What Will Sell Today?

DSC_1398adjsm I love Istanbul more each day.  Not every minute of course, but it is a comfortable, normal sort of place to live, and yet it is SO different!  Many times it feels like an earlier time in America.  The goods at the Sunday antique flea market conveys that.  I felt similarly visiting novelist Orhan Pamuk’s collection of obsessive effects in the Museum of Innocence (both a book, and a place in Istanbul), where he cataloged the 1970s Istanbul life of his lover.  That assemblage evoked in me the 1950s in the US  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Museum_of_Innocence.


I wish I had inquired about the globe on the left…but I sure don’t need more stuff.

This morning we met to “walk” with friends and cameras through the Feriköy Antika Pazarı.  It was a foggy, chilly day and when we finally reconvened for çay we needed its warmth.


Naturally, there are many things one would rarely, if ever, see in a US flea market!

Hamam slippers.

Hamam slippers.

Cascading tespih (prayer beads).

Cascading tespih (prayer beads).

Jim and I have joined the Istanbul Photography Club, a multi-national group of mostly expats.  We are also taking photo seminars, and tons of photos.  (I’ve yet to pick up a paint brush here…because painting takes chunks of quiet time, which I haven’t found).  I want, actually need, to paint, so must manage how much time I spend with the camera…it is seductive, but yet another thing which will keep me in front of the computer and away from the canvas.

The never empty tea pot...glasses will fill the tray to his left and will be delivered to the cold and weary sellers.

The never empty tea pot…glasses will fill the trays to his left and will be delivered to the cold and weary sellers.

No matter where one is in Istanbul, fresh food and drink is at hand.  Çayçılar (tea makers/runners) are ubiquitous, pouring and delivering to shopkeepers and vendors continuously.  This market also had two gözleme makers, rolling out yufka-like dough to make the Turkish version of crepes (using dough, not batter) filled with meat and vegetables.

I love gözleme...but we saved ourselves for lunch today, and didn't indulge.

I love gözleme…but we saved ourselves for lunch today, and didn’t indulge.

This market appropriates a weekday parking lot…surrounded by a gentrifying neighborhood of huge residential high rises.  Many of the sellers tables sit under a dark and, this morning, damp concrete structure. DSC_1362smAs usual, my forward motion was slowed by the inquiries and kindnesses of the people…AND my very slow, halting Turkish.  Always “where are you from”, and I’m happy to say, “Kadıköy’de, or Moda’da”, then I tell them I came here a year ago from US, or California.  Then we always get into a “conversation”, where I nod enthusiastically, apologize for my zayıf Türkçe (weak Turkish) and do my best to understand– “yavaş, tekrar” (slowly, again) and reply somewhat relevantly.  My 3D puzzle that is learning the Turkish language is still stuck on 1D.
DSC_1404shpnsm I didn’t succumb to impulse purchases, but there were many cool old things I hadn’t seen in a long time.  Over our çay we shared our treasures.  Linda bought a fabric print block which she expected would be more than she was willing to pay, and Nancy bought some children’s books. “For me!” she said, when I asked if they were for her grand-kids. That was a great idea, and I rushed over to buy some myself, paying 2 ½ TL ($1.25) for five, while having an engaging conversation in “Turklish” about making ceramic sculpture.  Now I have to learn to read those little books.



What a place! DSC_1370shpnsmDSC_1377shpnsmI can see myself going back periodically just for the color and pattern of it all.  Some of the sellers do a wonderful job of displaying their wares…and it is fun to revel in the nostalgia of the things.

If an ad follows this sentence…it is because I’m using the free version of WordPress.  Feel free to ignore it!  🙂

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.

Other blog posts you may enjoy:


Cultural Immersion Confusion

This weekend, we didn’t swim or tread water very elegantly, but we didn’t sink, either!  And we are ready for more.

