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.

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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 (http://myturkishjoys.blogspot.com/) 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.

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Istanbul Landings. Uprooted. Jet-lagged. With Pets.

Ah, what a jumble it all is!  There are mosques all over the place, but we rarely hear the call to prayer.  There are Christmas trees and Santas, and English language Christmas carols everywhere, but Turks, 98% of whom are Muslim, decorate with them to celebrate the New Year. On New Year’s Eve, one friend’s brother is dressing as Santa Claus, complete with bag of gifts.  It sure doesn’t feel like Christmas to me this year…a nice long season that we usually slide into beginning with Thanksgiving,then decking our halls and entertaining while avoiding shopping and gift-giving. Our Christmas Eve ritual includes carol singing and reviewing the Christmas story at church.  It is odd, watching it all, the lens feels distorted–which, after all, is the purpose of this adventure!

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Cascading lights on Istiklal

This past Thanksgiving, we had a wonderful dinner with friends with enough utensils remaining in our kitchen to make pumpkin pies to take, but the house was generally a shambles for the six weeks prior to our move.  It was a very difficult job to heave all of the stuff we’ve accumulated for 29 years out the door, some into PODS, some to be shipped to Turkey, some to be tossed, some to be donated.  We frantically continued that dance until the day we left – having to leave the dry cleaning we almost forgot to pick up in my station wagon as it was parked in storage for two years.

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Living in chaos, strangled by our stuff.

We have learned what Lucy and Rita are made of – and in some ways they had the worst of it, because we couldn’t clearly warn them of what was in store.  For weeks prior we were trying to warm Lucy to her traveling kennel. After a 7 hour car ride to LAX (for a non-stop to Istanbul) we tossed cat food into the crate (unable to locate her food bag, we hoped she’d see Rita’s kibble as a high value treat), and pushed her in, locking the grate.  She was checked as excess baggage and carried away to the cargo hold, emerging on the other end 15 ½ hours later.  Rita was with us in the cabin.

They are troopers, both of them.  Lucy loves her three daily walks, enthusiastically marks the territory along the way, tries to terrify the renowned Istanbul street cats, which unfazed,  look right through her as she passes.  What we knew of Rita, our four-year-old cat was that she didn’t like people nor the indoors much.  We’ve learned she travels well in the car, not a normal cat trait, by seeking comfort next to Lucy. Here in Turkey, maybe she senses that she’d be out of her league outside, or she’s just become domesticated overnight…she’s still not a lap cat, but she hasn’t missed a meal and she’s not complaining, with the exception of one meltdown where I offended her dignity by changing too many things at once.

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Road trip, Rita is Lucy’s pillow.

In order to bring the pets, we got international health certificates, updated their rabies shots and inserted ISO compatible microchips.  We collected Lucy, as happy to see us as we were her,  from over-sized baggage, loaded her onto the porter’s cart along with our 8 suitcases and walked through customs.  The paperwork was inspected, we had to pantomime what “killed virus” (the contents of the rabies injection) meant on the rabies certificate and we were out the door.

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Along the mighty Bosphorus — Lucy’s first visit there!

So many things…Jim and I are back in a city, and we love it.  We are staying in a small flat in Cihangir on the European side of Istanbul.  It feels 1980s Greenwich Village-y to me…cobblestones, sort of gritty, and, because it is all so old, and the days so short…dark.  There is an amazing amount of street life up the hill at Taksim Square, but all of the steep streets and staircases we’ve climbed to get there are quiet, populated with orders of magnitude more cats than people.

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Our neighborhood, Cihangir.

Our location is extremely convenient, a five minute stair-climb to Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi – the main shopping promenade on the European side.  Saturday evening, Istiklal was as crowded as Fifth Avenue in Manhattan at noon. Suburban Lucy “heeled” like a champ in her first foray into a jungle of mostly blue-jeaned legs.  It was rainy, and Istanbullus dress quite casually, probably because so many of them are young. Five minutes downhill brings us to the Bosphorus, and the Fınklıkı station of the tramvay (no “w” in Turkish) which takes us two stops to the ferry to Kadiköy.  The stop in between is Tophane and the Istanbul Modern museum where yesterday we saw the last day of the First Design Biennial in Istanbul.  I will write about that in a later post.

We will be living across the water on the Asian side near Kadiköy in Moda.  I plan to set up an art studio mid-year, and am eyeing Tophane as a location.  I’ll need to find an artist to share it with, and Tophane is really dark and gritty, but friendly and real – a mix of rundown buildings, hip new hotels and galleries, light industry and work-day cafes.  By then, hopefully, I’ll speak enough Turkish to cope.

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Here, an opening in the crowd on Istiklal, enough that I could drop back to take the picture.

One last impression in this initial jumble of things…Starbucks is ubiquitous here (surprise?!).  And, we’ve ended up in them frequently because they are an easy meeting place.  I met a couple of American women for coffee on Sunday in a swell hotel on Taksim Square.  English was spoken at the counter and through the sound system playing Christmas carols.  I think (nothing unusual registered with me) I poured ½ and ½ — although I’ve heard expats lament its unavailability – into my coffee at the sugar station. Jim and I had two more Starbucks rendezvous that same day.  Then, this morning in Kadiköy, after the 20 minute ferry ride I told Jim I’d never get tired of, they spoke Turkish-tinged Starbuckese, had no milk where the sugar lived,rather they gave me hot foamed milk in my brewed coffee, and I shared a wonderful little warm cheese filled black sesame sprinkled bread packet called a talum paynirli domatesli poğaça.  Ah Istanbul, we love you.