Ninth Turkey Epistle

 

The Ninth Turkey Epistle

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Today we went over to Osmanbey where Ros and Yuce live. Murray was meeting with Yuce to talk about things relating to Yuce’s journey towards ordination. It is one of the ways that Murray is trying to be of use here at the Church of the Resurrection. 

Ros lives quite near to Yuce’s flat so it was arranged that I would have tea with her at her place. It was so lovely to sit with her and just visit. She is an amazing person. She became a Christian in her Confirmation class at age 13 and has faithfully served God all the rest of her life. For many years she taught Math at the International School in Istanbul and now many of those girls are leaders in their communities – quite a ministry I think.  Back in England she was a lay reader and played an active leadership role in the church there. Now, in retirement, she is back in Turkey to help Engin. She has been a tremendous support to us. One of her important roles is preparing readings for the services each Sunday.  

The entire Anglican liturgy is not translated into Turkish yet!  Ros is working on this with others in the congregation and then will send it off to the new Bishop of Europe for his approval. We found out on Sunday, for example, that there is no word in Turkish for ‘Ascension”.  I only discovered this when I asked Yuce what it was like to translate for Murray. That is when he told me that it was generally fine until there was a word  like Ascension for which there was no Turkish word. I don’t know how this hits you but it stopped me in my tracks – it again underlined how provincial I am in my experience.  Yuce said he had to translate the word by using a sentence.

For supper, Ros took us to meet two of her friends, teachers at the International School. One lady has been in Turkey for 37 years and is just about to retire back to California. The other woman – an American but with family in the Kingston/Peterborough/Ottawa triangle has been here 3 years.  They were all such fun and full of life – and I sat amazed at their courage and strength.  

We went to The House Cafe!  OK, OK – true confession time – again – I LOVED it – it was sOOOOO North American. I had Herb Crusted Grilled Salmon with Spinach, Baked Potatoes and Roquefort!  My slightly tender tummy was in heaven. Their signature tea is a medley of wonderful floral flavours served in a real teapot, a footed cut glass cup and a garnish of fruit – thin slices of apples in a fan shape balanced by tiny wedges of lemon and orange!  Aren’t you just a little envious?

Then!! We went to a Taize Service in an ancient French Roman Catholic Church. There were 4 instruments – guitar, viola, clarinet and flute.  The priest and 2 sisters were lovely and warm and welcoming.  We were welcomed and asked to participate in the service – even me! I was very moved by their generosity.  The service is conducted in Turkish, French, German and English – songs and prayers alternating in these languages. Some parts were read in 3 languages consecutively.  They meet on the 2nd Tuesday of the month from September until June so this was the last one for the summer.  Just for the interest of those of us who plan our own Taize Service I counted a minimum of 150 candles!!!  One woman from Australia summed up the experience by sharing that it was very meaningful to be part of a worldwide community – and it was.

The Funniest TV Show

I just have to tell you about a crazy cooking show I saw on TV. It was a one hour show on cooking eggs. The host was a very expressive woman with a larger than life personality. The guest was a cute Home Economist ( I am partial to cute HEc grads). The first recipe was an egg mixture that was cooked in muffin tins. While waiting for this to cook, the host went over to the most impressive chicken coop I have ever seen – it would have been fit for the Topkapi Palace.  She opened the door and coaxed one of the chickens out – with some difficulty this did happen and the little chicken started to wander all around the studio. Then the host tried to lock the door of the coop and couldn’t – try as she might – while she headed back to the top of the set one of the sound guys ran over to lock the door or there would have been a whole flock of chickens wandering all over. By this time the eggie muffins were ready for tasting.  The host took one, bit into it, and then turning to the audience with her back to the Home Economist gave a look that said “This is the worst thing I’ve ever tasted”.

Meanwhile, the chicken is still walking around the studio!  The HEC then asked the host to help her with the next dish by mixing it – with her back to the HEc the host started adding salt – and I mean really adding salt all the time looking at the audience with a wicked gleam in her eye.  For the grand finale, they tried to poke a hole in an egg – why I couldn’t tell – but no one could do it  – not the expert, nor the assistant. Finally, the assistant took it to the back of the set and still couldn’t do it.

Dyeing Hair

Today I decided to try dyeing my roots. After Murray’s experience at the barber’s I was a little afraid to try my chances at the salon.

Now you need to realize what a challenge this is because I had to do it all in Turkish and this is by someone who:

bought tomato pate thinking it was sausages

asked for a light onion when she thought she was asking for a light bulb

and bought fabric softener instead of laundry soap

First of all I bought just about the lightest colour I could figure out thinking I would rather err on being too light rather than too dark.

At home, using our dictionary, I figured out that I had bought permanent dye and more or less figured out how many minutes, etc.

With great gratitude to my friend Anne who gave me an emergency trip pack ( all of which I have used, Anne – my gratitude) I managed to mix the first two chemicals in  the metal ashtray in our room and apply the dye to my roots. After the appropriate amount of time I used the comb that Anne gave me to comb the mixture through my hair. Murray turned on the hot water from the central tank in our kitchen and I was away to the races – washing everything thoroughly, applying the conditioner, etc.,  – and with great relief saw that my hair was neither black, pink or red but juuuuust right.

Shoes

O, you know I love shoes and sooner or later – it was inevitable – I was going to succumb. 

My place of utter temptation – the narrow streets of Galata and my favourite shops – a purple pair of soft leather Turkish slippers complete with upturned toes – handmade and only 80TL. How could I resist? For your sakes I couldn’t leave them here – you would have been asking why hadn’t I bought them?  – so – fellow conspirators – they are mine! they fit, they are comfortable, they are so much fun!  But ——- and ——- another shop – a new favourite – right next to the first – more handmade shoes – only 80TL and so cute. This time flats – black suede with embroidery – a large red flower on each toe with tendrils of silver along one side – pale green on the other. At the back, on each side a splash of pink and then on the heel, a splash of gold, green and hot pink! I wish I could bring you all back a pair!

