Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Heights Of Love -

     I love to travel, I love to experience new things, to meet new people, and I love to write.  I also love being alive.  My holiday to Kapadokya (the Turkish spelling) blessed me with all of these and more.   I am not accustom to getting up at 4:30 in the morning for anything, but Seyit asked us if we would like for him to arrange a balloon flight the next day.  Do heights scare me?  Yes sometimes, but I love to fly, though my pilot lessons with a small plane left me realizing that I am better off when someone else is at the helm.  Yes I want to ride a hot air balloon, even if it means being picked up at 5:30 in the morning while I am on holiday!
There is something discombobulating about being awakened in the dark and shuttled to a building where maybe seventy five other people are shuffling about drinking tea and coffee and signing releases for a trip to the skies.  We all stand about wondering what each other is thinking.  Then the time comes when we are called out by colors, "Blue Group!", "Yellow Group!" etc.  We were in the purple group.  Two basket sizes, large - with 15 to 20 passengers and small - with 8 to 10.   Ours was a small group.

  We would be going up in a virgin balloon that the company had recently purchased.  It had been test flown sans passengers, but we would be the first paying customers to go up in her today.  That made me a bit nervous.  It was a very good thing to have Seyit there to explain the process and to joke with me when I asked if they named the balloons.  "Yes", he informed me, pointing to each of the company balloons, "that one is Titanic 1, that one is Titanic 2..."  You get the picture.  I don't know why, but the joking comforted me.

There are on any given day, nearly 100 balloons going up in the early morning Kapadokyan skies.  Each balloon requires about 10 individuals to handle the flights.  It is a fairly quiet process.  Calm and serene and surreal to watch the flatulent wisps of material unfold gracefully and rise up to colorful attention.   The various handlers busy themselves with checking every little detail and then the whoosh sound of the gas valves opening and the fire catching energy that will take us up up up.  I am fascinated as I watch the balloons rise to work, one by one all around.  Ours is one of the last to go, so we stand around waving to the passengers in other baskets as they lift off silently and depart effortlessly from the earth.

 We nervously snap pictures and joke and marvel at the industry that feeds many from this region.  It is a good clean way to make a living and I wonder at the industriousness of these men and women who earn their way in this manner.

There are many many balloon companies in Kapadokya.  Our choice was easy, as it was highly recommended by a pilot (Seyit).  Here is a link for the company we "flew" with - recommended by a passenger (me) as well:

This is a lighthearted bunch of people who take their work very seriously yet are able to enjoy what they do with a sense of humor and kindness.  I trusted them implicitly.  

All of a sudden, we were called to climb quickly into the basket.  The balloon was ready, and if we were going with her, we needed to board.  I needed someone to push my "donkey" a bit in order to get over the lip of the basket.

See these guys and the way they are gazing at me?  Just kidding, they aren't looking at me at all, but at the brand new balloon to see how she will handle in the takeoff.  I believe they were pleased.  Bet these are a fun bunch to have a drink with!  That's Seyit to the left in the red jacket.  I appreciated the fact that he was there to watch our ascent.

 Off we go into the quiet dawn light.  You can see the flatbeds below... these will follow the balloons from the ground over some very rough and exciting terrain, racing with the wind to chase the balloon so they can wrangle them back onto the bed as the balloon descends back to earth.

Our lovely pilot told us sometimes it's more fun to be the driver of the balloon truck because you never know where the road will take you.  They communicate with walkie talkies to the ground crews.  They also communicate with other balloon pilots.  We heard some hilarious conversations.  Evidently they have quite the international group of pilots who come to the region for work.  I remember though from ground school that the international language for flying is English... the same is true with ballooning.

By the way, our pilot was a woman, only the 5th woman in Turkey to get her balloon pilot license.  She was quite adept and had the perfect things to say at all points in time.  The thing that surprised me MOST about this flight was how smooth and quiet and peaceful it was to leave the earth and to climb into the atmosphere!  We gently lifted off and not an inch of fear or panic did I feel.Soaring over the valleys, quietly moving where the wind took us.

 Dawn comes to Kapadokya, and I am moved at the beauty and magnificence of this land seen from above.

