A few books for the end of the year

A friend brought me a big bag of books, so I started in on them with alacrity. What a treasure! And most are books I would have chosen for myself. I also have books from the library, so I am good to go for a while.

bear mountain

The first one I read from the book bag was The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotswinkle. I read something by him many years ago and although I can’t remember which book it was, I remember that I enjoyed his writing. I read in bed before I go to sleep, so I was reading this and laughing out loud. It takes a lot for a book to do that! The bear is question stole a briefcase containing a novel written by a sort of loser English professor in Maine. The bear ends up taking it to New York City, where he learns to stand on his own two feet and is feted as a sort of Ernest Hemingway. Since he is a bear, he doesn’t speak well and in fact speaks in terse phrases, but you can see the agents and critics taking these phrases and spinning their own understandings of them. It is really hilarious. Although the book was published almost 20 years ago, some things never change. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.

art of racing in the rain

Another book I read was The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. In a way, it is a guy’s tearjerker, as the story is told by a dog who, like his owner, loves racing cars. Through the dog we follow the story of Denny, who falls in love with and marries Eve. They have a little girl, Zoe, and then a few years later Eve dies of brain cancer. Her parents sue for custody and the Denny, with the help of Enzo the dog, keeps to his racing principles in spite of bumps in the road. I am not a dog person and I don’t know the first thing about car racing, but it was a nice story with a satisfying ending. I probably would not have picked it up myself, but I am glad it came my way.

girl saved king of sweden

I read The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared a few months ago, so when The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden came my way, I was happy to read it. However, Jonas Jonasson make me laugh quite as much with this one. I felt he was forcing it a bit and I definitely think that there were a lot of in-jokes about Sweden here. Like the other book, he referred to and incorporated real historical events with some real historical people. When the King of Sweden finally came into the story I found myself wondering if he had read the book and if he had enjoyed how he was portrayed in it. It was a fun book to read, all in all, but I wished I had known more about the political workings of Sweden in order to get the jokes better.

These next books are library books. I am reading less these days, and there have been a few books that I started and abandoned because they were so crappy– their names will not be told. I have also been getting into Canadiana, which is kind of interesting for an expat.

stone carvers

The first one is The Stone Carvers by Jane Urqhuart. This is set in the woods of rural Ontario, from the calling of an Austrian priest who decides to build a church in the village, with the help of a woodcarver, also from Austria, to the granddaughter of the woodcarver, who is a carver herself. She in fact, lost her first love to the First World War and goes with her hobo brother to Vimy Ridge to help on the monument to the Canadians lost in the war. She dresses like a young man in order to go, but is eventually found out. This spinster has guts and her brother does too, as he had been a soldier there and did not want to go. It was a good story.

my october

Another one is My October by Claire Holden Rothman. For Canadians of a certain age, like me, October 1970 was one of the few times in Canadian history where we had to deal with terrorism. One person was killed by the people wanting a separate Quebec and an Irish diplomat was kidnapped and held for two months. This story deal with a couple, Luc Levesque, who is a Quebec nationalist and writer, and his wife Hannah, who is an anglophone and translates his books into English. Their son, Hugo, is going through adolescent angst, particularly when he sees his father with another woman. Hannah’s father, an Austrian Jew, had been the prosecutor against the separatists. In the story he has had a stroke, but eventually Hugo lands on his doorstep. It is a good look at the separatist movement decades later, as well as the struggle within a family to deal with their family past. It did not sentimentalize the events and in fact was quite interesting and a good read.

guide for the perplexed

A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn was a little dense at times, as the title refers to a book written by a Jewish scholar in the 12th century. The story also includes a Jewish scholar from Romania who becomes involved in dealing with the pile of documents from the genizah of an ancient synagogue in Cairo. A genizah is where any paper with the name of god on it was thrown, a sort of garbage heap, now a gold mine for scholars. The other protagonist was an American Jewish woman, Josie, who has developed a computer program called Genizah, which keeps memories on a computer, with particular parts behind doors. Josie goes to Alexandria to help with the computer systems at the new library there and ultimately is kidnapped and has a copy of the Guide for the Perplexed with her. We see what some of the points are, which to me as a non scholar and non Jew were a little convoluted. The book goes back and forth among these main characters in an interesting way.  real guide for perplexed

It was interesting to see the concept of keeping memories, particularly since a few years ago I read another book about a genizah, possibly from the same synagogue. I completely forget the name of the book and a Google search came up with nothing, but in it the writer (from India, who had done his PhD thesis on this) followed the story through correspondence between a merchant and his mentor. At any rate, I was familiar with the concept of a genizah, and in fact I would say that a lot of my blogs here are from my personal genizah.

