Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012 - No comments

Run, Forrest!!!

It's not an unusual thing for me to wake up to the sound of sheep bleating.  We live within earshot of a whole barn-full, and most mornings I hear their hungry little voices and the tinkling of their bells as their shepherd takes them out for breakfast.  

But today is the one day a year when their baa-ing is mixed with a whole chorus of moo-ing and grunting as sheep, cows and goats all head for death row, as it were.  The cute pet Daddy picked out at the animal pazar a few days ago has been tied up in the yard just long enough for little Mehmet and Fatma to get attached to its fuzzy face, but the time has arrived for it to become a remembrance of the Prophet Abraham's sacrifice and then be sent off on plates to neighbours and relatives for dinner.

The first couple of years I experienced Kurban Bayramı (the Sacrifice Festival) I would head off to the nearest "sanctioned slaughter site" (be it an open field or a carwash) and take photos of all the gory action.  Six years in, I suppose the novelty of blood and guts and cow heads has worn off, and I am happy to participate in the more pleasant side of the holiday:  the part that involves visits to neighbours, hand-kissing, baklava and trick-or-treating kids coming to the door for sweets.

But the honest truth is that, more than the socializing and the sugar, my very favourite part of the first day of the Sacrifice Festival is the part where I sit down to watch the evening news.  Once they get past the bits about which mosque the Prime Minister attended for his Bayram namazı (prayers) and all the pilgrims in Mecca on the Hajj, they get to my favourite part:  all the sacrifice animals that ran away.  

It's like watching some kind of bloopers show:  a solemn religious tradition gone hysterically awry.  One minute, the cow is standing calmly in the back of the truck awaiting his impending doom, the next minute he's taking off down the five lane highway, running for his life.  I'm no animal rights activist, and I do appreciate a good plate of Kurban meat when it arrives at my door, but I always find myself cheering for the runaways on the screen, hoping that a few of them will outrun their pursuers and make it to freedom.

(photo courtesy of

The funniest ones are always the cows that escape in Istanbul because, inevitably, they end up causing massive traffic jams.  But today, I saw one that topped even that.  In Rize, one speedy bovine made a break for it, took off down the road, jumped into the Black Sea and started to swim!  He apparently ended up realizing that the Ukraine was an awfully long way away and came back to shore and was caught, but I still had to give him points for bravery!

(photo courtesy of
Click here for the video of the swimming cow and here for a particularly amusing one of a bull that caused quite a stir on Istanbul's busy E-5 highway.

Bayramınız kutlu olsun - happy Sacrifice Festival, everyone!  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - No comments

Summer’s Dusk, Autumn’s Dawn

“Bittersweet October. The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.”

- Carol Bishop Hipps

You know how some years, one season slides into another and you barely even notice it happening?  When life is so crazy that you still haven’t taken the Christmas lights down by the time the first violet appears?  

This is not one of those years.

As I’ve been willing summer to surrender to autumn, I’ve been incredibly aware of every step of the transition.  It’s happened gradually, and it seems as though each day there’s been some new small, markable step into the coming season:  the first night I slept with a sheet on, the first time I wore shoes instead of flip flops, the appearance of the first chestnuts at the waterfall.

The first week of October was gorgeously wet, with thunder the soundtrack to our days and lightning our entertainment at night.  That week, I dove headlong into fall, wearing hoodies as often as the still-warmish temperature would permit, sprinkling cinnamon on everything, buying kilos and kilos of fresh pumpkin at the pazar, making a caramel apple pie for Canadian Thanksgiving, and listening to my “Autumn Playlist” while I worked.  (Nothing like a little Swell Season, Norah Jones and Copeland to get me in the mood on a rainy day!)  

But then, Mother Nature had a memory lapse and swung back into August.  Last week, once again, we were slathering on the sunscreen, squeegeeing the terrace for weekend coffee guests and even heading to the beach at night with neighbours for tea and sunflower seeds and a dip in the pleasantly warm Mediterranean.  But as nice as it was to have good weather for a friend’s outdoor wedding and a fresh-from-soggy-England guest, I still found it necessary to firmly remind the thermometer that 34 Celsius is not appropriate behaviour for the end of October.

And it listened.

Saturday we were in t-shirts and sunglasses having lunch under an umbrella by the sea, and Sunday I spent my (long anticipated) day off curled up in my bed with coffee, gingersnaps and a book as hailstones and fat raindrops pelted my window and the wind threatened to carry all the patio furniture away.  It happened overnight - bright blue skies one day, dark, broiling clouds the next.  And when one of those sonic-boom type thunderclaps (you know, the kind that reverberate in your sternum) and the blinding flash of lightning that accompanied it knocked out the electricity for a couple of hours, I decided that surely THAT could be counted as the official switch from summer to fall.

