Monday, 20 June 2011

Saying Goodbye

The time has come.  We are leaving Istanbul for good, and returning to Texas.  I've spent the past few weeks in complete denial,  hoping for a reprieve, but ultimately,  I've come to accept  that we are indeed leaving.

The past few weeks have been a series of long goodbyes amidst various social gatherings.  For in an expat society, every year sees the departure of those we've all learned to call friends.  When living overseas, far from loved ones,  friendships are forged much more quickly and often, more deeply, because you don't have the luxury of time. When leaving,  I never know who it's harder on, the person leaving or the person being left behind.  And even though the world is growing smaller, you know your chances of seeing most of your friends again, is in fact, very small.

I found myself the Sunday School Coordinator of St. Esprit Catholic Cathedral this past fall.  Despite the  uncertainty I felt about taking on the job, I gained so many new friends that when June came,  I was able to watch with pride during the First Communion Mass, and the Confirmation Mass.  Most Priests have seemed distant figures to me, but in our small English speaking community I've gotten to know and   dearly love each of our priests.  I  will miss the intimacy at St. Esprit, plus the feeling of being truly needed.  Goodbye  Father Jacky, Father Nicola, Father Andreas,  Jenny,  Albert,  Hermes,  Lynda and Laura.

My PTA circle of friends has grown wide over the past couple of  years.  IICS is well known for it's welcoming community, and anyone who steps forward to volunteer is welcomed with open arms. So it was for me.  Although, I hate wasting a day with long, talky meetings, we had a great group of women who were genuinely positive and professional, and I usually came away invigorated and energized.  Our last board meeting was held at the Four Seasons overlooking the Bosphorus, and I will long remember gazing around the group, sipping white wine, knowing that was a moment that would never come again.  

Goodbye Judy,  Sydney,  Gesa,  Robyn,  Sally,  Mariette,  Susi,  Dora,  Patricia,  Laure,  Paula,  Karin, Jill,  Edwena, and Sue.

Through my participation in the  IWI, (International Women of Istanbul) I met several other women, that I probably wouldn't have met any other way,  as well as new experiences.  Beki Erikli's "Angel Therapy" workshop,  Laure & Patricia's French Cooking class,  Ayse's Turkish cooking class,  and various museum  and sightseeing trips all led to my feeling more comfortable and at home in a foreign country.  Goodbye Alina,  Ayse,  Susanne,  Stephanie,  Nalini,  Margot,  Shakila and Anjali.

I met my 4 best buddies from my Turkish lessons at the Ciragan Palace for high Tea on Monday afternoon.  These were the women that I probably spent the most time with for 6 months last year; every Monday and Wednesday, from 10:00 to 12:00.  Elisa, Martina, Lise and Viktoria, gave me the encouragement to continue each week, through their laughter and support.  It was a lovely afternoon, again, overlooking the Bosphorus, and tears were in my eyes when I had to say goodbye.

Then, there are my Istinye Park friends, my book club buddies, with whom I've spent so many evening drinking a glass of wine, giggling over another crazy Turk story, commiserating over their sorrows, or sometimes even discussing the book.   It's funny how just a simple, but regular get together can result in such closeness and connectedness.  Our  Trick or Treat  evening is still considered the best Halloween celebration in Istanbul.  Goodbye Tara,  Nilgun,  Jo,  Margie,  Tricia and Elisa and Jamila.

Tomorrow another last goodbye will take place at the American Consulate, when Boy Scout Troop 1453 meets for the last time this year.  Jim will be Master of Ceremonies, as one young man attains his Eagle Scout Badge.   Scouting is not always easy or convenient, but a bond was forged between all of us adults as well as boys, as we all worked together for the same purpose- to see our sons become fine young men.  My especial thanks to Pat, Vicki and Sarah, who have kept the troop going through all the scoutmasters who have appeared and disappeared over the past several years.  Goodbye Pat,  Vicki,  Sarah,  Stacey, Martin and Becky.

Then there are other dear friends that don't fall under a particular category, but whose compassion and kindness and sense of fun have meant everything to me.  We have so many precious memories and good times to recall.  Goodbye Trish, Leslie, Jennifer and Joan.

I shall dearly miss the Bosphorus.  To sit watching the boats sail by, with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, was always my favorite way to spend time.  
I'm going to miss the Grand Bazaar, with all their crazy Turkish salesmen, trying out different sales pitches, offering up endless cups of tea,  and calling me "my friend".  I'll miss the beauty of Arneveutkoy, with it's old Yalis and crooked streets.  I'll miss the Aya Sophia, with it's fading mosaics and soaring spaces.  I shall miss the privileged lifestyle that the ex pat wife is lucky/doomed to lead.  Pick your word, either can fit, depending upon your outlook.   I, however,  consider myself a very lucky woman to have experienced life here.

