Thursday, August 31, 2006

Pushing Buttons

Living in a push button world has its blessings and curses. Our door bell (a Duo-Chime 2000) is a remnant left behind by the former tenants. When we arrived it was, in Turkish vernacular, “Kaput”. Fresh batteries and some rewiring put it back in questionable service and it hasn’t stopped ringing since. Really.
It must be a woman because it has its “quirks” (Yes ladies, you may kindly leave your comments at 1 800 t-a-l-i-b-a-n). If you don’t treat the button with the utmost of care things go awry. We came home a few days ago to hear our bell ringing in cycles. No matter what we tried it kept yapping…we finally knocked it off the wall and yanked the batteries out…even then it took a few seconds to really die and go silent. If the weather changes it rings, if there is thunder, it rings, if it is late at night and no one is around….it rings.
At 10:00pm (tonight) we had just closed up and gotten comfortable when it started up again. I was tempted to ignore it when I heard someone outside…opening the door I was greeted by a neighbor and her children whose arms were loaded with groceries. She had come to teach Ann how to cook “Turk Style”.
Ramping back up for visitors we quickly changed, turned on the lights and oven, and the kitchen started hopping. Just shy of 11pm hot Borek and a peach desert were coming out of the oven. The next hours were spent sitting on the floor talking, eating, and laughing. While I still have my doubts about our “Duo-Chime 2000”….it is savvy….just like a woman, it knows the way to a man’s heart is through the kitchen, (I might just splurge on some fresh Duracell’s this week).

Monday, August 28, 2006


If you are a fan of things nautical (especially 18th century Royal Navy) then you know about the doldrums, if not, then you have probably heard that word used to describe a slump or lack of forward momentum.
"Becalmed at Sunset" (William R. Davies)

In the former case, the doldrums are an area of open ocean with no, or little wind. In the days of “wind power” ships within the doldrums could become becalmed there for days, even weeks. With no wind to propel them they languished in hot and humid weather with little movement. I have read the personal diaries of those who, 200 years ago, looked for relief from these equatorial dilemmas, their eyes and hopes were on the sails…looking for the slightest indications of a breeze, draft, or even a puff…of wind, to drive them to the currents and trade winds.

The Moments Before
I have never experienced the maritime version of this malady, but I know her compositional sister well. It seems that August is the season most similar to the doldrums in our little corner of Asia. Even though we have been busy and our schedule is full, there has been little satisfaction that we are getting anything accomplished.
Even my Moleskine has seen little action this month. With so much to relay to you and so many things going on around us….none has seemed important once it was put to paper. I have deleted scores of pages this month as too worn or weary to make a good read. And we find ourselves thus…until today.

During Broad Daylight

This afternoon I felt myself being edged closer to the currents of inspiration. Our day started with the same remarkable blue skies and saturating heat we have had all month. But late this afternoon things got dark quick…very dark. And within a few minutes we were in the midst of a full Mediterranean squall. For over an hour we manned the squeegees and buckets to scupper the water off our balconies and out of the adjoining rooms.
When it was finally over the air was clean. The breeze refreshing…and it seemed that the trade winds were luffing our sails again. Soon...we'll be underway.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Silk Road Expedition 07

A colleague of mine who writes a local Turkish column sent me these words today, “Cannot write, it is too hot to write”. That may explain the absence of my wandering wit. I have much to say…but it doesn’t seem important once I put it to pen. So, during these debilitating doldrums our postings may be somewhat on the lean side. We request your patience and pity.