Monday didn’t disappoint.  It was as if those “transition markers” were coming fast and furious now - first time I slept with all my windows closed, first time I put on my slippers to walk downstairs and, the kicker, first time I had to boil water and take a bucket shower because there hadn’t been enough sun to make hot water.  

I was so happy, I made pumpkin spice latte cupcakes to celebrate.  

We’re still lacking in the “colourful leaves on the ground” department, but I hereby declare that it is finally, officially, truly autumn. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012 - No comments

Stupid, stupid war.

Last night I had a dream about Syria.

I was in a house in the south of Turkey, maybe 70 km from the border.  A bunch of my cousins and I were sitting around chatting and eating popcorn.  I don’t suppose in reality this would be possible, but out the window in the distance we could see a Syrian jet strafing a town below.  It was pitch black out, but we could make out the lights of the plane and the flash every time they fired at the people below.  Back and forth it flew, mercilessly, never ceasing.

I can still feel the sick feeling that settled in the pit of my stomach.  It wasn’t that I feared for our own safety - though recent events have proven that a political border is not a guarantee that stray missiles or hatred won’t spill over.  It was more the fact that this event I was watching from a safe distance was bringing death and grief to the town below, and there was nothing I could do about it.

This war has really affected me.  It feels different than Iraq or Afghanistan to me.  Maybe it’s because it’s just a few hours away.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been there.  Or maybe it’s simply the fact that innocent people have been killed every day for the past year.  Probably all three.

Every night on the news, I see the pictures and the videos of the violence and destruction, the bodies of children being pulled from the rubble, the women wailing.  I feel sad and angry and, well, helpless.  In the country next door, over seventy people were killed today.  And I can’t help feeling like, for lack of a better way of putting it, all I can do is sit in my comfy living room eating popcorn and watching it all from a safe distance.

Back in the days of living here on three-month tourist visas, “visa runs” were a fun excuse to see some of the countries we share borders with.  I spent my 26th birthday in Rhodes and Christmas Day that same year in Bulgaria.  Then in June 2007, when I was up for a renewal, a few friends and I joined a Turkish tour group and spent a day seeing Aleppo.

I have distinct memories of the bus ride down.  We set off from Antakya at dawn and reached the border around breakfast time.  One particular woman was passing out bread, cheese and cucumbers “because you can’t trust the food down there” while others took it upon themselves to entertain us by singing into the tour guide’s microphone.  

We crossed the border at Bab Al-Hawa.  I bought M&Ms at the duty free shop.  I had trouble renewing my Turkish visa when I was crossing back over that night, and when, after some smooth talking by our tour guide, they finally gave me back my stamped passport, all the Turks on our tour bus greeted me with relief and hugs as if I were one of their own instead of someone they’d only met that morning.  

The curious thing about Aleppo was the way every building - from houses to mosques to the 2000-year-old citadel - was made from the same pale yellow stone.  Our guide told us it’s local stone and it is literally illegal to build using anything else.  Fortunately it was gorgeous.  It gave the city a truly ancient, elegant look and turned all golden and honey-coloured in the evening sunlight.

Last week, CNN showed footage of the bomb damage in the Aleppo souk (medieval market).  When we were there, it was everything I’d imagined a Middle Eastern souk would be - a colourful, living jumble of spice bins, shopping bags, shouts in Arabic, swaths of silk, the scent of dark coffee and the swish of the tea trays deftly carried from stall to stall by boys no more than twelve.  

I remember wishing I’d worn full-length sleeves, feeling horribly inappropriate in a T-shirt amongst all the fully covered women around me.  I guess I’d just expected it to feel like Turkey - a mix of covered and not.  (Ironically, when we went to the Christian quarter in the evening, I was pretty much the only one not wearing a tank top!)    

Many of the men wore the jellaba - a long robe that must be nice and breezy in the summer.  One of my friends bought one, and the man who sold it to him made us a pot of tea.  It was a single pot, unlike the double one used here, and yellower and much sweeter than our Turkish çay.  He served it to us in squat water glasses and I wondered if his wife had more delicate glasses at home or if that was how all Syrians drank their tea.  It was probably more a thing of him being a guy and not fussing about proper tea culture at work.  

I ate the best hotdog I’d had all year that day.  (In hindsight, I’m guessing the cafe was in the Christian quarter, which would explain why it tasted better than anything I’d had in Turkey...)  Supper proved a little more difficult because we couldn’t read the Arabic on the menu.  After much gesturing on our part, and much blank staring on the part of our waiter, we were about to resort to the “point-and-hope-it’s-good” method when I had a flash of divine inspiration and asked if our waiter spoke French.  We might have had something more interesting and local to eat if I could remember more than a few words, but the “pommes frites” and “poulet” were definitely satisfactory, if only for the fact that ordering them felt like some colossal traveler’s victory.

