Tuesday, December 31, 2013


This was to have been the year of promise.  Last year about this time I said that I was committed to kissing someone I liked and who liked me at midnight 2013.  I also stipulated that it would be a male.  I posted a picture of Klimt's "Kiss".  It is 11:09 and things aren't looking too promising.  I forgot to write that the company that I preferred for NYE was to be human.  As I write, there is one dirty street cat... named "Z" sleeping on my chair... fat and fed.  I guess I will give him a kiss at midnight as the Istanbul fireworks begin.  It seems to be my only option.

It has been an interesting year for this international school counselor.  I have traveled much,
explored many new places, made some new friends, loved and taught some great kids.
I have been challenged and questioned... I have made some grave mistakes and fallen again into some old patterns.  I have loved and lost and come home to what I know best.  I have clung to my faith, and wept in my doubts.

The world however is in much disarray I fear.  Power has overshadowed freedom and peace.  Wicked rulers and dark powers freely range unchallenged.  Millions die of starvation and violence.  Children suffer.  Brothers and Sisters go without when some have so much.   Some of us are cocooned in comfort and rarely see the misery and desperation that is slowing encircling.
 Refugees are growing in numbers.  Water is diminishing in scarcity.  Our air is no longer pure.  Our food is reconstructed into something unholy in the name of commerce and we pay money for this poison.  Much of the wealthy world is anesthetized by sports and entertainment and plenty into believing "all is well".  Many are trapped by the need to produce continuously so as to maintain a lifestyle that is less that true.

All is not lost of course.

I am not a fatalist, nor a pessimist.  I am a realistic dreamer.  I know what is possible and I know that in time.. a change will come.  It will not come however without pain and struggle and great courage.

This past year... some people I know of, and too many that I know personally.... have left this plane of existence.  Died.  Passed. Here is a short list of the more notable folks:

Nelson Mandela                     Joyce Brothers                    Princess Fawzia                 Peter O'Toole
Margaret Thatcher                 Malcom Shabazz                 David Frost                        Ray Price
Chinue Achebe                      Jean Stapleton                     Tom Clancy                       Annette Funnicello   Mikhail Kalashnikov              Esther Williams                    Scott Carpenter                 Roger Ebert
George Jones                        James Gandolfini                  Lou Reed                          Hugo Chavez

This isn't even a complete or terribly international list.  But for better or worse... each left a mark.

And then there are others whose names most of my readers won't know.  Two beautiful young women who I had the privilege to teach... each within a few weeks of one another.  A good friend of the same age whom I loved very much, and with whom I shared the raising of young children.  An aunt.  A good friends' young sweet granddaughter......  A tragic list for the most part.  Not notable... but each life most remarkable.

It is ten minutes to midnight here.  The fireworks will go bursting all over this sprawling metropolis, and people will kiss and drink and dance and celebrate life.  As they have done for many years.  And we will continue until time forsakes us and every knee becomes bent in awe and wonder.

I do know and believe in  the existence of eternity, and hope, and a better life.  I also believe in living a present life full of the same...  Here is to you and yours... to 2014.

 Further on Up!  Further on In!

Fast Forward

On the road to Rila

Where was I?  Oh yes... Bulgaria.  A country I might not mind living in someday.  I was recuperating from a relationship fiasco by lighting candles in beautiful churches and drinking a lot with good friends.  Bulgaria was a whirlwind of delights.  The Christian iconography is some of the best I've had the privilege of ever viewing. It is so comforting to realize that the story of my Lord has been safe guarded over the centuries by artists who were capable of imparting truth, beauty, and the sacred without benefit of words.   I would highly recommend the crypt of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and a trip to the Rila Monestary.  Instead of describing either of these extremely holy and special places.... let me simply introduce you with some photos...

Two angels watch over Mary and Jesus

                                                                              Saint John

 Angel being sent by GOD
Alpha and Omega ... Rila Monastery

The Son of Love & Righteousness

                                   View of the mountains from the monastery window

Fountain at entrance to the church

Breathe.  Yes, peace.  I found much peace in Bulgaria.  It is not a perfect country, but it is beautiful and its people are lovely when you get to know them.  Which I did thanks to my dear friend John.  After spending some special time on my own, worshiping, praying, lighting candles and getting my bearings, I boarded a train for Plevin with my new found Canadian friends, Lorna and Ken.
We had been invited to spend some time in the small and somewhat remote village some distance from Plevin where I was promised a good time would be had for my birthday.  The train trip itself was marvelous with scenery that reminded me much of parts of Colorado and New Mexico.  We ate good cheese and fresh bread drowned in wonderful Bulgarian red wine.  The rest of the evening was kind of a blur with a very rainy drive to the village and more wine and eventually slumber in a second floor corner room of my own in John's lovely villa.

