Turns Out Eli Manning’s Not the Problem

Sometimes, if I’m standing in line at the post office (mailing you a present), and the line is really long (you’re worth the wait),

I pass the time by playing one of my special mental games.

These games range from “Hey, Jaundiced Guy Eyeballing the Birds of Prey Stamp Design, You Gotta Stop Smoking” to “If This Were a Flash Mob, What Song Would We Dance To?”

A particular favorite involves me staring at pairings of people in the queue and asking Self, “Self, would you want to be part of that relationship?”

For Self, 98% of the time, the answer to that question is a screaming nooooooo–sometimes because the guy looks too jaundiced, or too queerly interested in Birds of Prey, or like he couldn’t hold his own in a good, old-fashioned flash mob. If I turn my attention to the partner in the relationship, which is most often a woman–because, HELLO, newly-re-elected Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann tells me men and women belong together (before she hums a few bars from “Love and Marriage,” alights from her horse and carriage, and works the barbeque with more than a whiff of desperation; woe to the quailing Tarleton Twins!)–I also generally find myself uninterested in the female half of the couple, as well, and not only because Bachmann tells me I can’t have a girl.

Rather, I am generally as unattracted to the Female Half of the Pairing as I am Male Half of the Pairing because the woman is wearing this

or because she’s raving about the endless salad bowl at Olive Garden

or because she’s harping on her man partner for parking so far away from the curb

or because she forgot to take out her perm curlers before leaving the house

Even when the pairing is male/male or female/female, I need only spend a few moments gaming out a vision of their lives before deciding I want no part of that dynamic. No matter the gender, there are very few winners in Post Office Episodes of “Would You Want to Be Part of That Relationship?” Invariably, I can’t stand the ugly upholstery I’ve imagined onto the contestants’ couches. As well, I am dismayed by the fear of change that I perceive in both their posture and their orthotics.

When I’m working my mental way through the assembled crowd, plucking off the couples with a “No,” “Nope,” “No way,” “Not in this lifetime,” “Please don’t make me,” occasionally a “Well, I’d take her, but not him,” my dismissive litany lurches to an abrupt halt with a “What ho?!” only if Omar, that Big, Bad Wolf from The Wire, strides in, his trench coat a’flappin’ with every stride, bold cigarette dangling from his fingers, rifle ready to strain all existing definitions of “going postal.”

If Omar comes in, the game is over. Clearly, I could be part of that couple, for, no matter how I line up the columns, Jocelyn + Omar always = Two Serious Badasses Meeting Their Soulmates.

Have I never shown you my rifle collection? The gun vault is hidden behind all the Ayun Halliday and Bill Bryson books.

I’m a stealth badass

…with a long history of deep attraction to every bad boy on the block.

Exhibit B (“B” is for “Byron”):

The downside of adding Omar to the long line of Badasses I Have Known and Loved is the unpredictability of his schedule. Some days when I’m in the queue at the post office (you will love your gift), Omar and his soldiers are busy pulling a heist at a stash house; thus, Omar fails to show, fails to sweep in and extract me from that day’s round of “Would You Want to Be In That Relationship?” On such days, I finish the game, my relationship prospects a wash,

and still I’m standing in line (it’s no Slanket or electric knife, this gift for you).

With more time to pass, I riffle through my mental Rolodex of games and pull out the card for “What’s Wrong with America?”

The problem with this game is that it can veer into the land of Serious awfully quickly, and who wants to think about war and unemployment while attempting to entertain herself at the post office? If the topics are war and unemployment, I might as well be on a date with Omar, eating curry goat and oxtail while we analyze the factors that have contributed to his career choices.

Trying to keep the game light, then, I flit through a variety of less-laden possibilities for “What’s Wrong with America?”

There’s the fact that suburbs are built for cars and not for foot traffic.

There’s the fact that millions of adults guilt themselves with the question “Am I a good parent?”

There’s the fact that millions of people own two homes before everybody owns one.

