Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ne zor

Turkish food, while tasty, does tend toward repetition. This "caution" from a travel article about Lebanon in the (purportedly) English-language daily Today's Zaman perhaps lends a little insight into the Turkish culinary mentality:

Cuisine: You will have no problem finding delicious food that appeals to your taste buds in Lebanon. The one factor that might be a little difficult is the abundant use of spices and distinctive sauces.
Yes, those abundant, distinctive flavors are to be avoided at all costs.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bizim ödülümüz

Yesterday, I literally went up a level at Dilmer, the language school where I've been studying since my arrival in Istanbul. Whether by coincidence or design, each subsequent class has been on an increasingly higher floor of the building, and for all the hard work it took to get to level 5 (and to climb all those darn stairs to the 6th floor), we were rewarded with this view:

A bit distracting, değil mi?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hey, it's that guy again

No blog about Turkey could be complete without a post about Atatürk and the occasion of gazing upon his false teeth seems like a good enough excuse for mine. Founder and first president of the Turkish Republic, Atatürk is basically to the Turks as JFK and the Pope rolled into one would be to American Catholics. No home or business is complete without a framed photo of him on the wall, not even the smallest park could be without a statue of him, and it's actually against the law to say anything bad about him. (Hopefully noting that the amount of gold in said teeth wouldn't impress an Uzbek doesn't fall into that category.)

In addition to cutting quite the dashing figure, Atatürk really did influence modern Turkey to an insane degree with his insistence on turning it practically overnight into a "secular," "Western" society--the meaning of which is hotly debated still. I mean, the guy even made everyone in the country take a last name. (Humbly dubbing himself "Father Turk.") And I personally owe him a debt of gratitude because without his changing the alphabet from Arabic to Latin-plus-a-few-spare-letters, Turkish would be even harder to learn.

Now about those teeth. You can find them at the Atatürk Museum, a nondescript pink house in Şişli where the great man apparently laid his head for a time. Also on display is some dirt from the town where he was born, various outfits and accessories, and an entire room of commemorative stamps: Atatürk lost in thought while smoking! Atatürk's mom! His adopted daughter, Turkey's first female pilot! Atatürk looking out the train window as it brought him closer to his people! You get the idea. But if you're half as fascinated by this whole business as I am, it's still worth seeing for yourself.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Yazın hüzün

Yalnız bir kişi için İstanbul'un güzelliği bazen çok fazla tahammül edebilir.

Sometimes this city's beauty is almost too much to bear alone.

Ev hanımın olmak istiyorum*

I wish I'd taken a picture of the lovely salad I made for the little dinner party I attended last night. Or the banana bread I baked for the morning boat trip this past weekend. Or the kick-ass potato and kale soup I made last week for no reason at all. Now no one is ever going to believe how domestic I'm getting over here, an unexpected, but not-unwelcome side effect of being on my own, trying to save money, and having a vastly reduced selection of good restaurants around me. Between the cooking, the baby-holding, and the laundry hanging-out (dryers aren't exactly de rigueur here), I'm turning into a right proper housewife. Now I just need to learn how to iron. Whatever it takes to snare the Turkish man of my dreams. (Şaka yapıyorum, şaka yapıyorum!)

* The first time I came to Turkey, seven years ago, a guy working at one of the hostels where we were staying told our friend Ana that she would make a good housewife. He seemed to think that this was quite a high compliment. So Ayla taught us how to say this, one of the first Turkish phrases I ever learned: "I want to be your housewife." Alas, I've yet to have occasion to deploy this gem.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oh, a Turk... well, why didn't you say so?

Sad, but perversely funny story from my hometown paper today:

Asylum case reopened on transcription error
(05-14) 15:54 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- When Svetlana Grigoryan was presenting her case for political asylum in the United States, she testified through an interpreter that a crowd of people attacked her family in her native Armenia in 1995, badly injuring her and killing her 13-year-old son, "because my mother was a cook." ...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Local angle

Even though I know news outlets often demand a local angle on international stories from their reporters, it always bothered me when papers back home would highlight the handful of Americans who lived or died in a disaster that had affected thousands. I don't know if it makes me feel better or worse to see that the Turkish papers do the same: Yes, 23,000 to 100,000 people are dead in Myanmar, but at least those 50 Turks are OK.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sabahleyin Boğaziçi'nde deniz gezintisi

Today, I tip my mimosa glass to the U.S. government (I know, I know, how often do I say that?!) for not only providing me with a beautiful, and dirt-cheap, Bosphorus cruise this morning, thanks to a diplomat friend, but helping fund my lifestyle with the tax rebate check it deposited into my bank account this week.

