Canyon Picnic

(I am at an Internet cafe, and the keyboard at this computer has no apostrophe key, hence my lack of possessives and contractions in this post…so I am formal and refusing all ownership today…)

Three minutes walk from our house is a crumbling staircase that drops down into a deep, striking valley. Then again, everywhere we go in Cappadocia, we are either in or surrounded by deep, striking valleys–that, much like the American West, is the nature of the place. However, we are not becoming inured to the beauty and still find ourselves gasping at every dust mound, looming rock wall, ancient bit of handiwork, and hoodoo.

The other day, needing to get out of the house (this being our current biggest challenge), we packed up some food and headed down the staircase into the valley for a picnic. A secondary aim of the expedition was to find a tree suitable for hanging a swing from. Where a swing would come from, should we find such a tree, remained a project for another day.

Below are photos from our canyon walk and picnic. The most arresting aspect of the canyon–outside of the fact that Haakon is actually walking and in it (wearing tennis shoes, no less…and boy did we hear repeatedly how heavy they were)–are the thousands upon thousands of pigeon dovecotes carved into the stone, some so high up as to be reachable only through a hidden network of tunnels or handholds.  Many of these alcoves were brightly and intricately decorated–seemingly as a means of attracting the pigeons, expressing an artistic part of the culture, and exhibiting the Muslim reverence for birds.

The presence of pigeons and alcoves stretches back thousands of years and is ubiquitous in this volcanic region, where the turfaceous soil needs enrichment for anything to grow, and pigeon poo provided exactly the necessary nutrients while also having the side benefit of being a natural fertilizer that discourages weeds; only in the last few decades has the widespread use of pigeon guano for fertilizer ebbed and been replaced by commercial fertilizers.  Nowadays, many of those whose livelihood used to come from gathering and selling pigeon manure have had to seek out other sources of income, such as opening tea shops in the valleys where tourists hike and crane their necks up towards the now-defunct dovecotes.

Pigeon alcoves with ornamental decorations

Next time we'll bring a hamam wrap (cloth used at a Turkish bath) for a picnic blanket

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Missing the Sunset Bus

A brisk 30 plus minute walk from our home is the “Sunset Overlook” that is famous with the tourists.  Bus loads of Japanese tourists end their days there.  German motorcycle tourers park their BMW bikes and leathers to ponder the passing of another day and plan their routes for tomorrow.  English, polo shirt wearing, travelers relax with a bottle of mediocre Cappadocian red wine while discussing the finer points of Islam, compared to the Anglican Church, with their Turkish tour guide.

I shunned wheeled transport yesterday and fast walked in, camera in hand, ready to capture the glowing red orb of the sun as it fell behind the  fairy chimneys and eroded gullies of the Rose Valley.  Nature got the upper hand and threw a cold front, and its clouds, ten degrees over the horizon canceling the pyrotechnics.  All was not lost, though.  The valley was still stunning, the tourists were compelling, and the sky above provided enough drama for the night.

And the sun will set again tomorrow.

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Sorry for the lack of originality, but one finds herself compelled: “Ice, Ice, Baby”

There is no clearer evidence that Byron and I are adrift in a new place, looking for moorings, than the fact that we’ve become The World’s Cheapest Dates. Seriously, it takes nothing to delight us.

Case in point: we are tickled-Ottoman by the way many Turks–if they have any desire to do so–make ice. For the most part, ice isn’t seen, isn’t done, isn’t a thing. If a drink is “cold,” it’s been refrigerated. The idea of “take that cold and up it a tidge, please, ’til my teeth hurt” is purely a foreign, Western, touristic concept.

For business owners whose livelihood depends on making foreigners’ wallets pry open, ice, then, is a thing. And, well, yes, reusable ice trays do exist. I saw them in a shop last week. Mind you, I’ve been in 73 shops in the last few weeks. Apparently, though, the preferred method of Those Who Need to Make Ice is

the plastic bag approach.

For sale, in many stores, is a box of ice bags, wherein small bits are sectioned off to make the cubes.

Once I’d heard about this method, I told Byron, “I know this is one of those things that is crazily impractical, and it will make you nuts to even think we paid out money for, but, Toots, I’m charmed by the notion. So if you see these bags, grab a box, will ya?”

He did.

Even better: he was the one to make the cubes.

Even, even better: making the cubes was the best time he’d had since ingesting his first Efes Pilsen a few weeks before.  He opened the box.  Chuckled.  Chortled.  Whirled like a dervish.  Filled the bags, one compartment at a time, sealing the whole thing off with an optimistic, “Freeze up now, My Lovelies!”

