Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015 - 1 comment

Istanbul: Row by Row

For a country in which a post office "line" is more of a "blob" and driving the wrong way down the road doesn't cause anyone (except perhaps the odd traffic cop having a slow day) to bat an eye, Turkey actually has a surprising amount of order.  You just have to know where to look for it.  

Take the weekly pazar, for example.  I love to get there first thing in the morning and watch the painstaking precision of the guys arranging their apples in perfect, shiny rows, or piling their figs in little purple pyramids.  I always hate to be the first one to marr their masterpieces by pulling a kilo or two from the artistic arrangement.  :)

On a recent trip to Istanbul, I had the chance to show some first-time visitors some of my favourite haunts.  My eye was drawn, as usual, to the patterns that emerge in the midst of an otherwise rather chaotic city.  From the Grand Bazaar to the textile district to the Spice Market, my lens got its fill of lines, rows and perfectly-piled stacks.  A camera could never be bored in that city...

(And, apparently, in honour of my love of nicely arranged lines, the formatting of this post has gone awry and refused to be anything but centred.  Long live symmetry, I guess!)

They may have been banned by the Hat Law of 1925, but fezzes are still in high demand
at the Grand Bazaar. At least among people wearing "I Heart Istanbul" t-shirts.  :)

We hit the Bazaar just after Republic Day.  Atatürk, Atatürk everywhere....

Boxes and boxes of "apple tea" and its relatives.  None of which
you will find in any real Turkish cupboard. 

I can never resist a stop at the Button Man!

Scarves a'plenty

Prayer beads

A weapon when wielded by an over-excited tourist,
selfie sticks still make for a pretty nice "row of colour."

Feed the birds, tuppins a bag...

Pickle juice!

Fresh bait

Fishing rods off the Galata Bridge

Freshly packaged Turkish coffee, piled high in a shop
window.  Those guys were skilled - they were running
about one bag every ten seconds!

Ottoman-style coffee sets

The interior of the Aya Sofya 

Okay, not exactly an organized row.  But since the corn made the cut,
 I didn't want the pretty chestnuts to be jealous!

Rolled up Turkish carpets

I am always in absolute awe at the talent of the women who weave these carpets!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday, November 08, 2015 - No comments

How the Grinch Stole Autumn

(Disclaimer:  Looking back over past blog posts, I can see that I write this same post every year.  But only because every year it’s true!)

If the severity of a winter can be predicted by the number of autumn days in which one can comfortably sit out on the balcony in bare feet and a t-shirt, as I am now, I’d say we’re in for a treat.

It’s 4:10 PM and the sun’s going to set in half an hour, or so I’m told.  This whole darkness-before-five thing makes it feel like winter’s come all of a sudden, even though it hasn’t come at all.  We were spoiled with an extra few weeks of an extra golden hour when our government decided, for some mystifying reason, to delay Daylight Savings Time by two weeks in order to “not cause confusion” on Election Day last Sunday.  (With the confusion inflicted on smartphone users and airport goers nationwide, I’m not sure they achieved their goal.  To quote my Turkish dad’s Facebook post the day his phone automatically flipped over along with the rest of Europe:  “For the love of God, can someone please tell me what time it is in Turkey?!?”)

In my previous life as a west coast Canadian, this would be the perfect summer evening.  It was a 25 degree day of the windows-wide-open, brunch on the balcony, laundry-dries-in-two-hours variety.  I’ve been outside enjoying the last bit of sunlight, my impending move inside prompted not by the need for a hoodie so much as the fact that smoke from my neighbour’s barbecue is wafting my direction and I’m starting to smell like grilled fish.  

Living in southern Turkey, where summer pretty much lasts until winter, this autumn-lover has had to enforce my own seasonal boundaries based on the calendar and not the thermometer.  It may still be sunburn weather outside, but come December I’ll be wanting to put up my Christmas tree, so if I don’t carve out my own fall haven in November - crisp, chilly air or not - I’ll just plain miss my favourite season altogether.  And that would be a crying shame.

I’ve written before about my habit of “summoning autumn” by starting to wear jeans in September, even though it’s still hotter than a hamam outside.  And how I take my cues from my internal cultural calendar and my online world instead of the world outside my window.  (Pumpkin patch pictures on Facebook?  Caramel apple everything on the food blogs?  I’m in.)  Before the last figs and peaches have faded from the pazar, my fall mug is out, my Caramel Pumpkin Latte candle is burning, and I’m well onto my second or third apple crisp.  You’ve got to seize the season (and at least pretend it exists) or those sneaky gingerbread men will appear before the leaves have even turned.

