Friday, July 28, 2006

New Views

Who said that "the eyes are the windows to the soul? If the eyes really are the windows to the soul, then windows must be "the soul of inspiration”….(or something like that).
Why the mental meandering? Because today I have a new view on the World, after several weeks of cleaning and painting we are just a few days away from being able to move into our new flat. There is still much to do…but I was able to find a spot on our freshly scrubbed balcony today, with windows that look north, where I was able to sit and ponder my paltry perceptions.

My Window to the North

I am at the very heart of the matter a “visual person”...I find it impossible to talk to someone without maintaining visual contact. I cannot compose a single sentence without an image in my head to write “around”. So "windows" are critical to this struggling scribe.

Just out my window (this balcony has an enclosure with windows) is a large plum tree. I look out onto the upper part of this tree whose base is 30 feet below. If you are sitting on this balcony, you cannot see the base of the tree. Your view is of the thickest part of the foliage without distraction.
The plums are hanging heavy on the upper branches and out of the reach of all but the nimblest. They have been taunting me there for weeks now…the lower branches have been stripped bare by those who pass…but the jewels of this tree still hang heavy and golden…and safe. Until today.

A hijabed head popped into my view. It was attached to a twenty something-ish mother who was rapidly climbing to the upper reaches of this tree. She saw me and smiled in embarrassment…being just a few feet from the edge of my balcony she could have stepped inside our window with ease.

Hidden in the Trees

She gathered a few of the most succulent looking plums from the crown of this tree and dropped them into the waiting hands of her children below. With a smile tinged with apprehension she scampered down to the ground and led her brood away. It was a delightful interruption and my first real impression through these windows. A smarmy observation you say?....Perhaps. But, when was the last time you saw your mother scurry up to the top of a tree to procure treats for you?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Wired for Power

They gave me my own piece of wire today. It was a moment that will not soon be forgotten. You see, to get your own piece of lamp wire means that you get control. Control means that you can supply your family with the extravagance of electrical accoutrements such as lights, a functioning refrigerator and what not.

My Tech Tools

Living in a notable, ancient city (no Mark…Chicago is not "ancient"...and there is a difference between "notable" and "notorious") you run into centuries of historical infrastructure or, a lack of the same. Here in our 20th century municipality that has built itself on pre-historical civilization, we live in comparative comfort, with a minor exclusion here and there.
One of these omissions happens to be the electrical supply to our building. Being a mix of old and new construction our basement contains the meter room with connections for all the units. Our particular union with the juice has a modern meter attached to a decades old ceramic circuit box. Some time ago modern circuit breakers were added, but instead of removing the older ceramic fuses from the linkage, they simply made miniature jumper wires using old coins and lamp wire. Now, to keep the electrical flow active it must first run through an old fuse held together by burned Turkish Lira coins and short pieces of lamp wire.
While this functions well most of the time we have had several episodes of the wire melting to the ceramic fuse and losing our electrical supply. The first few times this happened our building handyman fixed the problem. However, there seems to be a rash of melting wires, and the poor guy spends a good part of his day making new jumper wires to keep up with the demand.
I think he got overwhelmed and took a breather, because today I found a coil of old lamp wire he had left for me. I also found a pile of old business cards (you use those to hold the fuse…those little buggers get so hot they glow red), and a plastic bag to use to grip the ceramic fuse receptacle so you can break the seal of freshly melted wire and coins.


