Sunday, November 25, 2007

sanfran- - i mean safranbolu

due to a blissfully lackadaisical avoidance of planning-ahead, my weekend trip to amasya with laura, michelle, sidney, and marion was abruptly botched when we realized the bus schedule wouldn't allow for enough time in the area. instead, michelle and i opted for two days in the partially preserved ottoman-style town of safranbolu (where the others had already visited) - a UNESCO world heritage site about 3 hours north of ankara. a visit to the old-part of town mainly involves wandering through the maze of ottoman houses and narrow stone streets, picking at street vendors' wares, and taste-testing a bunch of lokum (turkish delight); - - however, the brisk/crumbling november weather made it especially atmospheric (and off-season as far as the tourist industry goes.)

our pension (bastoncu pension) was gorgeously restored & immediately discounted.

however, it was also very cold - the owners turned on the heat upon our arrival - so michelle and i hung out in cafes as late as possible & drank salep to keep warm.

it's a hot drink made with the flour of ground + dried orchid tubers, milk, sugar, and cinnamon. (recipe here.) i loved it, although apparently it's apparently depleting turkey's orchid population (and thus illegal to export.)

we also got a semi-creepy impromptu massage from a blacksmith in the back of his shop, two free private tours by a parking lot attendant-turned-"official"-tourist-guy and a certain (more genuine & wonderful) mehmet, and ate ridiculous lollipops from a man who must HATE his work uniform. but was jolly all the same.

as usual, there are a few more pictures here. ALSO, the most wonderful thing just happened: it's snowing and i got to announce this fact to a CELTA girl from florida who has never seen snow before. words cannot express the joy this brought laura + me as we watched her look out the window. before it was snow it was rain, and this is what laura looked like when she came home:

(hi dad, she says!) she then requested i post this picture of a mannequin from an ottoman-house-museum in safranbolu.

because it is crazy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

happy turkey-turkey day.

after work today the SSIs (speaking skills instructors - that's me!) in our building really pulled together a wonderful-giant thanksgiving potluck dinner in our building's atrium - here are the initial tables which ended up seating a portion of the people that came:

and the line for (some of!) the food:

a picture of laura (for her dad!) making mulled wine with alix:

and a general picture of bucky, me, and michelle:

i made 2 giant bowls of fruit salad. laura, sidney, michelle, and i are going to amasya this weekend so check back for a report on that. until then, happy thanksgiving!! - i really missed my family tonight.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

look for me on tv.

to convey the pleasant & self-indulgent nature of most of my weekends here in ankara, here's a recap of this week's:

after finishing friday's 7 hours of teaching duties i took the bus downtown to go out with the 3 aforementioned american speaking skills instructors (also known as SSIs - abbreviations are a way of life here) from my teaching unit (TU): paul, anna, and erik - along with laura and a few other SSIs - to meet up with azra and bedra (from our TU) and a few of their friends. we met in the landmark known as BURGER KING and headed on to a bar with a texas/western theme (complete with a giant texas flag + a COVERED WAGON inside) to hear a live band playing the 80's english-language pop music that is so incredibly popular here (featuring billie jean and englishman in new york.) azra chose shots of sex on the beach as our drink which ensured a night of dancing and singing. at 1:30 laura + most others took the last bus back to bilkent while paul, azra, bedra, and i drove to another bar/club to dance to the same songs played by a different (actually, much worse) cover band but in a really cool atmosphere - there were blue christmas lights strung all over, stained glass lanterns, and outdoor space heaters hanging from trees in a shaded garden. afterwards paul and i went to bedra's apartment to eat pasta and sleep for a few hours before waking up on saturday and driving to atatürk's mausoleum for the annual remembrance of his death.

atatürk died in 1938; since then, every november 10th at 9:05 am the entire country stops for a moment of silence as deafening sirens blare. everything stops. we were actually next to a large outdoor running track/exercise playground on our way to the mausoleum when it happened and it was such an eerie scene to see all the runners standing erect and motionless as only tree branches rustled near my face. cars stop (although some blare on their horns the whole time to enhance the effect of the sirens, i guess) and time freezes. it was an incredible minute.

afterwards the three of us walked to the cafe-ish middle-class neighborhood of bahçelievler to drink turkish coffee and buy some produce; the sun filtered through the trees and buildings in the beautiful, relaxing way only saturday-morning-sun can. paul and i took the bus home where i relaxed in my room for only an hour or two before laura invited me to the lower-class & more religious neighborhood of ulus for my first-ever trip to a hamam.

inside, we were instructed to undress and wash ourselves off in a steamy white marble room while naked women of all shapes and sizes did the same, older women sang, and a purple sunset hovered over the star-of-david-shaped skylights in the domed ceiling. after a bit a large kindly woman beckoned me to lay down for an intense scrubbing massage where layers of black dirt i didn't even know existed peeled off on large quantities. she then dumped buckets of warm water all over me and completely soaped me up. i rinsed off as laura went through the same process; afterwards we were totally pink-skinned, clean, and relaxed.

