I'm home!




More than six weeks ago I moved into my cute little house. Here's a peek at my courtyard garden. If you look at the seating area waaay in the back you will see Chloe, my Maltese, observing the garden. Which should not be confused with Chloe guarding the garden. She just looks with amazement, boredom or disinterest, depending on her mood, at the feral cats which periodically invade us. More on that later...

Moving: Part 2

It's been an interesting two weeks, but hopefully I will be sleeping in my new home tomorrow night.

I spent my first week of homelessness with a friend in Tarabya, a pretty little village on the Bosphorus which is part of Istanbul but feels like a a sleepy little town of its own. Unfortunately I was quite ill so I spent most of the week sleeping and sitting and not walking and exploring the area as I'd hoped.

This week, I moved to stay with another friend in Etiler. I was feeling better but my dog promptly got sick. I won't go into the gory details but can assure you it was gory. Not something you want to subject a friend to and it was a challenge to keep her from making a mess all over his apartment. Mostly I contained her (and the unavoidable mess) to my room. Now we are both feeling better but I'm going to uproot my poor little dog again. She's pretty adaptable but I think I am really pushing her limits.

Once I move in to the new place I intend to pretty much hole up there for awhile; I'm feeling very domestic and looking forward to having a place to unleash my domestic urges on. I'm also looking forward to checking out my new view. It was endlessly fascinating to stare out at my old panorama, and even though the new place doesn't have such a big view of the sea I'm sure my new surroundings will have quite enough to hold my interest.

The next post will have photos of my peaceful, pretty little new house!

Moving: Part 1

Well. I am moving. My landlord is turning my building with the fabulous Marmara Sea view into a hotel, so out I go.

The good news is, I found an adorable tiny house down the hill from my old flat. The bad news is there are two weeks between when I have to be out of my old flat and can move into the new house. On Sunday I moved my things into my old landlord's basement and took one much too heavy suitcase, one very confused small dog and my laptop to stay at a friend's place in Tarabya.

It's been stressful because moving always is, and being rootless for two weeks is bad for me. I need space of my own to retreat to and for two weeks I won't have it. But I am fortunate to have generous friends who live in nice places so I'm hoping to play the tourist a bit and walk a lot to see new parts of Istanbul and use up my restless energy.

My new house is so so tiny but has a courtyard and a rooftop terrace. Essentially it is three itty bitty rooms stacked on top of each other with a terrace on the roof. I'm looking forward to taking full advantage of the terrace and courtyard for growing plants, eating meals and generally plan to live my life outside for as long as the weather allows. Even though I will have an entire house the space is MUCH smaller than my old flat but I am gaining a washing machine and, strangely, have two bathrooms! I also discovered that I own ten carpets. Why someone who had a three room flat (plus kitchen and bathroom) needed 10 carpets is a good question. Of course the answer is that someone with a three room flat doesn't NEED ten carpets...

Below is a list of things I discovered I own/don't own. Interesting what you acquire, or don't, when you move to a new place with only your clothes. Of course you must remember that my flat was partially furnished. So for instance I had spoons and forks but no knives when I moved in.

1. 10 rugs (can't quite get over that one. And I haven't mentioned the stack of other textiles I have).
2. Lots of bowls, no plates.
3. An ottoman. My only piece of furniture.
4. Knives, no spoons or forks.
5. All coffee related accoutrements.
6. Fewer clothes than when I came as I have lost a lot of weight, got rid of the old clothes and haven't bought many new ones.
7. Still more shoes than most people own, yet still not enough for me.
8. Books, speakers for my Mac music, no television.

The Omnivore's Hundred

This week I am posting something a little different. I ran across this in a blog I read and thought it would be fun. It's kind of related to life in Istanbul I suppose, some of these things can be found here. And some of them really can't. And some of them I had to look up because I didn't know what they were, but the verygoodtaste blog wisely has links to Wikipedia so it was easy to look them up. I don't know how to do crossouts on my blog, but that didn't really matter as there is nothing I won't try once! Wait-- fugu. I won't try fugu or any other food that involves the possibility of death.

Here are the instructions from the blog http://www.verygoodtaste.co.uk/uncategorised/the-omnivores-hundred/:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Anniversary

I have now been here for one year. My anniversary prompted me to think about the random things I know now which I didn't know a year ago. Here they are, not necessarily, but maybe, in order of importance:

1. Ben and Jerry's ice-cream can be had at the Kanyon movie theater. Including my favorite flavor, New York Super Fudge Chunk.
2. Being without running water for a day or two is really not a big inconvenience.
3. Baby wipes are genius. See number 2.
4. I love old things made in Uzbekistan.
5. Social ties here are very strong. The good side of this is that people will help you-- whether you ask for it want it or not. The bad side of this is that people will help you-- whether you ask for it want it or not!

