Görüsürüz, Turkey!

The bags are packed, the passports in easy reach. As we brace for the epic 27 (or so) hour journey back to Duluth, it seems fitting to look Turkey square in the face one last time and, reaching out slowly so as not to frighten it away, encircle it in a hearty, warm, teary, firm-to-the-point-of-vague-creepiness embrace.

Turkey, you have been wondrous. Staggering to the airplane under the welcome weight of your complexity, we are ready to forget your challenges with plumbing and, instead, shout out a hearty “way to go” when it comes to your:

–CONVERTIBLE COUCHES: while the U.S. favors sofa beds–those simultaneously hard-yet-saggy pull-outs that jam a metal bar into the user’s lumbar–Turkey offers up a delightful alternative with its comfortable couches that recline with a simple click; what’s more they feature a storage drawer underneath that would make Mr. IKEA’s Swedish Fish droop with envy. Were it not for the 23 kilo per bag limit that we have on our luggage, I would have dismantled one and tucked it into a duffle.

–SESAME PEANUTS: Where couches don’t fit, peanuts do! That’s why I have a kilo of the delicious crunchy, savory, sweet peanuts coated in sesame seeds tucked into a suitcase right now. To a person, our visitors this year have agreed that this is a treat worth taking home.

–TILE WORK: The Ottomans and the Seljuks perfected not only the art of making iznik tiles based on the designs of nature, but they took their vision a step further in terms of arranging the tiles into a full-on sensory experience. When Byron and I stepped in to the Karatay Medrese (Islamic school) in Konya, for example, we nearly had to lie down on the floor, both to slow the racing of our awed hearts and to get a better view of the stunning composition of tiles.

–STEWARDS ON BUSES: Turkish trains are terrible (apparently, railroad workers were paid by the hour, so they “extended their income” by building tracks that are veritable switchbacks, causing a 3-hour trip to morph into a 24-hour trip). Airplane travel in country is doable between major cities, but most itineraries route through the very-western city of Istanbul. Hence, if we hope to fly east from Cappadocia (the middle of the country), we have to first fly west to Istanbul and then fly east—over Cappadocia—from there. The best option of all for seeing the country is to take a bus. Bus routes criss-cross the country and stop in even small towns, thus allowing travelers a wide variety of options. We have enjoyed quite a few long-haul bus trips this year, and during each of them, we’ve lapped up the services of the on-board bus steward, whose job it is to serve tea, coffee, snack cakes; who splashes lemon cologne (essentially, a lemon-scented rubbing alcohol) onto passengers’ hands to keep them sterile; who helps travelers with bags and directions; who makes announcements about upcoming meals at truck stops; who helps those on board tune their personal television sets into just the right soap opera; who points the way to the WC at every stop; who lights cigarettes; who hands over tissues to weeping women who have just received phone calls about a death in the family; who stows luggage; who generally makes everyone on board feel like there’s Someone to Watch Over Me, and even better that he’s sporting a crisp white dress shirt and a bow tie.

–FRUIT AND NUT STORE GIFT BOXES: Let’s face it, we’ve all received a really ugly, hairy sweater from Aunt Agatha and been forced to tamp down our gut reaction so as to choke out an inauthentic, “Um, thank you very much, Aunt Agatha. I’ve always wanted a hairy sweater so that the kids in middle school would have fair reason to notice me.” It’s not that Aunt Agatha means to stress you out; it’s more that she has no idea what you might like. That’s where the Turkish concept of “go into the shop that specializes in dried fruits, amazing nuts, and various other delicacies of interest” rears up as a terrific option. Here’s how it works: well, first you have to find such a shop. But once you have one in your sights, you then just go up to the nice man in charge (or his teenage helper), mime the concept of a box (easier than it seems), and then, with helper in tow, work your way around the baskets in the shop, sampling every last item and indicating when you’d like him to scoop a bit of chocolate-covered apricots, dried kiwi, or roasted almonds into your box. When your belly starts to feel full, you might notice that the gift box is, as well. At that point, the nice man seals up the box, hands it over, and you get to head off to Nephew Jethro’s birthday party feeling confident that he’ll appreciate a kilo of pomegranate-pistachio lokum more than he ever would have a hairy sweater.

–REMINDING US THAT SPIRITUALITY CAN MANIFEST PHYSICALLY: The sema ceremony of the Mevlana, more commonly known as “whirling dervishes,” is hypnotic, atonal, and fascinating. Don’t bring your four-year-old, though. There is no rising action or crisis to hold the attention of those who require a plot arc, nor are there snacks. Rather, there is only the spin, an echo of the turning movement of all things in the universe.