It came in divine timing…no sooner had I found the stash of goodies than the fuse began to glow red, the unmistakable “pop” followed (it’s more like a “cracking kaboom”…accompanied by blue spikes and bright yellow sparks) and the lights went out. I grabbed my new electrical implements and went to work. Five minutes later we had the juice flowing.
It made my day…here we are, foreigners, living on the far side of the World and today I found myself the honored recipient of lamp wire, a stack of old cards, and a plastic bag. After just three months of living in Istanbul, I already have my own fix it kit!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Swinging Doors

Doors don't seem to rate high on our list of things of import...unless they are closed and we need them open...or...they are open, and we thought they were closed. We are trying to figure out which of these we are facing.
We had plans to travel to Beirut for meetings (and a week of vacation), and then to Aleppo, Syria to research a period of Jean Louis Burkhardt's life...a Swiss explorer who lived in Aleppo for several years to study Arabic, (he later went on to discover the Temple of Ramses II among many other of today's archaeological wonders).
Ok...let's put the theme here on "hold"...this is going to take some time, so let me taxi around this with a "Burkhardt Moment" (this is a good time to go for snacks if your not historically inclined): Jean Louis Burkhardt was the first non-Muslim to be documented as visiting Mecca, even today, almost 300 years after his death, he stands as a giant of archaeological exploration and discovery, he was a master of disguise and subterfuge all in the pursuit of Central Asian knowledge. He...was a wanderer extraordinaire.

Jean Louis Burkhardt, the Wanderer

This guy actually spent several weeks sleeping in a flea and vermin infested caravansary in order to become "gamey" enough to pass as a native pilgrim...It worked. He was able to travel for several years throughout the Middle East and avoid discovery as to his "Swiss-ness"...his mastery of local dialects, accent, grasp of the vernacular, and cultural knowledge allowed him to fit in.
Because of his dedication to culturally adapt to his surroundings he gained access to the most guarded places. Petra, Aaron's Tomb, the Kaaba, and the Snake Monument were among the most significant, this was before the rest of the World even knew these places existed, (sorry about the verbosity that is present...Jean's life story winds my clock).
Open or Closed?

Now, if you're still with me we'll get back to the post. As I was saying...we had planned on visiting Aleppo and Damascus two weeks ago, but due to some Visa issues and the high cost of just applying for our Visas with no guarantees ($400.00)we put it off until October. After Syria we thought we would take a week of vacation in Beirut to coincide with some interviews and meetings we have scheduled (Beirut is our 2nd favorite city in the World) before heading back to Istanbul (our 3rd favorite city in the can guess our number 1...can't you?).
Now with the renewed vigor of Middle East unrest it all seems in doubt. We have friends in Beirut that we had planned to spend time with. We will keep you posted as to our October expedition and where it will lead....Syria is still at the top of the list...we are in the process of "rattling doors". For now I am up in the middle of the night looking for Jean Louis' biography (it's time to peruse it again)...if you want a great read...hunt this one down.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bits and Pieces

Word is out that the Stewards need help. Yesterday our little Village of Kazasker in Istanbul jumped to life to help us organize our move and a bathroom remodel. (For the complete post click on the Metroblogging link to your right). We are neck deep in chaos, no water and no toilet…but we have a great group of locals that have come to bat for us.

Today they went to work and bashed the daylights out of this 40 year old Turkish bathroom. Tonight it is in bits and pieces...but morale is high. In between numerous glasses of tea and cigarette breaks they finished up with the demo around 7pm tonight. We have had a great time working with them today.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Going In

Kitchen Sink...(Next to the Big Crack)
Welcome to our new show: "The Lifestyles of the Far and Wandering"...a bit different from those who make their living creating warm, aesthetically energizing, and pursposefully peaceful interior living spaces.....Huh?
This is our new flat, the previous tenants left in a rush and we took these pics before beginning work. We have just a few weeks to get this place out of the Petri dish and into shape for us to move into. The location is great, the rent is reasonable, and other than being pretty beat up...we think we can tweak (Ok..."Tweak" is a bit weak) it back into "Early Nomad". That suits us well.

