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’.


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…”

Turkey in the News…Again

You may be seeing stories about the protests in Gezi Park, near Taksim Square.  For four days now, an increasing number of protesters have tried to save the park from being destroyed by the massive development project in Taksim.  Turkish police are no stranger to big confrontations…the country has a long history of various, at times violent, unrest.  A typical response is to use water cannon and tear gas.

In the six months we’ve been here, I’ve frequently heard complaints about the “mall-ization” of Istanbul.  The current government undertakes huge development projects, some of which reportedly involve privatization of public spaces.  My research of complaints includes a lack of transparency and public notification and involvement, destruction of archaeologically significant sites, and enrichment of the few at the expense of the many.

The ruling party is largely composed of conservative bourgeoisie Muslims.  It looks a lot like the US Republican Party to me.  Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic in 1920, decisively separated the new republic from its Ottoman, thereby Muslim, past by deeming the country definitively secular. He made radical changes,one being the alphabet, thereby immediately rendering the entire population temporarily illiterate!

Saving the trees in Gezi Park has become a symbolic protest and criticism of heavy-handed, autocratic actions and policies, including a speedy parliamentary ruling limiting hours for sale of alcohol, the harassment of journalists and political opposition,  and even a PR tiff naming ayran – a yogurt drink I happen to love — as the national drink over rakı, the Turkish equivalent of Greek ouzo,  One blogger portrayed the national drink as çay (tea), which feels more true to me, so this particular political tit for tat will likely disappear.

We all know the varied outcomes of these sorts of political uprisings, from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, to Sidi Bouzid in Tunis, Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, Oakland City Hall in California, and so on.

Personally, I am surprised at the unchanging response of the Turkish police in Gezi Park.  Tourism is a key industry – who else are all of the shopping malls for?  Turkey is continuing along the path towards EU membership (although, I suspect if they ever get there, they may choose not to join), and they are in contention for the 2020 Olympics, to be awarded this fall.

International media is speculating on the emergence of a “Turkish Spring”.   I just hope the ruling party pays honest and meaningful attention to those citizens of this fair country who differ with them.

You  don’t have to worry about us.  We live on a different continent from Gezi Park where the Occupy protest is occurring.  Jim and I understand the first rule of avoiding the wrong place at the wrong time…don’t go there.  We did not go to City Hall in Oakland either, and the distance and situations are pretty similar.

In fact, generally what we observe in Turkey, reminds us of corollaries we’ve seen in US politics.  I love Turkey, and I hope for the health of her peoples and their governments.  This may be an emergency for the current party…and I hope they show some leadership out of the problem.

Istanbul is a big city.  The warm stiff breeze this Friday evening has turned the normally placid Marmara Sea across the street from our apartment into a raging beach.  Young peoples’ singing in the park along the water is wafting through our open windows.  Taking Lucy for a walk, we collected dondurma (ice cream) cones from famous Ali Usta – a warm weather Istanbullular pilgrimage destination each weekend.  Jim had iki top (2 scoops) of çikolata parça (chocolate chip) with çikolata sosu (hot dipped chocolate sauce), I had iki top, çikolata and şamfıstığı (pistachio) dondurma with çikolata sosu and kıyılmış cevizi (chopped walnuts). Life is good.

A City in Love with Itself

It is more appropriate to say a people love their city – but in my mind, Istanbul is so much its own entity, with its deep history only fleetingly shared by its current inhabitants.


Istanbullular (the people of Istanbul) love flowers.  In early spring, the title for this post popped into my head as we were out walking.

This meticulous flower bed in a local park named this blog post.

This meticulous flower bed in a local park named this blog post.

It was barely past winter and obviously municipal workers had been planting.  A lot. This is a different phenomenon from residents trying to cure winter cabin fever by planting blooms.  It is public and pervasive.  It represents investment, identity, and political will.

Early March, on the way to the ferry pier.

In March, on the way to the ferry pier.

I began noticing the flowers before it was tulip-time, but the tulip is the embodiment of spring for Istanbul. Tulips are a reconnection to the Ottoman past.   From about 1730, when mobs destroyed the lavish gardens of Sultan Ahmet III until the 1960s, when a special garden in Emirgan Park was created, Istanbul’s tradition of tulip cultivation was suspended.  Tulip gardens that had lined the Bosphorus disappeared.

A roundabout in Moda in late March. The center of it is a mini park.

A roundabout in Moda in late March. The center of it is a mini park.

We kept hearing about the display in Emirgan Park, although tulips are all over, everywhere.  Since 2006, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has planted millions of tulips from November to April each year in preparation for the annual tulip festival.  2013 is the 8th year of the festival.  For this festival 14,420,000 tulips of 270 varieties have been planted in parks, gardens, avenues, roundabouts, and rest and walking areas in the city.

Emirgan Park, once a private garden, is a beautifully landscaped public woods on the Bosphorus

Emirgan Park, once a private garden, is a beautifully landscaped public woods on the Bosphorus

Hilly and beautiful Emirgan Park on the Bosphorus on the European side is the main venue.  With the addition of other bulbous plants, such as hyacinth and amaryllis, 20 million plants have been planted in that park alone.  On Wednesday April 10, Jim and I marveled at the display on a sunny, but chilly day—not too chilly for a Mado dondurma (ice cream) cone, however.

