Disturbing Protests in Turkey

I’m haunted by news of protests in Istanbul, praying that this upheaval is followed by another of the governing party in the next election. Under the rule of the AKP (an Islamist-leaning party), the country is moving away from the secular democracy established by Ataturk in 1923. In recent years more than 180 military leaders have been jailed by this government, along with more journalists than in any other country in the world (even China). What kind of democracy is this? Now the government is tearing down one of the city’s only parks to build a mall and an Ottoman barracks as a museum. WHAT???

bp1Photo of protester from Boston.com

My former Koç student, Cansu Ozgul, explains the situation succinctly and effectively. Kudos to her efforts—I’m doing my best to pass it on.

Ann Marie

Here’s Cansu’s message:

June 2, 2013

Dear Friends,

We would like to call your attention to the recent turmoils in Turkey, because we believe it pertinent to all those striving to live in peace and with dignity, and because we really need your help.

Right now, in Turkey, innocent people practicing their democratic right to peaceful protest are suffering at the hands of government organized police brutality. This urgent issue, which threatens the very notions of natural and democratic human rights, is one of universal relevance. And it must be affirmed, in front of the whole world, that government oppression will never be tolerated – not in Turkey, not anywhere else; not now, not ever! And this is why we’re reaching out to you, calling you to action.

A peaceful sit-in in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in protest of the attempted demolition of a beautiful public park to instead erect a commercial mall, faced violent police crackdown on May 31st. The brutality began with the police burning protesters’ tents, and continued to escalate with the police making heavy use of water cannons, throwing excessive tear gas at groups, and shooting rubber bullets targeted directly at people. There are even reports that the police have now started using the infamous chemical Agent Orange, once a war weapon, against its own people. Hundreds of serious injuries, as well as fatalities, have resulted by this unprovoked and disproportionate use of police force.

taksim_2579289bPhoto of protest from Boston.com

What began as a peaceful environmental protest has now grown into an outlet for the Turkish people’s grievances against an authoritarian regime. The protesters have remained peaceful, but police brutality has been increasing steadily. We fear for the safety of our families and friends at the hands of such relentlessly excessive police force. We further worry that the government has not only remained silent in the face of this violent injustice, but has even stood behind it.
The local mainstream media has effectively been censored. The potential of trouble if they cover events that shed an unflattering light on the current government seems to have deterred the media from providing informative, objective and comprehensive coverage. Given that thus the Turkish people are left in the dark with very little recourse, we must call on the rest of the world to pay attention to our plight and stand in solidarity with us, with all those fighting for democracy.

Governments all across the world, international media, our fellow humans: We need your support. And it is our ultimate hope that with international encouragement, the Turkish government will finally listen and respond to the peaceful, rightful voice of its own people. It is our hope that those responsible for allowing this massive violence against innocents to perpetuate, such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, resign their posts. And we need international support to get our voices heard.

bp8Photo of protesters from Boston.com

What you can do: Get informed and spread the word. Some videos and news articles are attached below, which you can start sharing via Twitter and Facebook. We are counting on the intellectual prowess and human sensitivity of our amazing friends. Please stand with us, please speak up with us.

With wishes that peace, freedom and kindness prevail everywhere, always,

Cansu Ozgul

Twitter hashtags: #direngezi #direngeziparki #occupygezi #occupyturkey

Several videos:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151438794482742&set=vb.106421675182&type=2&theater

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/06/20136205646707974.html

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151502368263731

Turkey, week four

Our fourth and final week in Turkey began with the arrival of friends from Switzerland, Franziska and Carl. Their glee at every experience buoyed us all as we explored the back streets of Istanbul.

Carl, me, and Jerry on our apartment balcony (photo by Franziska):

While they explored Sultanahmet on their first day, Jerry and I headed up to my publisher’s office near Istiklal, wandered through the sumptuous Pera Palas Hotel (where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express), took in the Pera Museum’s exhibit of Manolo Valdez, then indulged in an Efes and French fries at the Tavanarası, a funky rooftop cafe.