–BEAUTIFUL HANDCRAFTS: We’ve seen fine work everywhere, especially in kilims and the kind of beaded tatting that the village ladies do, but Turkey’s tradition of excellent and unique crafts really came to life for us during our trips to the southeastern city of Gaziantep. There, we visited with men who make Yemeni slippers out of leather, with the creators of sedef (mother-of-pearl inlay), and walked the bazaars filled with the sounds of coppersmiths tapping; what they do is remarkable, and when we read that the university in Gaziantep offers free classes in these crafts—in an effort to keep them from dying off—we began to dream of learning enough Turkish to make ourselves worthy students one day.

–‘ROUND THE CLOCK BARBERING: Although there are “kuafor” shops roughly every 34 feet in Turkey, the supply can barely keep up with the demand. Even at midnight in our village of Ortahisar, at least six men sit in the chairs of the two barber shops on the main drag. Not only are the Turks a hairy people, they take denuding very seriously. For the men, this means frequent haircuts, shaves, facials, and fireball sizzling away of ear and nasal hair. Don’t get me started on the waxing of backs or more private bits. This is a family blog, Cinderella.

–THE BEAUTY OF ISLAM: This, from someone who’s entrenched in her skepticism of organized religion. But look. The man’s body language is so simple. So free of artifice. The postures of Mulim prayer move me.

–EBRU: Speaking of Ottoman art, this traditional technique of marbled painting qualifies as one of those “only in Turkey” things. There is water in a pan; there are oils and ox bile and colors from nature; there is tapping; there is combing; there is the dragging of a piece of paper over the whole thing at the end, and then…

–LUNAR ECLIPSES: And then there was this one night when I had our Turkish friends Deniz and Nazife over, and I was teaching them how to make good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookies, when suddenly the sun and the moon swooned into a slow do-si-do, and we all had to tromp outside, hands slippery with butter, to stand on the terrace and marvel at the dance in the sky.

–BALLOON RIDES: Everyone who craved a view from above got one. Cappadocia is ranked second only to Kenya in the world when it comes to quality of landscape and ballooning conditions. Our most fortunate guest, Kirsten, even got to experience a controlled crash landing; in contrast, my mother’s sideways take-off seems tame.

–MANNEQUINS IN ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUMS: Just when I thought my quiet obsession with arctic exploration books marked me as special, I went and developed a queer passion for the wacky mannequins staged to show “real life” scenes in every ethnographic museum in the country. Compared to the hilarity of seeing Crazy Grandpa Make Baklava, mere displays of harem jewelry paled.

–THREE SEAS: We swam in the Black Sea in the fall, the Mediterranean in the spring, and the Aegean in the summer. All were delightful, but nothing will match the glory of swimming in the Ak Deniz (Mediterranean), hanging out on the beach at Cirali, hiking up a mountain after dark to see the flames of the chimera, and meandering through the ruins of Olympos. For every member of our family, the Mediterranean was matchless.

–TULIP GLASSES OF TEA (çay): The bedstone of Turkey’s gracious hospitality and genuine, simple welcomes is the offering of a cup of tea; the double-decker teapot works a minimum of 30 minutes to prepare this staple, but most Turks get their tea gear chugging in the morning and then work it all day long. Shops have special intercoms and buzzers hooked up to the nearest tea stand so that every customer can feel the appreciation of the shop owner by accepting a glass of hot black tea (two lumps of sugar). Outside of commerce, the ubiquitous tea was offered to us nearly every time we stepped foot outside of our house, most notably by farmers in their garden plots wanting us to halt our daily exercise to stop for a swill.

–THE FOOD: Because we started our time in Turkey by eating in restaurants catering to tourists, we weren’t impressed. Byron fared better because his palate runs naturally towards the savory, so being offered beyaz peynir (white cheese along the lines of feta) and olives for breakfast suited him beautifully. Since I don’t like olives, tomatoes, lamb, or eggplant and struggled with much of the pungent dairy, an appreciation of the food took some time. Most menus across the country are based around the same eight or ten offerings which, if one is eating out for a week, quickly get old. Over time, though, we found enough variety that favorite foods emerged: tavuk shish (chicken kebab), tavuk donor (shaved chicken meat on bread), tavuk kanat (grilled chicken wings), durum (meat rolled in a soft lavash bread), piyaz (white bean salad), pide (Turkish pizza), mercimek corba (lentil soup), yayla corba (yogurt soup), “society” manti (meat with sauce rolled into a piece of yufka), and gozleme. For both Byron and me, the flavor combination of the year is plain yogurt topped with a dollop of chili oil and a sprinkle of dried mint leaves.

