Monthly Archives: July 2014

Sixteenth Turkey Epistle

Sixteenth Turkey Epistle

The Farewell Blog

It is almost time to leave Istanbul and Turkey – 2 more days and we fly to Rome.

What are our thoughts? I think it is too early to really assess our time here – we are ready to leave – but feel we have thoroughly lived our days to the full.

The Bosphorous and Black Sea Cruise

To end our time in Istanbul we asked our travel agent to book us on a cruise up the Bosphorous as far as the Black Sea. It was an opportunity to see a few last places on our “list” and to at least dip a toe in the Black Sea. The boat was smallish and owned by a private company and there were about 30 people on board. The guide was a delightful rogue – always addressing us as “dear guests”. The 3 helpers worked so hard to make things nice for us – donning plastic gloves as they served soft drinks and light snacks. At about 2 pm they served us a hot lunch featuring grilled chicken cooked on board. What was most impressive was that the whole crew was fasting because of Ramadan! They do not have ANYTHING from 3 am to 8:30 pm – not even water. And, here they were, serving us food – always with smiles and warm hospitality.

The day was perfect – but – as is always the case – the best part was the people we met. One couple were from New York and we fell in together as if we had always known each other. We didn’t ask the usual -‘what do you do’ questions because we were enjoying sharing this adventure together and joking around, teasing one another in such a natural way. One woman and her 20 year old daughter had just come across the border from Iraq. They had been helping set up a library for Kurdish children! Their organization had taken over 900 books. What an adventure. They had been 45 minutes from Mosul but were only aware of a problem because of the gasoline rationing. She said people lined up for 2 days to get 10 litres. They would mark their spots with rocks and everyone respected the ‘reservation’.

At the Black Sea, we dropped anchor and we went to a tiny beach where Murray went in for a swim – just to say he had. He has now been in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and the Marmara Sea. On the way out of the Black Sea we were entertained by a group of dolphins. The brochures say this is a possibility so we were delighted when it actually happened.

Our Church Experiences

Murray was able to preach at Christ Church and then race over to concelebrate at the Church of the Resurrection on our second last Sunday. This past Sunday, our last, we attended Christ Church and the rector and people were very warm in their greetings and farewells. The rector had taken us out for lunch at the most interesting restaurant down a warren of lanes, and invited Murray to do a locum some time in the future and stay at his house. (Side Bar: When we were walking away from the restaurant we passed a mosque with a crowd surrounding it, lots of big black cars and men in black suits plus police. i went to one of the guys and asked who was there and it turned out to be the President of Turkey because it was the first Friday of Ramadan).

Murray preached at the Church of the Resurrection for one last time and everyone was very gracious. The wardens presented us with two lovely books – and even provided delivery to Toronto so we didn’t have to figure out how we were going to pack them.

Over the past 3 Sundays we developed the habit of going to the Pera Museum with Ros after church. They have an outstanding art deco salon type coffee shop that we love. This past Sunday we went for one last time with Ros, had a light lunch and then talked for hours before going our separate ways. Ros has become a lovely new friend and it would be nice to think we could keep in touch in some fashion.

Kim and Nurhan live only about a 10 minute walk from us and invited us over for a lovely visit on the Friday evening. It felt very ordinary to walk over to their place – a small feeling of belonging.

Another young woman from the States who is here on a 2 year mission trip has become a friend. She and I have had coffee chats and on Sunday she came with us to hear Murray preach. For reasons that are always mysterious, these serendipitous friendships are always delightful surprises.

On Monday evening we were taken out for dinner by our local travel agent! A charming young woman – we just clicked from the very first. She took us to a rooftop restaurant near the Blue Mosque and we enjoyed finding out more about her. Life is always different in other cultures and we valued hearing about what it is like for her to simply live from day to day.

Tuesday evening we met some people from the Church of the Resurrection near the Galata Tower. The Archbishop of the Middle East was in town and we had dinner with him and his lovely wife Nancy. It was very interesting especially at this time in history. (And it was! More to report when we get home).