Route Planning with a Friend from the Taurus Range

Nevertheless, I am committed to rally my forces today and send you a bit of news that has us looking east. Some time ago we had the thought of traversing the continent of Asia, specifically, traveling overland from Istanbul to the interior of China via the Silk Road. That is, after all…why we moved here. After months of dialogue our plans are firming up for an attempt to make this cross continent journey in the spring of 07….just 8-9 months from now.
We are scheduling 6-12 weeks to make the crossing and are deciding now whether to attempt to drive ourselves or travel by means of train, bus, hitch hiking, and trekking. This will be our first Silk Road Expedition to gather information on the people, tribes, and cultures of those who live along the Rooftop of the World.
With political pressures and presumptions pin wheeling as they do, this journey is certainly not going to be completed as planned. Even today, the mill of international grist is grinding different wheat. Visa regulations and restrictions have changed several times in the past few hours in countries that are on our agenda. Our task will be to head east weaving our way up and down and side to side to find our way across Asia.
We are looking for a great name for this journey (and the ones to follow). If you have something that tweaks our compass in the way of an nostalgic and exotic moniker, drop us a line…if we use your suggestion you will acquire fame and the prize of a lifetime…your own copy of one of my favorite tomes on the Silk Road.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Still Hanging Around

Sick? Nope.
Away? Not Often.
Busy? Hmmmm....Ya think?
Vacation? I wish.
Guests? Where!?

What are we up to? Deep in work, high on life, and really, really tired. No worries, all is good. See ya soon....(like in a day or two, I'm giving my synapses time to cool off).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Office Hours

Everyone should have a place of their own. I’m not talking about houses or apartments…nothing that complicated. Just a place to hide out and think; a coffee shop, the bookstore, a patio or even an old motor home parked in the driveway. Somewhere to read, reflect and relax.

Another Day at the Office

The local Kebap café has become my hangout. Even more so, it has become my official office (and is listed as such on my cards, “Office Located at: Cemre Kebap, Corner Table, Istanbul”). That corner table is reserved for me, and each week when Ann goes across town to the Kazasker street market I tag along, and while she shops for peppers, dill, and lamb…I clock-in at my table and hold office hours.

With our relocation to the other side of the “other side” (you have to know Istanbul to understand that phrase), it now is a longer jaunt for me to get to the office. So, for the time being, the office will be open on Thursdays and the occasional Monday. If you miss me, order the Çop Şıs and a pitcher of Ayran, I’ll be along.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Shades of Heat

The sun is roasting my veranda, the breeze is cool, the shade…delicious…and Etta James is crooning in my ear. Could it be any better? My little balcony in Kadikoy is a slice of heaven today and…wait…wrong dream.
Actually this week has been more of a nightmare, falling on the heels of last week’s financial fiasco, this has been “moving week”, and it happens to coincide with what Istanbullus say is the hottest 4 weeks of the year. August is a scorcher here in this corner of Asia.

Views from the Shade

Yesterday we finished the big part of our move into the new apartment. Remember those black, hard sided shipping containers we brought from Los Angeles to Istanbul four months ago? They have sat unopened and unpacked until today.
Before they could be unpacked they had to be transported across town, up the long walkway and two flights of stairs to our apartment. We had been bringing one at a time as we moved back and forth between the two apartments during the painting and cleaning stage these last few weeks, but the going was slow.
Kemal, my friend that owns the local Kazasker laundry (and who I have never conducted business with since I have my own “laundry”) saw our daily struggle; lugging the 70lb containers down 4 flights of stairs, into the taxi, and then back up to the new apartment.
Yesterday he showed up with a small truck and insisted on having his delivery driver transport all of the remaining containers and luggage to the new place. In one brief hour they wiped out the entire lot that had to be moved.

The "Indoor High" this Week

When I tried to thank Kemal for his kindness later that evening, he rebuffed me, kissing me on the cheeks; he whispered to me, “Do not thank a “Mussulmaun” for loving his brother”. See what you miss when you take the shortcuts through life? I stand reproved for my grumbling this week.
I am going to put on Etta James, head towards the shade, and bask in the culture of a people who are quickly becoming my own.
All is well with the Stewards as we Live, Travel and Wander on the Far Side of the World.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I know its been hot at home. I know that people are dying from the heat…literally. And, I remember how summer got into full swing in September and October on the West Coast. I can’t recall how many times I prayed for a “Fall-ish or Winter-ish” Thanksgiving…only to be awakened by crystal clear blue skies, and the waving of the palm fronds in the breeze. I do sympathize with you. Forced to shut yourselves away in those freezing air conditioned homes and cars day after day is a burden that is not easily borne.

