Readjusting

Last summer, the Summer of Leaving, was a blur of fixing up the house, packing, and trying to finish the seemingly endless tasks big and small needed to move to Istanbul.

This summer, the summer of returning, is proceeding in a haze. It’s been nearly three weeks since we returned to the US from Turkey.

We returned to a home that had been nicely cleaned from top to bottom by our tenants. Yet, there were many little things that needed to be done. We needed to buy a new vacuum. So many light bulbs had to be replaced of all kinds and sizes. There was the DVD player that one tenant told us had broken but actually works. There was the spotty internet service that turned out to be caused by faulty wiring. That’s a bad thing about a 30+ year-old house: the wiring is old. The good thing about an old house is that there are many wires and cables going in and out of it, not all of which are used. This made it easy for me to run a new telecom line from the box outside to our internet modem inside. Our download speed more than tripled and we haven’t experienced any drops.

The internet was a big thing. Not just because we need it for email and social media and reading the news, but we finally joined the 21st century and bought a large LED TV, a Blu-Ray player, and an Apple TV. We can stream Netflix (whenever we get around to getting it) and can watch and listen to anything that’s on our Macs. Very American indeed.

Speaking of being American, on the Fourth of July, I mowed the lawn, grilled hot dogs on our charcoal grill, ate corn on the cob, and then we all watched the fireworks display put on by our township. It doesn’t get much more American than that.

There are many other things to which I am readjusting. I felt overwhelmed the first few times I went into a grocery store. Some of the grocery stores here like Jewel and Meijer are so enormous, they are 30 times the size of the average Turkish grocery store.

It was strange riding in a car in familiar surroundings but not being able to drive. My Michigan driver’s license had expired while I was in Turkey. It was strange renewing it at the DMV because there was no hassle or difficulty. I signed a form, they took my picture, and then they told me my new license would arrive in the mail in a few weeks. Yesterday it did. (No, you cannot see my mugshot picture.)

It’s quiet here. Far fewer people. It’s more green and lush. Less dusty than our Istanbul apartment near several construction sites.

At night, I can see the stars.

I already miss badem ezmesi, acibadem, borek, and so many other things. But it’s great to be able to bake again. The oven in our apartment was useless thanks to all the number indicators being worn off. So I had missed being able to bake. A week ago Meredith helped me make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. All of those cookies are now gone.

Right now, there’s a blueberry pie cooling on our kitchen counter. There’s a can of whipped cream in the refrigerator.

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Eight Ways Turkey and Chicago are Alike

I grew up in a suburb close to Chicago, right under the takeoff patterns of O’Hare airport. As an adult my wife and I lived in the city in which my parents were born and raised. I’ve lived in two other places (Los Angeles and Michigan) and visited quite a few others. Never before have I had the shock of recognition that I experienced after living a few months in Istanbul.

There are many differences between my hometown of Chicago and the country of Turkey, be they historical, religious, linguistic, or geographic.

But politically, they are eerily similar in ways I find amusing, funny, and downright appalling. So here is my list of the top seven ways Turkey and Chicago are alike.

8) Leaders Who Like to Plant Trees.

Mayor Richard the Second was big on planting trees. His father, Mayor Richard the First, was also fond of responding to critics with the phrase, “What trees do you plant?” This has also become a somewhat common Chicago maxim, as if to say, “What are you doing to fix and improve things?”

Prime Minister Erdoğan, despite the Gezi protests, would have you all know that he loves to plant trees.

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And he even said, “The Gezi people are those who have no thought. They never planted a tree.”

This hasn’t stopped Erdoğan from demolishing a large part of a forest to build a third bridge over the Bosphorus.

7) Building stuff, Especially Big Things, Is Very Important.

From a third bridge over the Bosphorus, to a new enormous third airport, to digging another Bosphorus, Erdoğan wants Big Projects as his legacy. So did many Chicago mayors, whether it was a showcase lakefront park that cost $450 million to build, or several city-wide expressways, or a major airport, or very tall high-rise buildings. Big projects bring pride and, most importantly to politicians, keep voters working. Working voters are happy voters.