–THE LANDSCAPE: For this, more than anything else, we would return to Cappadocia. As if it weren’t enough that volcanoes dripped lava across the Anatolian plain, the weather then kicked in and shaped the most unbelievable hunks and projections and hoodoos—which were then further shaped by human hands throughout a series of civilizations unmatched anywhere else on the planet. All the fairy chimneys and pigeon alcoves have reminded us, daily, of all the working hands over thousands of years that transformed the landscape not by building upon it but, rather, by removing its innards and using negative space to create homes.

Ultimately, Turkey is a place that confounds summary. It contains too much history—

The oldest human settlement? Here. The first Christian church? Here. Troy? Here. Mount Ararat? Here. Hermits? Harems? Hatti? Hittites? Had ’em. Nomads, Seljuks, Armenians, Kurds, Greeks, Ottomans? Check, check, check, check, check, check. Modern secular republic? Neo-conservative Islamists? Covered.

–and too many smells, flavors, noises, colors created by too many kind people

for words to do it justice.

It yielded far more than the time of our lives.

Thus it is we head home, ready for the next adventure, whatever it may be.



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One Last Blast

A few weeks ago, as the reality of wrapping up this year–a time full of heightened experiences; of everything blowing us sideways with its novelty; of peeling back the layers; of change, adjustment, appreciation, amazement–sunk in,

Byron and I felt ourselves slide into the emotional place called Imminent Transition.  Just as we started to enjoy more comfort in our relationships here, and just as we recognized the scope of what we’d still like to experience in Turkey, we were pulled up short by the realization that our time was almost played out. 

Of course, having always been mindful this sabbatical in Turkey is finite and that it has been powered by an engine of “lark,” we felt no small excitement that we’d be heading back to so very much, in terms of family and friends and opportunities and activities.  Thus, we mentally started to separate ourselves from our lives in Ortahisar and Turkey.  We started to focus on what we’ve missed back home.  We started to comment more audibly on the things here that have driven us crazy.

Simultaneously, we started to feel a kind of melancholy.  For me, this time has been akin to my last month of college, when I was hyper aware that an ensorcelled and distinctive period in my life was about to close forever; and even though I knew it had to end if there was a chance of it remaining romantic, and even though I felt a certain keenness to look ahead and flow with life’s momentum, I also felt profoudly sad that my every single day would no longer be strung with a thread of Special.

All the best times in my life have revolved around a dynamic of loving the experience harder because its duration was immutably marked. That’s the nature of intensity, isn’t it?

At the very moment a few weeks ago when we were veering between maudlin and ebullient, mercifully we had to shift our energy.  Some months back, we had planned a trip to Turkey’s western coast; the timing of this trip, along with its associated happinesses, bumped us off the plateau of “How do we get through these weeks when we’re still here, yet we know that we’re done?”

Initially, the impetus of the trip was to deliver Allegra to an international space camp in the city of Izmir.  As long as we were taking her there, we’d hang out, explore the city and its surrounding regions, and get a feel for the more progressive, modern part of Turkey.  At some point during our planning, we were able to work in having our Minnesota friend Kirsten meet up with us in Izmir…and, of course, it would also behoove us to show her around Istanbul before toting her back to Cappadocia.

In such a way, the delightful rampage that has been these last two weeks took shape, and Byron and I completely lacked the time and blahs required to paddle about in the doldrums of What Are We Doing?  Rather, we actively sucked up more, more, more and benefited once again from the awed perspective of a visitor from back home.

To recap:  our family of four flew to Izmir on June 26th and were met at the airport, in true Turkish style, by the cousin of the fiance of a friend that we’ve made in Cappadocia.  He helped us get Allegra to space camp–where, it turns out, she was the only American attendee amongst the 162 campers (all the rest were coming as part of school groups from France, Spain, Germany, Turkey, and Palestine).  Although I fretted a bit about her reserved self making a go of such odds, she stayed true to form and sucked it all up.  When we returned six days later to retrieve her, the final bonus of the week was that she won the camp’s “The Right Stuff” award–a recognition of the camper best equipped for the rigors of space exploration due to her wholehearted participation, self-confidence, and ability to gather and share knowledge.

