Ҫay May

Tea was offered after touring the black tea processing plant.

Tea was offered after touring the black tea processing plant.

In daily Turkish, if you are traveling and want to refer to your luggage and all that goes with a trip plus bags, you say “bagaje m-agaje” (bah-gahj–mah-gahj).  Sort of like simplified pig Latin, you repeat the word replacing the first letter with “m”.  So Ҫay may (“chai, my”) means tea and all that accompanies it.

 25% the Turkish population works in agriculture.

25% of the Turkish population works in agriculture.

This view epitomizes the Rize coast, with the mosque on the hillside. A Turkish friend says she won’t go there, because the modern construction has destroyed the area for her.

Linda was sorry she told me this.  Nancy and I traveled with Linda to Rize.  In the boon year of 2008 Turkey produced nearly as much tea as China, and more than India.  Usually it ranks fifth. Tea is grown in the Rize area on the Black Sea, about 50 miles from the Georgian border.  The eight-year-old in me chanted “dondurma, mondurma” (ice cream), “”pastane, mastane (pastry), and so on. We were all hungry and Linda and Nancy rolled their eyes at my age-inappropriate silliness.  Thrilled to learn something other than my pathetic schoolbook Turkish, I have to use it or lose it, right?

The tea is on...everywhere...Here in a waterfront tea house.

The tea is on…everywhere…Here in a waterfront nargile (hookah) house.


Turks drink more tea than Brits per capita (at least in 2004), and it is ubiquitous in everyday life.  Linda was charged with photographing  çay-may  for a book on tea in Turkey written by Pelin Aylangan  http://www.teainturkey.com/ . Nancy and I tagged along with our cameras.

Rize is a small conservative city...oriented to the Black Sea.

Rize is a small conservative city…oriented to the Black Sea.

Just about closing time at an indoor vegetable market in Rize.  Unfortunately, the corn in Turkey isn't sweet like it is in California.

Just about closing time at an indoor vegetable market in Rize. Unfortunately, the corn in Turkey isn’t sweet like it is in California.

We flew to Trabzon and took the bus to the town of Rize, the capital of Rize province.  Year-around, the area gets the most precipitation of any place in Turkey and in Western Asia.  It is yemyeşil (very green). There is little other industry in Rize, and çay-may dominates. In town, steep verdant growing fields meet the sea, processing plants line the shore road, wholesale and retail shops abound as do tea houses where men sip the hours away.

These tea houses are for men.  They are happy to have us yabancılar (foreigners)  sit with them for a bit.

Men patronize these tea houses. They are happy to have us yabancılar (foreigners) sit with them for a bit.

Stakebed trucks, with tea leaves escaping their canvas covers, share the road. I winced as I noticed leaves fluttering away, after seeing all it took to get them in the truck. Up the hills in the growing areas, freshly cut tea leaves are bundled in big colorful tarps and tossed in pickups or pushed on carts to storehouses by men and women, tea-pickers take lunch by the side of the road, the slopes are dotted with bunches of pickers and their collection tarps. The smell of tea, either freshly cut or being fermented in the factories mixes with sea air.

After a day of picking she waits for her leaves to be weighed.

After a day of picking she waits for her leaves to be weighed.

Anneanne (Grandmother), watching us chat up her grandaughter.

Anneanne (Grandmother), watching us chat up her grandaughter.

Pelin had arranged for a Lipton representative to take us to the plantations.  Halit, our guide, is a local with a degree in forest management.  He told us the Rize area is semi tropical, hot wet summers and some winter snow, so typical tea pests are not resident and pesticides are unnecessary.  He cheerfully obliged Linda’s requests, driving us around, securing approval for photo taking from pickers in the field, hosting a lovely lunch at a fish restaurant on Fırtına Deresi (“storm creek”), and finally taking us to an outcropping on the sea shared with a modest fish restaurant.  While we were there the couple whose wedding he was attending later that evening showed up for photos.

She seemed to enjoy her work, even though it was hot.  This field was on flat ground.

She seemed to enjoy her work, even though it was hot. This field was on flat ground.

We got the lowdown on çay research and production the next day. We visited the General Directorate of Tea Foundation, and watched both black and green teas being processed.  Black tea is processed from leaf to bag in about 11-14 hours. All of the fields are privately owned.  There are some migrant workers, but often it is family members who do all of the cultivation and harvest.  The average farm is 10 donums which is about 2 ½ acres.

Many of the pickers are women.  This family's fields were on a slope.

Many of the pickers are women. This family’s fields were on a slope.

The çay plant is a dense shrub, and fields are closely planted.  Pickers stand in narrow furrows and use shears to chop the new growth three seasons a year.  Only the upper half of a picker is visible.  Pickers use shears attached to a collection bag, which they empty into tarps laying across the top of the plants.

The tool.  Tea in other parts of the world are usually hand picked.

The tool. Tea in other parts of the world is usually hand picked.

It is hard work, especially on steep inclines and in the humid heat of the summer, but I was struck at relative ease of growing tea versus coffee.  In Turkey, these family farms can earn a solid living for the owners.   The plants have economic lives of 50 years. Other than three seasonal prunings, they require little upkeep. Ҫay farmers contract with the tea processors, similarly to how residential and small vineyards contract with wine producers in the California wine country.

Wedding photos on the Black Sea.

Wedding photos on the Black Sea.

By comparison, coffee – the specialty coffees most of us drink – is also produced on small farms, but those producers struggle to survive.  In El Salvador, where Jim and I visited fairly-traded coffee plantations in 2006, we saw the relatively greater difficulties of picking the beans, and profitably navigating the predatory middlemen in transporting, roasting and getting it to market. Without fair trade agreements, those farmers often cannot grow at a profit, and lose their farms.  Frequently their villages are without running water and electricity, needing the boost of the fairly traded income to add even the basics to their lives.  We watched coffee pickers lug their heavy bags on their backs up the narrow tracks in the hills to be weighed.

The "river" of tea leaves, beginning its journey through the processing plant.

The “river” of tea leaves, beginning its journey through the processing plant.

The end of the journey through the factory...tea as we use it.

The end of the journey through the factory…tea as we use it.

I found her in the leaf collection depot.  I don't know if she was harvesting, but she was beautiful.