We have been lamenting our lack of basic Turkish conversational ability after 12 intense weeks of studying Turkish.  We have been so dedicated and focused, that when our friends get here next week and later in May, I can’t wait to become a tourist in Istanbul.  We have studied at Tömer, a branch of Ankara University.  We’ve been well versed in grammar, in such detail that we have learned esoteric ways of writing Turkish for newspapers, but we haven’t gotten to future tense yet.

In our last two classes, we will be tested, and we know we will fail.  We contemplated bailing on the test, but have decided it won’t hurt us to cram for it, just for fun.

We must be forced to speak the language to Türks, without the option to speak English.  Our Turkish friends converse with us in English.  This weekend, however, we had to do our best to speak Turkish.  It began with our arrival home on Thursday evening.  Our landlady was in her car in the front of the building and in Turkish invited us for kahve or çay.  She said she would contact her daughter, who was the prior occupant of our apartment, as well.  I wasn’t clear where we would meet.  I asked nerede? (where) a couple of times (nerede?, and nereye?, and neresi all mean where, and I honestly don’t know how to use them), and was still not sure, so I said “Bizim Ev?”  (our home).  She said “evet” (yes).  Fine, we set it for Pazar (Sunday) at birde (1 pm).  I wasn’t clear if it was in our apartment or hers, and I wasn’t exactly sure which apartment in the building she lives in.

Friday night we had expat friends to dinner. They have lived in Turkey for many years and speak Turkish.  I asked them what sort of plans they thought I had made with Neriman.  My understanding was our landlady had invited herself to our home, but I didn’t believe it, thinking it odd.  Linda confirmed that Neriman meant it to be at her own apartment, and that we should take a small sweet.  We could ask the kapıcı (doorman) which was Neriman’s unit.

For Saturday night we were invited to the home of a class friend’s Turkish mother-in-law for dinner.  Arne, who’s German from Munich, and his Turkish wife speak German and English.  Arne is struggling with Turkish as we are, and Semin (his wife) and her mother Hikmet agreed that what we have learned isn’t what we need first.  Hikmet speaks very good English, way much better than our Turkish, but we still need a decent level of Turkish to be able to converse well with her.  So, our language chops, such as they are(not), were exercised last night.

Hikmet is a very interesting woman, who has traveled.  She is outgoing, with a career and life full of stories.  We got the gist, but would have loved to understand better.  One unfortunate tale, she was in New York City last year with a Turkish friend,  at a subway stop near Wall Street waiting with heavy luggage to go to the airport.  The train was delayed and by the time it finally came, the station was full.  When the doors opened, her friend boarded ahead of her and a young African American woman behind started screaming at Hikmet that she was rich and shouldn’t be using the subway.  She was pushing Hikmet’s big suitcase and yelling in her face.  No one in the car reacted.  Eventually Hikmet entered the car, and the train moved to the next station, the woman yelling at Hikmet until she exited there.  After that, the predominately white passengers were solicitous and helpful to Hikmet, but no one intervened during the incident.  Hikmet tested an interpretation on us…”have black people in the US now become aggressive because they have been emboldened by a black president?”  Given the profile of passengers and the stop where she was waiting, we felt Hikmet was the victim of a crazy woman, and we hated to hear the story.

This morning, we had a couple of hours before we had to head upstairs for kahve/çay. I prevailed upon Jim to go out in the rain and find a small box of candy.  It being Sunday, I wasn’t sure what he’d find, but our favorite little gift place, Ҫikolata Dükkan (Chocolate Shop) a couple of blocks away was open, and so we felt properly prepared to visit our landlady.

The little shop is as cute as the package.

The little shop is as cute as the package.

We have an L-shaped salon, with an area for TV viewing, the dining table, and then another sitting alcove.   For entertaining we use the alcove area which has a great sea view.  I wanted to test if switching the furniture between the seating areas would serve our usage better, so we moved it all around, distressing Lucy and Rita in the process.  (Since  the chaos of moving out of our California home, the necessary vet visits, the plane flight and the month in Cihangir before settling here, they get nervous at the slightest hint of change.)