While Allegra was at camp, Paco, Byron, and I toodled around Izmir and took a day trip to the beach town of Cesme.  On July 1st, friend Kirsten arrived, fresh on the heels of several weeks in France, Germany, and Denmark.  Every time I remarked at how “easy” Izmir felt to me, how very much like Seattle it struck me, she laughed and noted, “I’m not seeing Seattle at all.  You’ve got your Turkish eyes on when you say this feels like Seattle.”

All throughout her visit, Kirsten reminded us of how far we’ve come in navigating the semi-exotic culture.  She also affirmed for us our take on many of Turkey’s quirks.

After picking up Allegra from camp on July 2nd, we took the bus to Kusadasi (a partying resort city where cruise ships dump passengers in search of leather goods, an excess of beer, and late-night singalongs to Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “Islands in the Stream”).  During our three days based in Kusadasi, we visited the ruins at Ephesus (if you know your Bible, think Ephesians; if you don’t, think HOT) and spent a day at Europe’s largest waterpark, Adaland (supplemented by An Experience of a Lifetime when Kirsten treated Allegra and me to a swim with the dolphins).

Following Kusadasi came a flight to Istanbul and return visits to some of our favorite sights:  the Blue Mosque, the underground Byzantine Cistern, Topkapi Palace, and a first visit to the Ayasofia.  Two days later, we flew from Istanbul back to Cappadocia, whereupon Kirsten’s already-high-pitched sensory overload morphed into a moment of hysteria outside the front door of our house. Whiplashed by a breakneck shuttle ride from the airport, we had whizzed past fairy chimneys, bounced up cobblestone switchbacks, been dropped off at the base of a rock fortress, accosted by our well-cologned-and-whiskered Kissing Neighbor, squired past the baaing sheep, and then, at the door, as Byron put the key in the lock, the donkey let loose with one of its night time braying fits,

and that’s when Kirsten zipped wildly up and down the “Where the settled nomads have these people brought me, to a David Lynch movie set?” continuum, burst into tears of laughter and shock, and wet herself a little bit.  For real.

The next day, after a change of underwear, she got to see the place by daylight and have her mind really blown.  During the rest of her visit, we rented a car for a couple of days so that we could tour around our favorite spots:  Pancarlik Kilise (a church from 1100 years ago with frescoes surprisingly still intact); the Sebesos Roman ruins discovered by a farmer tilling his fields; Devrent Valley; Pasabag’s towering hoodoos; Zelve’s recently-inhabited cave homes; our friend Elaine’s terrace for a belated 4th of July celebration; and finally, our friend Laura’s place, for a tour of her extended cave rooms cum guest house.  Kirsten capped it all off with an early-morning hot air balloon ride that ended with a landing in the middle of a garbage dump of rotten lemons; the basket skidded a swath through the composting citrus before tipping over on its side.

All in all, it was an appropriate note on which to bid Cappadocia adieu.

For us, now that Kirsten’s gone, we’re hunkering down, continuing to cull our household goods, and making final plans to hang out with our favorite people.

And in nine days, we’ll launch ourselves into the 24-hour journey back to Minneapolis, followed by a 3-hour car ride north to Duluth, followed by a week at my aunt and uncle’s house while we recover, followed by a return to our house on August 1st, followed by my in-laws coming to help us pull several tons of household stuffage out of the basement, followed by eye and dental appointments and art camp and shopping for a car and a camping weekend in Wisconsin and inservices and the start of school and buying a trampoline,

and in between getting phone service and crying a little bit in the bathroom because it’s all An Awful Lot,

I can’t wait to see the lake and feel warm water coming from the taps and smell the pine and preheat a real oven and crack a quality beer.  When people ask how our year was, and I crumple at the challenge of cobbling together any sort of pitiful answer that might even graze the complexity of this experience,

I’ll just plant them in front of a slideshow.

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I Love It When Pictures Tell the Story




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A Brief History of Earth: “And Then People Carried Rocks Around and Stacked Them and Called it ‘Home'”

This week’s adventure was to rent a car for a couple of days and drive three hours to the ruins of Hattusas and Alacahöyük, which I’d first heard about from the kids’ pottery teacher last fall (he doubles as a high school history teacher and is one of two Turks who has responded in the affirmative to my query of “Do you read books?”).  This pottery-history teacher waxed on about Hattusas and how it was THE site to see in Turkey for anyone who wanted to truly grasp the scope of this country’s history and fascination.

Clearly, such a place was ripe for an end-of-year homeschooling field trip! 

