Monday, June 29, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Yesterday was an early call, pulling away from the Troya Hotel in Istanbul and heading toward Troy. Several people have caught some kind of intestinal bug, so that makes traveling difficult for them because we are in a van that carries all 18 of us. The group dynamics are lively and quite animated. We've already picked up on the eccentricities and quirkiness of each group member, and we move about Turkey with much laughter...
So... this is a bit of a catch up time. We went to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar a couple days ago. The sights, sounds, and smells are absolutely intoxicating in the markets. Hazelnuts are a specialty here, as are apricots, figs, dates, and olives. Everyone tries to lure you into their particular stall or selling area, so the market is filled with very lively interactions.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Merhaba, dear friends!
Today was filled with many adventures, part of which began with getting lost before the day even began. A couple of us were bringing up the rear as we traveled on foot to one of the synagogues in Istanbul, and as we were talking, we noticed that the group had taken a turn. Must've been more than one turn very quickly, as we lost them at that moment. We spent the next 45 minutes or so trekking up and down cobbled streets that were very steep. The shower I'd just taken was replaced by early morning climbing sweat.
Fortunately, I had the itinerary in my backpack, so we at least had the name of the synagogue to work with. After asking a series of people for directions, we were able to locate the synagogue. Security at the synagogue is very tight, with entrances off the main street, security cameras, and metal detection systems to go through. The fear of attack is apparently very real, as there was a bomb that went off outside the synagogue a few years back. As a result, the inside of the church is fully equipped with hard hat helmets, all of which are attached to the bottom of each seat in the synagogue. This precaution allows the members to protect themselves in the event of an attack.
Two leaders of the synagogue spoke at length with us this morning. The Jewish community has been a presence in Istanbul for over 500 years. Part of the talk today had to do with the influx of Jews from Spain during the Spainish Inquisition. One of the speakers even shared with us the Spanish influence on music in the synagogue. She also shared a Turkish hymn with us, which had 9 tones between every whole step. She had an amazing voice and mezmerized all of us with her beautiful a cappella singing.
Later in the day, we visited a traditional Turkish bath. We all decided that this would be a lovely way to spend every Friday after school let out for the week. We signed on for the "full package," which consisted of a sauna on a room-size block of warm marble, a scrub down with an exfoliating soap, a jacuzzi, and an oil massage. Each step along the way enhanced the relaxation experience to a new level. The jacuzzi was especially memorable because I was actually alone in there for about fifteen minutes. I noticed that the acoustics in there were especially alive, so I of course began singing. I sang "Havah Nagela," partly to commemorate our trip to the synagogue today. Then, I sang "In the Lord I'll be ever thankful," dedicating this prayerful song to Norm Gouin, my dear friend who is our former music director. I am confident that Norm, wherever he happened to be in Philadelphia this evening, heard that song...
Istanbul is so lovely at night. The lighted mosques are an intricate part fo the skyline, reminding everyone that this is very much an islamic city. The city lights are not overwhelming or garrish, and it is easy to find yourself lingering on bridges and overpasses, just taking in the city.
Yet another ritual begun yesterday and continued today: Turkish coffee. This is a thick substance served in a very small teacup. It can be ordered as "sweet" as one likes, and I opted for very little sweetness. As most of you know, I am not a coffee drinker, but I needed to try this famous national treasure of a beverage. I enjoyed it very much, and it certainly helped propel myself through a very busy day with lots of uphill climbing. In order to finish the Turkish coffee, you must add a little water to the bottom of the cup. Even with this modification, it is very hard to drink it to the last drop...
And with that sharing, I will say goodnight. It is almost three a.m., and I am finding myself becoming more and more sleep deprived. We travel to Troy area tomorrow, with an 8 hour bus ride. So, i should be able to catch up on some sleep on the bus...