The Pera Palas bar and lounge—not too shabby:

An Efes break at the Tavanarası Restaurant:

The next day we explored the Bazaar Quarter with Carl and Franziska, skipping along through workshops and hans, which they loved. We found a few great deals on “scarf street,” of course finishing with adult beverages on the balcony before finding a new spot for dinner.

Roses in bloom at the Çuhacı Han

Morning tea with Carl and Franzisca in the Çuhacı Han:

We stopped into Kaya Demirci’s jewelry shop, where he was setting diamonds into this necklace (on a wax form):

A bouquet of silk scarves flutter in the breeze:

We covered the food bases well, indulging in meals from kebabs to kumpir (baked potatoes with butter and grated cheese mashed in, then piled with numerous toppings).

Jerry’s favorite döner, spiced lamb sliced off a huge skewered roast:

Kumpir, the mashed potato treat!

They also enjoyed our rooftop drama—a family of seagulls across from our apartment. The three remaining fledgelings (we lost one last week) have grown by leaps and bounds in two weeks, and it’s been fascinating to see the devoted parents chase away hungry blackbirds and gulls and take turns bringing food for their famished babies (regurgitating tiny fish for them). As Jerry put it, “I’ve developed a new respect for seagulls after seeing how hard they work.”

Mama and her hungry babes:


Finishing their stay with a Bosphorus cruise and another meal of mezes and lamb, Carl and Franziska assured us they’d come back to Istanbul. Their taste of the city has whetted their palates for new adventures.

Flower sellers near the Kadiköy pier:


After waving them off, we headed over to the Asian side to rent bikes for a trek along the Marmara. Getting there was a comedy of errors (the new Metro delivered us a few miles up from our destination), but we finally found our bike shop and headed off on wheels. Istanbul has little green space, so they’ve reclaimed a wide swath of sea to create parkland all along the Sea of Marmara. We biked an hour (about 10 miles), weaving between pedestrians who ignored the bike path signs. Turks are wonderful, but they’re not big on following rules. Jerry was reluctant to stop, but was snoring shortly after we settled on a park bench. Oh, to fall asleep so effortlessly!

Jerry recovers mid-ride:

The trek back was harder (into the wind), and we were worn out by the time we returned to Bostancı. With a few hours before our scheduled meeting with my friend Söner, we found a seaside restaurant that served beer and French fries, our new favorite snack. Söner arrived to share another beer with us, then drove us to Kadiköy and walked us through Moda, Kadiköy’s charming upscale community of beautiful homes, shaded cobbled streets, and sea views. We had dinner in a bustling Kadiköy street cafe/night club while a Beşiktaş soccer game blasted from screens dotting the street’s many cafes.

Me and my friend Söner in Moda:

On our ferry ride back to the European side I noticed brilliant lights near Beşiktaş—a bustling Bosphorus community. “It must be a home game,” I commented, interested, but not excited, as Beşiktaş isn’t one of the city’s top teams. We stepped off the ferry to fireworks exploding over the Golden Horn. “They must have won.”
Little did I know how that win would affect us. We joined a throng to await the tram for our Sultanahmet apartment, realizing there was little chance for a seat in spite of our tired legs. The first tram was packed solid with white-and-black garbed Beşiktaş fans, singing at the top of their lungs and pounding on the windows and doors. The doors opened, but there was no way another body could possibly squeeze in. Not only were there fans, but many carried seats they’d pulled from the stadium and grass they’d cut from the field. Oh, my!
“Maybe we should get a taxi,” I suggested.
“Let’s try one more,” Jerry responded. Exhausted from a day of exercise, the thought of walking to find a free taxi was far from enticing. Another tram pulled up, just as noisy and crowded as the last. The doors opened and the fans “manning the doors” grabbed us and pulled us in, laughing. I have to admit, it was fun to merge with these soccer maniacs. One had stolen a huge fire extinguisher (on wheels), which stood by the door with a white plastic seat and a square of sod sitting atop. Three times the driver stopped the tram tram and asked the revelers to settle down. After a hearty cheer, the chaos would abate and he’d continue. The noise would gradually rise until he had to stop again.