The next day dawned... my birthday.  I was not feeling so.... birthdayish.  But a trip into Plevin and some good old fashioned post communist Bulgarian version of alka-seltzer and I was ready (sort of) for my "surprise".  I was not disappointed!!!  John and Ken and Lorna, along with a lovely little family in the village had arranged an amazing spread of treats
and I was gifted throughout the evening with beautiful items, lovely songs, great food, more wine and a room full of real love.  I must say... it was one of the best birthdays I have ever spent... and five of the people in the room of seven were people I had only just met.  That is love.    All this time, the broken heart was mending,
 The man was still in touch via FB and wanted to get back together.  I wasn't so sure.  Strangers were treating me with more consideration than he ever had.  There were other adventures in the village over the next couple days... I got to wrangle a loose horse... and watch gypsy families ride along the road in their horse drawn carts.

I also helped feed the cats... which were not supposed to feed.

Now here is a lesson.... When my friend moved into his Bulgarian neighborhood, he was warned by a neighbor not to feed the one stray cat with a gimpy leg that kept coming into the courtyard looking for sustenance. He ignored the advice.  Soon... gimpy brought some friends and family, and before to long, my friend was supporting an entire cadre of felines who regularly stop by now for chow.  Why do we ignore the warnings?  Why do we go ahead and jump into waters that look wild and rough and maybe not exactly what will keep us safe?  I am of course alluding to the relationship that was looming back in Istanbul in a questionable state.  A relationship that
I knew was wrong in the first place.... but I had jumped in nevertheless, ignoring the warnings and the unsuitability.  Still....

My time in Bulgaria was very special.  I will go back to this beautiful place again.  Maybe I will retire there.... who knows.  As I finish this last installment of 2013, it is New Year's Eve day.  Oh, the Turkish bf...we did pick back up where we left off a few days after I returned home, but it didn't last.  It was sad, but not as sad as the first time.  I think we both knew we weren't suited for one another.  The gap between us was too wide... it was as if one day... it all dissolved.  No words.  No tears.  He left and I left and we never spoke again.  My prayers were answered and my quandary was resolved without issue.  For that I am grateful.

So... back to the end of 2013... I am alone again.  Oh I still have many friends and my faith, but in the partner sense, there is a return to that void.  I don't know what that whole affair thing was about... some people tell me it was an opportunity to learn about love and make one last relationship mistake before the real thing comes along.  I don't know.  Hope springs eternal I guess... but time is marching on and while I can say I am grateful for the few moments when I felt special as a woman, I do regret the decision to "feed the cat".  But perhaps this is a great day for regrets.... to expose them and lay them down and look at them for what they are.... then to let them go.  To whoosh them away into the past and to move forward.  I will blog tonight again.... as we slide into 2014.  Just to recap the year and to look at what dreams were fulfilled and which remain.  It's been a long recovery.  I am back though, and almost ready to look forward.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Everything Will Be Alright In The End... and If Everything Is Not Alright... It's Not The End /BULGARIA

 I use booking.com all the time when I am looking for a nice break away with a deep discount on a hotel.  I grew up in the hospitality industry.... and I am somewhat privy to the thoughts behind pricing and the seasons and the subtle nuances of finding the right place for the right price.  I also think I probably have a second sense for the places that will most suit me.  Too bad there isn't a boyfriend.com that could do the same thing.                                                  Oh well.
     Kurban Bayram -(the Islamic holiday that celebrates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son) was coming up quickly.  That would mean nine full days away from work.  My heart was broken and my plans for romantic getaway dashed.  Woe is me.  On the recommendation of a friend I booked a stay in the sleepy little town of Alexandropolis Greece where I planned to drown my sorrows in ouzo by the beach.  Then I would bus up to the much more cosmopolitan Thessoloniki...second largest city in Greece and home base for many day trips to interesting sites.  My friend Prags said he would go with me to Besiktas and help me book the bus in person as he had made the same trip.  We got there and oh the humanity.  The small office was packed with people trying to book some kind of cheap getaway and alas... the morose and unsympathetic clerk uttered "Hayir!."  (NO emphatic) when I managed to tell him what I was trying to do.  He explained that three extra buses had been added to the route to accommodate the multitude of people who evidently had exactly the same idea as me and even these were booked.  Not possible.  No way.  No how.  This only served to add insult to injury.  Now I would be stuck in Istanbul.  To compound matters even further... it was too late to get a refund on my first night's booked stay in Alexanderoupolus. Booking.com is a great deal but if you don't pay attention and cancel reservations within the allotted time period when you can't make it.... so sorry charlie you still have to pay.  OK...I am NOT sitting home for 9 days staring at the 4 walls and feeling sorry for myself.

     I happened to mention my sad predicament to John... our deputy principal at the school.  "Well come to Bulgaria!"  was his default response.  He was heading there to meet up with some friends from Canada. Hmmm.  I had wanted to see Sofia since a friend of mine had raved about it last Spring.  Why not.... what did I have to lose by taking a late night bus to a former communist block country?  At that point.... nothing at all.  Oh I forgot to mention the big thing about this holiday... my birthday fell smack in the middle of it.  Yep.  That fixed it in my mind.  I booked a ticket on-line for a one way trip to Sofia Bulgaria.... no idea how or when I would return.  It was just going to be one one of those kinds of getaways.