Noah’s Ark

I now know what it must have been like on Noah’s ark. We have a favourite outdoor restaurant right on the water in Moda. It is a pleasant one hour walk along the sea wall or through the winding streets from here, and is a nice destination when wanting a walk. But it is outside. One day, I had 3 cats surrounding my chair. Then a lady sat at the next table with her dog – and guess what! There is a reason for the expressions – ‘fighting like cats and dogs’. Finally, things settled down and the waiter brought a basket of bread. Before we knew it, sparrows were all over it. The man next to us just took a piece of bread and put it on the ledge – all very normal – for him.

Flower Ladies

All along the wharf, flower ladies sit with buckets of flowers, calling out to all the passerbys. Most just sit but a few take a bunch of roses and walk up and down the promenade trying to get the young men to buy one for their sweeties. One woman was especially persistent. A young couple were having a cuddle and she went over and started tapping on the guy’s shoulder. He ignored her but she wasn’t going to be deterred so she just kept tapping. When they parted a little, she stuck the flower between them and continued to make her sales pitch. It was going to be interesting to see who won this battle of wills – in the end she lost!

I never know whether to be relieved or disappointed because they NEVER approach Murray to buy one for me – what is that saying?

Medical Information

Apparently Turkish dentists are particularly good. Sabine was telling us that people from Europe like to get their work done here because the Turkish dentists are particularly adept at small motor control. The other procedures that people come here for are hair transplants and plastic surgery. It is not uncommon to see men with their heads wrapped in surgical swaths – looks ghastly. You also see bandaged noses – one fellow had had both procedures done. That was quite a sight.

Marbling

There is a painting technique called ‘marbling’. I had thought of trying a course – but didn’t – but yesterday at an exhibition of Arts and Crafts I had an opportunity to try it out. Very interesting but requiring special chemicals and paints. I do have a lovely picture of a tulip!

Annie

Yesterday we decided to have a snack at a little cafe on the water near the ferry depot. A little Syrian girl came in – all about 8 years old with her little purse across her shoulders and a little plastic shopping bag with packets of kleenex for sale. You need to imagine a dark, curly headed Annie! She had the same mischievous glint in her eye and the cutest little pouty mouth. A beautiful young Turkish woman at the table next to ours started to talk with her and the little girl wriggled in beside her. then the young woman ordered a drink and chicken wrap for the little one. While waiting for the food the two of them chatted away in the most amicable way. Meantime, the young waiters would tousle the little girl’s hair and tease her – very good naturally – but watching to make certain she wasn’t being a nuisance. When the food came, the little girl tucked it away in her bag – obviously to share it with her family. Then the waiters started to urge her to get on her way but she would dance this way and that, going from table to table asking for “just one lira”.

Farewell to Kadikoy

On our last afternoon, after our snack on the wharf, we had our final ice cream cones at the “Victor Hugo” Bookstore – and splurged with their version of Turkish coffee. I am certain they put chocolate in it – and they always have a chocolate covered piece of Turkish Delight alongside.

Then, in the evening, we walked through the familiar market streets to find Mojo. He was in his usual spot outside the little cafe – we greeted one another in the usual Turkish way and explained via a translator that this was our last night and we wanted to have a final glass of wine and say goodbye. To our surprise, Mojo returned with double glasses of wine and a lovely fruit platter. Pictures and shared family photos followed. Finally, when we had to leave, Murray gave him a 30 lira tip (it should have been 2L). In response Mojo offered us Turkish coffees and we knew we couldn’t say no even though we had reservations for dinner at the Franz Kafka Terrace. When we had finished the coffee, Mojo presented us with the handmade corded bracelets he always wore – talk about being undone – it was just too moving. What can you say to that kind of hospitality?

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Fifteenth Turkey Epistle

Fifteenth Turkey Epistle

Istanbul Design Centre (IDC)

Thursday, July 26th and the first day of my 2 day workshop at the Istanbul Design Centre. The first part of the adventure started with the decision for me to go there alone. Murray had 2 sermons and a presentation to the Church of the Resurrection Parish Council to work on so he needed the time here at home to work.

Come along with me as I wend my way over to the European side of the Bosphorous. The first thing we need to do is cross the street – be careful as the buses, taxis and cars whiz by and the pedestrians crisscross every which way – and watch your step – there are all sorts of things to cause a trip, bump or stumble!

We are now at the ferry – be careful of the steps and ramps – you don’t want to hit a step when you think you have a smooth ramp! The ferry is bobbing about so hang onto the hand of the kind man offering assistance. It is a beautiful day so let’s go up to the top deck to enjoy the view.