Animals

I have avoided talking about all the stray cats and dogs in Istanbul but it is such a part of life here that I feel I must.

There are huge numbers of feral cats and dogs. The cats  are everywhere you look – quite lean but basically clean and healthy looking. Some of them seem to have an ‘arrangement’ with the small business owners who at best leave out a bit of food and water and at worst tolerate them. In the evenings we are often ‘entertained’ by a concert of sounds – one can only imagine what’s going on.  The dogs appear to be from the same general lineage. In the 1800’s one of the sultans tried to rid of them but failed. Now, the city rounds many of them up, spays them, gives them shots, and tags them. It is sad to see them sleeping on sidewalks from time to time and when we first arrived I thought some of them were dead! But, as with the cats, there seems to be a happy compatibility between them and the human population.  What does surprise me is that for all their numbers, the city and the parks are very clean.

A Funny Thing Happened ……

Tonight Murray and I went for a walk along the seawall and decided to sit to enjoy the sun setting over the Blue Mosque. To our surprise a young girl came up and asked if she could take our picture!  She said we looked so nice that she wanted a picture. After she took several pictures she said “God bless you” and left. It was strange to be the object of curiosity.

Turkish Women

In a word – they are gorgeous!  They have such exotic faces with the dark hair, dramatic eyes and distinctive eyebrows that are carefully groomed. And, they are very artistic. When they are having their pictures taken they pull their hair around and over one shoulder, turn to the side and give a sideways look into the camera – and it starts early.  This afternoon a little girl about 8 was with her mother and aunts and they were all taking each others’ pictures. When it came to her turn she pulled her hair back and gave a cute coy little look! Very sweet.

 

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Eighth Turkey Epistle

The Eighth Turkey Epistle

I want to thank you who are following our blog (sounds so high tech and as if I know what I’m doing – it is all thanks to our son Matt). You have been asking for pictures and I would love to include them but don’t know how. I have transferred to pictures from our camera to this computer but when I attach them to a file I can’t send them.

A Memorable Dinner:

Imagine a very large outdoor patio. In the centre, place a square of fish counters with the salespeople inside the square and the fish in counters in front of them. Now place chairs and tables all round the fish counters – various restaurants operating their businesses from here. On the outermost edges of the square are permanent buildings where the restaurants have their kitchens and counters for meat and salads, etc. But, basically this is an open air fish market and restaurant complex. The idea is that you choose your restaurant and then choose your fish and or meat. It was an interesting concept. Without a menu we asked for king prawns and lamb. The waitress went to the fishmonger and chose the prawns and then brought me some lamb steaks for my approval, discussed how we might like them cooked and then went off to the kitchen,

In the meantime, one of the waiters appeared at the next table with a platter with a mound of something in total flames. It was a fish called a skin fish that had been encased in salt. The salt was set on fire and the heat cooked the fish. When the fish was cooked, the waiter with some difficulty put out the flames, broke open the salt casing and there was this perfectly cooked fish. Apparently it is a specialty of this restaurant.

Then it was time for our meal – hot pita rolls, garlic butter, perfectly grilled prawns and lamb with onions and tomatoes – and their house salad. A meal to remember.

Hagia Eirene:

I forgot to tell you about a little jewel here – the old church of Hagia Eirene. Although smaller, it rivalled Hagia Sofia in its day. In fact, when Hagia Sofia was in need of repairs this church was the preeminent one and was the scene of a major early church council. It is totally stripped of all ornamentation now but its proportions and acoustics are superb. We even found the remnants of frescoes dating back to Justinian’s time. It is not on the usual tourist trail so you have an opportunity to enjoy its peace almost on your own. Because of the incredible acoustics they hold concerts here – that would be a treat.

Sabine and Louise:

On Saturday evening we travelled to a suburb – off the tourist circuit to have dinner with Sabine and her beautiful daughter Louise. Sabine is one of the chief prayer warriors at the Church of the Resurrection and has been very kind to us. It was lovely to be in a home and to experience an ordinary neighbourhood. Sabine is originally from Strasbourg and speaks French, German, English and Turkish. Her daughter is studying at a French school, of course speaks Turkish and also English. I am envious at their ability to speak in so many languages. Sabine and Louise prepared a French dish for us and we brought a chocolate and pistachio cake! So good!!!

This neighbourhood prior to the 1970’s was basically open land with some estates for the wealthy. Then a couple of sociological changes happened: 1. the wealthy were no longer able to keep up with the expense of maintaining their homes and property so began subdividing the houses and selling the land. and, 2. people from the east began migrating to Istanbul and settled here. Some even built their own places in a haphazard fashion and there are still a few of these places left. Then developers built low rise apartments. Now developers are building condos and elegant skyscrapers. It is a very different skyline from the usual picture one has of Istanbul.

Pentecost Sunday:

We celebrated Pentecost by going to 2 church services. the first was at The Crimean Memorial Church Christ Church.

This church was built in the mid 1800’s and served the expats who worked for the embassies which were all located in this area. It is a typical English stone church with amazing acoustics. There were only 2 people in the choir and they sounded like 20 or 30.

When we arrived a very kind man welcomed us and spent some time chatting. I asked him if there was a washroom and he said certainly showing me the way. Once inside the building I realized it was a private residence. This kind man was the rector and this was the rectory. The church is high Anglican and we enjoyed being in an English service that was so familiar. The sermon was very good – the rector is Irish and he had a delightful singsong kind of voice.

Then, after lunch, we went to The Church of the Resurrection. Engin was presiding and preaching. The church seemed ablaze in red. We couldn’t understand Engin’s sermon but his passion spoke volumes. I kept thinking it would be a good time for the Holy Spirit to give me the interpretation of strange tongues!

A Fond Farewell:

We hurried back to Kadikoy because we had agreed to meet with Marc to say goodbye. He made his last presentation to his thesis committee the previous Wednesday and is now going back to join his mother in Jordan. Marc had earlier reserved a table at our favourite restaurant and it was so sweet because when we arrived Mojo was waiting for us with the best table in the house. Marc has been such a gift to us and he was kind enough to say how important we had become to him. Hopefully our paths will cross again when he returns to Canada next year.