     Friday came and I scooted out of school right after getting the kids off. We had a taxi booked for exactly 4:00 so that we would be assured of arriving at the service bus that would take us further to the gigantic Otogar where we would board for Sofia.  After some confusion with the taxi we arrived in Besiktas with plenty of time to spare... but one never knows in Istanbul where it can take an hour and a half to go eight miles.  The service bus was standing room only and we sped off towards the Otogar.  Hundreds of buses were lined in this massive complex of transportation.  We ended up waiting for quite a while as our bus was late arriving.  The only toilets available were Turkish toilets.  Oh how I hate public Turkish toilets.  At any rate we were on our way just shortly after six pm and the busy streets of Istanbul faded into the distance.

     I will say the bus services were exemplary.  There is no toilet aboard the bus, which is fine because there is no stench, and there is a woman who serves waters, coffee, tea and little cakes.  Entertainment was available on the back of the seat in front of me, and the room was spacious.  I opened up my Android to do a last minute check on FB and my mail.  Knock me off the bus with a rocket... a message from my long lost "love".  He misses me.  I am on my way out of town to forget him... and he manages to send a message.  What can I say.. he is a talented Turkish man.  As Turkey recedes into the background...the seed is planted.

   It was a bleary eyed ride, with bathroom and snack stops every few miles.  Quite comfortable.  Every stop I manage chat with other teachers and the dp... it will be a ways to the border and I manage to sleep a bit.  My dreams are fitful.  When I wake... we are passing miles of trucks backed up to get through the border.  Bulgaria is an EU country and the trucks moving goods from Turkey to Bulgaria are required to go through rigorous checks.  We must have passed almost a thousand trucks... miles and miles of goods waiting for bureaucracy and centuries old prejudices to halt, then approve their journey.

    The border is another experience... we get off the bus... hand over passports, get back on the bus, go to the next stop... repeat... hit the Duty Free shop where I buy some wine.  The night drones on.  A sleepy stop at Plavda... a tourist town with ruins and history and a nightlife.  Most of the teachers get off here.  I and the dp only remain bound for Sofia.  We arrive and grab a taxi, the drive of which instead of driving me the 4 blocks to my hotel... drives all around Sofia looking for the place.  I check in finally and fall into bed...at about 4 AM.

     The breakfast next day is pleasant enough... pork is plentiful... and though I don't crave it at all in Turkey where it really isn't available... I do have some sausage.  The weather is lovely... the view from my suite is typical eastern European rooftops, and ivy covered buildings.
 I can tell I am not in Turkey easily.  The feel of this city is much more relaxed.  I am to meet some new Canadian friends and John at the train station at noon and we will take a taxi to the central area to have lunch.  Cars actually stop to let me cross the road.  I find myself somewhat annoyed by this initially as I am used to dodging traffic on my own wits at my own peril and this takes all the fun out of crossing a street.

There are vestiges of Communist rule everywhere...
 giant iron statues to honor the strength of the "state", rigid plain cinder block buildings that scream conformity with every square centimeter.  And then there are the people... dour and unsmiling.  Unwilling to use English.  Unwilling to help a stupid tourist like myself.  One lady at a small cafe clearly understands me when I ask her where the train station is... even stooping so low as to utter "chug-a-chug-a-choo-choo" whilst making train like actions with my arms... yet she turns away and tells me ""NO ENGLISH.  I am more than miffed.  But low and behold the "choo-choo" station is about 50 meters away from the cafe... and it is massive and cold.  While sitting inside waiting however, I notice that there is a train to Montana.  That is somehow comforting.

My friends show up and we take a taxi to an upscale area where they are staying.  Lunch is great and we spend the rest of the day exploring the area and drinking good wine had at a cheap price (finally) on their lovely terrace that comes with the suite they have booked.

The taxi ride was fun... you can see in the background if you look carefully, a horse drawn wagon in downtown Sofia taking produce to some market. Everything in this country is inexpensive. From clothes to perfume to alcohol.  Parts of the city of Sofia are very upscale and high end...with lovely parks and pleasant strolls, and yet a few blocks away is the charming "ladies market" where goods can be had for very few lev.

As we chatted over lunch on a lazy warm fall Saturday, John mentioned that there was a morning service at the stunning Alexander Nevski Cathedral, and it was something that I might be interested in.  Not fluent in Bulgarian (which is a cyrillic language and still uses that particular alphabet) I wondered if the service would be meaningful to me.  It turned out to be one of most important moments I have had since leaving my home country to become a vagabond.

I ended my day back at the hotel, tired and at peace.  I did log onto my FB account to have a rather lengthy conversation with my long lost "boyfriend".  Endearments were uttered and he asked if he could pick me up at the Otogar upon my return.  I wasn't ready for that.  Still unsure as to his sincerity and trustworthiness... I put him off and went to sleep.

Not realizing how close everything was to my hotel... The Favorit... I called for a taxi to the cathedral the next morning.  The service was at 10 AM and I didn't want to miss it.  When I arrived, the square was empty, but a few people were straggling into the large and magnificent church.

As I entered the knave... I could hear the most beautiful holy voices from above.  Literally.  A choir was singing a Capella from a hidden balcony.  There were no pews... instead people were standing to worship... The service began in Bulgarian, but it didn't make any difference.  I understood the language of Christ.  Everything receded and all that remained was pure worship.  There were actions like crossing one's self and bending down to sweep the floor with one hand.  I didn't not follow suit, but again... it made no difference.  I belonged.