As we head out ,look over to the right and you will see the old Hayerpasha train station. This was once part of the Orient Express line built by a German firm in the 1800’s. It was badly damaged during the First World War when it was used as an ammunition depot – and, of course, things exploded. It has been beautifully restored as an historical site but also a ferry dock, an outdoor cafe, and a restaurant. Brides love to come for their pictures. A little further along note the red tiled roofs of the army barracks. Somewhere near them is the site of the hospital where Florence Nightingale nursed the wounded from the Crimean War.

The teaman is coming so we will have a glass of cay and enjoy the rest of our journey. The sea is very calm – except for the wakes of all the ferries and the sun makes the water glisten. The gulls are swooping with abandon and their wings make breathtaking arcs against the blue sky.

Now we are approaching land – listen carefully to the announcement. Are we stopping at Karikoy or Eminonu? We need Eminonu so we mustn’t make a mistake – altho, if we do get off at the wrong port we would only need to walk over the Galata Bridge ( 15 minute walk). A Sultan princess had this bridge built for the poor of Istanbul to make their journey from one side of the Golden Horn to the other much easier.

Whew! We are at Eminonu – and there is the New Mosque which is right next to the Spice Bazaar. Using the underpass, we go by some guys selling cute little spinning tops, and come out across from the tramway. Now we need to be mindful of taking the tramway in the right direction. Fortunately, it is early and there are few people so it is easy to see where we are going. The tramway is very new, comfortable and air conditioned. Aboard, a kind man offers me his seat – is it my new blond looks? Three stops later and we arrive at the Sultanhamet district.
This is the centre of the original heart of Constantinople – the historical hub.

We will now walk the rest of the way to the IDC. First we pass the ruins of Constantine’s original palace, down a few steps and come out to old Hippodrome. To our left is Hagia Sofia, over and beyond to the right is the Blue Mosque. We will walk along the old Hippodrome site passing the Egyptian obelisk ( approximately 1500 BC), the Serpentine column and the Colossus. However, we don’t have time today to stop because we must hurry to a narrow street towards the right. Two more blocks and we turn right – the street is very steep so be careful! To our left are the ruins of an ancient church, and, the entrance to the Mosque of Sokollu Mehmet Pasha (1571 AD). But, to our right is the entrance to the Istanbul Design Centre – located in an ancient Dervish Lodge.

Zeynap Undar, the student we met on our first visit, is there to greet me and offers a seat at a table in the atrium and a glass of cay. It is early so the time to relax and get my bearings is very welcome.

At 10:30 we enter the small classroom – about 12’ x 18’ with places for 5 students. For the next 2 days this is where 8 people will work. There are 5 students, one instructor, Zeynap the student helper and Erika. Erika is the Director for Development and has been assigned to me as my interpreter for the entire 2 days. She is an absolute delight. Originally from one of the old Soviet Union satellite countries, she went to high school in the States and had lived in Regina!!! Regina – imagine.

It is only a little intimidating as the other students come in and begin to unpack their bags. I didn’t know we had to have our own equipment – yikes. But, I am assured that I am not to worry because they will supply all that I need. Two of the students have been studying at the Centre all year, one is studying at another institution and is here to learn enamelling. She is a ceramist but her jewellery designs have become so good she is beginning to sell them. The fourth student owns a jewellery design shop along with her husband. They specialize in custom designs using gold and precious stones. Then there’s me –

Before long we are given small squares of copper to scour with brillo pads, files of all sorts, sandpaper and scouring sponges. The copper has to be very smooth and clean before we can apply the enamel dust. Once the copper squares are clean and ready for enamelling, all the windows and doors are closed, the AC is turned off, we put on masks and the two annealing ovens are turned on – 800 C – and it is blazing hot outside! The dust is very fine so there cannot be any air movement while we are using it and we must be careful not to breathe it in. Eight hot bodies, two extremely hot ovens – and intense concentration – imagine!!! But what a lot of fun. A couple of the students could speak some English and were very kind to me. Watching the others gave me all sorts of ideas and we tended to stimulate the creative juices of one another.

