Some breads for Easter

Easter is kind of a nonevent since my kids grew up. However, at Molly’s Cafe, I hosted a few Easter events. One was a dinner, with roast beef instead of ham. You can get ham in Istanbul, but it is hard to find and rather expensive. Some of it is imported and some is locally grown for the Greek and Armenian people. At the first dinner, Donovan Mixon played for us.

donovan mixon playing jazz guitar

donovan mixon playing jazz guitar

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Another time I hosted a brunch for a lot of German and German speaking Turkish ladies. I also had brunch at the third cafe.

At the very least, I had hard-boiled eggs available for people to paint and those usually turned out pretty cool.

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Happy Easter and happy baking.  I hope the Easter bunny brings you lots of chocolate.

This is something I usually made.

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Easter Bread Ring

This is a really pretty Easter bread.

5 eggs

¼ cup (25 gr) sugar

1 tsp (5 ml) salt

1 tbsp (15 ml) dry yeast

3 cups (360 gr) flour

2/3 cup (160 ml) milk

1 tbsp (15 ml) butter

2 eggs, room temperature

½ cup (50 gr) mixed candied fruit (or use dried cranberries or raisins)

1/3 cup (30 gr) chopped blanched almonds (or use walnuts or pecans)

½ tsp (1 ml) anise seed (you can skip this if you like)

2 tbsp (30 ml) melted butter

3 tbsp (45 ml) multicoloured sprinkles

Colour the 5 eggs with food dye.

In a large mixing bowl, blend the sugar, salt and yeast with 1 cup flour.

In a saucepan, combine 2/3 cup milk and butter, heating slowly until liquid is warm and butter is melted. Pour the milk into the dry ingredients and beat 125 strokes with a wooden spoon;. Add eggs and enough flour to make a thick batter. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Stir in enough flour to make a ball of dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, working in additional flour to overcome stickiness. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover tightly with plastic or a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Combine the fruit, nuts, and anise seed. Punch down the dough and return it to a lightly floured surface. Knead in the fruit mixture until everything is worked into the dough. Divide the dough in half.

Carefully roll each piece into a 24 inch (60 cm) rope. Loosely twist the two ropes together and form a ring on a greased baking sheet. Pinch the ends together well. Brush the dough with melted butter. Push aside the twist to make a place for each egg. Push eggs down carefully as far as possible. Cover the bread and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C) deg.

Bake about 35 min or until a toothpick inserted in a twist comes out clean. Once the bread is cool, drizzle the icing on top between the eggs and decorate with coloured sprinkles.

Icing

1 cup (100 gr) powdered sugar

1 tbsp (15 ml) milk

1/8 tsp (.5 ml) vanilla

Mix together until of spreadable consistency.

Refrigerator Roll Dough

This recipe can be used for a variety of purposes.

1 tbsp (15 ml) yeast

1 ½ cups (360 ml) warm water (leftover water from cooking potatoes is good)

1 cup unseasoned mashed potatoes

2/3 cup (130 gr) sugar

2/3 cup (125 gr) butter

2 eggs

1 ½ tsp (7 ml) salt

6 to 7 cups (700 to 850 gr) flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in potatoes, sugar, butter, eggs, salt, and 3 cups (400 gr) of the flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover bowl tightly. Refrigerate at least 8 hours but no longer than 5 days.

Punch down dough. Use for any recipe below.

Hot Cross Buns

Use half of Refrigerator Roll Dough (or use the whole thing and double the rest of these ingredients)

¾ cups (100 gr) raisins and/or currants

½ cup (100 gr) chopped dried fruit

¼ cup (40 gr) chopped nuts

¼ tsp (1 ml) nutmeg

Turn dough onto well floured surface. Squeeze other ingredients into dough. Cut dough into 24 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Place about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on greased cookie sheet. Snip a cross on top of each ball with scissors. Cover. Let rise until double, about an hour.

Heat oven to 375 F (190 C) deg. Brush tops of buns with 1 egg white, slightly beaten. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. When cool, frost crosses on tops of buns with Quick Frosting.

Quick Frosting

¾ cup (150 gr) powered sugar

2 tsp (10 ml) water or milk

¼ tsp (1 ml) vanilla

Mix until frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency.

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Food in Turkey

i wrote this in February 1998, when I was still new to Turkey.  The prices have changed a lot, but the great food is the same.

The food in Turkey is wonderful and very nutritious. Of course I cook my own way (sort of) at home, but I often eat lunch at one of a few local restaurants around our office. One is the first one I ever went to, so it is kind of my favourite, and the people there always treat us well. The other was recommended by some students, who guided us there and then left– and we had a free lunch. At both places lunch is $2 or $3 for wonderful food.

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OK, these are some of my favourites. Tavuk (ta-ook) shish is chicken shish. It is pieces of chicken broiled and then served on a plate with salad (mostly lettuce and red cabbage), grated carrot, slices of the huge radish (about the size of a turnip), and a long thin green pepper. There is usually bulgur and occasionally rice. Sprigs of parsley are liberally sprinkled on top. This comes accompanied by wonderful bread. One kind of bread is flat and it has indentations on the top (the bread maker pokes his fingers into it to do that). The other bread often arrives puffed up like a balloon. It is long, about the length of two plates. Both kinds of bread are called pide (pee-day) (like pita). We tear off a piece and use it to wrap some food and eat it. I learned recently that it is rude to completely clean one’s plate, which is no problem, as the food is abundant and it’s hard to eat it all.