 This is my favorite shot I think.  

We are touching down here... into a farmer's field.  See the red truck in the distance.... they are going to have to move soon to capture the balloon.  The guys will jump out of the truck, grab the lines tethered and tossed from the balloon and pull us down perfectly on to the flatbed.

These are the balloon wranglers.  They were so funny, the one on the right grabbed and pulled the rope making a sound like a work horse... the other one slapped his butt with the rope saying something like "Giddyee up!" in Turkish.  The whole basket erupted in laughter.  They became very serious and professional when moving the basket onto the flatbed though.
We landed eventually, perfectly on target.


Our lovely pilot - Sureyya
Very professional, very good, and loves her work.

She explained the history of ballooning to us, and the tradition of toasting every flight with champagne... even at 8:00 AM., and then she popped the cork and poured us all a round.

While she poured and we sipped and talked, the crew was busy laying out the balloon into one long chord.  They carefully folded and twisted and packed, and by the time we had finished our glasses of champagne.... they had the balloon packed neatly in a box and loaded on the truck.

While we were chatting with the other passengers (very little conversation on the flight itself, - I think we were all so lost in our own thoughts and experiences that we didn't want to talk)  we discovered some instant distant connections.  Two of the women in our basket work for the same school we do (MEF) in Izmir, and one of them knew our co-worker here in Istanbul.  One of the passengers was from Denver Colorado... I grew up in Colorado.  One of the teachers in our balloon moved to Turkey from Nelson B.C., which is just a few miles from the town I moved to Turkey from, Sandpoint.   One of the men in the basket has been contemplating international teaching.  What a small world it can be.  How did we end up together in the same balloon out of 100's on this day in this place?       
                                                             Kismet?  Fate?  Destiny? 
Something larger at work in our universe that facilitates connections and friendships?  .... yes, I think so.
In the end, I honestly must say... this was a magical and important moment away from the frenzy of the world.  A time I will truly remember forever. The Turkish word for friend is ArkadaƟ
It can have many meanings according to my Turkish dictionary.  For me, "Friend" means someone who has your best interests at heart.  Someone who cares enough to share part of their life with you.  Someone who is generous, understanding and light hearted, and someone who can show you the world through fresh eyes.

I am grateful for my friends, both new and old.  May they be blessed forever with many wonders and great


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Potter and His Lump of Clay

This region is renown for it's pottery.  There are intact pieces that date back to a time before Christ.  The soil here is an excellent ingredient necessary to create a mix that yields well to the hands of a potter.  There is also much quartz which is sometimes ground to a fine powder and mixed into the clay for strength and beauty.

This man in the picture is a relative of another man named Galip... His pottery center in Avanos Turkey is world renown for the craftsmanship and beauty of the pottery created there by Galip himself, his wife, and others who have studied under him.

This man took a lump of Cappadocian clay, started the wheel spinning with his feet, and within (honest to goodness, I watched) less than 5 minutes...  

 brought forth a fast piece of beauty from earth and water and  dye. 

He made it look so easy.

Next we were led into the painting workshop where three individuals were busy decorating various pieces that had been created.  Turkish patterns can be extremely intricate and I wish I had time to adequately describe the processes.  In this work, every symbol, every color, every dot of paint has meaning and significance.  There was a plate that they show for demonstrations that enables one to see how the piece changes throughout the process.  This particular pattern has to do with the generations of Galip's family and their history in the art.

You can see that they take a liquid clay and create raised patterns on ceramic pieces, then color in each very carefully.  These people work for 2 hours, then take a 30 minute break, then return for 2 more hours, break, and a final 2 hours.

The results are absolutely stunning, and depending on who the crafts person is, fairly expensive, but they are easily recognizable as quality pieces, and the Chinese knock offs found everywhere in tourist Istanbul come no where near the original thing.