Happy reading in 2015!

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Thoughts on Solitude

I am used to being alone at home, but in the past it was after work. Now there is no work and I am at home for days at a time. I think a lot. At this time of my life I look back. Sometimes I have to laugh at who I was. But what an interesting life.

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In the just past chapter of my life I ran a cafe and so every day I met new people or regular customers would drop in. I cooked and baked and made coffee and tea for people every day of the week. I hosted poetry readings, an amazing variety of music, special dinners, and other events. There was always something in the works.

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Now, however, I live in a small quiet town where I can count on one hand how many people I know. Although I still bake, most of it goes in the freezer or I give it away to, for example, my sister or the lady who takes me to the laundromat. Certainly no one just drops by and most of the new people I meet are not much interested in hearing my Istanbul stories.

So, I am becoming well acquainted with solitude. I am used to being busy, so when the highlight of the day is biking to the supermarket or taking out the garbage, it is kind of sad. I don’t feel very useful and now that I am older and my hair is mostly gray, I feel that I am often dismissed in passing. I stopped in to several shops to give in my resume, but since I am a stranger and there is no one to recommend me, I did not have much luck.

The last time I tried to live in Canada I fell into a very deep depression. I can tell I am a little depressed once in a while, because I tear up at odd times. However, I try to keep myself occupied with reading stuff on the internet, playing games, reading a lot, and watching YouTube movies in the evening as I make baby sweaters or hats or whatever.

I have had a very interesting life and this is a good time to reflect on it. I started a new blog (yani) and use some of my photos to write about my travels and adventures. Although quite a few of the old group emails I wrote have disappeared (these were before blogs), I still have some and post those on the blog. It is akin to slide shows in the past except that people have the option to read them, instead of being forced to sit politely in the dark while I describe my trip to wherever.

plains of abraham

I write about some of the books I have read (though a lot of them are quite forgettable). Reading is kind of a luxury. To do it you have to sit or lie quietly, so it looks like you aren’t doing anything. But reading takes you away into a good story or good characterization. It engages the mind in analyzing the worth of the book or how the story or character relates to me. If the reading is nonfiction, it enlarges the mind. However, just because I am not moving, it does not mean that some part of me is not working.

These days I feel a bit like a bit of flotsam floating along on one of the many lakes or rivers around here. I am a stranger and people in this town don’t take to strangers. I can’t find work because I don’t know someone who knows someone. However, I have developed a routine where I consult with the internet and read a lot.

When I had the cafe and was not busy I could always find busywork. I could do some deep cleaning or bake something, or whatever. Now I have a very small place that I can clean in about 15 minutes, I just moved in, so there is no deep cleaning, and it is too small to wander around in. So when I am home, I am usually sitting with laptop on my lap or sitting outside on the porch smoking or lying around reading or even just thinking. It is a different life, but I have decided that it is temporary until I find other things to do, so I might as well embrace it. If it doesn’t look like I am being busy, THERE IS NO ONE TO SEE IT! Like there was before- ha. But here I can be alone. Sometimes I can be lonely, but mostly I am learning to love solitude.

One of the things that we don’t talk about related to solitude is the freedom to let our bodies make the sounds they do, especially as we get older. Huff and puff, snore and snort, fart and burp. Feels so good. And of course there is the sotto voce talking to myself, though rarely getting an answer. And yes, there are occasional arguments with myself!

I don’t care if I work. In fact, I feel that I have made a conscious decision to not work. I am a retired lady for the time being. I work on whatever I am making, I read, on weekends I usually I get done in a week what I often got done in a day at the cafe. There is no one to do things for, no expectation of another in this space.

I read about the curse of loneliness and how it is a silent killer. But there is a difference between loneliness and solitude. To me, loneliness means that you want to be with another person and you feel the lack. Solitude, on the other hand, means that you are quite content with your own company. Of course I feel lonely sometimes and I miss having friends close by. But it is not the main feeling in my life these days. I like listening to music or TED talks or movies as I make things. I don’t have to entertain people, though I enjoy doing it. I like revisiting old places and people in my mind but I don’t wish to actually be there again.

The pendulum has swung from being social every day to being kind of anti-social. I think part of it is getting older and not needing so much to be looking for new people to get to know. I am not looking for a potential mate and I am not looking for work. I like myself, for the most part, and I am good company. For this year at least solitude works for me.