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Other dishes I like are kuzu shish (lamb) and various kinds of kebab–usually lamb and usually ground meat. Two kinds, Adana and Urfa, are spicy, and are regional foods (both those places are towards the south of Turkey).

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Doner is what I usually associated with Greek restaurants. It is pieces of lamb turning on a spit– like the gyros. A common doner dish consists of cubes of pide with sliced doner on top, and then a tomato-ish sauce on top. Sometimes there are a few french fries mixed in. On the side there is yogurt. Sometimes there are pieces of fresh tomato mixed in. This is called iskender kebab– iskender being Alexander, as in the Great.

French fries are kind of random here. If you order a hamburger, they stick two or three fries on top of it under the bun. At Mcdonalds you can get mayonnaise to go with your fries. Yuk. Oh yes, there is a McDoner near my apartment.

The soup is good. Usually it is a red lentil soup served with a chunk of lemon to squeeze into it. The chicken soup seems to me to be rather watery. There are also some yogurt based soups, some of which are cold and may include garbanzos.

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Lemons are ubiquitious. They are used as a dressing for salad, in soup, and in a lot of other ways, if only to squeeze over whatever is on the plate. Lemons cost about 6 cents a piece. They grow in Turkey, too.

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Desserts are intense, and I have not had many since I got here. Of course there is baklava, and variations of same. It is so sweet that a little bit goes a very long way, though Turks can eat a whole plate of 4 or 6 pieces . There are cakes (called pasta here) that look better than they taste. They are actually not so sweet. There is a wonderful bakery near my flat that has chocolate filled cookie things that are wonderful and some sublime hazelnut filled pastry.

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Bread at the bakeries is very cheap, as the price is government controlled. Most of it is the French bread style, and it costs about 10 cents. It has to be eaten the same day, as it goes stale quickly. It’s kind of like that cheap bread at Safeway and Albertsons that you can get. There is also “flower” bread that is like buns in a circle around a center, like a flower. It usually has some sesame seeds sprinkled on top. We can get various other kinds of bread, some whole wheat, some seeded. There is even what we consider regular sliced bread, but it is not that great, especially in comparison with the other bread.

pide

Another kind of pide is a long pide bread with cheese in it, or minced beef. I like the cheese one as it reminds me of a version of cheese pizza or cheese toast. Lahmacun is another common baked item, sometimes called a Turkish pizza. The thick crust is covered with minced lamb, tomatoes, peppers, and onions, but no cheese.

simit

On the streets you can find carts selling simit, which look kind of like bagels, but are not quite as bready. There are also chatal (fork), which are three pieces that meet at each end. They are a little richer than simit. The third choice is achma, which are also like bagels, but softer. These are a cheap way to fill up if you are on the run.

coban

A common salad is choban (shepherd) salata, which is chopped tomato, cucumber, peppers, and onion dressed with oil and vinegar. Of course there are green salads, as unfortunately Turks have discovered head lettuce. One thing you see here sometimes is a cart selling cucumbers. The guy will often peel and salt them for you and then you can walk down the street chomping on a cuke. Great fast food!

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Coffee culture as we know it has arrived in the form of Starbucks and Gloria Jeans. Before that there was the traditional Turkish coffee, which is like thick espresso, or else there is instant coffee. Neither one is very good, as far as I am concerned. Everyone drinks tea, which grows in Turkey too, and in fact most offices have a go-fer who brings tea all day. It is very common for tea to be offered to customers and friends, rather than coffee.

yogurt     ayran

The yogurt is great.. People eat a lot of it. They even make a drink of it, called ayran. It is yogurt and water, sometimes with dill weed in it.

mezes     raki

At fish restaurants (meyhane) you can choose mezes, which are appetizers. I often order several and that is my dinner, accompanied by a glass or two of raki, which is similar to ouzo (but don’t say that to the Turks!). Mezes might be include raw fish in lemon, like seviche, thick yogurt dishes with cress or grated carrot, fava bean paste, eggplant purée or eggplant in a tomato sauce, pickles, and more. They are really good and at most places you can choose them from a big tray. Fish is rather expensive at restaurants and what is offered is usually the fish that is in season. It might be sea bass or snapper or tuna, among others. There are some very small fish that Turks like, but I personally don’t like them.

I hope this has whetted your appetite to visit Turkey!

Cemberlitas Hammam

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For many visitors to Istanbul, a trip to a hammam is on their list. A few years ago, this was my first experience of truly clean living.  Som e friends and I went to SultanAhmet, the major tourist area in Istanbul (that is where Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque are).  One of the people had a flier to a famous Ottoman bath (hammam), so we decided to go there.  The door was a fairly nondescript entryway with an grizzled older man drumming up business. At that time it cost about $15, but now it is more like $50 or more.

