Sights and Sounds: Turkey Redux

Roughly 30 hours after waking up and hopping onto the shuttle to Istanbul’s Ataturk airport,

we pulled into Duluth.

A delay (we sat on the plane in Paris for 2 1/2 hours before it ever left the ground) caused us to miss our connection in Detroit and ultimately added about 6 hours onto our final travel time.

Fortunately, the plane from Paris to Detroit was a newish one and–Holy Things Unheard Of–actually agreeable. Kirsten had booked us “comfort” seats, which means we had a lovely bit of leg room. For once, Byron’s patellas weren’t rubbed raw, and I was able to cross my legs and occasionally scootch my aching cootch. Just as gratifying were the personal screens (something low-rent Delta doesn’t regularly offer); anyone who remembers that one of the highlights of my year in Turkey was watching the 1980 version of the film Fame on our flight over will understand that I’m a complete kid on Christmas morning when it comes to a personal screen.

What I learned from this most-recent trip to Turkey, thus, is that I like Girls because Lena Dunham looks like a real human being; I like New Girl because Zooey Deschanel is properly charming; and I adore Veep because Julia Louis-Dreyfus has managed to land on yet another show that gains power from the geling of its larger cast. Such is the wisdom of this world traveler. Oh, and also: the Seljuks surely knew how to decorate the hell out of a doorway. I know that, too.

Wait. There’s a third thing, too. I found out that the Turkish phrase for “so-so” is “söyle böyle” (which is pronounced kind of like shooley-booley, and how fun is that? Once I learned that phrase, I was compelled to wend my way through the Spice Market in Istanbul and tell every single vendor in every single stall that his merchandise was söyle böyle. In a dramatic lesson of cause-effect, I fled the Spice Market that day at a speedy clip, chased by a hoard of angry men wielding plastic scimitars and bars of rose oil soap).

In sum, then, what I learned from this trip to Turkey is:

–American television actresses are doing some good work

–a thousand years ago, Seljuks were comfortable enough in their lives that they could spare the time and energy to rock an entrance

–this man may look innocuous, but he’s more than söyle böyle when it comes to waving a plastic scimitar in a threatening manner

Now, the trip is over, but the memories, the sounds, the smells, the textures, the photos, the things learned–all are still churning through my jet-lagged head. Sitting here in my quiet house, listening to the dishwasher churn, rocking gently in my chair, I also remain incredibly glad that I thought to turn on the video camera a few times. Here are a few examples, a few cross-sections, if you will, of the delights visited upon us:

Our last meal in-country was purchased from a rice pilaf (aka “pilav”) cart on the Galata Bridge. After loading a little plastic tray with pilav, the vendor tops it with shredded chicken. Although there isn’t much talk in this video, my heart gets very happy when the overlapping Calls to Prayer start issuing from all corners of the city:

In addition to buying pilav that last night, Byron and I went on a long after-dark walk around a few of Istanbul’s hills. We planned to walk by the famed Suleymaniye mosque, which we’d not yet seen. When we got there, we realized the doors were open, and people were still visiting, so we wandered in:

And finally, from the Friendship Files, our pal Elaine (who, in a previously-posed video, explained the items on her breakfast table) here analogizes Turkish tea to a family:

The thing is,

my passport’s still out on the dining room table. My underwear has been laundered. I’m a day away from complete jet-lag recovery. I could sell some plasma to earn extra income.

One could make the case


I’m ready to go back.

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Day Eleven: Hosçakal Istanbul

We spent our last day in the country perfectly. No more museums. No shopping. No guide book.

Instead, we hopped on the ferry to Kadakoy and then took the Metro to our friend Elaine’s house. She made us a gorgeous brunch and gave us laughs and insights galore. Spending time in conversation, remembering why we love her so, watching our friends absorb her magic, well,

it was the best possible way to ease into a return home.

This woman was embroidering these little purses. We took a few off her hands.
The Galata Tower from the ferry boat. We are in between Europe and Asia here.
Elaine lives in Atesehir, which is Turkey’s version of Yuppyville. This building is part of the complex where she lives.
During a tour of her apartment, Elaine shows gives us her best PRICE IS RIGHT model stance with regards to the top piece of a Turkish tea pot. We guessed that it was worth ten lira and HAD THE BID CLOSEST TO THE ACTUAL PRICE!
Elaine’s daughter, Selin, is a big help with raising younger brother, John, particularly because the school where Elaine teaches is a fair distance away from where they live and the kids’ schools. Selin has a daily To Do list, in addition to getting her brother up, dressed, fed, and to school. When John had a fever and ear infection last week, Selin picked him up from school, took him to the doctor, took him to the pharmacist to get his prescriptions filled, and then took him home. She’s ELEVEN.
It seems only fair that Elaine had no objection when Selin expressed delight over a particular toilet seat and cover when they were moving house. What the heck does it matter, Elaine figured. Indeed.
This little pixie with moxie was instrumental to the success of our year in Turkey. Therefore, I did not eat her even though I was very hungry when this picture was taken.
We brought Selin a copy of Allegra’s magazine!
After brunch and chat, we took a taxi to a restaurant called Balkon (balcony). Balkon thinks it’s the Louvre. Turkish style.
We met up with Elaine’s new beau and his friend at Balkon, too, although I have opted not to include their picture here, for Elaine, thrice-married to Turkish men, does have a gift for moving on. Anyhow, despite the overloud dance music interferring with attempts at conversation, we all were impressed with each other. Perhaps delicate political negotiations would do well to crank some Rihanna.
No, really. The place was hilarious.
Selin likes Uncle Byron’s Statement Hair. Turns out her purple watch matches the remnant purple he had dyed in a few months ago. By the end of the afternoon, Elaine had braided the beard. Now we need an Evil Eye bead to attach to the end of it.
Avaricious seagulls made the ferry ride back to Sultanahmet quite picturesque. Then someone tossed them a hunk of bread that whipped back through the wind and whacked my cheek. I is paralyzed.
The birds. Oh, THE BIRDS!

