Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Night on the Town

The New Mosque

The days are getting warmer...which is sending more people out late at night. We followed their lead and jumped on the bus last night and headed to the European side to Taksim Square.
After a food stop we were off to Eminonou and the New Mosque (hundreds of years old and still called "new"). We arrived in time for the last prayers of the day at 10:30pm. Fireworks were being shot off at Sultanahmet so we went up the hill and sat in front of the Blue Mosque for awhile after the crowds had left. We had the place to ourselves with the exception of a few gypsy families in the park.
We had missed the last ferry to Kadikoy, so we opted for the ferry to Uskudar. It put us back in Asia and north of where we wanted to be. We arrived in Kadikoy well after midnight and took a Dolmus home.
The dolmus driver wanted me to sit with him and we talked in very bad (my part) Turkish. Before long the whole bus was laughing and talking to us. The driver didn't want us to get off so he slowed down to 5mph the last two miles. As they sped away they were waving and yelling goodbyes through the windows. We walked the last mile to home and got to bed later than I want to admit.

Downtown Istanbul Last Night

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Evenings In The East

Looking West, Dozens Of Minarets In The Distance

The weather today deserves a post. I was up with my neighbors for the 4:30ish call to prayer this AM and it was already turning hot. By late afternoon it had begun to cool down and we headed out to visit Koşuyolu. It turned into one of the loveliest evenings we have seen to date.
The street market for our neighborhood in Koşuyolu is on Sunday. We checked out the market, up one hill and down another. And then returned to where we started, up one hill and down another.
Then we saw it....a hill we hadn't climbed yet...one built in the style of San Francisco...at least a mile climb, so we started the walk up the cobblestone street. Elle and I were getting close to the top when Stanley took a stumble and fell. Some passing Turks rushed over to make sure he was Ok. He is...other than some scrapes, torn pants and scuffs.
Tending the Wounded at the Mosque Fountain

We walked a few more miles before grabbing a taxi home. It seemed everywhere we went tonight people were out: On balconies, walking the streets, sitting at the fountains or parks and congregating around the many Mosques we passed. It reminded me of a Summer afternoon in old San Diego.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Trash, Toilets, and Losers

Its "melt your chocolate" weather here in Istanbul. Yeah, I know....we're "San Diego lightweights" when it comes to the heat. If you think that is sad, I have a friend that actually thinks Chicago is America's finest city (that's what happens when you spend too much time indoors kids). For what its worth...Summer has "lit" here in Istanbul.
We have found an apartment to call home. Our move date is late July/early August...it's nice having that issue settled. The apartment is closer to the center of the City and about a 40 minute walk to language school. After the current tenants leave in July, it will need some remodel work, putting us into it mid-summer.

For Those With Sophisticated Palates

Our language skills are progressing: I ordered a drink the other day and got onion rings with it. I didn't know whether to thank them for the gift or reorder. Elle found some toilet paper yesterday called "Yumy".....(MMMmmmmm makes you hungry and wanting a bathroom all at the same time, huh)?

Moving from toilets to trash now. I was drinking tea at a market yesterday when I heard American Music playing over the tea garden's speakers. The words were in English and were surprisingly coarse and explicit. I am no novice when it comes to dockyard language...but these words and the content and theme were filthy and degrading. I have spent many years in locker rooms and among Alpha M's...but I have never heard this type of dialogue. Yet here I was, on the other side of the World and music from my country is blaring in all its brazenness to the ear of adult and child without discretion. I know that this music isn't "Main Stream America"...but they don't. They hear a beat that is catchy and they play it without knowing its translation. And we wonder why our words and actions are not held in high regard among these people of Central Eurasia?
I needed the Rant time: It was either this or the Callous and Conceited Everest Climbers that were on the docket for today. That one will have to wait...I'll need more medication before we talk about those losers...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Walking In The Dark

They tell you that "location" is everything. I have never been one to embrace the life of the "salesman," (I had a bad experience once and don't want to talk about it now). But, if you are in the business of trading goods...then the old phrase fits. Location is everything.
This posting has nothing to do with commerce and everything to do with geography. The last few days we have been overwhelmed with all the things that go along with changing cultures, language, and home.
Let me taxi around this for a moment: A few years ago we lived in a major European City. After the honeymoon stage and the romance of travel wore off, we experienced what every 3rd culture family will tell you about...culture shock. When it hits, you want to hole up and watch Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and shut this "new world" out.
However, we have found the exact opposite in Istanbul. When we miss home, get frustrated about our language struggles and hit the wall physically or emotionally...we find therapy in getting out and spending time with the Turks.
These people are amazing. I know we will eventually have bad experiences and run into people that are unkind. But to date, five weeks into being "Istanbullus", we have yet to find a Turk who isn't quick to laugh and smile.
The last few evenings we have been up and out late, walking the streets at midnight. Tonight as I write this, we have just returned from another stroll. The streets are full of families quietly walking along, fathers smoking, mothers holding the hands of their children, and young people sitting on the wall talking and laughing. The call to prayer rang out around 10:15pm and the courtyard of the Mosque was full of men and boys coming to pray.
The Durum shop was rolling sandwiches and the tea shops were filled with couples drinking and smoking. Everywhere we went we found smiles and laughter.
As I walk down the street each day vendors yell to me and laugh at my bad Turkish. They are quick to help and easy to love. Yesterday one of my friends walked out of his shop...he had learned a phrase just for me: "How can I take your money today"?
It makes me wonder what other peoples we have missed in our wanderings? Our life among the Turks is a rich one. We would have missed so much if we had not met these people. I understand the phrase now: Location, location, location...in our case, its a good one.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Eileen or Irene?

