Sounds of Easter Morning

Christians in the world are celebrating Easter today, (except Greek Orthodox which is 5th of May), but those are not the sounds in my neighborhood this morning.  All of our windows are open; the temperature is 68F/20C now at 11:15 daylight savings time.  Since we just changed the clocks, and Istanbul is a late city anyway…it is calm outside…not yet kalabalık (crowded), which it will soon become in Moda as people flock to the shore and the outdoor restaurants for kahvaltı (breakfast).


Historic peninsula in the background.

In the still quiet I hear the Moda Tramvay creaking on its rails. It stops 2 blocks away, and in the right conditions, like now, I can hear its bell clang and doors screech as they grind open.  On the street below is the occasional motorbike, and seagulls guffaw hysterically and crows comment in their raspy caw.

A Roma walks along playing a heartrending lyrical tune on his accordion, with his son along to collect alms.  I wonder if people throw coins out their windows.

A sign in the doorway of the building he is in front of warns off vendors and yabancılar (foreigners)...him/us?

A sign in the doorway of the building he is in front of warns off vendors and yabancılar (foreigners)…him/us?

We hear a loudspeaker and a flatbed truck turns down the street loaded with flat white cloth bags.  It looks like they are selling potting soil, but my six weeks of Turkish lessons fail me, so it’s just a guess.

No one is moving quickly this morning.

No one is moving quickly this morning.

In the ferry lane, the IDO between Kadıköy and Bostancı growls by.   It is a fast, powerful catamaran with a booming horn sounding a deep throated warning.  Louder though, are little fishing boats and skiffs, bobbing like bathtub toys in the wake of the ferry.  We hear them long before they come into view close to shore, the sounds of their staccato pistons piercing the smooth bass rumble of the ferry’s motors.

Here they all are, in one shot!

Here they all are, in one shot!

Off, a couple of blocks away are street dogs vocally defining their turf – Lucy heeds their warnings when we are out walking.  A junkman pushes his cart calling Eskiiiiiiciiiii   for the things we might want to pitch out – Spring cleaning made convenient.

Very efficient recycling system, the hurdacı (junkman)

Very efficient recycling system, the hurdacı (junkman)

Walking Lucy this morning, I stopped at the grocer and the bakery.  It is so peaceful early in the morning, with just enough people out to feel like a town.  What a luxury it is to have no breakfast food in the house, and gather those things simply by changing our daily walking route.  I was wearing a heavy cotton shirt and cords, with a wool shawl, and I was too warm.  It is T-shirt weather now, the warmest it has been since we arrived in December.  Spring, a time of rebirth, is here.  Getting out of heavy winter garb feels like its own rebirth.

Bostancı ferry pulling into  Kadıköy harbor, with Europe in background.

Bostancı ferry pulling into Kadıköy harbor, with Europe in background. The ferry’s mast points out the Istanbul Modern Museum. People strolling the rıhtım (quay) in the park, lower right.

A sound inside is big flies buzzing, and Lucy snapping at them…we need to buy screens for the windows, and have inquired at a small neighborhood shop…but our lack of Turkish makes it a challenge to get these things done efficiently.  The shopkeeper took Jim’s number, but Jim was unclear what he would do with it.  We hope he calls and comes to take measurements, and then makes us screens.  We can’t let our fingers do the walking and arrange things by phone because we can’t have comprehensible conversations.  We do not yet have a house cleaner, because we have to find one who will tolerate Lucy – who fears the vacuum cleaner and voices her anxiety–and we don’t know where to start on that, without Turkish.  Our Türk friends live on the European side, so they don’t have references for us.  Plus all of our Turkish classes and homework cuts into our time to track these essential local services down.

Çay (tea) and ezan (call to prayer) to write by...

Çay (tea) and ezan (call to prayer) to write by…

I love this İstanbul spring morning!

Entry in the Diary

I’ve set myself up here, because you’ve told me I must include photos.  My daily life has gotten too busy to be out with my camera much, heck to even BE out.  Mondays, like today, are filled with Turkish homework and then preparation and delivery as a facilitator in a 2-hour online Soliya session (

It is now 7:30pm, and I have more homework but decided to scroll Facebook while I ate dinner.  A fellow blogger is saying it for me today!

Here, a yabancı whose name and gender I don’t know is recounting a street story – they are so often available to all of us, when we are out and walking slowly –walking slowly in itself is the subject of a post as yet unwritten.

Slowly enough, that is, to follow the music.

Although I live here, I am yearning to visit Istanbul…A friend and I have our first hammam (public bath) date on Thursday.  You’ll hear all about it, eventually. I am mindfully documenting eating establishments and experiences…our first visitors arrive soon.