It was emblematic of our homeschooling year that, after we rented a car, booked a hotel room, and drove three hours to Hattusas, the kids then opted not to get out of the car once we arrived and parked at the ruins of the largest Hittite temple ever excavated. Feigning low energy and fear of sunshine, Haakon explained, “I just want to read my Harry Potter.”  Allegra chimed in with a, “I need to stare at the rear view mirror for awhile and support Paco in his reading of Harry Potter because my books are in the trunk, and I can’t be bothered to get out and grab one with which to amuse myself while you tall people touch history first hand.”

Fortunately, the last ten months of frustrated-effort-expended homeschooling, coupled with our own empathetic memories of being recalcitrant youth, made it easy to agree, “No, really, please don’t come.  If you don’t want to be here, do sit in the car.  We’ll be back when we’re done poking around.  See you when you’re twelve, and here’s a bowl of water from which you can lap when thirst hits.”

I mean honestly–and here’s a parenting tip with roots in our year abroad:  you can either force them out of the car and listen to them piss and moan or leave them in the car and smile contentedly as the sounds of their pissing and moaning fade off faintly into the distance.

We opted for the latter.

The bright side of this tale is that the ruins (Hattusas has a 3 kilometer ring of them to explore) transported Byron and me to a time nearly 4,000 years back in the history of humanity.  Thanks to a relatively-recent archaeological find of more than 3,000 seals in a royal archive, it is now possible to trace the lineage of the Hittite kings and queens and piece together a narrative of their civilization.

We had read books about it. We knew the Hittites not only scored a fair number of Biblical references (Abraham’s grandson, Esau, had two Hittite wives, for instance) but that these Biblical references all indicate they were still around long after the apex of their civilization, which stretched for 500 years, from 1800 B.C. to 1300 B.C.  We read the signs at the ruins. We let our brains range freely over the lines of rocks that signified foundations, let them reconstruct walls long fallen, let them ogle the vast Anatolian plain serving as Nature’s Defense, let our brains tap into the vibe of “These people were ‘them,’ and we are ‘us,’ but we’re all just ‘this,’ somehow separated yet part of the same thing.”

After their reluctance to get out of the car, we eventually lured first Allegra and then Haakon towards some of the more noteworthy monuments, namely the Lion’s Gate and the 70 metre tunnel (“postern”) under the ancient city walls.  Allegra ran the tunnel three times, while Haakon, true to style, refused, clutching his Potter comfortingly to his chest.

At the end of the day, after a short but lovely interlude at Yazilikaya (the greatest artistic remnants of the Hittites, as carved on towering rock walls), we retreated to one of three hotels in the tiny village and ate our dinner outside on the balcony, watching a fluorescent pink sun finally dip below the horizon on one of the longest days of the year.

The next day, we drove 32 km over to Alacahöyük, another site of Hittite ruins, one that the guidebooks presented as smaller and lesser-known.  We were properly surprised, thus, when we got there and found a certain amount of infrastructure at the place (wondering at the sight of a museum and a shop, we finally realized that Turkey’s modern hero, President Ataturk, he who made the country a republic in the 1920’s, had paid special attention to Alacahöyük, wanting it to serve as a model of how archeaology could reveal a nation to itself). Like Hattusas, Alacahöyük offers up city walls, interesting gates, and the cool diversion of a tunnel; what’s more, it has a series of royal gravesites presented as they were unearthed.

And I do love me a  skeleton wearing a diadem.

At the end of the two days, although the kids had made a valiant effort at disinterest and boredom, they had at least absorbed the psychic energy of these places: seen the gray stones heaved about by thousands of sweating ancestors; climbed up pyramid temples with steep staircases; stood on a remarkable green stone gifted from Egyptian Pharoah Ramses as a betrothal present when his daughter married a Hittite prince; relaxed in the late-afternoon shade of a rock sanctuary while pointing at their favorite carvings; ogled clay pots big enough to bathe in.

Lest they find themselves notably intellectually improved from this jaunt, however, we happily plugged in ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL on the portable DVD player during the ride home and dumbed them down in equal measure.

Listening to Theodore and Simon strike helium-infused harmonies to Beyonce’s “Put a Ring on It,” I leaned back, hefted my feet up onto the dashboard, and swung along,

rocking in the cradle of humanity.

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Redefining “Neighborhood Watch Program”

First, I have to brace myself, especially if it’s a hot day, and I’ve decided that wearing shorts is the only choice between me and heat exhaustion.

Secondly, I replay in my mind the guidebook phrase that informs, “Turks don’t consider staring to be rude.” As I remind myself of that phrase, I try not to flash back to high school, when all the boys over six feet tall sat on “Jock Rock” in the front entry of the building and assigned scores to every passing female.