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First of all, we left our clothes in a locker and wrapped a big red-striped peshtemal (a thin cotton cloth) around us.  We were ushered into a large round marble room that was very warm.  There was a large raised marble dais in the middle, where we lay down wrapped in our cloths.  The stone was very warm.  We lay there and began to melt.  Soon, however, some Turkish women came in, naked except for their panties.  They were the masseuses.  We watched with curiosity as they worked on a couple of British women.  Those women also had left their panties on (out of modesty?) so they got all wet.  (I wondered if they had brought extras…).  When they were done, it was my turn.

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But first, let me try to describe the place.  The name of this particular bath is Cemberlitas (chem bare lee tash). Built in 1584, it was commissioned by Nur-u Banu Sultan, the wife of Sultan Selim II.  “It is one of the most important works of 16th  century Ottoman architecture”, according to the pamphlet.  İt was built by Mimar Sinan, one of Turkey’s most famous architects. The ceiling had many small vents or windows in it, so the light shone down in various places on the dais as the sun moved.  It looked like the inside of a stone saltshaker.  The room was round, with carved stone columns separating the various alcoves.  There were stone basins around the room with water faucets for each of them.  There were also larger alcoves that had three basins in them.  We discovered that each one had a different temperature of water, from cold to lukewarm to warm.  After lying on the table for a while, it felt good to get up and wash off with our choice of water.  I was awed to think that this place, now a must-see tourist place, was once a place full of highly placed women and their female entourages.  Imagine the intrigue and the court gossip fomented there!  If the stone could talk– it would be in Turkish and I wouldn’t understand much!!!  Anyway, I was very impressed and was glad I went in.

foam

I felt even better after my massage.  First, the woman called me– “Lady, lady”.  I went over to her and she took off my cloth, laying it out for me to lay on.  Then she motioned for me to turn over.  She rubbed my skin with a scratchy mitt, which felt quite good.  Then I rolled over and she continued, making me sit up while she did my arms.  She motioned for me to lie on my belly again and then she started the soap and massage process. The olive oil soap was put into what looked like a thin pillow case.  She got it all wet, blew into it, and squeezed it.  The air coming out of it made a foam that she put all over me.  Then she rubbed me the right way and pounded my back a bit.  Then it was time for the front.  It felt great!!!


The next step was to lead me over to the marble basin, where she washed my hair by pouring water from a bowl over me.  She rubbed my back and shoulders some more, rinsed me off, and led me back to the stone table to melt completely.  It was wonderful!  I felt like a baby and like a pampered woman.  It was VERY relaxing and of course historical.

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Anyway, we eventually emerged from the bath and went and had lunch.  It was at a place that had waiters dressed in pseudo Anatolian outfits and there were fezzes for the tourists to put on (Yes, we did and took our pictures). In the middle of the restaurant, there were four women also dressed in Anatolian clothes, preparing what the menu called crepes, but which was really thin bread.  They rolled it with long thin rolling pins– more like long sticks– and cooked it on a flat plate.  This is the traditional way of making bread in Anatolia (the part of Turkey that is outside of Istanbul on the Asian side).  It was good, but way overpriced– but we were, after all, in the tourist area.  Then we walked about 20 minutes to go to Eminonu, which is where there are a lot of ferries, the Galata Bridge, and the Spice Bazaar.

It was a lovely day.  It was fun to be a tourist for a while and to pretend to be a harem maiden…

Telling stories

I spent more than an hour the other day mostly listening to my aunt, who is in her mid 80s. She is an intelligent and alert woman who has never been married and of course has no children, unusual for her generation. She talks a lot about the stories connected with things and people.

On this occasion she was reminiscing about a variety of topics, from her mother suspiciously wondering why she had been out so late (to my ever virginal aunt) to having locked herself out of her locker at the pool. At one point of course I was rolling my eyes in boredom, but at the same time I was thinking about why ‘old people’ (and I am becoming one) talk so much about the past.

That is what my blog is– talking about the past. It is kind of like getting it down on virtual paper before it is forgotten. By me? Mostly by me. Most other people don’t really care unless it impacts them somehow.

Years ago I had a book that was a collection of excerpts from women diarists. I myself have kept a diary, these days called a journal, since for over 50 years. Have I ever read it? Rarely and only in the current volume to see where I had been recently. Do I want others to read it? Nope. I told my daughter several years ago that when I die, she can read them or throw them out. Also a few years ago an older man I was seeing told me to burn them. At the time I was horrified, but these days I am really wondering what to do with them, a whole box of them. Several years ago I was in a massive purge mode and took out the various extra papers that were in them journals and threw them into the recycling. I later regretted it, as those letters and odds and ends were probably more current and topical than the rambling journals. At any rate, they are gone.

Sometimes I think about opening that box and reading or possibly even transcribing the journals. They are actually quite egoistical, how I am feeling rather than what historical event is happening. Of course they are all about me! What more interesting person is there for me to write about? I write less these days because I am pulling together things for my blog, but over the many years I have been quite aware of how writing in my journal is a form of therapy. And of course in my younger days it looked cool to sit in a coffee shop to write– it made me look like a writer. And it gave me something to do as I was sitting alone. In fact I used to carry my journal with me all the time, which of course I gave up doing years ago. I suspect that they would be quite boring reading, for the most part, with the occasional gem of history or personal insight.

My first husband knew I kept a journal and when I left him he went through and tossed the ones from the two years we had been together. I understand but I was still angry. I think the significant thing is that he did not throw them all out.