I'll close with a most appropriate Turkish proverb for today:
"A cup of coffee commits one to forty years of friendship." -Turkish Proverb
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Yesterday afternoon, after a cone of refreshing lemon ice cream, we were treated to a boatride on the Bosphorous. It was a shining afternoon, with increasing choppiness on the water as the day progressed. The view from the water made all of us realize the enormity of the Bosphorous...and how the buildings along the shoreline tell story after story about the rich history of Istanbul. Fortresses, summer palaces, mosques, buildings turned into 5 star hotels, children diving into the water along the shoreline mosques, etc... The friendliness of the Turkish people spoke beautifully again, as the owner of the small boat, which held about 25 people, stopped and got water for all of us.
There were moments when I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing...feeling almost as if I'd stumbled upon a postcard and magically walked inside the border. And there were moments when all I could do was close my eyes, position my face toward the sun, and just feel the day on my skin...
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
This "Mediterranean" lifestyle is very much in harmony with my natural rhythms, and I can already see a vacation to Italy and/or Greece in my future at some point... There is a warmth and a friendliness here that is very embraceable...
This is a quick photo of my roommate Patricia and me. Just a quick commercial... I truly lucked out on roomates! She is a wonderful human being with a marvelous wit and a great sense of adventure. She, too, has four children, so we have many "mom" stories to swap...Found out this evening, while drinking hazlenut frappes and watermelon smoothies, that she has been involved in college and community theatre, too. While she played the mom in several children's theatre productions, largely because she was tall, I played the "b" Inez in Sartre's No Exit. We can make each other laugh through camera failures, internet frenzy, and not being able to get in or out of our hotel room. By the way, we were a bit stalked by a man who claimed to be a look alike for George Clooney here in Istanbul... Our continued watchword is "tomorrow" as we move on down the cobblestone road...
I've slept three hours last night and about two the night before, so my eyeballs are aching like the dickens... So, I will share today's many adventures in tomorrow's blog. Just to whet your reading appetite, here was our agenda today:
*visit Hagia Sophia
*visit Byzantine Cistern
*Sulyman Mosque, cemetary, grounds...
*hunt for a new camera to replace (hopefully temporary) SLR camera I usually use... an adventure into the bowels of the city, which included more uphill walking than I thought physically possible
*walking across famous bridge that used to be chain links designed by the Byzantines to keep the Ottoman Turks from entering the Golden Horn
*observing the city's many skylines at dusk and at nightfall
*riding on tram, train, and subway
I will elaborate on each of the above tomorrow! Oh, by the way, while waiting in heavy traffic, our van was hit by a train.... no injuries, just a jarring smack, and the train kept on going...
And the proverb for the day celebrates the magical nature of friendship, I believe...
"No camel route is long with good company." -Turkish Proverb
Many thanks to all the members of this Fulbright... and a special thanks to Gottfried, our calm-demeanored leader, who is an amazing wealth of knowledge, insight, and information. He is our hero, our shining star, our noble tour guide, our scholar in residence...
Monday, June 22, 2009
Sunday, June 21, 2009
June 22, 2009
I would like to begin this journey by dedicating this Turkey blog to Paul Maxim, a young man very familiar with the joy that adventure can bring to one's life. Paul is the son of Sandy, a beloved friend of mine. Sadly, Paul is no longer with us. He lost his life in a skateboarding accident, engaged in the passion that most propelled his life. He leaves behind a legacy of a free spirit and a family that loves him dearly. A special embrace goes out to Pete, Paul's twin, who is finding the world to be a strange and lonely place without Paul. My heart to Sandy and her whole family in this time of such sadness. There will be a funeral service for Paul at St. John Student Parish in East Lansing on Thursday afternoon. I thank both Father Joe and Father Mark, in advance, for the guidance and the comfort that they will offer to family and friends. I am sorry I will not be able to be there to sing Paul into the heavens...
Dear Sandy... my heart to you.
"Life is either a great adventure or nothing..." -Helen Keller
With less than four hours sleep the last 48 hours, I am going to begin with images of Istanbul thus far. I'm not sure my mind is awake enough to connect them, but I don't want to wait to post because wifi access here at the Troya Hotel is somewhat sporadic. A few folks on this Turkey Fulbright have spent time in China, too, and it would be appropriate to say that internet access is "ma ma hoo hoo" (not great, not awful) at this point.