6) A Complete Disregard for Historical Heritage.

Chicago has improved on this in the past few decades. But nothing is allowed to get in the way of building big stuff, whether it’s an entire neighborhood for a new university campus (UIC) or ancient ruins for a tunnel underneath the Bosphorus, or buildings designed by Louis Sullivan to make way for new ugly skyscrapers.

Erdoğan vowed he wouldn’t let pots and pans get in the way of “progress.”

5) Votes are More Important than Efficiency.

Many roads in Istanbul are made of stone or concrete pavers. It’s very labor-intensive to build these kinds of roads. It requires many people (men) to personally lift and place each brick and put it into place. That isn’t tolerated as much anymore in Chicago or the U.S.A., what with the bare coffers of municipal governments.

But how many votes does an asphalt paving machine bring in?

4) Voting Is a Sport.

Chicago has a history of allowing dead people to vote, which has given rise to the saying, “The dead always rise on Election Day.” There has also been funny business with excessive numbers of absentee ballots in some parts of the city. It’s accepted as fact that Kennedy beat Nixon in Illinois thanks to some funny business with the votes in Cook County.

In the most recent election in Turkey, ballots for opposition candidates were put in the trash.

3) Corruption is Normal.

In Turkey, it’s shoeboxes full of money, found in the library of the general manager of the country’s state-run lender Halkbank.

In Chicago it’s been everything from bribery to tax evasion, to fixing criminal cases.

Why aren’t Erdogan’s supporters appalled at the corruption? Because they either don’t believe the reports coming from the press, or they don’t see it as corruption. The latter has allowed corruption to continue to thrive in Chicago despite numerous Federal investigations, resulting in hundreds (thousands?) of convictions through many decades.

2) Leaders Who Don’t Take Any Crap from Anyone.

Every word of criticism must be answered, every complaint must be disproved, every insult must be returned in kind. He doesn’t take anything from anybody.
– Mike Royko, Boss, about mayor Richard J. Daley

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has labeled a corruption probe involving former ministers of his government as nothing but a “treacherous plot” to sabotage Turkey’s international standing and has ordered Turkish ambassadors serving abroad to “tell the truth” to their foreign interlocutors.

1) Leaders Who Hold the Press in Complete and Utter Contempt.

If he feels that he has been criticized unfairly, and he considers most criticism unfair, he doesn’t hesitate to pick up a phone and complain to an editor….[B]ut in general, he views the paper as his enemy. The reporters, specifically. They want to know things that are none of their business, because they are little men. Editors, at least, have power, but he doesn’t understand why they let reporters exercise it.
– Mike Royko, Boss, about mayor Richard J. Daley

Erdoğan says things like this, “Revealing state privacy is not called freedom, it is sheer treason.”

Plus, Erdoğan has power over the press that Chicago mayors can only dream of getting.

Number of journalists in jail in Turkey: 40
Number of journalists in jail in China: 32

Those numbers are according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

 

Of course, one of the biggest differences between the two is that, unlike in Chicago, there is absolutely no check on Erdogan’s power in Turkey. With Chicago, the Feds have been kept busy investigating corruption. In Turkey, Erdogan just reassigns those police officers, prosecutors, and judges who investigate corruption.

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.

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.

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.

The Pigeon on Our Terrace

Pigeons and even crows often perch on the ledge of our terrace.

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A few weeks ago, I noticed that every time I went out on our back terrace, a pigeon would fly away. I figured the pigeon had found a good perch and was just scared by me whenever I went to hang up or take down laundry.

Then one day the pigeon didn’t fly away and I saw her sitting in the basket that holds the clothespins.

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She would just sit there. This went on for well over a week. She never seemed to budge day or night.

Then one day she was gone and all that was left were these two eggs.

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Haven’t seen her since. Now we have two pigeon eggs. Anyone know if they’re good eating? 😉