Farewell, Istanbul.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Bridge

*Coward: a person who lacks the courage to do or  endure unpleasant or dangerous things.
Nepal is no place for cowards.  Had I known that in January, I never would have signed up as a trip chaperone, for I was born a coward, and have lived my entire life avoiding anything remotely dangerous.  But how fortuitous for me, that I didn’t know, because I would have missed the trip of a lifetime!
The four hour bus ride from Kathmandu to Border Lands careened up and down mountain roads with no guard rail in sight; I had a window seat where It was all to easy to imagine plunging over the side of the cliff to certain death.  I finally just shut my eyes and pretended to sleep.  It was a little too early in the trip to admit my cowardice to my traveling companions. 
Along with my physical cowardice, I also have acrophobia--an irrational or debilitating fear of heights.  Our service trip began by walking 5 kilometers to arrive at  Panchakanya School.   You can imagine my horror, when, in order to reach the school, we had to cross a 100 foot suspension bridge swaying over the raging Bhote Koshi river.  My heart sunk, my ears began to ring, my legs turned to jelly, and I hadn’t even taken the first step.  I watched with incredulity as each one of our students scampered across without a backward glance.  Several of them were even walking side by side, chatting!  
Reminding myself that I was a chaperone, and I couldn’t do my job telepathically, I croaked for help.  Immediately, Prem, our master guide was at my side, and began to calm me down. I have no friends or family members that could have convinced me to cross that bridge. I would have looked them in the eye and told them “No Way!”, along with a few other scalding words.   But Life is full of surprises.  Who would have guessed that on the other side of the world, there lived a man who could get me to do something I never thought possible?  I knew that he was one of Nepal’s most experienced and fearless guides. It also helped that I had heard how he’d saved a woman from falling off a cliff by leaping after her.  I felt reasonably confident that he would do the same for me. He patiently took both my hands and slowly led me across.    I swear that  walk lasted 20 minutes, but in reality, it was probably only 2.  Upon reaching the other side, everyone -- our students, staff, villagers and children--all were there to congratulate me.  I felt like the star of a reality television show--and not the one who wins the series.
There were other challenges remaining, but none quite so daunting as crossing that bridge, which I did another 7 times, each time, clinging tightly to Prem’s hands.   I easily resisted the peer pressure to go canyoning, by volunteering to photograph everyone else.  As a chaperone, I don’t think I had a prouder moment than when I watched all of our kids, Trish, and Jennifer successfully rappel down 150 meters of waterfalls. Absolutely amazing.  The overnight trek up to the top of a mountain was exhausting, but exhilarating. We felt like we were on top of the world as we watched the sun rise over terraced villages as far away as China.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  The number of magical moments consistently outweighed the fearful ones, and I found myself not wanting the adventure to end.
Has my view of myself changed?  Not really.  I’m still know myself to be a big chicken.  I probably won’t ever choose to go to the top of the Empire State building or the Eiffel tower.  But, I will always have the memory of accomplishing one seemingly impossible thing.  
With heartfelt gratitude and appreciation, to the man who made it possible--Prem, the fearless!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Tyler visits Istanbul

What a treat it was to have Tyler come visit for a few days!  He grabbed a Turkish Airlines flight direct from Los Angeles, and arrived here on March 23, after 15 or 16 long hours in the air.  He was up bright and early the next day, ready to explore the Grand Bazaar.  Because he was only here a few days, I let Devlin play hooky from school and go with us.  

No one can traverse the bazaar without spending time in a carpet shop.  Even if you have no plans of looking at carpets, somehow you are reeled in by the bazaar professionals.  Maegan had given him strict instructions NOT to buy a rug while he was here.  Good thing.  Because here's the one he almost went home with.  We were assured that it was old, quite rare and very ususual.  (aren't they all?)  I thought it was overpriced, at about $1400.  Rugs are always priced in dollars, not lire.  It sounds less expensive when it rolls off their slippery tongues.   

Later that day, Tyler got Devlin to do the impossible.  They both visited a traditional Turkish Hamam.   They went to Cembirlitas, which is just around the corner from the Grand Bazaar, and was built by Sinan in the 1600's.  It's a well known local hammam, visited by regulars and tourists alike.  When they emerged and I asked how it was, Tyler said, "it was okay.  Just like taking a bath with a bunch of strangers."  Which is why I have never gone.

