Camel Wrestling—NOT!

I’ve been curious about it for years. Friends have trekked to Selcuk for the famed January Camel Wrestling Championships, but both times I’ve been home in Minnesota. Well, not this year. My friend David and I started talking about camel wrestling a few months ago, and we made it happen.


Camels and Ataturk—how TURKISH!

Everyone met Friday night at the Sabiha Gokçen Airport (named after a female Turkish pilot) for the trek to Selçuk, near the Aegean Sea. From there we rented a 9-passenger van (and squeezed in 10 teachers from Koç and Robert) for the hour-plus ride to Selçuk (Sell-CHOOK) and Şirince (Shear-IN-jay). We dropped off a few riders in Selçuk, then headed up the winding mountain road in the dark. It was after 8:00 when we got to Şirince, and we were famished. We trekked up the stone-paved street to the Artemis, a quaint restaurant in a renovated stone school building. There we feasted on a variety of mezes, Şirince’s famous fruit wines (black mulberry and cherry), and a variety of sumptious entrees. I had köfte (meatballs) with tomato sauce and yogurt over pide bread. YUM!!! P1170221

The mountain village of Şirince

Then in for a real treat—the Nişanyan House. David drove us up yet another winding road to a precariously slanted parking lot. We picked our way down stone steps to the office—charming! A sleepy-eyed young man guided us down a steep path, many more steps, more winding, and finally to the Kerevetli Ev (Wooden Platform Bed House). We explored our historical residence room-by-room. First, the kitchen with its antique cupboards and bright ceramic trim, then the living room with its inset paned-glass windows and rounded fireplace flanked by two easy chairs. The marble-topped table was set with guidebooks, candles, and a chocolate snack.


Our quaint kitchen

P1160010…and lovely dining area.

Up a hand-hewn circular staircase we discovered a mammoth bathroom with a timber-beamed ceiling and a skylight over a huge open marble shower. A pedestal candle sat beside the toilet. The upstairs also had a bedroom with two duvet-covered beds. Best of all, though, was the harem, where the women would have lived and slept back in Ottoman times (1250-1930). The biggest room in the house, it was surrounded with windows and a cushioned bench. A low table sat in the center of a huge Turkish rug, but the crowning glory of this room was the bed. It was a built-in curtained platform that could easily sleep five women on its ample mattress. Really.

KeThe Harem with its platform bed  (photo from Nişanyan web site)

Saturday morning I was the first up, so I rooted around in the kitchen, happily discovering a French press pot and some dark-roast coffee. Yes! Breakfast waited patiently in a picnic basket on a shelf in the refrigerator. David scuffled down, and we chatted over morning coffee until the others roused. It was raining, but we were happy. Breakfast consisted of the usual tomatoes, cheese, olives, preserves, fruit, and eggs. When Anna cracked her hard-boiled egg on the table, she realized too late that it was raw. OOPS!!! We quickly rounded up the remaining eggs to scramble. The next morning Walter concocted a delicious omelet of grated potatoes, peppers, cheese, and eggs. Oh, we ate well last weekend.

P1160021a view of Şirince from just below our house

After cleaning up, we headed for town to explore the little market area of Şirince, then hopped on the mini-bus to Selçuk where the camels would be making their appearance prior to the Sunday wrestling “match”. We meandered through the market, where we heard the distant beat of drums and horns. We followed the sound to find…drummers and pipers. No camels. Plenty of rain.

P1160155The Camel Pipers

We explored the city center, where vendors were grilling camel meat (actually very delicious—quite lean) and selling camel festival neck scarves. Well, of course we bought some.

P1160065Ropes of camel sausage

We found a restaurant and ordered lunch as well as a round of adult beverages. We decided to take advantage of the dry warmth of the restaurant and made it our big meal of the day. Before we knew it, other teachers joined our party, doubling our numbers. Hooray! Sated, we found our way back out to the street, only to discover that it had stopped raining and the camels were in the meydan (town square). HOORAY!!! We hot-footed it up there and snapped photo after photo as the drummersand pipers riled the camels with their racket.


We think this guy must have been a champion–he just has that look.

Soon they were frothing at the mouth like you wouldn’t believe. They looked like someone had slathered their noses with shaving cream, and sometimes they’d shake their heads and spew it all over the onlookers.  The camels were saddled and decorated in layers of brightly-colored felt, scarves, wool, mirrors, embroidery—you name it! P1160139Not only froth, but tiny bubbles…


The boys milling down by the local aquaduct.


My friend Karla  found herself a new beau!

It was clear that they were ready for action, although their drovers kept them well under control, often walking them in circles to settle them down. They often rolled their heads back and forth to the beat, just a little like dancing. One of the drovers had his camel splay his back legs to show off how stable he’d be in a match. We were impressed.


The drover of the champion camel


And here’s a fighter’s stance!