Driving along what I think was the Bosphorous yesterday, Sunday afternoon, as we left the airport. Clusters of people gathered along the water, many with small grills, preparing a picnic lunch for themselves and their family and friends. For miles and miles, people everywhere, with cars parked in somewhat mangled bunches along the road. And everywhere, there are hammocks... some permanant in the park area, perhaps, but most seemed to be set up by each group of people. Small children swinging one another in the hammocks. Adults reclining, sleeping or just gently swinging. Lovers leaning against trees, just cuddling, not necessarily looking at the water, but each other.
Nothing seems to be "straight" here in Istanbul. The roads are curved, the streets are curved, there are inclines everywhere, and even the flower plantings are in "s" curves along the median and along the sides of the road. There are marigolds, which reminded me of the women in Nepal who greeted us with lias created from hours of sewing blossoms into a circle of flowers with a needle and thread. There seem to be geraniums, too, planted along the road, but I'll need to get a closer look before knowing for sure.
Eggplant, kabobs, walnuts, and all types of fish line the alley marketplaces. We were treated to a dinner with a most spectacular terrace view last night at 360 Istanbul Istiklal restaurant. The restaurant was on the 8th floor of a building, with a terrace setting that overlooked the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. Some very aggressive birds perched around us, one even swooping inside the restaurant. Much larger than pigeons.... We even saw some kind of birds hovering outside the hotel, a beautiful luminescent white bird, dancing in the sky right in front of the hotel.
Jeff, one of the members on this trip, called his first taste of one of the appetizers served an "explosion of flavors in the mouth." Olives and eggplant and walnuts all wrapped in a shell, and it truly did explode in your mouth. Several baskets of bread, too, were replenished on the table. My family knows that I most certainly could live and thrive on bread alone. The most delicious was the double layer of carmelized onions and olives baked onto a soft white bread. As many of you know, I love to experiment with new tastes, so I tried a summer shish kabob along with a thyme salad and an eggplant puree nested in a stiff phllo dough surrounded by sesame seeds. The thyme salad was almost entirely thyme, mixed with tomatoes and a balsamic vinegar. Delicious... I will move on from the culinary exploits so that I do not become fixated...
After dinner, Patricia, my roommate and I , explored the area. We were told to always take a left out of the hotel door, as going down to the right would lead us to a rather "seedy" area where drugs are exchanged. Shop owners are in competition for business, and many own terrace restaurants. There are many tables along the street, and it was a thriving Sunday evening filled with people of all ages walking and talking. Patricia told me that she had read an article that the Turkish people are the 4th most social in the world, devoting much time to socializing and simply walking and talking with friends. Men and women are very affectionate with same sex, too, and it is not unusual to see men and women walking along holding hands or with arms connected as they walk along with their same sex friends. There is a casualness and friendliness here that is vibrant, alive, and very palpable.
Back to shop owners... many will approach you along the walkway, which has been redesigned to be free of cars. There is a trolly/streetcar sort of vehicle in the center... an embrace to you, dear Blanche DuBois! The quote of the evening has to be this one: "I have a lovely chair that is waiting for your bottom," a Turkish man said to me as he tried to get us to sit down at his establishment. Patricia and I supposedly have our entire "dance card" full for tomorrow evening, as we made many promises of "tomorrow." Because we had just eaten a full dinner, we weren't hungry. However, many of the shop owners gave us their business cards and said, "You promise to come back tomorrow? Yes?"
We did finally get escorted to one of the terrace restaurants by a very friendly gentleman who offered a round of drinks on the house. There was a traveling trio of musicians... and my daughter Annelise will be excited to hear that one of them was a clarinet player. Another played guitar, and a third played a stringed instrument that resembled a Russian belalaika. They had very much a klezmer kind of sound as they strolled from table to table serenading customers. Across the alley there was a disco club, which opened at ten. We also saw a Salsa/hip hop dance club along one of the avenues.