There is something about having written it down, the words and ideas must be more permanent, even though no one else will ever see them. I have been aware of the mystery reader for many years. Even when I put something on my blog, the modern public version of a journal, I am quite aware that few people would be interested in reading it. At the same time, I see things on the internet, for example of HuffPost, that should not be there, with too great exposure and often terrible writing.

One of the things I am interested in doing is writing the stories about the things I still have. The stories are not necessarily very interesting, except to me, but perhaps then I can purge those things. Somewhere there is a box of heirloom silver pieces that my daughter was supposed to take and didn’t. Some of those things are more than 150 years old. They have stories, but the people who might tell them are long gone. I have my own memories associated with the pieces, as they were used by my mother and then by me, particularly at Christmas. But after me, who cares? Evidently not my kids. So what will I do with them? It is a bit of a dilemma. Perhaps I will sell them. I saw a piece just like one of mine in a shop in Istanbul and the seller wanted $250 for it. Maybe these pieces will support me in my old age, unless my kids decide they want them after all.

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I recently had a couple of rings re-sized. One was my mother’s engagement ring. I took in the wedding band so he could use that gold in fixing the ring. I once told my son he could have them to give to a prospective bride, but that doesn’t seem to be happening, so I decided to make the ring mine. The other ring is a bit of a mystery. I don’t remember when it came to me or why but it has been in one of my little boxes for a few years. It is a gold ring with a turquoise and two tiny pearls. Inside the band it is engraved with ‘July 29 1914’. that is not a significant date that I know of. I asked my aunt and she does not remember it belonging to her mother, and m y father thinks perhaps it was his mothers. The date is not her birthday and at that time she was 17, so it was not an engagement ring. Her father was a jeweller, so perhaps he made it for her mother. It was quite small, but now it fits me and I am enjoying wearing it.

I have some new friends here and I probably bore the pants off them with my Istanbul stories. However, I think it is good for people to learn about what are probably mysterious places to them. One thing too is to show that Muslims and their countries are not to be feared. Also the stories tell them a little about me.

In fact, stories tell a lot about a person– where she has been, the things she has kept in her life, why she even tells those particular stories. That is what my blog is about, after all. Welcome to my interesting life!

A trip to Cappadocia April 1998

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So, the trip to Kapadokya was wonderful! It was one of the best trips of my life, I have to say. Kapadokya is an incredible place for the land, the history, and the people.

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Karen and I got a package deal for this trip, since it was our first. We flew to Kayseri, a smallish city in about the centre of Turkey. It is dominated by a huge volcano that was responsible for the unique landscape of this area. Then a van took us to Urgup, which was our base. We stayed in a mom and pop — and grandma and grandpa– hotel that had actually been their home. It was a big house on the main street, with 13 rooms. They were pretty basic, but clean and we had our own bathroom. I think the price was about $10/night, breakfast included. Breakfast consisted of a small mountain of fresh crusty white bread, a hard-boiled egg, a few black olives (not like the ones from Safeway!), a wedge of cheese, some slices of tomato and cucumber, and tea or nescafe. We ate it under the grape arbour as we sat and looked at the green green grass in the garden and the flowering apricot trees. The grandma wore the sort of skirt that women in that region wear– a full skirt sewn across the bottom with holes for the feet. This is called a shalvar. She also wore a colourful headscarf. She spoke German to me, which was helpful, as my Turkish is not quite up to speed yet.

Actually, I spoke all the languages I have there: English, Turkish, German, French, a little Spanish, and even some Japanese! It was quite surprising to fins myself speaking Japanese with the Turkish tour guide!

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The first day we were free, so I called my student who was visiting his family in Nevsehir. We took a bus there, so we had our first close look at the countryside. We passed by a place called Uchisar, which means first citadel, basically a big tall rock with caves in it, now with a small town around it. Nevsehir is called that because 700 or 800 years ago there was a “new” citadel built there during Ottoman times. It is being fixed up now, but it is about the only somewhat interesting thing in the town. Isa (his name means “Jesus”, but he is Muslim) took us to the citadel, which was closed, but had a nice view of the city, and then we went to his uncle’s house. Actually, I should write uncles’ house, as the three floor apartment building was full of only his family: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, spouses, children. They were quite interested to meet these foreign teachers. The grandfather and one uncle spoke some German, so we got along ok. The grandfather decided to take us on a tour, so Isa, his friend Mustafa from Azerbaijan, Karen, and I piled into his car and we took off. He drove like a taxi driver, although there was little traffic. I guess it meant we got there faster! First we went to Kaymatli, where there was an underground city built about 2000 years ago. The stone there is tufa, a kind of soft volcanic rock that hardens in contact with the air. The city had been forgotten but discovered by accident in the 1960s. About eight levels have been dug out and they think there are 18 or 20 in all. The rooms included communal kitchens, wineries, store rooms, granaries, sleeping rooms, and hanging out rooms. At certain places there were huge round rocks that could be rolled to cut off a passageway if there were invaders. Some of the passageways were very steep, narrow, and low, so it was a real thrill! However, it was all well lighted, there were grates over the wells, ventilation shafts and other holes, and many places had been adapted to tourist traffic.