The next day, with no work, school, friends, or schedule to disrupt our thinking, we opened the freezer carefully.  Yes.  Yes.

As you might imagine, we’re now faking heat exhaustion and spritzing our torsos with mock sweat in private, just to make the case for Ice Need.

Because then we get to dive into the freezer, take out the bag of smooth eggs, and tear them out of the plastic…

thus proving that, in a time when we don’t speak the language, when we have virtually nothing to give us direction, it all comes down to the odd Holy Moment,

like cracking ice into a newly-bought glass,

and looking forward, in the near future, to doing some cracking with a friend.

How to say "on the rocks" in Turkish?

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About As Good As a McNugget

We read a great deal about Turkish cuisine before hopping on the plane, and everything we ingested in our reading made us excited.

Dang.

The reality has been less impressive. Yes, we’ve been eating in restaurants in a tourist area, and yes, the food choices take some adapting to. That noted, I can still say that we’ve only had about four really good meals out in the last month, and for awhile, we were eating nearly every meal out. Our pal Christina, who’s lived in Turkey for seven years, thinks she may have only had about four good meals in restaurants herself during her tenure in country. There just seems to be a lack of care and thought behind the food made for tourists in high season. Thus, I can easily assert that the best meals I’ve had in Turkey have been made by Byron–as usual.

However: there have been the good meals. One was in the village of Goreme, in a relatively-new cafe where village women do the cooking (Christina says most restaurants have men at the stove, which is a shame, considering that the women generally are the ones who know their way around a spice); it was there that I first tasted the tiny meatballs called köfte. They were like air sprinkled with pulverized angel wings dusted with marshmallow sneezes. That restaurant also had amazing white beans and homemade macaroni and manta, which is a small ravioli filled with yogurt.

We also have eaten twice at a really good place in Goreme called Nazar Börek. Each time, the kids have had either grilled chicken wings or grilled chicken shish while we adults have had a “borek” (a stuffed pastry–sometimes with minced beef, sometimes with cheese and parsely, sometimes with cheese and baby spinach). The other day, we scored the big, low couches in the outdoor seating, which meant we got to take off our shoes and lounge while burping discreetly.

The final place we had a good meal was the most surprising, as the owner of it is a tourist hustler–which generally would be the signal of Crap Food. This guy, Mehmet (one of seven we’ve met in the last three weeks), rushes to the front of the cafe everytime he sees anyone vaguely touristic, grabbing them by the arm, asking them to read the pages of the guide books he keeps under glass…pages that contain positive reviews of his joint. His restaurant is located in the Big Town of Ürgüp (about 17,000 people), and since we were feeling like tourists during the two nights we stayed in a hotel there, we were open to his schtick (watch for a future post in which I relate the Turkish word for “schtick”), so we ponied up to a table.

Below are photos of his menu and the actual food I ordered: the white beans and beef soup. It was really, really good–made better by the fact that it came in a clay pot baked closed with bread that then had to be whittled off.

All I ever ask from a good meal is the chance to do some whittlin’.

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Placemat in Pottery Town

We caught a ride today (for the cost of petrol) from a guy named Murat, who’s a friend of a local guy named Mithat. Mithat heard we were trying to find out the times of the buses to get to the town of Avanos, and he quickly came up with the plan of his friend driving us instead, for pretty much the cost of the bus fare.

So off we headed in a Fiat van, getting dropped in the section of Avanos where pottery studios abound. We had lunch at a cafe first:

(in the all-time classic tourist move, we walked off with the placemat)

Then we went through a few of the studios/shops, getting a chance to try out the wheel at one man’s studio. After our test-drive, we talked to him about taking lessons; turns out, he’ll let us come as a family for a group lesson, with the cost for that hour being roughly $17. In future weeks, we’ll try to head over each weekend for a lesson and the chance to get our hands dirty with the red clay of the river.