As you know, I watch ferries traveling from my window, and late last week, I’d had it!  No time to go anywhere, I hadn’t been on a ferry for over a week!  If I hadn’t found a friend to travel with me to Istiklal Caddesi just for çay, I would have simply taken a round trip ferry ride by myself!

It isn’t exactly all work and no play, we’ve entertained at home.  We hosted a birthday party for a French friend, organized by a German friend, both from Turkish class, and their Turkish girlfriend, and wife and baby, respectively.  I got up early Saturday morning and added a bakkal (small grocery, although this one’s on steroids) and a couple of bakery stops to Lucy’s walk. We fired up the çay samovar, I cooked Turkish scrambled eggs, called menemen, and ate pastırma (Turkish “bacon” made of dried, cured beef) for the first time.

The birthday boy brought börek from a good bakery.  This version of börek resembled lasagna stuffed with cheese and herbs and wrapped in a phyllo crust, without the sauce, but laden with butter. Börek is ubiquitous and comes in many variations.  It is also sort of like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead…when she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.  Jim first encountered such a horrid börek, he thinks he doesn’t like it, even after eating a good one. Arne and his wife baked a succulent chocolate birthday cake, so after our rich Turkish breakfast, we sang Happy Birthday in English and served it.

Enjoy the post I have linked to.  There is a Syrian angle to the story.  Not surprisingly, there are many Syrians in Turkey, each with a heartrending report.

İlkbahar is coming!

Or, as we might say in the US…Spring has sprung!  Which isn’t exactly true…things are beginning to spring, more in some places than others…


It’s been a very mild winter.  The second and last snow was January 7.  I know that date because I had my residence visa appointment that night, and wanted to keep it, a worry that diminished my joy of the snow day.  January 7 seems so long ago.

Two of three little neighbors...they speak German, English and Turkish.

Two of three little neighbors…they speak German, English and Turkish.

In February we left home every hafta içi (weekday) morning for Turkish class.  There was rain, and some days were raw–high 30’s-low 40’s, but reports from this winter in California sound similar.  Before we got to Turkey I had the idea the winters were like New York, but the ground doesn’t freeze here, and it is only slightly colder than Northern California.

We had a new kapıcı, plus helper, for a few days...

Our temporary kapıcı (doorman), plus helper, for a few days…

I remember that Magnolia trees on the campus at San José State would begin blooming in late January. At home our Chinese Plum tree usually was in full bloom by February 22.  Our tenants confirmed its normal behavior this year.

Jim getting ready to enter our gate, taken from our window above.

Jim getting ready to enter our gate, taken from our window above.

Here in Istanbul I began noticing changes at the beginning of March.  Flower shops had flats and pots out on the sidewalks, and people were stopping and buying.

Then I saw this:

A couple of weeks ago it was still cold, but getting colorful

A couple of weeks ago it was still cold, but getting colorful

Then these…

So bright.

So bright.


Like everywhere else I’ve lived, the first warm weekend of the year brings everyone out.  This past Sunday looked like this:

Jim and Lucy at the back of the promenade.

Jim and Lucy promenade.

Everybody is out sunning…

How many nappers do you see?  Five.

How many nappers do you see?   Five cats lazing in the warmth.  A first hand view of parking challenges in Moda, as well.  We are gladly sans-car.

Lucy is doing the same thing here she did in California…

This spot is why we chose Moda to live...our sea dog in her realm.

This spot is why we chose Moda as our residence…our sea dog in her realm.

Istanbullular (people who live in Istanbul) are outside in winter more than New Yorkers or San Franciscans.  One California/Istanbul friend said Türks sit outside in winter because they like to smoke…maybe, but I was struck when I visited at really how much life here is lived outside.  There are outdoor heaters everywhere in constant use in the winter, day and night. And, there is the charming tradition of the “house pashmina”, color keyed to the restaurant’s decor.

Istanbul at play…

It's hard to see, but the people standing are shooting air guns at the string of balloons.

It’s hard to see, but the people standing are shooting air guns at the string of balloons.


Relaxing in the sun…

T shirts!

T shirts!  Don’t you just relax looking at them?

We fell into step with a guy and his girlfriend…they’d been shooting the balloons.  Though Western, we don’t look like tourists…I had a camera, but nothing else with me, and Lucy was with us. Turks frequently ask if we live here, and seem surprised that we do, which has led to many fun conversations.  Our new friend told us about Turk WebTV…I found a sitcom I’m now going to watch every week as a barometer to how much Turkish I can understand.  I got none of it this week…I wonder how long it will take until I can understand it?  The couple lives in Beyoğlu near Taksim Square, but say they come over to the Kadiköy seaside every weekend.  Maybe we’ll connect up for brunch one day.