I was sitting in language class this last week when I had a rogue thought: Wouldn't it be a bummer to learn how to speak a new language...and then discover that your language teacher had a lisp?
Those thoughts were floating by as we were repeating phrases that our kind teacher was pronouncing for us. Thankfully, he doesn't have a speech impediment...but it makes you think.
Those are the types of thoughts that keep me awake at night. This has been a rough week for sleeping. Since I am not an "easy sleeper"...getting 4 hours a night puts me in pretty good shape, but even that goal has been elusive lately. On the other hand...it has resulted (at least partly) in a great weight loss program. Our last 12 months in the States saw me become a corpulent, middle aged, wanderer...too young to be a "real hippie" and too old to stay in a hostel. I was stubborn and refused to buy the next size up as we gathered our gear for this move.
Now, in just the last 4 weeks I have lost 10 pounds. Just think...all I need to do is grow 4 inches taller or lose another 40lbs and I will be able to find my "height/weight ratio" on that little brochure the doctor gave me. I may not be in the "ideal" column...but I will be able to point to the pink warning column and find my numbers! After all...my dad has proven that as long as you get to the hospital in time...you never have to modify your diet.

Back On The Water Today

Friday, May 12, 2006

Bosphorus Tunnel

The Dredge Beginning The Work

As we have mentioned before...Istanbul is a city that sits at the meeting point of the continents of Asia and Europe. Most of the tourist's attractions are on the European side, but the oldest, or earliest settled part of the city is on the Asian side.
Separating these two continents and sides of the city is the Bosphorus...a beautiful strait that leads from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. Several bridges span this section of water and the ferries run frequently.

Map Of The Tunnel

But now an incredible project is underway to link the continents by an undersea rail tunnel. The work is just now beginning and the projected completion is in 2011.
For our part, we love the ferry ride across the Bosphorus. We are still out looking for an apartment and have now focused on the Asian side of the city.
This has been a rough week. I still can't find my wit. It seems that I've fallen....and I kinda like it down here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


We wore ourselves out today. We wanted to visit some neighborhoods on the European side so we took the ferry to Karakoy and walked around for a few hours. Then we headed back and took the bus to Bostanci and walked the 5 miles to home. If it wasn't for the GPS we would have been cabbing it.
We walked in late tonight and everyone is getting cleaned up and heading to bed. Language school starts early tomorrow.

Heading Down To The Straits

Inside The Ferry

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Toxic Tonic For Cheer

Who Holds The Bags In Turkey?

My wit has deserted me and I do not know how to get it back. They told me in elementary school that I could become anything I wanted to be when I grew up. Remember hearing those words of encouragement when we all sat in school as wards of the State?
Well today I had unkind thoughts about my second grade teacher. I had wished Mrs. Corridor (she always wore a jet black wig) was here today to tell me that again...in Turkish. I used to see her sneaking into the teacher's lounge to smoke, she also had the habit of teaching by the door, she would ask us a question and then mosey outside while she waited for our answer. She would always return with a blue cloud wafting around her and flared nostrils. Recess was never late because she had an itch that had to be scratched.
Whenever she would lecture us about "becoming what we wanted to be", I always wondered why she had chosen to become a chain smoking second grade teacher in a red neck town in Southern California? Sorry...they say venting is good for the soul.
We have spent the better part of our weekend on language and I am at the point where the verbs, nouns, and adjectives are spinning around in a mental blender with vowel harmony and word order thrown in. It is a toxic tonic for hope and cheer.
Stanley has the amazing ability to see the word once and remember it. Elle is already reading me street signs and interpreting what others are saying to me. While Ann and I walk around the apartment with a stack of index cards in our hands and mutter things like "I knew that" or "What was it again"...and other phrases of despondency.
So, we went for a 5 mile walk this afternoon to clear our heads and to renew some sort of parental hierarchy by getting the kids so far away from home that they thought they were lost...and then...as the father and mother, the adults and leaders of this crew...lead them home again to safety...and restore to us some of the dignity that we want so desperately to wrap ourselves in.
That was our Sunday ("Pazar" in Turkish...which can also mean a "market" or a "street market" depending on the inflection and emphasis of the voice....yada yada yada). As I was saying...That was our Sunday in Istanbul.

