Oh, those Turks!

I continue to be amazed at the kindness of the Turkish people. “Good morning, Ms. Mershon. How are you today?” echoes from numerous students as I enter the building. Except for Erol, who teasingly salutes as I pass.

My precious and diligent 10-hour English class—what’s not to love?

My face is growing familiar to people in my little community of Arnavutköy, so I receive many greetings as I walk Libby down its cobbled streets morning and evening on our way to the Bosphorus. “Merhaba. Naszilsınız?” (Hello. How are you?) I have to admit, it warms my heart. There are dogs on every street that have come to know Libby, whether they sniff, bark, or just stare through windows…

One of Libby’s 2nd-story Arnavutköy fans.

I was significantly touched at the warmth of the Turks with a couple I guided through Sultanahmet a few weekends ago. I brought them up a stone stairway to the top of the Sair Han for a stunning panorama of the city. After oohing and ahhing a bit, I commented that there used to be a little shop up there where they made baseball caps. Gary said he’d read there were 40,000 textile factories in Turkey and wondered if many were small ones. I peeked through the doorway and discovered two people working at sewing machines while a few others stacked and organized hats a la Bartholmew Cubbins—and smoked.

This shop brought Bartholmew Cubbins to mind.

I asked (in my most polite Turkish) if we might come in to see, and they welcomed us warmly. My friends marveled at the quality of the felted woolen caps (with earflaps), which we learned were destined for Russia. Gary tried one on, then asked if it would be possible to purchase one. “Bir şapka ne kadar? Bir tane alabilir miyiz?” I translated.

The shop manager with Gary and his new “hediye” hat.

Hayir,” (no) the older gentleman said, then handed a cap to Gary. “Hediye.” It was a gift. He offered us tea, and while it steeped he guided us to a second room tho show us how they cut piles of fabric pieces and molded each stitched cap on a steamer. Though it was a small operation, he said they produced 500 caps a day.

You can’t see the steam, but it’s emanating through that cap.

We sipped our tea outdoors, happy to be away from their cigarette smoke, yet even happier to have met them.
Later we visited the Buyuk Valide Han where a young man named Serkan crafts glass lamps and “antiques” for the Grand Bazaar. I asked if he would solder a piece of my brass and copper bracelet back together, and he cheerfully agreed to. He suggested we look at the view from the han’s roof, and he found former weaver Mehdi Bey, who also brought us to see an ancient loom that has long since been hushed.

Mehdi Bey tells us (in Turkish) about this old loom that now rusts away in an abandoned shop.

When we returned Serkan handed me my bracelet, now beautifully buffed and polished. I was astonished. I pulled out a bill and handed it to him, but he refused, saying it was for his friend. Blush. I promised myself I’d return to buy more hanging lamps for my porch, and I was relieved that my friends bought a few items for themselves.
Back in Arnavutköy my kitchen cabinet knob kept coming loose. After repeatedly screwing it in tighter only to have it fall off, I decided to look for a longer screw. I’d purchased an umbrella the other day from a tiny nearby hardware store that spills out onto the sidewalk, so I decided to start there (not hoping for much).

One of Arnavutköy’s less welcoming inhabitants–I think we interrupted his nap.

The proprieter welcomed me into his shop, cutting short his cell phone call to greet me and offer his service. Try to imagine my pathetic Turkish request, which must have sounded a bit like, “I longer need for like this please?” The proprieter nodded, then walked back through a narrow aisle and pulled out a few drawers of assorted screws. He held my knob and screw in one hand as he rummaged through the drawer and compared it to one screw after another. He finally found one that matched my screw in width, but it was far too long.

My kitchen, now brighter and happier with its new retr0-fitted knob.

I thanked him for his time, but he reassured me. “Problem yok, Kesebilirim,” or something like that. “No problem. I can cut it.”
He pulled out a mammoth pincers and worked at that screw, turning and twisting it as he squeezed on the pincer. He ended up bending the screw, so I assumed we were both screwed. “Problem yok.”  He grabbed a pliers to straighten it, then used a small nut to make sure the threads were true. He spend about fifteen minutes with me, and I was both amazed and relieved to have found a solution to my problem without a trip to the city. Whew!
I pulled out my embroidered Turkish money purse to pay him, and he waved me away. “Hayir. Hayir. Çok küçük. Hediye,” he said. Again, a gift. I pressed him to take payment, and he refused a second time, then offered me a cup of tea.
Oh, those Turks!

Young neighbors who took a real shine to Libby.



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!)