The Marmara Sea at night. The big sehpa (coffee table) holds a lot of meze for appetizers.

The Marmara Sea at night. The big sehpa (coffee table) holds a lot of meze for appetizers.

I had just gone to change clothes to walk upstairs, when the doorbell rang at 12:50.  Oops.  I opened the door and there stood our landlords all dressed up with a gift in hand.  I clearly didn’t look ready, and I said “Merhaba. On dakika.”  (Hi, ten minutes).  They gave us 20 minutes which was enough time to change clothes, set up the samovar for çay and arrange the cake we had bought for Friday night dinner when I didn’t remember if I’d asked our friends to bring dessert, which they did.

This servant offers hot çay all afternoon

This servant offers hot çay all afternoon

Neriman and her husband Selatin don’t speak much English. Their English proficiency might be less than our Turkish.  So we bumbled along, and here is what we learned, accuracy unknown:  Lucy barks all the time if we are not home, and it’s been worse in March and April than January and February.  So we determined that we must leave all of the windows closed when we leave her in the house.  We don’t want to get evicted from this place we love.  (Lucy probably is making sure we go back to California).

We learned that their granddaughter, Lara, who goes to school at University of Virginia is graduating this summer and she and her mother Figen, are going to tour America.  Then the whole family is going to Bodrum on the Mediterranean coast for a wedding of a family member here in the building.  I found the words to ask if Neriman has a new dress.  Yes.  Later in June they will go to their summer home down the coast where they will garden and fish.  I asked if the building would be boş (empty).  No, just a few folks leave.  We’ll be here holding the fort too.

Lucy and Jim now share the little sofa in front of the TV.

Lucy and Jim now share the little sofa in front of the TV.

Having to fly solo, without any translator, is the best practice we can have.  We don’t think we got an “A” in hospitality.  For one thing, there was that awkwardness at the door.  Then they wanted filtre kahve ,which they called American coffee.   I didn’t ask how they preferred it, although I did understand that she wanted süt (milk) and şekirsiz (no sugar). I did consider what to brew, and since Türk kahvesi is strong, I decided that’s how they would want it.   In hindsight, I remembered that our tutor orders filtre kahve weak, and, I think, with milk.  I learned how to ask what I would like, but not what she orders for herself.  What I offered Neriman was what I like: kahve sert olsun çok az süt olsun (Dark coffee with a little milk). They did not want tea, and I’d made enough for the four of us for a couple of hours of non-stop drinking – which the samovar facilitates (tea IS what we do in Turkey after all!).  Neriman commented on the strength of the tea I was drinking, calling it kırmızı (red). In the ensuing conversation I ascertained that she likes weak coffee and tea.

We learned that there are Americans living on the top floor.  The wife is Mexican (which is the Americas) and doesn’t speak English.  We aren’t certain if the man does – but we decided to leave a note in their box.  We are here a lot, and we’ve never seen them.

I also learned that I need to ask many more questions about tea and coffee preferences.  The samovar takes care of that if people pour their own – the pot on top is very strong, and one adds water to the glass to taste, sometimes 10:1 water:tea, I read somewhere.  On Saturday night we learned that dropping by unannounced is very Turkish.  When we were meeting to rent our apartment, Neriman would offer us çay or Türk kahvesi. She’d phone her maid who would bring down fresh beverages and wonderful little nibbles. Clearly she had them on hand.  I know her standards.  We didn’t meet them.

I hope we get another chance with Neriman and Selatin.  Maybe we won’t because we are just tenants; or because we are such horrible hosts, clearly not worth wasting time on.  The cake was not fresh, it didn’t taste good. The coffee was too strong…

Having to swim under our own power in the language arena was great practice, and I hope we can do it with them again.  They brought us a lovely housewarming gift, and we have a box of chocolates to eat. Also, we tested the new furniture arrangement much sooner than we expected to…it works well. Afiyet Olsun.