Two Taxis, a Security Check, and Some Hearburn

I’m just about over the jet-lag. The few days before we left Istanbul were filled with more visits, more goodbyes, little sleep, and much packing.

Still, as tired and somber as we all were, we said goodbye to our doorman and his wife, standing together on the sidewalk in front of our building on Ergenekon for the last time. The owner of the next-door taxi stand even teased Meredith (who is a Galatasaray fan) by saying “Fenerbahce!”

We arrived at Ataturk Airport in time with our six suitcases and all our carry-ons (big and small). It took two taxis to bring us and our luggage to the airport. We accumulated a lot of stuff in the nearly 10 months we lived in Istanbul. Not to mention the souvenirs we were carrying for family and friends.

Our flight left over a half-hour later than scheduled. We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany with barely an hour to catch our connecting flight to Chicago. We had to pass through security again (having gone through twice in Istanbul) then walk through the maze-like halls to the gate. The four of us scanned our tickets and passports. My passport beeped and I was told “they” had been looking for me.

I was then greeted by a man from the U.S. Department of Homeland of Security who proceeded to ask me why I had been in Turkey and where I had traveled. It was very weird. My wife was more upset about it than I was. As we boarded the plane, Stephanie suggested I needed to do a FOIA to find out what the government had on me.

The flight to Chicago was long, especially since Meredith needed something every five to 15 minutes it seemed. “I want to watch something else!” she would shout, headphones on her ears. And I would be roused from my not-so-restful sleep to help her in choosing something else to watch on the LCD screen in front of her. She didn’t sleep until maybe the last two hours of the flight, while Henry didn’t sleep until the last hour.

While going through Passport Control at O’Hare, I was again flagged and taken for questioning by a security guard. The guard asked me where I was originally from and I explained that I was from the Chicago area, that I grew up in Northlake “the town south of this airport.” I was not put in a separate room, but in an open area far from the luggage carousel. There I waited several minutes before another man questioned me along the same lines as the man in Frankfurt.

The cynic in me thinks that could have simply done an internet search and up would have come my Twitter feed, Linkedin profile and this blog. The blog would have told them that A) I was in Istanbul with my wife who was there on a Fulbright Fellowship and B) no, I did not travel anywhere outside of Turkey. Or maybe they had done that and simply wanted to confirm that I am who I say I am. Who knows? No one was hostile toward me so I remained friendly and chatty when answering the questions they asked.

We spent the next few days in Chicago visiting with family and seeing a few friends. I gorged myself on various forms of pork, giving me heartburn for three or four nights.

On Tuesday, after a long round of luggage-Tetris, we got in our car and my wife drove us back to Michigan. My wife had to drive because while we were away my Michigan driver’s license expired. We did not fit all of our luggage into our Honda Civic. We’ve left behind some luggage at my sister’s and several pieces of clothing (sweaters and winter coats) at my parents’. We’ll return in a month to get it all.

In the few days we’ve been home we’ve been visited by many friends, which has been fantastic. The kids are excited and happy to be sleeping in their own rooms in their own house.

We’re slowly unpacked our suitcases. We’ve pulled some things out of the boxes in the basement. We have too much stuff and are now looking for any excuse to donate or throw much of it away.

We also acquired a three-year-old gray tabby cat from a friend who was fostering him. We’ve named him Suleiman.

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With the cat, it looks like we’ll still be taking trips, but they won’t be lasting for several months.

My Incomplete List of Books Concerning Turkey

During my time in Istanbul I read several books all related to Turkey in some way. Some books I managed to finish reading. Others not. This list reflects my own wandering idiosyncratic interests.

Orhan Pamuk – The Big Guy. Numero Uno. World-Renowned. Nobel-Prize Winner. Many years ago I read The Black Book. I found it difficult to like. It seemed to wander endlessly with little payoff. It concerns a man in love with his cousin but this cousin is in a relationship with another cousin, who is a columnist for a newspaper. After the columnist and his love disappear, the narrator assumes his cousin’s role at the newspaper. Stories about Istanbul are spun out that I think you have to have lived here and be Turkish to appreciate. And some weirdness. Maybe I’ll try again, now that I’ve lived here. Probably not.