Monday, June 8, 2014

Today we resumed our exploration of the old city. Starting in the area around the Blue Mosque we walked along the Hippodrome and entered an old neighbourhood looking for the Mosque of Sokollu Mehmet Pasa. The streets were very narrow and steep but we did find the outer walls of the mosque. Following the street around them we came to the entrance that led us into the courtyard. It is one of the most beautiful of the small mosques built by the great architect Sinan.

It was too early to enter the mosque so we walked through the courtyard out to the next street and discovered the Istanbul Design Center. It is housed in an ancient building that served as the starting point for pilgrimages to Mecca. Now it is a school that teaches a variety of design techniques including jewellery making. What was exciting was that there was an exhibition of works of the students. It was all jewellery and the theme was “Istanbul and Flowers”. The students had to produce a storyboard showing a photograph or two of Istanbul plus anything else that provided the inspiration for their design. Then there were the preliminary sketches showing the genesis and final stages of the design. The end result, the completed piece of work, was mounted beside the board.

We had one of the students – and artists – as our guide and she showed us the 5 pieces she had designed. Motifs used were the tulip, the Bosphorous, the Galata Tower, seagulls and jacaranda trees to name just a few. After touring the mosque (which I will get to) we went back to the Center and asked if anyone spoke English. We were introduced to the head of the school – Fatma Nur Bayraktar. She described the curriculum to us and told us that they will be giving 2- 1 day workshops on designing enamel jewellery. I had read about this Center on the internet and this course was one that I thought I might be interested in – so I signed up! I also bought one of the pieces – we have to go back on Sunday after the exhibition ends to pick it up. Then Fatma asked if we would like tea or coffee.

We sat in the Atrium with her and the student -Zetrup Undar. A lady brought a tray with tea, Turkish coffee, biscuits, and cookies. Turkish hospitality is amazing. Then Fatma went out and brought back a box. She explained that she was writing a book. Opening the box, she showed us examples of her work that she will include in the book. She has also demonstrated her work on television and showed us a piece that she had done for that show. Then she handed me half a dozen bracelets and said to choose one. How kind. We felt really badly that we didn’t buy a piece of jewellery that Zetrup had designed but the piece that we liked had already been sold – to her aunt!

If you are interested you can go to their website: Istanbul Design Center.

The Piece!!!

Some of you may be wondering what my new piece of jewellery looks like. First of all, the artist took as her inspiration the Bosphorous and the jacaranda trees. The necklace part is made of a couple of strands of very tiny purplish blue crystal-like beads. The pendant is silver coloured and obelisk shaped. At the bottom ( in metal tooling), on the diagonal, are the waves of the Bosporous, above that are the blossoms of the jacaranda and just above that is a piece of amethyst representing the colour of the blossoms. It is very different, very much part of this city and certainly part of our experience here in the Spring.

Back at the Mosque

Going back to the mosque, Murray bought a pastry from a fellow carrying an enormous tray loaded with about 5 or 6 kinds of pastry. (always food).

Finally, the mosque was available for a tour and we walked in. It was simply exquisite. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures so words will have to do. The tile decoration is outstanding. Not all the walls are tiled but specific areas – the dome, mihrab and a frieze of floral designs under the dome. The moderation of the use of the tiles I think only adds to the charm and beauty.

We left the mosque and came upon a film crew with all the trucks, equipment and staff needed. The streets were so narrow that a cube van filled the entire width leaving a narrow gap for one person to squeeze through. We wandered through this neighbourhood passing parks with moms and children, a high school and the usual small shops needed to supply the needs of a community.

We were looking for SS. Sergius and Bacchus, one of the most beautiful and important of the surviving Byzantine churches in the city. It is also known as the Little Haigia Sofia because it anticipated the design of Haigia Sofia. It was built by Justinian and Theodora in 527.

As usual maps and streets don’t often coincide and we asked a young fellow if he knew where the church was and he pointed down a street and said ‘good luck’. That sounded a little strange and I wondered if he had sent us on a wild goose chase. As we were going down the street we met a couple coming up the street. They were looking for the same church and after checking out both our maps determined that our young guy had indeed deliberately sent us the wrong way. We had such a nice time with this couple. They were musicians from Finland. He was a pianist and she was a violinist.

The church was indeed beautiful – it was now a mosque and all the original marble and mosaics were long gone but the marble pillars and the exquisite dome retained the hint of the original magnificence. All the pillars were unique to this building instead of being taken from former buildings which is something the Byzantines did. As a result the pillars complement the whole with alternating colours of red and green marbles.

We love going to the places that are not part of the usual tourist route because we get to enjoy the quiet and serenity of these spaces.

Leaving the church we walked under the railway tracks and came out to the walk next to the old Constantinian walls. What an amazing walk – ancient stones with fragments of old doors, gates, windows – and opposite – the Bosphorous with the glorious breeze and view. We ambled along finally stopping at a fish restaurant for lunch before heading back through the old streets leading to the Blue Mosque.

Enroute we passed through a very unusual and unique neighbourhood. The shops sold hand made goods from the villages. One shop had two antique dresses with outstanding beadwork. I only took pictures because they were so heavy they would have taken up most of our baggage allowance!
One of the hotels was called The Aslan Hotel – complete with the picture of Aslan. We wondered about the history of that. Because this area is so close to the Blue Mosque we have promised ourselves a return visit to one of the cafes. It is a refreshing change from the busy tourist area just 5 – 10 minutes away.

One Final Food Experience

Murray and I took a ride on a gulet – a small wooden boat typical here. When we were at anchor, a smaller motorboat with a little canopy pulled up alongside. A woman was cooking Turkish pancakes on a hot, slightly rounded griddle. (Turkish pancakes are not made from batter like ours but dough that is rolled out very thinly using a long, narrow rolling pin.0 Her husband took our orders – and money. We had two choices – nutella and banana or lemon sugar. We shared the nutella and banana variety. It was sooooooooooo good.

