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.”


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.

The fireworks (from

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”


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.


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