Christmas at the Cafe

Molly’s Cafe became famous for its Christmas dinners over its years of existence. We served turkey with bread dressing, cranberry sauce (the last one made from dried cranberries), several kilos of mashed potatoes, winter vegetables, salad, apple pie, pumpkin pie (made from the green skinned Turkish pumpkins), and mince pie (mince usually imported. The one time I made it it was not very good). After some experience, I learned to include drinks, which were usually wine for those who drank it. For Christmas Eve, I made homemade egg nog (recipe below) and I had Christmas cookies. We served dinner family style, so people who did not know each other met and celebrated together in our traditional way. Truthfully, I do not miss cooking for 20 or 30 or 50 people, but I am glad I was able to do it for a few years for those who were far from home at this holiday. Below, I have pasted photos from the four locations of Molly’s Cafe.

Eggnog

6 eggs

2 ½ cups (325 ml) heavy cream

2 cups (500 ml) milk

1 cup (200 gr) sugar

½ cup (125 ml) brandy

½ cup (125 ml) rum

½ tsp (3 ml) vanilla

½ tsp (2 ml) grated nutmeg

Beat the eggs until very frothy. Add sugar and continue beating. Sprinkle in nutmeg and vanilla. Continue beating. A little at a time, add the whipping cream, continuing to beat. A little at a time, beat in the milk. Beat in the rum and brandy.

These are from the first Christmas dinner at the first cafe.

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this German couple wandered in. it was their wedding anniversary too

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Clifford Endres became Oscar’s new best friend before dinner

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oscar’s first Christmas

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Cliff Endres and John Ash, a well known British poet

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Carter’s new calling as a waiter

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artist Stefanie Rose was in town just in time to entertain Oscar while making salad dressing

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molly and carter

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Another recipe:

Pumpkin Pie

I have always made my own pumpkin rather than using canned pumpkin. It is easy to do and tastes better.

Cooked Pumpkin

Heat 1 inch (2cm) water to boiling. Cut pumpkin into 1 inch (2 cm) pieces. For 8 inch pie, you need about 1 ¼ lb / ½ kilo pumpkin. For 9 inch pie, 2 lb / 1 kilo. Add pumpkin to boiling water. Cook until tender, about 30 min. drain and cool. Cut off skin and mash until no lumps remain.

Preheat oven to 425 deg.

8 inch (20 cm) pie

pastry for 8 inch (20 cm) one-crust pie

1 egg

1 ¼ cups (300 ml) cooked pumpkin

2/3 cup (130 gr) sugar

¼ tsp (1 ml) salt

¾ tsp (4 ml) cinnamon

¼ tsp (1 ml) ground ginger

1/8 tsp (.5 ml) ground cloves

1 cup (250 ml) milk (you may have to add an extra egg).

9 inch (22 cm) pie

pastry for 9 inch (22 cm) one-crust pie

2 eggs

2 cups (500 ml) cooked pumpkin

3/4 cup (150 gr) sugar

½ tsp (2 ml) salt

1 tsp (5 ml) cinnamon

1/2 tsp (2 ml) ground ginger

1/4 tsp (1 ml) ground cloves

1 ½ cup *325 ml) regular milk (you may have to add an extra egg).

Beat eggs slightly. Beat in remaining ingredients. Place pie on oven rack and then pour in filling.

Bake 15 min. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F (180 C) deg. Bake until knife inserted in centre comes out clean– 8 inch (20 cm) pie 35 min longer, 9 inch (22 cm) pie 45 min longer. Cool.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Recipe from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook

Photos from the second cafe:

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One more recipe:

Chicken or Turkey pot pie

This is a good way to use up turkey meat when you are tired of making turkey sandwiches. You can use the leftover vegetables here too, but they may need to be chopped to be smaller.

Pastry for two-crust pie

4 tbsp (60 gr) butter or margarine, divided

1 small onion, minced

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, diced

2 tbsp parsley, chopped

1 tsp oregano

salt and pepper to taste

2 cubes chicken bouillon (optional)

2 cups water

3 potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 ½ cups cubed cooked chicken or turkey

3 tbsp flour

½ cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).

Roll out pastry. Place bottom crust in 9 or 10 inch pie pan. Set aside.

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook and stir until vegetables are soft. Stir in the bouillon and water. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in the potatoes and cook until tender but still firm.

In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Stir in the turkey and flour. Add the milk and heat through. Add this mixture to the vegetable mixture and cook until thickened. Pour mixture into pastry line pie pan. Cover with the rest of the pastry and make four slits in the top.

Bake 15 minutes. Then turn heat down to 350 deg and bake for 20 min more, until crust is brown.

Original recipe from allrecipes.com

These are from the third cafe, the biggest place and the biggest dinner– 55 people!