And with that, we feel the kids’ homeschooling is off to a solid start in the art department…

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Photos of the House

Here is what’s filling our eyes:

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Sounds of Daily Life

In addition to photos it is always fun to get sound bites that aren’t from daily life.  I love it when NPR records sounds for a story like the sound of bread being kneaded or the scratching of a tool on metal.  The following isn’t a subtle sound.  It is the sound from speakers 50 feet from our house.  It is meant to carry across the valley, and over the town, so when it overloads your speakers it is just because we are the first recipients of the call to prayer as it heads out to the village.  Enjoy this snippet of our daily life.

call_to_prayer

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Evidence of the Move

The last week has been busy.  We spent the first half of the week living with our wonderful friend, Christina, working on the details of our rental and just generally lazing around.  A crazy day in Nev?ehir, the closest BIG town, included visits to the Forum Kapadokya (a mall) and second hand furniture shopping.  I returned yesterday to hit a market known for bargain sheets and towels.  You know those 40+ dollar Turkish cotton towels?  Well, they are made here (surpr?se) and the  seconds can be found in certain markets for less than 7 dollars.  I think we will be bringing some home.

Here is evidence of our lax web presence….

The view from our backdoor

A tour of the grand, dusty, and semi-cleaned elegance of life in a 300 plus year old home.

The main hall and all our accumulated junk

A kitchen to the left

The master bedroom, my backsweat and all

The sitting room, also known as Paco`s bedroom

The sitting room from a different angle

Jocelyn on the terrace (with a view of a volcano) and remarkably free of back sweat

Across the courtyard and next to the mosque

Come visit.  We can assure you a bed, warm food, a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call during Ramazan, and frantic donkey calls at random intervals.  Did we mention one of our neighbors is a donkey?  We are wonder?ng what brings on such fits of donkey joy that demand the all the world to know.

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Fasting at Ramazan

By: Allegra Pihlaja

Fasting at Ramazan

I have learned and noticed some things about Ramazan here in Turkey.  When the drummers go by at 3:30 in the morning every Muslim  person starts eating  a huge meal.  Then all day long all the Muslim people don’t eat or drink anything until 8:00pm when the last call to prayer goes off.  During the day some people get cranky and sweat a lot.  At about 6:00pm fresh bread comes out of the bakery’s oven.  Then tons of people go to buy big loaves of bread.  During the day the grocery stores are quiet.  Then at 6:00pm they get busy with people buying food.  At 8:00pm the call to prayer goes off and at the hotel I am staying at I noticed that at 7:30 the people next door started bringing out a huge plate of watermelon and some pasta.  They brought out a glass of water and one of the women drank down the glass so fast you didn’t know she had any water.  One of the workers at the hotel had brought out a tray of food the minute the call to prayer started.  Here Ramazan is a big holiday.

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We’re in the Throes of a Frustrating Search for a Home and Have Only Two More Nights in the Pension, Which Means I’m Both Disheartened Yet Still Enjoying the Spectacle…Hence, I Call This Post ‘Snippets’

 
 

I woke up the other morning to the voice of a balloon pilot calling out to our neighbors at the pension, who were sitting out on their balcony, taking in the morning balloon launches. The pilot, hovering incredibly close to the pension, called out, “Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”


The celebration of Ramazan (as it’s called in Turkey) starts today: 28 days during which devout Muslims neither eat nor drink during daylight hours. They have one meal just before sunrise and one just after–and if that’s not an occasion for gluttony, I don’t know what is. Everyday’s Ramazan for Jocelyn, in that respect.

Anyhow, due to Ramazan, the village bakery was pulling fresh loaves out of their ovens at 6 p.m. last night, so that folks could load up on good food on their way home from work, shopping, gouging the tourists… We scored a steaming hot wheel of sesame bread, already a favorite of mine. When I took the picture above, though, I looked at it and thought, “Wow, it looks like Domino’s delivers in Cappadocia.”

A Turkish tradition during Ramazan is to have crews of drummers walk the streets in the hours before sunrise, banging on huge olive oil cans. As they pass each house, they call out the names of the inhabitants, along with words to the effect of “Roll your hungry belly out of bed, you layabout, and have a stack of pancakes. Then have an omelette. Maybe tack on some sesame bread and feta. Plus a nectarine, some figs, some mulberries, and a Snickers.”

Thus, between 2 and 3 a.m., the streets are literally being pounded by the feet of hollering drum crews; at 4:30 a.m. the first Call to Prayer echoes across the valley; and at 5:00 a.m. forty hot air balloons fire up their roaring propane jets and take off.

But get this: sure, I’m waking up for some of it each dawn, and a few times I’ve just stayed up, but mostly, I wake up, listen, register the activities, and then fall deeply back to sleep. Even my bones are tired.

All right, back to the day now. It’s market day in Goreme, and we need to ask every single person we encounter if they’ve heard of any rentals. So far, it’s looking grim, but we’ll expand our search to neighboring villages starting tomorrow.

More anon!

~Jocelyn

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