Pushing through

•July 31, 2013 • 2 Comments

Castle lady

It’s almost 7pm and I’m still at my desk at the library trying to leave things in a manageable state for tomorrow. My back is tired from sitting at the computer all day, I’ve only made it halfway through my checklist, haven’t posted on the blog yet, am hungry, still have to run an errand before I head home, and my computer is on its last leg and am faced with the burden of having to buy a new one. I’m doing a pretty good job of stacking up a bunch of petty complaints, and then I see her.

I’ve been staring at her for the past few days now: working the hoe, raking the fields, tending to the vines. I caught this glimpse of her as we were winding through the valley on foot during an afternoon walk. I snuck the shot in fear of her catching me; she was not to be exploited in the photo reel of some traveler’s Turkish journey.

Long after I captured her on film, I kept staring in hopes I’d figure out what I could write about her. I knew nothing about her or the field– of the family that might be waiting for her at home, the elderly parents whom might live with her, the sons and daughters who leave their young children with her.  How the rainfall was affecting this year’s yield, how the political turmoil in Istanbul this week had killed tourism in Goreme and affected the town’s income.

But here she is. Pushing through. None of that matters to her, I’m sure, because there is work to be done. The field relies on her; she has no choice but to show up. It’s day 23 and this project is a gift and a burden. I have to show up.

Looking beyond the field lies a castle on a hill, a castle full of history, conquest, victory, sacrifice. I too step into the frame of a castle every single day- a castle of history, conquest, fantasy and fiction. I just have to show up.

Day 23 of 30; Postcards from Turkey


(Not) Lost in Translation

•July 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

cabinet of curios

It was late Friday afternoon, dusk on the horizon, and the folks at the Goreme farmers market were packing up. I’d just stepped out of the corner store where I’d found a few gifts for friends at home that could be easily packed into my bag: a tube of olive oil cream, a tiny glass jar of saffron and some apple tea. In turning the corner to head down the main street this mobile cabinet of curiosities opened itself to me. It’s outer doors like two arms extended to draw the eye into its core of magnificent parts, shelves of gadgets old and new were disorderly packed inside: power cords, hand vacs, tools and tape, fans and drills, cow bells strung front and center. At first glance I couldn’t tell if they were items for sale or if this was the handyman’s own mobile work station. Hesitant to appear nosy as I marveled at his artful collection of electric parts, I instead motioned to my camera asking to take a photo. He nodded unceremoniously and came around to the side to stand in front of his shelves to pose: humble and proud. We exchanged no words, just a common appreciation. If only I could send him the photo- the photo he’ll show to his grandchildren one day when they ask papa what his shop looked like.

Day 22 of 30; Postcards from Turkey


•July 29, 2013 • 2 Comments

I hadn’t told them that a sepia-toned print of the Galata Bridge stretching over the Bosphorus had been hanging in my house since 2006, the very year I began planning art tours to Istanbul while still working for Art Quest. Each time I looked at the print, the bridge invited me to cross it.

A contact at the Four Seasons Hotel had sent me the print just as our relationship began and as I was immediately seduced by this exotic place that until then, I’d only seen in photos. Istanbul imprinted itself on me from afar, and yet my path diverted me elsewhere. I landed in Portugal for a few years and, despite being physically closer to Turkey, the opportunity to travel never arose. I knew the moment had to be right, the type where I’d say, “ah, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for.” And so I waited.

And so not until last summer-some six years later-when socializing after a program at the library did that right moment come. Two guests at the program, Nick and Nora, introduced themselves to me and I soon learned they were American writers teaching at Koç University in Istanbul. After a few more moments of conversation with these new friends, I promised them I’d come visit in the coming year-and that they should take me seriously. A friendship formed over the remainder of their summer break in Los Angeles, and we began planning my trip together over the following months.

My date was set and before I knew it, Nick and Nora were greeting me in Taksim Square. Our first night we dined on their rooftop in Çukurcuma over melon and feta, hummus and fresh baguettes, sweet cherries, California wine and rich conversation. During the ensuing days, they lent me their living room to lay my head at night, and introduced me to their favorite spots in Istanbul by day: the ferry to the Princes Islands, the fancy brunch place in Cihangir, the sunset spot atop an old hotel’s rooftop in Pera. It just so happened that Nick and Nora were completing their third and final year of teaching in Turkey and this was their final week before they had to pack up their life and return home- their other home. And although their departure was met with my arrival- time allowed us to delight and savor the same things-my first tastes, their last.

We all departed Istanbul that tumultuous day of June 3rd-revolt or revolution underway-only time would tell. They were westward bound to start building their new life in the U.S., and I was headed to the interior to discover more of the country that had already received me with such warm hospitality.

The best part of the Nick and Nora story is that it doesn’t end in Istanbul. It continues on in Los Angeles, as they’ve just begun to set up life here in time for the start of the fall teaching semester. I can’t wait to reunite over California wine and sweet cherries, where this time I get to introduce them to all of my favorite spots.

Day 21 of 30; Postcards from Turkey


•July 28, 2013 • Leave a Comment


It was just past 5 am. I stumbled out of the cave hotel in the dark and wound my way down a stone street to then climb a hill to catch the rising sun. It was our last day in Goreme and I had to see one of its most celebrated attractions and the sunrise was my cue. To the east, a bright yellow band of color lie in the V between two small mountains, and above it, a thick stripe of hot pink. Deep purples and blues filled the rest of the horizon, and in the foreground, flares of red and orange. More than 30 hot air balloons were preparing for take-off. Flames of loud gas fired, and with each, the canvas balloons expanded. Effortlessly, they began to ascend like graceful giants, slowly making their way into an expansive sky.