Wild Beşiktaş fans pause to pose on the tram:

Soccer mania is a mystery to me—mob behavior at best. I later learned that this was the last game to be played in the İnönü stadium tearing it down.
On Mother’s Day we met my friend Alison for a stroll through Balat, an area I’d never explored. Once a hillside Greek community, it was abandoned during the population exchange when all area Christians were deported to Greece (and Greek Muslims moved to Turkey).

St. Stephen’s Bulgarian Church steeple:

Ataturk’s intent was to create a more cohesive Turkey by making it all Muslim, but it was a painful time for those uprooted from their homes. In addition to scores of fascinating houses, we saw many people in traditional dress, as this has become a fundamentalist community of both Muslims and Jews. We saw men with şalvar (loose-fitting pants), turbans and flowing coats, and many women were garbed in head-to-toe black.

Balat residents buy their morning poacı (bread) from a street vendor:

Two young men in turbans and flowing robes:

We were amused at a common practice of letting children sit inside window grates for fresh air—sort of a window/playpen approach to supervised play.

These little dollies were tickled to be photographed:

Sunday morning laundry in Balat:

We happened upon an ancient Christian Church (1292), now the Fetiye Mosque and Christian museum, then later stumbled on an Orthodox Greek Church holding a christening ceremony. Wonders never cease. We finished our tour with lunch at the Zeyrekhane, a fabulous terrace restaurant perched high above the Golden Horn.
Two days left—and we spent one evening with our friends Mark and Jolee, Americans who’ve lived in Istanbul for the past six years. We’d had them for dinner the previous week, and they returned the favor with a walking tour of their Çıhangır neighborhood and a sumptuous dinner. Jolee made a few mezes, the crowning glory of which is a traditional dish of a fresh artichoke heart covered with diced potatoes, carrots, and peas and drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, and dill. Oh, yum!

Jolee’s Zeytinyağı Enginar and other mezes:

Of course, the delicate grilled lamb chops were beyond compare. Mark and Jolee are fascinating, interesting ex-pats and great fun to boot! More good times ahead…
We spent our last evening with Dana and Matt, friends who I met through my sojourn in Ethiopia (Matt volunteered with me at the orphanage). They were on their way back from Addis Ababa, where they are adopting a 9-month-old boy.
We’ve hugged our friend Musa goodbye (my kilim designer friend who rented us his apartment) and caught what sleep we could before our taxi arrived at 3 AM. Back to life and adventures in Minnesota, where we hear our seemingly endless winter may have finally abated.

A Turkish Cat House (Kedi evi) provided by the city government for strays:

Bangin’ around Istanbul

 

Ah, leisure! Well, relative leisure anyway. Jerry and I have bid all our tour buddies goodbye and are basking in the quiet of a Sultanahmet apartment. My friend Musa Başaran, kilim designer extraordinaire, owns a six-story building just blocks from the Blue Mosque, and we’ve taken one of his apartments for our last two weeks here. We enjoy a view of the lovely Sokullu Paşa Mosque, the Sea of Marmara, and a family of fledgling seagulls on a roof below our balcony.

Musa’s kilims:

The Sokullu Paşa Mosque from our balcony:

For the first few nights after our tour we checked into the Turkoman Hotel, where we were met by their scruffy dog, Fluffy (I know—hardly an apt Turkish dog name, but what can one do?) and their volunteer cat, Arsız (which means shameless—a fitting moniker). In fact, while we were settling into our room, Arsız wandered in and curled up on our sun-soaked rug. Minutes later she’d settled up on the bed. Shameless. Though I’m allergic to cats, I tolerated it for a whopping ten minutes while Jerry gave her the requisite portion of petting and stroking.

The shameless Arsız makes herself at home:


The terrace breakfast room at the Turkoman overlooks the Blue Mosque, a heart-stopping view that enticed us to linger long over a last cup of coffee—filtered coffee, no less. I hope the days of Nescafe are behind me.