Our tour guide said that Galip himself was coming and we could meet him.  He warned us that the man was a bit eccentric and looked like Einstein.  He told a funny story about this master potter... evidently years ago, a student of his was so enamored that she cut off a lock of her hair for the artist.  It became a tradition over the years and he started taping women's locks of hair onto the wall of one of his studios.  Eventually there were so many locks that Galip opened a museum of women's hair and it is now in the Guinness Book of World Records.  Every year a lottery is held, and five of the women are given a two week vacation to Cappadocia and a workship in the art of pottery by the master himself.  "He must like women..." I commented to my friend.  Well... we did get to meet him and I can tell you.... he does like women, he does look like Einstein, and he is eccentric!  But I sure did like him.  

He was a charming down to earth (no pun intended) kind of a guy.  World famous and not a single false air about him that I could detect.  He demonstrated the strength of his pottery by dropping a piece on the ground, then he had each of us stand on it.  (he also helped us step off in a very friendly way).  My friend bought a piece and she cut off some of her hair for him and the lottery.  I think she is going to win.  Before we left we were offered apple tea or wine... guess which I chose.  Galip also gave each of us a small earthenware cup on which he signed his name.  Like the carpet... sooner or later, I will have a piece of Chez Galip pottery.
Seyit knows some very interesting people.  I couldn't have imagined that the day could get more interesting.  But it did.

Love Valley.

Formed... (I was informed) by lava flows that settled over much softer sandstone.  The elements over time make for some interesting natural statuary ?  All kidding aside, it is a beautiful place and there were indeed lovers all around. 


The edge of Pigeon Valley.   I really like this place as I love birds.  The people in this area built pigeon housing everywhere in the rock for the express purpose of harvesting the droppings as it makes for excellent fertilizer for grapes and other fruits.  An amazingly industrious people.  I am guessing a bird or two found its way onto a bar-b-que spit on occasion as well.

I asked Loida to throw rocks at the birds so I could get an "in flight" shot of them.  It only sort of worked for me, but other photographers thanked her for it. I think they probably got the shot I was looking for.

This was an "evil eye" tree.  I'll explain more about the evil eye later.  I just really appreciated the way it looked in the sun.

Seyit dropped us off at the Goreme Open Air Museum after tending to us all day long.  I took many pictures here....

The deep emotions that came from seeing the churches and the frescoes and understanding the history of this area knocked my to my knees.  

It had been a wonderful day.  One of those days that will stand out in my memory forever.   So many things happened... so many thoughts and emotions... beauty, spirit, love, humanity, struggle, clay, potters, light, paint, art, earth, sky, man, woman, angels, life.

I think GOD sort of shaped me this day too.  He showed me what had been and what could be, and I had to be malleable within HIS capable hands.  Some things are to be and some things are not.  In the end... if the clay yields, the outcome will be magnificent... as it was always meant to be.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cappadocia Captures My Heart

This will take, I think at least two, maybe three (maybe even four) posts.  Why?  Because this place defies words, it is a visual feast and a spiritual (for me) journey, and there is so much to show and tell.  Cappadocian settlements date from the neolithic age, and the land has been occupied at various times by Assyrians, Hittites, Tabals, Persians, Romans, and lastly, Turks.  There is deep history here.  It is a place where Christians took refuge in order to avoid annihilation from polytheistic Rome in elaborate housing carved into the caves that were formed via volcanic activity and torrents of water, wind and temperatures.  There are monasteries and churches and cave dwellings and carpets and a people that comprise the Anatolian heritage.  There is much to see and to learn.

I am staying in the beautiful little village of Goreme, population 2,000.
More specifically... I am staying at the pleasant and comfortable Canyon View Inn.  I highly recommend it for the rooms, the view, and the lovely hospitality.

There are lots of places to stay in Goreme... but I am happy I made this my choice.  If you visit, please tell them I said hello.

The first evening we simply spent exploring the town, and shopping in the numerous tourist spots.  At some of the finer carpet shops to be found here, I was sorely tempted, and quite intrigued.  One owner took his time to offer us a cup of apple tea and to educate us on the intricacies of Turkish carpets.  It was not so much a sales pitch, as an effort to connect.  We had wandered through the labyrinthine passages of his shop before being introduced.  After hearing him talk with so much passion about his carpets, I very much wanted to purchase one... but the time is not yet right.  I do wish this man healing and good health.   He seemed an honest human being just trying to make his way through this journey like the rest of us, only with better rugs under his feet.  Afterwards I made may way back up to the Canyon View and fell into pleasant slumber.