I read The Museum of Innocence after I had visited the actual namesake museum. I would have titled the book, Museum of Misery. A shlub from a wealthy, secular, proud Istanbul family is engaged to smart, beautiful, wealthy woman. But then he meets a cousin and develops an obsession with her that leads to an affair which has all kinds of tragic consequences. He ends up destroying this woman’s life, and by extension, her. And then he creates a museum dedicated to his love for her consisting of 4000 cigarette butts and hundreds of other objects she touched that he stole from her family’s apartment. His obsession is aided and abetted by her parents. Hundreds of pages go back and forth ad nauseum about how “When I was with Fusun I was so happy even though I couldn’t touch her. When I was not with Fusun I was so depressed.” Over and over and over and over and over. “Oh and there was a coup and a curfew imposed but that just made it harder to see Fusun.” I can’t remember hating a book so much. I wouldn’t hate it so much except I’m completely baffled at people believing it to be not just a good book but a great book, one that deserves the bizarre museum that shares its name. Fusun herself is not much of a character, a woman whose few words and being are nearly suffocated under the weight of the overbearingly whiny narrator. But then, she’s merely a beautiful object for a man to obsess over and unthinkingly destroy. Maybe there are several layers of Turkish culture I as yet need to learn in order to understand this novel and all the fuss.

My Name is Red is a murder mystery set amid the miniaturists who worked for the Sultan in the 16th century. It’s about art, love, integrity, tradition, religious faith, and so much more. Told from multiple points of view, including the killer’s, it’s funny, sad, ridiculous, and grim. Of course, Black, the man whose task it is to solve the murder, is in love with his cousin Shekure. If you haven’t yet read anything by Pamuk this is the book I would recommend.

Pamuk would be a better storyteller if wasn’t such a windbag. A friend reminded me that Pamuk was trained as an architect, which he says explains Pamuk’s inability to be concise about anything. And what’s with all the first cousins gettin’ busy in his books?

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. This novel was the subject of a well-known trial in Turkey. The author was accused of insulting Turkishness. Yes, insulting Turkishness is against the law. Freedom of speech isn’t much of an ideal in Turkey, what with all the journalists in jail, people being fined or threatened with imprisonment for being an atheist. A humorous but ultimately tragic book that jumps right into the taboo topic here of the Armenian Genocide by looking at the story of two families, one Turkish, one Armenian, over several generations, on two different continents, and how they’re lives are intertwined.

Tales from the Expat Harem. This collection of essays from expat women living in (or having lived in) Turkey was published in 2006. Like any collection, some of the essays are excellent and some just ho-hum. For me, in 2014, some of these essays display a Turkey that is hard to fathom still exists (women melting lead and pouring it to dispel perceived bad luck), others show how funny and uncomfortable things can be when an independent Western woman inadvertently collides with deeply held beliefs. My favorites are by a hotel owner, a reporter who covered the war agains the Kurds in the early 1990’s, and a young woman who bemoans the confusion she and her girlfriends experience in dating Turkish men. All offer an interesting look at Turkey during different decades, from the 60’s to the early aughts.

Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott. Jack and his partner decide to leave England (cold and damp with spots of sun) for Bodrum (sun, warmth, and great food). Hilarity, frustration, and confusion ensue. What began as a blog, became a book. You can still read his adventures (he’s back in England now) over at Perking the Pansies.

Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montague. Montague was the wife of a British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Her letters cover their travels across the European continent to Constantinople and her time spent in the Ottoman capital. Interesting read from the perspective of a sympathetic Western woman, and her account of the lives of the Ottoman women she befriended.