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cowboy the kitty inviting himself

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the dinner table(s) kept going on around the corner

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And, finally dinner at the last cafe:

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downstairs

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upstairs

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in the spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, wherever you are, have a merry Christmas with friends, family, or strangers.  Please spread the spirit of peace and goodwill to all.

Getting Around Istanbul by Water

Istanbul is surrounded on three sides by water. There is the Black Sea to the north, the Bosporus dividing the city, and the Marmara Sea along two edges of it. The Golden Horn is also an inlet that leads past the old city and up into what were once the suburbs. People have been using the sea to get around for millenia.

clean girls

These days there are a lot of options. If you are in a hurry and know the schedule, you can take the deniz otobus, which is an enclosed catamaran. It is sort of like being in a plane. It goes quickly and so costs a bit more. There are some that cross the Marmara, which takes an hour or more, depending on where you are going. There are others that ply the length of the Bosporus. They generally travel in the mornings and evenings to suit the needs of commuters.

CIMG0049   full ferry

The regular ferryboats have been crisscrossing the Bosporus for almost two centuries. The design of the ferryboats has not changed much in that time. The main body of the ferry is enclosed, full of benches and in some there is an area with tables for drinking tea. There is an outside area at the bow and aft and along the sides there are benches outside. Tea sellers come along selling tea and juice and often there are also simit sellers. People often buy a simit and then throw pieces into the air for the seagulls to catch. On the longer routes, for example to the Princes Islands, there are also other sellers, usually useless plastic goods, like the lemon juicer that you just stick into the lemon, or cheap watches. At least they are entertaining. Smoking is prohibited inside and outside, but of course many people sit outside to smoke in the fresh air. These ferries are very dear to the people, and when the city was talking about retiring them all and using just the catamarans, there was a big protest and the idea was scrapped. These ferries are very relaxing, as you can breathe the sea air, feel the breeze, and enjoy the views of Topkapi Palace, the Galata Tower, and the Maiden’s Tower, among others.IMG_0487

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Similar to the ferryboats, which are run by the city, there are vapurs, which are privately run. They are also big and have a more modern design. They are generally open on the top deck and closed in on the bottom deck. They usually leave when they are full, while the city ferryboats leave on a schedule. Some of the vapurs are small and accommodate only about 30 people. They also ply back and forth across the Bosporus. In recent years, the city has contracted with the large vapur and passengers can use their electronic tickets, like for other city transportation. The ones that are contracted usually follow a schedule, while the still independent ones wait for passengers.

In fact, the city has rebuilt many little limans, the small ferry stations. They are being used much more now because the land traffic is getting more and more impossible.

deniz taksi

There is a also sea taxi. Apparently you can call it or meet it at certain places, and for a fair bit more than a land taxi, you can get to where you want to go in a much shorter time. The people who use it the most are probably those rich residents on the Bosporus.

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You can also rent a copy of a caique, which is a long boat originally propelled by oars. There is a canopy at the back where in the old days the ladies or gentlemen would sit. Now it is motorized and can be rented for cruising the Bosporus or the Golden Horn.

Of course many people own their own boats. At some of the big bars and discos on the Bosporus, there are landings so those people can arrive by yacht.

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At any of the many harbours, you can find boats to rent. These range from nice yachts to basic little boats, to great big boats that accommodate a few hundred people. These latter ones are often used for weddings or organized outings.

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One day, I was in Karakoy, which is on the point of the Golden Horn and the Bosporus. I passed by some small boats and one of the boatmen called out “Taxi! Taxi!” I had time and was up for a little adventure, so I decided to do it. Usually I just walk across the bridge, but that day I forked out 2 lira, which is about $1 for the privilege of being taken across the Golden Horn to Eminonu, a trip of about five minutes. A grizzled old man was my captain. I was handed in to his blue motorboat and off we went. First we went way off and I told him and gestured that I did not want to go to Eyup, which is way up the Horn, but to Eminonu. Perhaps he was hard of hearing, as he didn’t speak very well, or perhaps he thought that because I was a foreigner I was not really speaking Turkish. Finally he swung around and headed in the right direction, pausing to haul a block of wood out of the water. In fact, being just centimeters above the water, I could see how dirty it was, full of plastic water bottles, empty plastic bags, soaked loaves of bread, and various other detritus. When we got to the other side, he pulled in and asked a passing man to help me out of the boat. I ended up walking almost as far as if I had walked across the bridge, but it was different from my normal route, and I had had a little adventure.

Often I took a little tekne (or putt-putt boat as I called them) like this to cross the Golden Horn from Karakoy, and a couple of times friends and I took one to to to Eyup, up the Golden Horn. Crossing the Golden Horn is fairly standard but we had to negotiate to go up the Horn, to about half of what the kaptan asked. One evening a group of us took one across the Bosporus to Uskudar. One of my friends is afraid of water, so his eyes were as big as saucers, but the rest of us enjoyed the cool of the water and the beautiful lights of the old city.