This year I’ve paid extra close attention to all the little “season-markers” as we’ve moved from sweltering summer to this pretender of a Mediterranean autumn.  The first week of October saw me making my first oatmeal, despite the fact that a cold smoothie would have been far more appropriate.  The week after that, I started sleeping with my windows closed, and a few days later, with socks on.  But only at night.  Socks for reals didn’t come for a good two more weeks, and then only because I was going to Istanbul (where they have an actual autumn) and needed something to wear with all the closed-toed shoes I pulled out of storage.  In preparation for that same trip, I dragged out my “winter clothes suitcase”, did my annual “short sleeves for long sleeves” closet switch, and packed a few sweaters for Istanbul, even though the thought of actually wearing one made me sweat.  The weekend of October 23rd, we had three house guests and, wouldn’t you know it, it poured down (delicious) rain for days, meaning we had to turn on the little doohickey that heats our water for showers cuz the solar panels weren’t going to do the trick.  (We haven’t turned it on again since.)  That was the same weekend I finally put an actual blanket on my bed cuz sheets weren’t enough anymore.  And today (again, more because “we had the time to do it” and less out of necessity, the plastic house slippers got washed and put away, and now the fuzzy winter ones are in the basket.  (But don’t think that doesn’t mean I’m still wearing flip-flops when I pop up to the store!)

Istanbul the last week of October warmed my chilly-weather loving heart.  The wind off the Bosphorus was enough to make me want to sit inside on the ferry, and to drink hot tea out of necessity instead of just stubborn nostalgia.  I got to wear my fall jacket and my scarves (which haven’t come down from their hooks again - it’s been back up in the high 20s ever since I got home) and collect chestnuts and crunch leaves and hum ‘İstanbul’da Sonbahar’ (‘Autumn in Istanbul’) everywhere I went.  Pure happiness.

Starting when I got home from Istanbul, I have two and a half whole weeks stretching ahead of me where I won’t be traveling or hosting guests or working like a maniac on projects with deadlines.  So, naturally, I’ve gone into crazy cooking mode.  You know I’ve been busy and stressed when the freezer is empty and we’re eating quesadillas for lunch and breakfast burritos for dinner.  Time in the kitchen makes me feel settled, normal, like I have my sanity again.  I bought kilos and kilos of pumpkin from the pazar on Thursday and got to work chopping, roasting, pureeing, freezing.  I started stocking ZipLocs full of soup for the coming months.  Every guest was an excuse for an apple crisp.  

This is the time of year when pomegranates hang like jewels from every roadside tree, so I’ve been looking for every excuse to use them while they’re in their prime.  They’re going on my granola every morning and on top of every bowl of aşure a neighbour brings to the door.  (‘Tis the season for passing out “Noah’s pudding”...)  I made dark chocolate pomegranate clusters for when our friends came to play cards last night, and they kindly brought a whole crate of big, bright pomegranates as a present from their garden.  So, naturally, I made pomegranate pumpkin pancakes for brunch this morning.  And then pumpkin mac n’ cheese for lunch.  And pumpkin spice creamer for my afternoon coffee....  (I’m just so grateful to have the time to actually make my autumn edibles, cuz come the end of November, the schedule fills up and it’s going to be breakfast burritos again all the way until Christmas dinner...)

So, I’d been going along in my merry little week, celebrating autumn as if my life were a Gilmore Girls episode.  And then came Friday.  A friend and I met for coffee at the mall - a happy reunion after two months apart.  We went upstairs to Starbucks and she ordered her coffee.  Then the barista asked what I wanted, and I told him I’d have a Pumpkin Spice Latte.  “Sorry,” he said, pointing at the artsy pumpkin drawing on the blackboard behind him, the word “tükenmiştir” written in cruel white letters across it.  “We’re all out.”

“What?!?” I responded, super disappointed.  “But it’s barely even autumn!”

“Maybe not here,” he said, “but over there (I took “there” to mean “in your country where Christmas starts the day after Halloween”) it’s almost time for the Red Cups.  But look on the bright side - you can have a Gingerbread Latte soon!”

Those words were not the music to my ears I think he intended them to be.

I settled (not TOO sulkily, I am proud to say) for a regular filter coffee, and my friend and I had a nice chat.  After an hour or so, she had to leave for class.  As we headed for the door, we passed Bath and Body Works, and she decided she had time to pop in “just for a sniff.”  Preparing myself for an olfactory feast of Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin and Warm Harvest Apple, and maybe a squirt of Cozy Autumn Vanilla lotion to go, I walked in and was greeted with a huge display sporting Twisted Peppermint, Winter Candy Apple, and Vanilla Bean Noel.  Now, sure, Vanilla Bean Noel is pretty much my all time favourite scent.  In December.  