There are the American Girl stores. A few years back, when my family went to the American Girl store in The Grove in L.A., the friend who was with us observed, “The first time I walked in here, I thought to myself, ‘Okay, I understand why the world hates us.’ Then I looked around and squealed, ‘Ooh, a tiny canopy bed!‘”

No matter how many options I play through in this game, however, I always end up with the same final result. The answer for me with regards to “What’s Wrong with America?” is invariably

football.

The stupidity of it; the sounds; the violence; the idolization of coaches; the money put towards new helmets instead of smaller class sizes; the fans who dress in team colors on game days; the…

You’re with me on this, right?

I mean, you play this “What’s Wrong with America?” game, too, yes? And you always end up with the answer that the problem is football?

Wait. Are we having a moment here, like when actress Mackenzie Phillips went on Oprah to promote her tell-all memoir, a book that notably confessed her ten years of consensual adult sex with her father? Phillips’ attitude during the interview was one of bravely coming forward to name an unmapped problem: the widespread epidemic of the adult daughter sleeping with Dad for a decade, only breaking up with him when she becomes worried that the baby she’s carrying isn’t actually her husband’s (evidence that Dad’s a stand-up guy: he pays for the abortion). Phillips told her story that day, ready to be declared a hero, only to be greeted with the stunned silence of, “Yea. NO. We actually aren’t admiring your courage for coming forward and naming this problem that not a single one of us can fathom. Rather, we are suspended in the breathless catch of the appalled.”

Is that what’s happening here, when I assert that what’s wrong with America is football? Is this me being Mackenzie Phillips and you being Judgmental Oprah and Aghast Audience Members? Do you not even want the present in the box anymore? Should I just step out of the queue and head home? (what I’ll ever do with your gift if you don’t want it is beyond me, though)

Hmmm. We appear to be at an impasse. Unfortunately, there are only two people left in line in front of me–one of whom just said “…have drank…,” which puts him out of the running as a future mate–so we need to resolve our problem sooner rather than later. I really do want to mail this box to you, but if you don’t want it because you’re outraged at my Mackenzie Phillipsing of your cherished football, then I might as well save the postage (your gift is heavy).

Zoinks! I’ve got it. Here we go. I know how to establish détente. Let’s go Good Oprah and tap our inner light to find the energy to heal and repair these relationship fissures. Try this out:

The other week, I experienced something that surpassed even football in the “What’s Wrong with America?” game.

See, there’s this thing called Halloween, which is a holiday when kids put on costumes and go begging; of course, since these kids are products of an entitled nation, their begging sounds more like a demand.

Intimidated by these demanding children, adults in neighborhoods across the country throw food at them. Believing that sweets are the best way to pacify demanding children, the food given to the beggars is enriched with high fructose corn syrup. The occasional intrepid citizen hands out popcorn or pencils, but, fearing retaliation, most stick to heaving junk at Our Nation’s Future. Even if the demanding children aren’t placated, adults can count on the crash after the sugar high as insurance that their windows will remain egg free.

Held hostage by this tradition, the country shells out millions of dollars each year on Kit-Kats, Snickers, Almond Joys, Starbursts, Sweet Tarts, Milky Ways, Tootsie Rolls, Reeses, Twix. Children with fortitude often reap five pounds, seven pounds, nine pounds of candy in one night, some of them proudly managing to fill a pillowcase with packaged body rot.

Don’t get me wrong, People. I love a Snickers as much as the next eight-year-old. Don’t get me wronger: Halloween is my favorite holiday.

So we have a bunch of kids who put on masks and go out and demand loot. Not incidentally, Halloween is Omar’s favorite holiday, too.

Once the begging is over, the American kids go home and pour out their bags of candy onto the floor. Using all the skills they learned in their overcrowded classrooms, they spend some time sorting yummy from coconut-laden and counting how many York Peppermint Patties they scored; they make a pile of “Want” and a pile of “Don’t Want.” Sometimes there is trading with friends and siblings, but the end result is that most kids only want a couple pounds of their haul. Beyond personal desire, nowadays there are also all those allergic peanuts and intolerant lactoses and corn bloatings, which remove another pound of candy from the mix. What to do with the unwanted candy, then?