The next two days we hit the Sultanhamet area pretty hard.  We spent most of Friday morning at the Hagia Sophia.  I hadn't been there since the 30 year old scaffolding was taken down, and was astonished at how much more impressive the space is.  Tyler's amazement came from a construction point of view.  Keeping in mind that it was built in the 500's, and was finished in 5 years,  it really is awe inspiring.

We had pretty fair weather while he was here; sunny and in the 60's.  This is one city that you want to see in good weather.  We ate lunch at a place that Amy and Landon recommended.  They serve a traditional Anatolian dish of meat and vegetables cooked in a clay pot.  The waiter creates quite a show when he comes out with the steaming pot, and slices off the clay top with a long butcher's knife.

Doesn't it look delicious?  And yes, off to the right, is the traditional side dish of both rice and french fries.

Usually when I go to Sultanhamet, I take the metro, because traffic is horrendous, and parking is    non existent.   However, with Jim in Iraq, I've been told that  Gokan is at my disposal.  Not wanting to face the 3 different crowded metro stops, I had him pick us up in front of Sultanhamet square at 3:00.   When he arrived, he was accosted by a policeman--" Go! No cars here!"  Quick thinking Gokan told the policeman that I was the wife of an American diplomat, which made everything just fine.  (I don't think it was the American part--just the diplomat part)

Friday night we spent at Karkas Kasap Restaurant with new friends,  Dana & Leslie Bolden.  Karkas (yes, carcass) is a great little steakhouse in near by Resitpasa.  All the meat comes from the butcher shop across the street, and everything is delicious!  

Saturday we were back downtown,  this time hitting Topkapi Palace early enough that there was no line.  From there we went up to the Spice Market, where Tyler bought some things to take back home.  It was wall to wall people, and Turkish people have yet to learn their societal crowd rules.  They push, shove and walk into you without ever saying excuse me.  So we left there and went to Taxim Square, where the street is at least wider, so you can miss some of the jostling.  We happened to go into a bookstore, where Tyler found a First Printing of Michal Chabon's new book--and it was autographed!  He snapped it up for $30.00, only to find it on ebay later, starting at $160.00.

At 7:30 Sunday morning, off we went to the airport, the 3 day whirlwind was over.  But what a wonderful few days it was.  I'm only sorry that Maegan was not able to come as well.  And equally sorry that Jim wasn't able to get away from Iraq, to enjoy his son's company also.  But I don't know when the last time was that Tyler and I spent time together.  Maybe when I flew out to L.A. when he first moved there.  And as all parents of grown children know, those times together are precious, just because they are so few.  

Friday, 18 February 2011

February Happenings

Jim and Devlin walking in with their hopeful entries.

It's been a busy week.  It began Sunday, with the annual Super Bowl Chili Cook-off at the American Consulate.  It was hosted by the Marines and as a goodwill gesture, the lone BSA troop in Istanbul was  invited.   

Jim made a two batches of chili, one with beans and one without.  Sadly, neither were the big winner of the evening.  Nor did we see the Super Bowl, as Istanbul is 8 hours ahead of the U.S.  But it was fun to get together with friends and enjoy some Americana.

On Wednesday, we had our International Women of Istanbul Neighborhood Coffee.  This month it was hosted by Tricia Cannis, who went all out for Valentine's Day.  Tricia moved to Istinye Park last year, and has been all over the world.  I love to go to her place, because it's filled with interesting furniture and accessories from all their travels.

I adore her red walls.  When I saw them, I immediately wanted to paint our place.  When I suggested it, Jim visibly blanched, so I dropped the subject.  Plus, she has all her things with her.  I really miss my own stuff when I see an apartment that is actually accessorized and looks like home.

Here are a few of the early arrivals, toasting with our morning Mimosas.  L to R, is Tricia from Michigan, Nilgun from Istanbul, Tara from New York City, Alina from Germany, Jo from South Africa and Anjali from India.

The next day, Anjali and I went to an IWI workshop called "Tarts & Truffles".  It was put on by an American woman who worked as a pastry chef at a DC restaurant until she moved here a few months ago.  We learned how to dip truffles, make sable dough, chocolate, caramel  and lemon curd filling.  Best of all, we got to taste everything we made.

I was impressed with her bookshelf, because every book on it was a cookbook!  A very good sign, in my opinion.

Here's Anjali, working on her first truffles.  They are a lot trickier to dip than one would imagine.  Maybe I should say that the dipping is easy, but having them look perfectly smooth after dipping is a real challenge.