Plastered all around town were posters of a thin man with smiling eyes and a small moustache.  When we asked a shopkeeper about him, he told us that he was their recently re-elected president.  I asked if he’d voted for Assad and he shrugged and said, “Everyone did.  There was no other candidate.”  

When I watch the news, I think about the refugees that have poured through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing by the thousands to reach the tent camps in Reyhanlı on the Turkish side.  I hope none of them got hassled on their way through.  The least we can do is give them a safe place to sleep.  I think about the kid who served us our pommes frites and I wonder if he’s sleeping in one of those tents tonight, and whether or not he's cold.  I wonder if all those hundreds-of-years-old houses in the old quarter around the souk are still standing or if the narrow, winding streets are now choked with their honey-coloured rubble.  I wonder if that jellaba-seller is still measuring inseams and pouring tea for customers, or if he’s been forced to close up shop in order to man a rocket launcher in a bullet riddled apartment building.  And I pray his jellaba isn’t one of the ones we see sticking out from under a bloody sheet on CNN.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012 - 2 comments

On hope and small appliances

I buried a dear friend today.  Okay, perhaps “buried” is a strong word.  “Said a few words on the way to the dumpster” might be more accurate.  

Five years ago, when we moved from Istanbul to where I live now, my roommate Leigh* and I were both in relationships with guys we thought we were going to marry.  It was fun to share that season of our lives, taking turns claiming our bedroom to Skype our long-distance boyfriends and talking late into the night about our exciting futures.  The fact that we had “significant others” was convenient as we moved into our new neighbourhood as single girls.  Whenever a well-meaning Turkish mother started to ask if we might be interested in her son, we could smile sweetly and say, “Sorry, I’m taken.”  And whenever some local casanova made us uncomfortable, my Turkish-speaking boyfriend was only a phone call away.  

When, about a year into our relationship, it became clear to me that this was not the man for me to marry, I took the very painful step of ending things.  This began a season of tears as I nursed a self-inflicted broken heart and grieved the loss of someone I cared for deeply.  Ending a relationship means not only letting go of someone who was dear to you, but also letting go of the dream of the life you thought you were going to live.  With my broken heart came the unwanted realization that I was now single in Turkey, and might be so for a very long time.  

My new status of “bekar” (“single”) changed my life drastically, but it was the subtleties of the change that sometimes hit me the hardest.  I had to get used to feeling somewhat defenseless against would-be-mother-in-laws expounding on the virtues of their sons and feeling vulnerable when taxi drivers would ask if I’d consider marrying a Turk.  And I had to accept the idea that the house I lived in and the community I was a part of - both of which I loved but had always thought of as temporary - were turning out to be a lot more permanent than I’d anticipated.  

In Istanbul, I’d lived with my Turkish family and then housesat for someone else for the remainder of the year, so I hadn’t really purchased anything “permanent” in terms of furniture or household goods.  When we left Istanbul, Leigh and I had moved in with another friend, Charlotte*, who already had a fully furnished house.  Figuring we’d be setting up households of our own in the near future, likely in different cities, we didn’t want to buy anything we’d just have to move cross-country later.  Two beds, two wardrobes and two nightstands for 300 lira at a second hand store and we were good to go.  

Now that I wasn’t going to be moving into a house of my own, shopping for his and hers towels and picking out silverware, I knew I had to start thinking of this place as my home.  But with all the emotion still churning around in my heart, this was a hard reality to swallow.  

Shortly after Leigh’s boyfriend flew in from America to propose to her at a rose petal-strewn table with a view of the sea, Charlotte’s blender broke.  The sweltering heat of our Mediterranean September wasn’t ending any time soon, and besides that, we were about to start a long fast.  Translation:  there was no way we were going to survive very long without a smoothie-making apparatus.  Charlotte suggested that, since I am the passionate cook of the household, maybe I’d like to buy a blender/food processor as a replacement.  Stuffing my heart’s objections of “this was only supposed to be temporary,” I agreed.  

She and I headed to Migros to check out the options available.  There were either your bells-and-whistles blender/juicer/food processor combos for hundreds of lira, or your run-of-the-mill, gonna-break-in-a-month blenders for 20 lira, but nothing in between.  Suddenly this felt like a big commitment, and I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to spend on quality and how long I wanted this gizmo to last.  This was about so much more than a blender to me, and in no time, I burst into tears.

