There’s Another Present Tense?

This is the last week of my second Turkish class. After the exam on Friday morning, I will have spent eight weeks studying Turkish. As much as I’ve learned, I still feel stupid in Turkish.

Us newbies all have a common problem. We are able to ask a question that a Turk can understand. Too often we can’t understand the answer.

Signs I see for advertising or short capsule-length stories on the TV screens in the metro stations often contain words I don’t know. I look at the sentences and think “Okay, that is doing something to that, and that belongs to that, and that guy said something…” And that’s about it.

Just when you think you’re getting a handle on things, you get something like this.

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There’s the Present Tense and then there’s this other “Simple” Present Tense. Except it’s used when things aren’t so simple; when it’s something you do habitually or something you might do or something you think you might do or hope might happen. Yes, hedging is built right into the structure of the Turkish language.

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Instead of putting a word like “might” or “possibly” or “often” somewhere in a sentence with the regular present tense, you use a word like that and then use this simple tense where you use the root of the verb, add an “ir” or “ar” or whatever follows the rules of vowel harmony, and then add an ending that indicates first person, second person, etc.

There are many times when I believe that my brain will never be able to properly organize and comprehend all these various verb endings, let alone all the suffixes added to indicate possession, being, before and after something, in something, going to something, going away from something, going via something, possibly, maybe, did, was doing, should do…

And then yesterday the “can” tense was added to our pile “Yeterlik Eylemi.” There’s no word in Turkish for “can” as in “Can you help me?” or “Can I look at this?” It requires adding a “bilir” to the verb stem and then adding another ending to indicate first person, second person, etc., and, of course, some vowel harmony.

It’s a very useful tense, one I realize I’ve often heard spoken on the street or in stores. In fact, last night, at my daughter’s guitar lesson, I heard it used when a young woman came into the store and pointed at a row of instruments and asked “bir alabilir miyim?” and I understood it immediately as “Can I play one?” She proceeded to take down the bağlama and play expertly. Even playing a bit of “Misirlou” from Pulp Fiction.

I spent last night dreaming of conjugating numerous verbs using the “can” tense doing both “can” and “cannot” forms…Just a few more days…

The Good Stuff: Badem Ezmesi

Badem Ezmesi (Bah-DEM ez-mess-ee), this U-shaped wonder of taste, is one of my family’s favorite pastries. My wife likes it. I like it. Our kids love it.

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On the outside it looks like a normal pastry coated in a light layer of sugar. Inside is the actual badem ezmesi.

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Badem ezmesi means “almond paste,” aka “marzipan.” You can also buy small packets of it for one lira a piece.

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Or platters of it. There is also “fıstık ezmesi” (pistachio paste).

These pastries are oh so tasty and oh so filling. Half the reason I run is so I can indulge in my sweet tooth. This pastry is a huge indulgence. I often only eat half of one and save the other half for later or share it with someone else.

The kids love it when my wife or I buy these for them from the bakery. They have also taken to saying, “bottom is messy,” because the phrase sounds a lot like “badem ezmesi”…And they’ve developed certain hand movements that reference certain body parts to go along with it…And then there is a lot of giggling and then they finally settle down to eat their pastries.

Thankfully, the kids do not engage in that particular bout of silliness in the bakery.

The Museum of Innocence

The Museum of Innocence is both a novel and an actual museum created by Nobel prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk. It’s in a small three-story building in the Cihangır neighborhood on a street (Çukurcuma) known for its antique shops. I visited the museum one afternoon last week with my wife and a friend of ours.

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That’s the museum from the outside; the red building. I’d show you pictures of the museum from the inside but you are forbidden from taking pictures inside. There is a handsome-looking book containing photos of all of the museums artifacts for sale in the museum bookshop…Here’s a picture of the street next to the museum.

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The museum is an interesting concept. It contains thousands of items that Pamuk collected for the book. Items he had the characters use, or items that the characters would have come into contact with in some form, thereby creating a real-world still life of the novel. There are keys, soda bottles, commercials on old TVs, a dress, tea (there is always tea in Turkey), pieces of an automobile dashboard, photographs, and so on. It’s extensive. So extensive that one wall contains 4000 cigarette butts with notations under each of them, depicting what the character was thinking/feeling while smoking that particular cigarette.

I have not yet read The Museum of Innocence. (I have an ebook version on my Sony Reader right now.) The only books by Pamuk I have read are My Name Is Red and The Black Book. The former is excellent and I highly recommend it. Among the books in our apartment is a copy of My Name Is Red in English. I finished reading it a month or so ago.It’s a murder mystery set during the Ottoman Era involving a group of miniaturists. The miniaturists are grappling with their centuries-old techniques for painting giving way to the realistic depictions of the “Franks” in Italy and the West threatening to invade and change their art form.

The Black Book I read nearly a decade ago and I had to trudge through it. The stories seemed to just go on and on and I never quite connected with the characters.

