No Ham Easter

I’m finding my aversion to holidays is less strong in Turkey.  Partially, it’s because I’m not overwhelmed with teaching and toting kids around and always craving more time in every day; therefore, spending hours prepping only to undo that prep work a short time later feels, well, less pissy-offy in this year of expansive time and drifty days.  Even more, I have enjoyed the holidays this year because they often feel like our best touchstones to the culture back home–and apparently my contrarian self has to be out of the culture to feel any desire to honor it.  As well, the fact that we’ve spent every major holiday with our great friend Elaine (“Ileyn”) and her two kids has, most likely, been the principal reason I’ve not railed against the special days.  Elaine is an elementary school teacher, and she adores holidays, so in the face of her theme-based energy and boundless enthusiasm, I am powerless.  She’s excited?  The kids are excited?  There’s wine in the fridge to drink after it’s all over?

Okay.  If that’s the case, I’m good.  Stuff that turkey.  Deck them halls.  Dye them eggs.  Fill my glass.

Easter was a blast of dyeing, hunting, eating, sack and spoon racing…all carried out in a setting that was nothing, if not Once In A Lifetime.

Added bonus:  our friend Jim was visiting, and although he isn’t a kid person necessarily, he was an unflappable sport who even picked up the two-year-old a few times, calling out, “Do you see me with a toddler?   I’m watching a toddler.  You can make it stop any time.”

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“I hope AC/DC is opening,” I whispered to Byron as we entered the Konya cultural center, jostled through the security checkpoint along with 2,100 of our closest friends.

Downstairs, the concession and souvenir stands were open.

Upstairs, thousands of head-scarved women and devoted unscarved men sought out the best seats, chattered animatedly, and prepared to snap low-light photos with their cell phones.

In the women’s bathroom, a clucking clutch of ladies crowded in front of the mirror, removing their head coverings, taking down their hair, shaking it out, smoothing it, then rebinding it into scrunchies and covering it again.

Clearly, the electric feeling in the building indicated that this was an event.

Off for a weekend with just the two of us (our good friend Ileyn watched the kids), Byron and I had headed to the conservative city of Konya, a place known as the home of the mystical master Rumi and the base of Sufism (an esoteric branch of Islam that shuns worldliness and posits it is possible to get close to God not only in the afterlife but also during this life). Earlier that day, we had been wowed by the local Seljuk design and tile work, particularly at a madrasa (Islamic school) called Karatay.

We had also visited the Mevlana Museum, where Rumi is buried and where devotees of Sufism come to pray and weep. That Rumi? He created some sort of cult of personality, for sure.

Because of Rumi’s legacy in Konya, we were excited that this city would be the place where we would, at last, get to see a sema ceremony–more widely known as “watching the whirling dervishes.” These ceremonies are held all over Turkey, mostly using hired hacks to entertain tourists, but the Konya ceremony smacked of greater authenticity, being performed for free, only once a week–rather than nightly, for a fee. Even more, we would be attending a ceremony attended by Turks, by faithful Muslims–rather than with disgruntled Germans who felt they’d been rooked on the price of the rug they’d purchased earlier in the day.

How lucky were we, to attend a sema ceremony in the most real, genuine manner possible?

Then, of course, we walked into the arena and felt the buzz of concessions, souvenirs, and groupies.

Despite the concerns engendered by that buzz, and despite the fact that the lights dimmed, and then announcer came out and forbade flash photography (“it is inappropriate during the ceremony”), yet two hundred flashes popped every single second of the first ten minutes of the ceremony, and despite the fact that the Turks in attendance never ceased chattering or emitting a nervous energy,

the ceremony was riveting. Once I shut out the twitching leg and frantic “I’m so bored” looks of the man to my left, I was transported both visually and auditorily. The music during a sema ceremony is gorgeous, a masterpiece of minor keys and steady, low thrum. The dervishes themselves are restrained, sedate, moving deliberately and without responding to external energies.

It was all we’d hoped for.

Naturally, what we hadn’t hoped for were 1,500 “devout” Turks–apparently not so well trained in how to attend a public cultural event–standing up and shuffling out, sending texts, chatting with their girlfriends, about twenty minutes before the ceremony’s finish. In the last few minutes, as the Master of the dervishes stood up and uttered two Islamic prayers, another 100 Turks decided it was time to head home so as to catch the last few minutes of the game show wherein contestants are hurled, by various means, into bodies of water when they answer questions incorrectly.

In a certain perverse way, the evening offered up to us a multi-layered cultural experience. Certainly, we were witnessing a tradition rooted 900 years back. Perhaps just as importantly, we were witnessing how the descendants of that tradition chose to honor it.

Ultimately, as affronted as we were by the Turks’ callous behavior in the middle of such a spiritual program,

the truth is that the energy of the whirl, the joy of the focus, the power of the ritual, held us rapt. Perhaps, indeed, there is something mystical about Sufism, for

even when 1,600 rustling bodies are banging their way out of a huge public auditorium, those who are willing to yield to the meditation find themselves dizzied with awe.