And, thus, the sun set on our visit to this amazing country, crossroads of East and West.

Our shuttle comes at 3:45 a.m. to get us to the airport. Then we spend a few hours flying to Paris; after a quick layover there (can we say “macarons”?), we spend another eight hours getting over the ocean to a stop in Detroit. More layover and then on to Minneapolis. If we have it in us, Byron and I will then drive up to Duluth so as to be home when the kids get up Tuesday morning. By that point, we’ll be so rank they’ll dodge our hugs.

Fueling our engines the entire way will be memories of friends and food and culture, all highlighted in this video in which Elaine explains a Turkish breakfast in two languages:

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Day Ten: Return to Istanbul

This morning, we flew from Kayseri back to Istanbul and felt ourselves shift into the final leg of our trip. By early afternoon, we’d checked into our hotel. After a few minutes of gathering our wits and brushing our hairs, we headed out to visit a particularly wonderful little place called the Chora Church/Kariye Kilise (Byron and I had been there before but wanted to drag these lady particular pals through it, too). Then we returned to the Spice Market to find sumac, soap, and sweatshirts. That chaotic craziness was followed by dinner and an evening walk across The Golden Horn.

The day in review, in pictures:

Here’s our room at the Hotel Ararat. The queer painted face is looking across the room directly into a wall-sized mirror, all of which has the effect of creeping the patchouli out of me.
Virginia and Kirsten’s room is a more soothing blue, with a sun rising on the wall. It’s almost enough to make you think you could actually spread your arms out wide and turn in a full circle.
This door to a home outside the Chora Church wins the award for Most Picturesque of the entire trip, and that’s saying something.
The exterior of the Chora Church (also called the Kariye Kilise). Isn’t Gilligan cute?
One of the mosaic-ed domes inside the Chora Church. Domes do not suck.
The other thing that Is Not Suck is Byron, especially when he’s doing some quick sketching as he walks around the jewel box of a place that is the Chora Church.
Sketchy McSketcherson
Today’s revelation: arches are nice.

In case you’re tired of static images, perhaps I can intrigue you anew by tossing out a couple quick (and jerky!) videos shot inside the Chora; the battery in the camera was dying, so they’re definitely quick and off-the-cuff:

We had some tea across the street from the Chora. In addition to tea, they also do some fierce grilling (as does nearly every Turkish restaurant). Such pretty stuff. Byron bought some of those flat skewers to bring home, so he can make a couple of his favorite kebabs and meatballs. When he’s not looking, Paco and I are going to borrow his skewers and launch them from a crossbow.
After the Chora Church, we went once again to the Spice Market so as to pick up a few last gifts and re-up our lokum stash. See how jinglers plus evil eyes make for a visual feast? Jinglers never go wrong.
In my defense, I’m saving the lokum for later. I actually had it vacuum sealed to take home. Thus, I was well within all rights when I bought baklava. Not from this guy, though. But tomorrow I’m going to him. I mean, in case I find I’ve run short.
After dinner, we walked across the Galata Bridge, which is full of fisherman–at all hours–and rice pilav/chicken carts (I smell tomorrow’s dinner!). Istanbul after dark is a whole new Istanbul.
I’m glad we get one more day in this amazing city, so we have a few more hours to catch its dizzying array of moods.

Tomorrow morning, we take the ferry from the European side of the city to the Asian side. Then we hop the Metro to our friend Elaine’s neighborhood. She’s having us over for brunch and some hang out time with the kids. Mostly, I’m excited to have a few more hours with someone dear and to see an area of Istanbul that’s not Tourist Central. I’m also excited because Elaine has a three-year-old who’s learning to blow his own nose.

It doesn’t get better than that.

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Day Nine: Tokat

It is perhaps a blessing that Kirsten was our Camera Woman today (it ended up being a shopping day, which means my hands got full of bags, and thus I couldn’t be bothered to drag out my camera every time a gorgeous covered woman looking vaguely melancholy walked by). Her camera snapped most of the hundreds of pictures, and then we were too tired tonight for me to snag her photos from her camera. So I’ll toss out a few highlights and then hop into bed and catch some snoozies before we get up and head to the Kayseri airport tomorrow morning. We’ll return our rental car and fly back to Istanbul for two more nights. Then, the return home. How’d that happen so fast?

