Taking leave of Arnavutköy



It’s time to bid my beloved Arnavutköy farewell yet again. I’ve grown to love this charming community in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities. Oh, if only every city were a conglomeration of such sweet village-like communities.

Arnavutköy’s famous ‘seaside houses’~

Friday night before I snapped off the light I heard a deep, resonant voice calling from the street—”BO-ZA! BO-ZA!” I was just too darned tired to walk down for some, though I love it.
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I slept in after a long night with aching legs. The excessive stair climbing at school had wreaked havoc with my hips, knees, and legs after their week’s hiatus of strolling the flat terrain of Antalya. I ended up lying with my hips on a pillow, my legs extended up the wall to ease the pain. UGH! I scheduled a session with Edith, our Arnavutköy massage therapist / holistic healer. When I had similar pains last fall, she fixed me up in one session of acupuncture and massage. All fingers crossed. Enough whining, though.

More of Arnavutköy’s Ottoman houses below my apartment



I got up and settled in the living room with my morning coffee, Libby curled beside me. “SEE-MEET!! SEE-MEET!!” echoed from the street. I peered down to watch the simitci as he climbed the steep, cobbled street with a huge tray of hoop-like sesame breads balanced on his head.
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“Time to start,” I reminded myself, rising to sort through the desk drawer and sundry piles that have materialized in my apartment (amazing what one can accumulate in five months). I made a schedule of social events, errands, and purchases for my last few weeks, then headed down with Libby to begin the process.

The local hardware store where the owner cut off a small bolt for me, free of charge~


I had friends coming for dinner, so my tasks included buying food for Egyptian Kosheri, recycling paper(from my culled piles), framing a hamam picture, and repairing my ailing hair dryer. (My Scotch tape repair just wasn’t cutting it.) It began drizzling as we headed past the old synagogue ruin and down to the recycling bins on the Bosphorus. We trekked along the pier past the ferry station and up into the village for our first stop: the art and frame shop. The framer speaks no English, but my Turkish was adequate to the task. We chose an ornate gold frame, which will be ready in a week. Cost for a custom-made frame: 10 lira ($6). Amazing.

Fishing boats along the Arnavutköy pier~

A statue to Ataturk in the town square~

…and up the street, Istanbul’s ugliest sculpture.

Second stop: grocery store. Though Libby was not thrilled to be tied outside again, when I emerged from the store she greeted me like she hadn’t seen me in months. Love that enthusiasm.

Third stop: electrician. I’ve used the cluttered Bogazıcı Elektrik a few times, and since the owner likes dogs, I knew Libby would be welcome. He has a big German shepherd who likes to remind Libby of her position in the world of street dogs. This time he was lazing contentedly outside the shop and didn’t even muster a growl.

The Electric Shop’s guard dog–NOT!

 

The young proprieter, clad in a black stocking cap, jacket, and polar plus shirt, sat behind a desk in the back of a tiny shop crammed with sundry electronic devices and accoutrements. He stood as I walked in, and when I showed him my bozuk (broken) hair dryer, he gestured me to a seat. Would it be that quick, I wondered? He plucked a screwdriver from the mountain of wires, tools, drills, cables, and numerous newspapers covering his worktable and dove into the task–on his lap.

My electronics hero–note the workdesk to his left.

As he worked, we chatted about life in Arnavutköy, the Black Sea area he came from, our parents, and Libby, who warmed right up to him.
A few men came into the shop, greeted us both, then showed him a bulb or electrical connector. He’d give them a a code number and explain how to navigate their way through the thousands of boxes of electronic paraphernalia piled on shelves up every wall (and on the floor). They helped themselves, pocketed their purchases, told him what they’d taken, then headed off. I wondered whether they were partners or would sort out the money later, but it was too much work to figure out how to ask. He never wrote anything down, though at least fifteen items walked out the door while I was there.

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It took nearly a half hour to fix my hair dryer, which included soldering wires with an iron he heated against his electric floor heater.
When I asked what I owed, he said it was nothing, then offered me coffee. I promised I’d be back for coffee later and left a ten-lira note on the table ($6). Precious little for a half hour of his time.

