Thursday, December 20, 2007

Turkiye Ozluyorum

I miss Turkey. It has been a year since we have taken vacation and it has been amazingly refreshing to be away from the cell, internet and language issues…and yet, we miss our Istanbullu family and neighbors.
We have talked with them several times via sat-phone this last week and yesterday a group of neighbors got together to chat with the phone being passed from one to another until we got to touch base with everyone. It is nice to know that while vacation and getaways are important…the really is that there is no place like home.
Here are some windows into our week in Wales. Our days have been spent wandering the Welsh highlands and valleys, reading in our cottage and eating our way thru (I’m sure) several schools of the Irish Sea’s cod population. I am upsizing in the physical…and decompressing the cerebral.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Men in Skirts at Christmas

Family history comes with obligations...with the blood of Queen Mary and James I coursing through our veins we figured it was time for Stanley and I to have our Kilts freshened up and keep the family happy. While some of you might smirk at this ancient tradition and its "breezy" takes guts for a guy to wear a skirt and pretend he isn't.
The Stuff of Guts and Breezes

Tomorrow we will be on our way to the UK for our ancestral alterations and the holidays. This is our (now) traditional trip to this little village. We are looking forward to the solitude and the lack of cell phones, Internet and doorbells. Staying in the same fisherman's cottage for the 3rd year in a row the guide book describes our destination as "suicidally desolate" in winter. Just what we are hoping for.
We will update when we can and will be back online in early January. For now, from our family to yours....We Wish You A Merry Christmas from this side of the world to your side.

Steward Red Tartan

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Layers of History

Road Cut Geology

A long time ago I studied Geology at SDSU, for a time, I even thought that it could become my life's work. My professor was an older woman named Ann Terry and she had the ability to take a lump of rock and make it come alive, she will always remain in my memory as a teacher who opened my eyes and awareness to a whole new world. She instilled in me a passion and love for Geologic Science. I stayed with it just long enough to learn what I wanted before moving off to another "passion of the moment". Still...Professor Terry's love for how the earth has been shaped, eroded, transported, deposited and reformed over the course of time left a lasting impact on me and I find myself watching and analyzing the geographical landscape wherever we wander.
So far I have been able to refrain from passing on to you my under-educated (but nonetheless amazingly insightful) analysis of the world's geological features as we have traveled...until now.
Some months back we were skirting along Turkey's Black Sea coast when we came across this incredible road-cut and geologic feature.
Black Sea Strata

Limestone and Conglomerate

If you realize that all these "layers" had to be laid down flat in the ocean, as in a river or series of rivers moving a certain type of sand, rock or sediment over a period of time out to sea and depositing them in fairly uniform thickness..these pictures show an amazing history of upheaval and deposit repeated over and over again until tectonic, volcanic or some over catastrophic event raised these layers from the bottom of the sea to form the tops of the mountains.
The egg-heads could explain this more succinctly than I have...but to stand just a few days later in the foothills of Mount Ararat where history tells us a tremendous flood changed the landscape of the world and saved a generation or two of folks to continue our species, made me realize once again how fortunate we have been to Live, Travel and Wander of the Far Side of the World and stand in a place where history was made.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Zip, Zilch, Nada

Wow! has been a crazy couple of weeks and frankly I got nothing to give. Let's just pretend I wrote something amazingly witty and insightful today.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Outpost Woes

Last Look from the Outpost

We were surprised this week to learn that we had no other option than to close down the Outpost in eastern Turkey. Soaring rent and heating costs coupled with the dollar's slide and the landlord's desire for us to spend even more time in the unit were contributors.
We have some gear and equipment still inside but the cost of traveling out and back to retrieve it make it a wash. Fortunately the kids didn't leave anything of value to them the last time we passed thru. With our contract up in two weeks we really didn't have much seems there were plenty of folks who were willing to pay the increased rent.
Vacation is just a little over two weeks away and I am wishing it was here now. We are heading west for December and are looking forward to our (now) traditional Christmas in the UK.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Threads Sahure

Living an unorthodox life can sometimes label you as a cowboy, hippie, gypsy, wanderer, bum, adventurer, non-conformist etc.. There is no shortage of titles people can lay at your feet, some good, some not so good....some deserved, most of them misunderstood. I can't rationally explain why we have fallen into this life of Living on the Far Side of the World, but I can offer you this; it is all about relationships.
Those relationships are now going to have their own forum at; Threads is a new column that will be published as whimsy dictates. It will introduce you to the people we meet along the Silk Road and (we hope) eventually weave a picture that will bring you a new appreciation for the culture, people and traditions of High Asia.
Bayan Sahure