A Memento for Istanbul by Ahmet Umit. This book was a gift from our tour guide in Kusadasi. It starts with a murder and then travels through this seductive city’s history as the bodies pile up. It’s a good, entertaining read, even if I find the narrator to be wholly unbelievable as an Istanbul police officer given what I’ve seen of Turkish riot police and their attitudes toward protestors and murdered transgender sex workers.

Leila and Majnun by Nizami. The Persian poet Nizami wrote this tale of love and madness centuries ago. Majnun is literally Arabic for “madman” or “the possessed.” It’s a story well-known throughout the Middle East and is often alluded to by writers.

Procopius. In his Histories, he documented first-hand the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and how General Belisaurius reconquered Rome and re-expanded the Roman empire. In his Secret History, published posthumously, he documented how Belisaurius’ wife screwed every man not named Belisaurius including her own slaves and then had one put to death, and how Justinian was a corrupt idiot and his wife a scandalous nymph. The Secret History is the more interesting read due to its salacious content. I never did finish the Histories. My bad. Shows you what interests me more.

Ataturk: The Biography of the founder of Modern Turkey by Andrew Mango. I tried reading this biography four years ago. It’s considered the best in English but I put it down after 200 pages or so. At the time I found it dull Or maybe I should have pushed through. I pushed through with The Museum of Innocence and look what that did for me.

Bliss by O.Z. Livaneli. The story follows Meryem, a teenage girl from a village in Eastern Turkey. She is raped by her uncle and is then condemned to death. Since she won’t hang herself, her cousin is ordered to take her to Istanbul and kill her there. Their path eventually crosses with Irfan, a middle-age professor who’s having a major mid-life crisis. One day Irfan leaves his wife and job as a professor, rents a boat and sales along the Aegean Coast. What happens when the three meet is a clash of cultures within Turkey. A tense, illuminating read.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Technically not a Turkish book. But I happened to be reading it during our move last year and was pleasantly surprised at the major plot twist that transforms Orlando in Constantinople. So I include it here. It was made into a well-known movie starring Tilda Swinton, which I have yet to watch.

Under the Sun in Bodrum

Our final trip in Turkey was to Bodrum, a place that has one industry: tourism. It’s a beautiful location filled with hotels and resorts. There are plenty of activities that can be arranged like scuba-diving, parasailing, and trips to the Greek island of Kos. Or you can do a whole lot of nothing under the sun, which is what we had planned to do.

We’d had enough with tours of old prominent places and wanted to end our time in Turkey indulging in something that was simply fun. That didn’t stop our Turkish friends from telling us all the things we MUST SEE AND DO.

We love our Turkish friends but we ignored them this time.

We stayed at the Bodrum Holiday Resort and Spa, an all-inclusive resort for families. There’s an aqua park with four water slides, a “relax” pool, an enormous pool where you can swim and play water polo, a beach area (wooden piers jutting out into the clear blue sea from the rocky coast), a volleyball court, a kids’ playground, and much more.

In Bodrum we never heard anyone speak English with an American accent. (We also never heard the Call to Prayer.) At the resort there were plenty of Turks (of course), Brits, Germans, French, and Russians. The latter look the least happy despite being in a warm place on the Aegean Sea with lots of sun. They don’t even smile when they pose for pictures.

Our daughter doesn’t often smile for pictures but she just turned six and she’s uncooperative when it comes to posing for photos and going to see interesting places.

Here’s Meredith being unhappy about going to the Castle in the town of Bodrum.

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It turns out that Castle is closed on Mondays.

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Here’s how Henry, Stephanie, and Meredith looked when we found out that the Castle is closed on Mondays.

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Monday was the only day we ventured off the resort grounds. It was disappointing that the one thing we had planned to see was closed. We didn’t plan very well. Of course, we didn’t plan anything beyond plane tickets and a hotel reservation. The reservation was made with the help of some Turkish friends.

We ate ice cream at the marina,

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and shopped for souvenirs with little luck despite all the shops selling nothing but souvenirs.

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The three full days we spent in Bodrum were spent swimming in the pools, enjoying the aqua park with its water slides, swimming in the Aegean Sea, getting our vitamin D levels boosted, and eating. Whatever we didn’t finish eating was eaten by the birds.