Well. In recent years, the trend has been for dentist offices to do a “candy buy-back” the day after Halloween. Seriously.

On one level, I can see the logic. The teeth-savers want to save the teeth. They are willing to pay a dollar a pound to children who sacrifice their candy to the scale. Okay. That’s a kind of do-gooder-ism. Tempting greedy children with $$ is fair play in a consumeristic culture, especially if it prevents some tooth decay.

What do the dentists do with this candy? In my mind, it should be consigned to the incinerator or used to spell out, in letters 29-feet high, STOP PRODUCING HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP AND FUNNELING IT INTO OUR CHILDREN.

Some of those words are hard to spell, though, so instead the dentists do this:

they package up and send the candy to that nebulous entity called Our Soldiers Overseas. (explains the tortoise-like pace of the line at the post office today, dunnit?)

Question. Are Our Soldiers Overseas not in danger already, by virtue of their commitment to defend and serve? Particularly for those posted in high-risk areas, how is sending them candy full of chemicals, dyes, and obesity bombs at all a gesture of gratitude?

If I were a soldier in Afghanistan, I know what would feel like gratitude for my service, what would add a splash of fun and joy to my dreary days. I’d be crazy excited if a helicopter landed, and a crew from Chipotle hopped out; I’d be carefully-but-enthusiastically jumping through the landmine field if I knew those Chipotle folks had been sent by appreciative citizens back home and that I was about to get a dinner of something that felt like fast food but was actually made from quality ingredients. Make me a two-pound burrito, Chipotle Crew, and toss in all the brown rice and black beans you possibly can fit without tearing the tortilla. For that, that, would energize me to serve another day.

All right. I’ll concede that flying cooks to dangerous regions is less doable than mailing candy. I hear your objections.

Presuming I can relax about the issues of loading our kids with crap and then offering to buy that crap from them so we can mail it to service people,

I still will argue that this phenomenon is so deeply flawed as to sum up What’s Wrong with America.

Because.

Once the kids turn over their candy and collect their cash, they are also given a “sport bag” full of stuff: a bottle of water, a bookmark, a new toothbrush and toothpaste.

A coupon for a free sundae at McDonald’s.

And then, on the way out the door, a nice dental hygienist stops each kid to ask,

Would you like a lollipop?

In summary, then:

People buy huge poundages of terrible candy and give it to children who then eat too much of it and sell the rest for profit; this transferred candy is shipped to people whose lives are already at risk, and the children who were being saved from the candy in the first place are handed candy and the promise of future highly-artificialized sweets on their way out the door.

Thus ends another challenging round of “What’s Wrong with America?”

Luckily, I’m at the counter now, ready to post this heavy box to you. If I had to stand here even three more minutes, I’d have to commence my next special time-passing game.

It’s called “Guess What’s in the Box!”

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Lack of Particulars Makes the Story

Unrest at work has been put to rest. Negative thoughts met with positive thoughts, a whole lot plummeted into the chasm that had separated them, and there was release.

And a big grinning howdy to my colleagues who read this blog.

What I can tell you about being a college English teacher is this: designing a new course is huge fun, never better than when it’s a literature class. I am completely, zealously happy about my job when I get to promote good words, smart words, crafted words.

I am completely, zealously happy about the parts of my job that actually pertain to what I love.

More specifically, I have recently been osmosing stories, poems, and memoirs in the anthology the class will use when I teach Modern World Literature for the first time next semester.

While the last couple weeks of my work life often felt Pynchonian, in the way they made me clutch my stomach and perplexedly splutter, “Huh?”, the hours I’ve spent reading through the anthology have been Alice Munro-ian in their simple, pure delectation. The works in this anthology (post-colonial literature, which means post-WWII pieces from those whose lives were affected by the colonization of their countries and cultures) have impressed me with their crystalline voices and deft lack of adornment.

When the world is feeling darker and as though there are storm winds knocking down branches all over your yard,

it’s complete bliss to open a book and find calm.

