Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Window on the World

Looking Down

After seeing the cleaning lady in the next building out on the ledge cleaning windows (4 floors up), a few weeks ago, Stanley had to have his go at it today. Everything was great until he stood up and looked behind him...and then down. After that he decided he could clean just as well sitting on the ledge instead of standing. Then he thought he would be a better "inside spotter" while Ann cleaned on the ledge.

Mopping Up

It doesn't matter how high up the apartment is, to get the windows really clean the women have to get out on the ledge and scrub the windows with soap and a brush and then squeegee it dry. I saw an "80'something" out on a 10th floor ledge the other day scrubbing away. The upside is if she fell to her death, her family would have a "Windex Clear" window, to view granny's flight. Someone once said, "its not the fall that hurts...Its the sudden stop at the end".
We have been here almost 10 weeks now and we impressed our neighbors by getting to the windows today. For an hour Ann and Stanley had an audience of women leaning out on their balconies to see the action.
Even now as I write this column (sitting Turkish style...cushions on the floor),I have an audience. Twenty feet from our livingroom window is an adjacent apartment building with a window facing us. A white sheet covers the window, but the curious mistress of the house keeps peeking through the side of the sheet at the "Yabanci"... Me, the foreigner.
Our Curious Friend's Window

I catch her movement out of the corner of my eye every few minutes, sometimes she lingers and is bold, other times she glances out quickly before disappearing again. I haven't acknowledged her curiosity because it would humiliate her.
So...Here I sit on the Far Side of the World; I'll continue to write...she'll continue to peek...and life will go on in Istanbul.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Heat Culture

Kazasker Jamii on a Quiet Night

It seems that from Grants Pass, Oregon, to Istanbul, Turkey, things are hot. I talked to home yesterday and the temp in GP was 103.3 degrees. In fact the whole West Coast is hot and miserable.
It isn't quite that hot here (wait until August), but the lack of AC sure makes it seem warm. The coolest we have seen the inside temp is 82 degrees in the middle of the night. During the day it hits the high 90's. We are in the shower frequently and wet from the heat in between. "Damp" is our life right now.
We were taking care of government paperwork yesterday in one of the large civil buildings downtown. The line was long and we were crowded into a narrow hallway with one small window that was half open behind the counter. I was holding a form in my hand and by the time I handed it to the clerk it was soaked. The sweat was running down my arms and dripping off my fingers onto the floor. The locals were standing patiently while puddles collected on the floor from the perspiration that was dripping off of them.
A young guy at the front of the line wasn't pleased with the service so he started yelling and taking swings at the little girl behind the counter. Then pell mell hit and we found ourselves in the middle of a good old fist fight. Offices emptied as employees started to rush into the fray. Our small hallway became a sea of people and we found ourselves caught in the wave of movement as the intensity of the fight picked up.
Since we are here to learn the culture and understand the people, I shoved Ann in a corner and looked for the opportunity to leap in. Ahhh...the good days were back and I found the moment refreshing and invigorating. Sweat, body odor, testosterone and a fight you couldn't lose...You can't put a price on that one!
It all ended with a bunch of Turks dragging the ruffian down the marble steps and into a back lot. Just seconds after they had him behind the door....he quit making such a fuss. I think there was a "no paperwork" solution to the problem. It was a great lesson in reactive discipline. I am still smiling.
Waiting Out The Heat At Cemre Kebap

Sorry about the side story...Back to the agenda: It has been so warm that even in the middle of the night the cafes and coffee houses have been empty. The last few days parts of Istanbul have seemed deserted.
That kinda messes things up...I had just submitted our next travel column to the papers talking about the "enchanting evenings and great weather" when things suddenly turned warm. I am not the Master of Timing.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Warming Up

Its been a scorcher here in Istanbul. It didn't break 82 degrees last night and by the time of the Azan (4:40am) the temp was already climbing again. The hot weather makes for beautiful evenings...especially after 10pm. But during the day our apartment starts cooking.
We took a trip up the Bosphorus by boat today to find some relief from the heat. For the next few days we will fall in sync with the locals who are up and out really late while its cooler, and in and down during the heat.