The first day we made simple squares to be used as earrings or small pendants but the second day we worked on the full squares. We were encouraged to try a variety of techniques so I cut out a tulip, then used glass beads on a circular disc, and finally, cut out a stencil to make a seagull flying over the Bosphorous!

Before I left, Fatma, our incredible instructor, attached various chains and cords to my pieces so I left with 5 usable necklaces. She is a woman of great generosity. While working on the chains, etc., she brought out 2 red merino glass tulips and told me to choose one – and then proceeded to make it into a necklace.

This was an unforgettable experience – I am humbled by the kindness of all the people at this institution and will be eternally grateful for the privilege of being part of them.

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Fourteenth Turkey Epistle

Fourteenth Turkey Epistle

People

We continue to meet wonderful people. One day at breakfast I invited a man on his own to join us for breakfast. He and his family were here to investigate universities for their oldest son. He was saying that because all the Arabic languages are so related that his son will be able to learn Turkish in 3 months – I was so-o-o—o envious! He went to say that he might even move his business here. I asked him what it was and when he said he was an audiologist I suggested that Murray could perhaps become his first client!

Then, on another day, we went to Engin and Mine’s home for a barbecue with a few others from the church. This was especially nice on two levels. first of all, it was interesting to go to a newer neighbourhood – about 40 years old. A change from the ancient areas we always seem to frequent. Secondly, it was to be with people from here in a purely social situation.

Nurhan and Kim are a lovely couple from Church. Nurhan teaches Math at the university and is a Turk of Armenian background. Kim is an American taking her doctorate in Ethno music. Both exercise leadership roles in the church. We had tea with them. They live relatively close to us so we were able to walk to a central spot to meet. Lovely to talk about all the things in our lives.

Anniversary

June 24th was our wedding anniversary! We started the day by going to the Hilton for bacon and an omelet. Sitting in the garden, we had freshly squeezed orange juice and wonderful coffee. One of the realities here is confusion when ordering things because of the language difference. We ended up with an American, double espresso and cappuccino. this was followed by 2 Turkish coffees in the lounge courtesy of the hostess in honour of our anniversary. Honey was available in a real honeycomb and we were able to have brown toast! Little luxuries.

In the evening we went out for dinner at the Kafka (after Franz Kafka) restaurant and cafe. There is an open air terrace on the fifth floor. What a panorama – the Bosphorous and then beyond that the skyline with the Blue Mosque, Haiga Sofia and the Topkapi Palace. Ros and Yuce joined us – very special to have new friends to celebrate with us. And of course, amazing food!

I’m a Blond!

I thought it was time for me to have a pedicure after all the walking we’ve been doing. The manager of our hotel took me to a place quite near here and directed them to give me a manicure AND pedicure. Well, that was okay. A lovely lady with the usual tea and lots of sign language. then the stylist, with sign language, suggested my hair need help. He was right of course but it not the type of negotiation one should do without a dictionary – I am now a blond! He said, “In Canada – brunette, this – (pointing to my head), Turkey. It is fun and funny. People are being very kind and complimentary 🙂

Hats

Murray and I both brought our wide brimmed hats to protect our delicate skin from the Turkish sun – but it seems we are almost the only ones in all of Istanbul wearing them. One smart pants said as we were passing, :Hey cowboy, where’s your horse?).

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Thirteenth Turkey Epistle

Thirteenth Turkish Epistle

An Adventure With The Turkish Banking System:

While at Christ Church, we noticed that there was going to be a lecture on the history of Turkey from the Ottomans to the First World War. This was to be held at the former British Embassy in the grand ballroom with a glass of wine. Sounded fascinating! To buy tickets (this is the short story), we had to deposit 70TL into the rector’s bank account. He sent us all the relevant information and off we went to the closest branch. It turned out that because it was not his branch we would have had to pay a fee of 35TL. We thanked the teller for saving us the money and giving us the information about the branch we needed.