We also went to Derinkuyu (“deep well”), another underground city. It wasn’t as good as the first one, as it had been somewhat damaged by water on the first level and the restoration wasn’t very good. It was more visited too, so it had suffered from the traffic. It was still very interesting, however. It was amazing to think of people actually living in these places under the ground in fear but also well prepared against whoever was invading at that particular time. It was also amazing to think that these cities had been forgotten by the locals. In all there are about 37 underground cities, and many of them are connected– by tunnels of course!

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Outside the cities were people selling stuff, so of course we looked. There was a very old woman selling handmade dolls and I went to buy one, but the grandfather insisted on buying two for me and two for Karen. We decided not to look at anything else because we did not want him to pay for everything. He then drove us home along the back roads. At one place a new spring had started welling up in the middle of the road. Aside from in the villages we saw very few people. The country was beautiful, with the flowering apricot trees, the spring green, and the huge mountains in the distance. They took us back to the hotel, where we gave them tea and then we had the evening to ourselves.

The weather all this time was perfect– sunny and warm, pleasantly cool in the evening. We walked up to the centre of the town, and walked around looking at things. We had dinner at a nice restaurant and then went to a bar that we had seen earlier. The bar was decorated sort of Turkish style, with the walls lined with a padded bench covered in carpets, low tables made up of copper trays on short folding wood stands, and short stools that looked like mini camel saddles. The owner promised belly dancing, but I guess we didn’t stay long enough. People were dancing, including us, so it was fun. We went in there with a friendly man named Ali, who we had met earlier that day when we went into his carpet shop. He told us a lot about the carpets, how they are made, dyed, what the symbols mean, etc. It was very interesting, but I never did buy one. Anyway, as we had been on our way to this bar, he was sitting outside with his friend and his friend’s family, and they invited us to have tea with them (a very common invitation), so we did. The family left and the two friends escorted us into the bar. Ali was really fun and his English was pretty good. He suggested we go to a disco, so whatthehell, we did.

The disco was in a cave. I don’t know what it had been before, but the dance floor was in the biggest part, with several smaller rooms off it. The dance floor itself was shiny black stone tiles, maybe basalt. The music was great, a mixture of Turkish pop, American pop, and traditional Turkish music. These people love to dance!! Boys dance with boys, girls with girls, and girls with boys. There were even a few children there, so I was watching how one little girl was learning the moves and I was trying to learn from her.

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The next day we took our first tour. The first stop was at Derinkuyu, and we didn’t want to go underground again, so we shopped. The next stop was the Ihlara Gorge, a beautiful deep gorge that had some ancient churches in it. We visited only a few of the churches, which were small caves, maybe 12 feet high and in a sort of cross shape. The paintings dated from the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Sadly, a lot of them had been vandalized for various reasons, from the Iconoclasts to late 20th century tourists. However, we saw them and were quite impressed to be there. We walked about six miles along the bottom of the gorge, which is about 600 feet deep, walking along and sometimes almost in the river. Finally we reached a small village called Belisirma, which was made up of ancient buildings hugging the side of the cliff. We had a wonderful lunch there with interesting conversations with the English speaking tourists with us. They included a Welsh couple, a Turkish boy, and an Austrian-American who was living in Indonesia.

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By then everyone was pretty tired, but we stopped at an ancient caravansary that was in pretty good shape. It was made of stone and you could just picture it full of big camels squawling and colourful men strolling around taking care of them and visiting with other men. That day it was full of tourists. This was on the Silk Road!! We drove for several kilometers along the Silk Road! Wow! Marco Polo never had it so good…

Everyone was pretty toured out by then, so we went back to town. However, after a shower, Karen and I were ready to go out again. We walked up to the centre of town again and ran into the owner of the travel agency, who offered to buy us dinner. We had a good conversation and drank some raki, the national drink. We had good conversation and a little too much raki.

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On day three, we took the second tour, which started in a valley whose name meant Imagination Valley.  The shapes of the “fairy spires” were very different, so people could look at them as we look at clouds, looking for familiar or wondrous shapes.  These spires were formed by the wind and water scouring the tufa under the more durable basalt rocks on top.  Consequently, the spires formed underneath, with the rocks perched on top.  It is really unique in the world– and I was there!!  Wow!!!

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The next stop was Zelve, an open air museum.  It had been a community of caves until as recently as 1950.  However, there were more and more rock slides, so the government moved the people out.  You could see where huge rocks had fallen down or where the faces of cliffs had shifted.  We walked around a bit. looking at where people had once had their kitchens– for a few thousand years!  About 1000 people had lived there at one time.  Some of the caves were quite high, so they must have been very limber and sure-footed to go up and down the rock handholds. 

We made a quick stop at some fairy spires where apparently St. Paul had lived for a while.  Just a little hole in the wall…

Next was a shopping stop at Avanos, where we visited a brand new building built specifically for the tourist trade.  They showed how they made pots, etc., but it was not that interesting.  We had a terrible lunch in that dull town and were happy to leave it behind. 