Leander's Tower

Uskudar on the Asian Side

Asia Meets Europe on the Bosphorus Bridge

Bosphorus Bridge

Stanley's Goose in Kadikoy

Sandvik and Soda

We hopped Turk Air 0315 back to Istanbul this morning. And while this was just a 50 minute flight...we had barely stopped climbing when the drink service started up the aisle....followed by another cart with a delightful Turk Hostess asking "Sandvik and Soda"? We got more on this short flight than our Los Angeles to Chicago a few months ago...go figure.
Within an hour of landing we were lugging our backpacks up the stairs and into our apartment in Kadikoy. The neighbors came out to welcome us home and give us our mail. Tomorrow they said they want a "full report" of our travels and time for tea. My buddy at the jep shop kissed my cheeks hello as we headed to the Kebap shop for dinner. It is good to be home.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Emotional Buffet

Ok.....I was a bit emotional last night in my audio blog....the moon, the waves, the sense of history and romance made a bewitching concoction that reduced me to acute melodramatism (is that a word?)
In my defense though, this is a place of overwhelming impressions and sentimental impact. Ephesus was so pivotal in its historical influence and political persuasion that to see it reduced to a pile of rocks messes with my head. I know you egg heads out there can talk about cultural progression and make sense of it all...but I am a simple thinker.
So... tired of swatting skeeters in the lobby of our hotel (the only wifi spot), I am heading to ground leaving you with an ocular buffet to feed your senses.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Comfort Zone

Stanley and Nejmi

A little boy that is making quick friendships in Asia. This is a frequent stop for us in Istanbul. This rug shop owner and Stanley have become good friends...he has an open invitation to hang out with Nejmi anytime and help sell rugs, play backgammon, and drink tea. He has spent hours in this shop with his buddy...shows how quickly your comfort zone can be adjusted, if, you're open to change.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Splitting Hairs and Ripping Roots

Some things are best left unsaid....I hope to learn that lesson someday. It is uncommon to find razors of any quality in our parts. The big deal, locally, are these cool little handheld doodahs that pull your hair out by its roots. They purport a painless and even enjoyable epilation. All the girls at the store say it is the only way to remove unwanted hair from the legs etc.. And all the advertisements show young ladies smiling and laughing while using the product. The younger of my two girls has been longing for one...So, after finding a great deal a few days ago, we bought it.
This is a "girls only" appliance. But, curious to see how the "220 Volt Turbo Epilady Maxima" worked...I touched it (ever so briefly) to my exposed abdomen. I was quite surprised by the words and vocabulary that came so quickly to the tip of my tongue. In all honesty, it was not nearly as pleasant an experience as I expected. There is a lot more about this subject that I would like to tell you about. But am not allowed.
The worst part for me was that both of my girls were able to complete their epilation without vocalizing the words that I yearned to utter.
I am not "Consumer Products", but my personal experience with any 220 volt Epilation appliance, is two thumbs down.
Since I cannot show you the pictures to accompany this story: Here is an assortment of photos from our week. Off to Ephesus in 7 hours.
Basilica Cistern

Hanging With Nejmi and Ahmet

Cat in the Rain
A Turk's Kindness

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Point of Light

Time to sharpen your fangs folks. My hide has been thickened in preparation for today's column.
I love our people, we are a giving, caring and sacrificing bunch. But boy....We like our money and its accoutrements. We place such a high value on money that we use it as a filter for the worth of people, positions, plaudits and power. In fact we even base major, life changing decisions on how financially sound it will be, often without any regard for the moral, personal, or humanitarian issues involved.
We have been fortunate to see the giving side of our people. Until now, I was under the impression that we were, by far, the most giving nation in the World.
Shylock was famous for wandering the docks in Venice crying out, "My Ducats, My Daughter...My Ducats, My Daughter". He couldn't decide whether he was more distressed over the loss of a small part of his fortune, or the fact that it had accompanied fair Jessica (his only child) out of his life and into estrangement.
Not much is different on this side of the World. There are those that got...and those that "got naught".
Here's the pinch: Our limited experience in Istanbul has given us the impression that those in need are given much in the way of respect and care. This is not universal in its application, but the interaction we have seen between the needy and the "need nots" has touched us. The poor gather on the steps to the Mosque, where the faithful on their way to prayers, must pass by them. It is rare to see them ignored or passed by without an offering or some act of kindness.
Points of Light in Istanbul

