere,” he assured me. “Somewhere.”

Sigh…

I decided not to buy a beer.

We ended up in the middle of the crowd on a bit of a ridge, so we could see the stage, though  not well. We were probably 100 “people rows” back, about 50 yards from the stage. I figure there were something like 10,000 to 15,000 people packed in there. Amazing.

Eric Clapton concert-3

Fans a hundred deep ahead of us.

The concert started almost on time (amazing for Turkey). The crowd exploded as Clapton and Winwood stepped on stage, and from there it was sheer magic. The music was energetic and varied—stunning. Two huge screens beside the stage magnified the performers for us, and the camera work was exceptional.

Eric Clapton concert-4

Winwood on keyboard (screen shot)

Eric Clapton concert-6Clapton on guitar (screen shot)

Of course, it was all about the music—the crowd went wild for “Layla” and “Cocaine,” clapping and singing along. Midway through the concert, an amazing fireworks exhibition emerged over the Bosphorus. They had to turn up the sound to play over the staccato of the fireworks, but the effect was entrancing.

whereseric.com

The fireworks (from whereseric.com)

There was NO standing still for any of us, and dancing made “standing room only” just that much better. Our only problems were the chain smoker next to me and David’s neighbor on the other side, who was more than exuberant—screaming, whistling, and jumping around all night long. Oh, my goodness. David dubbed him “Bubba.” It fit.

Eric Clapton concert-7

David and Bubba (in the brown)—active guy!

It was a hot evening, and you can’t imagine how much heat emanates from 15,000 dancing bodies. Thank goodness the Bosphorus breezes cooled at least our heads. It was a memorable night in every way. (And—I never needed to seek out the rest rooms. Whew!)

I don’t know how often these guys do an encore, but this crowd just wouldn’t give up—we INSISTED on yet another number, and we got it: “Dear Mr. Fantasy”

My second event of the week, not quite so spectacular in the “fame” arena, was the Lise Prep Bosphorus Cruise. Though it wasn’t my first boat cruise, it was wonderful to share it with my students and teaching peers. The day was warm, but the breezes kept us cool as we chatted, snapped photos, and admired the amazing homes and palaces along the water.

P6150008.JPGMy LP3 class cavorting on the ferry steps

P6150022.JPGThe LP1 “golden girls”

P6150069.JPG

Beneath the Bosphorus suspension bridge

P6150105.JPGThe afternoon grew long for a few…

P6150114.JPG…while others reveled in the sights…

P6150133.JPG…and others entertained themselves with music.

There’s really not so much to say about it except that it was an awesome way to spend our last afternoon of school. Really.

Robert College knows how to celebrate these wonderful kids.

Istanbul Count-down

I’m down to counting days, now. My niece Laura (and friend) just left for Cappadocia after staying with me for a delightful seventeen days, my AFS daughter Mayu (and friend) will be here for nine days (including four in Cappadocia), and in fourteen days I’ll be boarding a plane for Germany on my way home. Oh, my goodness! Time is flying, and thankfully it’s not particularly HOT time. Busy time, though.

Last weekend I was asked to take photos for a friend’s retirement party; Diane has taught English at Robert College for “forever” (as she puts it), and she was enthusiastically celebrated by her peers at a restaurant reception.

Diane's retirement partyDiane and her retirement accoutrements

She spent a lot of the evening laughing (in spite of the fact that she was the LAST person to be served), and—bless her heart—she wore a goofy heart-antennae headband all night long.

Diane's retirement party-2It was definitely a gleeful night.

I hope she enjoys retirement; actually,  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. Next year Diane and I will both be free to sleep in, relax with a novel, and just lollygag our way through each day. It will be interesting to see how expertly we meet that lofty goal.

Saturday morning I rousted Laura and Yvette early to do a tour of Sultanahmet. Jeff Wilhelm was at Robert giving seminars for English teachers, and he joined us for the day as well. I shared all of my favorite haunts around the Grand Bazaar, including some of Edda’s hidden treasures from our guidebook.

Jeff, Laura & Yvette, Grand BazaarJeff, Laura, and Yvette at the Grand Bazaar

shadow puppetsTurkish shadow puppets

Nizan and brazier

Nizan Bey demonstrates an antique room heater.

We finished our long morning with lunch in the sun-drenched courtyard of the Taş Han, a marble fountain gurgling beside our table. After that we trekked to Musa’s rug studio, where I had to pick up a few rugs for my friend Susan. Musa was busy making sarma (delectably spiced rice rolled in grape leaves) and invited us to sojourn on his terrace overlooking the Marmara as he finished them. A bottle of wine and a platter of cheese cubes contributed to a most enjoyable rest, especially after the six stories of spiral stairs we trudged to get up there. Musa was just too darn tired for the climb.

Husseyn

Huseyin Bey chats with us at Harem 49

Jeff headed back to campus to meet friends for dinner, but the girls and I were not yet spent. We decided to visit my friend Huseyin at his rug shop, Harem 49 (where we each found a treasure), then we wended our way to the Doy-Doy, a favorite Turkish restaurant with a lovely rooftop terrace.