Comb-overless

I've been here almost a year now, but I find there are still new things to notice and learn. Here are today's new things:

1. Despite the fact that Turkey has a very high incidence of male pattern baldness (if I had more time I would research incidence rates), I have yet to see a comb-over. The men here seem to embrace their receding hairlines and wear them proudly, often going so far as just shaving off whatever is left (if I had more time I'd take photos, just shoot out any window to prove my point).

2. The Turkish word for cheesecake is... "cheesecake". Convenient for me. One less word to memorize.

3. Today, as the clouds rolled in, the taxi driver taught me the word for rain. I can say it but not share it as I have no idea how to spell it and it would seem to involve those Turkish letters that I have no idea how to insert.

Vacation?



I went on holiday to Crete last week. Here are some quick observations:

1. Chania, Crete is beautiful.
2. I heart Turkish Air.
3. I don't heart Olympic Air so much (3 canceled flights!)
4. Tirana, Albania looks beautiful from its airport but really shouldn't be a stop-over on the way from Istanbul to Crete.
5. It should not take as long to get from Istanbul to Crete as it takes to get from New York to Crete (thanks again Olympic Air). Thankfully...
6. Albanian airport employees are helpful and kind.
7. A shot of Greek raki (provided by a kind shopkeeper) may not help a stomach virus but it definitely doesn't make things worse.
8. While the food in Crete is good Turkish baklava really is the best.
9. It was very strange to hear a foreign language again and not even be able to communicate in my broken Turkish baby-talk.
10. After only 10 days away I forgot some of the little Turkish I do know and upon my return was reduced, once again, to holding up my fingers to my Turkish cabdriver when I couldn't remember the word for "ten".

Bursa









A few weeks ago I decided I needed to get out of town; I haven't been out of Istanbul since I arrived last August. So, armed with a detailed itinerary supplied by a knowledgeable Turkish friend ("First, you have breakfast in your hotel. Then, go out of your hotel and walk to the Muradiye Complex and look at..."), I took the ferry and the bus to Bursa which is famous for it's healing hot springs.

It wasn't the quiet getaway I envisioned, but I did have a good trip and found that the hospitality I've come to rely on extends beyond the confines of Istanbul.

Example:
One day I decided to take the bus into the center of town. Unfortunately, once on board I found you can't pay with cash and was confused because I didn’t know how or where to buy a token and anyway the bus was already moving. The driver waved me in and he and a passenger tried to explain something to me but I didn’t understand. There are many tourists in Bursa, it’s very crowded in fact, but they are all Turkish, and I was one of very few foreigners. Not many people speak English and those who do don’t know much so I was something of an anomaly there.

Eventually the passenger handed me his wallet and after he gestured several times I understood that I was supposed to take it to the front of the bus. So I did, and stood, still a bit confused, as the driver (still driving) took the wallet, passed it in front of a reader, something beeped, and apparently my bus fare was paid by the nice passenger. He refused reimbursement and I took a seat behind him, happy to step out of the center front of the bus, and happy, once again, for the seemingly limitless Turkish patience, generosity and hospitality.

Above are some photos from a parade that took place while I was in Bursa. I never found anyone who spoke enough English to explain to me what it was for, but since I was one of the few foreigners standing at the roadside with a camera I was able to get some shots of parade participants staring at me.

In the first photo I'm pretty sure the man in the red tie waving at the camera is the mayor of Bursa (I guess a politicial is a politician, no matter where he is from). The second shows a participant who would seem to be less concerned with her public persona.

Three bouquets, six kisses





Today I got three bouquets and six kisses.

I was busy today and have a busy week ahead. Four hours of Turkish class three days a week (too much time in those little chairs with attached desks), plus homework, plus studying so I remember the difference between a “carrot” and a “rabbit”, a “shoe” and a “car” (these are just some of the words I get confused). On top of that I have to put together the two-day seminar I am debuting this weekend on “Strategic Supply Management and Purchasing” (riveting stuff), and proposals for April seminars.

Lots of new stuff which can be either exciting and exhilarating or stressful and tiring, depending on my mood, the time of day, and the weather.