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this old guy was coming into the shipyard on the golden horn. photo taken from my back window

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cruise ship stopping by karakoy

   

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tanker and funny little fishing boat on a sunday outing

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these boats were actually working to raise a fishing boat that had sunk. this was a buyuk liman, near the black sea

 

Of course there are other ships on the Bosporus, to the tune of about 100,000 a year (I read somewhere). These include fishing boats, cargo ships, tugs, pilot boats, and cruise ships, some of which are huge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the normal traveller, any one of the other options provide a very relaxing way to get somewhere in Istanbul, whether it is to cross the Golden Horn or the Bosporus or even the Marmara Sea. It is a wonderful experience to see the old and new city as you breathe the sea air, much as people have been doing for almost 8000 years.

Here comes the Judge…

Nov. 2002

As some of you know, I have been having trouble with my landlady, so recently we went to court. This is about a visit to a Turkish court.

Recently my daughter was on jury duty and asked me if Turkey had the same system. No, it doesn’t. This is partly because the law is not based on the Magna Carta, which traditional English law is based on. Turks proudly say that their law is based on the Swiss Code, but mostly I am not sure what that means. One thing that it means, however, is that there is not a jury system. The decisions are made by a judge. Sometimes there might be another expert involved. Today the decision on my case was given by a single judge, which is not so different from when I was in court in the US dealing with custody. Also, a jury system like in the US means that citizens are registered and easily tracked, which is definitely not the case in Turkey.

beyoglu adliye

Today we went to a court house built in the late 1800s probably during the late Ottoman times. In fact, the building was a collection of buildings, now with a freeway bridge roaring above it. Our court was in B Blok, which was where the icra (eejra) cases were dealt with. I had been there one time before, when this whole court stuff started. At that time I had to reply within seven days to a sort of summons issued by my landlady’s lawyer. Then I went into a shabby room full of pink files and ancient desks. The clerk at one desk lifted up an old typewriter to type my reply, once she had ascertained that I more or less understood Turkish.

This time the hearing was in a room at the end of a long somewhat shabby hallway, full of people waiting or hurrying from room to room. There were two “salons” for hearing, though only one was being used. A typed list of the cases was posted outside our salon. Our case was due to be heard at 11:00—along with about 30 others. We ended up waiting for about 2 hours, so that gave me a lot of time to look around.

turkish lawyer

First of all, the lawyers all wore gowns. The cuffs were green satin, about 5 or 6 inches wide, and they had stand-up red collars. The gowns themselves were black. When I was outside smoking a cigarette, I noticed that a lot of lawyers went to an office window in that area and handed in their robes, so apparently many of them did not own their own robes. I noticed at the end that my lawyer had his own robe with his name embroidered on the yoke inside it. Under the robes, lawyers wore all sorts of things. Some wore suits, women mostly wore pants, and one guy looked like he was just off campus with black jeans and a sweater. Many of the lawyers were quite young. My lawyer is about 60, so he was one of the older ones.

The hallway was quite crowded with people waiting for their cases to be heard. They were women in headscarves, men in sweaters and suit jackets, grizzled men, businessmen, and some middle class people. I was a little out of place there because it was obvious that I was a foreigner, though people did not pay much attention to me.

The salon was not very big. It was about the size of a normal livingroom. There were a few chairs along the back wall and along one side wall, where lawyers sat waiting for their cases. Above the judge’s bench was a large drawing of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. I imagine it is required, as it is required in all classrooms that there be a picture of Ataturk. The court system supports the Kemalist ideals of secularism, and it was Ataturk who introduced the Swiss law code to Turkey. In the middle of this not very large room were two tables with benches behind them for the plaintiff and defendant (or whatever they are called in a hearing). The lawyer for one side stood at one table and the lawyer for the other stood at the other. If the client was there (like I was), of course she stood beside her lawyer.