The rest is very personal.  Suffice it to say that I will never forget my experience in this church.  For a moment... I glimpsed heaven... and I did not want to leave.

But leave I did.  I am still in the world.  My new found Canadian friends met me and we strolled through the park past various artisans and vendors hawking icons and post communist wares.  They returned to their hotel to freshen up and I shopped a bit buying little trinkets and bargaining for a memento of the cathedral with a Bulgarian woman who made me feel like I was her long lost cousin who got a great deal from her because of our relationship (though I saw the same exact item later for 3 lev less).  

One of the most striking things I noticed that Sunday was the religious men, dressed in black garb with their floor length robes and tall black hats... and yet ... leaving the church, many were accompanied by beautiful young women in very smart dress.  I inquired about this at another church we visited and was told that the priests in Eastern Orthodox Christianity are allowed wives and these women were their partners.  Nice.

We had also been told by John  that the catacombs of that same church housed some of the most amazing iconography to be seen in Eastern Europe.  We made arrangements to meet there later to view this portion of the church.  We were not disappointed.

As I write this... I am almost a month past this trip to Bulgaria.  I do remember it vividly... and it remains a high point of my journey here.  I will tell you the love affair did resume upon my return to Istanbul... but it was not to last. As Rumi... a much revered Sufi poet who lived, loved, and died in Turkey, states:

“A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home.” 
― Rumi, Words of Paradise

Truer words have rarely been spoken.  Before the end of this tale... a whole heart will be renewed, and a half love will be forsaken.

Until then.... may the bells of Alexander Nevski Cathedral echo in your memory.




Saturday, October 26, 2013

Part 2 of A Short Sad Affair

 I am not sure why this travel/adventure blog took a turn towards the tale of an overseas affair, but perhaps this story in and of itself is the tale of a travel to the heart of matters, an interior adventure between two souls.  All of us desire to love and be loved.  Geographic re-location may be running form one's self, or coming to one's self depending on how such waters are navigated.  I had been in Turkey for slightly less than a year, and to be honest, I was hoping for a romantic adventure sooner or later.  In spite of my fears and doubts... I thought it possible . Please withhold your judgments.  I had been celibate for many years. My marriage had ended and though I dated, I did not join myself to intimacy for a number of reasons.  In my mind and heart... I was waiting for the man God would bring.  Part of me was even hoping for some miracle (there's that word again) to turn my ex  into the man of my dreams.   If you are rolling your eyes... I don't blame you.  But there it is....

    Some of the best years of my life... I spent in the company of one dog and one cat in a big rambling country house... and then later when I moved to Istanbul.... two pillows and one small apartment.
Zero romance.

     Fast forward to June 2013... I am getting ready to go to the US for the summer.  I have a little more than a week to go before I fly away.  And I meet "him" at the demonstrations in Taksim.  I will call him "Wild, Sexy, Male" or WSM for now, because that is a tag someone hung on him on a fb post of himself.  And it suits him for many reasons.  Turkish men are extremely charming but I put up my defenses.  I said my prayers.  I told him about my faith.  He was interested in Christianity.  He liked the church.  He liked me.  He wined me and dined me and wouldn't even let me use my teacher bus card to pay for transportation.  There was an elevator ride that made me feel like I was about 15 years old... and still I remained staunch in my resolve NOT to fall for some smooth talking, false hearted man.  When he gave me an e-mail address that had the numbers 1979 in it... I laughed and responded "Please, please tell me that isn't the year you were born.  (My oldest child was born in 1975).  It wasn't.  But it was close.  I scoured the internet for information about Turkish men who date older women.  There is a well known cadre of males here who prey on older lonely women for various reasons... sex, money, a ticket to life in another land.  I was aware.  But I was also different.  I would never allow myself to be taken by a man without loving intentions.  Never.

      Even as I write this second installment... the WSM is texting me like crazy.  He wants me back... and we haven't even broken up yet as far as you know.  Believe me, by the time I have finished this tale of love gone wrong... the story will have an ending.

     I left for the US.... anxious to see my family again... to connect with old friends and to get away from the hustle and bustle and melancholy of Istanbul.  I also need to put some miles between my guilt for being with this man and my faith... which frowns on such dalliances.  My summer couldn't have been more delightful.  I traveled throughout the Northwest, staying with my sons Jonnie and David and their respective loves.  I also tended my ex husband who was in need of some physical repair.  That was difficult and heart rending.  But I recovered in a sweet little rustic cabin with my youngest granddaughter Ivy.  I spent those days sitting in the sun, watching clouds go by... praying and reading and wondering what would await me in Istanbul.  I picnicked and swam and and dreamed.

 I also kept in touch with the WSM.  Daily.


The last leg of my journey found me in Pueblo Colorado, the place of my childhood, visiting my sister and mother.  We had a wonderful sweet time together, managing to drive to New Mexico to hunt for the famed Forrest Fenn treasure.  We didn't find the millions, but we found each other and the beauty and mystery of an enchanted land that I had long ago forgotten.

