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…”

Christmas Eve in Cihangir

“Muslims can say Merry Christmas!  We revere the prophet Jesus, whom we call Isa, and it is good to celebrate his birth”, said our friend Emre as we celebrated with a meal Christmas Eve in our little flat in Cihangir.

Some Turks are not used to dogs in homes.

Some Turks are not used to dogs in homes.

Pre-December 24 shopping included no time for food buying. So, Christmas Eve day, Jim and I made a return visit to the Cevahir mall, two Metro stops away. We had cleaned the flat the day before, although it needed another go over to clear out Lucy’s hair.  The vacuum is weak, and our invitation to our friends had been prefaced with, “if you are willing to hang out with Lucy and Rita”.  Being cat people, they were keen to meet Rita, and since she has always disliked our friends, I actually had misrepresented my roommate situation as well as the menu.  Nearly all of our friends only know Rita by photos.

Rita Pantea, 4 years old.

Rita Pantea, 4 years old.

At the Migros supermarket, we got serious, buying foods for salata, two varieties of dolmas, hummus, pickled carrots, olives and European cheeses for meze.  We were heavily laden for the return Metro trip and decided to take a taxi, until I realized I’d removed the city map from my purse.  Without it, we could not tell a driver how to get to where we lived.  So, we trundled our wide loads onto the crowded subway, and read our thoughts on the faces of the passengers sitting opposite – “those yabancı (foreigners) always buying so much!”  In Manhattan I had, what as a young person I called,  a wire “old lady” cart.   We need one now, but we have seen only one person with one, and none for sale.  Maybe they aren’t cool, or maybe Istanbul’s streets and sidewalks are just too rutted, uneven, steep or stepped to make them feasible.

The shy queen.

The shy queen.

Arriving home around 4 pm we hurried to string the colored lights around the interior doorways, walk Lucy and go order our dinner from the fish restaurant and kebap salonlu.  Jim took care of the fish and dessert, ordering 2 grilled medium sized unnamed firm white fish, grilled anchovies and fish soup. From his favorite Pasta and Café, Elif’li (earlier post he picked up baklava.  I climbed, breathlessly, up to Taksim Square and was sold the mixed kebab platter – a huge amount of food.  They offered to deliver it, but I wanted it in my hands so it would be there when our guests arrived.  Medi Şark Sofrası sent their runner carrying a big tray behind me anyway.  I couldn’t speak to him, but feeling rushed, I dodged crowds on Istiklal and then scurried down the many sets of stairs and steep streets going the back way to Bol Ahenk Sokak.  Our friends had just arrived when I got home.

Ottoman style Turkish coffee cups and dish for Turkish Delight.

Ottoman style Turkish coffee cups and dish for Turkish Delight.

We feel so lucky to already have Turkish friends. Our guests  Emre, Serpil and Kamer are smart, lively, fun, and speak great English.  They enjoy regaling us with stories of Turkish customs, and brought with them an old style Ottoman Turkish coffee set – a gift that is just perfect! Unfortunately, our kitchen lacked both Turkish coffee and the long-handled coffee pot called a cezve, so Turkish coffee is a lesson for another date.  Keeping the coffee hot while drinking is important.  They explained how the heavy ceramic fincan (cup) which used to be heated directly on a wood stove, and the zarf, (envelope) fitting snugly over the cup are designed to conserve heat.  The small dish holds Loküm (Turkish Delight), in this case the gel type which may be flavored by rosewater, lemon or mastic.


Boza is carried in the big urn, and ladled out into customer’s cups or bowls. The vendor went to fetch cinnamon.

Eating dessert and çay (tea) after dinner we heard a man call on the street – which we now recognize every night.  I asked what it was and they said “Boza!”  Emre opened the window and called out, with a back and forth a few times, until the vendor located us.  Our flat is on the ground floor, just inside the building’s main door. He arrived and poured us some big cups to take in and drink, setting his boza vessel down to go to the bakkal (ubiquitous neighborhood grocer) to find some cinnamon for us.  Emre and Kamer got into it, remembering the boza of their past – I guess boza isn’t peddled in their neighborhoods.

Boza, with cinnamon and leblebi.

Boza, with cinnamon and leblebi.

Emre fetched sarı leblebi, yellow roasted chick peas, from the bakkal and we were now ready to assemble and drink. Kamer said this drink signified winter to her. It is a bit of an acquired taste, but pleasant. Thick, cool from the night air, and somewhat sweet, with cinnamon and crunchy leblebi in each sip. Its seasonality, and the way it looks reminded us of eggnog.  It is hearty and filling.  The Ottoman Empire was said to feed its army boza because it is rich in carbohydrates and vitamins.  If we don’t drink more boza, Emre said the remaining leblebi makes a great snack when eaten with raisins.


Boza in Turkey (regional variations of it are also consumed in parts of Eastern Europe, some of the  “stans”, the Ukraine and Lithuania) is made of fermented wheat, other regions may use maize or millet. I think we are lucky we initially landed in Cihangir.  We get to learn about the numerous traditional street vendors here (subject of a future post).  They may not exist in the more modern Moda.