We sat down on a bench in the mall and I let it all out.  So much of my hesitation came from the fact that I didn’t want to “settle into life here” - I wanted to believe that Prince Charming was going to make his appearance any day so I should keep my options open.  As long as I was “temporary” I felt like I was still living in hope.  Doing things like buying small appliances felt permanent.  And more than that, it felt like resignation.  I was starting to panic at the thought of becoming one of those women who has fancy dishes and a cat she talks to, but no husband.  That was NOT the life I’d dreamed of.  I don’t even like cats.

I didn’t want to make an investment in the “transitional single girls’ house” we were living in - I wanted a house of my own.  Hadn’t that been the plan?  Leigh and I were going to be bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, a few months apart.  We’d come back to Turkey, our husbands would be great friends and we’d homeschool our kids together.  Now, instead, she had a ring and I was getting a blender.  It seemed like the cruelest of consolation prizes.  

There on that bench, as hundreds of shoppers streamed by and stared at the foreign girl with the tear-stained face, Charlotte shared some of her own journey as a longer-than-planned single woman that really gave me some good perspective on my own “plight.”  She reminded me that, single or married, I am a woman.  And I’ll have the same “nesting and nurturing” desires as every other woman.  That’s not something that only happens once you’re a wife.  She told me not to deny my femininity and live in a perpetual state of “temporary” just because I was single.  Buying a nice blender, which I would totally use, was not tantamount to giving up my hope of marriage and resigning myself to living in this house forever.  It is possible to live in hope and have a quality of life at the same time.  She is proof of that.  

I went home that day with a 200 lira does-everything-but-make-your-coffee blender/food processor set.  I chose to believe that, instead of this purchase sealing my fate as a terminally single woman, it was an investment in my future.  One day I would marry a man who wanted to live in this 220 volt part of the world, and I wouldn’t even have to register for a blender.  :)

A few months later, Leigh left Turkey to go home and plan her wedding.  (Ironically, a friend and I went in together and got them a blender as their wedding present.)  While I miss having her across the room to talk to whenever something comes to my mind (thank goodness for a good international texting plan!) I do appreciate being able to use her old bed as an extra surface on which to organize all my piles.  My heart has healed more thoroughly than I never thought possible, and I’ve come to see this house as my home instead of as a prison of hopelessness.  Every year I’ve grown more attached to my roommate Charlotte and all my crazy neighbours.  And I’ve since acquired two bookshelves, a desk, a rug, a scooter, a deep freeze, a coffee grinder, a cheesecake pan, multiple spatulas and enough mugs to open a cafe.  

I quickly got over my resentment of what my blender represented and it became one of my favourite tools in the kitchen.  In the past four years, that thing has whipped up hundreds of exotic smoothies, countless batches of soup (from lentil to broccoli cheese to curried pumpkin) and heaps of hummus, eggplant spread and my famous sun-dried tomato dip.  

Somewhere along the way, I learned (courtesy of a few cracks) that you shouldn’t mix hot soup in a plastic blender, so I started to use the hand mixer attachment instead.  Last year, glass blenders were on sale at Real for Mother’s Day, and I bought one because it could handle soup.  It was an ordeal to get that big clunky thing in and out of the cupboard all the time, though, so we kept using the main part of my original blender for smoothies and just got used to the fact that it leaked a little.  This year, just weeks after the warranty expired, Blender #2 quit working and I haven’t made the time to take it to someone to see if they can fix the motor.  We were getting by fine with the old one and the hand mixer, so there was no rush.

Until today.

This afternoon, I was roasting pumpkin to make pumpkin curry, and I wanted a little pick-me-up to tide me over until dinner.  I’d recently seen a recipe for a banana-spinach milkshake that sounded yummy, so I pulled some frozen bananas and spinach out of the freezer, poured in the milk and vanilla, and added a couple of ice cubes to give it some crunch.  No sooner had I hit the “turbo” button than there were globs of not-yet-milkshake flying everywhere.  I stopped the blender and checked to see if I hadn’t had the lid on tight enough.  

And then I saw it.  One of the ice cubes must have hit an already weakened crack at just the right angle, and now there was a two inch hole blown out the side of the blender.  Hearing my, “Nooooooo!!!!!!”, Charlotte came down the stairs and found me staring at the mess of banana and spinach now coating the microwave, the kettle, the coffee grinder and the curtains.  When I told her what kind of milkshake it had been, she laughed and told me this was my just punishment for wanting to drink such a vile concoction.   

So, my beloved blender has truly mixed its last.  The wand still works, so I can use it for the onion chopper and the hand mixer attachments.  But I guess I’d better start trying to figure out where one goes to get their glass blender fixed.  After all, soup season is upon us and I’ve got all kinds of new recipes I’m itching to try out.