Still, I managed to wake early in the morning to talk to my love.

     The funny thing about electronic communication... and even as I write this now, I think of the old days when letters had to take time transporting between lovers...  It is easier in some ways to build a rapport. One can take her time about what she is going to say and how she will phrase it... an the thing about electronic communication, (particularly between two people who might have language issues) is that one can decipher quickly and question and clarify.  We did a lot of that.  I cannot go back and look at it because in a pique of sorrow.... I erased the entire thread.  More about that later.

     The journey home was exhausting.  Lots of things went wrong with the flights and when I finally arrived at Ataturk Airport, I was just ready to be home.  WSM was supposed to meet me at the airport but my flight had been delayed about five hours and I had no way to get in touch with him because my phone had been turned off and I was shut out of the Turkish communication avenue.  By the time I found my luggage and took care of my phone business, I was pretty sure that he had probably left the airport.  As I stood by the information desk trying to make a call... he scooped me up and hugged me tightly.  Thus began the rekindling of our romance in person. And a lovely few weeks it was to be.

Almost ready for what would be our last date
     There were frequent dinners shared on my balcony.  A boat cruise on the Bosphorous.  Drinks on the terrace at a waterfront restaurant.  I made him a cherry cheesecake and cooked him fish for his birthday.  He met some of my friends at last, and things seemed to be going well.... but he had some doubts.  And I shared them.  I began to realize that when we conversed... he didn't always understand what I was trying to communicate, and I think that went two ways.  He was always always late.  They call it Turkish time here... kind of like "Indian time" back home.  He worked so much that dating became nearly impossible.  My days off did not coincide with his.  He worked six days a week, 10 to 11 hours a day.  Turks work like that... long hard hours.  When a fun event was happening with my social crew... he could not attend.  Though he did come to a friends birthday party in Taksim and that was a magical night.  Someone commented that we looked like Ken and Barbie.  Kind of funny huh?

     I began to want more.  Of course.  More of his time.  More of his life.  And he was unable to give it.  Things got strained.  Mis-communications escalated.  He drank too much one night... and my old triggers went off like a post traumatic shotgun.  He got wounded and I got miffed... he said he wished he had never met me, so I obliged and erased all of our electronic communications, "as if we had never existed" I told him.  He cut off all communication and I never saw him again.

     Now THAT should be the end of the story.  But it is not.  I want into a tailspin.  I also happened to contract a very nasty intestinal parasite at the exact same time.  From the moment he left... I was physically and mentally ill.  I couldn't keep anything in my body.  Tears were copious and would erupt at the most embarrassing points in time.  I ended up in the hospital, was treated, and sent home.  Eventually I recovered, but my heart was extremely tender and WSM would NOT allow me closure.  I canceled our holiday reservation to the island of Bozcaada, and tried to book a holiday in Greece instead.  I would go heal by myself near the sea far far away from anything Turkish.  But this was not to be... every single bus to the Greek seacoast was booked.  What to do?

     I am going to segue for a bit, back into travel, because the next leg of my journey will take me to Bulgaria of all places... and back again.  Much will transpire and the end will not be the end.... yet.

Stay tuned if you're interested......... and say a prayer for me.





Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Been A Long Time....

     I haven't written in months.  The reasons are plentiful... political changes in Turkey began to take my interest and for a while I was so obsessed with reading, protesting, and discussing that I neglected to write.  I did begin a piece this June at the height of the revolution... and I will finish and post that piece later... but before I was able to collect my thoughts and put them into legible format, something interrupted my life.  Or I should say... someone.  I hesitate to tell this story to friends and strangers alike... but there is a bible verse that says all of our actions and thoughts will be known in the end.  That seems assuring to me.  That all will be known in its purest truth.  I hope I can manage to put some of that down here.

     Prior to departing for this beautiful country one year and one month ago, many of my dear friends assured me that this was a move that would change my life.  I would certainly meet someone who would sweep me off my feet. I would fall in love and live happily ever after with my soul mate.  Given a lifetime of relation ship-wrecks, I responded to all of these suggestions with a roll of the eyes and and some inward reflection typically having to do with the belief that finding love at this stage in my life would be a miraculous event to say the least, and I am afraid I've used up my allotted miracles for this lifetime.

     I did date a couple of pleasant enough fellows here.  I wrote a bit about both.  One was a rather intriguing European character who pined for a home in Texas ( yee hah!.... No.) and the other was an Irish man I met in church who after dating me a few times let me know he was attracted enough to want to sleep with me, but in the end he wanted marriage to a woman of child bearing years.  Hmmm... shite...again.. NO.  Things weren't looking too promising.  The age thing really set me back a few years in self esteem.  I spent a few nights with my buddy Prags bemoaning the fact that here we were in the most romantic city in the world... and no one to call our own.

     I love the Turkish couples who stroll along the boulevards and seafronts, hand in hand.  While public displays of affection are frowned up by his majesty Erdogan and his cronies... the good old Muslim Brotherhood, many young couples do not hesitate to demonstrate their love for one another by holding, kissing, touching and gazing lovingly into one another's eyes.  I love this about Istanbul.  And I am so jealous. I want to be the one strolling with my lover, sipping raki together on a restaurant terrace, shopping in a bazaar, taking a boat ride on the cool Bosphorous.