we walked from ulus to a nearby metro station to get back to bahçelievler for some silly fun on these ubiquitous outdoor exercise machines in a park, went to a restaurant for amazing pide, kebabs, and ayran while goofing around with two rambunctious little boys, and took a cab to a bilkent bus stop. unfortunately it started RAINING & we were forced to take cover in a nearby sweet shop & subsequently buy some fancy chocolate. our plan to watch a movie in my apartment was quickly foiled after we had to run for 20 minutes through the rain & i promptly fell asleep - exhausted - at 11pm.

this afternoon i went for coffee with my friend michelle and attended a ceremony awarding shimon peres with an honorary doctorate from bilkent university. although i would have gone anyway, bilkent - perhaps fearing low attendance? - required all BUSEL teachers to attend. he was an eloquent, charismatic speaker & answered the expected questions re: the wall separating israel and palestine, his views on iran (or, rather, his views on mahmous ahmadinejad, since peres was quick to separate the president from the iranian people), the connection between israel and the US in regard to their middle east involvement, etc, in a somewhat evasive yet wise-grandfather-like-way. afterwards i was interviewed by either the turkish or israeli news (not sure which, although most bystanders claimed to see israeli on the video camera) whose eyes lit up when i said i was from the united states. it was actually pretty stressful since it was obvious they were asking me purposefully provocative questions like "no one here is wearing head scarves. is turkey a muslim country or what?" and "what do you think of the claim that the US and israel are involved in a conspiracy together?" and "why do you think most turkish students are against america and israel?" i tried to be as honest as possible, but after working at npr where selecting seconds of clips is key, it was hard to be candid knowing any given phrase could be chopped out and spread across national television.

i just finished eating michelle's eggplant parmigiana & now i'm planning to read for the rest of the night. this week is our last week with our first set of students - next week they'll find out if they pass on to upper-intermediate or will stay to repeat intermediate. apparently repeating is more common than it should be, which for me isn't totally bad - i love my students!

Monday, November 5, 2007

i can't hide

apparently in another life i resembled turkish top model deniz akkaya, since every week or so a new person tells me i look like her. ("just the face" they usually point out.) it's seriously getting ridiculous.

i have yet to be convinced!

however, a fight practically broke out in one of my classes after two girls said i looked more like liv tyler:

either one is fine by me, although i think the comparisons might have to do with my "foreignness" rather than my actual looks. maybe.

today was the second in a series of tests at BUSEL (the english school where i work) called "CATs." last time i was a hall monitor, but this round i had to "invigilate" - in other words, stand silently in a classroom for 50-minute chunks to watch for cheating students. it was actually an amazing experience in mental stamina - 50 minutes is a long time to be completely silent and motionless for multiple hours in a row. after i had thought of multiple potential life-trajectories for myself, analyzed and re-analyzed across the universe (which i saw sunday night and, despite its many flaws, thoroughly enjoyed - especially t.v. carpio singing "i wanna hold your hand") and tried to recall both every turkish word i knew and then every word i knew in any foreign language, i invented detailed life-stories for all the students in the room. what i should have done is think about the paper i have to write tonight since i spent the night eating authentic tapas (made by my friend mirelle), frying apples, rearranging my room, and. . .uh. . . updating my blog. clearly my college-esque procrastination habits must come to an end - especially since i just discovered james clifford and totally want to study with him at uc santa cruz where funding is apparently non-existent!! rats!!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

dinosaur backs

on saturday i went on a fulbright-sponsored day trip to the town of baypazarı, famous for carrots, silverwork, mineral water, and really good food like thinly-wrapped stuffed grape leaves (the thinner the better) and 80-layer baklava. apparently the town is used as a model in the tourism industry as a highly "successful" rural-town-turned-tourist-destination transformed over the past few years. i was shown around by four turkish college students studying to be tour guides; being the first native english-speaker they'd guided, i was given special attention and learned a lot. below is a section of the town from a hilltop - notice the two "dinosaur back" rock formations.

we walked along narrow streets of beautiful old/restored ottoman-style houses:

tried sweet turkish-delight style dessert (maybe from carrots?):

& ate the BEST dessert ever (next to a glass of ayran which i totally love & drink all the time here):

upon returning home i was quickly swept up in the frantic communal preparation for a a halloween party in the basement of our apartment building as we (silly) foreigners ran from closet to closet - - looking desperately for semblances of costumes with the limited junk we'd brought over to turkey. here i am with the 3 other american speaking skills instructors from my teaching unit (i.e. the people i see the MOST during the week & eat lunch with every day), all of whom have totally different personalities/backgrounds from me/each other but have slowly + endearingly won my affection. there's erik as a character from lost, anna as a ladybug, paul as the marine he actually is, and me as a. . .zapatista guerrilla. (crazy-high commando boots not shown.)