Thanks, fellas. I'll be sure to use the cash to help stimulate the economy...of Turkey.

More photos from the water after the jump...


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hoş geldin, David!

The Istanbul ex-pat crew has a bebek in the family now, Matt and Jes's adorable baby boy David Abraham, who we all excitedly welcomed to town on Saturday.

(Photo by Christy Q)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Bir Mayıs

There was no dancing around a ribbon-bedecked pole here yesterday. In Istanbul, May 1st is a day to bring out the heavy artillery. (Then again, when isn't that the case?)

It was sunny, beautiful, and very, very quiet as Ayla and I walked up Istıklal Cadessı to Taksim Meydanı, the massive central square in Beyoğlu where protests for workers' rights have been banned since 37 demonstrators were killed in 1977. With probably 75 percent of the shops along the way shuttered, the workers' groups had, in a strange way, achieved part of their goal: making May Day a holiday, at least in this part of town.

It seemed unlikely, however, that they would be able to fulfill their declared intention to march on Taksim, which was completely encircled by fencing and guarded at every possible entrance by mobs of riot police, as well as snipers (ahem, sharpshooters) on the roofs of nearby buildings. I read later that there were 30,000 police patrolling Istanbul.

With area schools closed, tourist season already seemingly in full swing, and transit closures keeping many people at home, there were plenty of gawkers watching the cops watch the empty streets.

And with the square so heavily guarded, what protesters there were ended up in the side streets, including those of the hotel district just northeast of the square, giving coffee-sipping tourists quite an eyeful. (And at least one group of heavily styled and shopping-bag-laden women a noseful of tear gas as they tottered along the cobbled street in their high heels.)

So, we heard some chants, got some whiffs of gas, and called it a day, not realizing that the real action (such as it was) was right up the street from my house!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What I learned on my trip to Sofia

1. Don't go to an Orthodox Christian country on Easter weekend
When even Dunkin' Donuts is closed, you know you're in trouble. The town was dead as a doornail. Sure, I've been living in a Muslim country, and my Protestant peeps back home all celebrated the holiday a month ago, but this little oversight made me feel like the kind of cultural ignoramus everyone expects Americans to be. I hate that.

2. Every city park should sell hot donuts and cold beer
Istanbul is particularly lacking on both counts, but even my fair San Francisco is uncharacteristically prudish about the drinking-in-public part. Point for Bulgaria.

3. Cyrillic is like, really, really hard
I generally avoid restaurants with photos on the menu like the plague, but I sure would have loved to find one in Sofia! It was humbling to look at menus and wall signs and train schedules and not even be able to recognize, much less understand, a single word. I could walk past the place I was looking for two or three times before realizing that I had actually found it, since my map and guidebook had everything written out in the Latin alphabet, while all the signage was... not.

(On the flip side, finding myself continually thinking, "I wish I could just ask this in Turkish!" made me realize I'm coming along better than I thought with my language classes. I was besides myself with happiness to come back to the bus station for the return trip and be able to stow my luggage with a quick "Çantam otobuse koyabilir miyim?")

4. The call to prayer sounds awfully forlorn as a solo act
There's just one little mosque in all of Sofia. When the call to prayer began, I kept expecting the chorus to grow, but it sounded thin and lonely with no others to join in.

5. Nobody does spike heels and painted-on pants at church like the women of the former Soviet Union
It's an especially nice touch when the gold of their shoes reflects the golden glow of the candles they're carrying. You don't see that at Eyüp Camii. No wonder one of the Russian churches had a sign indicating, along with the usual "no cell phones," "no cameras," "no food" symbols, what could only be interpreted as icons for "no mini-skirts" and "no backless tops."

6. Pork is really, really tasty
Especially when it's stuffed with bacon and blue cheese. OK, I already knew that last one. But in this case, absence really did make the heart grow fonder.