I found her in the leaf collection depot. I don’t know if worked the harvest, but she was beautiful.

Some of the Rize area çay fields on steep slopes have teleferikler (funiculars) to haul the tied tarps of picked leaves up to the street where they are loaded onto wagons or trucks to go to the weighing station.  It looks like the çay industry in Turkey generally provides a comfortable, modern existence to the farmers.  At times the growing fields surround the farm homes, with families simply stepping outside to harvest their crop.  Farms are close to modern cities and towns and crop collection depots are near the fields.

From the lowest fields down the hill, the funicular brings the picked leaves up to the road.

From the lowest fields down the hill, the funicular brings the picked leaves up to the road. It felt like summer, but this photo shows the autumn that is around the corner.

Most Turkish çay is consumed in Turkey.  It is drunk sade (black, actually red),  or with sugar.  Turks do not add milk. Since the focus of our trip was to photograph çay-may, we were offered and drank many glasses a day.  I reached a saturation point around lunchtime of the second day, when I switched to Türk kahvesi…accepting, though, every glass of çay offered me in hospitality.  Each tea glass photographed becomes a portrait of the person who offered it.

We were wandering through a deserted but still open vegetable market, and offered tea, of course.

We were wandering through a deserted but still open vegetable market, and offered tea, of course.

Depending on the vista, the Rize area reminded me variously of the Mediterranean coast of Italy, Vermont hills with minarets in place of church steeples, the Truckee River in Lake Tahoe along Highway 89, Upper Lake on Clear Lake in northern California, and scruffy ski towns in summer.

The area around Rize reminded me of the Ligurian coast of Italy.

The area around Rize reminded me of the Ligurian coast of Italy.

Jim and I have become regular tea drinkers here.  The ritual of being offered and drinking tea is a part of the daily rhythm.  It is ubiquitous in the workplace.  Ҫay-runners bring glasses on trays from central kitchens in the bazaars and through the streets to shopkeepers.  When shooting, Linda stops for frequent tea breaks, and naturally in meetings and after being guided in the factories, tea breaks were de rigueur.


This creek in the Kaçkar Dağları (Kaçkar Mountains) reminded me of the Truckee River in the California Sierra. We had lunch on a terrace overlooking it and rafters riding the rapids below.

When brewed properly, Turkish tea is smooth, fresh and fragrant, not harsh, bitter nor astringent. Its color is reddish brown.  Turks use a çaydanlik to brew tea for a few people.  It works the same way a samovar does for a larger group of people. Tea leaves go in the top pot with hot water, which sits on a hot water reservoir below.  The tea is very strong, and one pours an amount in the glass and then fills with hot water to achieve the desired strength.

She's very proud of her boy in his sünnet finery.

She’s very proud of her boy in his sünnet finery.

A Turkish friend asked me how I liked Turkish tea, did I prefer more exotic varieties from elsewhere?  Turkish tea is cut, not hand-picked,  which bruises the leaves.  Tea connoisseurs feel that hurts the flavor. But, because of the friendly hospitality each glass brings, I love the Turkish tea the best.

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A quick look at Facebook this morning has me expecting to find the rainbow ruled against the law, any day now.

From Kartal to Kiziltoprak an outbreak of colored stairs occurred this weekend, in response to municipal erasure of such a spot in Beyoğlu.

Before and After

Before and After.  To me this doesn’t look like the same set of stairs.  I read in the news that the belediye (municipality) grayed out a colorful staircase, and it may different angles of the same place.

I have borrowed these photos from online.  They show the cat and mouse game being played by the government and those who disagree with it.  Very quickly, every iteration of protest becomes illegal in an overnight law.   So, the 9 pm pot and pan symphonies have stilled, with neighbors urged to report on each other.

Kiziltoprak Tren Istasyonu (train station).

Kiziltoprak Tren Istasyonu (train station).


This one is signed by Beşiktaş Çarşi, the support club for the Beşiktaş futbol (soccer) team.  They are particularly naughty çapulçular (marauders), so named by the Man.  Their paint job is lovely, isn’t it?

1239037_601486776568677_1986022445_nI think wielding a paint brush is a great way to spend a holiday weekend.  The designs are getting more sophisticated.


1175184_634235473275167_1269524274_nankara kizilay

Ankara Kizilay

Actually, Turkey has a ways to go to match colorful staircases.  See these in Lebanon.


This looks like a staircase on Gemmayzeh Street, Beirut.



Hilly Istanbul has many staircases…imagine the potential for creativity.  I’m afraid, however, more gray paint is on order.  Here’s why:

"World Peace Day" activities.

“World Peace Day” activities.

Barış (peace) I say.


A Fly on the Wall

In this land spice traders have moved goods by ship, camel, and foot for centuries.  I simply take an easy 15 minute downhill seaside walk, turn my face to the breeze on a 20 minute ferry ride and saunter from the quay for 10 minutes into the 17th Century Mısır Çarşısı (known as Egyptian Bazaar and Spice Bazaar), where I’m transported into a modern day spice souk.  Arriving at Number 51,  Ucuzcular Baharat  (Ucuzcular Spices) I am happy to hear myself described as yabancı değil (not a stranger)…therefore, with a momentary lull in customer traffic, they quickly mop the floor.

Henna, bought for wedding henna nights, hair color,and medicinal uses.

Henna, bought for wedding henna nights, hair color,and medicinal uses.

Bilge Kadıoğlu’s heartfelt professional dream is that her customers feel eksik–an absence and wanting–without her spices.  She’s achieved that with us.  When we run out of her custom Janissary blend, we are right back on the ferry to see her.  When our dinner guests ask what we put on our lamb, we send them to #51.  I visit her shop about once a month, and each time I stock up on my staples of  nar (pomegranate) sour sauce; dried blueberries, mangoes and keten tohumu (flaxseed) for my morning oatmeal; whatever other spices we need; and a box each of Jim’s and my favorite Turkish Delight made with honey.

From this wall comes my cereal additives.  Over time, Bilge shows me new things like zereşk (L. berberis,or barberry).  I've never known this fruit, and brought it home to put in salads.

