Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 1 comment

Impressions and Observations Upon Landing in Heathrow Airport

- There are water fountains and recycling bins.
- Everyone has a fun accent, though less than half of them seem to be British. I feel funny not having one....although, I suppose to everyone else, I do!
- Indian women are beautiful.
- It is okay to blow your nose in public here.
- All of a sudden it’s Christmas. I like it. Except for those flashing LCD lights....
- I like fast food when it includes curry and a smoothie.
- I have no idea what to do with all these funny coins. It’s easiest just to hand them to the cashier and trust that she’ll pick out the right ones.
- Caramel chocolate shortbread makes me happy.
- I keep speaking to people in Turkish.
- Americans really do stand out.
- Cadbury makes a Dairymilk Bar with Turkish Delight in it. Interesting.
- English language bookshops are my weak spot. (Therefore it is wise to exchange only enough money to eat!)
- Muslim women in headscarves make me feel at home.
- The array of snack food is dizzying. And intriguing. Who knew there was such a thing as Worcestershire sauce flavoured potato chips?
- I am overwhelmed by the number of males with skin the same colour as mine and the way they all look me in the eye.
- There is a new magazine out called “Jamie.” Too bad England is so dang expensive or I’d buy one for a souvenir.
- Stuffing your carry-on full of all your heavy stuff so as not to be overweight doesn’t feel like such a good idea when I am this tired.
- I am saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone I possibly can, and they actually know what Christmas is!
- Starbucks is a stabilizing force in my life. I don’t care what anyone says about the evils of big corporate chains – a caramel macchiato is a welcome constant when the rest of my world feels all out of whack.
- Skinny pants with funny boots must be in style. Hmm.
- I am not at all prepared to go home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 - No comments

Fatih: Faded Glory

Just over a week ago, I was given the sweet gift of a weekend in my beloved Istanbul. Some family friends were passing through on a cruise and brought me up to be their "tour guide" and show them around my "up-there-world." It was soooo wonderful to be able to spend a few days in my favourite city, to jump back into my Turkish family's life for a bit, to revisit my old stomping grounds and discover new treasures that glorious metropolis had yet to reveal to me.

Having limited time there, and itching to get an eyeful of some neighbourhoods yet undiscovered by my lens, I did a lot of research online to plan out the best train-bus-ferry routes to maximize my moments. With nothing but my backpack in tow, I was able to hop the metro from the airport and immediately begin my expedition. First stop: Fatih. This district is known as the most religiously conservative area in Istanbul, evidenced by the overwhelming majority of women in their long black chadors and old men with little knit hats perched atop their heads. As I made my way from the train station down my chosen path, I stopped at an impressive looking camii (mosque) to get a few shots. Everyone there seemed eager to help this "ambling tourist," and upon discovering that I was, in fact, a "local" (at least I like to think so!) one particular couple in the courtyard engaged me in conversation. The sweet old lady immediately started telling me all the reasons I should become a Muslim. She wasn't real interested in listening to me, but she was definitely passionate! It was a far cry from the chats I usually have with my "all roads lead to heaven" neighbours down here in Antalya, let me tell you! She was genuinely burdened for my soul.....I was touched. :)

Fatih proved to be a laundry lover's heaven - the sunny weather had all the ladies stringing their wet clothes on everything from window grates to electric lines (!) and my camera got its fill. The face of one particular little girl tugging at her mama's clotheline prompted some adorable pictures and resulted in an invitation in for tea. One of my favourite things about Turkish culture is that all it takes is one cup of cay for a stranger to become a friend. No matter how poor someone is, they will offer you the best they have and never send you on your way hungry.

Istanbullus (residents of Istanbul) describe their city as being enveloped in a sense of "huzun" or "melancholy" and this feeling certainly permeated the atmosphere in Fatih. As this area was an important centre of town during the Ottoman Empire, there were traces of the faded glory of old Greek Orthodox churches, ancient city walls and beautiful Armenian architecture. Stately old wooden houses that once exuded grandeur now slump with the weight of centuries of conquerors, ethnic purges and poverty. As dusk approached and the smell of coal burning in the "sobas" (stoves used to heat homes) began to fill the air, I made my way down the cobblestone streets and began my journey home, wondering if those eking (ekeing?) out their meager existence in Fatih are aware of the treasures hidden within their walls and alleyways. More than likely they are unaware that their local bakery has been in operation since before the founding of the Turkish Republic and are simply concerned with having enough money to buy each night's loaf of bread.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 - No comments

Henna Party

Long ago in Turkey, when a young man left for war, his family would dye his palms with blood-coloured henna to represent the sacrifice he would make for his country. Over the centuries, this tradition evolved and become a pre-wedding ritual for girls preparing to leave their family home and become a "sacrifice" to their new husbands. Friends and relatives gather to mourn the departure of the girl from the home and celebrate the new life she is entering into. The bride to be adorns herself all in red, and purchases a special red veil and lacy red gloves for the occasion. Women light candles and dance around the bride-to-be, singing songs about leaving her family until she cries....or at least pretends to be sad to be leaving. :) They then place the pasty green henna on her hands and leave it til it dyes them red. Then the party takes a joyful turn and the music, hip-shaking and traditional song last well into the night.