Our breakfast buddy on the Turkoman terrace:


May 1st is Labor Day across the world, a day that has often grown violent in Istanbul. We escaped the city with five of our friends by ferrying across the Marmara to Termal at Yalova, a mountain spa community that I adore. We soaked in the hot tub, scrubbed in the 500-year-old hamam (Turkish bath), sweated in the sauna, then shocked our systems with a plunge into an icy tub beside the sauna. Then we all moved outdoors to the olympic-sized outdoor pool, naturally heated from hot-springs pumped into the water. We swam and basked the afternoon away, finishing with a soft drink and a walk along the river.

Sparkling clean outside the hamam—me, Nancy, Judy, Glen, Bob, and Eddie. (Photo by Jerry)

We all reveled in the park-like atmosphere, the hot-spring eye-cleaning station and the lung-clearing steam breather. If nothing else, it soothes the soul to be in such a pristine, peaceful environment. Ataturk (the Father of Turkey) took the cure at this spa on a regular basis.

An olive stand in the Yalova street Market:


That evening we returned to find the Hippodrome chock full of sticker-covered cars—what??? A little research revealed that it was the Allgau-Orient Rallye, an event of 113 cars trekking back roads from Allgau, Germany, to Aman, Jordan, over the course of three weeks.

Rally cars lined up near the Blue Mosque:

 

Drivers both young and old spent two nights in Istanbul, many sleeping in their vehicles. One couple slept in a tent on their car roof—amazing!

Rooftop accommodations, sleep at your own peril!

Beer played a large part in the event as well. Heck, they’re Germans. Along the way the drivers earned points for a series of specific tasks like taking a photo of someone milking a cow in Germany, of a ferry crossing the Marmara, or of Turks drinking beer in Istanbul. The winner of the competition would win a camel, which they would, of course, have to leave in Jordan. The drivers would fly home, leaving their cars behind to be sold for a charity. What a blast! If you’re curious, check out the videos on http://www.allgaeu-orient.de/
The next day Jerry, Nancy Daley and I hiked to the Süleymaniye Mosque, which has been closed for renovation for the past five years. It was lovely to see this masterpiece in its full glory, all scrubbed and shiny.

Spring Irises bedeck tombs in the Süleymaniye cemetery:

The Stunning Süleymaniye Mosque:

After numerous contortions to take photos in the sanctuary, I emerged to realize I’d lost my prescription sunglasses. I took off my shoes and donned a scarf again to go in and hunt for them, but they were nowhere to be found. I reminded myself that if you lose things in Turkey you get them back and approached a guard outside. “Güneş gözlüğüm kaybettim,” I said (something like ‘I lost my sunglasses’). The guard held up his finger, reached behind a counter, and pulled them out. Thank goodness someone had turned them in. Whew!

The amazing city view from the Süleymaniye courtyard:

On the walk home Nancy treated us to döner, a delicious meat sandwich similar to a Greek gyro. YUM! That afternoon Jerry and I moved into our apartment at Musa’s then collapsed. I’m not a big napper, but I was out for over an hour. Heaven.
The next morning we met Sally and Judy (more friends from the tour) for a trip to the Marpuççular (bead) Han and a tour of the Rüstem Paşa Mosque.

Rüstem Paşa  has some of the finest hand-painted tiles in Turkey:

Sally emerges from the Men’s Room (When ya gotta go…)

That was the last of our time with friends from home—they left the next morning.
Saturday Jerry and I hopped a ferry to Burgazada to visit my friend Sandra. Burgazada is one of the Prince’s Islands, a series of small islands off the coast of Istanbul, a peaceful oasis with no cars. Residents and visitors walk, bike, or hire horse carriages to get around the islands.

The Burgazada taxi stand:

We spent Saturday wandering the island with Sandra and finished with a sumptuous fish dinner at a seaside restaurant.

Jerry and I pose on stone stairs to nowhere down on a seaside pier

Sunday we ferried to the largest island, Büyükada, where we rented bikes and rode around the island. It may sound idyllic, but we began at great peril, sharing the road with scores of wobbly bicyclists and thundering horse carriages. Once we broke away from the hordes, though, we pedaled the coastline, enjoying views of the sea, the other islands, and Istanbul in the distance.

Well worth the bike ride!