From this wall comes my cereal additives. Over time, Bilge shows me new things like zereşk ( berberis,or barberry). I didn’t think I knew this fruit, but I recognize my Persian friends have cooked with it. I brought some home.

I love to hang out in the back corner in the shop and watch the world pass through sampling spice blends.  Pressed into family service six years ago to manage the shop after her father’s death she was 25, and overwhelmed.  Spice bazaar merchants have their way of doing things…which pre-Bilge (“Beel-guh”) did not include working and competing with a Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology-educated young woman. I know what she means.  As a young ambitious female with work to do, I also needed to be taken seriously to accomplish it.  In different countries and eras, both Bilge and I were, at best, patronized, and at worst, ignored.  Bilge says suppliers would walk into the shop and not speak to her.

This cabinet is from grand opening of this shop. Bugs stay away, and spice aromas do not transfer or mingle.

This cabinet is from the shop’s grand opening. Bugs stay away, and spice aromas do not transfer or mingle.

Cash flow required Bilge to buy just-in-time inventory.  There were two benefits to this.  Ucuzcular ground all their spices fresh every week – a habit they continue.  With today’s volume, sometimes spices are ground every day.  Also, unlike the rest of the bazaar, where retailers bought on consignment, paying their suppliers once they sold the goods, Bilge paid on delivery, in cash.  That talked.  Today, they don’t look past or ignore her any longer.

Bilge, an industrial designer, didn’t dream of being a “real Spice Girl”, but when the fifth generation needed to step up, she did, all the way.  Understanding the concept of differentiation, Bilge discovered her grandfather’s recipe book of 500-year-old Ottoman recipes.  Agreeing with the Ottoman belief that all meals were a feast, and it is important to cook well, she and her mother proceeded to develop a group of traditionally inspired proprietary spice mixes.  Our Janissary favorite is one of these.  (A Janissary was a soldier in an elite Ottoman corps.)

The wall of special Ucuzcular spice blends.

The wall of special Ucuzcular spice blends. This palette is in my kitchen, I also have the fantasy of taking it into my art studio…not just the color, the actual spices.

Obviously, “proprietary” is hard to control in the Spice Market, but Bilge and her younger brother Ahmet who has joined her since he returned with his MBA from Ohio State, source carefully and Turkish. Ahmet is a good balance to Bilge and equally passionate about their mission.  You will meet him in a later post. They grow special peppers for their blends, carefully cut their spices  to preserve aroma, and use more costly ingredients than many of their neighbors.  In spite of the shop name, they aim not to be the cheapest, but offer the highest value.  As a team, Ahmet is high tech, Bilge high touch.

I like to sit in the corner and watch Bilge or Ahmet pull on a plastic glove, hand a coffee stirrer to each guest and proceed to scoop a smidgen of spice mix onto the tip for each person to taste.  Spice tastings!  Genius. Besides Janissary, they’ve got blends for salads, fish, traditional Turkish köfte (meatballs), chips (French fries), and eggs and so on.  If you feel lazy and don’t want to deal with fresh garlic, use Anatolia Spice.  If you need to “save” a dish you screwed up, add Smoke Spice–guaranteed to make a bad dish good.  Imagine your head spinning with these exotic flavors, and how to keep track of it all?  Don’t worry, you are provided a scorecard.  We keep ours in the spice cabinet, to remember why we bought each blend.

We always pull this card out when we plan a meal.

We always pull this card out when we plan a meal. Notice that Dolma Spice can be used in pumpkin pie. I’ll give it a try on Thanksgiving. I trust Bilge.

Ucuzcular means “the guys who sell cheaply” — wholesalers.  While trading as a family business goes way back, the genesis of the current store flows from Bilge and Ahmet’s grandfather, Dursun Ucuzcu and his business in Malatya, about 2/3 of the way across Turkey to the east.

In Malatya, Dursun Bey (Mr. Dursun), ran a shop equivalent to a contemporary supermarket named Ucuzcu.  Needing to communicate a move to a new location, he stepped in a bucket of blue paint and walked between the old and new stores. Bilge has her grandfather’s flair for PR, which landed her on Refika’s TV show.  Refika is a Turkish Rachel Ray with a cookbook called Refika’nin Mutfagı, Cooking New Istanbul Style (Refika’s kitchen).  Bilge said, “I feel a little bit famous now”.

The first six letters of the shop sign came from the store in Malatya. The color blue is the same as the paint their Dede (grandfather) stuck his shoes in to walk between his stores.

The first six letters of the shop sign came from the store in Malatya. The color blue is the same as the paint their Dede (grandfather) stuck his shoes in to walk between his stores.

Ucuzcular is not limited to gastronomy.  In Turkey, spices are used in the Eastern manner as health agents.  Saffron tea and rose water are good for the mood.  Bilge is certified in aromatherapy and Ucuzcular has a whole colorful wall of essential oils, which may be used to improve one’s body, home or soul. I have a recipe for homemade mosquito repellent that includes lavender oil.  Bilge and Ahmet have given many of the nontraditional oils fun names…the one I bought for my home is called Amor.  They don’t mess with the traditional names, the glass vials or the boxes they insert it them in…Türks are particular about their traditions and aren’t keen on “improvements”.

Essential oils.

Essential oils.

Getting to know people like Bilge and Ahmet is the Turkey I am most interested in.  They are smart, educated and creatively applying their talents to advance the challenging business they inherited.  I feel privileged to hide out in the corner and watch their shop hum.


PS.  To my non-native English speaking friends, the title of this post does not mean Ucuzcular is full of flies, rather,it is an American phrase which means ‘invisible observer’.

Lessons Being Learned

I have many half-written posts for this blog.  Some will eventually make it to these pages…this time, though, I’m borrowing from another blogger…

Ten Important Life Lessons You Learn From Living Abroad (http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/12-01/10-important-life-lessons-you-learn-from-living-abroad.html) got me thinking.  I love living away from my country and wish I’d done it a long time ago. Here is my experience from the perspective of Whitney Cox’s 10 important life lessons…

1.  How to get used to almost anything.  Whitney mentions cultural littering in Vietnam…also a habit here.  There is a big seaside park across the street and three stories of steps below our apartment. It is a mess of trash each evening, with the municipal workers out each morning cleaning up.  The trash pickup does employ people.  And, in fairness, there are few trash receptacles available.