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All the Way from California

My mom and her new 87-year-old husband recently visited for eleven days; I have to say, with how uneven and challenging the terrain is here, they both proved their mettle on even the shortest walk. After leaving us a couple of days ago, they flew to Istanbul to start a 16-day-tour of Turkey, which means they’ll be back here in Cappadocia in a few days (we hope to hook up for lunch). Because we knew they’d be seeing the major Cappadocian sights on their tour, we tried to get them to places that are outside of the usual tourist spots.

Highlights of their visit included having them here for Allegra’s birthday (the first time Mom’s been able to be with us for one of the kid’s birthdays!); shopping in Urgup; taking a four-day trip down to Gaziantep near the Syrian border (an area renowned for its Yemeni slippers, amazingly-spiced food, pistachios and, by extension, baklava); an afternoon walk with Mom and Allegra to a monestary just outside of Ortahisar (and getting a spontaneous tour of a lemon storage cave by a local who was out in his garden plot); and Mom and Byron taking an early-morning hot air balloon ride together.

A sampling of those highlights can be seen in this slideshow:

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In This Week’s Episode

…Ricky gets a shave, and Lucy takes a break from the chocolate chip cookie assembly line long enough to feel up his baby-fine skin. Slathered in goo, Ricky has to perform “Babalu” with literal egg on his face that night at The Tropicana!

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Birthday Girl

She’s working on a British accent.

She really likes Thai curry.

My uncle, recently visiting, noted of her penchant for running ahead and fearlessly exploring every nook, “She’s a charger.”

When I was giving Haakon a mnemonic device for remembering that Columbus is the capital of Ohio, she interjected, jokingly, “Do you think Columbus had wireless on his ship?”

On a day when she is wound up with excitement over her birthday and a visit from her grandmother (and new husband), Allegra dances around and shouts, “I have squirrels in my pants!”

She’s been an amazing ten year old. It’s looking like she’ll redefine age eleven, shaping it into a year of grace and beauty and unself-conscious poise.

So what were you like as an eleven year old?

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Definitely Not Sanity Saving

It’s a Sunday afternoon here, and I have no idea what time it is–unless we can call Once Again the Power Is Out, Just When I Wanted to Take a Shower, Do the Dishes, and Run Some Laundry** an hour of the day.  Lately, with frequent power outages, we could give this label to quite a few hours. 

So all I know is that it’s twenty-five past Power Outage, and my computer’s battery has 31 minutes remaining before it dies, and so I should probably just shut the thing off and go out into the bright sunshine for my Walkies and stop being so concerned about using electricity when the big firey ball in the sky is looking so happy up there.

But, before heading outside, I did want to get onto the computer so I could look up what time it is right now here in Turkey.  I’m confused because of daylight savings.  In the U.S., daylight savings happened a couple of weeks ago, but for most of Europe and other parts of the world, it’s happening today.  Thus, it makes sense that my googling of “current time in Istanbul” showed me a time that is one hour later than what’s on our clocks around the house.


When I told Byron, “Looks like Turkey did move the clocks forward last night,” he said, “Nope, they didn’t.” 

Did too.

Did not.

Did too.

Did not.

After about a minute of that backing-and-forthing–and wheee what fun that is!–I conceded that he’s always right, so why, in this case, when The Magic Google Machine had given me the time change information, was I wrong?

Well, it gets confusing when Turkey decides that this one March it’s going to wait another day before switching to “summer hours.”  You see, today a major national exam is being held–the university entrance exam–and the Turkish government didn’t want the time change to work against the students taking the exam, so they decreed that tomorrow, after the exam is over, the time change will take effect.

Apparently, the Turkish government forgot to inform Google. 

Searches of other websites did reveal no time change…while still other sites are, indeed, reflecting a time change…and pretty much all I can say is that one of those soon-to-be university students had best score pretty darn well on his/her exam and get into a fabulous college whereupon he/she will go on to invent a System for Jocelyns (SFJ) that consists of a portable jetpack (it doesn’t really need to fly, but I like that option–you never know here in the village when you’re going to wish you had the power to levitate 10 feet into the air so’s to leap over a recalcitrant donkey), and in this jetpack will be a clock that always reflects the correct current time, no matter where I am or what day of the year it is, and it will also sport a personal electricity generator so that if there’s biathlon coverage on the Eurosport channel some sunny afternoon, I have the choice of either going outside and moving my own body or staying inside sedentarily and ogling people with skis and guns move theirs.


**I’m fine with taking a shower in the dark, but the little hot water heater on the bathroom wall doesn’t warm the water unless there’s electricity…and to wash dishes, we heat water in this electrical pot thingy, which is also useless during a power outage.  Hmmm.  The more I think about it, the more I think a power outage gives me license to externalize the dirty sloth I’ve always harbored not-so-deeply inside…

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This Time, Pork Free

With the arrival of Spring, people are ready to travel. Thus, we’ll be hosting a spate of visitors in the next few months, people who are ready to eat olives and tomatoes, soak up the Call to Prayer, and peek into ancient churches. ‘Cause that’s what we’ve got:  olives, calls, and churches.

