Thursday, July 29, 2010

İstanbul, The Drug (Alternatively, Give Me A Bag Of Hot Chestnuts And I'm Yours Forever)

It was not a weekend you'd want to get in a fight with.  Thankfully, we got on quite well, and the only blow it dealt was to whatever energy reserves I had left after four weeks here.  And, don't mısunderstand me, that was a blow I'm stıll recovering from now, on Thursday, but, god, ıt was worth it.  İstanbul... imagine whatever you've heard about that heady, glorious, ancient, modern, ridiculous, exquisite city, and then think of your most recent sauna experience.  İstanbul never sleeps.  hiç.

It's late, so this is going to be a really disorganized post.  In no particular order, here is what we (my host mother, sister, various friends and an aunt, and me) did.

We ate kokoreç, a sandwich of grilled sheep intestines.  They sell it on the street as a sort of snack food, 24 hours a day, due to the insomniacal (word?) nature of İstanbul.  It's actually really tasty, and my only problem was that it was very spicy.  There were also mussel shells stuffed with lovely rice all around the mussel, and deep-fried mussels on sticks.  I must bring these techniques back home to Maine, where we have, in my completely objective and unbiased opinion, the best mussels in the world.  Türkiye comes in a close second.

Went to both the Aya Sofiya and Sultan Ahmet mosques.  Aside from being impossibly beautiful, my favourite thing about them is the way one resulted in the other.  Aya Sofiya was originally a cathedral, and when the Ottomans came in they built the Sultan Ahmet mosque directşly opposite it to show the Christians what was what.  The two make this gorgeous mirror of one another, and there are fountains and corn and chestnut (oh, the chestnuts... I'd only seen them sold by the Paris metro before, and how I love them.  Chestnuts were the last thing I ate in 2009,  The first thing I ate this year was sea urchin roe) vendors and rose gardens in between.  The Aya Sofiya is a museum now, and the inside is not only gorgeous but going through a centuries-long religious identity crisis.  It's got arabic written all over it, and the tiling and wall art is typicaşlly İslamic, but there are still paintings of Mary and Jesus and the angel Gabriel on the ceilings. 

The Sultan Ahmet mosque is still very much functioning as such.  When my host mother and I went in, we were given plastic bags for our shoes and big squares of light blue cloth for our heads.  The inside is carpeted and just as enormously impressive as the Aya Sofiya, but differently decorated.  There were tourists all over, it beıng a very famous spot with good reason, but also some people praying, etc. etc.  The women have to pray in this tiny enclosed area with high wicker walls, and I think it's just awful.  But it was incredible to see the two buildings one after another.  I really wished my Dad (the, um, biological one, in Maine) had been there to see it.  He's an architect and would have loved the whole thing and driven me nuts with all the history of the building techniques and all.

In İstanbul, there are burqas everywhere.  Here in Ankara you see plenty of headscarves, but I've only seen about two full-length anythıngs in the five weeks I've been here (I know.  5 week left and I don't know how I'll leave).  But in İstanbul, so many women go about with just their eyes showing through a slit, walking a step behind their husbands.  They're mostly tourists from İran, Pakistan and other nearby İslamic countries, but gosh.  Everywhere.  I almost died from the heat and humidity in my shorts and tank top, and I just can't imagine what it's like to go around day after day wearing long, heavy black - or, in one instance last weekend, purple - robes.  As if it weren't enough, you couldn't tell if most of these womens' husbands were secular or fanatically observant from the way they dress.  Insult to injury, or just plain cultural misogyny? 

The Grand Bazaar and Taksim (this incredibly long shoppıng street, probably the busıest in Turkey) are amazing, too.  I bought some spices, a(nother) cushion, too much Turkish delight (which turns out to be a) actually from Turkey and b) delicious c) screw C. S. Lewis, those books were preachy and boring) and a couple other presents for my family, and there are these men sellıng ıce cream that ıs somehow stretchy.  They throw ıt around on sticks to atract customers. 

Let's see, what else... The U2 poster is just somethıng I saw around İstanbul...I went to their 360 concert in London last August, and it wsa great, so it was cool to see they're coming here. 

There are a lot of stray cats everywhere ın Turkey.  Oh, and I figured out the colour settings on my camera!  I feel so stupid for not finding them for a whole month and a to read that manual one of these days.  Anyway, my life is a bit of a black-and-white fest at the moment.  I got henna-ed, apparently ın the Pakistani/İndian style (turkish henna is oranger, I'm told) yesterday, which was lots of fun for 5 Lira. 

Oh, and my host-aunt, the one who lives in the Black Sea region, is pregnant!  We might go back up there this weekend to see her. 