Despite the scofflaws in the US, picking up after one’s dog is understood to be required. Not here.  Jim and I are religious about it, just to set the example.  Maybe because of the Olympics bid, parks are being refurbished, including numerous trash bins.  I’ve also noticed many smaller new trash cans on the streets – they come in handy when I am setting my good example. Being unable to read newspapers, I may be unaware of a scolding campaign in action.

The lesson’s point is about stretching one’s comfort zone.  It is not a stretch living in Moda, life is easy for us here. Less so for Lucy who is traumatized by the mean street dogs. We’ve also had a very mild comfortable summer weather-wise.  Moda is like a non-yuppie Carmel, California.  People stream in during the weekends and evenings to dine, saunter and slurp ice cream cones.  Lucy and I get in our 10,000+ steps in the evenings just wandering around Moda and Kadıköy.  Shops are open late, restaurants later, and the streets are full.

Gözde Şarküteri -- the name means favorite delicatessen...and it is.

Gözde Şarküteri — the name means favorite delicatessen…it is ours.

2.  How to cook.  We miss having an outdoor grill, but we’ve adapted.  This summer our go-to meal is meze…little plates of appetizers that fish restaurants (and others) present on a huge tray for you to choose from.  We’ve found our favorite “deli” in the Kadıköy Çarşısı for meze to take home. We know what we like to order… Sos Hamsı–pickled fresh anchovies in an olive oil tomato sauce, and Patlıcan Salatası–smoky, roasted mashed eggplants. We have a few other favorites, and then we are always handed forks of something new to try.  I wasn’t too keen on the chunk of cooked liver I popped in my mouth the other day.

We are of a different mind than Whitney Cox.  We aren’t trying to recreate foods we miss; we are trying to use the ingredients we have here to make foods we like.  I’ve cheerfully substituted my favorite California summer lunch of Insalata Caprese for Çoban Salatası (Shepherd’s Salad).  Çoban Salatası is ubiquitous, consisting of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet green peppers (not bell), and sometimes onions and parsley. Mine includes the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, plus fresh basil and mint from my window garden.  I’m very happy using Nar Ekşili Sos instead of balsamic vinegar, although Italian balsamic is available and in my pantry.  Nar Sos is a sweet/sour pomegranate sauce…SO good in salad dressing.

The food category zeytinyağlılar — cooked vegetables like green beans, eggplant, artichoke hearts, zucchini, in various combinations and mixed with olive oil served room temperature — is our other summer staple. There are many local places that prepare them beautifully, so we take out. We love to cook, but don’t have to here.  Our kitchen is hot in the summer too.

Our samovar and cezve.  We are prepared to serve tea to a group for hours, and make Turkish coffee.

Our samovar and cezve. We are prepared to serve tea to a group for hours, and make Turkish coffee.

3.  The importance of sharing a meal.  Yes.  Given that there are 6, maybe 12, restaurants per block, sharing meals is what we do.  I am looking forward to creating a Thanksgiving meal…it won’t taste quite the same as it does at home, and that will be the fun of it!

4.  How to ask for help.  This is one of the most humbling (in a good way) parts of living in culture where I don’t speak the language.  Turks will often see a perplexed look on our faces and step right in and help us in English.  Frequently, no English is spoken.  Jim, somehow, gets what he needs by plunging in with English, even to non-English speakers.  His stubbornness, however, has also had him bring home margarine instead of butter – literally and figuratively.

I am lucky not to have Ms. Cox’s problem of too-big feet. Turkish shoes are beautiful, and I love buying them.  Unfortunately, some of my American guests size-out.  It is hard to find larger than a Turkish 40, a US 9-10.

Our Turkish isn’t good enough to solve problems by phone, so we found our window screen guy, for example, by walking by his shop and seeing that he offered what we needed.  I’m in need of a glass table top, and watch for a cam (glass) shop in my travels.

There are really good expat networks here, especially for women.  I’ve made friends, and can pose questions on the listservs.

Acquiring stuff, see #6.  This kitsch belongs in Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence.  I couldn't help myself.

Acquiring stuff, see #6. This “antique” kitsch belongs in Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence.  It was a moment of weakness.  If Jim had been with me, it wouldn’t be on our shelf now.

5.  How to question the status quo.  Ms. Cox says all is culturally relative.  True.  Some of what we’ve had to get used to is delightful.  Like, why do all of the waiters DISAPPEAR when it is time to bring the check?  If you’re an American in a hurry it can be annoying…but I always found being pressured by an establishment trying to turn tables way more unpleasant.  Here, one can nurse a glass of çay all night if they want to. There are too many goodies on the menus to stop at çay.

Another amazing thing…if you don’t want to just split a check…the waiter will patiently walk to each person with the overall bill and total up an individual amount.  Imagine!  I’m always cool with splitting the check, but often a large group doesn’t want to do that.

Another thing I like…kuruş means cents…little change.  If the total is 10.12 TL, the shop doesn’t collect the 12 kuruş.  For 51.25 TL, the shop may not collect the 1.25, especially if they know you.  If the total is 9.93TL, they keep the 7 kuruş.  I remember noticing in New York when the bill was $x.98 and a restaurant automatically rounded up on my credit card.  It seemed sneaky to me, and it never went the other way.

There are the it’ll-be-funny-later humiliations…we visited a new friend in a lovely apartment with a large marble foyer.  She met us at the door, casually but fashionably dressed from head to toe.  It wasn’t until I crossed that foyer ¾ of the way through our visit that I realized Jim and I HADN’T TAKEN OFF OUR SHOES!  It dawned on me when I saw shoes of other guests (we had arrived first), and a basket of little blue shoe baggies sitting near the door.  Aargh.  I apologized profusely, and I hope we get invited back.  Our hostess’ shoes matched her outfit, and were indoor-only shoes.  This city is very dirty and dusty…I’m sure the homes stay cleaner leaving street shoes at the door.

A problem with taking off shoes is wearing the slippers you are offered. That night, rectifying my faux pas, I stepped out of my cute little beaded sandals into big black chunky mules.  The look was a “Glamour Don’t”.