     At the end of last school year, a group of us hired a boat for an end of year party on the strait.  It was a beautiful day, full of fun and laughter.  We blasted music, shared summer plans, and a few jumped into the water as a rite of passage.  It was terrific fun, and most of us were just getting going when the boat pulled into shore around six.  Gezi Park was free of police and the people had taken over Taksim.  The word was that night things would get loud.  A few of us made plans to change our clothes and head there.  It was wild in Taksim.  The collective energy was powerful with people chanting and hopping to the beat of drums and calls for Erdogan's resignation. Impromptu street vendors were everywhere... selling beers and doner and whatever else you might want.  I stayed with my friends for a while, but they all continued to drink and I could tell it was going to be one of those nights if I stayed with them.  If I walked quickly I could get to Sisle and catch the last bus home.  I passed a little girl begging in the middle of the chaos and snapped a picture of her... knowing some parent hovered nearby to make sure she stayed on the "job" and to grab the money she collected.  I hate this part of Istanbul.

    I kept walking, past Gezi and the aromas, away from the noisy action while streams of people headed the opposite direction to join the gathering of the temporarily victorious.  Somewhere near Osmanbay, a voice asked me if I knew what time it was... I responded that I didn't speak Turkish and this guy started talking to me in English.  I normally don't have anything to do with strangers on the streets in Istanbul, but something about his energy told me he was safe.  I declined his invitation to tea, explaining that I had to get to my bus.
He asked me if he could walk with me and I told him if he could keep up with me, fine.  If I missed that last bus, a taxi ride would be next to impossible or at the least extremely expensive.  I stopped to take some money out of the ATM just in case...and he turned away from me and stood on the curb with his back to me.  I sort of felt like he was standing guard, but he later told me that he had decided to give me a chance to walk away, and if I left without him, then he would go back to Taksim.  As I write this, I wish for both our sake's I had walked away.

      If you haven't guessed by now, this is the beginning of a short love story.  Some of it quite sweet. We always remember the good parts better, don't we?  This handsome Turk (by then I had the chance to study him in the light) asked for my number as he stood with me waiting for the DT2 to rumble up.  I almost always save myself the hassle of declining to share my number by just giving a man I don't want to see again the wrong digits.  For some reason... by the time I climbed aboard the bus, he had my number in his phone, had double checked with the driver to make sure I was on the right bus, and had blown me a small quick kiss as I pulled away into the night.  It didn't take long for the first text. I wish I had saved that one.

     Someone once said ... life is a series of choices.  One choice made after the other leads us in certain directions. As I sign off part 1 of this running story... I tell you that I started writing again because of pain.  Deep, sobbing in the night pain.  Today I spent the first part of my day in the hospital... reeling from hurt ... both physical and emotional.  My immune system was no longer able to hold at bay the toxins  attacking my system.  I was dehydrated, and in trouble.  The kind doctor put me on an IV, and started some lab work.  I am home now with my medicine and my pajamas.  Ordered to bed rest for 2 days. I will get better.  My body will heal, the pain will become less with the passage of time... but I can speed the healing by spilling it out onto the page.  A cautionary tale perhaps... and yet...now with no tears left to cry,  I can say, it really is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.  The call to prayer sings out into the night.  I have many things to pray about this evening.

God Bless.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sirince, Kusadasi, and the Rails and Waves Home

The last day in Selcuk, after seeing Hieropolis and Palmukkale,  I almost felt I'd seen enough and was ready to go home.  However, I had arranged a two night stay in the seaside town of Kusadasi.  Not so much for sightseeing, but I had a romantic image of myself sitting on the balcony overlooking the Agean Sea, just reading and resting while watching small fishing boats make their lazy way in and out of the port. In the meantime, I had a good half  day to finish up seeing some of the sights in Selcuk, which by now had become one of my favorite Turkish townships.

Had I heard about Sirince?  Well, no I hadn't to be honest, but when I heard the words "wine region" in connection to the community, that was all it took.  Quite honestly, I have a thing for wine.  I don't drink hard liquor as a rule, but a fat good deep red from the soil... the kind that sets me at peace and yet excites me at the same time... yes, I have a weakness for good wine.  So I made my way to the dolmus center where I was told I could hitch a ride up the winding road to the hillside wine making region of Serince for about 3 TL.  The ride started out in the fog and the road was the kind that I could easily imagine headlines about... you know "Tourist Bus Misses Turn... 12 Dead".  It rained and dripped and dried and dripped some more as we made our twisty hairpin curved way up the mountain side, occasionally stopping to let passengers on and off.  When we finally arrived at a seemingly nondescript hillside town, I disembarked, chilly and unsure as to exactly where the charm could be found.  It didn't take long.  Some kind soul pointed the way down a cobbled street and as I made made way in between narrow alleyways and paths, the whitewashed Greek community opened up to my sight like a flower that has just been watered by a heavy rainfall.