Thirdly, I shield myself with sunglasses, hat, and earbuds–devices that serve as interference between me and the stares that are not rude but that, nevertheless, feel like a challenge.

Fourthly, I prepare myself for the audible commentary and mock applause that Turkish men over 50 produce at the sight of a woman running. It’s a bonus day when they wave their fists in the air and act as though I’m crossing a finish line. As well, I do a special “dodge and weave” stretching routine that limbers me up so I can maneuver my way through the gamut of neighbor housewives who badger me to buy a doll, a scarf, a pair of socks–despite my refusal to do so every single time I’ve passed their houses for the past 11 months.

Fifthly, I ready myself for defense against passing adolescent males on motorcycles and scooters who enjoy a quick game of “Buzz the Runner” when they spot me out on a country road. When this happens, I count myself lucky that I’ve never had men in loafers smoking cigarettes pretend to chase me down–proving their macho by keeping up with the runner–as Byron has. Fortunately, when it happened to Byron, the two faux chase runners, cheered on by their compatriots, had to drop out after a few metres due to hacking and an inability to draw breath.

Six, I try not to laugh visibly at the disconnect between the podcasts I’m listening to and the landscape and people I am seeing. It tickles me immensely to be listening to fairly, erm, hardcore advice being dispensed by Dan Savage as I pass a grandpa on a donkey.

Seventh, once I am out of the village, I pick up handfuls of rocks, all the better to use when and if I encounter the myriad wild dogs. Byron remains genuinely traumatized after his major showdowns with packs of thirty and, most recently, ten angry and aggressive dogs circling him. For the most part, the dogs retreat in the face of a rocks and shouting, but even still, Dog Rendezvous adrenaline trumps a “runner’s high” any day.

Finally, once I’ve run the gauntlet of staring; attempted to explain in my limited Turkish the idea that I’m not running any place specific but, instead, am doing “spor”; and equipped myself with nature’s weaponry, I turn up the volume and set to the jog. On the days when I find the entire endeavor tiresome and just wish for an easy, anonymous run,

at least I can comfort myself with the knowledge that I’ve provided the natives with some new entertainment–which, clearly, they were needing–and then, smiling, I imagine the neighborhood aunties who find me so curious being able to witness Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon, with 9,000 runners passing by in the space of a few hours.

They would wet their shalwars.

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I Also Spotted a Pair of Ruby Red Slippers in the Field

Back in Duluth, I can go weeks without having to recharge my Kindle.  However, here in the land of No Bookstores (much less ones with books in English), the Kindle has become our most-coveted item, one that circulates amongst all of us in the family, something that needs frequent recharging.

The lack of new reading material has led us to family consensus:  as we eyeball our last six weeks in Turkey and start to imagine our days back in Minnesota, the number one thing each of us is excited for is the library.  Free, easy, constantly-changing stacks of books make us salivate, and the lack of free, easy, constantly-changing stacks of books this year has been something we’ve never gotten past. 

So, yes, we can’t wait for the library.

Also, in every possible way, we have missed diversity this year–in ethnicities, in languages, in the ways people dress themselves, in choices of foods, in values, in thinking.  Pretty much, I’m over the five kinds of fruit we’ve been having for far too long.  A raspberry, a blueberry, a peach…I hanker for them all.

The list of things we’ve missed and find ourselves excited for is extensive.  But those feelings are just a small part of the larger experience.  More than anything, we still, nearly eleven months after leaving the States, continue to be awestruck at our experience and appreciative of the colors and textures and smells of Turkey.

Below is a slideshow of photos taken last night, when I went out for a walk before sunset.  We have been transported by the wildflowers dominating the Cappadocian landscape–particularly the bright red poppies–so I wanted to try to capture the look and feel of this dusty place that is, nevertheless, so lush.  Trust me, I know photos of flowers are overdone and hard to make interesting…but if you take a minute to click through the slideshow, you might feel that you’ve just taken a quick trip to our neighborhood.

And that’ll give us something to talk about upon my return to the States–you know, to help us bypass all the uneasy silences that have defined our relationship so far.

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Definitely Not The Dells

It came as a surprise to me when, in adulthood, I realized that many people (let’s admit it:  women) grow up harboring ideas of their “dream wedding.”  REALLY?  Never once, in any fashion, as a child, teen, or adult, had I envisioned my potential wedding.  For me, the dream was about finding someone to love.  After that, all cravings ended.