It’s also humorous…our Turkish guests know we don’t remove our shoes…so when they come we tell them they can if they want but don’t have to.  One of them laughed and said she wasn’t prepared to, because she knew she wouldn’t have to…holes in socks maybe, or maintaining the integrity of her outfit? Or maybe they think our floors are so dirty they don’t want their feet on them?  I laugh.

There is  a laundry list of un-good things; particularly done by the cuckoo leaders which prompts questioning the status quo as well. I automatically compare what I see (but maybe don’t understand) to practices in my country.

Standing back and taking the long view of the US is illuminating.  I think what I see here wouldn’t occur in the US until I see a crazy example, like the Californian who may receive a JAIL sentence for vandalizing the sidewalk in front of B of A in protest…with chalk!?

6.  How to have fun anywhere.  Istanbul is a capital of fun.  However, Cox’s point is when no longer on vacation, we have to look for fun in a new place…because being unmoored from our home culture and friends; it often doesn’t come to us.  Jim and I stayed busy studying 3 months of intensive Turkish and setting up our home.  We had to shop a lot.  We worked at making friends, but were distracted by our to-do lists.  Then we had about 8 weeks of non-stop US visitors.  Then Ramazan and summer arrived and people, including some of our new friends, left Istanbul.  Our apartment building is very quiet – ½ of the families have gone to their summer homes.  So here we are, on our own, finding new things to do.  It is pretty easy and fun, and we look forward to when people return to town.

The results of our "nesting" adds up to stuff, unfortunately.

The results of our “nesting” adds up to stuff, unfortunately. The ornament on the top of this lamp represents a stylized Ottoman lale (tulip).

7.  How to throw stuff away.  Uh oh.  See #6 above.  We didn’t do a good job of tossing things in California…except into storage.  Our 8 initial suitcases and stuff we shipped wasn’t enough.  Furniture, dishes, lamps, and rugs from the Caucasus and Çanakkale…We love indigenous ceramics from Palestine, from Iznik in Seljuk and Çanakkale styles. We have Suzanis from Uzbekistan, pillow covers from Palestine — we have done it again! Turkish homes we see of people our age tend to have formal European style furnishings.  Our younger friends like more unadorned neutrals, or IKEA contemporary. We love the faux Ottoman inspired colorful lights and inlaid tables.  I’m dismayed at how American-ly acquisitive I am.  Now I have a house AND an apartment of stuff!  Help me.

Stuff: rugs (this one from Çanakkale), ceramics, and those colored mosaic lights found in the tourist shops in the bazaars…yabancı (outsider) decor. The big coffee table is our landlord’s. Tape on the sofa is protection from Rita, see #8.

I’m not thinking about leaving, but do like the author’s idea of giving things away as “something to remember me by”.

8.  How to talk to strangers.  This is the most fun of being an expat.  And, I’m counting on a lack of understanding of cultural references in my blog, so if I am being watched for comments critical of you know who, here and on Facebook, it will be lost in translation. (sounds paranoid, but locals are being jailed for what they write on social media)  Turks often act like we are a novelty — Americans living in Kadıköy– and love to engage with us, and we feel the same.  While all may not be understood, that both sides leave smiling is enough for us.

Our kedi (cat) got out, and the kapıcı (doorman) rang our apartment one night asking if the gray cat that flew out the main building door was ours.  Rita is outrageously shy and spent 24 hours hiding outside.  We found her 3 buildings away crouched behind a prickly hedge, only because she answered Jim’s call.  The day we were looking for her I saw Doḡan on the street and said “kedi yok” (no kitty).  Today I saw Doḡan and updated him, “kedi var, kedi mutlu” (we have the cat, the cat is happy).  He laughed and called the good news in to his wife.  It is the little things.

An original rooster pitcher by Adil Can Nursan of Iznik, based on Seljuk designs. I want to return and buy the hen pitcher.

9.  How to handle peer pressure. Cox talks about becoming aware of what you really feel/believe by being able to compare your home values to what the norms are here. Subversive behavior amuses me sometimes, and I find dumb rules annoying. I assume (erroneously?) here that if Turks aren’t following our laws, those laws don’t exist, and while maybe they should, it feels freeing that they don’t.

Like litter laws, see #1 above.  And traffic. Istanbul traffic signs are mere suggestions.  Jim has driven once here, I haven’t yet.  He was stressed at the inattention, the phoning/texting while driving, the lane creeping, etc, etc.  The street in front of our apartment is marked one-way, but Lucy was clipped (gently, thankfully) by a car going the wrong way. Turkey has high accident rates. I think non-texting laws here are needed and should be enforced.

I loved the pan banging at 9pm at night as political protest.  It has stopped. Laws can be put into effect within 24 hours here. Laws were written making it illegal.  People have been fined $5,000 for doing it.  Surreal, no?

New wide, easy to walk on sidewalks.  The side the man is walking was all angled parking before.

New wide, easy to walk on sidewalks. The side the man is walking was all angled parking before.

Recently the belediye (municipality) dug up what looked like perfectly good streets and replaced them, widening sidewalks and removing parking spaces as they went.  Cars are kept off the walks by 2 foot high barriers spaced 5 feet apart.  I joked that the bureaucrat who ordered this project must own the parking garages (he might).  Parking is a big problem, so a number of those stanchions have been removed and temporarily screwed into place to SAVE a parking spot (on the sidewalk) until later.  Many have been backed into and broken – they are made of a composite which breaks.  The new sidewalks are really nice, smooth and I trip a lot less. The stanchions look pretty ratty already.


10.  How to empathize. “Living abroad puts you on the outside looking in.”  I recently realized that this is my first experience of being a minority.  I’m privileged, but I don’t know the boundaries of my rights.  I watch the violent repression as the paranoid current party scorches the earth trying to double down its power.  As a white educated affluent person in my own culture, although of ‘lesser’ gender, I was not marginalized.  I don’t feel marginalized here either in the day to day…unless I’m reading the inflammatory statements made by politicians about foreigners.  It may be as a foreigner I will be treated better than a Türk…not sure.  Certainly, as someone over 40 (++), I am treated better than I would be in the US.  Here, I am offered a seat on all public transportation.  I’ve come to count on it   🙂

Another Adil Can Bey design.  His atölye (workshop) in Iznik is a place of wonder.