Sahure is the mother of Reyhan (Ann's best friend). Widowed she now lives between two homes in Istanbul, her own home in Umraniye and Reyhan's home one door away from ours in Kazasker. She has been living with Reyhan for the last few months and has become a dear part of our family.
Over the past year we have shared countless meals and hundreds of cups of çay with her and have grown to love her...she treats us like we were her own grandchildren...and to my advantage, cooks for me constantly. Even though she has slowed down considerably she takes the time to make special Turkish dishes for me each week and spends the rest of her time crocheting delicate lace tablecloths and traditional head scarves.
Sahure's Lace

Last week Ann found her at the kitchen table making borek and dolma (two of my favorites). A few hours later she sent down a plate of a dozen finger size dolma, (grape leaves stuffed with rice, nuts and spices all rolled up tightly) followed by another plate of sweets.
While I love her food it is her kindness and gentleness that have won us over, always happy and cheerful and never complaining...she is a point of light in Istanbul.
Reyhan and her mother, Sahure

A month ago Sahure was spending the evening with us in our apartment. When the call to prayer rang out from the local Mosque...she limped down our hallway, took our prayer rug and laid it on our bedroom floor and knelt down to pray. Watching this woman who had been born under the fading shadow of the Ottoman Empire kneel on the floor of my home, open her hands to heaven, and pray to Allah brought me full circle...Life is amazing when you Live, Travel and Wander on the Far Side of the World.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cold Snap

Cold Mongers and Fish

Istanbullus have been bundling up and trying to stay warm this last week. With the turn to winter approaching our skies have been dark and stormy. It has been so cold that the fish merchants across the street aren't icing the fish during the day.
Its hard to imagine that this last summer's record scorcher was a reality. For now we are warm, dry and enjoying the change.
Heading for Cover

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Thirsty Cows

Drinking Fountain with Cup

Just a few steps outside our door at the Outpost is this drinking fountain on the sidewalk. Fountains like this are found not only in Dogubeyazit but all thru Turkey with many similar to this one in Istanbul.
A common cup is normally attached by a chain or string. Often the cups will be made of hammered brass and some of them look to be decades old. We have used these fountains many times and it is not uncommon to wait for the people in front to finish drinking and hand you a full cup of water.

Some months ago I stopped at a roadside fountain where the water was flowing continuously...not able to find the cup I was just about to scoop the water up to drink it when I noticed a small engraving that mentioned the word "cow" in Turkish.
Bottom line? Don't drink from livestock trough.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Gas Pains


We are hearing the reports on the news that gas prices are going thru the roof at home. Just to make you feel better we wanted you you to see the cost of doing business with a vehicle in Asia Minor.
With the dollar at historic lows against the Turkish Lira and 3.7 litres to the gallon...these fuel prices are per litre and give us the shivers.
Bottom Line?
  • Diesel $8.01 a gallon
  • Regular $9.82 a gallon

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fuzzy Views

Most of you have figured out by now that I am about as bright as a sack full of hammers but lately I have wondered if even that might be a bit too generous of a descriptor. I have been hard at work the last month and a half at language school and while I am able to handle all of our daily life in this culture and navigate our crew from one end of the country to the other without a problem...easy, natural conversation is still far out of my grasp. This process of language acquisition has given me great respect for those in the States who have worked hard to learn the basics of English...and a real disdain for the linguistically gifted.
Language study, this fall's heavy travel, and now the flu that has cycled through Elle, Stanley and myself and back to Elle again (running a fever at 104 today)...has fried our collective brains and caused us to urge the calendar forward to December and our annual vacation, just 7 weeks away.
For the rest of this year we might seem fuzzy and out of focus...but hope is in sight.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Last One Standing

Two weeks ago Elle got sick and that started a wave that floored her and then Stanley before finally hitting me a few days ago. The kids are bouncing back slowly, I am still not convinced I am going to live... and Ann, who has weathered this so far, is the last one standing.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sleeping with the Stars

The ancient proverb says that "it is better to live on the corner of a roof than inside the house with a quarrelsome woman" (or something to that effect). Every time I see these rooftop bedrooms in eastern Turkey...I figure that those kinda digs aren't such a bad deal. These airy boudoirs have always appealed to us... cool, inviting and with incredible starry views.
Packed Away for the Day

Throughout southeastern Turkey these rooftop bedrooms are more popular than not...these pics were taken in towns near the Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish border confluence a few weeks ago. Every morning the women fold up the bedding, pack it away, and hose the terrace down readying it for another night topside.
Entire households move outside once the sun sets, fire pots are set up to grill the evening's meal, beds are laid out on the bed frames and pillows, cushions and mats are spread around. Everyone stays up well past midnight talking, drinking tea, looking at the stars and enjoying a break from the daytime heat. All in all it has become one of our favorite Turkish cultural delights. While some people are Dancing with the Stars...our Crew is sleeping with them.
Tidying Up the Terrace