Another happy customer in the Boğaziçi Elektrik shop~


Our last stop was the bakery, where the proprietor always slices up a loaf of Kepekli ekmeği (whole grain bread) with a smile. I bought a cheese-filled roll to share with Libby and a few of her street dog buddies on the way home.

Farewell, sweet bakery!


I’ll miss all these sweet Arnavutköy shops, which also include the cobbler who put new arches in my shoes, the butcher who tosses all his bones to the dogs, the tailor who took in my slacks, and the anahtarci who fashioned three sets of keys for my apartment. Actually, Margaret’s apartment, and it’s soon time to hand it back. Sigh…

Farewell to the Tuesday street market!

Farewell to the cobbler!

And Libby, of course, bids a fond farewell to all the Arnavutköy cats…

especially to Fat Cat, who lives just up the street.

Ah, Arnavutköy!

Antalya and the -çi’s

Antalya does not disappoint. This sunny city on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast is picturesque, its denizens are friendly, and the food is delicious. This is my fourth trip here, Libby’s second, and my friend Jerry’s first.

A sculpted hand reaches to heaven beside the Mediterranean and the Taurus Mountains.


After landing on Christmas Eve day, we settled into the Atıcı Pension and headed straight out to explore. A few blocks down the old city’s narrow, cobbled streets we peeked into a charming little bar, where we couldn’t resist stopping for a beer in their sunlit courtyard—sheer heaven after Istanbul’s morning’s snow flurries.

We indulge in a first Antalya brew at the Simpre Temple Pub

From there our explorations included carpet shops (Jerry finally indulged—surprise), shoe shines, and various culinary delights.

You haven’t lived until you’ve enjoyed a bubbling shrimp güveç–shrimp casserole.

Our Christmas Day treat was a boat ride along the Mediterranean shore. Jerry and I reveled at the sights while Libby flirted with a little Turkish boy who plied her with corn chips. They both loved it.

Libby poses with her new young friend and his mother on the boat deck.


After a few nights in the Atıcı, we moved to a more central (and more charming) hotel. The Abad Hotel belongs to Işmail (as in “Call me Ishmael”), the carpet merchant Jerry succumbed to. He gave us a great rate and has treated us like royalty. When he learned Jerry wasn’t feeling well, he had his staff brew a special tea for stomach ailments, adaçay—sage tea. We have a spacious room on the third floor with a view of the Kesik Minaret (Truncated Minaret) ruin up the street.

Jerry and I pose outside the Abad Hotel with the Truncated Minaret behind us.


My favorite find here, though, has been a ceramic artist, Sadrettin Savaş. We passed his shop on Saturday afternoon, then on Monday we visited the Suna İnan Kiraç Museum, which featured his clay caricatures of Ottoman street peddlers. The museum also had a stunning display of typical Ottoman scenes with life-like mannikins in Ottoman dress.

Ottoman women in the harem at the Suna Kiraç Museum:

 


Anyway, I visited Sadrettin’s shop Tuesday morning and was thoroughly taken with this delightful artist—and musician. He plays the kanun, a Turkish instrument similar to an autoharp. Though my Turkish is sadly limited, we were able to communicate enough for me to understand that although Sadri considers himself an amateur artist, he’s been doing clay sculptures and caricatures for 35 years.

Sadrettin relaxes in the showroom off his studio.

He was born in Eskişehir, a city south-east of Istanbul, about a third of the way to Antalya. Sadri’s storefront is his workshop, its main room dominated by a vast, high table where he works on about ten sculptures simultaneously. These ten-or-more sculptures are in various stages of completion, each ready for the next painstakingly molded “next piece” to be added. I watched as Sadri molded a base for cart pedestals for one character, a scarf for a second character, and a cap for a third. Though I don’t know all the Turkish names for his characters, I found them all enchanting.

Sadrettin at work on his sculptures

The ones I know best are the simitçi (the man who sells simits—round bagel-like breads),

the boyaci (who shines shoes),

the bakırcı (coppersmith),

the fotografci (photographer),

and the hamal (porter or carrier).