Another Adil Can Bey design. His atölye (workshop) in Iznik is a place of wonder.

We chose Moda to live in through research, not luck.  We have learned of additional benefits, however.  It is the center of the opposition party’s supporters, very secular, and there haven’t been any TOMA (water cannons) or brutality at the protests here.  That is a relief, even though we aren’t protesting.  Here in Moda, during the long days of Ramazan, restaurants continued to serve food, people who weren’t fasting were enjoying their meals in public…it is comfortable.  I wouldn’t have minded experiencing the challenges of a broadly fasting society, it is part of why we live in a foreign place…and I’m getting a workout  just trying to speak Turkish!

My relationship with Turkey and Istanbul was like the romance where early on you are thinking maybe this can be forever.  There were many unanswered questions, and I wasn’t sure how I could cope without my friends of 30 years from Northern California…but it was enticing.  While we were in the police state of Israel in May, I felt separated from and was yearning for the beauty and freedoms of Istanbul.  I was happy that for the first time I could leave a place in the Middle East for home and still shop in an “Oriental” souk.

And then, the object of my affection, Turkey, showed a different, deeply disturbing side. The place didn’t, but the government did.  Just two weeks after I joyfully returned home, I was reminded of the type of discomfort I felt in Israel. Turkey might yet be forever, but my disappointment has been sobering.  It doesn’t change my appreciation for the experience, nor my enjoyment of the place (too much), but the extra dollop of blind honeymoon excitement is finished.

Another sunset on the Marmara Sea.

Another sunset on the Marmara Sea.

I still love what I love:  the cultures that are mashed together over the eons, the people, and their music, and their food, and their art. It is one of the beautiful places on earth.  It has the best weather I have ever lived in.  I am depressed about the violence and misuse of power, not only here, but in the region.  I’m glad I traveled in Egypt while I could, and hope to return. I didn’t realize the extent to which the craziness was here in Turkey too, even though I had heard all about it. Time will tell how it plays out…meanwhile; I’m continuing my dondurma (ice cream) research.

Ramazan 2013

They pulled it off!  Yesterday afternoon our Turkish tutor told us that çapulcular (bums, looters) planned to create an Iftar (feast at end of daily fast at sundown) table for the first dinner of Ramazan.  She said it was planned to span from Galatasaray Lisesi (high school) to Taksim Meydan (square). The feast was organized by Anti-Capitalist Muslims, a religious group that was part of the Gezi Park protests. There is a tradition of public Iftar feasts in Istanbul.

The planned site of the Iftar.  Google has pinned a mall unpopular with the protesters, ironic given the purpose of this map.

The planned site of the Iftar. Google has pinned a mall unpopular with the protesters, ironic given the purpose of this map.

I would love to have been there and am glad it was allowed to occur.  We stay away from the protest events, because being in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting our resident visas revoked would be highly inconvenient.

The Iftar on the street.

The Iftar on the street.

Instead, we were at a lecture at American Research Institute Turkey (ARIT) http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/ARIT/IstanbulCenter.html .  Prof. Jenny White, anthropologist at Boston University, was discussing the findings in her latest book, Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks.  She put the Gezi protests, and government response into context.

I'm sure the police were invited to join...at least the TOMA- water cannon was dry.

I’m sure the police were invited to join…at least the TOMA- water cannon was dry.

Knowledge comforts.  Watching the recent events, I was aghast at the government response.  Ongoing brutal violent police action against peacefully protesting citizens, naming the protesters marauders “çapulcular”, seeming to incite civil war…all would have been career killers in the US.  But, basically, the response to challenge and protest by this party, in power since 2002, is the same as the preceding Kemalists’.  Turks understand it differently than I do.


Tables for the municipal dinner in Taksim Square. These people are there early. In the past Hurriyet News reported that big Iftar tents were set up in Gezi Park.

According to White, current tension comes from a revision of what it means to be Turkish.  Kemalist ideology and language reflect a fear of loss of racial and national unity.  Enemies outside, and within, are a threat.  Outsiders include countries that broke the Ottoman Empire; threatening insiders include non-Muslims, liberals, foreigners, Jews, homosexuals, Alevis, atheists, etc. – all those who are not linked by blood or race.


This helps explain the “us vs. them” language that we heard from the government.  One academic opinion piece said the prime minister had become a Kemalist (not literally).  White’s position is he’s reverted to “type”, based on what he learned growing up.

As we have also seen with Egypt, unfortunately, both systems lack checks and balances on power.   The ruling party consolidates its power and is majoritarian and intolerant of non conformance.  If they get ½ the vote, their half is the only one that matters.

White’s research showed Turkish society as patriarchal and the government response echoes traditional Turkish family structure, where the father is all powerful and protecting. Now, however more than ½ the Turkish population is under 30, and the state is having a hard time controlling the definition of Turkishness.  Gezi youth are the product of changes in society — they are global, playful and consumerist.  They represent themselves…but the current power structure is still playing by 20th century rules.

Jim and I have been trying to understand the unrest in the region around us.  He had uncovered research that was more fully explained by White’s lecture.  (http://geert-hofstede.com/turkey.html)

See bottom of post for explanation.  Egypt and Turkey are similar, and very different from US.

PDI=Power Distance, IDV=Individualism,  MAS=Masculinity/Femininity, UAI=Uncertainty Avoidance, LTO=Long Term Orientation.                             Egypt and Turkey are similar, and very different from US. (see study, http://geert-hofstede.com/turkey.html for more information.)

Briefly, this chart shows Turkish society as dependent and hierarchical. (PDI) Power is centralized, communication indirect, information flow selective, within both society and family structure.  (IDV) Not individualistic, people belong to in-groups who help each other in reward for loyalty. Open conflict is avoided, nepotism is common. (MAS) A society with somewhat “feminine” values, means leveling with others, consensus, and sympathy for the underdog are valued.  Leisure time is important for Turks, status is shown, but as a result of the high power score. (UAI) a desire to avoid uncertainty promotes the need for laws and rules. Social rituals help minimize anxiety and tension.  (The interactive site of the Hofstede Centre is interesting to explore.  Check out the similarities of countries you are curious about. http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html )

So, we have a ringside seat during interesting times.  I admit to buying the PR of the new modern Turkey, the rising power of the Middle East.  It sounded good. On the surface it looks like its reputation.  Some of our visiting friends expressed surprise at Istanbul, saying…”it is modern, clean”.  “Everyone is at work, it is prosperous”.  Moda is a diverse and affluent bubble.  Walking around within in our neighborhood it is easy to miss the larger picture of Istanbul.  Yet, even here çapulcular bang pots every evening at 9 pm.