It's too late to arrange all these photos, I'll come back and edit this post later.  For now you'll just have to figure it out.  You can do it.

İyi geceler.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Just Another Day

Merhaba, everyone. 

Oh, so much news, where shall I start?  Today at TÖMER, lunch was a lesson.  A rather enjoyable one, too.  Lunch is always very good there, and AFS (well, The state American taxpayers) pays for it, which is delightful, but today was special. 

Our amazingly cool waiter...

Just kept bringing more food, and there was a teacher there to show us how to eat it all.  Just when we were sure it wsa done there would be another dish, and the chef came out, too.  

Once lunch was over - which took a while - we were set loose a couple hours early with no afternoon lesson at all!  Oh, and the mornıng class consisted largely of this CD. 

After all the köfte, salata, dolma, döner kebap, yoğurt, ekmek, ayran, baklava and çay, we could barely walk so we hung around for a while on the roof where the school restaurant is and decided what to do.  We ended up going here. 

To the top of a hill where there's this really tall tower that's quite famous in Ankara.  It was a very long, steep walk, just what the eıght of us (one girl left early to do something with her host family) needed.
After that, we wandered on toward our various bus stops and gradually split up.  I went off to a sectıon of the street my bus stop is on, where there are rows of shady book dealers.  I found myself the dictionary I needed for 5 lira, and I think it's going to be my best friend.  I had one that was İngilizce - Türkçe, but needed one that goes both ways, and this darling little thing will fit in my pocket. 

After that I stopped by Mavi Jeans, a very popular turkish clothes retailer (mavi means blue) and tried on a couple shirts.  They have some really cool t-shirts with differnt designs saying İSTANBUL, and I think I'll get a black one that says Burası İstanbul (this is İstanbul) on it.  While I was trying it on, Not Fair by Lily Allen started playing.  I love that song, it's ridiculous.  And so I stayed in the changing room and danced and sang along with Lily.  But they bleeped some of it!  Only in Turkey, where nobody can understand the words of the song, do they change that line to

 I'm feeling pretty damn hard-done by
I spent ages giving beeep

This amused me to no end.

Now, because this is not working out to be a very deep post, watch me as I proceed to totally echo eM on her abfab blog The Compulsive Confessor.  Not in describing the party life in India, of course, but by copying her recent photo post. 

I'm not a huge shopping person, which is a lucky thing for me because, really, the options in rural Maine are few and far between.  But, since I'll be throwing myself from the pan to the fire (or perhaps the fridge to the Antarctic?) on August the 21st by going off the the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, three minutes from the Canadian border and surrounded by the permafrosted potato fields of Limestone, ME, I thought maybe I'd better get in a few kicks while I'm in one of those magic things called a city.  Especially since the exchange rate's in my favour.  So, here are a few photos of my new clothes.

Fun skirt, quite plain but I think it'll go nicely with lots of things I already have.

It doesn't look like a very flattering shirt off, but I love the neckline and feel quite curvy in this (that might have something to do with the weight I've gained here.  Might (!)).  It's also relatively long and goes nicely with jeans, which I feel I'll end up wearing a lot of up in Occupied Canada.
Weird İmogen fact - I wore my first pair of jeans on October the 18th, 2008.  Before that I refused.  I have no idea why.

And finally this.  (I'm really pleased with this one, even if it was a little expensive as shirts go).  I never really got into the Plaid Movement, but this is pretty and I like the way it ties in front and the sleeve length.
Okay, I'm done being an evil materialistic consumer now.  And I've done my homework, with my lovely new dictionary, and ıt's 11:30 (or, as I learned today, saat on bir buçuk) so I suppose I'll just shut up now. 

Ooh, my family's taking me to İstanbul this weekend! 

Okay, right.  Shutting up.  İyi geceler.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kapadokia, with notes on How To Deal With Bus-Stop Creeps

Ah, so much that's gone on.... sorry ıt's been so long sınce I posted.  My host sıster and father were away thıs week, but my host mother and I stıll were very busy and I couldn't seem to get to thıs.  Last week I was approached twice ın a really uncool, not-flatterıng way at the Kızılay bus stop by turkish guys... the first saw me snapping pictures while waiting for the bus, which is how I got this one of him, and he wanted to know my phone number and, I think, where I lived.  The second time I didn't let it get that far and just looked at the ground when he came up to me and started to ask me if I spoke English... It's not as if my clothes are particularly revealing, the way I dress is downright conservative when you compare my clothes to those of some of the turkish women on the street.  And I don't generally engage with people, except to ask for the occasional photo or, you know, buy something to eat.  But when I'm alone (sometimes one of the NSLI-Y guys catches the bus at the same time, and nobody comes near girls when they're with boys or men) and tall and kind of fluorescent compared with everyone around me, I guess I just stıck way out. 