Oh–there’s also the kuyumcu, the jeweler.

In Turkish, the suffix -cı indicates “one who sells or makes” something. (or -çi, -çu, or -cu, depending on the vowels in the base word–never mind!)

To see a short video of Sadrettin’s sweet sculptures, go to http://www.nelervar.com/G%C3%BCzel%20Sanatlar-ANTALYA!1-8-66-3!

There are lots of -ci’s selling things here in Antalya, and we’ve certainly done our part to support them (though we’ve refused far more). My sidekick Libby has made her mark also— as a “kediçi” who deals in cats (kedi). Chasing them. One young kitten jumped about five feet when Libby surprised her. It would have been sad if it hadn’t been so hilarious.

Twas the week before Christmas…in Istanbul

What does one share in Istanbul when friends have only a few days? Let me tell you, it’s a dilemma. I did my best, but you never know. My friends Jerry, Dan, and Lynette arrived last Thursday and indulged in a long afternoon walk before I arrived home from school, greatly relieved that they’d found their way. A man pulled Jerry aside at the baggage carousel (How did that happen?) and offered him a ride to Arnavutkoy for 450 lira (about $300). Jerry talked him down to $200, then informed him that he knew they could get a taxi for 40 to 50 lira. Shameful! I wondered how many tourists get pulled in on that one.

Thursday evening’s view of the Blue Mosque

My friends wanted to know how to take public transport into Sultanahmet, so we headed off. Once we arrived, they informed me that they were totally exhausted. Oops–what was I thinking? I took them to a carpet shop for tea and a rug show (oh, so tempting!),

I’ll never tire of looking at carpets.

then off to the Doy-Doy for a their first Turkish meal. They weren’t disappointed. It was still early enough to catch a ferry straight home, which saved us some hours on crowded public transport.
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My guests were on their own Friday, but on Saturday my friend David joined us for  the full monty of shopping in Sultanahmet: Leather jackets under the Laleli Mosque (where the leather dealer gifted me with a fur collar-wrap), then up to see the mosque and over to the Taş Han for a lunch of mezes and mercimek (hors d’oeuvres and lentil soup).

A man prayed in the Laleli Mosque

The Laleli Mosque viewed through the chimneys of the Taş Han

Then we were off to “scarf street” via a men’s hat store, a purse store, a towel-seller, and finally: TA-DA! SCARVES!!! We stopped for a rejuvinating beverage on our way back to Huseyin’s carpet shop (Harem 49) where we finalized a few purchases.

A rejuvenating cup of Turkish coffee

…and a unique wedding ensemble near the Grand Bazaar

Totally exhausted, we headed home on the overcrowded tram. We hurried across the road to catch our bus, and the driver started driving off before we were all on. ARAUGHHH!!! Relieved to be safely back in Arnavutköy, we toasted to friendship with a fabulous Bulgarian wine (thanks, David).
We slept in late Sunday morning, then walked down to the Fincan Cafe for a classic (noon) Turkish breakfast of cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, egg, bread, clotted cream, and honey. YUM!!!

That evening Jerry and Dan concocted a delectable eggplant, onion, garlic, tomato, and rice stuffing for dried eggplant shells that had captured their imaginations earlier in the day. Lynette and I were appropriately impressed; I do admire good cooking—and even more, people who enjoy doing it. I’m mostly partial to the eating part.

Ever had your fortune told by a rabbit? This one chooses a “fortune” from the rows of papers in this man’s hand–very scientific. Mine said “You will be lopressed by some sad news.” (among other things).

My guests explored the city for the next three days while I slaved at school (it’s actually not that hard), and on Wednesday Dan and Lynette left for Cyprus. The first evening they were gone, Jerry and Libby walked up the hill after school to me along the narrow stone-walled roadway. It was more than sweet.
That night Jerry and I trekked back up for the school Christmas party—mulled wine, Santa Claus, and a sumptuous meal (except for turkey so dry it totally dehydrated me—don’t tell the chef). Everything else, though, was lovely, including the company. We joined in Margaret’s Christmas song-fest in Marble Hall to top off the festivities.