I strolled quietly along the street, spotting a sign pointing to a church or"Kilise", the rain started pouring again so I ducked into a felt shop, where no proprietor was evident.  The most magnificent creations lined the walls and floor.  The colors were so vibrant and the designs like nothing I had seen in Turkey to date.

Moving on and chatting  on the way with wine sellers and trinket merchants, I made my way up the steep narrow cobbled sidewalks following the signs.  The church was small and simple, fronted with a fountain, and of course a shop that sold candles and a shop that sold crystals and jewelry.  I bought candles for the church and entered St. John The Baptist Church.  According to signs, the church and the town sprang up somewhere near 4 AD... and it would appear that Serince was one of the places Mary was taken to by St. John.  There is a venerated location near Ephesus that legend holds was the house of Mary, mother of Christ.  Given the entombment of the apostle John in Selcuk, it is entirely conceivable that both he and she and possibly others had also walked this small village.  The church is simple and has 0 accouterments.  A defaced icon of Christ has been encased by thick plastic to prevent further destruction, and there is a stand where candles may be lit and prayers said, but the church is open to the elements and the swallows make themselves happy within it's cupolas.  It was a very peaceful place.

 I lit my candles, said my prayers, and departed.

Stopping on the way down for tastes of wine, I chose a lovely red blend.  Serince is famous for its' fruit wines, of which I am not overly fond, and its jams and olive products.  It is a sweet dear little village with a sad history.  In the forced repatriation of the twenties, the Greeks were forced from their homes and lives to exile in Greece, while Turks who had resided and built like lives in that country were repatriated here in Turkey.  It was a time of great heartache and brokenness for many.  The sense of grief lingers, but the overriding mood of this hill town community is one of great peace and natural abundance.  Another spot in this vast and beautiful country where I could imagine easily settling into.
I settled onto a picnic table overlooking a beautiful little valley and asked for a bowl of soup and a glass of wine.  I was brought the soup and wine, accompanied by a lovely meat dish that I hadn't ordered, compliments of the house I guessed.  I played with their puppy that looked as if it might be an Anatolian Shepherd  and chatted a bit with my wait person.  When I had paid and was leaving, I asked my hostess what the name of her restaurant was... as there was no sign.  "I don't know." she replied.... "We aren't open yet." without skipping a beat.  I was stunned and chagrined, but they assured me the practice was good for them and I was welcome any time.  I met the dolmus in the pre-arranged spot and headed back to Selcuk where I would catch a bus to the Seaside town of Kusadasi, overlooking the Agean.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

I Get To See Palmukkale and Fall in Love

HA!  Fooled you, all you romantics who keep thinking I am going to fall in love with the man of my dreams here in Turkey.  Well...I have fallen in love... but not with flesh and blood.  The wonderfully kind people at the St. John Hotel in Selcuk talked me into booking a tour to Pamukkale.  I am not a fan of tours... I should say that I  have never been on a tour, but it just didn't seem like something that I would enjoy.  I am too independent for my own good sometimes, and I like to strike out on my own when whimsy finds me, so I was dubious about a guided tour. However, I had considered Pamukkale a number of times as a place I wanted to see, so when Menehse told me that she could book me on a day tour there with a small group, I reluctantly agreed.  I was picked up at 8:15 the next morning and joined our driver, our tour guide Sardar, a nice Indian couple with their teenage son, a British couple who had a retirement home in Turkish Cypress, two friends traveling together who were event coordinators based out of Thailand, an Arabic couple and their son, and a man from D.C. who was an environmental lawyer for the Feds.  Fascinating company!

We headed off through the hills and plains of Asian Turkey on our three hour excursion through the Denizle province of Southwestern Turkey.  Pamukkale means cotton castle in Turkish.  High on the cliffs above the plains are a series of travertine calcite basins formed over thousands of years by hot springs tumbling gently down the hillside.  The entire side of the hill is white hardened calcite, which gives a beautiful azure tint to the warm waters that flow from basin to basin to the bottom.  Unbeknownst to me, Pamukkale is a world heritage site due not only to the natural formation of the calcite baths, but also because of the location of the ancient Roman city of Hieropolis that was built above the springs.  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/485

Our ride took us through small and large towns in the province.  I love being a voyeur from the windows of a vehicle someone else is driving.  Sardar commented with interesting facts, some based in reality and some in fantasy and folklore as we made our way to our destination.  We passed through the large city of Aydin which is known for the fertile soil of this alluvial valley created by the once great Meander River, and the excellent agricultural products such as figs, apricots, peaches, almonds, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, cotton, wheat, etc.  Our guide told us that the city claims 30 residents over the age of 100 yrs owing to the excellent fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy lifestyles.  I don't have a fact checker, but it seemed reasonable to me given the excellent organic (for the most part) produce I have eaten here in Turkey.  Unfortunately, western industrial  influence is creeping in here as well and the introduction of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and plastic packaging will most certainly change that over time.  Turkey has had the remarkable ability to remain rather insular for years, but the yearning for economic status and recognition in the European world will most certainly destroy a way of life that has maintained it's stronghold over the centuries.  The current government is not a strong proponent of education, recently lowering the mandatory school attendance to four years!  It is likely that an uneducated populace will be easier to control, particularly in the eastern region of Anatolia so it will be interesting to see what happens to the Turkish people in the next 50 years.