Next was Goreme, which was the crown jewel of the tours.  It is a place where ancient Christians came to live and educate the few locals.  There had been a monastery and a nunnery and many cave churches.  We could see the differences in the paintings as they had developed various artistic and painting techniques.  The oldest paintings were quite crude, red paint on the bare walls in some geometric designs.  The last church we looked at had beautiful, though damaged, paintings.  The Muslims on the tour were very interested, as Jesus is just a prophet in Islam, and they don’t know the New Testament stories so well.

Finally we arrived back in town.  Another shower and another night on the town.  This time we duded up, as it was our last night there and we were also running out of clean clothes.  Karen and I had dinner in a former caravansary, sitting under the stars drinking a local wine.  Lovely!!  Then we ran into the tour guide and another guy we had met and went to the disco again.  The one guy was kind of a country guy, so he was not that great a dancer– until the traditional Turkish music started.  Then his face lit up and he danced very well.  It was fun to see.  He drove us around the area under the full moon.  What a sight!!  Cappadocia in the moonlight!  I will never forget it.

Finally, the last day.  We didn’t have to leave until 7, so we kind of hacked around doing last minute shopping, lhanging out in the park, etc.  We met some guys who were fixing up the former house beside our hotel.  The two Americans were from Detroit and were in partnership with Ismail, a semi-nomad of the Sari tribe.  His family lives in tents and travels with the sheep during the summer. The women spin and dye wool and make carpets all winter.  The three guys sell the rugs directly to the customer, a sort of ecotourism that will benefit the tribe and the customer.  Very interesting!  We  also went into an antiquities shop that had various interesting things, and when Karen noticed the canary in there, the owner pulled out a saz, a long thin-necked stringed instrument, and played a song so the canary would sing. We also stopped by to see Ali before we left and then stopped to buy some very last post cards.  Then the tour owner saw us and hustled us to the van, as we were a little late.  As we drove off, our new friends waved goodbye to us.  What a nice place.  The people were friendly but not pushy, the land was beautiful, and the sense of history was awe-inspiring.

Flying Carpets from Turkey

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 Nah, you say. Carpets don’t really fly! But they do! Visit any carpet seller and you will see. Visiting a carpet seller in Turkey is a cultural experience. Just walking along the street you are accosted by friendly sellers inviting you in for tea or asking where you are from. If you answer rudely, their feelings are hurt (they say).

For example, in Istanbul, there are carpet sellers everywhere, but especially in SultanAhmet. One place to find this cultural experience is the Arasta Bazaar, beside the Blue Mosque. At one time this is where the stables were, but in the past 15 years or so the arched entryways have been converted to shops and museums. The carpet sellers hang out in front of their shops, playing backgammon and chatting until they can lure a potential customer in with offers of tea.

If you decide to go in, you are seated on a bench, offered apple tea (probably no apples have ever gone near it!) or regular tea in small glasses. There is a bit of preliminary chatting about where you are from, etc., and then the seller gets down to business. He will ask what size of carpet you are looking for and then have his assistant start unrolling them.

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Most shops have carpets from all over Turkey and beyond—Iran, Turkmenistan, the Caucasus. Each area has its own characteristic style of carpets, usually made by young women. Traditionally a young woman would make a carpet in order to impress upon her future mother-in-law that she is able to do this. The designs might incorporate such symbols as the tree of life, the ram’s horns for fertility, or the nazar for protection against the evil eye. Many of the “real” carpets are made from handspun wool gathered from the sheep that the tribe wanders with throughout the summer. Then during the winter, when the families are settled in town, the women weave. The wool may be spun by the women or by an older man. It is then dyed with natural dyes, such as walnut shells or various herbs. It might take as long as six months to make a large carpet.

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i bought my very first carpet from Ismail in Cappadocia

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carpet shop in Bergama. yes, i bought a small carpet here. Generally carpets are cheaper outside Istanbul

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carpets fading in the sun in Bergama

Nowadays, however, there are many short cuts to making carpets. For example, a high quality carpet might be made of only the wool from the neck of the sheep, which is both soft and durable. Often less care is taken for carpets for the market. Some carpets are made of wool on cotton, which is durable, but less so than wool on wool. These days the fringes might be braided, as the sellers realize that in modern homes the loose fringes get sucked up into the vacuum cleaner. It is easy to see if a carpet is lower quality. First, although there are natural variations in hand dyed wool (for example, a “baraj”, like the French word for dam, “barrage”, shows where the new dye batch starts), artificial variations are made in lower quality carpets. These can be seen in a striated effect. Also, if the wool is not high quality, it will not feel soft and if a lighter is held to it, it will burn the wool (ask the carpet seller to do this!). Often carpets are laid out in the sun to develop an “antique” look. This summer in Bergama (once known as Pergamon), the city park was covered in carpets that were left there for up to two months. You can tell the carpets have been artificially faded if you look at the bottom of the tufts. If it is a darker colour, then it has not faded naturally. For some reason, carpet sellers think that muted colours are better, hence the fading. Some colours are a clue to chemical dying—bright pink or orange, for example.

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this carpet sell in Kas had set up beside an ancient Lycian tomb. He later moved to the U.S.

Back to the carpet shop: the seller brings out many many carpets for you to look at. They are unrolled and thrown on the floor. You are invited to walk around them and on them and to feel them. It is true that a larger quantity of knots shows a better carpet depending on the thickness of the wool strands. Once you have looked at all the carpets you can handle, the seller asks you to decide. He and his assistant hold each one up and they make two or three piles—yes, no, and maybe. How do you decide? Colour is one (will it fit with your furniture?), size (will it fit into your room?), design (do you like the symbols?), and of course price.