Before the mezes arrived, the rain came. What started as a light drizzle soon forced us indoors. Sigh… It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Not really, but at times this week I’ve wondered. Rain kept us in on Sunday and continued Monday and Tuesday. The Ministry of Education closed down all the Istanbul schools because of rain. WHAT???? Well, all the schools except Robert College, that is. It was finals week here. Finals week at Robert is tantamount to sacred.

Tuesday evening we headed back into Sultanahmet for a belly dancing performance at the Taş Han—one of my favorite “touristy” events. Jeff joined us for it, and I wasn’t a bit surprised when the first dancer chose him for a public lesson in humility.

Arkat belly dancer-2Jeff does his best to imitate this Turkish artisan.

It was pretty darn cute to see an incredibly intelligent man out there shaking his booty with a scantily-clad beauty. After he resumed his seat, she chose a small group of women to learn the skill—and Laura got to entertain us with her antics as well.

Arkat belly dancer-4Laura takes a lesson from the pro.

A good time was had by all. We hung in until the disco music undid us, then hopped a taxi back to Arnavutköy—a mere 5 lira each (that’s about $3). Not much is cheap in Istanbul these days, but the taxis are a pretty good deal (if the driver doesn’t rip you off, which is getting to be more common).

My house is now brimming with new guests—Japanese this time, my lovely AFS daughter Mayu and her friend Genya. Oh, how I love showing off Istanbul.

Genya and Mayu clowning aroundGoofy Genya and giddy Mayu at dinner.

Genya, Mayu, and meDinner at the Takanik. YUM!!!

The Art of Ebru

Do you know what ebru is?

Well, you might recall the swirly multi-colored paper used for endsheets in old leather-bound books…paper marbling? It always reminded me of the oil-colors we used for decorating Easter eggs. Well, anyway, that’s ebru, the Turkish art of paper marbling.

Ebru is an ancient art that most likely originated in China. It was transported to Iran and Anatolia (later Turkey) along the Silk Road, and evidence of this art is seen in manuscripts dating back to the 1500’s. I’ve always been fascinated with this process, and last weekend I got to see it firsthand. Where? At the Robert College Fine Arts Festival. One of their many interesting booths demonstrated ebru paper marbling, and festival participants got to try their hands at it—for free!

with tulips addedSomeone’s creative work awaits their return

It’s a fascinating process. A square pan of water sits at the ready to have oily paints splattered it. Actually, it’s not plain water, but water with gum tragacanth mixed in it. Next, a heavy horsehair brush is dipped in a pigment, more a dye than a paint, and splattered on the surface of the gummed water. It’s important to squeeze most of the paint off the brush, then tap the brush lightly against your hand to splatter color on the water.

tapping in color

An artisan demonstrates tapping dye onto the water’s surface.

Just as you would expect with oil colors, they spread out. You begin with yellow, the lightest color, then go to darker colors, layering the “spots” as you go.

adding blue

A final splattering of blue dye

Once you’ve splattered all the colors on the water, you take a small stick and swirl the colors into a pattern, stretching the dots into interesting shapes, much like marbling two colors of cake batter into a marbled cake. The difference here, though, is the fine blending of the colors as they intermingle.

swirling the colors

Swirling the dots into marbled designs

After developing a neatly swirled design across the surface, it’s possible to vary that in a number of ways. You can draw a stick through the patterns in the opposite direction, or draw a comb-like board with evenly-spaced nails across it to form a more intricate pattern. It’s hard to explain, but a photo says it all.

pins across the colorsPulling a pin-comb across the surface

finishing pins…for a totally different result

After all that, it’s possible to put larger dots of color on top of it all and shape that into a tulip or a multi-petaled flower. It’s all very fascinating. Apparently the overlayering of tulips and larger designs was an Ottoman invention—started by an imam at the Haghia Sophia.

Laura's "wet" artA few tulips add to the magic.

IMG_1430.JPGTulips just “off the water”

Though it seems a complicated art, even young children at the art festival managed some very interesting patterns—certainly more creative than those of we adults!

Elijah swirls his colorsYoung Elijah, budding artist, creates his own unique ebru

My niece Laura had a go at it, as did her friend Yvette. I was too shy (and too busy snapping photos).

Laura tapping colorLaura taps in the last bits of color

Once the artist is satisfied with the water-borne patterns, a sheet of paper is neatly laid over it. I expected the artisan to peel the paper up from the water, but instead he dragged it across one edge of the metal pan, colored side down. Thanks to the gummed water and tensioning agents, the design stayed totally intact—AMAZING!

paper on top

A sheet of paper is set atop the dyes…

sliding off all the color

…and slid off, taking all the dye with it.

...and voila!

Voila! Magnifique! (or—çok güzel!)

After hanging for about ten minutes in the sun, it was dry, ready to go home with whomever had made it.

And that, my friends, is a simple introduction to the amazing art of ebru.

drying ebru