We were in the city of Tokat today, a place I will remember for its very dear people. We were never hawked by vendors trying to get our money; we were never pressured or bothered. Rather, we were welcomed. The end. Plus, nearly every citizen of Tokat shucked aside our attempts at Turkish so that he/she could un-self-consciously try out not-so-bad English. Something about that city’s entire populace struck me as very kindly.

That feeling, fortunately, carried me through my dismay at finding only a SINGLE mannequin in the city museum.

The highlights:

We went to a “Han,” which is a collection of covered shops with a courtyard in the middle. Before working through the shops, we sat and had a hot drink. This is the sugar bowl.
At the Han, we bought a few tablecloths from this woman. Her other customer there is 15 and speaks a little bit of English. Like, enough for her to tell me how old she is.
This woman has a shop in which she carries out the craft of making hand stamps from wood and then using them, in a variety of motifs, to decorate textiles. You’d better believe I walked out with a scarfy-table-covery thing from her. She was warm but reserved, and anyone who’s ever tried to strike up a conversation with my husband or kids without putting in some time first knows that I have a distinct affinity for the Warm But Reserved individuals of this world.
More of her carved hand stamps.
At the grocery store, we bought a few things to have later for dinner in our hotel rooms. This lad was employed to be Sample Guy. He was handing out samples of Cig Kofte, which is essentially little squeezed balls of bulgur and red pepper paste wrapped in lettuce leaves, with lemon squeezed over the top.
Sample Guy would squeeze the Cig Kofte off this heap. Pre-packaged (but still with finger marks in ’em) Cig Kofte balls are available at the front of the display. We bought a pack. NUMMY dinner.
At the museum in town, I took a liking to this guy. He’s the most powerful of the Hittite gods, as he’s the storm god. He didn’t scare me one. effing. bit. BRING IT ON, STORM GOD.
Read the sentence about “the most striking tradition.” I wish everyone could do this, whether through prayer or some other formation of words, every day.
MANNEQUIN! My mannequin. In the museum, this guy was set up to demonstrate exactly the hand stamping craft we’d just seen in the Han, from that sweet, reserved woman. This guy was reserved in his own way; I think it’s because his wife left him twelve years ago.
I’m nuts for the Ottomans (who were ascendant from roughly the 13th C until 1924) because they understood that ornate could still be tasteful. Take, for instance, this MASCARA CONTAINER.
Friends, I cannot tell you how insanely nuts I am for what I call, using the technical Turkish words, “Ottoman jinglers.” All their earrings and headpieces and necklaces are made from copper and silver and have swingy, jingly stuff dripping off them, and pretty much I want to stuff every last bit of this bodily decoration into a pillowcase and then run up the mountain with them and hide out in a cave forever with my treasures, trying them on and then dancing a little bit and then twirling in circles and then singing and then telling them to “hush” and then wrapping them around my wrists and head and neck and waist and then eventually hoping a friend stops by so I can start it all again.
The only thing that could make Ottoman Jingler Fest even better would be if we all wore these hamam shoes while we twirled. Ottoman women wore them in what we call the “Turkish bath.” Shorthand: these are the first flip-flops.
The only thing that shuts me up about my Ottoman jinglers and fancy hamam shoes is the sight of a war club. Because then I have to sing-talk, like Rex Harrison in MY FAIR LADY, “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. HUH. I’ll say it again.”
You guys are probably all, “Wow, Jocelyn is a bit nuts about her mannequins and jinglers and war clubs,” but I’d argue in my defense that at least my name’s not Christinae. Talk about a drama queen.

The only other part of the day I want to share with you is this video. As we were checking out of our hotel, suddenly music started thrumming on the street outside. We went out and got to watch the city’s school kids practicing their parade for an upcoming national holiday celebration. This was a pretty hotshot “practice,” if you ask me.

Anyhow, the video lets you see some Turks and hear some Turkish and listen to some rockin’ tunes. I know it goes on for awhile, but I couldn’t help myself.

You see, I get revved up about mannequins and jinglers and war clubs, but

I’m also crazy for drums.

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Day Eight: Amasya into Tokat

I’m sitting here, typing, and Allah-Allah, do my feet stink. It was a sweaty day wearing shoes that trapped the odors quite ably. You know what I could use, right?

No, no, no. Not a face cover! My nose would still be catching funky whiffs, even through the protective barrier.

Rather, I need a rousing round of this:

The day started with some sweating, when Kirsten and I headed out for our respective runs. I figured out a nice route (whew!) through the city and to the outer edges and then, upon return to our hotel, I was given breakfast and the opportunity to try out the hostess’ personal fitness equipment. It would seem Turkey has the equivalent of a Home Shopping Network…because I don’t know where else she’d have bought a piece of do-nothing equipment whose sole purpose is to collect dust in a corner. Obligingly, though, I dropped onto her ab crunching machine and let its forceful springs push me back up every time I laid it down. Clearly, clearly, the machine doesn’t whittle one’s abs down to nothing.

I’d need a surgeon to achieve that miracle.