Water Day At The Local Mosque

Friday, May 05, 2006

An Auspicious Day In Istanbul

After Language School today we headed to the European Side of Istanbul. It was a 5 minute walk from school to the Ferries, 20 minute Ferry ride to the E side, then about 15 minutes to Sultanahmet. At Sultanahmet the Aya Sofia is at one end of the square and the Blue Mosque is at the other end. We had decided we would not visit more than one site each time we came across the Bosphorus.
Today it was the Blue Mosque. We had to wait for Friday prayers to end before we were allowed inside. After a quick walk through, we were moved to the back rows by guards, visitors are restricted to the back, so they do not disturb the faithful.

The Blue Mosque

I had met a man outside, earlier in the day, while we were waiting to enter named Mustaffa. We separated upon entering and after we were seated in the back, he came to me and we talked for several minutes, speaking a mixture of Turkish and English. After some time had passed, he motioned for me to follow him. For the next 20 minutes he gave me a tour of the restricted areas, I saw the fragments of the sacred stone from the Kaaba in Mecca. He showed me the Sultan's private balcony where he worshipped alone and the stables beneath the Mosque where the Sultan's horses were kept.
After the tour was over he took me back to Ann and the kids and showed us pictures of his family. He sat with us for 30 minutes and talked of the history of the Caliphs who had ruled in Istanbul.
I didn't know if I was expected to pay him or not...when I mentioned it he refused any payment and invited me to his home for tea the next time we are on the E side of the City. I do not know what his connection is with the Mosque...but as he showed me around, the attendants and guards nodded to him and moved out of his way. It was an auspicious day to visit Sultanahmet.

Waiting For Friday Prayers To End

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Barefoot On The Far Side Of The World

I have discovered that personal space is directly related to geography. We all have our own personal comfort zone where we need some space between us and those we are talking to. Other cultures are used to having a very tight sense of space...to stand nose to nose and have a conversation is no big deal. We all have issues about our zone of comfort....that is where Altoids makes the big money.
For me...I like to have my shoes on. I have this thing about shoes...if I have them on I feel ready to face whatever the World throws at me. With my shoes on I can Fight, Flee or Walk. I was never a barefoot kid (I had a bad experience when I was 10, walking 6 blocks to 7/11 barefoot...I still have nightmares about that one).
The U.S. is one of the only cultures I have experienced where we keep our shoes on inside the house. Even there we have found pockets of exception: Wilmar, Minnesota was our first exposure to leaving our shoes at the door. It almost ruined my dinner to be in just socks at the dinner table...it was like that dream where you show up for school in your underwear. I don't know if it was the fact that I was shoeless in front of everyone...or the fact that all these old people had their thin little socks on and there was no vapor barrier between their toes and my nose. In any case...for me, the dinner was a loss.

Our Neighbor's Door

We have found in Turkey that everyone dumps their shoes at the door. The gas guy came yesterday and took off his sandals to bring our gas bottle in. The handyman takes his shoes off before coming into our apartment. In this culture it is unusual to have shoes on indoors.
So, today as I passed our neighbor's apartment I wanted to pass this picture onto you. Yes, we are adapting and I am becoming more comfortable with my shoes off. I just know that one day....when I least expect it...there will be a moment in time where I will need those shoes. For now I will keep them in my lap.

Lunch Stop

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Slow News Day

The May Day protests looked a lot like the ones at home. With a few exceptions they were peaceful with just a few hundred arrests. With hundreds of thousands attending that is a pretty low number.
No major violence was reported and those arrested were for the most part engaged in passive resistance. Reminded me of my San Diego State Univ. days.
We now have two different apartments that we are looking at: one is just down the block and the other is a few miles toward the heart of the City. It will probably be next week before we get a chance to take a hard look. We are still wanting to find a place closer to the heart of Kadikoy.
Today was slow...we worked on language studies, attended class and studied some more.

Deserted Streets During The Protest Crackdown

Hanging In The Hood

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Turkish Comedy

Merhaba! Nasilsin?....Oh I'm sorry. You must not know the language of the Near East?
(I love that part!)
I picked up a book awhile back titled, "How To Speak Turkish In 7 Days". I had planned on reading it...twice...and then, as a Turkish language expert, offer classes to support us on our odyssey. Well...the best laid plans,huh? So we ended up in traditional Language School yesterday forking out lots of Lira. (I am still trying to get my 5 bucks back for that book).
Language school went well yesterday. I don't quite know if I am really learning or just linguistically and culturally confused...but I "feel" different. After just a few hours in class I now look at the City of Istanbul through a different lens. Its almost as if the experience of sitting with Turks and practicing foreign words and phrases has made me feel as if we are really a part of the City. Sounds goofy? I know.
So, I tried my Turkish on some visitors today...they looked at me, at each other and then, with tea "spewing" out of their mouths, rolled into fits of laughter. I have no idea what I said...but I guess I'm the guy to ask to keep the Hookah party lively.
Back to the books...I want to be funny again tomorrow.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Labor Day

Here was our day in pics:

First Day Of Language School

Riot Police Moving In On Demonstrators In Istanbul

Fences And Guns

Business As Usual Amidst The Protests

Living, Traveling, and Wandering on the Far Side of the World

Living, Traveling, and Wandering on the Far Side of the World