After I’d cleaned up the mess and thrown the broken blender in the garbage, Charlotte asked if I wanted her to take it to the dumpster so I wouldn’t have to do the deed.  But, as one who thrives on ceremony and closure, I wanted to be the one to do it.  

As I walked down our dirt road to the garbage can, decked out in my şalvar pants like a true village girl, I thought about how much I love my life here.  I’ve got half-a-dozen “aunties” who all keep track of my comings and goings, any of whose doorsteps I could show up on at dinner time, say, “I’m hungry” and be welcomed at the table.  I’ve got a greens guy at the Thursday veggie pazar who knows what I want each week and starts to fill a bag when he sees me coming.  When I call to order water, I don’t even have to give my address because the girl knows my voice.  I’ve got treasured friends I’ve laughed with and wept with who treat me as a member of their own families.

I certainly thought that by thirty-two I’d have a new name on my passport and be on my third or fourth kid.  I’ve gotten better at handling the marriage proposals from mothers on buses and guys at the pazar, but that’s not to say my heart doesn’t twinge every time some well-meaning lady asks me, “Don’t you think about getting married?”  (“Yes, teyze, every day - thanks for the reminder.”)  Still, on the day I bought that blender and every day since, I have planted myself here and invested my life in this place and these people, and I have no regrets.  

My singleness has now outlasted two blenders.  (Four, if you count the ones I had when I lived in the States.)  I have an ever-growing collection of doilies and towels that neighbours have given me for my çeyiz (dowry) that are sitting in my closet, just waiting for a home.   Nearly every night in the summer I hear wedding fireworks exploding somewhere nearby and race to the window to catch a glimpse, all the while longing for the day when those will be my fireworks in the sky.

The ache for marriage and family has only increased with time.  But, honestly, despite the fact that it's had its share of dips and blows, my hope of its fulfillment has increased as well.  This house IS only temporary, and one day (soon?) I’ll have a kitchen of my own and a husband and kids to cook for.  (But, as Charlotte often reminds me, she’ll “give me away” only on the condition that we don’t move further than the next block!)

Tonight I “laid to rest” something that, to me, represented redemption and healing.  It was a stake in the ground that allowed me to say, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” even when this isn’t how I would’ve written the story myself.  It was a symbol of the ability to trust in the goodness of the heart of my Father, even when the evidence in front of me would suggest I do otherwise.  Every time I made a smoothie, it challenged me to live wholeheartedly today, while continuing to believe for the impossible for my future.

So, farewell, dear blender.  Allah rahmet eylesin.  (“May you rest in peace.”)  And here’s to hoping that this next blender be the one that accompanies those cheesy towels and doilies into my next home!  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday, October 06, 2012 - No comments

Haydarpaşa Station: End of the Line?

“People are always telling you that change is a good thing. But all they're really saying is that something you didn't want to happen at all... has happened. My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you that? It's a lovely store, and in a week it will be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap.”
- Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in “You’ve Got Mail

There’s a wonderful old Turkish poem by Orhan Veli called “Istanbul’u Dinliyorum, Gözlerim Kapalı” - “I am Listening to Istanbul with My Eyes Closed.”  While the bird songs and gentle breezes of Veli’s Istanbul have mostly given way to taxi horns and pop music, sitting and listening with my eyes closed is still one of my favourite ways to encounter the city.

I’m out in Kadıköy doing errands and thought a little stop in at Haydarpaşa Station would be fun, for old times’ sake.  Back when I lived up the coast from here, this station was a frequent stop for me. Its position on the edge of the Bosphorus means it’s literally the last stop in Asia.  It’s also the end of the line on the Haydarpaşa-Gebze commuter train - the one we used to ride to and from school.  Its ferry dock made it extra convenient when heading across to the European side, and it was an easy walk from the station to Kadıköy’s waterfront shops and bus/dolmuş terminal.

My time spent in the station was only ever brief as I was always running from ferry to train or vice versa, so I decided to sit and have tea and a snack at the famous old Gar Lokantası (Station Restaurant) and see what there is to see here if one actually stops and sits still.  A look around the dining room revealed only male patrons, so I took a table outside next to the tracks where I’d be more comfortable.  And as I sip my tea and savour my bread and eggplant salad, I’m listening to the sounds of the station, a la Orhan Veli.

From inside the restaurant comes the tinkle of spoons stirring sugar into tiny tulip-shaped tea glasses and the chatter of lunchtime companions.  Swallows twitter in the rafters and from the wharf comes the laughter of seagulls as they compete for pieces of simit tossed into the air by those sipping tea at outdoor tables.  The station itself is nearly empty, save for two or three clerks in the ticket booth and the folks who run the snack stands and the barber shop, and the man who collects money at the toilets.  A maintenance man shuffles by, the swish of his broom clearing the gleaming floor of any bits of dust.