The cinnamon is packaged in a tube, about the size of a pencil.

The ground cinnamon is packaged in a tube, about the size of a pencil.

What a rich evening of good food, exceptional company and wonderful cultural exchange.  Very fitting, we felt, for marking the birthday of Jesus.

Prelude to Entertaining for the First Time in Turkey


Photo op at Cevahir Mall. Turkey is the home of St. Nicholas, who apparently didn't have a beard.

Photo op at Cevahir Mall. Turkey is the home of St. Nicholas, who apparently didn’t have a beard.

When we were together nine days earlier, I had impulsively invited Emre, his wife Serpil and his aunt Kamer to an American Christmas dinner.  My family’s tradition is to cook the same menu for Christmas as Thanksgiving.  The menu includes as appetizer, Jim’s boiled shrimp and homemade cocktail sauce.  Roasted turkey stuffed with a bread oyster dressing (including mild Italian sausage, apples, celery, onions, canned oysters, water chestnuts, raisins and walnuts); gravy; mashed potatoes; minced sweet potatoes baked with marshmallows, lime and ginger; fresh green beans with sautéed onions and bacon; and cranberry sauce follow.  Dessert is freshly baked pumpkin pie with whipped cream, augmented by whatever sweets our guests have brought along.

Poinsettia at IKEA, the majesty of this bush is lost in translation.

Poinsettia at IKEA, the majesty of this bush is lost in translation.

I thought the challenge would be fun – and it will be, NEXT YEAR.  After all, we had 5 chairs, 5 sets of dishes and flatware…it could work!  We had nine days to find a turkey – they can be found, but not everywhere – and other substitutes.  Maybe we would find turkey Italian sausage but not bacon; celery root, but not the stalks is available, and I quickly realized seeking out canned oysters and water chestnuts felt overwhelming, since I’m still looking for a comforter to sleep under.

Zzzz?  The big yellow bag holds all of our sweaters and coats -- the mall is HOT!

Zzzz? The big yellow bag holds all of our sweaters and coats — the mall is HOT!

In these same nine days we also had to source, shop and buy “white furniture” – a dishwasher, washing machine, refrigerator, vacuum, microwave and TV for our newly leased apartment in Moda, in the hopes of moving over there right after the New Year.  A later blog post will deal with shopping, but a couple of comments here…imported goods are expensive, buying Turkish is the way to go.  IKEA, which is underwhelming is more expensive than the much more impressive and better quality TepeHome, a Turkish home furnishings store.


Mall food courts are fancy. Stick to the Turkish shops for a good meal.

We are seriously motivated to leave Cihangir, because on January 2 we begin Turkish lessons M-F from 9am-1pm in Kadiköy, and we’ll be commuting an hour each way until we move.  Also necessary to move in is a bed and internet.  All of this is straightforward, unless you have no idea which stores have stuff you like, and their locations.

Shopping for lights...

Shopping for lights…

These were in a pretentious store where they wanted no photos!  How can one shop without photos?

These were in a pretentious store where they wanted no photos! How can one shop without photos?

One night about six days before our début, we were at the American Women of Istanbul Christmas party and I was telling Joy ( my worries.  She’s worked out a lot of the substitutions and shared how to cook pumpkin in lieu of Libby’s canned.  She told me to find a Turkish tatlı (sweet) pumpkin, cut it up and roast it in a plastic roasting bag called a fırın torbası .  About all I got of that was the sweet pumpkin part (I did know the word tatlı).  My brain did not compute roasting in plastic, or how I’d ever find those bags in the grocery where I’m always on my smart phone trying to figure out what something is, or its Turkish name.

Jim loves meeting new people.

Jim loves meeting new people.

We were looking for baggies, and I did see the fırın torbası.  By that time, I’d decided that what I was making for our Christmas Eve dinner was reservations – or rather, paket (takeout).  On Christmas Eve morning, worried that I’d sold the American theme too convincingly, I texted our friends telling them we were looking forward to seeing them and the menu was Turkish.  It wasn’t just the ingredients, it was what we had, or didn’t, in our kitchen to cook with, including a cook top and oven that uses propane—and was the tank even full?  In another post, I’ll talk about gas tanks.

All this Santa and Christmas stuff is for New Year's celebrations.

All this Santa and Christmas stuff is for New Year’s celebrations.

Winter Driving Lessons in Beyoḡlu

Lesson 1.  Don’t.


After the snow a few days ago the weather stayed overcast and cold, around 0°C.  In Cihangir’s peaks and valleys, all manner of wheeled vehicles are spinning out, usually when they don’t have enough of a running start to get up the hill.  The sound of spinning tires on icy asphalt is painful.  You know the driver is desperate, and his tires are suffering. Last night, trekking from Bolahenk Sokak to Taksim Square, we had to duck and cover as fish-tailing wheel-spinning cars tried to crest the hill and negotiate a right turn as we entered that intersection.


Looks navigable, but don’t try it.

