Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey in Turkey III, the facts and figures

I hosted Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday for the third time in three years, something that has quickly become my favorite tradition in Turkey. As I've explained to the many non-Americans I've shared the occasion with, Thanksgiving is the best American holiday because there's no religion and no gift-buying involved, just eating and drinking with people you (hopefully) like.

Once I cooked a turkey successfully the first year, I decided not to really mess with that, but when October rolls around, I always start looking for new side-dish recipes to add to the ones worth cooking again. This year's menu included:

And for dessert (not made by me), a quince tart and Iranian halva.

On the guest list:
  • 5 Americans
  • 3 Brits
  • 2 Iranians
  • 2 Germans
  • 1 Dane
  • 1 French
  • 1 Turk
The ingredients in the meal were a little melting pot of their own, including:
  • American cranberries and Danish sausage from Denmark
  • Danish blue cheese from Lebanon (I decided to hold onto the French Roquefort from Djibouti for another occasion)
  • rosewater brought straight from Iran that morning
  • American maple syrup acquired in Portugal
  • sea salt, cayenne pepper, hot sauce, and various other things transported from America
  • and, of course,
  • a turkey from Turkey
Since so many of the guests were celebrating their first-ever Thanksgiving, I decided to make a little speech explaining the meaning of the holiday, in the warm fuzzy way we learned in elementary school before we knew anything about colonialism or small pox. As I went through the story, it started to feel strangely appropriate, speaking as I was to a group of people who have settled in a land that was not our own, relying on each other to help us get through the hard metaphorical winters -- the bureaucracy, the strangeness, the language barrier, the loneliness -- and harvest something valuable from our sometimes faltering labors. Şükran günümüz kutlu olsun! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Break-dancers, suicide bombers, and the illusion of safety: Confessions of a fearful traveler

It was crisp and clear yesterday morning as I raced through Istanbul’s Taksim Square, fretting that I should have left the house just a few minutes earlier and grumbling to myself, as usual, about having to work on yet another Sunday. In the center of the square, underneath the massive statue commemorating Turkish independence, a limber teenage boy was doing a one-armed hand-hop to the delight of a small crowd while two girls practiced lower-to-the-ground break-dancing moves. I stopped to watch for a moment and smiled, my foul mood temporarily lightened.

Thirty minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up at that very spot in an attack on police forces stationed at the square, injuring 15 officers and 17 passersby. I didn’t learn what had happened until I reached the office of the newspaper where I work. When we switched on the TV as we do each morning, the sound of sirens filled the newsroom.

Though it was by no means the first such attack in Istanbul, this one, quite literally, hit closer to home....

Read the rest on, which published this essay as one of its "Life stories" under the title "All my little illusions of safety"