Starry Bedrooms of Cizre

Village Rooftop Bed Garnished Sun Drying Peppers

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Heat Is On

Fall is In
The fact that winter is heading our way was confirmed by an unwelcome phone call today informing us that the "heat was on" and that our portion of the community heating bill was jumping several hundred dollars a month, over last year.
Most Turkish apartment blocks are on a radiator heating system where all residents pay an equal portion of the cost whether they use the heat or not (which most of them do).
Last winter we had the radiators turned off in our flat but the heat rising off the supply pipes that run from the units below us to the floors above kept us so warm would could have grown orchids. This year our windows are wide open and we are breaking out the Freezy Pops and Big Sticks.
Heating Stoves For Sale Across the Street

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Geographical Stretch

Turkish Flags in Istanbul Honoring the Dead

We are being stretched between the geographical extremes of our life this week. From the devastating terrorist attacks here in Turkey to the massive wildfires ravaging our Southern California roots we are doing our best to keep up to speed on all the changes that are taking place.
Yesterday waves of demonstrations swept across Istanbul and the nation as Turks expressed their outrage and grief at the relentless attacks in the southeast. Today Turkey buried the 12 soldiers that were killed this week in State funerals sharing those headlines with the fires from SoCal in the local and internet press.
Headlines From Fox News*

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Our Truck in Yuksekova

This posting about our swing through the town of Yuksekova in southeastern Asia Minor was set to go this morning when we got word that another terrorist attack had hit Turkey...this time targeting a Turk Military unit based in Yuksekova, 12 Turk soldiers have been murdered and many more hurt in this latest attack. About an hour ago a wedding party rolled over a landmine planted by terrorists along a village road over which we traveled last month, those casulties are still being counted. With several of our Istanbullu friends the parents of Turkish soldiers and many having family in the southeast, the air in Istanbul is heavy today.
Waiting to be Cleared to Travel Near Yuksekova

We arrived in Yuksekova late in the evening one day last month after a long drive from Dogubeyazit. After checking in at the local hotel we headed out to eat and settled in on the rooftop terrace of an open cafe. They were about to close but offered our dirty and tired crew a "sampler plate"...which is code for "whatever was leftover" from the day's grill.
The platter arrived and was heaped with an incredible variety of chicken, lamb and kebaps grilled over a wood fire. Hot bread, grilled peppers, and plates of shaved onions and parsley followed and we dug in like we hadn't eaten all day. It was some of the finest Turkish cuisine we have ever eaten.
The owner of the cafe took an interest in Stanley and over the next few days they became close friends...Stanley would run back and forth from the hotel to his new friend and we ended up taking most of our meals at the cafe.
Stanley and His Buddy

One particular evening we were eating on the terrace when Stanley got cold...he left the cafe, ran across the busy street and into the hotel to get his jacket. The waiters, cooks, owner, and hotel staff all noticed and formed a "visual relay" each of them taking ownership of a portion of the route he was taking and passing him off to the next person to make sure he made it there and back without incident.
While Yuksekova sits in a geographically, politically, and historically hazardous location and (probably) has no chance of making the cut in this year's edition of "1000 Places To See Before You Die"...for our crew it was and remains a delightful highlight and a favorite destination.
And for Stanley? The kindness of a few Turks have made it an amazingly powerful and endearing memory to a little boy.
Raw Wool For Sale in Yuksekova

Village Home on the Outskirts

Friday, October 19, 2007

Original Fruit

Wild Pomegranates in the Kara Deniz Range

Pomegranates have a deep rooted history in Middle Eastern culture...native to Persia they have become my new and favorite fruit. They have been cultivated for over 3000 years in Middle East and are said to have been a favorite of Muhammad (pbuh) himself and were incorporated, by order of Allah, into the architecture and design of both the structure and vestments of the Tabernacle built by Moses and the Temple of Solomon. Some have even said it was the pomegranate and not the apple that was the original desire of Eve's snackish propensities.
There are reams of info on the web about the healing and beneficial properties found in the fruit of this bushy plant. Even King Tut was buried with pomegranates to ensure his future fertility in the afterlife. The words "Garnet, Grenadine and Grenades" are all purportedly derived from the shape, color, structure, or taste of the pomegranate.
The best way to break into one? Ann immerses the fruit in water before cracking them open...the water keeps the splatter contained, the rind and membrane float to the top and the seeds sink to the bottom.
For me...I am just glad they are back in season and we can look forward to glasses of fresh squeezed juice, thick pomegranite syrup mixed with balsamic vinegar on our salads, and the fresh plump seeds garnishing everything from yogurt to desserts. If you're in the neighborhood drop by tomorrow evening...chicken simmered in pomegranate syrup and walnuts will be on the docket.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Çig Köfte