I also spend lots of time running up and down the streets between my flat and my cafe. The change of scene and the air help me focus and keep my energy up so today the people in between my flat and my cafe saw me passing back and forth, forth and back several times. Lots of life happens in the street in Sultanahmet. The shoeshine man and flower lady sell their goods and services on the street and every cafe and carpet shop has at least one guy out front encouraging you to come in. On most days shopkeepers stand in their doorways chatting and smoking and watching the people pass by.

Mid-day I stopped in a favorite restaurant for a quick light lunch. The staff is always very welcoming, friendly, and attentive. They were receiving their flowers for the week as I ate and when I finished the waiter brought me a long stalk of white flowers and then some foil for the end to keep it fresh on the way home. As I waited for my change I smelled the big bouquet on the table beside me and when he brought the change he brought me more flowers, pink carnations and some other lovely curvy pink flowers. As I walked home past the usual cafes everyone teased me asking, “are those for me?” and I told them “no, no, you can’t have them they’re mine, they’re a present!”

At home I snip the ends and put the flowers in the carafe I keep on hand for that purpose, take care of some housework, trade my Turkish books for my laptop and notes, and head back out to the cafe to work on my seminar. On the way I pass the shoeshine man. I usually pass him in the morning and we exchange good morning greetings in Turkish. Today he is distracted when I rush by but I say good evening and he does the same and smiles broadly and gives a little wave as I pass. I work, work, work until my computer battery is exhausted and then head home. When I pass the shoeshine man is still in his spot and he stops me and tries to tell me something, and I think I understand that he’s saying something about seeing me run back and forth today. I laugh and nod and he pulls a small bunch of white flowers from the flower lady who sits beside him (his wife?) and tells me they are a present. He makes me smell them and then says over and over “cok guzel, cok guzel it means very very good in English. You.” He keeps saying “cok guzel” and touching his hand to my chest and then he starts kissing my cheeks, one side, then the other, then “cok guzel” punctuated by more kisses. He is very, very sweet and I am touched and happy that my work day is ending so nicely.

When we are finished I rush off again because I have to make a phone call but decide I better pick up dinner because I don’t want to take the time to cook and clean up tonight. I pass the restaurant where I had lunch. The waiter is in the doorway and says hello and asks, “where did you get THOSE flowers?” I tell him the shoeshine man gave them to me and he says, “because he knows you are a good person.” Really, these people barely know me and I am continually amazed by their generosity. I keep walking but then can’t think where else to pick up dinner quickly and double back to the restaurant. Most of the staff is sitting at a table outside eating and they turn to look and smile at me when I come back and my waiter takes me inside and helps me decide what to get for take-away. As I wait for them to wrap it up they sit me down and give me tea and then an even bigger bouquet of flowers with shasta daisies and carnations and good-smelling white spears and curvy pink flowers all wrapped up in paper. I think they are trying to out-do the shoeshine man, but they don’t know about the kisses.

I thank them profusely and head home with a big grin, past the same people who saw me earlier, who want to know where all THESE flowers came from. I try to share the wealth a little bit by giving my chocolate spoon from the cafe to a friend’s little girl. She is not interested but one of the guys I know is very pleased with it. It doesn’t really seem a fair trade, three bouquets for a small chocolate spoon and I think maybe I should start carrying little presents around to hand out so I can reciprocate some of the random generosity I enjoy so much here.

So, I arrive home, work done for the day, dinner in hand, with more flowers than I know what to do with. I have to empty some food containers in my kitchen in order to find containers for them. There are worse problems to have.

Things I can't find

Because I am too busy to make sentences for my blog, I have decided to make lists. Here’s the first:

Surprising things I can’t find in Istanbul

1. Horseradish
2. File folders
3. Vanilla extract
4. Rubber cement
5. Watercolors in tubes

Comments about the surprising things

1. Wasabi is a good substitute.
2. When I used the one file folder I brought from the US as a visual aid, it was opened, looked at from all directions, heads were shaken thoughtfully, and then I was asked in a vague tone of incredulity and amazement, "what's it for?" Then, when I explained, came the question, "how does it work?" And I am just as confused about how exactly the Turks organize their paperwork.
3. I now realize why Turkish desserts taste different.
4. May be available somewhere, but I don't have the verbal skills to explain. You try pantomiming "rubber". Then, "cement".
5. This one I was able to explain and was told, "oh, they aren't allowed in Turkey." And I'm pretty sure I understood that right but couldn't wheedle the "why" out of the salesman.

Blue mosque, gold tree

We've had three snowy days in a row this week. I have been busy, and when I haven't been busy I've been playing in the snow. So, in lieu of a thousand words, here are some pictures.



Blue Mosque in the snow, early morning.