As my roommate is preparing to go home and get married soon, we gathered all the neighbours and held a henna celebration of our own. Their was singing, dancing, and piles of yummy food. The bride had to put a little saliva on her cheeks at the appropriate time since the tears wouldn't come - she is nothing but thrilled about her upcoming marriage. We loved taking part in the customs of our "foreign homeland," dying our hands with henna and willing our western hips to move like those of our Turkish compatriots. Shaker belts certainly help with that - even if you're like me and can't move like a Middle Eastern belly dancer, at least it still sounds impressive!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

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Grapenuts roasting on an open fire....

Apparently everyone but us was aware that it was "National Pekmez Making Week" last week. While we were in Cappadocia, everywhere we went we found old ladies bent over huge cast iron "cauldrons" stirring their sticky brew. Pekmez (grape molasses) is a breakfast favourite around here, and when it's time to harvest the grapes, everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets boiling. While exploring the little town of Belisirma, we happened upon a family in the middle of the process and they invited us in to watch, learn, and of course taste. :)

They showed us how they first crush the grapes in a bath-like vat made of stone, and then boil them for six or more hours over the fire. Then they dump the now considerably condensed mixture into a bucket to cool before pouring it into a jar to be stored in the cellar or sold at the market. The whole family was involved in the process and they were so sweet to let us be a part of their tradition!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 - No comments

Born to Fly

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

- Leonardo DaVinci

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 - No comments

Land of the Fairy Chimneys

Cappadocia enchants me more every time I visit. Its otherworldly landscape always makes me feel like I am on another planet, and around every corner is a new cave church to marvel at, a new maze of fairy chimneys to explore, a new view that has yet to take my breath away.

This region is renowned for, among other things, its pottery and its carpets, and I had fun learning more about the making of both. We kept going back to drool over the works of art in this one pottery shop - I wanted to buy it all! I had to settle for a few cute clay lanterns for the balcony, but I'll definitely be back. :)

We spent a chunk of time watching a cute little teyze (old lady) weaving a carpet that she said would take her about 3 months to make. Talk about patience and dedication to your craft! She explained how up until recently (and still today in the poorer eastern half of the country), girls would begin weaving carpets at a young age so they would have something to bring into their marriage. These carpets added to their "value" when families negociated marriage contracts and gave the girls security since they didn't have education or skills to bring to the table. These carpets are absolute works of art, and each one tells its own story. (And watching the men toss them across the room and call them flying carpets is highly amusing!)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thursday, October 09, 2008 - No comments

Guns, Glitter and Goodies

Bring on the sugar! The four days after Ramadan are known as the Sugar Festival, and aptly so. Most everyone is off school and work, new clothes are bought, relatives visited, old people's hands kissed, and mass amounts of baklava consumed. Much like our Halloween, kids go door to door singing little rhymes and asking for candy.

I spent this Sugar Festival in Adana with friends, and we spent one of our afternoons at the big park downtown. Families picnicked, couples lined up for horse and carriage rides, and little boys tore about en masse, each with a new toy gun. (I swear every kid in the city got a gun for their holiday gift!) Adana has a large population of Kurds, and I was fascinated by the beautiful Kurdish women in their glittery national dress. I asked one lady if her clothes were special for the holiday, but nope, she sparkles like that every day! As always, the camera (coupled with our very obviously NOT Turkish faces) drew crowds everywhere we went. I was more than happy to capture the festivities on film....or, rather, memory card. (Doesn't have the same ring, does it?) :)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

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The Ramadan Pazar

Guys selling cigarette-roller-like gizmos to that will make your sarma (rice rolled in grape leaves) a snap, evil eye candles and half-priced Qu'rans, and enough Turkish Delight to make your teeth hurt - it doesn't get any more festive than this! For the entire month of Ramadan, the seaside boardwalk is transformed into a dizzying kaleidoscope of colours, smells and sounds. It's a fun place to browse through during the day, but it really comes alive at night when everyone has broken their fast and turns out to live it up at the amusement park, spend their cash on useless trinkets and take in the free concerts and other entertainment. Oh, and don't forget the snacks - you can cram your mouth full of sunflower seeds, cotton candy, sugary pastries and corn doctored with everything from barbecue sauce to chocolate syrup. (Go figure.)

I took a stroll through the pazar a few days ago hoping to get a few fun shots, and I was not disappointed. I even found myself with a temporary "job" when a girl I'd been chatting with asked me to watch her jewelry stand while she went to the bathroom! (Gotta love the trust level around here. :) )

I am so glad I live amongst a colourful people who know how to celebrate!