The next day we were anxious to begin exploring the formations and caves and churches that make this region such a destination.  We hadn't rented a car, and had no idea how to go about choosing a tour guide.
After watching balloons rise at breakfast, I spoke briefly with the Seyit, my hospitable host at the Canyon View about  what to see and how.  This kind man offered to drive us to various sites and to be our personal guide for the day... WOW.  My friend was shocked to see me pull up at our meeting spot in a car with our own personal guide at the helm.  We were off to explore the back roads of Cappadocia.

Seyit asked if we would like to see the sights in Cappadocia, his home, which were off the beaten path, and which would include an ancient church.  Of course!  This is a view from the bottom of the climb up to the church.  Mind you, we had to make our way here in 4 X 4 over fairly rough terrain.  This spot  is NOT on the tours. 

We hiked and climbed up to a narrow entrance. These were/are a hardy people.  They also were loving and generous if current descendants are any reflection of character.  Imagine what it took to make your home in these rocks... to worship in a place so far removed from the familiar and safe known. 

I was stunned to find, in this remote location in an unmarked cave, carvings and iconography that bore witness to the upholding of a faith that regardless of detractors, stands still a testament to love and community in a time of hardship.

 This spot here, is in my opinion, close to what paradise might look like.  Consider it is mid fall and the fields seen here are grapes.  This valley reminded me of a dream.  A place of plenty and a land truly flowing with milk and honey.  It's beauty is beyond description and the picture does not do it justice.  Just come see for yourself.  But please, do NOT bring western manners or western ways.  Do not pave or make rules or worry about entrance fees or gates.  Do not rule over the land, but treat it as a friend and a companion that must sustain you for eons well into eternity.  Be gentle and kind and
r e l a x . 
All things come to pass for the good in due time.

This is Seyit.  He is a balloon pilot, hotelier, host, tour guide, mechanic and friend.  He took time off from his day to take two strangers around to introduce them to his Turkey.  And a marvelous land it is.  Again... remember this is harvest time.  Things are brown and dry and it is the end of tourist season, and yet... my favorite time of year with pumpkins and drying sunflowers and the bright colors of fall.  It is good for me that Turkey is so sweet this time of year as well.  This was a bright warm day and there were so many things to see... lava formations long ago turned into spires of incredible and humorous formations.  Caves and dry river beds and vistas of magnificent proportion.  I took so many pictures that I would love to share, but there is neither the time nor the patience for you or I to have a slide show.  I have however, put some of the more interesting shots into this blog.

This is painted icon of an angel on the ceiling of the church mentioned above.

One of many interesting and visually alluring villages we saw.

Yes... it does say Naturel (sic) Organik VIAGRA

(I really don't think many Turks need this product)

A bright day for a quick scramble up the side of a formation.  We saw so many beautiful sights.  At every turn, truly I was amazed and awed.  This area is special to say the least.  At this point we were only halfway through our day believe it or not!

Seyit asked if we were interested in pottery.  Now that seems like a fairly benign question that might lead to a trip to a little road side stand selling cheap Turkish pots (much like the ones we had seen earlier in town).  However,  we were soon to be treated to a trip to Avanos and a tour for two into the inner workings of a master potter and his legacy. 

Just to tease you for the next blog.....

I will fill in the blanks with a story about a very eccentric artist and his journey into perfection and renown.  I am smitten with Turkey,



Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Ruff Life

     There is a park up the street, past the mosque and the bakery and the rows of apartment blocks.  It is a lovely spot, though the hike up there is a breath stealer.  It is laid out over a steep hill and spreads down the other side.  Stone sidewalks drop down and wind around to the bottom of the park where you can take some steep side streets and end up in trendy Kurucesme on the banks of the Bosphorous.  The view is stunning, and there are 2 little cafes that serve tea and coffee and food.  The place is usually full of families and couples.  It is also home to a number of street dogs who have staked out some rather trendy territory themselves.