We finished with a beer and French fries at a little outdoor restaurant, where we chatted with a delightful young couple, surgeons visiting from Ankara. It never ceases to amaze me how friendly the Turks are once you open to them.
It’s been a lovely week, and last night we welcomed friends from Switzerland to our little abode. Carl and Franziska are excited to be here, and we’re eager to share the many charms of Istanbul. The great dilemma is how to squeeze everything into three days. We’ll do our best.

Back in Turkey—yet again!

It’s heaven to be back in friendly, fascinating Turkey, and I’m sharing it with 20 friends. People asked me to organize a tour of Turkey, and this is my compromise—an exclusive GoAhead Tour for just us. It’s been beyond fascinating.
I’ve traveled Turkey on my own, often with guided tours of particular sites, but this tour is amazing. We have a spanking new Mercedes tour bus and our own full-time guide, who talks us through the historical, political, and social facets of Turkey as we pass through.

The Sultan’s bedroom in Topkapı Palace, Istanbul:

The domed ceiling of the majestic Haghia Sophia, Istanbul:

School girls waiting to use a rest room in Sultanahmet, Istanbul:

We spent two days in Istanbul before heading west down the Gallipoli Peninsula, where we ferried across the Dardenelles Strait to Troy. Hard to believe, but someone actually discovered the location of Ancient Troy where the great battle was fought over Helen. We’re all amazed at Mehmet’s vast knowledge of Turkish history and the archeology of each site.

Our wonderful tour guide, Mehmet Çabuk:

One great help on our tours has been “whisperers”, remote headsets that carry Mehmet’s comments to us without him having to yell. It’s an amazing improvement, especially for those of us who are hearing challenged or who tend to wander off taking photos.
We continued south along the Aegean Sea as Mehmet transported us back in time through the Persian, Roman, Greek, and Ottoman empires (among others–see the link at the top of my blog page for an interactive map of the Mediterranean’s historical empires).

Standing columns at Pergamom:

Ephesus, of course, was a highlight, one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the world. It blew my mind to think that 250,000 people lived there over 2000 years ago.

Our Group heads down the main street in Ephesus, Turkey:

A few of us split off to see the upper-class terraced houses, which had intricate wall paintings, floor murals, and stunning marble wall coverings.

Mosaic floors in the terraced homes at Ephesus, Turkey:

We also visited the reputed home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Though I’m not convinced she really lived there (so far from Bethlehem), she apparently fled Jerusalem to avoid persecution for the evils of her son. I have to admit, though, it was a serene mountain-top setting, and I was surprised to see that it was visited by many Turks. People don’t realize that Islam embraces Biblical history with Jesus as a prophet and that Mohammed was the next prophet after Jesus.

The home of Mary…

We also visited Şirince (Sheer-IN-jay), a quaint mountain village that lost its Greek-speaking citizens in the population exchange at the end of the first world war. It gave us a taste of rural Turkey as well as a few sips of the fruit wines it has become famous for.

Şirince’s Greek-style homes near Selçuk, Turkey:


Our next stop was Didyma’s Temple of Appollo, a 2500-year-old oracle second second in the Hellenic world only to the Oracle at Delphi. Young female priestesses inhaled gasses emitting from the ground and gave cryptic answers to questions from people who traveled many miles to consult the oracle about their fates. Intricate marble carvings surround the temple, including floral patterns, griffons, and repeated images of Medusa. Two of its 60-foot high columns still stand, majestic above the ruins.

Medusa guards the Temple of Appollo, Didyma:


That evening we landed in Pamukkale, where an entire mountainside is covered with glittering white precipitate from hot mineral springs that flow up from the mountain. Our group’s scientists (Jerry Wilkes and Dan Bale) enlightened Mehmet about the chemical composition of the water and the resulting carbonate formations. Apparently the water carries calcium bicarbonate in solution, which solidifies into calcium carbonate as it evaporates. I must admit that I don’t much care what it is, but they’re thrilled to have resolved the confusion. At any rate, it was gorgeous, and we enjoyed wading through some of its many pools.