This Bebek santa is a bit thin, but wishes you a Happy New Year. (Mutlu Yillar)

Today was our last day of school before an incredibly rare Christmas break (in Turkey it’s usually just a day off). Everyone was jazzed. My core English class had a gala Christmas party this morning, including delicacies baked by a few students. Why did I bother to eat breakfast? Gosh, I love those kids. All of them.

The entire class posed with their ancient English teacher

 

Woods 202 sported a sweet tree straight out of Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

It’s raining cats and dogs tonight, but tomorrow we leave for a sunny week on the Mediterranean—Antalya. We can’t wait. Neither can Libby.
I send a hearty Merry Christmas to all from the Blustery Bosphorus.

A busy week in Istanbul

Oh, what to write about? It’s winter, yet temps are in the 50’s as sunshine glints off the Bosphorus. All is well in my little Istanbul world—and busy.

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One night last week I heard the boza man calling out in the street again, “BO-ZA! BO-ZA! BO-ZA!” I grabbed my camera, a cup, and my coin purse (the three C’s) and raced down to the street. He came over to pour me a cup from his shiny metal canister and agreed to have his photo taken. I should’ve asked him how much it would cost BEFORE he poured my cup, because when I asked him, he said, “On lira.” (Ten lira, about $6).

The Boza man outside my door

“Çok pahalı!” I exclaimed (too expensive!) as I forked over a ten. I knew better. Oh, well. The boza was delicious, and I figured I was paying him for climbing up my steep hill.

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On Saturday I went into the city to pick up some gifts and towels. I’m a little short on towels for my soon-to-arrive guests, and anyway I wanted to buy a few havlu or peştemel, thin but absorbent cotton towels, a little like soft linen towels. I found a bamboo towel as well—softer than soft. I love it.

The Galata Tower

A fashion photographer and model near the tower

After shopping I found my way to Molly’s Cafe, just around the corner from the famous Galata Tower. Some Robert College teachers were doing a poetry reading, and though we were a small crowd, we were enthusiastic. There were even a few students.

The RC gang wait for the first reader at Molly’s Cafe

Michael sang his selections

Yes, there was also good humor (that would be Jake)

Afterwards my friend Güler and I found a nearby restaurant to share a cozy dinner in the shadow of the tower. We’d hiked all the way down to the tram before I realized I’d left my purchases up in the restaurant. Sigh… How like me! My forgetfulness is getting to be seriously habitual. Back up to the Galata tower… Before heading back down I treated myself to a cup of salep.

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The next morning I woke early to walk Libby and hike up to school for a trip to Dolmabahçe Palace with the residential students. Another teacher and I shivered with our 22 kids as we watched the changing of the guard, then snapped group photos by the famous Swan Fountain.

The changing of the guard at Dolmabahçe Palace

The grooming of the guard at Dolmabahçe Palace

22 RC Resident Students pose by the Swan Fountain

Then they proudly model their new palace footwear

Everyone got a charge out of the pink cellophane slippers we had to wear for our whirlwind (30-minute) tour of palace highlights (all in Turkish): the harem entrance, the bed where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died (with a shiny new star and crescent satin bedspread), and the palace’s stunning ceremonial hall. It had the biggest chandelier I’ve ever seen, reputedly the heaviest one in the world. I was hoping they’d light it for us, but no luck. I’ve been told that this palace, the sultan’s effort to compete with Versailles, broke the bank for the Ottoman Empire. It’s incredibly ornate, with the added bonus of a location on the Bosphorus.

 

Yup, I was there, too!

After the tour I walked up to Beşiktaş to meet a friend for lunch, then hurried home to make my Sunday Skype calls, correct papers, and make a double batch of peanut butter balls for a Christmas cookie exchange.
As I was working, my doorbell rang, and a man from downstairs delivered a warm casserole of asure (pronounced “assure-A”). It’s a traditional Turkish gelatinous pudding chock full of raisins, hazelnuts, walnuts, dried fruits, and pomegranate seeds. Delicious. Apparently this is the season Turks make asure for their neighbors. Lucky me, huh? I’m saving some for my guests Jerry, Dan and Lynette, who arrive tomorrow. Can’t wait.