Murat's Homemade Çig Köfte

Our neighbor Murat brought us down some homemade Çig Köfte (chig kohftay) last night. It is one of Stanley's favorite Turkish dishes and is made by taking raw ground beef and mixing it with onions, super hot peppers and is then kneaded for hours by hand to reach the right consistency and texture. The guys who make Çig Köfte for a living spend their days up to their elbows in raw meat, pureeing it by hand. To spot a Çig Köfte maker...look for the guy with forearms and biceps like Popeye's.
It is served raw and at room temperature and will light you up. Wrap it in lettuce and soak it in lemon juice for one of the coolest eats you will find in Istanbul.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No Other Place on Earth

The Park Out My Window

Twenty-two years ago we lived in a small secluded cabin in the mountains of Southern California overlooking a little blue lake surrounded by pines. To most, the little one bedroom cottage would have been suitable only for seasonal use...but to this day it remains as one of our fondest recollections and our all time favorite home. At Lake Cuyamaca each year the air would take on a distinct "quality" once fall arrived...and there would be a crispness and clarity to the air that signaled the onset of winter and our favorite season.
That same quality has come upon us quickly here in Istanbul these last few days. The nights have turned cold, the air is clear, folks are bundling up and the trees seem to be caught by surprise. I don't have a lake view out my window, but with Istanbul just a step away...there is no place on earth we would rather be.
Colors Poking Through

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Switching Gears

Şeker Bayram is coming to a close within a few hours...which means that the American Holiday Season must be around the corner. I know it sounds crazy and I realize that Stateside many of you moan when the commercialzed side of Christmas rolls out early. But living here taught us last year that the kids needed a longer Holiday Season since the Christmas season is not something we see in Asia Minor.
That little bit of news got out yesterday and the neighbors came asking when we were going to decorate for Christmas...then before we could answer they asked if they could decorate with us and could we "please make it today" so they could help? It all boiled down to the fact that we will be decorating this year even earlier than we had planned.
We heard that some of them were heading to the stores to buy "birthday supplies", (we have no idea what that means)...but sometime within the next few hours we are going to have a houseful of Muslim Turks taking over to decorate our house for Christmas and going out of their way to make a family from the West feel at home on the Far Side of the World. Kinda cool huh?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Wheel of Fortune

My Buddy Levent's Place
Now that Ramazan has ended our caloric intake has skyrocketed. People are laying out spreads that are amazing and making up for this last month's fasting. During Şeker Bayram you are expected to host all your friends and neighbors who are younger than you and in turn you must visit friends and neighbors who are older. It is like a culinary "Wheel of Fortune".
This morning our neighbors and friends started visiting early and later we ducked out quickly and into our older neighbor's homes to greet them and eat desserts. In the space of 4 hours we had eaten 4 separate meals...this will go on for the next 3 days and then life will wallow back to normal. I had kinda hoped to lose a few pounds over Ramazan but things look pretty bleak right now. I hope someone appreciates the sacrifice I am forced to make for the sake of cultural acclimation.
Ann with the Grandmothers

The "Big Boss" Gulten with Husband Metin

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Şeker Bayram and the Honeybees

In just about an hour Ramazan will come to an end and the 3 day holiday of Şeker Bayram (Sugar Holiday) will kick off. Traditionally the young visit the old, kiss their hands and touch their hand to their forehead and the older folks give the younger folks candy. All the stops are pulled out and desserts, tea, khave and special treats will be spread out in living rooms throughout Islamic Asia. It is a delightful few days of visiting and being visited.
Big Mama-Boss upstairs (Gulten)has been cooking until 3am the last few days and sampling her treats is first on my list. I was able to talk my way into Gulten's kitchen last night and take a few bites on a test drive before she shooed me away.

Rounding up the Strays

With so many sweet shops in Istanbul most Turkish women will buy their Baklava pre-made...Being the difficult guy I am, the holiday wouldn't be right without Ann's homemade Baklava. Today while she was cooking the honey for the topping we entertained hundreds of honeybees who must have been drawn to the scent of the honey. They flew in through the kitchen window at first, but when we closed it they found their way in thru the kid's bedroom windows...within minutes we had more than we could count buzzing thru the air down our hallway enroute to the kitchen. An hour's work later they had been rounded up with a spoonful of warm honey and sent on their way.
Bee Lasso

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

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