It’s the first week of November, people!  In Turkey, no less!  For a country that doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, we sure do market it well.  I thought that when I moved here, the “no Christmas music before American Thanksgiving” rule would be a non-issue.  Now it looks like we’re well on our way to “candy canes coming out alongside the (non-existent...for now) Halloween candy.”  

Turns out the Grinch found his way across the pond and stole autumn, too.

(But, just to spite him, I think I'll go make myself a cup of pumpkin spice tea...)  :)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturday, September 26, 2015 - No comments

Bristles and Dirt

“The artist must be obedient to the work...  Each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am.  Enflesh me.  Give birth to me.’  And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses.”

- Madeline L’Engel

This summer, I went through a workbook entitled “The Creative Call:  An Artist’s Response to the Way of the Spirit.”  It challenged me to see the making of art as a holy calling - to attend to the work of writing an article or crafting a photograph or preparing a lavish meal with the same zeal and sense of purpose as the craftsmen who were “filled with the Spirit” to produce articles of gold and stonework and beautifully designed curtains and carvings for the tabernacle.  It pushed me to recognize the lies and the distractions that suck the creative life out of me and keep me from rising up and stewarding the creative gifts I’ve been given.  And it spoke to me of connecting with the Creator Himself and allowing Him to inspire me and live His life through me as I bring to form the things I see in my mind’s eye.

During the course of my season of going through this book (which I highly recommend, by the way) I had the chance to get glimpses into the creative lives of two artists who are also good friends of mine:  Mike, who is a painter, and Brooke, who is a potter.  My time with each of them sparked a whole host of things in my heart as I watched them pursue their individual crafts.  Both are courageously prioritizing their art in the midst of busy work and family lives.  Both came alive as they talked of their current projects - the ones they’ve been commissioned to do as well as the ones they are working on for the pure joy of putting brush to canvas and fingers to clay.  And both spoke of that incomparable feeling of co-operating with their Creator as He created something beautiful through them.  With them.  In them.

Mike is my best friend’s husband, and I’ve loved seeing the way his talent adds colour to his world, be it purposeful paint “splatters” on the tablecloths at their wedding or the fantastic sketches he’s done of their baby girl.   I’ve seen plenty of his professional airbrush work (it used to form a border three canvases deep around their living room...) and have watched his eyes light up as he flips through pictures on his phone of sculptures and murals he’s been doing for water parks and climbing gyms.  (The guy can take you all the way to the bottom of a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee explaining the nuances of shading and palette brush definition.  He’s passionate about his stuff!)  This summer, I got to see him in action at the Painters’ Circle in Stanley Park as well as at the Grand Prix of Art in Ladner and was amazed at the way he can bring a scene to life with a brush.  

Brooke and his wife Dana are friends from my days as a Tennesseean, and when I made the rounds down South this summer, I had the pleasure of sharing a meal with their family in their dining-room-cum-pottery-studio.  On Facebook during the previous months, I’d been watching their pottery business come back to life after a long hiatus, and it had stirred something in my heart.  Here was a man with six kids and a whole lot of work responsibilities making time and space in his life to do what he loved:  create.  Over supper, Brooke (and his faithful firer/glazer Dana) talked about their passion for making something out of nothing, and the communion they experience with their own Potter in the process.  They’re rearranging their lives to incorporate an art form that will be a source of income but also, and more importantly, a source of life.  They’ve got a workshop in the dining room and a kiln in the backyard and a “Gehman Pottery Works” sign out back to make it official.  And I respect them so much for it.

After the meal, Brooke sat there at the table and spun a lump of clay that soon took shape as a deep dish.  I watched him coax it from nothing into something, and then painstakingly add two tiny holes on one side and a little groove on the other -  a resting place for a pair of chopsticks.  The perfect noodle bowl.  And I marveled at this reflection of the One who dreamed up humans and then made us out of dirt.  That feeling of breathing life into something that, just an hour before, only existed in your imagination - an incomparable taste of what it means to partake of the Divine nature alive inside of us, to co-create with our Creator.

I bought a mug from the Gehmans that night, carefully selected from the dozens of earthen masterpieces on their dining room rack.  Brown and teal with the faintest streak of glitter.  I wanted to take home a piece of the magic, I guess.  To hold something in my hands that says, “Art is worth your time.  Don’t neglect the gifts within you.  Make space for them, take time for them, fight for them.”  To have something to remind me my creative pursuits - whether for profit or for play - are about so much more than making money or entertaining myself or even bringing joy to others.  They’re about connecting with the One in whom creativity itself originated.  

