Monday, December 3, 2012

Turkish Anomolies - Or Strange Things I've Pondered Since Arriving.

My last post was a rather somber reminder that things are not equal in this world of ours.  As a German friend (& countless others)  said once to me when I was grieving the sorrows of this journey... "Life is not fair".  Terrible things happen to innocent people and terrible people seem sometimes to skate through life unscathed.  I for one believe in imminent judgement and sometimes instant karma, but also I am eternally grateful for GRACE. 

 Eye also think, it helps not to take one's self, or one's existentialist ruminations too seriously.  While I will fight for justice and mercy to the last ounce of my puny existence,  I also know I will never make it without a sense of humor or appreciation for the absurd.  This particular post will celebrate the curious, the ironic, the anomalies that make life so interesting currently.  If you have things to add... please do comment.  I need a chuckle every now and then.

This was a shop that I just happened up on while touring with the Travel Junkies through Eminounou.  No kidding... it was an "eye shop".  Every permutation (color and size and expression - wise) of the large plastic eye was  available in bulk bagged quantities.  Mind you this wasn't a warehouse.  It was a store on a side street in the tourist district surrounding the Egyptian spice market area.  The door was wide open and there were papers and a calculator on the desk as if a brisk business had been had all day.  Why or What or even Who.........  I leave such questions to minds greater than my own.

 Same walk about... now here's the weird little thing about his picture...we were exploring "hans" or shops of the back alleys.  This was an open area in back of a thoroughfare.  No traffic back here, just some storage and private spots for laborers to go have some tea.  I spied this sort of vine like tree behind a wall and was surprised at the brilliant blue flowers blooming in late November.  Sure enough, someone had taken the time to duct tape plastic flowers to the living tree, all over.  I have no idea who else will ever see this tree given its location, but at least I appreciated the artistry that went into it.  A bright spot in a grey, wet chilly day.

If this were a fish pond, it would make sense that there were so many of these silvery creatures swimming around in here.  The funny thing is, it isn't a fish pond.  It is a deserted hamam and there aren't supposed to be fish in here at all.  This magnificent
bathhouse is maintained by someone who must feed and care for the creatures.  My ocd friend
(who is an irony in and of himself) counted to 37 while he was waiting for me to explore the recesses of the building that went very deep into stunning rooms that most likely could tell many many tales.  Why are there fish in a hamam?  I don't know, but while I was standing there, a young kid, about 13 I think, came by and "herded" the fish by waving his hand expertly over the surface of the water.  I could tell he'd spent considerable time amusing himself thus.  I smiled at him as I watched his skill determine the course of the school.  He grinned back shyly.  It's amazing how one smile can open up worlds of understanding.  I don't know his back story, but I imagine he too could tell some stories, particularly about this magnificent building that now houses boxes and secrets and fish.

I wanted these two pictures side by side.  Both are identified as "Angels".  One is a naturally occurring (if I read the Turkish sign correctly) image within a stone cut found in the famed Hagia Sofia..  The other is a painted icon in a primitive cave church in Cappadocia.  I am intrigued by their similarities.  I think it's a bit spine tingling. 

Ok,... back to earth.  We went out one lovely late summer night to a Fasil... a traditional Turkish feast followed by music and dancing.  It was a pleasant evening and we took a taxi home.  We'd had a bit to drink and were all of us in high spirits careening down our road the way only Turkish taxi drivers careen, taking pleasure in how well they can navigate curves and blind corners at breakneck speeds.  We were oh so close to home on one of those little side streets that branch off into Ortakoy, having directed the taxi driver to take a short cut when suddenly he slammed on the brakes.  Why?  Because an earth mover was digging up the road we were on.  We had a pissing match for a bit, no idea why or where the taxi man thought the excavator was going to yield to but the lesser vehicle (us)  eventually backed out. I LOVE Turkish taxi rides!!!

When I saw a large crowd quietly gathering in Taksim, I could tell something different was going on.  Street musicians are a dime a dozen (and sometimes extremely good) on Istiklal Ave..  I was really astounded though at this guy.  A Turkish hippie.  And his instrument... he said that only 4 or 5 people in the world know how to create it.  He played it with his fingers and it sounded like music of heaven.  So sweet and gentle, as was he.

I tried to download the short video I took, but I am unable to get it linked.  You will just have to come to Istanbul and see if you can find him yourself.

Journeyed to the Grand Bazaar on Saturday.  It's a good thing there are no bars in there... some people might not ever come out.  The bazaar is a true oddity in that hundreds of shops sell EXACTLY the same Chinese made Turkish look alike brands of Kitsch.  I argued with one guy who told me his Ukelele's were made "right here in Turkey miss..."  I pointed out the PRC label glued to the inside of the uke... but he persisted.  Oh well.  There are 5,000 shops in this covered area which has been in operation since 1461.
One man offered my companion some money or a trade for me.  One, about 28 years old made a marriage proposal, and one would not let go of my hand.  His neighbor, about 70, asked me "can I have you now?"  I am not sure what he had in mind, but I had a great time at the bazaar and I will return before Christmas.  As we found an exit out into dark open air (time ceases in the bazaar) we made our way down an unfamiliar avenue of even cheaper shops, many of which were selling bridal array, o\Ottoman era wear, and shoes.  A weird combo I know, but it got weirder. 
Yes these are little Turkish "man/boys".  Small boy size mannequins used to display children's suits, but obviously... they needed some Turkish facial hair... so someone obliged.  This was not the only shop with man/boy mannequins.  Why do they do this?  I just don't know.