In similar fashion, I’ve never fantasized about a particular vacation and how it should look or feel.  Better than pinning hopes on a certain set of days in a certain place is the idea that every single day of life can contain three minutes of “holiday,” and in that way, all of life is a dream vacation.

While I still think dream weddings are nonsense, I’ve changed my chorus about vacations.  For, after our recent ten-day stint on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, I am so blissed out and dreamified that I may never get over it.  I now have, for the rest of my life, a dream vacation.  On one hand, there’s the fact that I’ve experienced the complete happiness that comes from a worry-free week and a half; on another hand, I now have a notion of “ideal vacation” in my head–of a place and a feeling–that I will pine for year afer year until we can come back (at which point, doubtlessly, everything would feel bad and wrong because nothing ruins anticipation better than the arrival of a long-hoped for reality).

The upshot is that we had the. best. time on the Turkish Mediterranean and that we are already hoping that our lives will allow for a return one day because it was–how to say it?–ah, yes:  a wondrous paradise

We started the trip with a ten-hour bus ride from the nearby city of Nevsehir to the large Mediterranean metropolis of Antalya.  There, we stayed in a pension in an old Selcuk house that has high ceilings and doors and approximately the most disappointing showers I’ve taken in this country of crummy plumbing.  However, I quickly forgot how cold and unrinsed I was as I sat on the bed and watched Byron eat kokorec (pronounced ko-ko-wretch): a traditional street stand sandwich based around seasoned and grilled lamb intestines.  He described it as both “earthy” and “not the worst thing I’ve had on a piece of bread this year.”

We really loved our two days in Antalya, largely because they were a perfect counterpoint to our usual Life in the Sticks.  In Antalya, there were modern-looking people, tramlines, beaches, Starbucks.  After two days, when it was time to hop on the bus over to our next stop, the village of Cirali, we were already contemplating a return to Antalya for the last couple nights of the trip.

But then, well, came Cirali, a village of two roads, multiple family-run pensions, a scattering of restaurants, and three kilometers of beach.  Within fifteen minutes of arrival, the most particular stickler in our family (that’d be Haakon) announced, “This is my favorite place in Turkey.”  Indeed, the laid-back vibe, lack of crowding, immense beauty, and easy welcome of the place charmed us one and all.  It is Cirali that turned a great vacation into a dream.

We stayed three days in Cirali, during which time I had two massages from a woman named Irina who spoke no English (except she was able to say:  “Irina massage is laser,” and holy crap, it was).  Having been plagued with a month-long headache that seems tied into muscle tension coming up my back…the kind of headache that had me wondering how to get through each hour, much less each day…the kind of headache that sent me to a Turkish government hospital to see a neurologist…I was transformed by Irina’s laser massage and appreciated that her hands peeled apart my anatomy and made me come off the table as she grabbed the deep-seated pain and brought it to the surface.  The fact that she couldn’t stop marveling at the crazy beefiness of my calves was icing on the massage Twinkie.  In addition to the massages, we all swam every day and had a lovely late afternoon walk through the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Olympos (site of the first Anatolian Olympics!).  One night, our pension owner’s son drove us up the road to the trailhead for The Chimera:  the eternal flames popping out of a mountainside that used to be visible to sailors at sea thousands of years ago (and readily available to light the torch for those first Anatolian Olympics).  We managed the challenging hike well enough and then stood in the darkness, mesmerized by the various places where flames licked out from underneath rocks.  As it turns out, amazing natural phenomena are a key ingredient of my dream vacation.

After Cirali, we had plans to stay three nights in the fishing village of Kas, which is actually more of an expatriate haven than anything.  It took us a few hours to adjust from the floaty happies instilled by Cirali, but once we copped to the feel of Kas, it was lovely:  good restaurants, fun shopping, and a terrific day-long boat tour.  The boat tour included three swimming stops, when the crew would drop anchor, and we’d all climb down the ladder into the sea; the tour also included a nummy lunch onboard–it’s pretty easy to douse the coals on the grill with seawater when everyone’s eaten his/her fill!–along with a float next to and over the ancient city of Kekova, which was felled by an earthquake um, some years back, like, er, before I was born.  A big highlight of the tour was our stop at Simena, a town only reachable by boat.  There, we climbed around the ruins of a castle built by the Crusaders (also something that happened roughly “before I was born”) and walked a long path amongst stunning tombs from the Lycian civilization.