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Here’s the view from the resort.

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Here’s the main pool.

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It’s a truth annoyingly universal at resorts that if you put your towels on several chairs next to the pool early in the morning, you can wander away and eat a leisurely breakfast, go back to bed, go snorkeling, whatever, and those chairs are yours no matter what.

I hate that about resorts. It suggests a vigilance and competitiveness that ought to be ABSENT from a vacation. Despite that petty behavior, we had a wonderful time. We always managed to find a free chair or two wherever we went.

One the kids’ favorite things about the resort was the daily ice cream service between 2:00pm and 6:00pm at Cafe Turk. The cafe also provided cookies and tea. Often the kids ate ice cream and cookies. Who can blame them for liking that so much?…Who am I kidding? It was one of my favorite things about the resort.

Stephanie, for her delayed Mother’s Day gift, went to the spa one afternoon where she was given a Turkish bath and then a massage. Afterwards, her skin glowed like pearls and she felt rejuvenated. The woman who gave her the massage was from Thailand but had worked in Bali for many years. She told Stephanie she has serviced many Americans in Bali but that Stephanie was the first American she had serviced in all the years she’d been working in Bodrum.

For all we know, we might have been the only Americans in the resort. Not unlike our experiences in a few other places we’ve visited in Turkey.

After our stay at the resort in Bodrum we were ready to return to Istanbul and say goodbye to the city we’ve called home for 10 months.

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Wistful Panic

Wistful : adjective, full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy. – Merriam-Webster’s dictionary

That’s what Stephanie and I are feeling these days as we prepare to move back to the US. Her fellowship is up. Which means the money is running out. Which means we can no longer afford to stay here. The end of our adventure is very close. One week from today we board a plane for the USA.

Besides, the kids want to go back to their home and their friends in Michigan. We can’t believe they’re about to finish their school year, a year in Istanbul making friends from here and all over the world at their international school.

We’re also feeling a bit stressed. There’s the cleaning. There’s the sorting through the kids clothes and toys. There’s the packing. There’s the rushing around to see friends and do things we haven’t yet done. There’s having a birthday party for our daughter. There’s bringing Krispy Kreme doughnuts to our son’s class for saying “goodbye” to all his new friends. There’s an all-day end-of-year school field trip for the kids. There’s a trip to Bodrum. And there’s still work for my wife to do…So I tell myself,

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And then I go back to being wistful.

“Just one more year,” I’ve been telling people, and I’m not kidding. For all of its faults and all the madness it can inspire, Istanbul is an amazing city that is wholly unique thanks to its history and mix of cultures and people.

We say goodbye to our friends over lunch or dinner or coffee, or over the phone or even over the Internet. (And we continue to store up on movies and TV shows a la Turka.)

As we turn our attention towards home, we think about family, friends, and pork and Italian beef sandwiches and Mexican food. Yet, we wonder how and when we might come back to this dynamic city.

BTW, this is what the Merriam-Webster page looked like when I opened it.

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Bana şaplak at means spank me. It’s a dating site of some kind as far as I can tell. I don’t know whether it’s specifically for spanking aficionados.

In addition to all the things I’m going to miss about Turkey, I’m going to miss these silly kinds of things.

On Thursdays the Palace is Closed But the Museum Is Free

What started as a trip to Dolmabahce Palace became a trip to the Istanbul Modern. It was Thursday, and we didn’t know that the palace is closed on Thursdays. So after going through security and walking up to the ticket booth we saw and read the sign that said the palace is closed on Thursdays.

Disappointed, I suggested to Stephanie that we head over to the Istanbul Modern. It was a short ride on the tram from Kabatash, and it’s one of the places we hadn’t yet seen.

She told me I took the palace being closed well. She said she had been worried I was going to have an episode. I said, see, I’m getting better.