A man was coming and going from the salon to the list beside the door. He did not wear a uniform and in fact looked rather shabby. I finally realized that he was a clerk who called the next case or crossed it off the list if the lawyer had not shown up. He wasn’t dressed much better than a lot of the people coming to have their cases heard. He wore two shirts under his suit jacket, which had seen better days long ago. One shirt’s collar was twisted under the jacket collar. His pants were baggy and a little long and his shoes were scuffed. The man was balding and the rest of his hair was a little shaggy. He had quite Asian features, with the epicanthic fold and high cheekbones. His Mongol roots were very strong. He looked both harried and cowed. In the courtroom he would hand up papers to the judge as they were submitted by the plaintiffs or defendants. Except for calling people into the room, he did not say anything.

turkish judge

The judge, a woman, wore a red gown with a stand-up collar. She was sitting at a high desk at the front of the room. On this desk was a computer monitor, but I didn’t see anyone use it. In front of her was a woman at a desk with a manual typewriter, who pounded away on it at great speed. The judge would dictate her statement, which the clerk would type up immediately at great speed. While I watched, the judge smothered three or four yawns, as if we had had to wait two hours for our case, other cases earlier in the morning would also have gone slowly. I was afraid that she would take a lunch break just before our case, but luckily that was not so.

So, finally my case came up. It was actually Funda’s lawyer on the list, though he did not show up. Instead, he sent a young woman. I don‘t imagine he thought anything would really happen today so why waste his time. We walked in and stood behind the tables. We stood behind the table on the right. Turgay Bey, my lawyer, explained that he had opened a case that would be heard in March. He also explained a little bit of our case. The young woman lawyer said something about it too. The judge asked if we were going to dispense with the other case that was due to be heard on Thursday (my landlady is a nutcase), and both sides agreed. In fact, the other lawyer had made a mistake by filing it, because you can’t open two cases related to each other, apparently. During this process, which took about 5 minutes or less, I stood and tried to look like I was listening with intelligence and comprehension. Then it was over. We will go back for our case on March 13 and for this case on March 17. If we win our case, then this case will be dismissed.

So, that was my law adventure. It was pretty boring, but it was interesting to compare it with courts in the US. The system is quite backlogged, but there seems to be a way to get through it, mostly through postponements. The equipment, like the manual typewriters, is quite old and hard used. There are piles and piles of these mauve files in all the rooms I saw into. One place in the hallway was wider and in it were tables and chairs filled by people working hard on the files. Some of them wore robes, so perhaps it was for the lawyers.

The more personal part of the story is that basically my house is still in limbo. However, after the New Year, I plan on doing something to the upstairs to make it useable. That is what I wanted when I took this place, and by golly, that is what I am going to get. It won’t be deluxe, but it will be my big room with my pretty coloured windows and the wonderful terrace with the view. This whole thing is stupid and has just generated major ill will and earnings for the lawyers. However, I will prevail—and I will keep you posted.

Update: These cases lasted for seven years. Unlike the U.S. system, if the lawyer does not show up, another date is given for another try. By the time the cases were petering out, the court typist was using a computer and there were monitors on the lawyers’ tables so they could check what she was writing. There was no court recorder writing down what everyone was saying. Instead, the judge instructed the court recorder what to write. That document was printed out and taken with us.

I also changed lawyers. The old lawyer had cheated me by keeping some of my money and the new lawyers were on the ball. Ultimately I won a small settlement, which I used to open my cafe.

How I bought a flat in Istanbul

outside house

The only time I have bought real estate was in istanbul, where I bought one flat, sold it, and a couple of years later bought another one. It is a bit of a process, but I had a good realtor. I wrote about the first place I bought and the process was pretty much the same for the second one. I think the tapu office has moved from Istiklal to Sisli since then, which must have been quite a feat. In general the paperless office in Turkey is a dream, since it is literally still a Byzantine bureaucracy. If you are reading this because you want to buy a place, check the current situation there. If you are reading out of curiosity, read on!

I didn’t live in either place, but rented them out. It was a real hassle, which I forgot when I bought the second one. These are for sure the only times I will ever own real estate. The pictures show the work that was done on them and the final shape. Another thing I don’t want to do again.

February 2005

I have been a renter for almost all of my life. The only time I ever owned a house was when I was married (and that was a long time ago). Here I have been watching prices go from dirt cheap to way up there. That also means that rents are going up. My real estate friend, who is full of “keshke”, if only, said it was a pity I couldn’t buy a house. One day it dawned on me that I had some retirement money but I didn’t know how much or whether I could or should get it. I got on the internet and actually ended up writing real letters and found out that my PERS account with the State of Oregon had enough money to get me into a house. I would get 150% of the money in a cash payout, but 20% immediately went to the IRS. I am hoping to get that back. I made the arrangements and waited for the check. After about a month it arrived at my office address. I was amazed to be holding a check for $61,000 in my hot little hands. The next day I took it to my bank, where I was told it would take a week or 10 days to clear and I had to pay about $125 to cash it. OK, and then another wait. I was told it would have to be converted into TL, but that turned out to be wrong. Finally the money arrived and again I was jubilant. I could start shopping for houses in earnest.