Sundays, regardless of the weather, are also football days.  There are 3 Istanbul soccer teams: Beşiktaş, Galatasaray, and Fenerbahçe.   Fenerbahçe’s stadium was on our walking route, and fans had been fueling up — Efes beer, mostly — all afternoon for the game that evening.  Here they are in the park in front of the stadium…

Fenerbahç in their regalia.

Fenerbahçe .fans in their regalia. I think the smoke in the background is BBQ.

Ours is a quiet street and building  but if there is noise, it is on Sunday nights.  If people entertain within our building, it is then.  The waterfront park across the street attracts inebriated fans singing their fight songs.  I am happy that the season won’t go all summer, it ends in May.

Local color.

Local color.

There are a couple of drawbacks to it getting warmer here.  First, the belongings we shipped are still not here, and we originally expected them mid-January.  We were tracking the ship we were told it was on, but last week that boat made its last call in Turkey at the port of Nemrut north of Izmir in the Aegean Sea.  Then it headed to New York, and is now in the North Atlantic.  Our freight forwarder said, “no your boat isn’t headed to New York”, but our stuff will be delayed a couple more days. My annoyance with being “stuffified” at home has been replaced by a longing for my books and artist tools.   I also want the art pieces we packed, and our pots/pans and kitchen knives. It’s been like this for the last 6 weeks, I’m not even asking about it anymore.

Flowering trees, new this week.

Flowering trees, new this week.

Instead I’m shopping!  I packed winter things, and not one piece of warmer weather clothing, in my suitcase.  It got warmer all of a sudden, and our classroom at Tömer is hot, the air conditioning isn’t on yet. In the city, if we are out, we are walking all day, so shoes and purses get a workout.  For Turkish-made purses and shoes, Istanbul is a candy store.

The other drawback is that as the trees fill in, we will lose our view.

These will leaf out...soon.  There's been a lot of branch trimming in the park, we hope they'll do this tree too.

These will leaf out…soon. There’s been a lot of branch trimming in the park, we hope they’ll do this tree too. All those little intermediate branches could go…

Happy sunning…or dreaming of it, depending on where you are..It is supposed to get cold here again in a few days…but “they” keep revising that coldness forecast upwards.

Joyous İlkbahar!

Swimming in Molasses

To write a kompozisyon, even in Turkish, can be utterly absorbing.  We wrote several mini-essays in Temel (basic) 1 Turkish language class. Once graded, we öğrenciler (students) compared how many red correction marks, and the direction of the emoticon’s mouth our instructor, Elif, had drawn on our papers.  Poor Jim got quite a few sad faces. 😦  I got a lot of question marks; Elif didn’t understand what I was trying to say.


I  stayed away from Google Translate, which is useful to get a quick general understanding of a word or sentence in another language, but causes Turkish öğretmenler (teachers) to roll their eyes.  Even when I chose the first entry in the paper dictionary, however, it often wasn’t a word Elif recognized.  Maybe she has a small Turkish vocabulary?  🙂


In one kompozisyon, I attempted to complain about being assigned to write it during one of the four breaks we get during four hours of class.  I called her a taskmaster – but she didn’t recognize the word.  I explained to her later that it wasn’t a BAD thing, just a TRUE thing.  I’m hypoglycemic, I need my food fixes or function miserably.  That particular break was the time I liked to order tost— a ubiquitous Turkish grilled cheese sandwich– from the kafeterya.

We are decompressing after our first 80 hours (in 4 weeks) of lessons, not yet sure what we learned.  Ankara University’s Tömer yabancı (foreigner) language school is supposedly the gold standard of Turkish lessons.  Foreign students wanting to apply to Turkish universities value the Tömer certificate.  It may not have been the best choice for us, although our Turkish teacher in San Francisco recommended it.  The Tömer program lays in a strong foundation in grammar, and its graduates will ultimately be very literate.  We, however, can’t verbally communicate much more than on day 1.

I did learn the word dayı.  The name of the boat our stuff is on, the Mustafa Dayı V– still slowly churning its way to Istanbul 16 weeks after we handed over our boxes–refers to Mustafa’s maternal uncle…or maybe Mustafa IS the maternal uncle…and does the shipping company have five uncles or five boats named Mustafa Dayı?  (The boat hasn’t been sailing for 16 weeks, but we’ve been waiting for our stuff since we’ve been here and still have at least 2 weeks to go, aargh).