Heading Out Into the Heat

But, could I just express myself a bit here without the “been there done that” retorts that may be forming at the tip of your tongue? It has been warmish here also. Now they don’t run to the press when folks die of heat…because that happens in Central Eurasia frequently. They don’t open “cooling shelters” because there are still hard working folk who don’t have any type of shelter, much less a “cool” one. And they don’t have brownouts…because when it gets too hot, they just turn the power off until there is enough to turn it back on again.
Life continues to move forward, streets are dug up and repaired, bread is baked in wood fired ovens, and men swing pickaxes in the middle of the day to make new roads and paths.
A few days ago we got an indoor temperature reading of 117.9 degrees. We waited till it cooled to the low "teens" later in the day, before we headed to the store to pick up more paint. We expected this big hardware store to be cool, but it was just as hot as our apartment. Even though they have A/C, we have never been there when it was turned on.
In the taxi on the way to the store we had the typical old Fiat that make up the backbone of this city’s taxi fleet. The older cars don’t have A/C, but they make up for it in the vents that pour out an amazing volume of heated air, fresh from the engine.
On the way home I waited to catch a newer taxi (this one an 06 Hyundai). I saw the windows rolled up and the shiny paint and knew that this was going to be a good ride home. However, even though it was a new car with A/C, the driver was determined to make the trip without using the air conditioning or rolling down the windows.
An old friend of ours who has passed into the nethers lived abroad for over 40 years in Central Eurasia; she told us “I was wet for 4 decades”. That has hit home for us. It’s either the “wet” during the shower, or the perspiration that hits once the faucet is turned off. In either case…there is no water shortage here.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Trekking Stambol

Istanbul Traffic

Istanbul is a big city. While the official census places its population near 10 million people, the unofficial (but realistic) population hovers between 15-22 million due to the ebb and flow of refugees and immigrants. It is by far the largest city we have ever lived in...and...that is saying something after basing out of Los Angeles for awhile.

Our arrival here, almost 4 months ago, got off to an overwhelming start when it took us 4 hours to travel the 15 miles from the airport to our apartment. Moving across this city can be daunting for even the savviest of metrotrekkers. Which makes today’s column so incredibly spellbinding and intriguing.

Take our two young wanderers (Stanley and Elle) and picture them sleeping in due to several weeks of late night remodeling and cleaning at their, soon to be, new apartment. We had allowed them to slumber late while we left early to meet the plumber and electrician across the city.

Once they woke up, they called and wanted us to pick them up so they could join the work crew. With workers here, and in the middle of wet paint, concrete, and without water, we told them it would be a while.

The bravado of youth blossomed in Stanley, emptying out my change jar, he and Elle headed out to find their way to the other side (yes, they first called and checked with us). Conversing in their limited Turkish, they hailed a taxi, explained where they wanted to go, and arrived at our location some time later.

Stambol's Trademark Taxis

When they pulled into our sitesi, Ann dashed out to pay the driver only to find Stanley counting out hundreds of small Turkish coins and filling the driver’s hand with the equivalent of nickels and dimes. Stanley looked at his mother and said “Already took care of it”, and walked towards our building. The taxi driver was laughing, and as Ann gave him a generous tip, he called out to Stanley “see you soon” in Turkish.

The truth of the matter is that this driver did not know us or our kids, but we later found out that as the kids approached the stand where you “hail” the taxis, several other drivers who knew us, had told him to take care of our kids, and exactly how to find our new apartment.