More busy hands at work.  Of all the IWI events I do, I love the cooking classes the best.  They lend themselves well to cheerful chatter and laughter, and I always come away from them feeling like I've learned something useful.  In fact, this week I had another coffee morning/meeting to go to, and I successfully made the lemon tarte au citroen.  Voila!

For something completely different, we ended the week working at the Don Bosco School for Iraqi Refugees.  Our school had donated paint, brushes and volunteers to paint the classrooms of this charitable institution run by our church.  So early Saturday morning, Jim, Devlin and I all showed up to help.  

I don't know who was in charge of picking out the paint, but it never would have passed muster in any U.S.  institution.  It was Lavender!   And it was the poorest quality of paint you can imagine.  Clearly, it was not purchased at a store that uses one of those machines that shakes the can, either.  We stirred that gloppy mess for quite some time.   

There was a shortage of ladders, so Jim put one of the Iraqi students on his shoulders, to sand the spots on the wall that were too high to reach.  He couldn't talk Devlin into climbing on.  Devlin was convinced he'd cause his Dad bodily harm.

Being the Construction professional that he is, Jim actually cut in the paint at the top.  My job was to hold the ladder, as there was no brace on it, just a piece of green string holding the two sides together.  Those are metal pipes he's standing on pipe, not treads.  It was the most dangerous piece of equipment I've ever seen.  

However, he made it around the room without falling off, and our room got the award for best job.  
But every time I look at that color......ugh.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


We had a real Thanksgiving feast last Thursday. We had a houseful of guests, lots of good food and drink, and even a turkey!

 Finding a turkey can be tricky, but in October, I had the forethought to ask if we could order one through our Happy Turkish Butcher.  "Evet, Evet" (yes, yes) he assured me.   When the time came to order,  I sent Jim,  all by himself, with a picture of a  turkey, and "Hindi" ("turkey") written below it.    Transactions done in foreign languages always unsettling.  When Jim came home he said, "Well,  I'm not sure if I just ordered one turkey that weighs 6 Kgs or 6 turkeys."

Lucky for me, it was just one turkey, because that one turkey cost 148 Turkish Lira. That translates to about 100 American dollars.  Ouch.

I had made plans with my friend Jamila, (one of the Halloween planners) to have Thanksgiving together, along with a few other families that live near by.  Jamila had planned to host it, however two days before Thanksgiving, her husband and son came down with the flu.  So we changed the locale to our house.  It just so happens that my new Turkish maid comes on Thursdays, so while I was busy cooking  in the kitchen, she was busy cleaning the rest of the house.  May I say wholeheartedly, THAT is the way to do it!  I never had to worry about a thing, except the food, which is the way it should be on Thanksgiving.

We had around 20 people, kids, teenagers and adults.  Between Jamila and I, we made two turkeys, a ham, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes,  broccoli, carrots, swiss chard, cornbread, biscuits,  cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin cheesecake.  Hatice (from Turkey) brought homemade dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), Elisa (Italy) brought chocolate salami--not salami really, just a yummy chocolate dessert in the shape of a salami, and Trisha brought the treat that every kid there was drooling over -- a box of real Krispy Kreme donuts!

Here's Tuncay, Hatice's husband getting ready to dig in.  Jamila is tossing her steamed broccoli and carrots with olive oil and lemon.  As you can see, everything is on the table but the turkey.  I really goofed.  I didn't remember to have Jim carve the turkey till everything else was on the table and ready to eat.  But the guests were very gracious about it all.

Here's Jim, Elisa (from Italy) and Joan (from Washington DC).  Joan's working on  her master's degree in Art History.    I guess because I was concentrating on getting photos, I forgot to tell Jim to carve those turkeys. But then once I remembered about the meat carving, I forgot to take any more pictures.

There were no football games on television, nor did anyone get the day off.  It was a regular school day for the kids.  But, as the house  filled with good company, laughter, and the aroma of roast turkey, it really was a day for which to be thankful.

Monday, 8 November 2010


One of the strange things about living overseas, is how easy it is to let our native holidays pass unobserved.  You have to work hard to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving, because no one else around you is.  It's also when you notice how big a role the media really plays in promoting holidays.  There are no newspaper ads for costumes or candy, no sales on Butterball turkeys, no magazine covers displaying scrumptious pumpkin pies.  Absolutely nothing to warn you that a holiday is coming!  So last year, Halloween was just another day on the calendar for most of us--especially those of us who had just arrived and were still in culture shock.