Catprints on rooftops




My street, early morning.

Territory

I’ve only been here six months but I already range over a larger territory than I did in New York.

At heart I am a creature of habit. I have routines and routes, it’s how I find comfort and security. I walk the same streets to the same destinations, day after day. I pass the same shops and people, see the slow steady progress of the buildings under repair. See the cobblestone streets being deconstructed, mysterious underground work completed, then reconstructed, usually in the space of three days at most. Miraculous speed in some things.

I marvel at the cobblestones which are taken up, piled on the side of the road, and then fitted back together. One of those low tech solutions that seems so smart. No pavements cracking and shifting in the cold or wet weather. No potholes or tree roots breaking up the roads. A little rough on the shoes maybe. I have to replace my heels regularly. I often wonder how old those gray-blue stones are. In the summer it takes longer for the dust and dirt to settle back into the cracks between the stones. A bit messy perhaps, but all the more reason to remove your shoes indoors, a habit I developed in New York and am happy to continue here. My apartment stays so much cleaner and I prefer padding around barefoot, toes sinking into my fluffy white carpets, to clomping around in shoes.

That is my home territory, what I see on my regular walking route between home and friends and my cafe and the shops I frequent.

But at times I range farther afield. I take the tram and the metro, sometimes to the end of the line (it’s not long). I catch buses which are labeled helpfully with their various destinations. They take me on crowded curving, looping highways. I look out the windows and I always feel that what I see is familiar— I know where I am!— and then realize that like any city this one has repetitive buildings and many areas that look alike. There are the pink buildings and the grey buildings and the yellow buildings. Pale sage green buildings. The colors don’t vary much.

I get off the bus at the correctly labeled spot. It all looks the same until I come this way often enough that it’s incorporated into my territory. Until I start to recognize that cafe, that shop-owner, that business where the yellow dog sleeps under a tree in a spot he’s worn into the bare earth.

It’s a strange feeling, knowing how to get here but not where I am.

Friends who know me well are used to the question, “Where am I?”

Having no sense of direction, the twisting highways confuse me and I know how to get to my destination, which bus to take, where to get off the metro, but I could never point to it on a map.

I couldn’t point home either. I have to retrace my steps to get there. I can’t move easily between the spots in my territory. I have to ask for directions or go to “home base”, my neighborhood or the city center, and start again from there.

Who, me?

Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway.
~John Wayne


Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared.
~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker



Since several people have told me I’m brave this week I’ve decided to respond and correct that flattering, but ultimately incorrect, perception.

I guess living in Istanbul is like living in New York. It may sound interesting and exotic and exciting but really, it's just life. I get up, make my bed, have breakfast. I worry about work sometimes. I try to have a social life and still accomplish all the things I want to do as well as all the things I have to do. I avoid vacuuming and dusting and washing the dishes in favor of drinking coffee in the café.

Well, I say that and then realize that today I felt very grateful and very spoiled. I don't know about brave, or that other adjective that has lately been attached to descriptions of my life, “interesting”. I always feel like my actual life would bore other people but it keeps me entertained.

Here is what I did Friday. I got up, took a long shower, washed my hair, and shaved all the bits that needed shaving. Then I made breakfast. Actually, I heated up breakfast which was this magic new kind of borek they told me about last night when I was having coffee and desert in the patisserie. It translates into "water borek" and somehow water is involved in the making of it but I have no idea how that works. Anyway, somehow those few activities took two hours.

Then I went to my cafe and tried to work, but I could only do so much as I am STILL waiting for my domain to become available. So I paid some bills, did a bit of work, some correspondence, and was as productive as I could be under the circumstances. Two coffees, a bottle of water and many, many chocolate covered coffee beans later, I asked for my bill and my favorite waiter told me there was no charge! So I wandered off into the sunshine thinking how lucky I am. I'm not sure I can ever leave Istanbul, I am completely and utterly spoiled here. Brave? More like spoiled and coddled.

It was such a nice, sunny day, warm for this time of year. I thought I should do something outside, but couldn't think what, so I wandered over to my friend’s hotel thinking I would pick up the candelabra I bought from him. I picked it out a week ago, and paid for it two days ago, but somehow never managed to get it home (why I am buying candelabras at a hotel is a story for another day).