i see the potential for a problematic/hypocritical reading of me "dressing up" as an indigenous rebel involved in a serious struggle - not that i necessarily disagree with the majority of their ideologies - but my options were limited and very last-second!! as usual, a few more photos from the day are available - both of beypazarı and some incriminating shots - although the subsequent midnight trip downtown for nargile and dancing is better left undocumented.

now to recover. goodnight!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

istanbul take two: republic day.

last weekend i returned to istanbul to visit my friend dilek, an incredibly kind and intelligent turk who scored twelfth on the ÖSS (a terrifying multiple-choice national university entrance exam) and visited pittsburgh on her way home from studying abroad in san diego last year. dilek kindly welcomed me into her beşiktaş apartment at 5:15 AM on saturday morning when my overnight bus arrived; after a nap, i woke up to the call to prayer and a beautiful view of the bosporus from her apartment balcony:

after breakfast with her equally kind roommates zehra and ayşen, dilek and i took the tram to topkapı palace to see the large complex where ottoman sultans once lived. once inside, we paid the (well-spent) extra 10 YTL to see the harem where the sultan's mother, concubines, wives, family, children, and servants (including many "eunuchs" apparently taken from africa) lived. the architecture and ornate decorations were gorgeous and different in each room/passageway/courtyard - below is a photo i took from a room in the harem, but there are much better photos on the wiki page:

afterwards dilek graciously waited in the non-turk line with me to enter the equally beautiful and difficult-to-convey sultanahmet camii (also known as the blue mosque or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque - camii meaning mosque.) a strong emotion overtook me immediately upon entering; it was clearly a spiritual place even though we hung towards the back in the tourist area near the rear "women's section" and watched from afar.

hagia sophia (basilica/mosque/museum and largest cathedral in the world for a thousand-ish years) is the third main tourist attracting in the immediate area but was closed by the time we arrived. (i'll be back, inshallah.) just the outside was impressive:

as we were getting back on the tram i watched helplessly as a tram door separated a fellow foreign girl from her group of friends - - - but when i approached her to see if she could use some help (from dilek) i realized she was my friend hayley from vermont! we actually ended up getting separated ourselves a few stops down the line, but there was enough time before that to exchange phone numbers & meet up later in taxim for a birthday-turned-mini-dance-party with dilek's friends in a chic high-rise bar overlooking the city and, later, hanging out at the apartment of some german exchange students.

the next day about a dozen of dilek's funny, generous friends carpooled out to a protected forest (bahçeköy belediyesi) where we cooked a giant meal of grilled meat and vegetables and played a turkish variant of dodgeball in the woods until it grew dark. the day offered exactly what i had been craving: a real experience of autumn with trees and october air and crunchy leaves and friends. nothing could have been better.

afterwards dilek's friend kanon drove her, her two roommates, and me to a funky outdoor tea (çay) house looking out over the bosporus towards the asian side to sit for hot chocolate and tea. eventually he dropped us back off in beşiktaş where we wandered around a maze of jewellery/cloth/trinket stands and sat by the water to watch the changing patterns of the bosporus bridge and the fireworks celebrating the eve of turkey's republic day.

we also ate waffles - a crepe-like snack stuffed and rolled with flavored nutella-ish spreads, fruit, honey-drenched nuts, candy, and other sweet things - made in colorful stands throughout the area which i found so pretty.

that night dilek, zehra, ayşen, and i had a calming & enlightening conversation about religion and our spirituality. it was so wonderful to relax by the water with them and people-watch. they gave me gifts: a cell-phone holder, a book to write turkish in, and a pillow for the bus ride home (much appreciated.) we went home, made popcorn, and watched the TERRIBLE movie "girl next door" before falling asleep very late into the night.

the next morning was republic day - a holiday - so i made pancakes for everyone before kanon returned with his car to take me on a whirlwind tour of a few neighborhoods before my bus arrived. there were flags everywhere for the holiday - it was a great day to drive around and watch istanbul flash before my eyes.

i left istanbul with a crowd of dilek's friends waving me on in the rain and then faced about 10 hours of exhausted-travel back to bilkent where i proceeded to unpack, lesson plan, write a response paper on gilles deleuze, and make dozens of halloween pumpkin-and-ghost-shaped halloween cards for my students before getting any sleep. although i'm still recovering from sleep deprivation, it was one of the best weekends i've had in a very long time. possibly ever. i'm considering finding work in istanbul for a while after my fulbright grant ends at bilkent next august.

for more photos of the weekend go here (although wikipedia has very extensive pages on the three major sights i listed if you want the real deal.) next is a day trip to beypazarı on saturday organized for fulbrighters. i've been feeling busy and too tired lately to give my full self - just not taking care of my physical self - so hopefully i'll be able to prioritize that over the next few weeks. the weather is still unusually warm but with daylight savings time the days are drastically shorter. winter is definitely on its way.