Soap Anyone?
Our Own Science Experiment

Ok...forgive the sarcasm. We really are upbeat about this place. For starters it's indoors, and has water, and heat. That alone puts us in the top 6% of the World's population. A bit of bleach, a lot of muscle and Martha Stewart will be begging for a tour. In case you don't hear from us for a few know where we are and what we will be doing (can you mix bleach with Roundup)?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Costco Culture

I am actually at a loss for words...not really (like that could ever happen to a Steward). But I am close to being at a loss for words. Here we sit on the other side of the world and the Price Club/Costco crowd has made themselves known. Not the Stateside version of pensioners who time their stops at these mega-stores to be the first to sample the free give aways...but their Greek counterparts.
The View from the Promenade

I used to walk the aisles of Costco on the West Coast and be amazed at the "survival of the fittest" mode that people adopted as the "Spicy Turkey Weenies" were coming off the grill on those little toothpicks...they would jostle, push, shove and joust for position as if it were the last food they would be able to take home to their starving family. It seemed all elements of decorum and grace were abandoned...reputations squandered....all for the passion of a heat and serve gastronome.

Tonight as I compose this dispatch I am sitting in the lobby of the Makedonian Palace in Thessaloniki watching the same set at work. There is a Greek Wedding taking place and while there is a considerable "Big & Fat" element to is the little old ladies who are wandering through the lobby, not part of the Wedding Party... who are cleaning off the cookie trays and stashing them in their large LV purses. One old bird has made her 5th pass at the Divinity Puffs and is gearing up for another.

So...even though the location has changed...the impulse hasn't...when it comes to free party food....the game is afoot.
High Tech Travel Laundry

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Seduction by Diesel

I have been seduced by a beautiful woman. Her movements are hypnotic and serpentine and she carries me along taking me where she wants to go. I am powerless to stop her, back away or protest. She has taken me away from home and comfort and is lulling me with her charms. And....She smells of diesel.
Leaving Istanbul

Her name? The Orient Express...well, not "The Orient Express"...that one runs from Istanbul to Paris. This one is the Dostuk Filia and she is taking our family of four on a midnight journey to Thessaloniki. For awhile we will share the same rails of the OE...and the train station in Istanbul is the final destination and home of the OE. But this journey is on her kinder and less mysterious sister.
The Star and Crescent from our Sleeper

Our journey here was fraught with adventure and discomfort and we have never before spent a more inconveniently enchanting evening in our lives. I am paying by the second to post here....more on this story in a future print column. From the Thermaic...Global Nomads

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bad Hair Days

I had a fugue this last week...once we arrived home from Ephesus we were able to experience, in consecutive bouts, a mild form of some stomach ailment. Couple that with the heat and it laid us a bit low and sapped my limited wit and discourse ability.
We are still not back on our feet firmly, but will be leaving in a few hours on the overnight train from Istanbul to Thessaloniki. We have some interviews and research in Greece to complete before returning Sunday or Monday. We aren't sure of our return date because we can't (nor can our neighbors) read the ticket master's scribbles. We do know that it will be sometime in July though.

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stopped the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train was surprisingly full for the time of year. But by the morning there was one passenger fewer. An American lay dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.
With tension mounting, detective Hercule Poirot comes up with not one, but two solutions to the crime.
(from HarperCollins "The Agatha Christie Collection" cover)
Murder on the Orient Express

Upon our return I hope to catch you up on a multitude of subjects, of which these are not the least:

Distracted Turkish Barbers (don't get your hair cut on the day of the World Cup playoffs if there is a TV in the barber shop)

Health Club Cigarette Breaks (they actually have ashtrays on the weight machines...lift a little...puff a little....lift a little...puff a little...lift, lift, lift...puff a lot...lift a little now). My apologies to "The Music Man".

On Becoming A Muslim A few days ago I met with the Village Chief to take care of some registration paperwork. I walked in a Protestant...and walked out a Muslim. We never discussed religious orientation...But my registration paperwork says clearly....Islam Ev...House of Islam. Hmmm?

We will be boarding the Dostuk Filia at the Istanbul Train station in just a few hours. This station was the famed destination in Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express". We are hoping for a less robust experience.

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

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