I am great friends with one emlakci, but he told me to visit all of them. I did, even the sleazy ones in Galata, Cihat the thug and Levent the slimeball. Cihat showed me one place that was in my friend John’s building. It was well lit and spacious, but needed a lot of work. It was $75,000. However, later that afternoon, while I was looking at places with another realtor, he called and said that the price was $65,000 now. I told him I wold think about it. However, Sait told me that the place had been for sale for a long time and it was ‘problemli’. I looked at another apartment in that building, actually, right beside John. It also was well-lit and spacious with a view of a tiny bit of the sea. But he wanted 150 milyar, which was over $100,000, too much money for me.

Actually most of the places I looked at started at 100 milyar; I had about 87 milyar. I looked into credit, but I could not get it on my own, another friend did not have enough on his side, and I was loath to ask my old boss to be a co-signer. I asked at the Garanti Bank, where the people were very friendly and figured out right away how much payments would be on $20,000—at a rate of about .85%. It would be higher on TL payments. At Koc Bank, my bank, I had to ask about three times before the girl got the information for me, and then it was much more complex and she could not tell me anything about interest rates or payments.

At any rate, I did not have to use either one, as I was shown a place on Kumbaraciyokusu (Koombaraju yokooshoo) St. (It means the steep treasure chest maker street). I had a heck of a time getting my mouth around the name, but I can do it now, since MY new house is there. The house is smaller than the one I live in. It is on the second floor, though it is actually a high entrance floor. It is in a family building, which means it would be kind of noisy at times (I started to wrote nosy, but I actually think it would be that too). I looked at the house once with the realtor, and once with my friend Cevdet. Then I had to decide. At the time I was thinking of buying a place for 100 milyar that was small but had a view. Again, Sait told me that the place had been for sale for quite some time and that it was a bad neighbourhood, dark at night. So, at almost the last minute, I decided to go for the place on the unpronounceable street.

Once I had decided, and it had to be quick, as other realtors were showing it, the process started. I made a down payment of $3500, which was about 5 milyar. Hasan is the realtor at Dost Emlak, which means friend. He really was a friend, because he actually bought the place. The seller was his enishte, his uncle, who needed the money right away (though this may have been a convenient lie). In order for me to buy the place, I had to get an askeri raporu, a military report, which would take up to six weeks. So, Hasan and Sait, who are true dost, put in their money and bought the place with the agreement that as soon as the askeri raporu arrived, I would fork over all the money and we would do the deed. Several Turkish friends and a few foreign friends warned me that I might get ripped off, especially considering the mahkeme mess from the terrace house (another story). Realtors and lawyers are held in about the same low regard here. In fact, the same day we did the expertiz on the terrace house, I took my lawyer to Dost Emlak and of course he painted all kinds of dire scenarios. Turgay, one of their customers and one of my acquaintances through them, was there at the same time. He speaks English, so it was helpful for me, though I manage to deal with most of this stuff in Turkish anyway. While Taner, the lawyer, was coming up with his dark pictures, Turgay leaned over and said, “You know, at one point you have to trust.” That was completely true. My problem is that often that point comes too early and I get burned, but it doesn’t prevent me from getting there. I had already given the first 5 milyar by then and we had a kapora, which is an agreement that he would buy the place and I would buy it from him. There was actually no piece of paper saying that, that I ever saw. However, I knew I could trust them. Sait speaks straight, I have known them for a year, and, since I am part of the colour of the square, if they had stiffed me, everyone would know about it and it would be shameful.

I decided for sure to buy this place on Dec. 17, the day that the EU said that Turkey could proceed towards membership, a big day for Turkey. People had been telling me that I should buy a place before the EU decision, before the new year, and before the money changed to the yeni (new) Turkish Lira, as the conventional wisdom was that the cutting off of the zeroes would make prices rise.

So, more paperwork. I went to the translator one day so he could translate my passport. The Canadian Consulate does not do that, which surprised me. At any rate, I picked up the notarized photocopies later that day and took them to Dost. Hasan then sent them in with the request for the askeri raporu. Every foreigner who wants to buy property has to have this report. Anyone who comes from any of the countries abutting Turkey’s borders cannot buy property within 5 km of the sea or the borders. Once the foreigner has this she does not have to get it again. The papers were sent off to Ankara right after Seker Bayram. In the meantime, we had New Year’s and Kurban Bayram. The closer it got to being a month, the more anxiously we were waiting.

By then I learned from Turgay and Sait how unusual it was for Hasan to do this, to tie up his own money in this house. Turgay said Hasan had bought something for him but the turnaround was a few days. He was curious how it came to pass and I told him that Hasan had offered—I had not asked. He thought it was a bargain I had come to with them. I didn’t realize for a few weeks that Sait too had put money in, though I never learned how much. I would have had great difficulty buying this house without their help, so although people may trash emlakci here, I will always stick up for Dost Emlak.