The price will be the last point of discussion. Once you have chosen the “yes” pile, the assistant will lay out the carpets you might want, and then the seller will get out his calculator. The price will depend on the size (per meter square) and the quality. NEVER pay the first price! This is when you get into the game of bargaining. Some people are very uncomfortable with this, but if you have ever bought a house or a car, you know that you can do it. A carpet is usually a big investment, so you need to try to reduce the price. The rule of thumb is to offer half of what is asked, though sometimes that is insulting. Generally you will end up paying about 2/3 of the original asking price. It is very important that the bargaining be done in a congenial atmosphere, as getting on one’s high horse does not lead to a good deal and will offend the seller. Yes, they do tend to prey on innocent tourists, but they also want to make a deal. These days especially, since Turkey is in an economic slump and people inaccurately think that it is a cousin to Afghanistan, the sellers are hungry and you should be able to get a good deal. Once you have bought one (or more!) the carpets fold up into an amazingly small package or the seller will also arrange to send your carpets for you, usually by Fed Ex. They are always honest about having them delivered at your convenience (for example when you expect to arrive home).

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So what about the flying carpets? Well, they fly two ways. Once of course is that they are sent by plane. However, in the carpet shop, the seller will pick up the carpet and twirl it in the air so you can see how it picks up the light changes. Can you hitch a ride to Shangri La? Probably not, but you will enjoy the “jewels on the floor” when you get them home and you will be transported to fond memories of your trip to Turkey.

Istanbul: Contrasts and Contradictions July 1998

Every day on the bus I look out the window and I am never bored.  I see a lot of things that make me scratch my head and see the contradictions of a city that is both ancient and modern, developed and underdeveloped.

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domushes by the old walls

First, there is transportation.  The roads in Istanbul are clogged with all sorts of vehicles.  The freeways are packed with new Mercedes Benzes, Fiats, Renaults, and Turkish-made cars.  Recently I even saw a new Lincoln. Among these new status symbols are battered Ladas, old Fords, and even some ancient American cars.  Motorcycles sometimes zip between the cars.  Of course there are large trucks (except at rush hours, when they are banned), large busses, the red and blue city busses, the green double-decker busses, the small yellow dolmushes, and the short busses. On the slower roads (though occasionally on the busy roads) the poor folks, usually gypsies, trot or amble along with their horse and carts (of course it is the horses that are trotting or ambling, not the gypsies!).  The horses look fairly well fed but the carts are pretty beat up.  Often they (the carts) are full of scavenged goods.  Everywhere the yellow taxis drive quickly through the traffic, always on the lookout for fares.  It seems that every driver of every vehicle is beeping his horn, so the cacophony is intense on the busy roads.
Garbage is another topic.  There is garbage everywhere, as people have no compunction about tossing out their wrappers or empty bottles wherever they happen to be. On windy days empty plastic sacks fly in the wind like untethered kites.  In the older parts of Istanbul there are no dumpsters; people just throw their garbage bags in a pile in the street.  The cats love it.  It is picked up periodically by the city garbage service. There is very little in the way of organized recycling here, although there are some places where there are repositories for clear and coloured glass.  The way things get recycled is the scavengers’ systems.  They go through the garbage, filling up large plastic-weave bags with cardboard, pop cans, larger pieces of plastic, and whatever else they find that might possibly be useful or saleable.  There are also men who push a cart down the street calling for junk, which people are glad to give them– broken chairs, ruined vacuum cleaners, parts of lamps, pieces of metal.  Certainly construction materials are not recycled, and in fact the piles might sit there for years.  Turkey could probably cut down a great on unemployment if it hired all of the uneducated manual labourers who come in from Anatolia to pick up the trash that is all over the city.img599 - Copy
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Then there is the greenery of  Istanbul.  For example, sunflowers grow wild in the medians of the highways out where we live.  People eat sunflower seeds and spit the husks on the ground, so of course sometimes there are seeds that get spread that way too.  Here in Sirinevler, which is totally
urban with very little greenery, a solitary sunflower is growing in some dirt by the sidewalk, and someone has even propped it up with a stick.  On the way to Buyukcekmece the other day I was delighted to see great fields of yellow sunflowers with their faces turned towards the sun.  Even ugly apartment balconies and small patches of yard might have roses or other plants growing in them.  The petrol office across the freeway has some particularly beautiful roses growing in its ugly yard.  Vines or ivy might be trained up a squalid apartment building or over a tumbledown shack.  Fig trees, maples, or oaks might shade the same buildings.  On one of the apartment buildings in our neighbourhood there is a four-story tall trumpet flower vine with huge orange flowers on it.  Elsewhere in Istanbul there are incredibly beautiful manicured gardens and parks for nicer apartments or for the public. In addition, offices of all kinds, from dingy dumps to sophisticated places, are often decorated with many plants.
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Construction is interesting too.  Recently the concrete under my chair had to be repaired because my chair had worn a hole in it.  I was appalled at what I saw under the carpet– a sandy hole that was easily enlarged with a mallet.  The hole was filled and the new concrete promptly cracked.  They just covered it up with the carpet.  There were also wires for the phones and the electricity, with wires twisted together but not covered up.  This is very common– the “lick and a promise” approach seems to be the rule of thumb here.  On the other hand, we can go to places such as SultanAhmet, where the ancient stones of Roman or Byzantine ruins are left as decoration
in parks. The ancient aqueducts and protective walls still stand in the city, signs of older times.  They were built to last, with no promises.
People provide contradictions too.  Turks are generally polite and very honest.  The men are chivalrous towards women, and the women take care of their men.  However, it is well known that many Turks do not pay their taxes, bribery or graft is rampant, and of course there are thieves on the streets and the trains.  The thieves who are caught and thrown into prison, though, are the lowest of the low, while murderers are higher in the pecking order because they are usually there for crimes of honour or passion.  Men are very manly, but they love their children.  It is very common to see men carrying their babies or small children, kissing them, or talking with them. People make time for their children and are attentive to them.  But there are also street kids, who hawk tissue or other small items or who are scavengers or beggars.
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Turkey is an ancient place, but there seem to be more young people than old people here.  I have not seen much grey hair, but I have seen a lot of young folks.  Even managers’ jobs are taken by young people in their twenties or early thirties, rather than middle-aged people.  There is an old culture here, which Turks are justifiably proud of.  Men will dance traditional dances, hands on each other’s shoulders, at the drop of a hat, and women do things pretty much the way they have been done for literally ages.  At the same time, every other person here in Istanbul seems to have a cell phone, satellite dishes sprout up on apartment buildings, and there are many cyber cafes.  The textile industry churns out blue jeans and shoes for especially the young people, who wear them to discos where they can dance to American and European music, as well as new and old Turkish music.