See how it is?  Turkish can be elegantly efficient.  For example, ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’ are all “O”.  This is why Türks speaking English will often confuse genders.  (Heck, so does Jim when he is talking about our pets in English.  For him all dogs are ‘he’ and all cats are ‘she’, irrespective of the individual animal’s gender. We’ve had a male cat but never a male dog).

All Elif has to say to one of us struggling to answer a question during ödev kontrol (checking homework) is “ödev var mı?”  (is there homework?).  The var mı? question is particularly streamlined.  If you want cheese in a grocery all you have to say is “peynir var mı? The answer will be “yok” (there isn’t) or “var” (there is) and it will be handed to you, or you will be lead to it.  Easy peasy. 

On the other hand, Turkish can be appropriately Byzantine.  Here’s how it goes.  There is one way to refer to the time of day nowSaat kac?, and another way, Saat kacta? to refer to what time an activity will start.  There is no AM/PM, you absorb that in context, but where in English it is 10:40, Türks have to subtract 20 from the next hour, so it is 11 minus 20.  Maybe it makes Türks better at math than we are?  While we don’t need to learn genders in Turkish, we do have to learn different words for younger and older siblings, maternal and paternal relatives etc.  Verbs are nuanced too.  There is one verb for “playing” ball and another for “playing” an instrument.

Evmorfili, the Greek class member created this diagram for the times.  Parts of it are "Greek to me". :-)

Evmorfili, the Greek class member created this diagram to learn talking about time. Parts of it are “Greek to me” — see the red, yellow and blue headings.

Lurking in my memory as the longest English word is Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Wikipedia shows it as the 4th longest word, coined in 1964 (movie Mary Poppins), with 34 letters.  We did not learn the longest Turkish word in Temel 1, but it is easy to see the potential for sentence-long words.  Sort of like Turkish home cooking – fabulous stews that are never served alone, but are complete meals themselves.

Evmorfili cleaned up her diagram!  I still prefer the first one...I know where to find what I need on it!  This one is Classical though!

Evmorfili cleaned up her diagram! I still prefer the first one…I know where to find what I need on it! This one is Classical though, isn’t it?

Turkish words grow by suffixes.  For example, I can say, “Ben anlıyorum”, which means, “I understand”.   To turn something negative or into a question adds one or more suffixes.  Ben anlamıyorum.  (I don’t understand).  Ben anlıyormuyum?  (I understand?).  Ben anlamıyormuyum?  (I don’t understand?).

This is only a single tense and a single vowel harmony form. Vowel harmony is an interesting concept.  It is what makes the Turkish language sound like it does.  When I was here in 2010, I was asked if Turkish sounded like Arabic. At the time I answered no, to me Turkish sounded like a mix between Japanese and Eastern European languages, not that I’ve heard much of either of those.  I found it syncopated, lyrical, and complexly layered.  ( )

Simdiki Zaman, "current time", present continuing tense, in case you wanted to know.  This was ödev assignment.  I actually know this.

Simdiki Zaman, “current time”, present continuing tense, if you want to know. This was ödev assignment. I  think I actually learned this.

Vowel harmony changes the suffixes of verbs depending on the word’s spelling.  Also, to keep the lyrical cadence, nouns next to each other get modified.  For example, A sport salon (gym) becomes spor salonu. The kebap salon becomes kebap salonu.   With the city ferries, those wonderful white lumbering boats of varying vintages that ply the Marmara and Bosphorus loaded with commuters, Şehir (city) Hatlar (lines) becomes Şehir Hatları, ending it on the upbeat.

Turkish QWERTY keyboard.  An additional wrinkle.

Turkish QWERTY keyboard. An additional wrinkle.

When I questioned things we hadn’t yet learned after noticing them in my homework, Elif replied “yeni (new) gramer (grammar)”.  One class we were learning how to talk about before and after (önce / sonra). Suffixes are added to a noun before the words önce or sonra.  Verbs, however, require different suffixes for önce vs sonra. I asked when grammar would cease to be yeni, meaning by when would we learn all the rules?  Elif said, “Temel 12”.

So, this is what the last month has been like.  Should you want to know, the longest Turkish word, according to various Internet sources is 70 letters long. It is Muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine and means: As though you are from those whom we may not be able to easily make into a maker of unsuccessful ones.  The saying makes sense in Turkish. Google “longest word in Turkish” and you’ll find the genesis of the word.

Görüsürüz. (See you.)

Disclaimer to this and all posts where I talk about language or culture:  What I write might be wrong.