Jerry and I wade in the mineral pools of Pamukkale, Turkey:


The highlight of Pamukkale was the ruins of Hierapolis, a huge city dating back to 200 B.C. Apparently it was the first city to be laid out in a grid plan, something we’ve carried to modern times. Some of us took a mini-bus tour of the ruins, and our driver’s 8-year-old son, Ahmet, joined us. He was off school for Children’s Day, a national holiday in Turkey. Ahmet joined us to practice his English, asking and answering simple questions in English. I had fun chatting with him in Turkish, in spite of my paltry vocabulary.

How could I help but pose with darling Ahmet?

He shared his English manual, and we got a charge out of the phonetic translations. Turkish is a phonetic language where every letter always makes the same sound, so it was fun to see their take on our phrases:

“I’m very sorry.” = aym veri sori
“That’s all right.” = dets ol rayt
“It doesn’t matter.” =it dasınt metır
“Sorry to bother you just now.” = sori tu bodhır yu cast nau (a Turkish ‘c’ is pronounced as a ‘j’)
“Goodbye” = gudbay
“See you later.” = si yu leytır

Ahmet was happy to point out all the lizards sunning on the sarcophagi. He was absolutely precious. He also explained (in Turkish, translated by Mehmet) that gold coins were placed in the mouths and palms of wealthier people when they were buried. Funds for the next life, I suppose.

The theater of Hierapolis in Pammukale:

Our spa hotel in Pamukkale had its own thermal bath, a cone-like formation outside one building that spouted hot mineral water that poured into a pool that stretches into the building, leaving calcification as it flowed. Though the water was murky, it was a natural hot-tub that soothed our bodies as well as our souls (and didn’t stink).

The mineral spring at the Lycus Hotel, Pamukkale:

The spa pool was a little murky, especially compared to the clear azure of the unheated outdoor pool. Jerry and I, desperate for exercise, swam laps in the pool in spite of its frigid temps. It was over 70 degrees outside, but the pool couldn’t have been much over 50 degrees. BRRR!!!

One of the major frustrations of this trip has been the price of wine in the hotels. We bought a bottle of rose thinking it cost about 25 lira. ($16). We excused its bitter taste because it was so cheap, but later discovered that we had had mistaken the single glass price and were charged 70 lira ($45) for a crappy bottle of wine. I’d NEVER pay that much in the U.S. Of course, I’m pretty cheap.

A ponderous Turkish tourist at Ephesus, Turkey:

It’s been a joy to share my favorite second home with friends, and they seem truly happy with what they’ve seen. And my goodness—have we learned a LOT!!!

Snow and Tears in Istanbul

I’m done. Yesterday was my last day of school, and it was easily the warmest send-off I’ve ever had.

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My adventure started last weekend with a Friday dinner shared with Minnesota friends, Susan and Waverley–fascinating women. We knitted, sipped, ate, and chatted our way into the late evening.

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Saturday morning dawned drizzly. Sigh…

Istanbulites forge on into the drizzle (and snow)

My friend David trekked over from the Asian side and we headed into Sultanahmet for one last trip. I needed to pick up some spices, interview a bag-seller for the third printing of my book, and pick up three glass lanterns for my porch. I bargained a good price for lanterns in the Spice Bazaar, and after the obligatory cups of tea in the shop, we headed back out into the blustery day. The cold air penetrated to our bones as we wended our way to the Hamdi Restaurant for a “farewell lunch” of Iskender (pide with doner, tomato sauce, melted butter, and yogurt–YUM). As we indulged, I noticed snowflakes in the air–the first I’d seen this year. Such fun. Minutes later the power went out. Luckily, we were near a window and it didn’t affect us all that much. Soon the power came back on, and we ordered tea as we chatted, continuing the slow process of warming up after being chilled to the bone.
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We forged out to finish our spice shopping, but when we got to my spice dealer, his shop was dark. He tried his scale, but to no avail. It needed power—Istanbul has gone digital. “Maalasef,” he apologized. There were a few shops in the Spice Bazaar with generators, so that’s where we headed. Maalasef. (I prefer frequenting the shops outside the bazaar.)