Seventh Turkey Epistle

Seventh Turkey Epistle

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Today we decided to play ‘tourist’. For 85 TL you can buy a Museum Pass that allows you into a number of top sites in 72 hours. The very biggest advantage is that once you have the pass you don’t have to wait it line.

We arrived at Haigia Sofia to see a line up of over 300 people. We first stood in the line to buy the pass, but Murray said he was going to look around. He came back shortly and he had found a van selling the Museum Pass – there was only one person ahead of us! With the passes firmly in our hands we sailed past all those in the line up and entered the grounds.

I had been looking forward to that first glimpse of the famous sanctuary.

We walked through the main doors, and there it was – in all its breathtaking beauty. I could never have imagined that we would have such an unimpeded view.

BUT- like children having to wait for dessert we made ourselves do some important preparation. We watched an excellent video and then read all the posters explaining the history of both the genesis of this treasure and its restoration. It was worth all the effort. We then methodically went through the entire building using our excellent guidebook.

We were awed by:

– the aged Constantian doors,
– the magnificent brass doors that are probably the oldest in the world
the marble that was brought in from all over the then known world.

The brass doors and some of the marble came from ancient sites such as Ephesus, Egypt, etc. The original designers placed these marble panels within marble frames creating a picture of harmony throughout. There are so many brilliant architectural details – the dome being one of the 7 wonders of the world. The windows allow so much natural light that artificial light is not necessary during the day. In fact, two walls in a patchwork of pastel green and pink marble rectangular panels were simply bathed in the softest sunlight showing their colours to perfection.

We were able to take the time to fully appreciate the magnificent mosaics and to let the layout of the place really register – to appreciate the places where the thrones of the emperors and empress would have been situated, to marvel at the balance in the design and to imagine it as a place of worship. It is marvellous to think – and to be grateful, that it remained a place of worship for 15 centuries until becoming a museum. It wasn’t destroyed, wasn’t turned into an bazaar or a night club, etc., etc.

I was pleased to see that restoration work was going on – inside and outside. I had read an article where there was concern that their wasn’t enough money to do this work and the old grand dame was deteriorating.

A delightful treat was to come across some graffiti dating back to the ancient Vikings. Obviously a Viking foot soldier was bored while waiting for his boss so he carved something like “Thor was here” in the stone balustrade. Seeing this I became sensitive to other signs of graffiti – both ancient and modern ( 1977). It seems that regardless of the century, have blade will scratch.

Then lunch – outside, on the grounds just beyond the Haigis Sofia is a dream – a vision of cloud- like canopies over groupings of white wrought iron tables and chairs. It was the perfect place for lunch – in spite of all the people mingling around just outside, we were in this oases of delight. Mmmmm ….. . to complete the picture, there was an extraordinarily beautiful young woman playing the harp. I thought of our Sara as the she played “Pachobel’s Canon”.

However, the first thing the waiter did was walk us throughout the menu pointing out all the things that were sold out. Thump! Back down to the earth – but we managed to find some lovely things to eat although, in Murray’s case a little disappointing to take second choices.

Outside Hagia Sofia are 3 mausoleums all decorated in Iznik tiles. They contained the coffins of various sultans and various family members. The most disturbing one contained about 25 small coffins – children of the sultans. Some died of natural causes but until the 1600’s the little boys were killed if they threatened the succession rights of the favoured heir. Awful to think about. After the 1600’s they simply kept the unfavoured sons in splendid imprisonment in the Topkapi Palace and some simply went mad!

An Ironic Moment:

Outside the entrance to one of the mausoleums are two panels of tired, faded Iznik tiles. There is a plaque explaining that at some point in the distant past, French archaeologists took the original panels back to Paris for restoration promising to return them. What they did was to produce these fakes and put the originals in the Louvre where, with no embarrassment they are proudly displayed with the note that they are from this mausoleum in Istanbul. Beside me was a vey upright British fellow who sniffed haughtily and said. “Well, that’s the French for you”. I thought, “What about the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum?”.

The Turks justify the inclusion of treasures from other lands in their museums by saying they came from parts of the Ottoman Empire – all part of the same empire. We all have our blind sides.

Blue Mosque

Our next visit was to the Blue Mosque – a must see in all the travel books but frankly I preferred the New Mosque. The Blue Mosque is looking very tired and they are replacing the magnificent
stained glass windows with mediocre new one.

Wednesday and Thursday – May 28 and 29

We continued working our way through the sites on our Museum Pass. On Wednesday we explored the Topkapi Palace and Haigia Iryna.

Topkapi Palace was once beautiful but repeated alterations have spoiled the original plan and now it is filled with small spaces which lead to a very choppy layout. The delight was lunch right on the terrace overlooking the Bosphorous. Oh my this was amazing and the day could not have been more perfect to enjoy the view. I had Turkish goulash and it came under a huge brass dome shaped cover. Absolutely delicious. We sat looking out over the water as we finished off our meal with coffee and baklava.

The rest of our museum visiting included the delightful Mosaic Museum on Wednesday and then, the following day the impressive Archaeological Museum and the Tile Museum. The Archaeological Museum is massive. Really you would need a week to do it justice so we concentrated on Kadikoy and a bit of Istanbul. The museum’s first curator in the 1850’s was very farsighted and pushed for legislation that protected all artifacts discovered in Turkey from being taken out of the country. How wise. But what a place to be an archaeologist. For example, in 1989 the city was installing new water pipes and unearthed Bronze Age artifacts!

Seeing all these wonderful sights is a treat BUT, in retrospect, too much in such a short space of time. From now on we plan to be much more leisurely in order to savour both the sights and the process – the whole point of a sabbatical.

A Turkish Haircut Experience:

(this from the fingers of Murray) – My hair was getting very shaggy. We passed a barber shop and the barber called me in for a haircut. I returned later. The first thing you do is negotiate the price: “Ne kader?” (how much?). Twenty lira. About $10 CD. Ok sit down. He had 20 words of English, i had 100 words in Turkish, so conversation lagged.