Because they can provide a haven and an escape–this past was not the week for me to tackle Finnegan’s Wake–books remain my most reliable companions.

Imagine that your brain and heart are hurting, and you no longer feel like you know which way is up. Then imagine opening an anthology and reading this accessible, matter-of-fact paragraph written by Armenian-American Richard Hagopian in his story “Wonderful People”:

I saw her and liked her because she was not beautiful. Her chin was not just right and something about her nose fell short of perfection. And when she stood up, well, there wasn’t much to see but her tallness, the length from her hips to her feet, and the length from her hips to her shoulders. She was a tall girl and that was all. She was the first tall girl I had ever liked, perhaps because I had never watched a tall girl get up from a table before; that is, get up the way she did, everything in her rising to the art of getting up, combining to make the act look beautiful and not like just another casual movement, an ordinary life motion.

You’re snared, aren’t you? Then, just when you think, “Hey, I like this,” the next paragraph begins, and you fall limp within its grasp:

Maybe I liked her because when I talked to her for the first time I found out that she had tall ideas too, ideas which like her chin and nose did not seem just right to me, but like her getting up were beautiful. The hung together. They were tall ideas, about life and people, morals and ethics. At first, they seemed shockingly loose to me, but when I saw them all moving together, like her body, they hung together. They looked naturally beautiful. They had the same kind of pulled-out poetry that sometimes defies the extra-long line and hangs together; hangs together when you see the whole thing finished, when you’ve scanned it up and down and seen all the line endings melt into a curious kind of unity, which makes strange music–strange because everything is long yet compact. She was music. I see it now, her getting up impressed me at the time because for the first time I felt poetry in a person rising–music in body parts moving in natural rhythms. I liked the tall girl.

(the entire text can be read at Google Books here: http://books.google.com/books?id=4N9MOy_E5LsC&pg=PA190&lpg=PA190&dq=hagopian+%22wonderful+people%22&source=bl&ots=t3DUtm_2fT&sig=8We8dMyR-p1Fp8ByBAMQKsNy5Q4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=OjmZUJ3sM9H8yAGJwYDYAw&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=hagopian%20%22wonderful%20people%22&f=false)

Not only do I like the tall girl, I like Hagopian and the fact that, the second I started reading his words, the swells and ebbs of my life fell away.

I am left with the sweetest sense

that during every stress and crisis

every dark hour of loneliness or perturbation

books have never failed.

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People of Peace

A massive storm is moving in to the East Coast. I am thinking of all of you, friends, who are hunkering down, waiting to find out how bad it will be.

Closer to home, a massive storm is moving in on me in my work life–or so it seems, as I stew and await its landing.

Peace eludes us. Because I am feeling tumultuous inside, and Nature is feeling tumultuous outside, I’m trying to regroup and focus on things that actually matter. Unfortunately, that means I’ve got a fairly self-gratifying post here, full of pictures I like to look at. Apologies if you’re already over-saturated. Maybe look at every third one and, if you’re bored, critique hairstyles and accessories?

So: Peace. I find it in the faces of people halfway across the world, people who have weathered their own storms, people who remind me that we’re all, ultimately, alike. If you have some minutes, kick back now, and take a look at your fellow creatures. You don’t know them, but they are you, and you are they.

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I am also finding peace–JOY!–when I look at these next photos and consider the beauty of traveling with a Friend Not Yet Overtaken By Growing Tumors and the wife who loves her with a marvelous ferocity. A lot may suck, but this chance to share the world together did not.

So played out am I right now, I can only resort to pat, cliched thinking. Cliches are oft-repeated for a reason.

Thus, I simply say that, when storms brew and a peaceful, easy feeling is just something The Eagles sing about,

it’s people and love of them that make me smile.

——————————————–

In one memorable snippet of life, Virginia started a song using the word “bromidal.” Shortly therafter, we added in “diatomaceous.” And when you’re 75 and 45, friends, that’s what we call Good Fun.

So, as threatening winds gust all around, what do I want to pull into my brain and my heart–to push out the negative?

This.

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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

that

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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