I have seen more "simple giving" to the needy, here in Istanbul, than anywhere else. My prior experience showed me that others wanted to specify "how" someone in need would use whatever might be "gifted" their way. When we do it that way, we not only become the giver but also the administrator of the funds. It boils down to financial manipulation...Charity in the cloak of control. Real gifts are given without regret or reproof. I guess that seems pretty foolish to give so flagrantly...huh? Or is it?
I have a close friend that is elderly. He is famous in Cappadocia for his generosity. His acquaintances tell me that for 50 years he has given to those who were in the point that he has now given his fortune, quite completely, away. Today he helps his son in a rug shop in Istanbul to make ends meet. He is a devout Muslim who is honorable and trustworthy...a man of high esteem in his circle. He is my close personal friend and I look up to him.
Are you still reading? Here's the point: He doesn't regret helping those who may have misused the gift he gave them. In fact, given his current circumstances, he said he would give it away, all over again, if given the chance. He told me it is not his job to differentiate the poor's needs versus their wants...That job belongs only to Allah. Ahmet explained that his job was only to give when he saw a need...not investigate it and weigh it to determine its worth.
Who would have expected to find a heart so generous and self deprecating in this volatile region? See!...Getting out into the fresh air does me good after all. Take a deep breath and think before you respond. The light that is making you squint comes from the smile of an old Cappadocian man who knows the joy of unconditional giving.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Clearing The Air

After the vigorous response to yesterday's posting on the Turkish Toilet I thought we would clear the air today and move in a new direction. Today we had an interview with a Cappadocian friend of mine who owns a rug shop in Sultanahmet. I have been working on a column featuring Ahmet which is due in a few weeks. Once again we were treated like royalty...which is to be expected in any Turkish shop.
While Ahmet and I talked, Ann and the kids were treated to drinks and looked at their pottery offerings. Ahmet invited me to travel to Cappadocia with him tomorrow for a week in his home town. Sadly, I declined due to existing commitments.

Gulhane Park

After leaving the shop we headed around the corner and into Gulhane Park. This was the private garden of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire until the 1920's. Today it is a hot spot for weekend walks and picnics. Tonight it was enchanting. We finished up with tea overlooking the water...missed the last ferry (again) to Kadikoy and ended up back in Asia a bit north of where we wanted to be. At midnight,its 84 degrees indoors, the streets are still full of people, the windows are open, and the breeze has finally picked up.

The Çai Garden Overlookıng The Bosphorus

Across The Water To Home

Friday, June 02, 2006

Squatter's Rights...and Wrongs

I give, and I give, and I give...but its never enough. Well here it is...the famous Turkish toilet some of you keep asking me about. Now don't go getting all sophisticated and high brow about this (I know some of you are flaring your nostrils right now in repugnance). I have seen bathrooms in the States that are much worse than anything we have run into here (Try the "comfort station" at the I-5 rest stop just north of Kettleman City for starters). Some of you will tell me that this post is beneath me: Yes, it really is.
Turkish Toilet

This is an old public toilet on an old public ferry. This is as bad as we have seen it here, and this one is still very suitable. While the posture needed to acquire a successful transfer takes practice...the upkeep and plumbing are very simple. There is no toilet paper or seat covers, and you never have to worry about "running", clogged or leaking toilets. All final undocking machinations are accomplished using the little plastic garden water jug. At the end of a busy day all it needs is a good hosing down.
Now for the details (this would be a good point for my aunts to stop reading):

You must be flexible in the knees to attain the proper alignment. Make sure that your clothing is not hanging down, touching the floor or (this is really, really important) not in the line of sight between you and the bowl. Do not lean against the wall or support yourself with your hands (your going to need both of them soon)...just place your feet on the treads with your back to the wall, bend at the knees (all the way down) without touching the bowl, and lean forward a bit.
To complete the process you use your Right Hand (this is an important key to remember) to pour water from the jug, onto your Left Hand, which then is used to "freshen up" in place of toilet paper.
You then pour some more water onto the Left Hand to "freshen it up". The real important part of the process? Do not transfer the water jug to the Left Hand at any time. If you do it gets really untidy and no one will come to help you.
Then, as a courtesy, you refill the little plastic jug from another bottle of water in the corner, or in some cases a little water tap on the wall. You are then clear to return to your table and continue your meal.
You will view your Left Hand differently after this. That is why it is rude to shake hands or handle food with the Left Hand in Asia. In fact you will notice people placing their Left Hand behind their back to keep it out of sight while greeting or meeting someone. It also causes you to notice who's Left Hand is returning to the chip bag and your own fingernail hygiene.

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

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