The hostess was quite convinced I was getting the workout of my life, however, so I vamped it up.

And you know how I like to vamp next to a samovar:

Thus, before mid-morning, I’d broken a sweat from running, crunching my abs, and feigning exertion in two languages.

Ready to escape fitness camp, we four trooped out to explore Amasya.

Pontic cliff tomb
Restored Ottoman houses, much like our hotel.

Our first stop was at a refurbished Ottoman house, now a museum:

Y’all know how I feel about the mannequins, right? This house museum was a dream come true.

Traditional eating during Ottoman times (roughly 1300-1924, by the way) had people sitting on cushions on the floor and then draping a table cloth over their laps. This made for ease of clean-up, as the table cloth was gathered up and shaken out at the end of each meal. Unless Uncle Murat had passed out on top of it again in a bulgur stupor.
In the basement of the Ottoman house museum is a fine arts space, currently featuring the photos of this photographer. She let me take her photo but kept restaging it until I took one she approved of. I am delighted to say she approved the one that has a pair of butterfly wings growing out of her skull.

Post Ottoman house, we headed up the mountain to see the rock tombs of Pontic kings:

Those tombs are way the hell up there. Virginia proved her statement of “I’m feeling much younger on this trip than I had been back home” by rockstarring her way up the steep and lengthy climb.

Little-known fact: roosters are fond of Pontic kings.

You know what all that climbing around the mountainside did? Made me hecka sweaty, in a way that took me back, sensorily, to nearly all of our year living in this country. That sticky, gummy sweat was full-on memory.

The only way to recover from a hard climb is to spend an hour in a temperate museum, yes? We went to the ethnographic museum to find some shade and, hopefully some more mannequins. Sure, there were a few, but they lacked the panache of those in the Ottoman House. Good thing the rest of the museum was full of arresting and unique-feeling pieces.

This head ranks right up there in my Annals of Favorite Artifacts.
See how they had to put gold leaf over the eye sockets to prevent me from turning this into a piggy bank/gumball machine?
This is a family genealogy, Ottoman-style. Byron and I love it, love it, love it.
A close-up of the family connections
The thing about the mannequins in this museum is that…
…they’re all gay. I just wanted to put them in a glass display room all together and turn on “I Will Survive.” Speaking of artifacts.

Once we left the club, er, museum, it was back out to the street.

This woman exemplifies typical modern day wear for the majority of Turkish women.

By this point, it was mid-afternoon, so we hopped in the car and continued on our touring loop of cities. A long detour to see the city of Zile was okay, but we’d been told all the houses there inexplicably lean at dramatic angles. However, when we got to Zile, everything was upright and posture perfect. This makes me strongly suspect our friend Ruth, who gave us the tip about the city, was drunk while she was there.

Fortunately, the Zile drive was beautiful, and eventually we got to tonight’s city, Tokat, most famed for its kebap. We sought one out for Byron and Virginia to share (my “welcome back to Turkey” guts are keeping me on soup and rice these days, not to mention the fact that I don’t like lamb).

Lamb on eggplant and potatoes with roasted tomato sauce on bread with roasted garlic = Tokat Kebap.

After dinner? A stop at the baklava shop.

How many Turkish men does it take to place six pieces of baklava into a box?
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Day Seven: Hattusa and Amasya

I can get into the part of travel that involves standing in a museum and looking at pottery shards. I’m also pretty adept at reading plaques.

I can really get into the part of travel that involves interacting with people–both old friends and new natives. We had the best time at our hotel this afternoon drinking tea and attempting to chat with our hostess and her 14-year-old daughter. Between our limited Turkish and the daughter’s limited English, we managed to learn not only that her father is dead but also that her brother is doing his mandatory three-year military service in the city of Mardin (which has been #1 on my To Visit wish list since we lived here). Mardin hugs the border with Syria, so the brother is undergoing some tough times–“many problem”–these days. This mother and daughter running a hotel in the Black Sea region drove home for me the headlines that are dominating headlines across the planet.

Just as much, I can deeply get into the part of travel that lets me explore places on foot. This morning, I followed breakfast with a gorgeous run from our hotel, down the road, up the road, up the road, up the road, up some more, up a bit further, up until I couldn’t breathe, and then blissfully down and down. I did this on the road that snakes around the ruins at Hattusa, the capital of the ancient Hittite civilization. Because I set out from the hotel while the others packed up, I was able to buy my ticket using sweaty lira that had been tucked into my bra and then run and run until I found my crew at the first stop within the circle of pullovers. To have a place to run that’s free of crowds and cars was heavenly. To travel by foot is my favorite approach of all.

A few shots from today, starting with Virginia at the Hattusa Lion’s Gate:

I’m very taken with pyramids, and the outer walls of Hattusa form one. I’ve typed it before, but I’ll type it again: pretty much the history of the world revolves around people picking up rocks and stacking them.

End of informative academic lecture.

Kirsten rocked the rocks by plowing up a formidable staircase. At the top, she jumped for joy. I would’ve, too, but I was too busy lying on the ground, panting.

Further evidence that I’m the world’s cheapest date: I find the wings of a sphinx to be glorious. That’s all it takes to make me happy. Sphinx wings. Is that so hard?