The next day we went over to Taksim (Murray had an appointment with a scholar there anyway). Stopping in at the branch closest to the church, we waited a 1/2 hour for service before Murray had to leave to get to his appointment – so I was left in charge. Speaking to a teller I was assured it would only be another 10 or 15 minutes. Half an hour later, this same teller called me over and with concern said – “your number isn’t coming up”, and decided to look after me. Opening up the account he saw that this still was not the correct branch but found the right one for me and told me how to get there. Fifteen minutes later I was in the correct branch, took a number (by this time I knew the routine) and sat down to wait. Thirty-five minutes later my number was finally called. But … things were not going to be easy. It turned out that I needed a Turkish tax number to complete the transaction and it didn’t matter that I was from outside the country and couldn’t possibly have one. I was not too happy with Turkey at that moment. In sheer frustration, I walked to the House Cafe and drowned my frustrations in a tall glass of House Limonata with lime!

Later, at home, I emailed the contacts at the church and described my experience. They were very apologetic, very sympathetic and said they felt they could trust the reliability of Canadians to show up. So, our names are on the list – and we will let you know how things go from there.

Electricity

I am very impressed with the energy conservation protocols here. I mentioned that the lights in our stairwells are motion sensitive. This is the same for all other buildings. Not only are the lights in hallways designed this way but also those in washrooms. One day, we came across a public escalator that only ran when someone needed to use it. It is all very sensible.

Transportation

As you can well imagine moving 18 million people is a challenge and we think they do an amazing job here. There are the ferries – both public and private. Then there are regular taxis; small buses which are 15 person minivans; slightly larger buses ,called dolmus, that can negotiate the narrow side streets; larger buses like ours; funiculars, tramways – big and small, subways and, of course, the Tunel. Thanks to Murray’s perseverance we are beginning to understand and make use of these various forms of transit. We haven’t been able to figure out the dolmus and minivan system but as all the other forms of transit work we are ok.

Salesmen:

A typical line used by sales men here is as follows:

The Scene: 2 tourists (like us) standing or walking alone in a square. A lone Turk comes along side and asks, “Where are you from? Have you been here long? Have you been to the Blue Mosque yet?” By now the unwary traveller is probably beginning to enjoy this conversation. Then comes the punchline, “Perhaps you would like to visit my shop?”

This happens so often that now we don’t bother engaging with these guys. Yesterday, however, we were reading our guide book and a lovely fellow came up, started with the opening line and we just brushed him off. He assured us he wasn’t a guide, etc., and did help us get oriented. As he left he said, “I truly just like to help”. We felt pretty foolish.

Babies:

I forgot to tell you that the young woman carrying twins had them the Friday after we saw her in church – a boy and a girl. This past Sunday they were in church – just a month old and of course awfully cute. Lots of eager people waiting to cuddle them.

Turkish History:

I’ve been trying to understand some of recent Turkish history – and by that I mean from the Ottomans on. Bit by bit through tours of old buildings, novels, and museums I am beginning to get a sense of the people involved in the history of this complex society. One thing I found interesting was that originally Turks were nomadic people and therefore lived in tents rather than fixed abodes. Even when they began to establish themselves in urban communities this simple, pragmatic lifestyle governed how they lived. For example, instead of the rulers building palaces, they built pavilions. So Topkapi Palace is a series of buildings or pailions. As more space was needed, they simply built another pavilion. This was the pattern until the 1800’s when more of the Turkish elite began visiting European cities and saw the palaces in France, Britain and Italy. In the mid 1800’s the Sultan ordered the construction of an opulent new palace called Dolmabache. It was so extravagant (and built at a time when the Ottoman empire was almost bankrupt ) that it is said that the debts incurred hastened the decline. Turkey had to borrow from other countries to pay for this palace and then was unable to repay.

The lecture at the British Consulate was very interesting. The lecturer was Dr. Phillip Mansell and spoke on the period from the Ottomans until the First World War. This was part of a series to commemorate the anniversary of WW1. To illustrate his talk he used slides of pictures from two art galleries we had just visited the previous week – both Ottoman collections – one at the Pera Museum and the other at the museum in the Dolmabache Palace. Having our separate experiences beginning to overlap is one of the delights of having time to absorb the information coming to us from all directions.

The British consulate was built in the 1800’s on a palatial scale to illustrate the importance of Britain as a world power. The ballroom was magnificent with 2 impressive crystal chandeliers and all the gilt that goes with pomp. What was most astounding was to be in such luxury both in a historical and a structural sense – but currently in use! It was extremely well maintained and all the side rooms and seating areas in hallways were furnished with beautiful antiques that were functional. It looked like a museum but was,in fact, a government office building that was still relevant.