     This picture is fuzzy because it was getting on towards dark and this guy was a ways away.  He lives under a little cliff where some of the park caretakers and the gypsies hang out.  They feed him scraps from the cafes and he is fairly beefy for a street dog.  You can tell they are street dogs because their ears are tagged with a government marker and they've been neutered.  No one owns them.  The Turks do not euthanize.    Being neutered does not necessarily mean the animals are non territorial.  Each has a definitive area of residency and they protect it rather vigorously if and when challenged.  If I were a dog going for a walk in Ullus Park, I would steer clear of this white creature.  The friend I was having tea with is afraid of him.  Lots of dog walkers who have their own canines on a leash, carry large sticks to fend off the hoards of street animals who don't care for domesticated interlopers. 

Here he is waiting for someone to come pet him and bring him a treat.  I wonder how he fares in winter.  As a matter of fact, I am curious to see how they all fare in winter.  It rained today and was a tad chilly.  I took a walk to the market and did not see a single dog.  Where do they go when it's rainy and cold?

You can see plastic containers of water everywhere around the city streets and in the neighborhoods.  People just put them out and keep them full.  You also will see piles of bones and scraps set out for the dogs.  I have never seen a dog here that is aggressive towards humans.  I am sure some people don't like the dog policy (the majority I am guessing are ex-pats) but as an animal lover I appreciate the kindness and consideration and tolerance that people have towards an animal that historically has been considered "dirty" by some religious standards.  I think Turks are very kind to animals in general.  Though we are coming up on Korban Bayram, which is lamb sacrificing time - and this is an active ritual here.  Done right however, the animal is slaughtered in a humane manner. 

I have seen many people stop to pet a street dog, or to talk to it sweetly.  They don't try and get the dog to come with them, they just pat and chat and then go on their way.  I could be accused here of being anthropomorphic by saying this, but I tell you the dogs here seem to speak with their eyes.  They are a curious lot. 

Last week while strolling around and waiting for a friend to take care of some phone business, I watched this man stop to talk to a dog that was hanging out in front of the store.  I've also seen old men in front of the mosque, tenderly feeding the dogs that sleep nearby.


I am not sure what this sign is about, but I know it has something to do with feeding the dogs.  It think it's kind of funny, it looks like the dog in the poster is eating a gosleme  (kind of a Turkish burrito).

We recently had a pet store open up here in Ortakoy.  I hate it.  Western influence creeping in on tiny well bred and very expensive cat feet.  There's something about a pet store in the middle of a street teeming with street animals and wild birds... it just doesn't seem right.  Maybe the dogs and cats will break in and steal all the food. 

I know this country has its problems.  Politics here, as politics everywhere are not clean and pure.  Power invites corruption into its bed, and the perfect society does not exist this side of time, but I like this culture and I like this people. I was absolutely stunned to see a horse drawn cart down near the main arterial road in our area.  WHERE DOES SOMEONE KEEP A HORSE AROUND HERE???  I don't know, but I've seen him twice now so I know he has to board somewhere nearby.  I'll find out sooner or later.  Oh, and this guy was feeding chickens in another waterside park.  Not unusual right, except that this is a public park and there's a makeshift chicken shack and it's in one of the busiest tourist areas in Beskitas. 

Ah life is full of surprises and mystery here in Istanbul.  I am so grateful for this particular aspect of the culture.  It is endearing and novel, and I hope, like many charming quirks here, that it never changes.  But all things change.  The world shrinks and men become madder by the day.  For now, I will be content with the present peace and my prayers for this people, their animals, and their traditions, will continue.

Peace to you - all men and beasts.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It's a Cat's/Dog's Life.... or Happy Birthday

     It's been a while since my last post.  Someone asked the other day for another... and I thought to myself, I've had so many ideas about what to write next, what to share... but the days slip by and work/social life takes over... is it time for the animals?  My days are busy, and often after work there are walks to take, and shopping to do and movies to watch with friends, and birthday parties to attend, but in the end we all go home more or less alone.  I feel particularly that way this evening.  It's just that season.  Yes.  It's a good time to write about the abandoned animals.