Emirgan Park

Emirgan Park


The variety is breath-taking. These were earlier ones, beginning to curl. Bulb planting is sequential so that blooms will continue from late March through April.

Tulips are so associated with the Netherlands that tulip bulbs are sold as souvenirs in the Amsterdam airport.  However, the tulip, lale, in Turkish (from Persian lâleh) is indigenous to the central Asian steppes, primarily the Pamir, Hindu Kush and Tien Shan mountains.  The Ottomans (1299-1923) cultivated them and brought them to their capital city Istanbul, where they were planted in the gardens of palaces and the elite.

Amazing variety, riotous color.

Amazing variety, riotous color.

The Lâle Devri (tulip Age) period of Ottoman history, during the reign of Sultan Ahmet III saw an explosion of passion for the bloom, from its actual presence in gardens to its appearance in costume and ceramics.  Reportedly the sultan so loved the gardens that for an evening party, tiny lanterns were strapped to tortoise’s shells and they slowly roamed through the flowers.  Imagine!  The flowers came to signify commodity culture and excess and most were destroyed in the Patrona Halil Revolt in 1730.

Iznik tiles with stylized lale motif .

Iznik ceramic tiles with stylized lale motif .

Nearby societies also adore the flower.  In Persia, lovers declared their love with a red tulip, whose black center represented the lover’s heart burned to coal by passion.  Yellow tulips signified helpless and utter devotion.

This was one of my favorites, reminding me of the Iznik tulip.

This was one of my favorites, reminding me of the Iznik tulip.

In Emirgan Park, flowers are arranged in all variety of beds and shapes, forming the Turkish flag, waves, dolphins, and stylized tulips for example.  The park itself, at one time a private backyard for a sultan’s magnificent wooden yalı (seaside mansion) now includes three restored 19th century pavilions originally built as hunting and guest lodges.  It remained private property until granted to the city in the 1940s.

Sarı Kösk (Yellow Mansion), a restored 19th C. lodge

Sarı Kösk (Yellow Mansion), a restored 19th C. lodge

Ottomans cultivated more than 1800 varieties of tulips. The first tulip seeds and bulbs are thought to have been sent by an ambassador to the sultan of Turkey to Europe in 1554, but the flower became popular due to Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius’ work at the University of Leiden around 1593.  Tulips were exotic and different from other European flowers of the time, and demand grew quickly.

One of Jim's favorites, he said he always wanted a car of this color.  He said he never found it.

One of Jim’s favorites, he said he always wanted a car of this color. He said he never found it.

There are single hued tulips and wild multi-colored varieties.   The exotic varieties are produced by the “tulip breaking virus”, which “breaks” the plant’s lock on a single color.  It takes 7-12 years to grow to a flower producing bulb from a seed, and since the virus only operates on a bulb, the exotic, highly valued “broken” flowers can only be produced from the few “offset” buds that grow from a bulb each year, not seeds that are harvested from flowers.  Because the virus also weakens the bulb, fewer offset bulbs are created, making the most exciting flowers very rare. Tulip Mania, a speculative bubble of tulip bulbs brought the Dutch economy to its knees in 1636-37.

Emirgan Park

Emirgan Park


Here this spring, I began noticing beautifully planted flower beds in early March, and tulips blooming at the end of March.  On our morning walk, Lucy called my attention to an attractive group of sidewalk planters…she thought they would be really nice to walk – and maybe do other things – in.  I redirected her and took out my camera.

This photo was taken at the end of March.  Today the tulips are white fluffy ones.  There are a few red petals left, and some yellows that bloomed in between the reds of March and the whites of now.

This photo was taken at the end of March. Today the tulips are white fluffy ones. There are a few red petals left, and some yellows that bloomed in between the reds of March and the whites of now.

Someone's kids in Emirgan Park.

Someone’s kids in Emirgan Park.

I love watching as urban areas don their spring attire, and Istanbul is in a class of its own.  I remember long dense beds of tulips blooming in the median on Park Avenue in New York, flowers beds in Rockefeller Center, residents planting their window boxes and the flowering trees lining the neighborhood streets.  A big event was commercial, the annual Macy’s flower show filling their Herald Square main floor.

Emirgan Park

Emirgan Park

Emergan Park

Emirgan Park

Last spring we enjoyed the magnificent spring plantings in Buchart Gardens on a visit to Victoria, British Columbia.  In the northern California suburbs,  spring is a more private celebration.  I enjoyed noting the daffodils sprouting on highway 280 – some years ago someone planted bulbs on gentle ridges along the freeway, and we always joined the many people buying backyard annuals at plant nurseries in April.

Emirgan Park

Emirgan Park

Tulips are a favorite of private window boxes.  We'll load our boxes with bulbs this fall too.

Tulips are a favorite of private window boxes. We’ll load our boxes with bulbs this fall too.

Here in Istanbul, though, it is SO public, exuberant, coordinated…and gorgeous.  The planting is staged so that beds will have new blooms emerging as earlier ones fade. Emirgan Park is the main venue, but not the only park to be full of tulips, not to mention the bloomers that adorn expressways, main roads and most any little triangle of dirt anywhere. Too bad each tulip only lasts about a week.

Enjoying Emirgan on the Bosphorus.

Enjoying Emirgan on the Bosphorus.

On the way back from Emirgan Park.

On the way back from Emirgan Park.

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 https://2istanbul.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/warning-food-porn/) 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.