There are many other things on the list of Turkish anomalies.  Here is a bulleted sample:

  • They take this special plant... and put bits of glass and aluminum and kitsch all over it 
  • They complain a lot about everything
  • Food is packaged, injected, altered, supersized, chemicalized, mistreated and generally taken for granted as an entitlement
  • They raise billions of dollars for cancer research but refuse to change what they breathe, eat, smoke, put on or into their bodies
  • They have this piece of cloth that they almost place in a position of worship even though most of them are against idol worship.  
  • They think they are the most fantastic place on the face of the planet, without having visited any other place for any significant length of time.
Ok, by now most of you get it.  Yeah, so this place(Turkey)  is odd and different and people don't do things the same way they do them in other parts of the world.  Time is really relative here, people are hard to figure out (shaking your head left to right might mean yes, I am in complete agreement)  and they drive like maniacs who understand exactly where each other is headed.  Sometimes I don't get it, sometimes I do, and most of the time........  I love it. 

Hey.... you in the burka, don't look at me like that again ok..........?

 & Laughter.


  1. Many of those things you write about Turks apply to Americans as well. The instrument your hippie was playing looks a lot like a steel drum turned upside down...same basic concept. You take the head of a 50-gallon drum and pound it out after heating it with a blow torch to make the tuned areas. Pierce and I interviewed a guy named Ellie Mannette who was a pioneer of the Steel Drum in Trinidad, (I think)---he was giving a workshop/seminar in Cannon Beach back in the 80s. Love to you.

  2. Kevin, I know, the last part of the blog was referring to Americans. I don't know what the guy called the instrument, but he just circled it with his fingers and tapped it lightly. It did have a light steel drum sound, but a bit more ringing.

  3. Sounds like you were on a walk about alright!

    1. :) Yes son. I do that a lot here. Come join me for one soon.

  4. Dear Connie
    For the past few days I’ve been searching the Internet almost frantically. I’ve been researching Turkey with the view of traveling there with my 80 year old mom in July 2013, but that was before. That was when my circumstances where different and my life had a specific order. Two things changed recently, and together these two major events have brought me back to Turkey, but this time I’m researching it as my next stop, as my next adventure in life, in living and in re-kindling my spirit. The kaleidoscope of cultures, wonderful sights, intricate artworks and magnificent natural beauty made Turkey the natural choice. So, being the good little researcher I am, I attacked the keyboard with gusto!
    (Will have to do this in a few installments as the HTML count is limited to 4,096 characters)

  5. I ignored the rosy hued descriptions by travel agents and tour operators and dug a little deeper. That when I was hit with a barrage of warnings eloquently and less eloquently drafted by a bunch of naysayers who had mostly bad things to say about working and living in Turkey, about Turkish men, about the beggars and the animals, about the food, about the schools, about everything Turkish. It is the same kind of scary stories that I was faced with 6 years ago, before my move to South-Korea. Many of these accounts of Turkey are disconcerting or outright hair-raising and soon had me doubting my sanity to want to move to Turkey to work. That’s when I found your blog -. The title “Endings, Beginnings, and Panic” echoed in my mind immediately. I already have 2 elements in place, the endings and the panic, now I just need the new beginning. I couldn’t but read it. That was 3 hours ago.

    I am so fortunate to have stumbled across your blog - I've sat here for the past three hours thirstily drinking in every word that you wrote over the past few months. I've laughed with you, pondered with you, shed a tear, and worshipped with you in silence. I've felt sorry for myself, I've counted my blessings, and I’ve firmly reminded myself that everything will turn out for the best. Through your beautiful penmanship and lovely photos I got it – God is in control. The way that you express your fears and needs, while at the same time acknowledging your implicit trust that HE will guide you on your way is really humbling. I needed that reminder today. I don’t talk about God often, but you showed me that it is time to rekindle my childlike trust in Him and acknowledge that He’s always had a hand in my life. I’ve faced many difficulties in my life, and at the time I also didn’t understand their rhyme and reason, but I’ve always been able to look back a few years later with the knowledge that they had to be. That they were opportunities put in my path. It will be the same this time.

  6. You are truly an awesome writer and your vivid accounts of life in Turkey reminded me of my former adventurous self, of how I drank in every new experience in Korea six years ago. I can of course not describe it as eloquently as you, but in my mind they are just as vivid. I was also happy to read that you have found a good friend in a countryman of mine. Our beautiful diverse country has had such a bad rap in most parts of the world, but I remain proudly South-African and while Korea will always have a very fond place in my heart too, the time has come to leave the past behind and move on to new beginnings. By August 2013 I hope to be joining you in your adventures.

    That brings me back to the original reason of scrounging on the Internet. I wanted to come in contact with people already working and living in Turkey with the hope of getting some leads on good places to start looking for a teaching job, reputable schools to apply at, possible vacancies, pitfalls to look out for etc. If you are willing to help me in this regard you can contact me on, but even if you don’t find the time to this, you’ve already given me what I needed most: HOPE FOR THE FUTURE.

    Next, I’m going to re-read every single word you wrote over the past few months, and I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine and drink a toast to your continued well-being. Then I’m going to watch the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch again, I’m going to search for my bucket list and change it to reflect what I want for myself now. By tonight I will dust off Tolkien’s books and loose myself in a make belief world. (This might have a bad reflection on me, but although I own his books, I’ve never read them, nor have I watched Lord of the Rings. I always stick to writers like Patterson, Grisham, and Patricia Cornwell – bit of a morbid fascination if I say so myself….).

    In the meantime, have a lovely time with Isabel; enjoy the Christmas season and all your wonderful adventures. I look forward to meeting both you and Prags someday soon! Tell him I’m proud of him for keeping the South-African flag flying high!

    All the best and may the God of hope fill you and your loved ones with all joy and peace in the New Year. (from Romans 15:13)