     Tonight I went to a birthday party at a local haunt.  It was a good gathering with flowers and chocolate, gifts and hugs and kisses and conversation that sometimes dove deep.   I went home early.  I checked my bank account to see if the rent had been deposited.  It hadn't.  That makes almost 17 days overdue.  I called my mom and my sister to just chat and to find some familiar land that was somehow safe and reassuring and loving.  My mother spoke to me for about 1 minute.  My sister, bless her, granted me a few more minutes.  They are both busy.  There is an errant sewer line under the house they must wrestle with.  Saved me some skype credits I suppose.

     I've been saying for a while that I wanted to post about the animals of my neighborhood.  In Istanbul, cats and dogs are cared for in an odd and curious manner.  But they are cared for.  Scraggly and mangy and feral and sometimes unruly, they rest on the sidewalk, sleep in empty lots, become default mosque guards, take up residence in parks, follow gypsies on their rounds, or saunter across a terrifying boulevards (oftentimes causing me to cover my eyes and pray I don't have to witness shredded animal flesh mingled with auto and rubber).  So far so good.

     Some of these feral animal are adopted.  Like this cat in Sultanahamet that took up a rather pampered residence in the bowl of a tourist shop.  This cat is well cared for.  It's fed and clean and loved, I would assume... else the shop owner would not allow it berth in this particular ceramic treasure.  Of course, the cat earns its' keep.  I had to wonder how many people wander into this shop because of the clever window display.  Nice work if you can get it.

     Not all felines are as fat and fortunate.  This scraggly lot hang out at the water front near where I live ... begging for sardine heads, and fish offal.  It can be a tough life.  Makes for a good picture though.

     I love cats.  I always have.  Even the one that clawed at my brow when I was only 4.  "Kitty"... this I cooed just before the 42 stitches in my forehead (or 24 depending on who's telling the story).  Some people here at our school take cats in.  Some people also end up with fleas taking over their apartments, or... like one unfortunate little girl I know.... contract cat scratch fever from a nasty claw that innocently batted at her finger.  Still... I like cats.  This guy (pictured to the left) intrigued me last week at the jewelry market.  I thought perhaps he was feral, given the crazy look in his eyes, but turned out he belonged to the woman selling earrings.   I bought a pair, just for the right to take a picture of her cat.  He was thoroughly unimpressed with my interest.  I guess that's one reason I like the species.  They don't care for pretense and they are aloof enough to be charming.

       I know some people hate them.  I get it.  I won't ever have another one.  They can be messy and expensive and they tend to go missing or get run over.  They cause trouble and they don't behave.  They break things and jump on the counter and... well they are just a different kind of animal.   My last cat was just so doggone cool though, that I don't feel the need to ever spoil my memory of what it was like to be loved by a cat by getting another one.
     This crew was hanging out near the Galata Tower.  Everyone here takes a piece of feeding and watering these abandoned animals.  Not all are loved, not all have a warm place to sleep at night, and it really is survival of the fittest on these streets of Istanbul for the animals that live here.... but cars will come to a screeching halt to avoid hitting one, and shopkeepers put out bowls of water and food and blankets.  At one high end grocery store in an upscale neighborhood down the road, their cat gets his own condo and food bowl.

This is David taking care of his "van" cat.  I  never heard of a van cat, and to tell you the truth, as I write, I am too tired to do the research, so I'll just pass along the story David told me...the cat belongs to a specific tribe of cat found ONLY IN TURKEY in a particular area of Turkey.  Their markings and eyes are highly specific and it is illegal to take them out of the country.   They evidently fetch a nice price when sold outside of the country, but David would never do this.  Instead he feeds and waters and talks to his cat and shoos off the much less valuable, but appropriately named stray... "Sylvester" who frequently comes to consume the food David lays out for his special friend.  Sylvester is NOT a van cat.  I kind of like the way he looks though.  Reminds me of someone I once knew.

  Dogs are cared for as well.  In some ways even more so.  Canines are an interesting anomaly here in this Muslim country.  They too survive on the streets, tagged and neutered they roam freely staking out their territory and living in thin peace with the inhabitants of the city.  I'll share the dog life next blog.  I already feel better for just spilling the cat tale out into the air (or maybe letting the cat out of the bag?).

Not every creature is necessarily wanted, but in Istanbul... every creature can find a place to belong.