The melancholy song of the ezan coming from the Haydarpaşa Mosque is punctuated by the distant horn-honking cacaphony of Kadıköy’s permanent traffic jam, both muffled by the station’s thick stone walls.  The low moan of ferry horns more insistent than usual, due, no doubt, to the thick fog blanketing the Bosphorus today.

A ferry docks and there is a clatter of heels and suitcase wheels on the marble floor as an automated female voice announces that the next train to Pendik leaves in five minutes.  A handful of passengers hurriedly punch Akbils and swipe Istanbul Cards, the turnstiles sound out two tones for a regular fare, four for a discounted transfer, and the dreaded and highly embarrassing three tones for “yetersiz bakiye” - “insufficient credit.”

Amidst the buzz of cell phone chatter and high school gossip as passengers exiting the station swish by my table, the high-pitched shriek of a whistle announces the departures of the Pendik train.  There is a loud hiss as the air brakes are released, followed by the slow, methodical clicking of the train easing out of the station.  Benches creak as those who missed the train on account of an urgent bathroom break or an empty Istanbul Card settle in to wait for the next one.  And, apart from the teaspoons and the swallows, the station is once again quiet. 

Too, too quiet.

The Haydarpaşa I remember was a place of constant motion, with whistles and shouts and a dozen trains coming and going and hundreds of passengers milling about at any given time.  It was never silent.  What I’m hearing - or not hearing - today confirms in my heart what the newspapers have already been warning me is true:  Haydarpaşa’s golden era is over.  

Construction of the new Istanbul-Ankara Express and the Marmaray project’s extension of the Metro line up the Asian side (with eventual plans to build a tunnel under the Bosphorus to connect it with the European side) have led to the “temporary” thirty-month cessation of all long-distance trains in and out of Haydarpaşa, leaving only the Pendik commuter train.  What will happen when the project is complete remains to be seen.  Some say regular trains to the interior of the country will resume.  Others speculate that this glorious building will be converted to a museum or, heaven forbid, a shopping mall.  

Designed by German architects Otto Ritter and Helmut Conu, the current building was completed in 1909 under the supervision of Sultan Abdülaziz.  Besides being the starting point of journeys to all points in Anatolian Turkey, it was the terminus of the old Baghdad Railway (İstanbul-Konya-Adana-Aleppo-Baghdad) and the Hejaz Railway (İstanbul-Konya-Adana-Aleppo-Damascus-Amman-Medina) as well as the Trans-Asia Express running to and from Tehran.  

Sitting here, I can picture this station in its heyday.  How many starry-eyed travelers or immigrants from the east stepped off the train and right here in this very spot, inhaled their first breath of salty Bosphorus air and got their first glimpse of the minarets of the Old City across the water?  How many mothers stood here crying and waving handkerchiefs as sons went off to war?  How many lovers kissed goodbye and hello again right here in this hall?  How many commuters have jumped from the ferry and run through these turnstiles to catch a train to or from work or school?

And now, one lonely train trundles out every twenty minutes.  And in between, nothing but the tinkle of teaspoons.

I know that progress is good for the city.  The new metro line will ease congestion on the  road and shorten the commute for millions of Istanbullus.  The renovation of the derelict waterfront will give the city a more polished face with which to greet tourists.  And it’s not like they’re tearing the building down altogether.  But the fact that this grand station which has been so much a part of the city’s history, and also of mine, will likely no longer get to live out the purpose it was created just makes me sad.  This city is filled with enough Byzantine and Ottoman ruins to convince me that just because a place was bustling and alive in its day, that doesn’t mean it won’t eventually become a rundown, padlocked building on a City Walks historical map.  Or worse, something horrible like a bowling alley.

I chat with my waiter briefly when he brings me my bill.   He’s worked here for thirty years.  

“Will the restaurant stay open if this ceases to be a train station?”  I ask.

“I hope so.  I love this old place.  Everyone loves this place.”  He stares at the empty tracks.  “But there’s no guarantee.”

As I leave, I notice that the stand from which I used to often buy a “sosisli” (a distant and disappointing cousin of the hot dog) on my way home had closed down.  I ask the guy at the snack shop next to it what had happened.

Gesturing towards the several empty stalls in his row, he shrugs.  “Not enough business anymore.”

Heading back up the road from the station to downtown Kadıköy, the normally cheery sign above the exit makes my breath catch in my throat.  

Güle güle!” it calls out.  “Goodbye, Haydarpaşa.”  Hopefully not for the last time.

Saturday, October 06, 2012 - 2 comments

The Coffee Diaries: Istanbul, April 2012

April 19

#1 - Blonde Blend in my brown stainless steel travel mug on the way to the airport.  That thing keeps coffee so hot, it’s impossible to drink it in the 30 minutes it takes to get there, and I ended up checking in for our flight all Java-scented with brown spots on my jeans thanks to an airport speed-bump.