The Istanbul Modern is another place I should have viisted sooner. This art museum, which specializes in contemporary art, is in a beautifully renovated former warehouse set on the Bosphorus near the Tophane tram stop.

From the tram stop there are signs pointing you where to go. But the last stretch confused us a little. You have to walk down a narrow street next to a construction site before you get to the parking lot of the museum and can then access the entrance.

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One thing we didn’t know before going to the Istanbul Modern is that every Thursday entrance is free to residents of Turkey. Which means we, as legal residents, got in for free. Woo-hoo!

Since it’s located on the Bosphorus, the view from the museum is fantastic. You can see where the Bosphorus meets the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. You can also see Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia.

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This view, as fantastic as it is, does not overshadow what’s inside.

The current exhibitions include several audio-visual pieces. One piece called Women Who Wear Wigs by Kutluğ Ataman consists of interviews with four women who wear wigs, each playing simultaneously. One woman wore wigs because in the early 70’s she needed to escape the government due to her activism, another because she lost her hair thanks to chemotherapy treatments for cancer, another who wears a wig over her head covering so she can attend university (head scarves at universities is a no-no because it’s seen as a political statement), and a transgender woman whose hair was cut off by the police. The woman whose hair was cut off by the police was the least of it; the police regularly arrested, harassed, beat, and raped transgender sex workers. It was one of the most provocative and poignant pieces of art I’ve seen in awhile.

Here’s a sample of some of the pieces currently on view.

Pae White’s Northern Smoke

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Ghada Imer’s Sunset in Isfahan

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Sabire Susuz’s Shopping

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If you look closely you can see that it’s made entirely of clothing tags/labels.

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:mentalKLINIK’s Double Cherry.

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Mihri Musfik’s Portrait or, as I like to call it, Portrait with Rich’s Silhouetted Reflection in the Glass Covering the Painting.

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I should note that the Istanbul Modern is not just an art museum. There is also a movie theater in the building where they host many film screenings. A few months back they screened several films by Krystof Kieslowski. Currently, their screening 10 films from Hong Kong under the program title “Hong Kong Panorama.”

I might try to visit Dolmabahce Palace one day next week. But our last full week in Istanbul is already filling up with obligations, from a school outing to a class party, to saying goodbye to friends, not to mention packing before we head to Bodrum…

Suleymaniye Mosque

There are several important mosques to visit in Istanbul. One of them is Suleymaniye Mosque. It’s one of much-revered architect Mimar Sinan’s most revered buildings. Built at the orders of Suleyman the Magnificent, it was completed in 1557, taking seven years to complete. (Mimar Sinan also designed the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.)

This is also the mosque I can see from the terrace of our apartment. At night it’s lit up, so it glows white.

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Last Thursday, I finally paid a visit to this mosque. Since the Metro stop at Vezneciler opened, the mosque, which is next to Istanbul University, is easy to get to.

The grounds of the mosque are quite large and well-landscaped.

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Like Sultanahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque) it’s a working mosque, so visitors have a separate entrance and are not allowed into certain areas. But as you can see, it’s a large beautiful building with great attention paid to details.

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The sky was overcast on the day I was there, so the pictures didn’t come out as well as I had hoped they would. though I did manage to take a nice shot from the grounds down at the Golden Horn. You can see the Galata Tower and the Galata Bridge.

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The tombs of Suleyman the Magnificent and his wife Roxelana are located next to the mosque. But people were not allowed inside.

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Here people are peering inside to look at Suleyman’s tomb.

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While making my way to see the tomb of Mimar Sinan, I saw the Hamam built at the same time as the mosque. It’s just outside the grounds.

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Mimar Sinan’s tomb is located near the grounds of the mosque on the northeast side. The tomb is in a small, raised garden that’s not accessible.

Here’s the locked door.

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Here are the grounds. The man on the left was selling fresh sweet cherries.

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Here’s as close as you can get to the tomb of one of history’s most famous architects.

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As magnificent as the mosque built for Suleyman the Magnificent is, I still think Selimiye Mosque in Edirne is more beautiful.