So, I fetched my candelabra and we sat around the hotel lobby watching "Ratatouille" on my MacBook. I drank sage tea. I watched an episode of Meerkat Manor. Someone brought me a tea which I made the mistake of drinking (if you sit still in Turkey for more than five minutes someone will bring you tea. I think it’s a rule). Since I hadn't had anything to eat except coffee beans for six hours the tea made me nauseous and I decided I needed to go eat. I asked if I could have a bag or if I needed to carry the candlestick home held aloft like some sort of Turkish Statue of Liberty. The Turks suggested I would look more like Florence Nightingale. They had to explain to me that she was known as the lady of the light or something like that and is always pictured with a lamp. I had no idea. Anyway, they got me a plastic bag so it was covered up. It's this five-candle candelabra, very dramatic. Every time I thought of it over the past few days all I could think was "Professor Plum, in the library, with the candlestick..."

Brave? More like spoiled, coddled, and a wee bit lazy.

On my way home I called the friend who is visiting from the U.S. We went for a quick dinner, picked up some groceries, and were home by 6:30, in our jammies. On Friday. Yeah, I'm feeling really brave and interesting! I spent the rest of the night doing some sewing, putting together a little table, cleaning my candlestick and chatting online-- fascinating stuff!

I do feel lucky, but not brave. Like I am in the right place for me at the moment, but a place that would drive lots of other people crazy. And of course, that’s the secret-- to find the place that’s right for you at the moment. I don’t know about bravery, but I do know it would take a strength I just don’t have to live somewhere less right for me.

So, I will finish with one more quote:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave.
~Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar, 1894


I’m not brave, I’m just not afraid.

An Istanbul Christmas














The mysterious mirrored ball with hat which appeared shortly before Christmas. It appears to have thudded to earth from a great height, displacing cobblstones upon impact...




Because Turkey is approximately 98% Muslim, Christmas is not celebrated here, at least not in the way we Americans are used to. I was confused and curious though, to see what Christmas would be like since many of my Turkish friends would refer to Christmas and the Christmas season.

About two weeks before Christmas I saw my first Christmas decoration go up. A small artificial tree with blue lights appeared in the window of the Pudding Shop, a well-known restaurant on the main street of Sultanahmet. Soon lights and snowflakes and decorations appeared in the malls and every once in awhile I would hear a Christmas song playing in a restaurant.

Things that never appeared:
Christmas commercials on television
Christmas sales
After Christmas sales
Rudolph, or any other reindeer

Also, no live trees. When I asked a friend if Turks ever have live trees he laughed and said there are more Turks than trees so if they had live trees for Christmas there would be no trees left in Turkey. My very favorite decoration was the ladder hung with lights and Christmas balls in the back of the pastry shop; it was festive, clever, and creative.

My students were very surprised when I told them school would be closed for a week. This year the Muslim holiday Kurban Bayram came right before Christmas so my language school closed for a full week in recognition of the Turkish holiday but also because most of the teachers come from countries (England, America, Canada) where Christmas is a big deal. However, the Turkish universities were open, so my friends who teach there were working on Christmas day.

I had planned to take Christmas day easy, but it turned out I had to take care of a little business so I headed out to my café with my laptop. It was festive because of the lights and decorations, but other than that, the streets bustled with business as usual. The café workers on my usual path had been wishing me merry Christmas intermittently for a week or so, but there was no special recognition that today was the day. In fact, every so often someone had asked when Christmas actually was, and if it was right to say merry Christmas now, or when they should.

I worked away until my battery ran low, but when I moved to the table near the only electrical outlet in the place I found that there was something plugged into it. I considered leaving but wanted to get some more work done. When I asked if I could unplug the one little tree which seemed to be the only thing occupying the outlet, they said no, but then came back in five minutes and unplugged it for me, causing ALL the Christmas decorations in the place to go dark. Apparently everything was connected to the one little tree. So the only Christian in the place was responsible for taking the sparkle out of Christmas.

It turns out that New Year’s Eve is the holiday that everyone really celebrates. In fact, some of the “Christmas” trees don’t go up until after Christmas, they are put up for the New Year celebrations, which are pretty much the same here as in America. Some people go out to big parties, some go to restaurants, and some stay home. I had a relatively quiet night with friends, but from the sound of it some of the celebrations are as rowdy and loud as in New York, with drunken revelers on the streets and people dancing the night away. One difference was that Santa appeared. There’s a pub on a busy corner where a man in a suit and hat stands outside, inviting and welcoming passersby. Because I see him almost every day, we’ve come to know each other a bit and have a regular dialogue where we exchange greetings and how-are-yous in Turkish. On New Year’s Eve he turned up in a Santa suit, complete with beard, and instead of our usual greetings I got a kiss from Santa. It was a week late, but a kiss from Santa is always welcome.