It was quite an adventure for these two in a culture where the woman is not readily acknowledged, Elle could not have played any role other than to advise Stanley quietly. For her it was a bit unnerving, for Stanley, arriving in his own taxi, riding in the front seat, sunglasses donned, arm out the window, and being in charge of a bulging pocket of booty and his own geographical was a day to remember.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Sometime ago I read the story of a young guy, in the early 1950's, who boarded a ship in New York bound for India. He had less than $3.00 in his pockets. His journey took him to Alexandria, Egypt where he hopped another boat to Beirut. From there he headed overland, through Lebanon, Syria, Persia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan before finally coming to rest near Delhi, India. I had the privilege of spending a week with his daughter and family some time ago. He is long gone now, but his adventures live on in my heart.

Locked Out in Istanbul
While there is no overland journey to capture your imaginations this day...I can tell you the riveting and ironical story of a young family living on the Far Side of the World who is broke and out of cash...Us. Well, we are not really "broke"...we have money...we just can't get to it. Here we go:
About a month ago we were notified that one of our stateside banking establishments was issuing new Visa debit cards. That card is our only link to cash while we are living abroad. In fact, this little piece of plastic is so important that we opened two bank accounts at two different banks, so that we could have two cards, and therefore, two ways to access funds in case of snafus or snags.
Since I am an optimistic pessimist (one who smiles while planning)...I sensed trouble ahead. I withdrew several thousand Lira from our account, and with the help of local friends, stashed it close at hand. There is an old Islamic proverb that applies here: "Trust Allah, but tie up your camel". So, I began to tie up the loose ends.
Even if there was a delay in the issuance of the new cards, I had enough to see us through the week of the Visa card transition and then an extra two weeks. With all of the repairs we are making on our new apartment I knew we would need the cash for labor and parts.
It is now going on week "4" with no new ATM cards in sight, the old cards were punctually deactivated by Visa, before the new ones were mailed out, and, word is that our new cards are still not in residence in our local stateside bank. So, now we have a problem…money…but no way to get to it. is the beneficial side of advance planning: Our second banking establishment now became very significant in our plans. We have a portion of our income (my pension from California) routed to that establishment each month to further eliminate any financial failings.
With my last 50 Lira in my pocket (about $28.00) I approached the ATM in downtown Istanbul to make my withdrawal from bank Number Two….imagine my surprise to discover that I had no access to those funds either. They simply were not there, Kaput, Kabash, Kaboom.

Is There Money In There?

It seems that the funds had not been deposited because there was some suspicion that I was dead…really. Since we are not easily reached by mail, and since a piece of mail (although they cannot tell me what the mailing was about) might have been returned to the sending organization. They cut off my disbursement because they thought, that possibly, I had passed into the nethers...and someone was taking advantage of my pension funds.
After two hours of international calling (thank you Mr. Bell) some VERY sympathetic people in Springfield, Missouri and San Diego, California…(namely, Stephanie, Gina, Cheri, Shirley, Dave, and Heather) we should have limited access to some cash within the next few days. And access to all of our funds within the next week. For now…we are dead in the water with the remodel, hiding (not really...well, yeah, sorta) from the guy who is making the shower doors and due to hang them this week, counting the change under the cushions, and eating rice and soup.
You know me and my “bottom line”.
Bottom Line? It may not be a Transatlantic journey with a few bucks in our pocket, or an overland adventure through lands fraught with danger….but we are loving it, living here in Istanbul, temporarily tapped, sublimely satisfied, and perpetually perplexed.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Smoke Pumpers

Last night we heard a noise that we couldn't sounded like the "almost empty glass with a straw gurgle” that we tell our kids not to make...but on a huge scale. It was so loud that we had to yell to talk to each other.
We leaned out our windows trying to get a look, when we spotted a tiny little truck with a large nozzle on the top, pumping out a thick white smoke that obscured everything in its wake.

15 Minutes After the Zapper Passed

It passed just a few feet from our windows and the smoke rolled up to our glass, turned and headed up and down the outside wall. It was like being inside the clouds. It turned out to be the mosquito zapper truck saturating the village with some mix of toxins that are probably not allowed at home. We haven't seen a skeeter since!

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

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