Poor guy, though. He never got to wrestle. Sunday we woke to rain. Heavy rain. We’d been told that camels aren’t partial to rain, and if it’s raining they just mope and won’t wrestle. Yup. The whole thing was cancelled due to rain. Sigh… Saturday night we went back home and ate mezes and played word games by a crackling fire until the wine was gone and we could keep our eyes open no longer. After Sunday’s breakfast when we learned the wrestling had been cancelled, David and I took a drizzly walk through the village to visit Şirince’s two historical churches. The rain let up for a while, and we snapped photos and enjoyed the many-faceted views of this little mountain village.


The Sunday morning clouds lifting off the mountains over Şirince


A good neighbor sweeping her front step even in the rain.

Then we went back to the house, where Walter had a crackling fire going. The others curled up with books by the fireplace, while I headed up for the cool airiness of the harem. Propped on numerous pillows in the corner by the windows, I read as the morning clouds dissipated and the sun hesitantly emerged over this quaint mountain village.

P1170275Courtney, Walter, and Anna reading by the fire


The sun finally beams down on Şirince

We may have missed the camel wrestling, but we had a heck of a nice weekend. Şirince ROCKS!

If you’d like to see a beautifully done  multi-media piece on the 2009 Camel Wrestling in Selçuk, click this link: Camel Wrestling – Selcuk, Turkey

An erudite reading in Istanbul

I attended an erudite high-brow event at an esteemed local venue on Saturday.

Well, sort of.

My friend Duff gave a poetry reading at Molly’s Café.

Daniel (Duff) Plunkett is in my Turkish class (a cozy group of six) and my writing group (in which I’m the token non-poet). Duff has also made appearances as Santa for the children at the Robert College Christmas party and as an enthusiastic regaler at our Mehane night in November.

This man loves the sound of words, he loves the sense of words, he loves the depth of words. He can’t resist a play on words. Duff the punster. Duff the funster. Always. Even his poetry promotion poster poked fun as it pontificated… (sorry)

Even his poster is more humor than information

This poster packs more humor than information

Duff started writing poetry as a boy and was first published in a high school literary magazine. Apparently that felt pretty good, because he continued writing through his years at the University of Maine. He didn’t major in creative writing—or even English (he has some kind of an international agriculture-related job), but words continued to swirl through his mind. “I always thought poetry should be fun,” he said. “I sat through far too many boring poetry readings and I swore I’d never do that.”

Molly (on the right) scrambling to keep things goingMolly (red hair) and her assistant running  refreshments to the eager crowd.

As a crowd gathered at Molly’s little antique-furnished coffee shop, she dragged chairs out of nowhere to seat the multitudes. Well, that may be a bit hyperbolic, but there were lots of folks from many circles in Duff’s life—school (his wife teaches at Robert), friends-of-friends, writing group members, basketball buddies, and even our Turkish teacher, Özlem. We all love the Duff.

Nearaly half of the rapt admirers

Half of the enthused crowd enjoying Duff’s esoteric wanderings

Well, let me tell you, we weren’t bored. Duff’s poetry is at times gleeful, at times heady, but always interesting.

Here’s a typical example of his poetry, taken from his recent book, Right Brain, Left Brain:

Poetry or poultry

Magnifique! Ah, Magnifique! (Would that be poultry or poetry?)

Sorry—I’m an English teacher, so I have to comment. It’s clear from the range of settings in Duff’s poems that his mind works in rhymes and couplets. He dwells in a maelstrom of puns and metaphors and alliteration.Nice piece

An enthusiastic moment


He wrote a new fight song for the University of Maine, too, enlisting some of us audience members to play the parts of the Moose brigade: “It’s a moose, moose, moose on the loose, loose, loose!” Pretty fun.

The Maine Mooses

“Moose on the loose” Yup, that’s me in the back row. A Minnesota Moose.

Duff involved his audience in a number of his readings, though there were a few Deep Male Voices cast to read in Deep Godlike Tones who didn’t follow directions. Typical teachers. They read the whiney little girl lines. Duh. It just added to the fun, actually.

The flunkees who read the girl's parts rather than GOD's partThe Deep-Voice Dudes.

Another group participation itemMore focused participants

There’s a deeper, more serious side to Duff’s poetry as well. He writes social commentary, love poems, international, historical, and intercultural pieces. How could he not, when his work takes him all over the globe?

Duff as a mobster—heater in hand

Well, maybe not ALL that serious…

This piece was written during a sojourn in Chile, the home of Pablo Neruda, South America’s most famous poet (subject of the film Il Postino).Neruda

Even with a fairly serious poem, Duff can’t resist the piece de resistance—the tongue-in-cheek finish. It works.

Marita, Duff's admiring spouse

Even his wife Marita continues to find Duff hilarious—because he is.

If you’re interested in getting a copy of Duff’s book, Right Brain, Left Brain (or is it Left Brain, Right Brain?—you see, it opens from both sides, one for each side of the brain), contact his publisher, Acorn Productions, at

Balmy Termal: New Year’s Weekend

New Year’s weekend. Back to Termal.

Though we had envisioned ourselves with snowflakes drifting onto our faces as we soaked in a thermally-heated pool, in reality we basked on chaise lounges in bathing suits, soaking up the warming rays of a January sun. Go figure. Who would have thought to pack shorts and a T-shirt? Oh, well.