One of the many vendors just outside the Spice Bazaar


“I’m about done,” I said as we completed our purchases of salep and pistachios. “Let’s head home.”
“Do you think the trams will be running?”
“Oh, no—electric trams.” Another sigh.
We walked along the tram line long enough to verify that our main line home was out of commission.
“How about a ferry?” I suggested. “We can take the ferry to Kadiköy, then take another one back to Beşiktaş.”
“If the ticket machines are working,” David replied. “We might as well try.”

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Snow swirled around our heads as we climbed the overpass to the pier. The first station was roped off–closed. Oh, no! We kept walking and found our way to the Kadiköy station, which was operational. Apparently they had a generator. Whoopee!

 

The ferry to Kadiköy was packed–and quite modern

Our roundabout route from Europe to Asia and back to Europe again took nearly three hours, but that included an hour in the Iskele restaurant.

My buddy David toasts to winter in Istanbul.

We were serenaded on the second ferry ride, a welcome diversion.


That evening our friend Güler joined us for dinner in my apartment–leftovers, sadly, but we managed well. She informed us that the entire city had been without power that afternoon. That’s a city of 15 million people. Whew!
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Sunday David and I roused early to ferry across the Sunny Bosphorus (Hooray!) and met my friend Julide, who had offered to show us the Beylerbeyi Palace.

David and I after a delicious Turkish breakfast at Beylerbeyi.

We started with a Turkish breakfast in a poolside gazebo, then wandered the grounds before the English tour finally started.

Julide poses with David outside the palace…

…then escorts us up a few garden terraces to the outdoor pool, just below the Bosphorus bridge.

We were accosted by a guard as we meandered around the pool, but since we’d entered on a walkway with no barriers, Julide talked our way out of an arrest. 🙂

 

The contrast between the 19th century palace and the 20th century bridge is stunning.


The palace, a summer palace built after Dolmabahçe, was stunning, and Julide walked us through the charming waterfront community of Beylerbeyi, where we again stopped for tea. When I asked for the bill (it was to be my treat), the patron insisted that our tea was complimentary. Only in Turkey.

The sweet Beylerbeyi Iskele (ferry station)


Fishing boats moored just outside our little restaurant

Cyclamen (Ataturk plants) bloom optimistically outside a Beylerbeyi restaurant.

The snow kept coming, and Monday evening brought a few inches that stayed on the ground–well, at least the trees. I took my camera with me to school, just to record the event.

Snow below my apartment…

…snow on the Bosphorus at sunrise…

…and snow at Robert College (two students pose with me–Yasemin and Pelinsu)

My last day of school was a tear-jerker—literally. This has never happened in all the years I’ve taught over here, but I had students crying all day long. Pelinsu, an exuberant girl in my core class (10 hours a week) had started crying the day before, and she was in full weepy-mode when I got to class on Thursday. She sort of led the charge as her friends joined in sobbing.

Though I did my best to console Pelinsu, the tears kept coming.


I cheered them up with some word games, then we went down to the lush Faculty Parlor to celebrate our semester together. I supplied cheesecake and chips, hoping to ruin their lunch. Which I did. Mine, too.

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Everyone grinned when they produced a gift they’d bought for me, gathering eagerly as I opened it. My first Oscar! YILIN EN İYİ ÖĞRETMENİ —THE YEAR’S BEST TEACHER. Gosh.

Who could resist loving these kids, huh?


During the flag ceremony I was applauded (at least by my three classes) and presented with yet another gift–a silver salver engraved with my name and the Robert College insignia. Along with that I received a card from each of my classes with touching notes from every single student. More tears—mine this time. Hugs abounded after the ceremony.

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Fellow teachers topped off the day with a round of adult beverages at Bizim Tepe, the Robert College Club adjacent to the school. And there’s MORE—dinner with Erica, a woman who’s reached out warmly while I’ve been here.
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So, as I said, I’m done.
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I’m all packed up to move back home, but first I’m traveling with my friend Sandra to the Far East—Taiwan, Hainan (China), Hong Kong, and Thailand.

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Not too bad.

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!

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!

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…)