The delectable and famous Turkish asure. YUM!

Slovenia and then…

No one told me that Slovenia was one of the most picturesque countries in Europe. I’d heard that Ljubljana was lovely, so I was quick to sign on to chaperone a debate trip there. Debate coach Janet Schaefer shared the supervision of six tenth-grade debaters (all girls).

Janet at the Ataturk Airport, with a UNICEF star–an Istanbul  fund-raiser

The debate was in Ljutomer (the ‘j’ is pronounced like a ‘y’), a small city in the NE corner of this tiny country, about 200 kilometers from Ljubljana. In case you don’t know, Slovenia is bordered by Italy on the west, Austria (and the Alps) on the north, Hungary on the northeast, and Croatia and the Adriatic Sea on the south. Views were stunning as we meandered through mountain villages, each with its Bavarian-looking onion-domed cathedral.

The Ljutomer Cathedral, both exterior and interior views:

 


We stayed on the Frank-Ozmek farm, where were welcomed by hosts Vili and his mother Vida, both charming.


The foggy Frank-Ozmec Farm (and horse)

One of their welcoming recycled wine barrels

The fabulous cook, Vida–unassuming and gracious:


Vida didn’t speak English, but she made up for it by preparing sumptuous meals. We devoured homemade breads and soups (Oh, her savory potato mushroom soup!), salads gleaming with their own pressed pumpkin oil, homemade sauerkraut, stuffed pork loins, schnitzel, potatoes to die for—I could go on and on.

Typical Slovenian fare, photo from a roadside stop–lots of potatoes and meat

A little high on fat and sparse on vegetables, but what the heck. When in Rome… (and diet when you get home) We even tried duck eggs, and there was a generous supply of homemade wines—though not for the girls. Vida said they’d bottled 12,000 liters of wine last season.

A warm welcome from the Ljutomer High School:


The girls won about half their debates, and they were quite a hit at cultural night when they taught everyone to dance the halay, a popular Turkish folk dance. It was Damla’s sixteenth birthday that night, so we treated everyone to a splendiferous chocolate cake with orange marmalade filling.

Our girls demonstrating the halay–soon to be joined by a long line of participants

(Ege, Lara, Damla, Ece, Cansu, and Pelin)


Sunday morning we arranged a private morning tour of Ljubljana. The sun, hidden behind a dense fog for three days, finally broke through for us. We rode the funicular up to tour the Ljubljana Castle,

A view of the castle and city from the Tower ramparts:

Pelin, Cansu, Damla, and Lara atop the tower:

And their descent back down the spiral stairs–

 then our driver/guide Marco brought us into the old city, where we wandered through a Christmas market that meandered along the river through the Medeival Old City.

Me posing on one of the city’s ancient bridges over the Ljubljana River:

We finished our tour by touching the tail of the dragon that guards the bridge, a reminder that Jason and the Argonauts slayed a dragon there in ages past. Well, he might have…

Dragon bids us a final farewell.



Our flight was late coming home, and we were exhausted. Maybe that’s why it happened. I grabbed a taxi from campus to pick up Libby and drive us home, but when I got to my front door—no key! No backpack!!! ARAUGHH!!!!!! I screamed for the taxi to wait, but no pack. I must have left it in the service bus from the airport.

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Libby had a sore paw, so I carried her the half-mile to campus to retrieve my hidden key, falling flat on my face when I tripped on the speed bump. I was WIPED—but luckily, not badly hurt. I got into the apartment and took stock. The pack had my computer, my camera, my cell phone (as well as the school’s), gifts for people who had subbed for me, student projects, and about 800 Euros. I was pooched. I tried to convince myself that it was only “things”, but the reality was that if it wasn’t found, I’d be out about $4000. What a dope.
When I couldn’t sleep, I made myself a hot cup of salep, only to spill it all over the quilt and the bedroom floor. Cleaning up the mess woke me up even more, but I treated myself to yet another cup–more carefully.