Jenny at Hamam pool

Jenny relaxing by the Termal pool on New Year’s Day

Luckily, we were an adaptable group: four Robert College teachers (Sandra, Jamilah, Jennifer, and me) and a delightful retired couple, Jolee and Mark (friends of Sandra—now friends of us all). We arrived at the Yenikapi Ferry early, so we sat outside sipping tea, then sahlep…

Ah, sahlep! It’s a drink made from the roots of an orchid plant called sahlep (fitting), and I love it.

Sahlep into the cup

Ah, sahlep!

The tubers are boiled in milk, then dried and pulverized for future use. Mixed with milk and sugar, it’s a hot drink served all over Turkey in the winter months. Imagine a thick eggnog-like drink sprinkled with cinnamon, and you’re nearly there, except for its unique flavor. You’ll only find that in Turkey. It’s always served from a Dairy Queen-shaped bronze samovar; that’s how you know it’s sahlep.

Sahlep dude

The Sahlep Samovar

I’ve found powdered sahlep, which is OK, but not quite the delicious drink you get on the street. I  was thrilled to spot a sahlep stand near the Ferry’s tea garden. (Outdoor restaurants are getting big here in the winter months because Turkey now has anti-smoking laws. HOORAY!!!)

After a rocky ferry ride across the Marmara, we scored a service van that delivered us to our Termal mountain hotel, the  Çamlık. Once we checked in, we immediately headed for the hamam. (Well, actually after complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.) The hamam wasn’t too busy, being New Year’s Eve and all, so we indulged in the hot tub, the sauna, and a plunge into an icy  marble tub. Oh, my.

hamam bunch

Inside the hamam: Jolee, Mark, Jamilah, Jenny, and Sandra

Then came my favorite part of the weekend, our own little private cocktail hour on the balcony of one of our three rooms. It involved some jockeying of porch furniture, as the six plastic chairs gathered from our three balconies left no room for the plastic tables. Scrunched cozily in the rays of the full moon, we toasted the New Year with champagne, crackers, and German salami (a rare treat). Laughter was in good supply, too—a fitting way to ring in the new year.

Setting up for cocktail hour

Balcony Prep for Celebrations Ahead

Dinner was quite a spread, though no culinary feat. We were pretty full already, so we didn’t mind a bit. Live music blasted through the huge dining room, which was opulently decorated for the event. Nonetheless, we all enjoyed ourselves.


The New Year’s Eve gala meal

We worked our way through a meze plate, numerous hot mezes (which the waiters serve individually from trays), salads, then a lovely turkey dinner. My second of the season. In typical Turkish fashion, rice pilaf replaced the usual dressing. I was too full to care by that point. A few of us got up to dance, but to be honest, the music was so loud that we decided to succumb to the temptation of the outdoor pool under the full moon—a blue moon, no less.

It was not to be, though. Crews had completely drained the pool to refill it with clean water for the New Year’s Day crowd. BUMMER!!!! We went for a moonlight walk instead, then back to our balcony to toast the arrival of Twenty-Ten. Amazingly, we made it even beyond 12:00. Old farts, you know (at least a few of us).

Saturday we hit the hamams again after breakfast, luxuriating in deep-tissue soap massages. Oh, my! The little lady that worked on me dove right into my muscle knots and pressed them out of existence. $14 for a half-hour. Unbelievable.

Jenny and I hit the pool for a while, then we all met to trek up the hill for lunch in a nearby village. Of course, we had to stop for a few minutes at the quaint street bazaar. It’s more than charming.


Want some honey, Honey?

chestnut man

The local chestnut roaster gentleman

We had seen a woman making mantı the night before and decided to try that for lunch. Mantı is like a tiny ravioli made with a noodle-like pastry coating around tiny bits of either meat or cheese. It was fascinating to watch her make it, and it was equally delicious to eat. They smother it in a garlic/yogurt sauce with chili peppers sprinkled generously on top. YUM!!!

making manti

The Mantı Maker

little tiny manti

Mantı: scored pastry squares wrapped around tiny bits of meat

Some of us hiked the afternoon away, then sipped tea under the spreading branches of a 200-year-old plain tree (a cross between a maple and a eucalyptus, as far as I can tell). Lovely. Relaxing. Heavenly. (Poor Jamilah was stuck inside correcting exams. UGH!)


Tea under the plain tree with you and me

The air was starting to chill by the time we headed up for yet another cocktail hour. This time Sandra pulled out a huge wedge of brie from Austria, another rarity here in Turkey. Dinner, then a walk down for a hot tub swim.

But—the pool was draining. ARAUGHHH!!!! FOILED AGAIN! You’d think they could wait until the 10:00 closing time, but no. Well, back to the Turkish bath—short, but warming.

Termal hamam

The Historical Tourist Hamam at Termal

Saturday we woke to rain, rain, rain. Sigh… The ferries were all cancelled due to a second day of high winds, so we hopped a bus around the Marmara, which took only an hour longer than the ferry. Whew. Things work out.


May it bring everyone good health, delicious food, and great times.

I’m ready, let me tell you.