The barber is short and stocky, maybe 75 years. No slouch with the scissors. He comes at me like mad. Then the razor all over my head. Then he pulls out wads of cotton batten and goes at my ears. But here’s the highlight: imagine my surprise when he pulls his cigarette lighter from his pocket, flicks it on, and proceeds to run the flame over my ears. He doesn’t let the flame linger on any one part of my ear, but he literally burns off any hair on or in my ears, first the right, then the left! It was painful, but my reaction was to laugh, nervously. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. He was intense, unsmiling. I had the urge to get up and run, but I was fascinated.

This was the highlight (“light”), but he pushed me forward and gave me an upper body massage. Brutal on my neck, shoulders, arms, back. Now I really wanted to run. I couldn’t imagine what tricks this guy could still pull out to earn his 20 lira. Then he insisted on washing my hair, but while I bent over the sink he also washed my face, sort of massaging it several times. The stuff in the bottle had only one English word on it: “Delight”. After, he squirted various kinds of stuff all over my head and face, one of them stinging like heck. Finally, he let me go. I gave him a tip of 5 lira, and told him he was an artist. He just nodded. I’ll need one more haircut before we leave Istanbul. I wonder if I’ll have the courage to go back to this artist of the upper body.

The Sixth Turkey Epistle

 

Monday, May 26, 2014.

Merhaba!

 It is 9:15 am here in Kadikoy, we have had our usual cereal, yogurt and fruit breakfast – I am struggling with the Turkish breakfast on offer.  Laundry has been washed and is now on our drying rack. Life feels somewhat normal.

 Yesterday was interesting.  There was a demonstration on our side of the Bosphorous.  We awoke to proclamations from loud speakers then long periods of music. When we walked out to the main street to catch our ferry for church,police had erected barricades all along the street for about 4 blocks.  There were a lot of female police employees not looking particularly serious or fierce. Young people were walking to somewhere on the sidewalks carrying bullhorns and flags wrapped up around sticks. The ferries were running normally so we were happy to get to the other side.

We wandered back into our favourite neighbourhood called Galata and went to a lovely little shop where the shop keeper is a true gentleman in all the meanings of the word(s). We bought some wool and silk scarves made in Turkey. He allowed us a small discount. I don’t even feel like negotiating in this area because all the prices seem so reasonable. Being at the Spice Bazaar the other day was such a shock – the slimy demeanour of the shopkeepers, the purposefully high prices, and all the “stuff”.  When I leave my favourite two shops in Galata I feel “clean”. Does that make sense?

Church was interesting. We know a few people and therefore greet and are greeted. Engin is warm and charming. For the third Sunday in a row Engin let someone else preach. The first Sunday was an American woman who is one of his wardens, the second Sunday 3 American missionaries spoke,and yesterday we heard to a very basic message by a fellow from All Souls Langham Place, London. They have a preaching course for lay people. He was a lovely man, sincere and a lovely Christian believer. Murray is preaching this Sunday because Engin and a few others from church are going to Italy for a few days.

 We have set up tentative arrangements with a number of people for coffee dates because so many of the young people live near us. Ros had asked me to go the the Grand Bazaar with her to help her buy fabric to make an outfit for a wedding.

She has a pair of purple linen pants and would like to have a tunic top to match. I don’t know what her comfort level is for drama but I would love to take her to my scarf shop to buy one of their lovely shawls to complete the outfit.

We’ll see – it should be fun. 

Returning from church we had to pass through cordons of heavily armed, fierce looking police complete with tear gas canisters, plexiglass shields and all manner of protective gear. There were two separate groups of them. I wanted to get beyond them as soon as we could but I noticed that the locals were completely oblivious – shopping and visiting as if nothing unusual was going on.

We escaped to Galata and relaxed in an absolutely amazing coffee bar. It was the lobby of a small, very chic hotel. The decor was wild – cartoonesque pictures in vibrant colours and very cheeky. Two small tables outside, 2 inside, 2 little groupings around tiny round tables and a wild orange sofa. We sat on the sofa eating a piece of apple cheesecake with limonata (me), Turkish coffee (Murray) – served on delightful dishes (you know how much I love that). After I went to the washroom the waitress came over with the loveliest hand cream. It was divine.

 We are at breakfast with an amazing collection of people – a Jordanian guy with his teenage son, and 3 Americans – the father is a minister from the States and he is here with his 3 adult children. The daughter has lived here before and would like to get a work permit to teach English. She is currently living on a farm outside Cairo. It is a Coptic retreat centre and sounds fascinating.

The Jordanian, Mohammed, had an interesting take on the Turkish mentality and situation. He said, 25 years ago Istanbul was dump. It was dirty, nothing worked, water didn’t run and when it did it wasn’t clean, corruption was rampant – about 90%. Now, the Turkish economy is one of the best in the world, the city is clean and things run well, corruption is down to about 10%. I don’t know what they are complaining about. They blame the government for everything and I don’t think that is fair. 

The Minutia of Life

1. Housekeeping: Three lovely women clean all the rooms here. We are entitled to daily cleaning but that seems excessive so we ask them to come in twice a week. Everything gets changed including the duvets! I could get used to this.

2. The elevator: This remarkable piece of equipment is a mere 2’ x 3’. It technically can hold 3 people but that would be a pretty cosy arrangement. Even though we are only on the second floor we use it because the lights are motion sensitive in the stairwells and you are part way down the winding staircase in pitch darkness before the lights come on.

3. Our street: It is quite short and has 2 parking lots (where you can have your car washed), 2 fresh fruit and vegetable stands, an all male coffee shop, tailor/laundry shop, real estate agent, 2 hotels and 5 or 6 apartment blocks. There is a turkish bath at the end – I should probably check it out but it looks a little foreboding.

4. Bars and clubs: The north/south street at the end of ours is full of bars for men only. During the day it is fine but I would not like to be by myself at night. Women go to the cafes and restaurants along the main street and in the market.