#2 - A not-sugary-enough orta şekerli (medium sugar Turkish coffee) when we stopped for a break @ Müze Kahve in Topkapı Sarayı (Topkapı Palace)

April 20

#1 - Iced caramel macchiato with heaps of whipped cream at Cherry Bean Coffee in Galata.  I love the smell of freshly roasted beans (one of the few in Istanbul that does their own) and the true coffee house feel of this place.  French, Italian, and 40’s swing music, low tables and stools, with a full wall of windows looking out onto a narrow street with those classic Beyoğlu balconies.

#2 - Orta şekerli at Coffee to Go in Galata.  Literally a “hole in the wall” at maybe five feet wide, ten feet deep.  There’s a teeny table for two squeezed into the back, with two stools at the coffee bar inside, two more outside, and just enough room for one barista to fit behind the bar.  Ladybug magnets holding up pictures of neices and nephews (?) on the wall, with Christmas decorations hanging from pegs below.  The equipment = a super fun shiny red espresso machine and another one that made fantastically foamy Turkish coffee.  I’d swing by daily if I lived here....maybe twice if the waiter were cute.  :)

April 21

#1 - An orta şekerli at Cafe Sultan in the Grand Bazaar.  It was super crowded, so we ended up sharing a table with a couple holidaying from Germany and, as a show of Turkish hospitality, we treated our guests to their çay.  

#2 - Caramel macchiato as an afternoon pick-me-up at the Starbucks in Sultanahmet.  I smiled brightly as I asked if I could use my expired coupon and got my drink for free!

April 22

#1 - An orta şekerli @ Yoros Cafe just below the Yoros Kalesi (fortress) in Anadolu Kavağı, accompanied by a great köy kahvaltısı (“village breakfast”) spread and a superb view of the Bosphorus.  Following our feast, we climbed the hill inside the fortress (after having to beg permission from the surly security guard) to see the spot where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea.  Gorgeous.

#2 - Caramel Macchiato @ the domestic terminal Starbucks in Atatürk Airport while waiting for our delayed flight home.  (Confession:  I snuck a Stroopwafel from the tray of the guy at the table next to us when he left for his flight.  He hadn’t touched it and I wasn’t about to let it end up in the trash!)  We amused ourselves by watching the rise and fall of emotions amongst the entirely male crowd of football fans crowded around the only TV in the terminal to watch the all-important Galatasaray-Fenerbahçe match.  Of particular interest were the poor waiters, shopkeepers and security guards who were torn between doing their jobs and running back and forth from their posts to the TV every time a cheer erupted.  I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one illegal water bottle made it through security and a couple of chocolate bars went missing from the gift shop that night.  :)

Saturday, October 06, 2012 - No comments

The Coffee Diaries: Antalya-Izmir-Istanbul (November 2011)

Nov. 1 - Anniversary Blend in my Istanbul mug (hitting the road for the golden city tomorrow!) during my QT; Seattle’s Best with real cream x 2 @ a gathering at a friend's house.

Nov. 2 - Anniversary Blend @ home/in car on way to bus station in blue travel mug; Nescafe 3 in 1 x 2 on Pamukkale bus to Selçuk, Cafe Verona with milk and sugar that I fished from my bag (there was none in the kitchen) with Jess at the pansiyon in Selçuk.  (Always carry extra sugar packets in your bag - you never know when you’ll need them!)

Nov. 3 - Cafe Verona w/ Jess @ breakfast at the pansiyon, layered latte macchiato w/ Jess @ St. John Cafe in Selçuk (chatting and enjoying the breezy autumn day at a table on the sidewalk); surprisingly good coffee @ Burger King in Izmir airport before flying to IST.

Nov. 4 - Orta şekerli Türk kahvesi (medium sugar Turkish coffee) @ Fazıl Bey’s in the Kadıköy Çarşısı at the wobbly table upstairs by the window; a second Türk kahvesi at a chilly but atmospheric sidewalk table @ Brezilya Kahveci in the Balıkçılar Çarşısı (fish market.)

Nov. 5 - Orta şekerli Türk kahvesi @ Tiryaki Cafe in the Balıkçılar Çarşısı at a low outside table, watching the Bayram (holiday) shoppers rush by (I’d hoped to have it “közde” - done over the coals - but he hadn’t fired them up yet); a smooth and creamy yet highly overpriced latte (10 TL) at the Kafka Kafe upstairs in the Kahve Dünyası bookstore in Kadıköy, chocolate cheesecake on the side.  :)

Nov. 6 - Late night 3 in 1 Nescafe at home with my Turkish mom after a long day of Bayram visits and crunching çekirdek (sunflower seeds.)