Check out these talented guys and their work online:

Mike the Painter:

Moser Creative 

Brooke the Potter:

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015 - No comments

That Same Sea

Chicken Caesar wraps and watermelon.  Families on picnic blankets and vendors plying the beach with thermoses full of tea and Nescafe.  Kids in water wings and a parasailer floating overhead.  The sun setting over the mountains.  A cool dip in the Mediterranean to wash away the 38 degree day.   

My friends had convinced me that, on my first day back in Turkey, the best cure for jetlag would be an evening trip to the beach.  They were right - the swim woke me up and the catch-up conversation kept me awake until my 9:00 goal.  But as I bobbed in the waves and let them tumble me against the pebbles, I couldn’t stop thinking about another beach - a beach 450 km away where just over a week ago a limp little body in a red t-shirt was tossed to shore by that same sea.

I knew that, in just a few hours, as soon as darkness fell, that same sea would be lapping against the sides of flimsy dinghies crammed with dozens of people willing to place their lives and those of their children in the hands of uncaring smugglers who would shove them from the shore into the merciless waves.  Their hopes for new lives free from war and terror would carry them to Greece, then up on to the Balkans where they would begin the long trek to Austria or Germany on foot...if their inflatable rafts made it across at all.

Three days before my return, my mom and I went to the memorial for Aylan, Galib and Rehanna Kurdi.  We wept with the boys’ aunt, their community, and a hundred or so strangers who, like us, couldn’t let these deaths go unmarked.  That same day, we cheered as the news showed Austrians handing refugees bags of water and food along the road and Germans welcoming migrants at the Munich train station with open arms.  And we rejoiced as, seemingly all at once, the world “woke up” to the refugee crisis and asked a collective, “What are we going to do about this?”

But an “awakened world” has not changed the number of boats departing the Turkish coast every hour.  Two days ago, the coast guard rescued 153 migrants from the sea, and yesterday another thirty-four drowned a few miles from our shore.  Among them, four babies, six boys, five girls.  Eleven little Aylans and Galibs.  A heartbreaking headline that has become all too commonplace.  

Tonight I was reading a piece by CNN’s Arwa Damon about how she connected with several refugees as she documented their journey through Hungary on their way to Germany.  And I couldn’t stop crying.  Migrants fleeing through cornfields as police chase them like criminals.  A grown man sleeping on a train’s luggage rack.  A mother saying she wished her family had been killed by ISIS instead of living out this slow, shameful death.  

This week I travelled halfway around the world in a mere 22 hours. I sat in a passably comfy seat that (except on my middle flight) tilted back when I wanted to sleep.  There was a TV loaded with dozens of movies and TV shows and a map that showed precisely how far until our destination.  Someone brought me a blanket when I was cold, food before I even had the chance to get hungry, and seconds of coffee if I wanted it.  The fact that my original itinerary was cancelled due to a pilots strike was no big deal - there was a free hotel room and meal vouchers to make sure I lived through the inconvenience in comfort.

Sure, I had to deal with jetlag.  The neighbours’ rooster did nothing to aid me in my plight.  On my first trip to the market, one side mirror fell off my bike because it had melted in the summer sun.  The grapevine has taken over my balcony and it may require the jaws of life to reclaim the chair it ate, meaning I can’t sit in my favourite spot just yet.  And some freak error with the phone company has rendered my cell temporarily useless.

But I had a home to come home to.  And a bed and a bike and a balcony and a phone.  I have a blender, an air conditioner, photo albums, a pillow, a box full of every letter and Christmas card I’ve received in the past nine years.  I was greeted with a welcome note from my roommate and food in the fridge from some thoughtful friends.  

My journey here didn’t involve a desperate flight from a terror-stricken country.  There was no panicked sea-crossing with an inner-tube for a life-preserver in case the boat sunk.  I didn’t have to walk for a good part of a 2000 km trek (Athens to Munich) that Google Maps says should take two hours and twenty minutes by plane, or nineteen hours and forty-four minutes by car.  There were no police dogs, no barbed wire fences, no hard train station floors.  No wondering whether my apartment building was still standing or if the rest of my family would make it out alive.

Instead, I got to end the trip sitting with my toes in the Mediterranean, thinking about how I have everything.  Everything except the one thing I’d give anything to have right now:  a way to stop people from having to cross that same sea.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - No comments

Follow the Voice

Sometimes the Spirit tells you to go straight instead of turning right, like you were going to.  But you think to yourself, I'll go down that way another day, and you turn right anyway.  Cuz that's the way home.  

And then He says, "No, really, you wanted to go straight."  And you realize that whenever you ignore Him, you only ever miss out.  So you pull into someone's driveway, turn around, and go back the way He told you to.  

And you see all kinds of cool stuff.  Like a boat that shares a name with your Grandma and a bicycle on a roof and a lanky heron on a fishing mission.  

And you think, "Yeah.  I should always follow the Voice."