The “inshallah” approach is one aspect of Turkey that is hard for North Americans to adjust to.  For example, I see a lot of people who have physical disabilities that could be cured by surgery, but many people feel that God willed these, so they work around them or take them in stride, so to speak.  As far as business goes, often people make promises that they mean at the time, but which may not actually come to fruition.  Then there are many situations where things change quickly with no warning.  The key to doing things here is being very flexible, as well as having deep pockets.

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Friends are very important here.  Friends can be made very quickly, too. Where we may distinguish between friends and acquaintances, that does not seem to be the case here.  When someone needs something, he will call up his “friend” to have it taken care of.  That has certainly been useful for us, since our friend is the governor.  He called his friends to get us phones and he is helping me with my visa stuff, especially now that my passport was stolen.  Having friends in the right places means that a person can circumvent many obstacles.
Figuring out how things work has been quite interesting.  There is a huge bureaucracy here but with the right friends or a donation, one can usually get around it.  However, this is not always true, so then we have to shrug our shoulders and comply.  For example, the Ministry of Education does not recognize my Masters degree, so I have to apply for a residence permit as a manager (which I am anyway).  Hopefully the governor will help out with that!
A few days ago I went to Beyoglu, which is one of the most famous parts of Istanbul.  At one time it was where the foreigners lived, especially the Leventines.  Even now there are old apartment buildings from that era, with open squares inside to let in the light.  It is easy to imagine laundry hanging above it, and women looking out their windows or calling down to their children.  There are also very modern shops, such as Vakko, which is quite high fashion, along with old churches and a smattering of consulates. This is the area for shopping and an active nightlife.
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Often I see a flock of sheep that seems to have its territory more or less around the airport.  There is a shepherd with them, rain or shine.  It is normal to see the flock grazing along the freeway that passes by the airport– in fact the grass there is very green and lush.  A few days ago I saw another flock on a parking lot, sleeping in the afternoon sun.  They are passed by fast moving traffic with drivers who don’t even notice they are there.  Also, these sunny days we can see wool from the sheep that were killed for the religious holiday in April now hung our to dry and air. There has been a process to this, with the pelts hung out a couple of months ago, and now the wool has been taken off the skin.  I asked Tarik, my assistant manager, what they do with it, and he said that they use it for mattresses or pillows.  I had thought it would be spun into wool for carpets.  At any rate, these sights are here in modern day Turkey, old ways that continue in spite of “progress”.
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In many places in Istanbul, and in Turkey in general, there are public water outlets for the people to use.  These were built during Ottoman times and most of them are still being used.  There is one about 10 minutes from my apartment, near the freeway.  At one time it was in the middle of a
forest, but now it is in the suburbs.  People still use it, especially when the water goes off in the apartment buildings.  I think the water comes from springs, so people use it for a variety of reasons.  Also, there are water vendors who come around calling “Su!”.  These days they have little pickup
trucks filled with water jugs, but in the old days, they were strong young men who carried leather water sacks on their backs.  The drinking water we buy is delivered to depots in big tank trucks from various bigger depots. In the old days, it was drawn from the communal water areas.  I even saw a man getting water from a well the other day.  So, we turn water on in our kitchens, but the old systems of water delivery are still in place.
I am sure there are more things I can think of but for now I have run out.  You can see why I think it is so interesting to live here.  The contrasts are great, and the contradictions are enough to make sure things are never dull.  I wonder what Turks coming to our countries would think,
which contradictions and contrasts they would notice first.