Starting the influx of visitors were my aunt and uncle, who spent six days this past week here in Cappadocia (after three days in Istanbul and two in Athens). Aunt Phyl and Uncle Scott live outside Duluth, so we’re used to seeing them on a regular basis. Perhaps more importantly, Scott is the one who picked me up when I was five years old and wearing a very pretty dress and hefted me over the railings of a pigpen to set me on the back of the biggest beast in the joint.

Somewhat surprisingly, given how pretty my dress was, we are still on speaking terms.

How could we not be? Scott and Phyl are the people who dropped me off at college, who came to every Parents’ Day for the four years I was there, who gave Byron and me a pig–do we sense a recurring theme?–as a wedding present (and proceeded to roast it up and serve it at our reception). They have always been awesome and held true to form during their time in Turkey; they were up for hiking and seeing dervishes whirl and drinking multitudinous cups of tea and doing craft projects with the kids and having picnics and wading through the crowded Saturday market and making paintings and watching the kids do pottery and hitting their heads on every low stone doorway.  Now they’re flying back home, only slightly concussed, and we all agree it was delightful:

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This One Is for My Aunt Geri, Who Recoils in Horror at the Idea of Coming to Turkey

Since the first time I casually said to Aunt Geri, “You should come visit us in Turkey,” her response has been a visceral one, followed by a sentiment along the lines of “Yea, that ain’t gonna happen. No thank you. Nope. Not a whit of interest. Not. even.”

Of course, because I enjoy playing The Pain, I respond with, “So when you come, what would you like to see and do?”

A big part of her reluctance could pertain to the sometimes-questionable bathrooms, particularly public bathrooms.

Yesterday, we enountered a bathroom in the small village of Mazi that would have not only made Aunt Geri recoil, but it would have made her hop the next donkey to the border. Her “ughs” and “ewwws” would have echoed for at least ten kilometers.

If this photo from the men’s room, a photo which Haakon went in and snapped after staggering out and announcing about the bathroom, “Yup, this isn’t a very good one,” doesn’t fully convey the ick, then Aunt Geri can just ask her brother, my Uncle Scott, who was here visiting and who used that bathroom himself.

We’d taken Scott and his wife Phyl to the underground city in Mazi. Based on the state of this squat toilet, I shudder to think what else is running underground in Mazi…

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Headscarves on the Hillside

Our friend Elaine is an elementary teacher at a private school in the neighboring town of Nevsehir.  Quite wonderfully, she managed to get us included yesterday on a school trip to the regional ski resort at Erciyes, an extinct volanco outside the city of Kayseri.

We drove to a gas station near Elaine’s house at 8 a.m., loitered in the parking lot for a bit with other teachers, students, and parents, and then loaded ourselves into one of four big buses.  An hour and a half later, we disembarked at the volcano and waded into the chaos of a crowd where heaps of people were trying to rent skis and sleds and snowboards from small tables set up outside the larger rental places. 

In true Turkish fashion, the school hadn’t called ahead of time or worked out anything systematic.  The loose plan went something like:  “Drive 90 kids and their parents, plus 20 teachers, to a volcano.  Drop them off.  Have someone choose a rental table and walk up to it, at that point negotiating a rental price for everyone in the group.  After an hour and a half on the mountain, everyone will get back into a different bus than they came on and drive 300 feet to the picnic spot, whereupon we will take out the school’s grill and have the lunchroom folks, who are also along for the day, cook up about 600 chicken breasts and a bunch of sausages.  The important part of parking next to four picnic shelters will be that no one actually goes to them or sits down. At the point when most people are done eating, remember that there are bottles of water for distribution.  Leave trash by the side of the road and hit a car with one of the buses, and then it’s off to the mall for a couple of hours, during which many third and fourth graders will be sent off on their own and admonished to be back at the bus by 4 p.m.  On the way home at 4 p.m., crank loud music and wonder how come there were exactly enough seats on the morning trip but, oddly, there are now two more people than seats.  Somewhere in the country, have all four buses pull over and shuffle people around–because even the extra ones that no one can account for need to get back to their city of origin, and since the four buses set out from four different towns at 8 a.m., this seems as good a time as any to organize them thusly.”

It was a blast.  Allegra and Byron skiied with Elaine’s daughter, Selin, and Paco and I sledded with Elaine and random kids from the school.

Of course, before we even set out, Byron and I had discussed our greatest hope for the day:  that we’d spot a “fully-covered” woman (headscarf to raincoat) on skis.  Despite my best efforts, I only saw younger scarved girls on skis; the even more modest skirt and raincoat types were definitely out in full force on the hill but were serving as support crew rather than participating completely.  Make of that what you will.

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Gonna Be a Bright, Bright Sunshiny Day

Aren’t we supposed to become inured to the beauty that surrounds us every day?

I’m not so sure. 

With the kids, with this place, every time I clap eyes on them, just when the sun is starting to dip,

I’m freshly struck with awe.

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