(Actually, a lot of people here try to speak to me ın German...especıally when I'm sunburned!)

In better news, Kapadokia!  I went on Saturday with a neighbor's brother who's in the State department here.  We left ankara at seven in the morning, and drove for three hours, with a quick detour to Turkey's enormous Salt Lake (no mormons there, though).  For some reason (halophilic bacteria, maybe?) it looks reddish from a distance, but when you get your feet wet ıt's clear and sparkly, and the salt beach has only the faintest tinge of pink.  Yes, I dıd taste ıt and it ıs ridiculously, burnıngly salty, and the lake bottom was sharp!  This enormous lake, so big you can't see across it, is about a metre deep at ıts deepest poınt.  Great thing to see. 

İf you don't know about Kapadokia (sometimes also spelled wıth 'c', but that makes a /j/ sound in turkısh so I'm using the native spelling), ıt's all these incredible volcanically-formed cones of rock with caves and cathedrals carved into them and, less famously but equally importantly, underground cities honeycombed into the mountains.  It wsa mostly christians who lived in these caves, a couple thousand years ago, and some of these mountain-churches still have paintings intact.  I was shocked by how un-touristy some of the places were.  We went to one absolutely spectacular spot with caves and paintings and saw two turkish famılıes.  On a summer Saturday afternoon with beautiful weather and barely any charge at all to get in.  Honestly, it was about 5 Lira.

Brief sentence in which I am happy that the BP oil mess has been capped, that Argentina has legalized gay marriage and adoption, and that the Obamas visited Bar Harbor, ME, about an hour from where I live, all in the last week. 

I taught my host mother to make pie-crust spiral cookies - just the type made out of leftover dough and cinnamon sugar - and she took some to her office last week.  One of the people who work under hre, who graduated from the Cordon Bleu cooking school, asked for the recipe!  I was so delighted to hear that, because I really like my pie crust and I've worked on the recipe a lot. 

We of NSLI fame have also discovered a new place to have drinks after school.  It's sort of faux-hawaiian, but ıt doesn't matter because the smoothies are so good, and ıt's at the top of a very steep hill, so they're actually heaven after the climb.  Lots of fun, and now I must go to bed. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Akçakoca, or, How To Eat Fresh Hazelnuts

Ne haber, guys?  This translates as 'what news' and most people shorten it to somethıng that sounds like naber, basically a casual 'hi, how are you' because you respond iyiyim, teşekkurler (I'm well, thank you) as you would to the question nasılsınız (how are you).

I had an amazing weekend... I went with my host mother and sister to the Black Sea region, to visit my anne's sister.  She and her husband live in a city of about 25,000 called Akçakoca, right on the beautiful Black Sea, or Karadeniz.  It's so lovely there... we could sea the sea from the balcony, and the entıre region is covered in fındık, hazelnut, trees.  About 70% of the world's hazelnuts come from Turkey, and Karadeniz ıs where they're grown.  And fresh hazelnuts!  Oh, I'd never had one before, and they're delıcıous.  Quıte mıld tasting, identifiable with the dried version but very different. 

We bought our fındık at a roadsıde fruit stand.


I had absolutely no clue what they were.

They grow in bunches of three, four, five, sometimes as many as eight.

You separate the little packages out...they're shaped a little lıke the glasses they serve tea in here.

Peel off the green outer leafy-shell thing.
 (not sure what the botanical term is)

Crack the white shell in your teeth, to reveal a moist, crisp white hazelnut. 

I suppose the texture is comparable to that of fresh coconut...hard and crisp, moist without being wet. 

There's also excellent fish in the Black Sea, a treat for people in Ankara, so far inland. 

A traditional Ottoman toilet...this one was at the fish restaurant by the sea.
(A bit of a colour-scheme interruption)

Those gorgeous hills, covered ın hazelnut trees...sorry about the power line in this shot, I took it from the car.

And I suppose it would be cruel to leave you without a photo of the actual sea I've been going on about. So here it is, though this doesn't do it justice.  Sunset over the  Karadeniz.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Another Poşt Fröm Thış Weırd Keyboard

Merhaba...good news! I was checkıng to see ıf I could access blogger from this computer (the one in my room) and, for some reason, I now can log in, which I wasn't able to do before. This is great. I don't have to borrow my anne's laptop now and email myself every picture I want to put up... slow file exchanges are never fun, so to celebrate this marvelous event I have decided to put up a short video. It's rather unprofessional - I took it on my Lumix* after a walk one night... but I want you to hear what the call to prayer sounds like. There are loads of mosques in this city, and it sounds slıghtly different from each one - they use loudspeakers with different recordings, I think.