Meanwhile, the dollar was at a historic low in Turkey and in the world. The one time in my life I had a sizeable chunk, and it was devaluing daily. I took about half of it, changed it into lira, and put it in a one-month fixed account, so it earned a little bit of money. I still had dollars and one day I went to the bank with Sait and took out $20,000 in cash. Sait put it in his jacket and took it to Hasan’s bank. I figured it was a gesture of good will and if the dollars were sitting in my account, they would be doing the same thing. One day Hasan asked for another 5 milyar, and when I asked why, he said because he needed it. OK. He had it the next day. I didn’t tell these things to some of my friends because they would have scolded me for being too trusting.

Finally the askeri raporu came. Sait called about 5 and asked if I could be there by 6. I managed to get there just after 6. We arranged that I would go to the bank and order 30,000 YTL and that it would probably be in by Friday. In fact, I went to the bank in the morning and was told I could pick it up at 3 or 3:30 that afternoon. Of course I was there by 3:00. However, there was some mix-up, so they had to count out wads and wads of old 20 million TL. By the time the teller finished, we had one wad of crisp new never-used 100s, so that was 10,000 YTL. Hasan commented that if they had given me only new 100s, he could have put all the money in his pocket. As it was, the teller dragged a shopping bag out from under her till and we filled up half of it with the bills. Hasan carried it on the street and I admit to being nervous, as there was nothing covering the money. However, we walked up just a little way to his bank, where he left it.

We then went to the tapu dairesi, which is the office where the deeds are done. The room was drab, like most most government offices here. Many desks in the open room had big piles of large ledgers on them. My house was written in one of the big black ones. We waited for a bit, as we were waiting for someone, and as we waited, Hasan was arranged bills on the low shelf in front of him, discreetly, but able to be seen. The person he was waiting for arrived, and we started the process. He took my passport and two photos and the clerk went off to photocopy them. The man asked if I read and wrote Turkish and of course I said yes, though I did not say it is a little weak, to say the least. I expressed interest in the big black books and he said they were from Ottoman times, though since the Roman alphabet was not introduced until the 1920s, they had probably been converted at some point. I saw the page for my new flat, with a list of about 15 former owners on it, crossed out in red. My name was written in as I watched. We then went in to the manager’s office (in most government offices everyone ends up in the manager’s office at some point.) They gave me a piece of paper with Hasan’s and my photos on it and had me read it. I actually did not understand most of it, as it was official language, but one thing I did note was that the price was listed as 10,000 YTL. Later when I asked Sait about it, he said the price is always listed as low in order to avoid paying higher taxes on it. Surely the city knows about it, but the practice continues. Whatever. I signed something else saying I hadn’t used a translator, and then I was handed my new tapu, the deed to my very own flat.

Here are some photos of the renovations from the first flat.

kumaraciyokusu street.  flat is on the left down a bit

kumbaraciyokusu street. flat is on the left down a bit

kitchen

original kitchen–pretty basic and groaty

bare kitchen

getting down to basics

new house kitchen

et voila!

bathroom 2

nasty bathroom

bathroom

cool floor, but everything in the bathroom was cracked, from tub to sink to toilet to wall tiles

new shower

underway, trying to save as many floor tiles as possible

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mostly finished

workers

these guys were drilling channels in the wall for installing the heating system

walls

salon

salon before

salon and arms

and after. i seem to be flying…

bedroom

more channeling, in the bedroom this time

bedroom 2

i never quite understood why this niche was there. don’t think it was ever a window

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bedroom after

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view smaller

view from the window– the crimean church

This is the second flat i bought.  it was in an old Armenian neighbourhood.

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another disgusting bathroom. when you took a shower, everything got wet.

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shower no stall

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the tiler’s son learning his trade at 16

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we took out the wall between the old bathroom and kitchen. this is the old bathroom side

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and this is the old kitchen side. that is a water heater above the washer

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old kitchen. i wanted to keep the cupboards but they turned out to be rather crappy

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this is the original hood. there would have been a stove top underneath and a chimney above

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the old front door

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the new stronger front door– especially important on the ground floor

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dining space

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new kitchen. turks call this open kitchen an ‘amerikan’ kitchen, for some reason

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beautiful parquet floors. luckily we did not have to do much in the salon, aside from paint

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exit to the ‘garden’ from the bedroom

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the garden was nasty but this was a fig tree growing out of the immense wall that kept the street above from falling onto our street