Yesterday morning for our sunny walk, Lucy and I chose a steep street guaranteed to offer views of the Bosphorus, and gave witness to gnashing of teeth and smoking tires of the long line of cars and drivers trying to scale the terrain.


Shiny Bosphorus after days of gray.

The previous peak, which leads to a valley, out of which these folks were trying to climb, has big construction projects which this morning were coating the cobble-stoned streets with wet clay, clogging the driver’s treads.  The narrow street has a foot-wide sidewalk, so Lucy and I sought protection in a large driveway and noticed that the more skillful drivers maneuvered to the seam between the street pavers and the gutter.   This morning, with an ebbing of traffic a panel truck driver painstakingly, but strategically, backed himself into a spot from which to get a running start, at which point a long line of vehicles impatiently queued behind him.  I felt sorry for him as he pulled out of their way– imagining him entering into a behavioral loop of some duration.


Cihangir from the Catholic church parking lot, where the cranky priest won’t let Lucy play ball.

This being our first winter here, we don’t know if a long swath of cold wet gray days is the norm, but the sunshine, this Christmas Eve is really welcome!


Winter blooms sunbathing.


Cihangir morning.

We are hosting Turkish friends this evening.  Our intention was to cook our traditional Christmas turkey and trimmings.  In my typical impetuous enthusiasm, I invited them, and have agonized over it ever since.  We don’t know where to find the ingredients.  We’ve looked, but can’t find.  Also, we have not cooked in our well-stocked-for-tourists, but not for real cooking, kitchen.  So, days ago I decided we’d bring in paket (take out) for our guests.  Company on Christmas Eve also requires a level of Christmas décor.  We bought two wreaths, one with red metal jingle bells and fake greens, which we hung on the big old front doorknob, and another gold pine cone wreath that we replaced a picture with.  That and the red and green candles on the table, still don’t cut it, so we are taking our 15% off coupons to Tepe Home (where yesterday we bought most of the furniture we will need for our place in Moda) to buy the green glitter raffia trees I’ve been eyeing.  Next year we will have a properly appointed Christmas, Inshallah.


You have to buy early in Turkey too! Tree trimming was picked-over two days before Christmas.

Merry Christmas to All.

If it is the last day of the world, at least it…SNOWED!

We are here with three big rollers and one small rolling suitcase each.  Turkish Airlines offers more options, but is as inflexible as other airlines on baggage weight.  As I packed, I weighed each on a bathroom scale trying to balance it all, but in the flurry to get away, we stuffed things in pockets, disturbing my careful distribution, and incurred excess charges.

We left Rita’s toys, which is too bad, because animal toys are uninspired and limited here.  When our visiting friends ask what they can bring, we’ll probably tell them cat toys…unless by that time there is something we miss much more.  Jim and Lucy would already probably say it was peanut butter.  Something called that, made in Holland, is sold here, but it is gritty and dry and 20% hydrogenated vegetable oil.  Say “bacon” and Western expats crack up.

Thinking that the real cold weather would come after January, and our shipment of 45 pieces of stuff would have arrived by then, we both packed our heavier and bulkier clothing to go by sea.  Our load is delayed due to required signatures and inefficient communications, which feels like a run-around and means that we have no idea when our warmer clothes and general household goods will arrive.

Sticking more.

Sticking more.

Friends and others have predicted snow for over a week, but AccuWeather missed it. Yesterday it forecast 11°C for today, and obviously snow comes closer to zero.  We woke up to flurries this morning, and it has snowed all day.  Public buses have stopped, many shops closed, the city is sort of halted, as has running water in our flat.  After about four hours the water flowed again…we are grateful for the gift of getting it back!  The old city of Istanbul delights in many ways!

şemsiye mezarlık (umbrella graveyard)

şemsiye mezarlık (umbrella graveyard)



Istiklal Caddesi is quiet.

Istiklal Caddesi is quiet.

Reverse Dalmation.

Reverse Dalmatian.

Here in Cihangir, where we climb everywhere we go, just walking around is treacherous.  Adding two or four wheels and a lot of weight to the mix is a recipe for disaster.  We watched a truck stuck in a “valley” between two steep streets, unable to crest either of them. Since this district is also an ongoing construction zone – gentrification, which will totally change the character of the neighborhood in a few years – the slush quickly turns to mire.  Locals say it does not freeze here, so we’ll probably have a mud season until spring.

Snow Dog

A new route.

I remember a board game I played as a kid called Chutes and Ladders.  Walking in Cihangir is like playing an interactive version, especially in the snow.  Landing on a ladder moves you forward, hitting a chute sends you back.  We keep discovering new “ladders”, new stair steps that shorten our trip, or keep us off narrow and crowded roads.  My morning walks with Lucy uncover these treasures.  Each new one excites her – she races to discover new smells, and add her commentary.  Depending on how one enters it, the stair is a ladder or a chute.  On the descents, I need to keep reminding Lucy “no pulling”.

Chutes and Ladders

Chutes and Ladders

It would be fun to have a toboggan here.

It would be fun to have a toboggan here.