My friend Tara, who is from New York, and has 3 small children, decided to change all that this year.  She asked a few of us to help plan an "Istinye Park Halloween Trick or Treat" party, because last year, being new herself, she let it pass by unobserved as well.  When Ella and Michael asked her in December, "When's Halloween going to be here, Mommy?' she was consumed with guilt, and vowed to change things in 2010.  Since we've had several new ex-pat families move in, we knew there would be interest.  What Tara did differently, though, that was a stroke of genius, was to include the entire complex, not just the people we knew.  

Invitations were created and delivered to every door in Istinye Park.  It explained what Halloween was, how trick or treating works, how to participate--or not.  We weren't really sure if the Turkish families would choose to participate, but we knew that extending the invitation was the right thing to do.  We also included any other families in Istanbul that we thought would be interested. We invited everyone to gather at 4:00 at the pool for pictures and, the trick or treating would get underway by 5:00.    I figured we might have 50 people show up.

People started pouring in by 4:00.  The bar next to the pool was quickly covered up with all kinds of halloween snacks, cakes and cookies.  Here are Shakila's girls with their newest member of the family.  You can see Jim shaking hands with someone just behind them.  Within a very short period of time, the kids deserted the bar to play outside, while the adults remained inside, socializing.  I handed my camera to Devlin, and later, laughed at the shots of what was happening outside, while we adults mingled.

I don't even want to know what they're doing.  I love this one of Jamila, one of the organizers,  oblivious to it all, while the scuffle's going on!  You can tell she's used to kids.

As the party grew larger,  the excitement of the children grew palpable.  Having given many a birthday party in the past, it was clear there needed to be some direction given.  It fell upon me to try to round them up for group photos, and lead a parade around the pool, so parents could get individual shots.  

Once the parade was over, they set off with their parents to begin trick or treating.  I had brought a bag of American candy back with me, containing 105 pieces of Snickers, Mars bars and M & M's.  I never expected to go through the entire bag, but at 8:00, it was gone, and I had to turn out the lights, just like Pecan Grove.  

The best part, was that the Turkish kids came out in droves!  Istinye Park Management was very happy with us the next day.  They thought it was a wonderful event, that brought everyone together for fun and laughter.  They even asked us to consider planning a monthly event!  Hmm.  That will take some thought.  Over the course of the following week, I got thank you emails and phone calls--one mom said that she has lived in Istanbul for 13 years, and this was by far the best Halloween her children have ever had.  She said it was just like being back in America!

So, Thanks,  Tara, for letting last year's disappointment turn into this year's biggest success!  A real American Halloween, was enjoyed by children and adults alike, in a county far, far from home.

Sadberk Hanim Musezi

Last Friday, Elisa and I drove out to the Sadberk Hanim Museum, in Sariyer. It was the last few days of an exhibit of Women's Costumes of the late Ottoman Empire. The clothes belonged to women of the upper classes, and were absolutely stunning! The one above is from the late 18th century. Look closely at the bottom of the photo, the striped fabric is not a skirt, but those wide balloon trousers, the kind you think of when you think of Turkish Harems. The costume is silk, with all embroidery done by hand. Here's a close up:
Can you imagine how long it took someone to embroider that gown?  Or maybe it was broken into different sections and  several seamstresses worked on it.   Having done embroidery work myself, I can tell you that it has hours and hours of work in it. 
Here is another one of my favorites. It's from the late 19th century.  It was probably worn only on special occasions, as by this time, Ottoman women were starting to dress in the European style.
Look at these gorgeous slippers from the 19th century.  They could easily pass for wedding shoes today.  In fact, I know a certain bride who would love to wear these shoes on December 31st this year.

The museum has other collections, but most are with the domestic arts in mind, unlike other museums in Istanbul.  Because it was founded by a woman, Sadberk Hanim (literally, Ms. Sadberk) the perspective is a uniquely feminine one.  Furnishings, porcelain, jewelry and clothing are displayed in a charming  old Yali,  facing the Bosphorus, along the coast road.  It's very easy to imagine servants gliding silently up and down the staircase, working tirelessly to provide a luxurious lifestyle for their master and mistress.

Sadberk was part of the Koc family, and established the museum 30 years ago.  It was  Turkey's first privately owned museum.  The Koc family has long been a supporter of the Arts; there are many museums throughout Istanbul that were established by the Koc family.  The costumes are the private collection of Sadberk Hanim, and I'm thankful that someone had the foresight to gather and care for these wonderful garments before time took it's toll.  The museum is well worth a trip, although it lays well outside of Istanbul.  But for 7 TL admittance fee (around $4.00) it's a steal.