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The next morning (after oversleeping nearly two hours) I went to the Gursel service bus office at school, where Murat kindly searched out the phone number of our driver, called him, and learned that he had checked the bus and found nothing.

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TOTAL PANIC! I turned next to the headmaster’s secretary, who contacted the guards, the local taxis, and began her own investigation, while I climbed up to my office and tried to settle down and do some schoolwork. Right. By then I was a basket case, shaking from the inside out.

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At 10:00 I got a call from Murat. They had located my pack. RELIEF! “I’m sorry, but I can’t pick it up until tomorrow. You will have it at the end of the day. Is that O.K.?”

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“No problem!” I exclaimed. “I’m just thrilled you found it. How can I thank you?”

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“This is my job,” he said. “I’m happy to help you.”

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The next afternoon I went down to Murat’s office, and there it was, waiting patiently for me. He had me check to see that everything was there, and it was, down to the last euro. Amazing.

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“Is there someone I can reward for this?” I asked.

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“Of course not,” he replied. “What we always say is that Gürsel is your home. We are happy to help you.”
What can I say?

Hot Drinks, etc.

Last Saturday night I was just settling into bed with my latest read, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, when I heard a voice calling from the street. The voice was unclear, so I went to the back bedroom and opened the window. “Boza! Boza!” a man called from the street below. He carried a metal canister much like a small milk can, as well as numerous metal jugs and mugs. It was the boza man, someone I’d heard of but never seen. I’d assumed he was a long-gone relic of Turkey’s past, but not so. There he was in the flesh. I was tempted to get dressed and go down to buy a mug, but I was too shy—and a bit weary. The boza man walked all the way up the hill (no easy task), then later I heard him again as he called his way back down the street. How sweet.

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I like boza, a fermented wheat or millet drink with a low alcohol content (about 1%). It looks like a thick egg nog, yet it has a tang to it. On one of Edda’s tours she took us to the historical and famous Vefa Bozacisi (1876) near the Sülymaniye Mosque. It looked  much like a pub, but they only sold one drink there—boza. Actually, they also sold bottled vinegar, but boza was their specialty.

The bozaci (boza man) at Vefa Bozacisi in Istanbul

They proudly displayed Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s boza mug in a special case on the wall. I understand boza is a particularly popular bedtime drink—hence, the boza man coming through at 9:30 Saturday night.

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I’ve been indulging in another drink many evenings, salep (no alcohol). I’ve written about it before—another Turkish specialty. It’s a sweetened hot milk drink with a unique flavor from an orchid root powder. Sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon, it’s sheer ambrosia.

My evening salep in a delicate Turkish cup, a gift from my friend Huseyn

Salep is sold on the street from onion-shaped brass samovars, and I love it. I make it at home with a powder, but it tastes even better on the street. It’s a winter delicacy here–a consolation for winter’s colder temps.

Salep straight from the samovar on the street.

Let’s see…fermented millet or orchid root? Quite different from the hot toddies and spiced cider we enjoy in the States, but lovely nonetheless.

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Libby and I had a quiet weekend by ourselves—bordering on lonely, I’m afraid. My social plans fell through, so we hung out evenings together, and we walked to Ortaköy Saturday morning, where I found another picture for my ‘hamam bathroom’ back home.

My latest artistic acquisition–a hamam (Turkish bath) painting from ages past

We meandered through the maze of streets filled with jewelry and knick-knack stands, stopping for a tost (sort of a panini-type grilled cheese sandwich) and tea before walking back home. I snapped a few photos along our way, and I hope you enjoy them.

The waterfront at Ortaköy

 

A fisherman checking his gear

Mussels on sale in an Ortaköy kiosk

A donkey (statue) mounted on sailboat in Kurkçeşme (on our walk home)

Someone broke the lock into the synagogue ruins, so I snapped a few photos…

 

I’m off to Slovenia with the debate team this week–looking forward to a new perspective on reality from one of the Soviet Bloc countries. I hear it’s absolutely lovely and that its capital, Ljubliana, is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. We’ll be staying in a farm/vineyard in the country, which should also be an adventure. Oh, the joys of overseas teaching!
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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

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

Cappadocia, Ataturk, and Iskender

Oh, my—it’s been an interesting few weeks! My friends Norma and Arvid just left for Minneapolis after a full schedule in Istanbul. During the Kurban Bayramı we trekked to Cappadocia, one of my favorite spots in Turkey. It has amazing geological formations (fairy chimneys), warm people, and my favorite hotel, The Kelebek.