5. Short dresses: It seems to be permissible to wear above the knee skirts and dresses now that it is so warm – not in mosques or churches but for daily life it is ok.

6. McDonalds serves a Turkish breakfast as well as the standard Egg McMuffin – scrambled eggs, white cheese, cucumber, olives, tomato and an English Muffin! I am impressed by their adaptability.

The Delights

finding food samples at the large store store in the big mall. I discovered a delicious cake and learned that the dish I thought was sausages ( and had cooked) was some sort of vegetarian concoction that you eat cold!

 “borrowing” books from the Toronto library to read on my iPad. I alternate between books set in Istanbul and familiar Western authors such as P.D. James, Jennifer Worth and Miriam Toews.

Traffic

We are getting the hang of negotiating traffic here. There are no stop signs at the end of regular streets. Cars round corners carefully – pedestrians need to be prepared to give way all the time. On major streets there are traffic lights although sometimes, as a pedestrian, you need to press a button to activate the green light.

It is fascinating to watch the locals navigate street crossing. It is similar to watching couples dance – each partner anticipating the movements of the other. The one rule seems to be that if you are going to go for it don’t hesitate.

If traffic stops because of congestion then everyone starts  cutting through – I always give the driver a little wave just make sure he has seen me.

Horns

Turks use their horns to communicate with everyone. Generally they do not honk in anger. These are gentle little honks which seem to say “Okay, stop, because I am going to start driving”. It’s pretty noisy but not annoying.

Ice Cream

Buying ice cream on the street is so much fun. The vendors are clever, very skilled showmen. When you order your ice cream, they dig into the solid mass with a long stainless stick with a spoon on the end. Then they place a glob on the cone, go to give it to , snatch it back, put the glob back into the container, pull out the whole glob, replace it, bring out a small glob, pretend to flip it, put it back on a cone, give you an empty cone, and so it continues with you reaching for the thing over and over only to have it pulled back. By the time you finally get the ice cream and cone together you are in a fit of laughter.

The Opera House

Tonight we got all dressed up to go to the Opera House to hear a concert. We were very excited – but when we got there it was in total darkness and the doors were locked. The concert had been cancelled due to the disaster in Soma. The Turks feel deeply about injustices. Fortunately, we can get our money back but then we had to decide on a plan B. It isn’t too difficult to find something fun to do so we wandered around the market area until we found a restaurant that looked interesting. There are thousands and thousands of restaurants and cafes. How they all survive is a mystery. Waiters stand outside each place welcoming you to their place – there is a real art to refusing – one that I don’t think we have mastered yet.

We finally settled on a kebab place. I was delighted to find a very thin Turkish pizza which I had remembered from our previous visits. The evening was perfect so we felt very proud of ourselves for having rescued what might have been a disappointing time.

 

The Fifth Turkey Epsitle

Monday, May 19, 2014 was Youth Day in Turkey and a national holiday. Usually children and young people participate in special programs in stadiums but these events were cancelled because of the recent demonstrations about the mine disaster in Soma.  On my way to the gym I saw a woman selling Turkish flags and I was a little nervous about how the day might unfold. Happily there were no incidents and people had a great time. The streets and parks were full of families and young people celebrating a day off.

 On the promenade entrepreneurial fellows created grids of balloons set up on the breakwater and you could try your hand at popping them with either a pistol or small rifle ( I was a little uneasy about the optics given recent events).  One man set up his candy floss machine in the back of his station wagon, women sold bird food, others sold tea from portable thermoses. Later in the evening we sat on a bench and listened to a jazz trio rehearsing – heavenly.

Tea

Tea in Turkey is extremely important and there is a very definite way to drink it.  First of all, it is ‘stewed’.  There are two ‘kettles’ – one on top of the other. The tea is in the top kettle and it is kept hot all day by water simmering in the bottom kettle. Needless to say, the tea is very strong. When we first arrived I didn’t realize this and poured the tea into my cup and started to drink. Poor Mustafa nearly had a fit. What you are to do is pour only about a third of a cup of tea and then fill up with boiling water. When you order tea or cay (pronounced chai) the waiter will often ask what degree of sweetness you want.

Another kind of tea is called bitki tea – grass tea or weed tea!  It is green tea leaves served either in a tea ball or a bodum. I don’t think Turks are too impressed with it gathering from the reaction I get.

Security

A concern everyone had when we were planning on coming here was security – on a national and also on a personal level. Personally, and by that I mean fear of pickpockets, etc,, I have not seen anything to cause concern. Locals do not seem to take any extra precautions – they operate the same way people in Canada do and that is comforting.  Nationally things seem to have quieted down. We even went out in the evening to have a drink at a cafe and all was quiet.

Mark had introduced us to his favourite cafe and the waiter Mojo – short for Mohammed. So this has become our cafe too! When we were there the other evening I felt quite sorry for Mojo. He is so thin, smokes quite heavily, and stands outside the cafe trying to attract business. This particular evening he was sporting a black eye – I didn’t want to think about how that might have happened. As we were settling the tab I suddenly said to him, ‘You are a lovely man”. He didn’t understand what I had said but his nephew interpreted  and Mojo broke out into the biggest smile – an all over kind of smile. Goodness knows why I was impelled to say what I said but it gave him such pleasure that I’m glad I did.

The Fourth Turkey Epistle

Demonstrations

Some of you may be wondering about all the demonstrations taking place here.  So far, whenever we have been over to the European side near Taksim Square there has been a small demonstration of some sort – and usually only involving about a dozen people or so. We avoid going near them so have been unaffected. Mark’s take is that there are always some people waiting for a cause. However, yesterday was different.  We were away for a whole day and as a result were pretty tired when we got home and decided not to go out for our evening walk.  It was a good thing because there was a demonstration quite near us. The crowd was protesting the terrible conditions that caused the recent mining disaster and the police finally used tear gas to disperse them.  We heard a big ‘boom’ but at the time didn’t know what it was. Later several guests came in who had been affected by the gas and again this morning others were talking about it. 