She Captures It

I awoke Sunday morning to news I expected but hoped wouldn’t occur.  With a heavy heart I read various accounts of yet another Saturday night of police action against Turks assembling…in this case to lay carnations in memory of those who lost their lives in the protests of the prior weeks.

I also read one of my favorite blogs.  If you follow the link at the bottom of this post you will be rewarded with an intimate, poignant review of years of life in Istanbul and of steadfast, indefatigable ink drawings of the streets, people  — and in this case, trees — by artist Trici Venola.  Her post Gezi Park: Trees of Istanbul is her loving tribute to a place during challenging and painful times.

Benediction, 2006.  I "borrowed" this from Trici's blog to entice you to link to it at the end of this post!

Benediction, 2006. I “borrowed” this photo from Trici’s blog to entice you to link to it at the end of this post!

I saw it coming. Late Saturday afternoon, a visiting American friend and I were walking on Istiklal Caddesi  towards Taksim Square. We enjoyed the city’s central promenade and hunted for her close friend’s childhood landmarks…two Greek Orthodox churches and a high school. One church and the school are essentially in Taksim Square.

Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church on edge of Taksim Square.  There is a plan to tear down the food stands in the foreground, so the church can face a prospective new mosque in the square.

Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church on edge of Taksim Square. There is a plan to tear down the food stands in the foreground, so the church can face a prospective new mosque in the square.

The red trolley ran down the center of the boulevard,  this time pulling a flatbed with a singing Turkish pop band.  The magnificent Turkish tourism marketing machine was in high gear. After almost a month of abnormality… lower Istiklal felt normal for a Saturday afternoon.

Tourists in the crowd  I love the shadow on the blue shirt!

Tourists in the crowd. I love the shadow on the blue shirt!

As we approached Taksim, the energy abruptly changed. Clapping, chanting and shrill whistles of protest accompanied a suddenly dense crowd, many carrying large white “Taksim Solidarity” flags. The “Taksim Solidarity Platform” is a group of architects, academics, and environmentalists.  Formed to save Gezi Park from development, it presented demands to end the original protest.  I found the  streamers interesting…other than the rainbow banners of LGBT groups,  I saw no established opposition party flags, rather, all marched under Taksim Solidarity.

The weather was warm and shimmering.

The weather was warm and shimmering.

Julia asked what I thought would happen. My worry was not the crowd, but what the police would do when (not if) they began to act. Before the events of the last three weeks, I would have assumed that the tourists in the crowd would be protected. Now I sadly marvel at the force being exerted against what I understand are constitutionally legal rights of democratic assembly.


Julia and I diverted to a small street parallel to Istiklal and found the buildings we were looking for. Turning again toward Taksim Square we met an American couple who said the TOMA (water cannons) and police were there, out of our view.


I took these photos on the edge of the crowd, not willing to move deeper in. It gives a sense of the crowd’s composition.

It was thrilling and I wanted to see what was going on, but I also knew it was time to get out while we could. If the crowd turned, it would funnel into narrow streets. Living in Cihangir in December, I knew the back way to the Bosphorus ferry, so we discarded our plan to reach the metro by wading into the crowd in the square.

For many years, Trici has been documenting what disappears during the massive changes Istanbul has undergone.  In this post she presents drawings of varying vintages to share her story:

Gezi Park, Drawing Trees in Istanbul,  Trici Venola:       http://tricivenola.wordpress.com



The first protest weekend I viewed the events catapulting Istanbul into international news mostly through my computer screen. I have borrowed most of the photos here  from friends’ Facebook posts.

A creepy but beautiful shot by  Noémie Deveaux, Photographer.  31 May, on Istiklal Caddesi

An unsettling but beautiful shot by Noémie Deveaux, Photographer. 31 May.

Facebook and Twitter posts from friends in the thick of it have been my window, along with Turkish and global news sources all over the world.  We live in a quiet neighborhood with no massive gatherings, but with obvious protest I’ll describe later.

Istiklal Caddesi, 01 June, from Hugh Pope's window.

Istiklal Caddesi, 01 June, from Hugh Pope’s window.

A caveat: I don’t know the lay of the land, lack adequate context, am not Turkish, haven’t been here long, don’t speak the language (not for lack of trying), and don’t understand the nuances or the politics of the culture.  My American lens is likely inaccurate.  This isn’t my fight.  Also, I am a guest in the country and unclear on my rights of expression. I have no role in influencing politics and am free to leave.

Taksim Square Sunday 01 June, 8pm.  The police had left.

Taksim Square Sunday 01 June, 8pm. The police were called off. Gezi Park is at the center left edge.

It is an interesting time here, and I’ll try to offer a considered look at the situation.  I find these events give me perspective on my own country and its system. For me, it gives insight into plights of the other fledgling democracies in the region too.

Early hours of Sunday 01 June, 40,000+ people walked over the Boğazıcı Koprusu (Bosphorus Bridge), which does not have a pedestrian walk.

Early hours of Sunday 01 June, 40,000+ people walked over the Boğazıcı Köprüsü (Bosphorus Bridge), which does not have a pedestrian walk.

Taksim Square is one commercial center of the city, and THE political center of the city.  It is where protests traditionally are held.  It is a main touristic area as well as a destination for Istanbullular after work and on weekends.  It is also a neighborhood where many people live.

Two photos of private sailboats motoring to join the protest, 01 June.

Two photos of private boats motoring up the Marmara Sea to the Bosphorus Strait to join the protest, 01 June.