Ah, beautiful Cappadocia!

The lovely Kelebek Hotel in Göreme

The first day we explored Göreme and its fascinating Open Air Museum of ancient churches carved into the rock.

Me with the Open Air Museum behind me–no photos allowed inside the churches.

Part of a carved stone church with the walls broken away.

My friend Arvid atop a camel–Ride ’em Cowboy!

The next day we took a fascinating tour of more hidden churches, an archeological dig, and the underground city (with a delicious Turkish repast at noon). Sadly, neither Norma nor I was successful at managing the claustrophobic underground tunnels, but Arvid braved his emotional storm and made it eight stories down. Kudos to Arvid!

A carved stone church along our hike, this one with a dome–hence, it’s called the Domed Church.

An interior wall of one of the churches we visited.

The underground city–photo by Arvid, the only successful descender (of the three of us).

A woman we spotted along our hike, kneading or mixing something outside her home.

I have a little update on the Kurban Bayram. Although people are expected to use experienced butchers for the sacrifice, many attempt to slaughter animals on their own. My office compatriots informed me Thursday morning that several people had died during the sacrifice. One man was sacrificing a cow on a platform, and the platform collapsed , crushing him under the animal. Two more men suffered heart attacks while trying to control animals they were intending to sacrifice. Apparently 1000 people across the country were injured in the first two days of the bayram while trying to slaughter animals. Over 500 in Istanbul sought medical attention after either cutting themselves or being injured by their unruly victims. Apparently this is the darker side of the celebration.
Thursday (November 10) was Ataturk Day, the anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s death in 1938. It’s a big deal here in Istanbul, as he is the greatly revered founder of their country. At 9:05 everything stopped for a moment of silence in his memory. I was in class at the time, and as soon as we heard the sirens, we stopped what we were doing and everyone stood at silent attention until the sirens ended a few minutes later. Apparently it’s even more impressive in the streets. All traffic stops and people step out of their cars to stand at silent attention. I discovered a short video of that moment on an Istanbul street–check it out:

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

I have to admit, watching it brought tears to my eyes, probably because of how strongly it evidences this country’s reverence for the father of their country, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. I wonder if we Americans could ever come up with that kind of collective devotion to our country or its heroes. Doubtful. Maybe to the almighty dollar, though.
The only other thing I’m going to share today is the incredible dinner Arvid, Norma, and I shared on Friday evening. It was a cold, rainy day, but we still met at Eminönü to ferry across to Kadiköy for the original Iskender, a favorite dish in Turkey. It’s delightfully decadent.

Arvid and I eagerly anticipate a delicious platter of Iskender.

Start with crusty pide bread cut into bite-sized pieces and spread on a platter. Cover that with a generous few layers of thinly-sliced döner, spiced layers of lamb roasted on a vertical spit. It’s like the Greek version used in gyro sandwiches, but the Turks insist it’s far better (like comparing steak to hamburger, according to Arvid’s Turkish friend Harun). That layer is slathered with a spicy tomato sauce and surrounded with sliced tomatoes, grilled peppers, and a hearty dollop of yogurt. It’s brought to the table on a hot platter, then  a waiter drizzles the entire plate with butter from a sizzling frying pan. Oh, my goodness! It’s the pinnacle of delicious.

Norma cheerfully dives in. (She couldn’t finish it all, but I had no problem.)

See the butter swimming under the bread and meat? Oh, yum!

Though Norma and Arvid had experienced a wide variety of delectable Turkish cuisine, this was by far their favorite. By the way, Iskender is named after Alexander the Great, who conquered Turkey for the Macedonian Empire around 300 BC. What a tribute, huh?
Thus ends yet another chapter of sharing Turkey—with my friends and with you. I have a quiet week ahead, but I’ll think of something to write about. I promise. I’m having my fourteen resident students for dinner this week. That will be an adventure in itself.