The next evening in Moda, the area where all the little cafes and coffee shops are located ( and the location of ancient Calcedon of church councils fame) was invaded by riot police shooting off tear gas. Apparently all of this was done without provocation. We now go for our evening walk along the promenade near the water. We are careful but not fearful. 

Galata

On Thursday we went to the European side to meet Ros from the church for tea and dessert. She forgot!! So we had our tea, waited for a small demonstration to end, and walked to the Galata Tower. This is a stone structure built by the Genoese as part of their fortification system in 1348.  It is one of those structures that is a must see – so we went! It has been restored beautifully. Elevators take you up a considerable way to the top and then there is a bit of a climb to the look out. The view of old Istanbul and all the waterways is very impressive and we were fortunate that the day was perfect. There are 2 restaurants at the top so we decided to complete the experience by having coffee (M) and limonata(D).

However, the best part of the day was exploring the streets around the tower.  The streets are narrow and quite steep – to get into one shop I had to brace myself by holding onto the door frame. The shops offer very unusual handcrafted items so are far more interesting than those selling predictable souvenirs. Lavishly embroidered bed covers, leather purses, boots and slippers and scarves of silk and fine wool were just a few of the things for sale. One street only sold musical instruments  it is very much an artists community and the crowds reflect that.  I can hardly wait to go back and just ‘be’ in the community for a while.

The Search for Church

Friday we were back at the Chora Museum to pick up my sister-in-law’s famous missing tile – SUCCESS!!! What a glorious feeling of satisfaction. But, then, the search was on to find 2 churches – ones that had eluded us on Wednesday – St. Mary of the Mongols and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

With our trusty map we decided to head cross country through the winding streets to save time – BIG mistake! We got hopelessly lost because: 1. there are no street signs, 2. our map is short on detail, and 3. no one we asked had a clue how to help us but tried anyway. Finally Murray , who has a great sense of direction, decided the best thing to do was head toward the Golden Horn and start all over again.

Arriving at the Bulgarian Church (from yesterday), we met another shoe shine entrepreneur and guess what? He dropped his brush ….

We arrived within what the map showed to be the vicinity of St. Mary’s but for the life of us could not find it. When we were reading up about Turkey we were told that the Turks have such a strong sense of hospitality that even if they haven’t got a clue where something is they will make it up. One lady with grandiose gestures indicated that we were to go straight ahead turning neither to the left nor to the right – so we did arriving at the point where we had started an hour earlier. Turning around we retraced our steps until we asked an older man if he knew where the church was. Well, he certainly did (why was I not convinced). He took us to a street corner and told us to go down it for about a kilometre and it would be on our left. My feet were not impressed, however we didn’t have a better plan so off we set. About half way down we asked someone else and he assured us it was 500 meters away. Bingo – there it was. A decrepit wall with two ancient underwhelming doors with a little inscription overhead in Greek. Fortunately Murray can read Greek and we had finally found St. Mary’s of the Mongols.

Seems that in the 13th c. an Emperor married off his illegitimate daughter to a Mongolian Sultan.  When he died she returned to  Turkey and founded this church.  It’s now a Greek Orthodox Church, quite small.  You can imagine this little group of faithful Greeks worshipping there Sunday by Sunday.

Once through the gates we entered a little courtyard and there was the church – quite small and very ancient. A young boy called out to us and with much hand gesturing we were able to let him know we wanted to see the church. His mother came out of her little apartment with the gigantic key and he let us in. They couldn’t speak a word of English but patiently waited while we walked around and had a good look. It was small, not particularly beautiful but interesting. It must have once been attached to a monastery because there were about 2 dozen monk’s chairs.The little guy’s name was John and we thought he and his mother were probably Greek Orthodox.  Murray gave the lady some money and she promptly gave it to her son – obviously  this was his job.  Just the sweetest experience.

Tost Cheesed

By this time we were exhausted and decided to reward our efforts by stopping at a cute little cafe we had passed. Sitting down I ordered pastry with cheese and Murray asked for tost cheesed. The little waitress was about 12 or 14 and trying out for the role of most grumpy waitress in Istanbul. Usually I find it challenging to get a smile out of grumpy people but quite frankly couldn’t be bothered.

Finally, Miss Grumpy brought our order. My pastry with cheese was absolutely delicious!! Tender, flakey layers of phllo with delicious warm cheese -yummmmm.  Poor Murray – tost cheesed was dry toast with room temperature melted, tasteless cheese. This is what is sold on the ferries. I did share my pastry with cheese with him (see the halo).

Then a huge 1958 or 1959 red and white Ford Fairlaine drove up and out popped a gorgeous model in an amazing outfit and a couple of photographers. They were obviously doing a photo shoot.  The driver of the Ford backed it up into a narrow side street, tail fins and chrome gleaming. How he managed to get that thing through those streets is a wonder.

Wandering up the street from the cafe we stumbled onto the Greek Patriarchate. A very natty looking fellow allowed us to enter the compound and there was the church! Inside 5 deacons and a priest were conducting evening prayer.  The service was quite wonderful with the 5 young men chanting the service in their deep voices and looking quite fierce in their black robes, black hats and various degrees of dark facial hair. It was very solemn and serious – in fact one of the ushers came and let me know I was not to cross my legs!  The priest went into the Holy of Holies (my words) and chanted his part – I had never seen that before. It was all so very somber…. Then the service ended and the deacons started to laugh – one of them taking out his phone! Under all that dark mystery were just 5 young guys!!!

The place was utterly amazing -1720  – a medium sized building exquisitely decorated. What a privilege!

The Gym

Saturday I went back to the gym. Another personal trainer. Another form to be filled out. But then it got better. This young lady put me on the treadmill for 45 minutes, the elliptical for 20 minutes and the bicycle for 20 minutes. I thought I was going to collapse – especially after having walked 5 hours the day before!  I did cheat tho ‘ – she had set the tension at about 4 on all the machines and I dropped it down to 1. When that was all done she led me through some stretches. The good news is that if I attend one more assessment session then I can attend classes!!!  She was a lovely girl and shared that she has a lot of worries and doesn’t sleep much. She and her family have lived in Istanbul for 10 years and don’t like it – too dangerous!