I also like to imagine what kind of jewels or rocks might have originally been in the eyeball sockets of this face. Then I like to imagine it’s my piggy bank and that I’m shoveling nickels into the eyeballs. After that, I start to confuse the word “eyeball” with “gumball,” and then I wish that gumballs would come flying out of the eye sockets.

Then I start to wonder when I last had a drink of water and if I mightn’t be just the slightest bit dehydrated.

In case someone takes all the nickels from my piggy bank’s eyes, I’m practicing my Hittite Relief Sculpture poses so that I can answer ads in the classifieds for art class models who specialize in just that.

The thing about driving a looped road around an ancient capital is that eventually you finish the loop and feel ready to stop driving in circles. We drove to another Hittite site, Alacahoyuk, and contemplated buying this place as we drove through the village:

I decided that my life is already too full, so I went ahead and bought it for you. You move in next month. I daresay the Home & Garden network would like to create a reality show around your efforts to salvage such a fixer-upper and flip it before next Ramazan.

At Alacahoyuk, there are more relief carvings. One of these poses was really hard to practice without a ladder. I used Byron instead.

Well done with Alacahoyuk, we piled into the car and drove for a couple hours, north to a city that’s new to all of us, Amasya.

Friends, I love this city. Looming mountain of stone? Check. River? Check. Bustling sense of commerce without heaving crowds? Check. Classic wooden Ottoman houses? Check.  ROCK TOMBS IN THE CLIFFS? Check.

I only snapped the tombs from the outside today, as we were getting into town near sunset. Tomorrow, we pay admission and enter. I am aquiver.

When I’m not dreaming of ROCK TOMBS CARVED INTO THE CLIFFS, I’m staying in a room like this.

From Virginia and Kirsten’s room, we can peek out the window and see this:

At night, Amasya looks like this:

Isn’t it awesome that ROCK TOMBS CARVED INTO CLIFFS can be lit up so fantastically?

And here you thought I got excited about sphinx’s wings.

Tomorrow’s plan is to head into the tombs and then search out the ethnographic museum.

I’ve raved so much about the sphinx wings and the rock tombs that my shrieks of happy anticipation about the crazy mannequins in Turkey’s ethnographic museums may fall on hardened ears, so I’ll try to contain myself.

Allow me this one tiny yelp of anticipatory excitement, though: according to one brochure, some of the mannequins are even wearing turbans.

I shan’t sleep a wink.

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Day Six: Leaving Cappadocia. Hittites, Brace Yourselves.

Nothing highlights what a picky eater I am more than a table full of 800 bowls, from which I eat two things.

I do like honey. And cucumbers. And the red pepper paste on the frittata. All the other stuff? Right up Byron and Virginia’s alley. More accurately, “down their gullets.”

Indeed, those two share a palate for savory, even slightly sour. The earlier in the day these tastes can be shoveled into the mouth, the better.

For me, not so much. I’ve never liked olives or tomatoes, and my aversion to something fundamental in Turkish dairy products remains.

In more positive news, I’m coming along swimmingly on the lokum-liking front. Previous to this trip, I could look at a box of lokum and never consider cracking it. Now, wellllll, if it’s fresh from the dried fruit & nut store, I’m all over the pomegranate gel encrusted with pistachios. Please, Bey Efendi, may I have another?

After that final warm and chat-filled breakfast on Laura and Nurettin’s terrace, we readied ourselves for goodbyes, a process lubricated by the requisite group photo just before hugs and tears (mine). Because Nurettin was at his workshop, we found a stand-in (hmmm, but is it the dog or the photo?).

Not only will we miss our Ortahisar friends, we’ll also miss their “maid,” Senay, whose dignity, discretion, and gentle smile are appreciated by everyone in her orbit.

Having checked out of Laura’s hotel (her place actually is a hotel, so if you’re up for it, I can give you her contact information), it was time to head to Goreme to visit friend Ruth’s carpet shop once again. After some mulling, Virginia and Kirsten had decided to make a purchase. Outside Ruth’s shop is the carpet crew’s baby donkey. Its diminutiveness compensates for its general state of scraggle.

The great thing about Ruth’s shop is the feeling of invitation. Sit. Have tea. Chat. Listen. Learn. Have more tea.

Our Turkish friend, Deniz, came to Ruth’s shop so that we could have an hour of catching up. She’s a pathologist at a hospital in a nearby town, and she’s someone for whom I developed a true affection during our year in Cappadocia. It doesn’t hurt that she’s so itty I could eat her for lunch, were I so disposed. So long as she’s not savory or sour, of course.

When I entered the store, Ruth called me over to ask if her shirt were so sheer as to be TOO sheer. I assured her that the heavy patterning camouflaged all her best bits quite properly and that all I could make out were her dessert-plate-sized nipples.

Then I asked her to toss out a nip for easy viewing. Happily, tossing back her hair, she obliged.

As conversation and tea continued to flow, Kirsten and Virginia got down to making a decision.