As we left the Aydin province and passed into Denizli, we began to spy magnificent snow covered peaks of mountain ranges in the distance.  When queried as to the name of the mountain range, Sardar replied "Father Mountains".  I have since searched high and low for the name of this stunning range, and finally happened upon the name, Madranbaba Dagi, which translated indeed means "Father Madran Mountain" so I think this is the peak he was naming.  As Jeremy Seal, author of the fascinating book "Meander: East to West Along A Turkish River", aptly states, there remains to this day, limited and accurate topographical mapping of Turkey because of it's history of insulation and secrecy regarding the navigation of the land.  However, the Meander River flows through two ranges of which the Madranbaba is part, so I am fairly sure this was the peak we spotted from our van.  Having resided in the city for the past six months with only brief forays into the country side, I was feeling quite peaceful, relaxed, and grateful to spy mountains, forests and sparsely populated plains.

We turned off the main road and curved around and through some fairly rustic villages, climbing up and into the outskirts of the tourist area of Pamukkale.  Of course all tour guides typically have arrangements made with business people en route to bring money to the doors.  In true fashion we made a stop at an agate shop, where two floors of beautiful and expensive products of agate polishing were displayed for sale.  We also had a demonstration of an artisan carving an agate egg, which one of us on the tour would win.  (not me).

I  spent too much money in this shop buying various gifts for family and friends, as I was supposed to do!

On to Hieropolis.  I did not even realize that we would be walking through the ruins of this 2nd century city that lies just above the travertine pools.  However... it became for me the highlight of the entire trip, and the place with which I truly fell in love.

 We entered through the back part of the Greco-Roman city, where there were few tourists, and started with the Necropolis, which is one of the largest and best restored in the entire world.  I won't write too much about the history of Hieropolis except to say the such notable entities as Marcus Arelious (who was interred here), Cleopatra, Antiochus II, Frederick Barbarossa, and the apostle Phillip (crucified here) once walked the same stone streets upon which we were now strolling.

  Interestingly, there were a number of Jewish tombs in the
 Necropolis.  Antiochus had sent approximately 2,000 Jews to the city, and later Palestinian Jews joined the population.  It is estimated that there were approximately 50,000 Jews living in Hieropolus by 62 BCE.  Here is the lid of one of the sarcophogi.  You can see the menora carved at the peak, and the lion (tribe of Judah) beneath.  This would have been a wealthy and prominent Jew given the size and ornate nature of the stone coffin.  Some of the burial plots were round, and contained a large number of citizens.... the less affluent.  Of course the tombs have unfortunately been pillaged over the years, as well as the ravages of nature taking their toll with two massive earthquakes shaking the city to the ground.


I love the way the city designers set the entrance so the mountain peaks could be seen clearly as one came and went.  The setting of this place is so peaceful and magnificent.  The hillsides were covered with red poppies, vetch, daisies, buttercups, all manner of wildflowers.  I can imagine the voices of the crowds in the agora, the women coming from the baths, the sounds of chariots rumbling through the city.

This place was so special.  I cannot explain the feeling of walking though this breathtaking city.  I liked it much more than Ephesus for some reason.  As we exited the main gate, we headed as a group to the travertine pools.  Village women were busy scraping the bottoms of one of the empty pools.

The crowds were getting thicker as we made our way to the springs.  Children and families were happily playing in the water.  The calcite is slick and the water warm.  I removed my socks and waded for a while snapping a few pictures.
 I wasn't so much interested in swimming though I had my suit with me.  I headed over to the large pool, the restored bath of Cleopatra which was reportedly given to her by Marc Anthony.  Legend has it that bathing in this thermal pool will imbue one great beauty.  One can also have feet pedicured by little fish that consume the dead flesh from toes and heels if you are willing to pay the fee.  I was not interested in either of these attractions.

There was a sign indicating a trail that was supposed to lead to the site where St. Philip the Apostle was crucified and buried.  It lead up a steep hill, past the stunningly restored stadium, and into the hills where there were no crowds.  I had about forty minutes to take advantage and so I hiked that same path that Philip would have been made to walk on his way to an upside down crucifixion like his brother and friend in Christ, St. Peter.  The going was difficult.

I made the hike in time and sat there for a while.  A great sense of peace and sorrow overwhelmed me.  Here meditated in the middle of such otherworldly beauty, at the top of a hill near a place where one of the great patriarchs departed this earth.
There are ruins of a church later built in his honor near the site of his death.  It too seems to echo with peace and sorrow intermingled.  This was a place of accidental pilgrimage for me.  When I set out at the beginning of this day...I'd had not a single idea of the bittersweet journey I would be making.  But as I reluctantly began to make my way back down that hill,  I wept.  I did not want to leave the place....I had fallen in love with it, and later, I would note in my memo app on my phone for my children..."When the end of my life comes... bury me here."

People ask me often, now that I am in Turkey... "When are you going to go to the holy land?" presumably meaning Israel.  My response to them is this... "I am in the holy land now."  And so it was, and is still.