Aaah, ıt's not working...I'll keep trying, though!

 Türkiye is not, I repeat, not an Islamic state - politics are technically completely secular, thank you very much, Mr Atatürk, but religion is of course very obvious here at times.  I have notıced a lot of young women ın secular dress walking, often arm in arm (Turkish people touch one another far more than Americans do... I have no problem with cheek-kissing etc as we did that in England when I was small, but there ıs a very different idea of acceptable distances here and you can see it everywhere), with older women, presumably their mothers, in headscarves.  I think this is really interesting... A sign of a changing society? 

Whenever I ask people here if I can photograph them, they put their arms around one another...another way Turks are more openly affectionate, I suppose. Around Kızılay, a shopping/cafe area where I get my bus home from school, there are so many couples and pairs of men or women walking around and holding hands or linking arms...

 I just wısh I'd gotten their shoes in this shot. 

Other than the computer's epiphany - it wants to help me! - things are going on as before.  I can't call any of it normal, because it's so special, but it's great.  For our aftrenoon lesson today, the teacher took us to the Old Parliament building, where Atatürk and co. dıd a lot of figuring out.  I didn't have my camera and pictures weren't allowed anyway, but ıt was very interesting. 

I feel so great here.  We have a lot of independence, and I love being able to go to cafes or shop or catch buses at will, alone or with friends.  When I get home to Maine I am going to have some terrible urban-addiction withdrawal symptoms... and just a week or two after I get home, I start at my new school, MSSM.  I'm really nervous, quite excited and still unsure if I've made the right choice in deciding to go there.  From beautiful, inexpensive, fascinating, liberating Türkiye to a permafrosted potato field up next to Canada...oh, well.  I suppose I ought to get off the computer and enjoy this while it lasts...actually, I should get off the computer and do my homework.  We're finally getting into verbs, and I have so many to learn.

Not quite sure what my family's plans are for this weekend...I have lots of homework to do, but I'll post if I'm able to.

I hope that your day is as interesting and less hot than mine.

İyi günler!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Two Weeks Down, One Precıous Month To Go

Merhaba, iyi akşamlar, everyone.

Have I mentioned yet how much I love Ankara? I got lost yesterday on my way home from school...I was having ice cream at the Flamingo cafe/patısserie down the road from the language school (whıch ıs actually a branch of Ankara University and full of students from all over the world - I've chatted wıth really friendly people from Afghanıstan, Ghana and the Gambia, and there also seem to be quıte a few Japanese guys... all studyıng Türkçe! So, ıt's very crowded and smoky on the closed-off terrace on theroof where we eat lunch, courtesy of the US government once again, but lots of fun. Lunch, by the way, is incredible. Because we're not paying ourselves, our supercool waiter surprıses us every day with something different - delicious rice, meat, aubergine, tomato, yogurt cooked wonderfully, along wıth baskets of lovely bread) wıth the NSLI-Y gırls. I usually get fıstık, pistachio, but today I tried the chestnut whıch was also off the charts. I left the cafe and started heading toward Kızılay, where I catch my bus home, and I must have turned left too soon because soon I had no clue where I was. But the people here! I had to ask for dırectıons a couple tımes, and pepole would change dırectıons or come out of theır shops to point me the rıght way. On the bus, once I was done retrospectıvely (and irrationally, Ankara has such a safe vibe) panicking about having been alone and lost and obviously foreign, I just couldn't belıeve how eager people here are to help.

Ayran ıs a drınk made of yogurt, water and salt.  You can buy it nearly everywher and ıt's excellent, really refreshıng.

These women were the cooks at a restaurant we went to next to Ankara Castle...the one on the rıght was rollıng out dough really thın and sprınklıng and foldıng ground meat ınto ıt, and the other cooked these bread-lıke thıngs on the grıll.

Fıreworks from the embassy on Sunday.

Today we FINALLY got our cep telefonler.  They'd been promısıng to provıde cell phones for ages and now, one-thırd ınto the programe already, they have.  We have one month left ın Turkey today and I don't know how I am goıng to say goodbye.  I took myself shoppıng today, under the pretense of practıcıng turkısh wıth salespeople, and bought a very nıce shırt...thıs evenıng I made chocolate-coated candıed orange peel wıth my anne and Alkım.  It's stıll coolıng ın the kıtchen.

There have been very strange occurences shown on the news of İstanbul have been ınfested wıth many, many butterflıes.  I have no clue why as the broadcast ıs of course not ın Englısh, but that's the current events bıt of thıs post.  Also, thıs ıs a very ınterestıng artıcle about Turkey's growıng economy ın relatıon to the EU.  Wıth that I leave you as ıt ıs late here and sleep ıs a precıous commodıty

these days.
İyi geceler!