Ultimately, they bought a cradle bag kilim. Formerly, the rug had rope loops around its edges, so that the loops could be threaded through and the resultant bag hung from a couple poles. Then a string was tied from the cradle bag to the mother’s toe; while Mama sat and did her knitting, she could tap her foot and rock the baby.

When it was time for Deniz to head back to work–lots of biopsy slides to read–we again lubricated the goodbyes with a group photo.

Please admire what a beastmaster Byron is compared to Deniz. She tried to explain to us that she’s of Turkmen stock, which is apparent from her triangle-shaped eyes, but I maintain she’s descended from elves.

It would help her case if she’d stop snatching a handful of fairy dust from her purse every five minutes and scattering it everywhere she goes.

After a lovely lunch of gozleme (village food: kind of like huge soft tortillas stuffed with spinach, cheese, or potatoes) with Ruth, we hit a couple more shops and then hopped into our newly-repaired rental car. The tires had been replaced; the alignment, erm, aligned; and the scary noise from the transmission quelled. It was time to leave Cappadocia and head towards Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittites.

Arriving near the village of Bogazkale just at sunset, we pulled off to view a Hittite rock sanctuary–used for ceremonial purposes (a phrase just vague enough that no one actually has to admit she has no earthly idea what actually took place on the site; whatever it was, from sacrifice to coronation to funeral, I’m sure there was pomp). Personally, I don’t care what they did there, so long as someone carved figures in the rocks. I firmly believe that, without carved rock figures, one shouldn’t even bother with a ceremony. Just ask my wedding planner. He still crumples into tears when you mention my name in his presence, whimpering, “I thought she said ice sculptures,” his sobs subsiding only when his boyfriend hums a few bars of Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” softly into his ear.

So, yea, rock guys.

Then there’s my rock guy. I like this picture because it shows how very soon all the purple will have grown out of Byron’s facial Statement Hair:

With darkness setting in, we stopped at the Kale Otel, which is where we stayed with the kids a year and a half ago when we visited this area. As was the case then, we enjoyed the feeling of being the only guests in a well-prepared establishment.

Tomorrow, we visit the Hittite city of Hattusa. Then we drive up to Amasya.

I know. I KNOW. You’re excited about Amasya’s cliff tombs and wooden Ottoman houses, too!

Patience, little one. Patience.

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Day Five: Cappadocia

Someone had a very good morning.

How could she not?

Virginia and Kirsten loved their balloon ride, made even better by having gotten a discounted rate thanks to Laura’s clout and by the presence of a journalist in their basket celebrating her birthday. What better way to end a balloon ride than with a piece of birthday cake and a mimosa, all before 9 a.m.?

As they recovered from their flight, I went out to run some more of my favorite country roads with this Nicest of Doggies Ever:

Later, back at Laura’s, our hostess took us on a quick walk to see “her” church. She bought it 17 years ago for $2,500, back when she was buying up property and buying it at scandalously low cost. For roughly the price of an airline ticket from Indianapolis to Toronto (I looked it up), she got a church dating somewhere between the 6th and the 9th Centuries. I’d rather save the money, drive to Toronto, see all the stuff in between, and get me a church, frankly.

Here’s the view of Laura’s house from her church:

Having been to church, it seemed only fitting to hop in the car and tear away at high speed towards darker places. We started the afternoon’s tour in the town of Mazi, which features one of Cappadocia’s twenty-some underground cities. There are a couple other underground cities open to tourists, but they’ve been all slicked up and safe-ified. Mazi is just starting to think about doing that. They’ve hired an architect and are building an exterior. They’re doing excavations. But so far? It’s still rustic and raw. Our guide sized up our collective physical condition and decided we could handle the Rough ‘N Ready tour (not that he told us this), which meant we climbed up thousands-of-years-old tunnels and chutes, tunnels that have little footholds carved into the tufa rock, so the climber puts one foot on one side of the tunnel and one foot on the other side of the tunnel and scrabbles up. Where the rock is quite worn, small panels of wood have been hammered in. On the longest ascents, the guide put a harness around our waists and held onto the rope from above.

Best of all is this: he carried Virginia on his shoulders up every single passageway. He’d get her up into the hole, and then he’d scoot underneath her and nestle her onto his shoulders. Then he’d climb her up. The city is so dark that, even with our flashlights as help, I could only snap a couple of photos; my camera resisted the rest of my attempts. Here’s what I got:

There are a variety of protective “traps” and ideas built into these cities (which were constructed to provide safety during times of invasion and battle). The guide actually did scare Kirsten with this hand-grabbing stunt when it happened in real time. I don’t mind the re-enactment, though.

The next stop in our circle tour was at the Roman ruins (also undergoing serious excavation; Turkey has kicked itself into high gear when it comes to readying the place for more and more and more tourism) near the village of Sahinefendi:

After the Roman ruins, we zipped over to the peaceful and bucolic Keslik Monastery. I’ve taken so many photos of all these places before that I’m finding the random “small” shots more interesting. For example, hidden behind a piece of the monastery was a stack of brooms. Just the right weeds have been growing, drying, and getting tied up. Where better for a family to store a year’s worth of brooms than behind the monastery?