I walked home – slowly – had an orange and collapsed into bed for an hour!!

The Third Turkey Epistle

Today we decided to return to St. Saviour in Chora or Kariye Camii. This church, after Haige Sophia is the most interesting Byzantine church in Istanbul. The name ‘Chora” means in the country because it originally was outside the Constantinian walls.Later it was included within the Theodosian walls parts of which are still evident.

The church’s main claim to fame is a series of magnificent mosaics and frescoes depicting the whole life and ministry of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the early church fathers. It has been beautifully restored by the Byzantine Institute of America.  

Although this was our 4th visit to the church it was the first time we were not on a schedule. Using the book “Strolling Through Istanbul” we were able to spend 2 hours going over every mosaic and fresco, following the sequences as the artist intended. The artist is unknown but was in the same era and league as Giotto in Italy. The detail was unbelievable – delicate renderings of faces and clothing. There is so much movement in the scenes you can almost see feet running over the roads.

On our last trip to Turkey, Murray’s sister and her husband came with us. At a shop outside this church they bought a set of tiles which they took home to have framed but when they got home discovered that one was missing.  What a disappointment. Several times they tried to get another one using various emissaries but to no avail.  Well, this was a challenge so I had Mary send me a picture of the tiles minus one and, then, I went to the shop and voila the salesman was able to go the factory and get a replacement. 

After a light lunch we walked back to the ferry via the walk that follows the entire Golden Horn.  We were looking for some ancient churches but unfortunately one was obviously no longer in use and the other was under renovations.

Saints and Sinners

We have been so blessed by the kindness of strangers. Whenever we are struggling with trying to figure something out, a kind person emerges to help.  We do not take these kindnesses lightly.

However ……  we did encounter one of the world’s sinners. When we were heading towards one of the churches on our list we passed a shoe shine guy. Just after he passed us one of his brushes fell on the sidewalk and he didn’t notice. Murray ran after him to return the brush. Well our little sinner pretended great gratitude and made out to offer us a free shoe shine as a thank you. When the half baked job was done Murray took out his wallet to give him something. Our sinner grabbed the money from the wallet. Murray was really ticked and the guy returned some took some and in the end I haven’t a clue how much he got. It was like watching the guy at the circus hiding a pea under a cup. Usually these guys tell you a sad tale of having 7 children but this one was more temperate and only had 3!!

Dressing in Turkey

One of my concerns before coming here was what I should wear as a woman.  Well it seems as though almost anything goes. In our neighbourhood you see everything except ultra orthodox Muslim attire. Advertising is very risqué which surprised me. Women can be very Western with skirts above the knees , and now with warmer weather, shorts and mini skirts are making their appearance. Most commonly you will find women wearing fairly modest outfits – pants (tight jeans for example) and a top with or without a scarf. I am very comfortable in leggings and a long t-shirt for example.

In the conservatives areas the situation is entirely different. Advertising shows women in long coats and tunics and the shops on street level display what we associate with Muslim dress. However, on the upper stories shops where the streets concentrate on wedding and evening clothes you will see everything from above knee cocktail dresses to wedding dresses that billow about the bride covering her from head to toe complete with a full head covering. It’s fascinating.

The Gym

I finally joined a gym. I chose The Beautyland Spor Club. They leave the ’t’ off sport!  It is for women only and I can buy a membership by the month. I was looking forward to taking Pilates and participating in a couple of dance classes BUT somewhere things have been lost in translation and I need to have an assessment that can take a week or 2 before a plan is made for me.

My trainer took me to the gym and started me on the treadmill for 30 minutes.  This wasn’t so bad because I was overlooking a park and beyond that the Marmara Sea. Then she put on the bike with orders not to do less than 20 kph. After that i was told to go and I couldn’t return until Friday!! I don’t know how I’m going to deal with our very different expectations.

Leaving the gym I decided to cross the road over to the park and then to the seawall. As luck would have it Murray was heading home from having walked west along the sea wall so we continued together.  We came to a set of workout machines on the seawall. It appears the community has put these devices in clusters along the seawall to encourage fitness especially among children.  This morning we put our exercise clothes on and worked out on them for an hour. No need for a gym!  It is about a 20 minute walk from our hotel so all in all it is a good workout. Our view was the water and in the distance The Koptaki Palace, Haige Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Food

Food is a big issue. First we have had to figure out where to buy, what to buy and how to negotiate the labels. So far I have settled on tomatoes and cucumbers with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. dolmatas, kofte (a spiced beef kebab), yogurt and cucumber, roasted eggplant, onions, mushrooms and fresh garlic.  We did buy something called Manti-Ye Etli Bohca.  Ros had it when we went for supper on Sunday. It is little pieces of dough pinched around minute pieces of cooked minced beef. I saw it in the meat counter. What I need to know was how to make the sauce that went with it. Again, a kind lady overheard our efforts to ask the butcher how to prepare it and she came over. Apparently we boil the dough bits much like ravioli and then we use yogurt with fresh garlic and olive oil. We’ll see.

Neighbours

We have a lovely couple in the next apartment to us. they are Palestinians working in Saudi but on holiday here. They are a young couple with 2 little children – a girl about 6 and a little guy about 4. The walls are quite thin and it is very moving to hear this devout Muslim man chanting his prayers.

We continue to meet people from all over the world – what a colourful patchwork of guests.

Mark

Mark continues to be an important person in our lives.  Last night we took him out for a drink to celebrate a successful presentation of his thesis topic to his committee. He is comparing the influence of Islam on Christian architecture in Istanbul with the influence of Christianity on Islamic architecture in Spain. I think its fascinating – however, he knows absolutely nothing about Christianity! So he wants to pick Murray’s brain.

I had better stop!!!  Until the next instalment.