As we neared the end of our days in Kas, we had to make a decision about where to spend our last couple of nights before flying back to Cappadocia.  It was a no-brainer:  we returned to Cirali and tried out a different pension, this one on a working farm (homemade mulberry jam!) with free bikes for us to ride into town and back.  So we rode, we swam, we read, we ate, we listened to the roosters crow and the turkeys gobble, I got another massage, and Byron and I took turns hiking a bit of the Lycian Way, a 509 kilometer trail that runs along the coast.

The last day of our trip was spent the way much travel in Turkey is:  hopping from shuttle to plane to shuttle to plane.  Our flight from Antalya left a bit late, which meant we were barely, if at all, going to make our connection from Istanbul to Kayseri.  However, after we landed in Istanbul, a team of men in suits with walkie talkies were standing at the bottom of the stairs, ready to get all 8 of us Kayseri folks onto our connection.  We were loaded onto another shuttle, driven around the airport, led into the terminal, literally run down the moving walkways (I knew it was serious when Turkish Airlines Man in Suit grabbed the baby from Fellow Passenger Called Woman in Headscarf and started running with the kid towards the plane).  Breathlessly, we hustled into the plane just as the doors were being sealed.  I leaned back, cracked my Cleopatra biography, asked for a cup of tea, and realized:  It had all worked out perfectly.

It had to.  That’s what Dream Vacations do.

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And Here I Thought A Shotgun Wedding Was a Good Time

One thing that hasn’t waned during our time in Turkey is the fact that we miss friends and family; fortunately, technology manages to create some feelings of connection.  For instance, while I miss my fabulous cousin Kurt and his family this year, seeing the Prom photos of his older daughter, Yarrow, on Facebook went far towards making us feel like we were right there, with them:

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The World’s a Playground

We sometimes feel like 8 of our last 11 years have been spent hanging out on various playgrounds.  There’s the park near our house in Duluth that we call “Our Playground.”  There are Chester Park, Lester Park, Bayfront (“Castle Playground”), not to mention all the playgrounds scattered around the city at all the schools.  When we’ve done road trips in the States, we’ve always made a point of seeking out the local play spaces and making sure we take the chance to stretch our legs and get a feel for the locale.

Then the kids started to grow up.  And playgrounds became less of a “thing.”  Sure, they still like the idea of a playground, and they often get into the groove when they visit one, but more often than not, their playground energy is more rooted in recent memories than in current interests.

Thus, it didn’t seem too devastating when we got to Cappadocia and realized that good playgrounds are hard to find.  Yes, there are spaces set aside for swings, monkey bars, and teeter-totters.  More often than not, though, the equipment is broken or missing pieces.  Fortunately, Turkey has a plethora of exercise areas–places intended for the public at large to use and improve their health.  For our kids, the exercise areas have proven to be just the novelty and bump up in physical challenge that their ages require.  They adore the exercise playgrounds.

In Ortahisar, however, such spaces aren’t an option, for there are only a few junky, traditional playgrounds that offer up as many opportunities to get tetanus as they do good times.  Much to our surprise, the kids have decided one of these playgrounds–The Chicken Playground–is their favorite outdoor spot in the village.  Do they love the flock of chickens wandering around it, depositing scat and trailing feathers?  Do they enjoy the nutty village grandmas who sit out on the street, watching and cackling?  Do they like that there are only three pieces of equipment, and one of them is unusable? 

I dunno.  But they love that place.

When I look at pictures of them at The Chicken Playground, I think I get it.  The pictures remind me that, no matter its seeming limitations, it’s definitely a special place in the world.

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With our friend Jim visiting last week, we had the opportunity to visit a couple of spots that we’ve heretofore not seen, the standout being the open air museum called Zelve (zel-way).  We got there only a half an hour before closing time, but it was long enough to convince us that we need to return and spend an entire afternoon as a homeschooling field trip.  Within minutes of our entering the valley, we were slapping our foreheads and muttering, “What an injustice we’ve done to previous visitors by not getting them here.  This is awesome like all of Cappadocia is awesome, but somehow it’s even better, bigger, more dramatic.”

Then we dropped all regrets and plowed down the next path.  And the next one.  And the one after that.

Part of Zelve’s appeal, outside of its visual impact, is that it was an inhabited town until 1952, at which point the goverment mandatorily evacuated the place (erosion and time cause collapses) and resettled its citizens a few kilometers away, in apartment complexes.  I’m thinking those citizens suffered some serious culture shock with the transition from cave living to light switches.

Anyhow, it catches my fancy to think that we were tromping around a town that was full of open cooking fires, rugs for doors, communal sleeping spaces–all providing an unbroken connection to an ancient lifestyle–pretty much until Elvis hit the Ed Sullivan show.

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