By late afternoon, we were back and Laura and Nurettin’s house, where we brushed the sand and dirt off our clothes (Mazi stuck with us) and prepared to take our hosts out to the hole-in-the-wall shish house of their choosing. One of my favorite things about Turkish food is the mezzes (appetizers). A various assortment of all kinds of everything is laid out across the table in dishes. Then everyone dives in.

Hey, guess what? Byron’s teaching a mezze class in Duluth in November! Sign up now, before it fills!

Dessert was kunife, which is essentially Shredded Wheat soaked in syrup and featuring cheese in the middle. This is a dessert that pains me not at all to pass up. This is not the case for Nurettin.

Virginia and Kirsten discovered a great Like of the stuff, too.

Incidentally, Nurettin has no gaydar for women and is completely unable to hold the thought in his head that Virginia and Kirsten–yes, their age difference can run interference on perceptions–are a couple. He has spent the last three days joshing Virginia about how he’s going to find her a husband. She has taken it well and deflected his every joke.

But, um, then he brought a geezer over tonight and attempted to facilitate an introduction.

I am eternally grateful that Virginia used to teach communication classes and is well able to negotiate her way through any potentially-tough situation. If that fails, feigning a complete inability to understand what’s being said and proposed also works.

So we gathered together tonight, as we have the last few, and tomorrow we’ll head out on the next leg of our trip and once again plaster Turkish kisses on the cheeks of our Cappadocian friends as we bid them a gratitude-laced adieu.

Ah, but before we zip off to see the sunset of the Hittites, we’re spending tomorrow morning at a carpet shop (a good one, run by a friend), having coffee with a different friend, and switching out our cruddy rental car for one with tires that can actually drive on loose rock. All the better if the tires have been aligned in the last decade.

In sum, it’s been yet another full day, during which we–seriously–accepted and declined no fewer than ten offers of tea.

Sloshingly yours,

I remain,

The full-bladdered Jocelyn

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Day Four: Cappadocia

Travel can be intense, which is why it can be so vivid and memorable. It also, in the worst case scenario, can be why traveling companions begin to chafe as the days tick by. Not so here.

I still like her:

I still like her, too:

And, lawsy, does I still likes him:

In the best news of recent days, I slept for ten hours last night. Not only has jet lag been an issue, trying to stay on top of grading and keeping up with my classes have cut into a couple hours’ sleep time each night. Of the six classes I’m teaching right now, four are ending this next week, as they are accelerated 8-week courses (I get to read research papers as we drive north, towards the Black Sea region, thus fulfilling what was never a life-long dream), so there’s not only the usual weekly work, but there’s also end-of-term work, like final exams that are about to come in. Fortunately–knock wool and lokum–I’ve had good Internet access so far, so getting online hasn’t been an issue.

The perfect way to follow-up a good night’s sleep (I recommend cave sleeping incidentally: cool and silent, unless a band of young Turks is setting off fireworks in the canyon at midnight) is with a laid-back morning. Once I rubbed the sand–both from Mr. Sand Man and the cave ceiling’s shedding–out of my eyes, I graded the work that had been turned in over night and then meandered up to the terrace, where one and all, plus our former neighbor, Balloon Pilot David, sat eating breakfast. As I ate a piece of cornbread made with cornmeal we’d left behind when we returned to the States, we basked in the sun and the backdrop of the valley below.

Then, taking Laura and Nurettin’s Golden Retriever, Karamel, with me, I headed up to my favorite country road for a run. Poor Karamel had already been out for a long walk earlier, and so she was dragging and panting the whole time. I just about had to carry her the last few miles home. Luckily, there are “ablutin’ fountains” (which some families also use for washing their laundry) out on some roads, so I was able to stop and give her a drink as we headed back into the village. Even more reviving were the grapes I fed her; the man who remembers me as The Woman Who Runs had seen me heading out and, as he was in his garden plot, gathering grapes, he promised to leave me a cluster on his fence post, for picking up after my run.

It’s amazing how much can be communicated without language.

Upon my return, we were feeling ready to face an afternoon of showing Virginia some great Cappadocian sights.

First, we stopped at Devrent Valley, also known as “Imagination Valley,” for every rock can be imagined into some figure…a camel…a mother holding a baby…a Viking ship. Because we lack imagination, that was a quick stop, allowing only minimal time for vamping.

Done with Devrent, we zipped to Zelve. Zelve is the town, made up of three canyons of cave homes, that was inhabited until 1960, at which time the government noticed the tendency of carved out rock to cave in. The citizens of the town were mandatorily relocated to a few apartment buildings down the road. Apparently, though, the danger to Turkish citizens outweighed the danger to German men in embroidered jean shorts, for the place remains open to tourists.

I just love it. Before today, I’d been there in April and July, but October is the best. It’s less hot, and the light is gorgeous. Even in the mere 14 months since we were here, much has changed in Turkey as a whole: the bathrooms are, by and large, better; the airports have been updated; and Zelve has new paved paths that make it accessible (and less dangerous) for all sorts of people.

We four people were in need of some energy-boosting gozleme (potatoes, cheese, or spinach inside a folded-up piece of yufka, which is like a large, thin soft tortilla).