As the balloons rose higher, they began to drift- some sideways, others behind the mountains. There were a handful that just couldn’t get up, they bobbed mid-range in between the ground and the high horizon, unsure of their place in the sky and struggling to stay afloat. The balloons assumed personalities through their movements: the go-getter, the shy guy, the reluctant friend. More gas fired. The hot pink stripe in the sky faded to white light. A dark rain cloud crept in from the west. I walked down the hill and snuck back into the cave, slipped under the covers, closed my eyes, and ascended with them.

Day 20 of 30; Postcards from Turkey


Storyteller carpet seller

•July 27, 2013 • 1 Comment

His was a world of stories. I walked into his shop looking for pillow covers, and walked out with his smile and a mosaic of stories as colorful as the textiles piled high from floor to ceiling in his quaint shop.

Until this moment, we’d intentionally avoided carpet shops. Even before I left for Turkey I’d decided to leave the carpet experience for another trip. And yet after having passed by this place-Hakan Kilim- more than a handful of times en route to Goreme’s famed Open Air Museum,  we finally ventured in to see what was packed inside.

The affable shop owner Hakan led us to a stack of vintage rugs, baby carriers, bed spreads, and cushion covers, and he patiently unloaded piece after piece from the top of the pile, throwing them out to the floor for us to marvel at their colors, the intricacies of the patterns, and to notice the craftsmanship in textiles that appeared to be more than one hundred years old. None were the size I was looking for-and lucky at that-as the price was far from anything I could afford. The true magic of the experience was that with each piece came a story, and Hakan seemed content to share with us well knowing we wouldn’t be taking anything home with us that day.

Hakan procures each antique kilim himself, traveling for days to small villages in Turkey’s interior, meeting nomadic groups who have passed down these pieces from generation to generation, their history woven into each one. He is discriminate with his purchases, eager to know who the piece belonged to, the purpose it served, and the story he can collect and preserve as he transmits it to its next owner.

This friendly man was far from a carpet seller. He was a story collector, these kilims the relics of his country’s history where each tear and stain in the textiles marked a moment in time. And as he hands off these kilims to new owners who will traverse back to their own homes, so continues the story of these colorful pieces of history.

Day 19 of 30; Postcards from Turkey

Arabian Ride

•July 26, 2013 • 2 Comments

The name Cappadocia dates to Persian times, when the region was called “katpatukya” meaning “land of beautiful horses.” Today, a man named Ekram helps continue that tradition, tending to wild horses and taming them with his gentle soul, cucumbers and carrots, and natural medicine. Dubbed “the horse whisperer,” I’d actually read about him even before stepping foot in the country. I wanted to meet Ekram and ride his horses.

We’d barely arrived in Cappadocia and were watching the setting sun when a man approached my friend and struck up a conversation. He was a native of the town but had spent over a decade living in San Francisco as a small business owner. His English was impeccable and among other bits of information he proudly shared about his town, I learned that he was the one who delivered American horse products to the horse whisperer.

Days later I found myself on one of Ekram’s horses, bounding up and down rolling hills, weaving my way into Rose Valley. My guide snapped photos with my camera, his faithful pooch following us the entire way (he even made the picture.) The horses snacked on sweet white mulberries straight from the tree while I marveled at the landscape. We slid through narrow pathways in between smooth boulders and conical rocks, ascended hills for panorama vistas, and rested atop a mountain next to a cave church and a make-shift tea tent. We seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. The tea man watched over the cave church in exchange for being able to serve the lone travelers who came through. Who comes here? I couldn’t see another person in sight. The surreal landscape, my view atop a horse, the threat of rain in the distance, and no soul in sight. I felt like I was living in a Western. My body swayed side to side on the back of this beautiful Arabian horse. I had no idea where we were going, what these hills had in store for my horse and I. All I knew is that this nowhere, this somewhere, was exactly where I needed to be.

Day 18 of 30; Postcards from Turkey

Cave classrooms and underground civilizations

•July 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The world was our classroom and Ikud couldn’t have been a better teacher. A history buff, he had an answer and a theory for almost everything. Within minutes of piling into the van that would tour us around the farther lying spots of Cappadocia, he had us playing the name game to remember his name: he repeated “I could” over and over again. Ikud. Ikud. Ikud echoed through the car. And he could. He led us down into the 7-story underground city of Derinkuyu initially built in the 5th century that once housed 10,000 people. We snaked our way through tunnels and staircases in cool, close quarters imagining the flow of people and their animals through this space, which held kitchens, wells, churches and graveyards.  For these peoples, life was a question of persecution and death, or flipping the world upside down and living beneath the surface. This was human resiliency.

From the depths of the underground we then ascended the boulders that formed an 8th century cave monastery in Selime, which was later turned into a caravanserai where the traders of the Silk Road rested weary heads. We walked through green valleys with wildflowers, whose hills held early Christian cave churches dating from the 4th to 11th centuries. Ikud told us about the saints and the symbols depicted on the walls of the cave. He used his pointing stick to etch out the Greek word for Christ, ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, in the soft dirt floor. Turning to the walls, he pointed at the frescos of the saints painted by the Byzantines, all of whose faces had been scratched out by the Ottomans, who had cycled through these same caves hundreds of years later.

We were some six hours into our day trip and I felt like I’d just experienced a lifetime’s worth of world religion and history. It was alive and we were walking through it. Nine years of parochial Catholic school didn’t come close to one day in this Turkish classroom.

Day 17 of 30; Postcards from Turkey