Nov. 7 - Frothiest Türk kahvesi I’ve ever made...though it was a bit on the watery side...with my Turkish mom and her sister-in-law on 2nd day of Bayram.  They’ll make a gelin (bride) of me yet!

Nov. 8 - Orta şekerli Türk kahvesi @ Fazıl Bey’s as I sit down and attempt to be a focused writer  (Three hours, one sahlep and one çay later, I think I’m getting the hang of it!);  one more orta şekerli at Brezilya, just cuz I can’t say no to a sidewalk cafe and a book.

Nov. 9 - Pre-flight Caramel Macchiato @ Atatürk Airport domestic terminal Starbucks in hopes of warding off an impending headache.  Three kids behind me crying all the way home cancelled out its effect.

Nov. 10 - Looking backwards with nostalgia - Anniversary Blend in my Istanbul mug on the terrace during my QT;  Nescafe with my neighbour's daughter as she explained to me why she suddenly decided to wear the headscarf.

Saturday, October 06, 2012 - No comments

Be Kind, Please Rewind

I set today aside as a writing day.  My roommate's away, the house is quiet, and my creative juices are long overdue for a good day of exercise.

As I'm flipping back through my travel notebooks, I'm noticing that I have this bad habit of taking really detailed notes while I'm on the road, but never actually transforming them into something readable for posting/publishing.  I'm always so busy catching up on normal life and responsibilities when I get home that I never "get around to it" and, as a result, some of my most interesting potential stories never see the light of day.

In the past year, I have really grown in the discipline of carrying a notebook with me and jotting down ideas and impressions.  I've got great records off all the things I've seen, done and eaten while traveling.  This is a good step in the right direction.  It keeps me observant and helps me to really "see" what's going on around me.  But if I'm to be a successful travel writer, I need to, well, write!

So today, I am hitting the rewind button.  I'm going through my old notes from past trips, mining for possible story and article ideas.  Some of what I'm finding isn't publishable, per se, but it's great to challenge myself to use what I have and just write, purely for the purpose of flexing my muscles.  Plus, it's just plain amusing - to me, at least.

For starters, what follows are notes for a little series I started last year called "The Coffee Diaries."  Since my favourite way to experience any city is through its cafes, I thought it would be fun to document the details surrounding each cup of coffee I drink while on the road.  Maybe on day it'll evolve into some sort of "Guidebook to Istanbul's Coffee Shops" or something.  For now, it's just a fun way to remember the little things that made otherwise ordinary days special.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday, October 05, 2012 - 2 comments

Edible Autumn

It’s sort of a joke among my friends that every year I set out to “entice autumn” by wearing jeans and long sleeves and drinking Oregon Chai long before the weather warrants it in hopes of enticing my favourite season out of hiding.  I am so done with summer come October, but the Mediterranean sun doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for my cool weather cravings and the days are more suited to AC and ice cream than to sweaters and apple cider.  

I’ll admit, I get a little jealous when I read friends’ Facebook posts about heading to the pumpkin patch, baking pear crisps and drinking pumpkin spice lattes.  It makes me miss the days of autumn in Tennessee, with the trees in the back field turning into a cacophony of colour and the smoke from the tobacco barns filling the air with the sweet smell of hickory. and all the food blogs have turned their focus to cinnamon and nutmeg, butternut squash and cranberries, pumpkin pie and apple crisps, and it’s got me wishing I didn’t live somewhere where “fall foliage” doesn’t appear til December.  

I imagine this is what a North American transplanted to Australia must feel like when Christmas rolls around and everything online is snowscapes and gingerbread houses, but everyone around them is headed to the beach.  

Despite the fact that the temperature is currently 30 C, we HAVE had a couple of phenomenal thunderstorms over the past few days that have given me hope that fall is on its way.  In an attempt to encourage Mother Nature to get her buns in gear, yesterday I pulled out my “autumn mug,” sprinkled a little cinnamon on my morning coffee, and had a downright autumnal breakfast of yogurt and homemade pumpkin spice granola (complete with the last of last year’s frozen pumpkin) with apples and cranberries on top.  YUM!

Thanks to the recent opening of a Bath and Body Works in my city (woohoo!!!) I’ve got my Creamy Pumpkin and Pumpkin Caramel Latte candles going, and I’m having fun planning for my stock-the-freezer cooking weekend.  It’ll still be awhile before pumpkin makes an appearance at the pazar, but I’ve already got a stack of recipes ready for when it does.  Here are some of the ones tempting my culinary imagination - hopefully most of them will make an appearance in my kitchen in the coming months.

(Happy salivating!)