Well fortified, we headed out to peek through holes and try out the new paths.

Cappadocia’s subtitle could be “Churches, Churches, Everywhere!”

Slick whitewash outside pigeon alcoves made it impossible for weasels and their creepy claws to find purchase. Thus, the pigeons could roost and remain safe from predators.

Virginia has no padding left on the bottoms of her feet, and she uses special insoles to help, yet every step can feel like “walking on marbles.” During an hour and a half of walking around, she never emitted any noise except oohs and ahhhs. Well, actually, she did more than that: she also translated a few of the best tidbits from the German group behind us. A favorite translated complaint: “Rocks, rocks. This place is just rocks.”

While it’s been great fun to share with Virginia some highlights from “our” Cappadocia, Byron and I are particularly enjoying the moments when we see something new, something we haven’t seen before. This evening, just before sunset, we went to the new sculpture park, a place created by Australian sculptor Andrew Rogers. Ideally, the  park is viewed by car, as the sculptures are spaced out from each other a fair ways; however, our cruddy rental car couldn’t make it up the steep, rocky road. We parked halfway up the road and walked the rest of the way. Not having a car also meant that we stuck to the closest “geoglyph.” As the sun set, I jogged up the road to the next glyph, as well. Other photos can be seen here.

No geoglyph here. I just like the view.
A couple of the glyphs seem almost Celtic or like crop circles gone wild.

This particularly Stonehenge-ian sculpture was impressive even off in the distance.
I jogged to this one as the sun dipped.

Hey, Paco? If you’re looking at these pictures with Allegra and Oma and Jay, you should know Daddy spent a long time looking for a chunk of obsidian for you. He ended up finding only a small piece–but a small piece is better than nothing. I wanted us to bring home one of these sculptures for you, but old Party Pooper Pa said no.


With the sky dark, we zoomed into Goreme to stop by our friend Ruth’s carpet shop. Ruth has a deep and specialized knowledge in tribal rugs; fortunately, asking her one question opens the door, and the education begins. We sat for a half hour, transfixed by her explanation of old versus new, good versus bad, valuable versus crap. (I didn’t have my camera in the shop, but when Kirsten shares her pictures with me, I’ll post a few!)

By the time we staggered, happily, into the night and drove back to Laura’s, we were late for dinner, which earned us a stern reprimand. We groveled, and all was forgiven, which then allowed us all to sit down with two of Laura’s British friends who live in Ortahisar. One is a recently-retired airline pilot, and the other is an artist/writer/Egyptologist type who was able to fill us in a bit on the Hittites–since we’ll be visiting their ancient capital in a few days. They were completely lovely, so much so that we all fought off our yawns until a reasonable hour.

Now I’m back to grading; Byron’s back to sleeping; and in a few hours, Virginia and Kirsten will wake up very early so as to

stuff Virginia into the basket of a hot air balloon.

She’s never been in one before. She’s 75. It’s time.

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Day Three: Cappadocia

Graded class work until 2 a.m. Woke up twice before 5 a.m. Got dressed at 5:20 a.m. On shuttle to airport by 5:45 a.m.

Haven’t slept since.

Tragic sleep update is now officially over, as lack of sleep is only making me feel slightly loony (the main effect of which is that I’ve lost huge bits of my vocabulary, but I find smiling makes people think I may be dumb, but that I’m a benign blight), and so I should get to posting today’s highlights. Incidentally, I’m really appreciating your comments, and I’m really appreciating that these over-full days are getting recorded so that I can look back later and remember what the hell I actually did.

So we flew to Kayseri, rented a car, drove into the town of Urgup, and started visiting our old haunts. We went to our favorite fruit and nut guy and loaded up on presents for beloveds back home; we went to the Saturday market and stared at huge cabbages; we went to the used kilim shop and bought a few more used, um, what’s the word?

Then we went to Pancarlik Church and stopped at the Ortahisar overlook to stare at the stunning profile of our former village. We also drank tea at every stop, of course. My favorite was the guy at the overlook who, despite his limited English and my limited Turkish, managed to convey that he remembers me well as The Woman Who Runs.

I mean, if I had to leave a legacy behind, there could be worse titles. I didn’t tell him I was also The Woman Who Had the Runs, for example.

Closing out our day was our arrival at friend Laura’s home, a veritable compound in which every aspect makes one feel one is on a movie set. We are staying in two of her suites for a few nights, and when Virginia walked into the first one, I do believe it was the first time I’ve ever seen my quip-for-every-occasion friend fall speechless. Laura invited over another friend from our time here, who brought some cousins along, too, so it was a regular dinner party. Byron helped close it out in fine style by gifting our host and hostess with matted art work he had done expressly for them. For Laura’s boyfriend, Nurettin, there was a comic depicting Nurettin’s great-grandfather choosing the family’s surname in the 1920s (when Turks were required to select family names). For Laura, there was a pen-and-ink drawing of a famous mosque in the city of Adana. I daresay they were just the right audience to appreciate Byron’s talent.

Here, now, are the colors and textures and people who contributed to today’s bliss. Leading the list are my travel companions.

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