You’ve seen my earlier photos of Istiklal Caddesi, an iconic outdoor pedestrian mall, along the lines of La Rambla in Barcelona and Calle Florida in Buenos Aires.  Istanbullar flock to the meyhanes (taverns) and night life in the streets and alleyways off of it. Political rallies and parades often weave their way through weekend crowds on Istiklal Caddesi. The highest point of Istiklal connects at Taksim Square, a huge plaza and transit hub where the Metro stations, bus and dolmuş (shared taxis) lines convene.

gas antidotes.

gas antidotes.

On November 5, sections of Taksim Square were blocked off with corrugated aluminum fencing and a big development project was begun.  We arrived one month later, and immediately heard complaints about how it had destroyed local businesses, and the public had no involvement in its conception or approval.  Less than a week after we arrived, I picked my cold rainy way through the muddy chunky mess to go to a life drawing session nearby.  I got lost in Gezi Parkı that first night, which was dark but not dangerous.

Taksim Square and Gezi Park in winter, before development project.

Taksim Square/Gezi Park in winter, before development project.

Gezi Park was Lucy’s best exercise place.  She needs to run, and we had three choices. Narrow Fıstıklı Parki on the Bosphorus, a close-by church parking lot obstructed by a cranky priest, and Gezi Park. The month we lived there, we found much of Beyoğlu and Cihangir just down the hill from Taksim Square pretty unlivable because of the huge muddy construction projects gentrifying the area. If we still lived in Cihangir, we would have closed our windows to tear gas, and worried about our pets..

New Taksim Square plans from AKP website.  Offending mall is upper right.

New Taksim Square plans from AKP website. Offending mall is center right.

The small group of young activists began protesting in the park Monday two weeks ago.  By that Friday, riot police trying to disperse the reportedly peaceful group used harsh measures of tear and pepper gas, and water cannon.  For the first few days there was very little coverage of the skirmish on local mainstream news, evoking cries of media suppression by the party.  The prime minister, at a ceremony announcing a (controversial) third bridge project across the Bosphorus had dismissed the 3-day old protest by stating the park decision was made and final. Period.

The original Ottoman-era military barracks that fell into disuse and disrepair.  The mall was to replicate this structure.

The original Ottoman-era military barracks that fell into disuse and disrepair. The mall was to replicate this structure, on the site of Gezi Park.

The general complaint against the current government is of authoritarian behavior, and headlong, unrestrained, crony-enriching development (sound familiar?).    I have Islamist friends who share that complaint. Secular Turks who experience the ruling party as Islamist autocrats imposing religiously motivated lifestyle restraints are really unhappy.

Rival futbol (soccer) teams showed solidarity to the protesters by wearing each other's scarves.  Unprecedented...these guys hate each other.

Rival futbol (soccer) teams showed solidarity to the protesters by wearing each other’s scarves. Unprecedented…these guys hate each other.

The PM is very popular and powerful, and as he is timed out of office after 2015, he is working to change the constitution to a presidential system, so to run again – a la Michael Bloomberg in New York.  The protest began over trees, but has evolved to become directly critical of the prime minister, due to how he has reacted.  The president, and deputy prime minister have met with representatives of the protesters and acknowledged the need for democratic dialogue.

Old Türks expressing their disagreement with the status quo.

Citizens expressing their disagreement with the status quo.

Most of my expat friends, while riveted to the subject, skirt the protest areas, however, many people live in the Taksim area or need to travel through its hub in their daily life, and are thereby impacted.

Our neighbor got caught in the crowd on 31 May, not knowing the protest was happening...

Our neighbor, picking up his daughter, got caught in the crowd on 31 May, not knowing the protest was happening…

We had a life drawing day planned on the violent Saturday in the Harbiye flat mentioned above.  Friday night, with protesters and tear gas on her street and trapped in her apartment, my friend cancelled the event and spent her time offering lemon juice to wash out the eyes of those gassed.  I’ve learned that antidotes are vinegar, milk and lemon juice.  Ayran works well too. 🙂

Manning the gas management supplies station...vountarily.

Manning the gas management supplies station…voluntarily.

Clashes moved to Beşiktaş, because the PM’s Istanbul office is close by.   A  different friend trying to skirt a blockage on the main shore road between Kabataş and Beşiktaş, took ferries to and from Kadıköy zigzagging across the Bosphorus, where she then sought tearful refuge in the smoke of fires set by protesters also as (interestingly) tear gas antidotes.  She reported that people on top outside decks of the boat moved inside with eyes streaming…gas from a helicopter they said…!!??

Sunday morning, 01 June, protestors were back, cleaning up the place...all of the food, and gas antidotes were placed here for those who needed  them.

Sunday morning, 01 June, protesters were back, cleaning up the place…all of the food, and gas antidotes were placed here for those who needed them.

The government has characterized the protesters as hooligans, extremists, and marginals, although they look like students and citizens of all ages who care about their life in Istanbul and Turkey. I suspect there are criminals mixed in — those who seek a situation to prey on.  I’ve also seen some reports that plain-clothed police officers have roughed up protesters and caused damage.


Antidote. Noémie Deveaux Photographer, 31May.

All over Istanbul, including on our street, in our building, citizens have protested from their homes by hanging the Turkish flag, and banging pots and pans.  Called cacerolazo in the Latin world, this form of protest gathers steam because it is easy to participate. The practice began in Salvador Allende’s Chile in 1971.  Listening to a neighborhood chant, whistle, clap hands, ring bells and bang on cook pots is an amazing sound.  It sounds like entering an airport gate full of Hare Krishna. I found it charming, for a short while.  It erupted here the first Saturday and Sunday nights at the dusk call to prayer. Its acoustic nature is compelling. The first Sunday evening it took on its own life, and like a car alarm that someone is ignoring, it got tedious and sent Rita running to her most scary hidey-hole.  Over the last 10 days It has settled into a ten-fifteen minute 9 PM ritual.  One evening it was preceded by a recording of the Turkish anthem.

01 June, a hammam towel pressed into protest...Diren means "resist".

01 June, a hamam towel pressed into protest…Diren means “resist”.

An American friend who has lived in Turkey for many years said this protest reminded her of the 60’s in the US, rather than the Occupy movement.  Our Turkish friends agree that this is a watershed, but can’t tell us how.  The protest songs I learned in college are playing in my head…”pave paradise, put up a parking lot…”