Kurban Bayramı 101

In a few days Turkey will celebrate Kurban Bayramı—a holiday I’d always found horrifying—riddled with roadside animal carcasses. I really didn’t get it. İrem Eren, my office mate, opened my eyes to the generous traditions of this holiday, and later I discussed  it with senior Özdemir Vayisoğlu, our Bosphorus Chronicle Editor. I think I’m starting to get it. It’s all about sacrifice and generosity.

My lovely colleague, İrem

 

İrem and Özdemir come from smaller cities and fascinated me with tales of what their families do. When I talked with my other students I learned that about a third of their families follow the traditions of bayram. İrem generously invited me to spend Kurban Bayramı with her family, which I would have loved if I hadn’t already made plans to travel to Cappadocia with my friends from the States.
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A little research revealed that Kurban Bayramı is the most important Islamic religious festival of the year. Celebrating Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, the head of each Turkish household sacrifices a sheep on the morning of the first day of the holiday. Though common all over Turkey, it’s less typical in the cities than in rural areas.

Migros, a Turkish grocery chain, offers a 100 lira discount on livestock shipments for bayram.

Özdemir explained that early on the first morning of the four-day bayram everyone goes to the mosque for a short prayer called bayramnamazı. After the prayer they gather to chat in the courtyard before heading home to prepare for the kurban—the sacrifice of an animal.
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Wealthier families hire someone to do the kurban. He recites something from the Koran, then (a-hem) slits the sheep’s throat. I noticed that neither Özdemir nor İrem chose to speak in those terms. They seemed sensitive about the slaughter, but it is what it is. İrem’s family has a butcher perform the kurban, which might be done on a sheep, a goat, or a cow (which might be purchased together by a few families).

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Özdemir explained that the hired man would cut up the meat into large pieces and and put into huge flat trays, which men carried into the house. There the women would divide the meat into smaller pieces and package it. In İrem’s family, her job is to make the labels for each package based on a long list they have compiled of people who they want to help.

Özdemir , Chief Editor of our school newspaper

Each sheep is divided into fifteen to twenty packets, a good deal of meat. Once the meat is packaged, it is immediately piled into the trunk of a car and delivered to the homes of the needy. Of course, some meat is kept behind for serving guests.

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Guests and visits. The rest of the holiday is spent visiting family, friends, and business associates. The women of the household have been baking and cooking for weeks to prepare for all the visitors. “We make a list of everyone we want to visit,” İrem explained. “It includes all the relatives and also friends and business associates. We usually have a list of about 100 people to visit in the three or four days of Kurban Bayramı. You just have about fifteen minutes to eat a little and have some tea. We usually have sweets at people’s houses, and you get so SICK of eating all the sweets. But you know Turkish hospitality. There’s no way you can say no, so you just eat some more,” Irem said with a smile.
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She went on to explain that when the people they are visiting aren’t home,  they leave a note to let them know you stopped by. She said her father cleverly hurries to the home of anyone he sees out visiting because then he can get by with just leaving  a note. With 100 people to visit, I can certainly understand.
Özdemir’s grandfather was a community and political leader, so his family often slaughtered two or three sheep. Until his grandfather died at 101, they stayed at home and let other people visit them. “I’m not exaggerating when I tell you 100 people visited my grandfather every day. We had to have a lot of food ready for everyone. I sometimes went out to visit my relatives, but there was always someone home with my grandparents.”
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I had to chuckle when my friend sent me a flyer from Migros, a Turkish grocery chain, advertising prices for sheep and cows, which varied according to the amount of meat and whether it was delivered or picked up at a store. The sheep looked so sweet that I couldn’t help but name them. “You can choose Irma or Edna or Eunice, or perhaps you’d prefer Bossy the cow.”

Yes, it’s a different world than most of us live in, but how often are we westerners so generous to strangers? Food for thought—pardon the pun.