Our friend Jim (a Fulbright Fellow who works in architecture and urban planning) pointed out that since Pamuk was trained as an architect that’s probably why he’s so wordy at times.

Also in the museum, on the top floor, are pages taken from Pamuk’s notebooks. They contain his early drafts and drawings for the novel, all on graph paper.

It’s such an unique museum. I haven’t encountered anything quite like it. I’d like to read the book and then come back.

The Good Stuff: Acıbadem kurabiyesi

There are many things I love about Turkey, most of all the food. With this post I hope to kick off a semi-regular series on the foods I love to eat here; the good stuff.

Acıbadem (ah-juh-bah-DEM) is an almond cookie, or almond biscuit, sold at bakeries everywhere throughout Istanbul. I don’t think there’s a bakery that does not sell them.

At my favorite bakery, down the block from our apartment, they cost 4 lira (less than $2). I’m at the bakery so often, that when I went in the other day to buy some pastries the proprietor asked me where I’d been, because it had been over a week since I’d been in there. I answered him that I’d been in Kusadasi the week before. He proceeded to give me a sample of a wonderful pastry with olive paste inside and then I bought a whole bunch of sweet pastries.

Here is what acıbadem looks like.

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Acıbadem are large, with two sides, and a roasted almond embedded in each side. They’re crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. The taste is sweet and almondy. They go very well, like all Turkish pastries, with coffee or tea.

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You can take them apart, which is what I often do. Usually, I give one half to my wife and then I take the other half.

I look at this perfect piece of pastry and think, in the U.S. we would say, “Yeah, that giant almond cookie is pretty good, but we could make it better by putting a thick layer of chocolate or vanilla frosting in the middle. And calling them Ginormous Almond Cookie Sandwiches (GACS).”

I wouldn’t change a thing about them.

This is not to say that Turks don’t have a sweet tooth. They have one that rivals Americans as you’ll see in future posts.

So That’s What the Problem Was

I had been having some problems with my left knee, a bout of Runner’s Knee it seems.

I took two weeks off from running after the 15K race here in Istanbul thinking that giving my legs a rest would do the trick.

Then one Sunday I finally met up with an Expat running group for a fun out in the Belgrade Forest. It’s a beautiful place to run, several miles outside the city. I ran and within one kilometer my left knee started to tighten up the way it had before.

I pushed through, because I was enjoying the conversation I was having with the other runners.

Afterwards, I showered back at the apartment and took a few ibuprofen to nurse my sore knee and sore legs. Then I did what every American runner does with access to the Internet: I researched “runner’s knee.”

Many things came up, but didn’t seem to apply to my case. One thing that came up was that tread on the shoes might be worn. So I looked at the tread on my shoes and here is what I saw.

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I compared them to my newer ones and it was obvious the tread had been worn down too much. Running on concrete and pavement up and down hills here in Istanbul made them wear down more quickly than if I had been running on dirt or even gravel trails. So they were retired. They have been good to me. I did PRs in the 5K with them and ran from one continent to another in them. If we were back in Michigan I would save them for doing yard work. But since we’re in an apartment here, we don’t have a yard. They will have to be thrown out.

I had reached just over 300 miles on my red/black Saucony Kinvara 3s. I was hoping to get another 100 miles out of them before switching over completely to my blue Kinvara 3s with the fluorescent green laces.

I ran a few times with the blue ones and those runs were pain free. (And I’ve continued to run without pain into the new year.) Problem solved.

Now, I just need to buy a few more pairs from the US and have them shipped here. I found it would be cheaper to do that, via amazon.com, than to purchase running shoes here. The Kinvara 4s, for example cost around $140. A pair of Kinvara 3s from amazon.com would cost me just under $100 and that’s including shipping. The import taxes/tariffs here in Turkey are outrageous on certain kinds of goods, especially electronics.

For Christmas, one of my presents was a new pair of running shoes, shipped via Amazon. So when I wear out my current pair, I have another at the ready.

Alexander the Great’s Hovel, and Other Ancient Lessons

My wife beat me to the punch, so to speak, on our most recent trip. Read on!

A Year Without Bacon: Our Expat Life in Turkey

Todays’ post continues with our trip to the Greek and Roman ruins we saw during our recent trip to the Aegean coast.

Near the top of a hillside, about an hour east of present-day Kuşadası, sat the city of Priene. It was never a large city, probably about 4,000-5,000 people and lacked the political clout that Ephesus and Miletus held. But it was home of the impressive Temple of Athena, funded by Alexander the Great.

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Alexander the Great even spent some time in Priene, in order to keep an eye on Miletus. Apparently those folks were a bunch of rabble-rousing upstarts. I expected Alexander’s home to be, well, great. But it was just a regular house like all the other regular folks. Here is what is left of it.

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Priene also had a small amphitheater. The people of Priene were big into art and philosophy, so there amphitheater hosted plays…

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