We need to get downstairs for the hotel breakfast. So, I will close for now, knowing that I will have many new images to report when we chat again... We are going to meet with the Armenian Patriarchate , His Excellency MesropII, this morning. We will also be visiting the Hagia Sofia, Hippodrom, Cistern, and Blue Mosque today. An ambitious day, as they all will be, I think...
I wish you a day filled with the easy friendliness of the Turkish people...
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Merhaba, dear friends...
Thinking Out Loud
At the Firefly Jazz Club
in Ann Arbor
a miniature lights
smokeless bistro sort of place
that feels more like new age
than guttural, dusty jazz,
I met a couple from Turkey
And I wonder if everyone there
is as beautiful as they are...
Coffee skin, warm,
moist with years of Istanbul humidity
hair clumped in gray curls
and eyes soft and intense, singing,
telling me of the jazz festival
in their home
all of June and segueing into July...
A beautiful place
he tells me,
But a hard, difficult city
to live in.
You'll see what I mean
when you are there
in the streets
the traffic crowding you
And the woman
tells me of Cappadocia
and how I must see the stars
in this place with such a sky
so few lights
how you'll never believe
how many stars
are in our Turkish sky...
And I was thinking about last summer
and walking in the rain
in Guiyang, China
after karaoke and a shared beer,
knowing I long for another night
under a foreign sky.
I want to hear Turkey
whisper to me
over and over again
under a starry Cappadocia sky...
A week from today, I will arrive in Istanbul, Turkey. Traveling with 15 teachers via a Fulbright-Hays Program, I'll be immersed in Turkish culture for approximately 4 1/2weeks. Our schedule is rich, ambitious, and textured with visits to many mosques, amazing historical sites, and places that I know will remind me that I need to keep breathing...
All of us met at the University of Michigan a couple weeks ago for a weekend orientation workshop. The session began with an essay test: there are nine topics from which to choose, Gottfried told us, and we were to select six. My initial thought was, are they trying to discover my stupidity about Turkey? In my days on the student side of the classroom, I remember Turkey as "the place where East meets West," and beyond that, I had only a map of Turkey in my head. I have much to learn...
Between the guest professors sharing many aspects of Turkey with us, the trip to Ann Arbor's Turkish Ayse's Cafe, and a two night stint at The Firefly Jazz Club where we met a couple from Turkey, I am now thoroughly entranced with the many gifts Turkey has to offer.
I have been fortunate to work with two students from Turkey this past year at the middle school where I teach in East Lansing, Michigan: Babur and Seyda. Babur's quick wit and very natural sense of humor, along with an excellent sense of comedic timing, kept us amused and filled with his light spirit all year. Seyda, filled with passion for the power of language, drew us all in with her lyrical and starkly honest poetry. There is a small possibility that I may be able to visit Babur in Turkey, as his family goes on holiday to their summer place outside Istanbul.
This week I will commit to memory several Turkish phrases that will help communication. I also plan to travel lightly... and for those who know me, you know how difficult this is for me to do. I don't anticipate the need for my usual "comfort food" jar of peanut butter I usually take overseas, as I think my stomach will be more than satisfied with lamb kabobs, baklava, and hazelnuts. Already occupying their place in my suitcase are the bookmarks my students designed. The bookmarks will be gifts, celebrating and honoring new friendships in Turkey. A special thanks to my students who might be reading this blog...
A country's proverbs are often a very significant path to understanding, and, often, cross-cultural similarities. I've been reading many Turkish proverbs, and I would like to end this first entry with one of my favorites thus far:
"...Having two ears and one tongue, we should listen twice as much as we speak..."
And with those words of wisdom, I will say Iyi geceler, goodnight. I look forward to much listening and learning in Turkey...
P.S. As I was reading Turkish proverbs, I also came across this one...
"...An ass does not appreciate fruit compote."
And so it goes...