Monday, December 29, 2008

The Heart of the House

When we bought this house there was no heating system installed. We considered lots of options from central heating to air conditioning with a heat pump. Then Himself came up with a terrific idea. I laughed at it - not possible I said how are you going to install a chimney!

But Himself has a stubborn streak which combined with the ability to research anything inside and out allowed him to find someone in the next county who could provide an enclosed fireplace, stainless steel chimney and build whatever surround you want. They arrived for a quote, measured, bargained and set a delivery date. So in spite of the usual delays, our fireplace was installed in the centre of the house, and provides heat in three directions; to the living room, bedroom and hall.

It does a terrific job of heating the whole house (I think our maximum record is 32 degrees). Himself regularly reminds me of my initial skepticisim, to which I praise his wonderful idea and give thanks for his stubborn perseverance.

And of course our chimney provides access for Santa Claus. The Brown-eyed Girl dismissed the idea of him being able to get past a locked door but was very taken with the image of him unhooking the fireplace door from the inside and climbing out to deposit the presents under the tree. It's an advantage I admit we overlooked in our research into fireplaces...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas is coming....

Christmas arrived in our local supermarkets half way through Kurban Bayram last week. They cleared away the chocolates and butchers knives for the Sacrifice Festival and out came the Christmas trees, decorations and children's toys. As said supermarket is British-owned it may not seem that surprising that Christmas arrives but all of the shops do the same. (We know this, because alas there it little indoor amusement here so our week's holiday was spent doing a tour of retail establishments in between brisk walks on the seafront.)

Some very smart retailer had the bright idea at some point in the last twenty years or so, that if Turkey hijacked all the trimmings of Christmas, held them captive for a week and forced them to do overtime for New Year, he might make a fortune. So we have Christmas trees, gift-giving, house decorating, turkey-eating and even Santa Claus himself, in the guise of Noel Baba, all in aid of the New Year. This 'tradition' being relatively new it's not always upheld by everyone, so Noel Baba comes to some children, trees may go up but gifts aren't exchanged and so on. It was a cunning plan and is working terrifically.

It works great for me too, I get all the Christmas cheer, minus carol singing and nativity scenes, from the local shops. My mother, bless, sends the pudding and mince meat and this year I'm attempting a Christmas cake in addition to the usual turkey dinner and trifle.

There is only one small snag, it has created a tremendous mix up in the minds of many Turks, they don't know that Christmas is not New Year. This is aided by dodgy translation of movies and sitcoms where Yeni Yil is substituted for Christmas, causing me to jump up and down and rant at the television. (At which point the Brown-eyed Girl informs me that the television can't hear. Smart girl, a little too smart perhaps.)

So there will be a debate at some point about whether good Muslims should celebrate a Christian feast, regardless of the fact that New Year isn't a Christian feast and that the said Christian feast happened a week earlier. I wonder how they'd feel if they knew that celebrating the New Year has its roots in paganism before being fixed on January 1 by the Romans?

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Skaian Gates

Well here it is at last - The Skaian Gate

The Southern gate to Troy VI, also called the Dardanos Gate, is believed by some to be the Skaian gate mentioned in the Iliad. The remains of a tower are seen to the left with standing stones at its base. You can also see a drain running down the middle of the road capped by a single flagstone. The white tent in the background covers the partially reconstruction of some of the oldest remains found on the site and represents the level of the hilltop before excavations began.

The model of the Wooden Horse of Troy at the entrance to the site.

A Trojan Oak (Quercus Troias).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I'm Back!

Well the ban on Blogger in Turkey has been lifted. Turns out some blogs were being used to broadcast league football matches illegally. Digiturk the owner of the league broadcast rights, complained to Blogger, didn't get the response they wanted so went to court. The ban was lifted after a tremendous outcry.

However there are lots more websites still blocked, the most well known of which is YouTube.

Monday, October 27, 2008


It doesn't happen very often but this weekend I was watching Blogger. I was waiting for a piece I wrote to be published on the Kingdom of the Expat Wives Detective Agency. I checked in a Friday afternoon but couldn't get through to Blogger. Didn't think much about it and checked again on Saturday to find that Blogger has been blocked by Diyarbakir Criminal Court. The whole website and all the blogs it hosts including my own. Why it has been blocked has been rumoured to be illegal activities, slander against creationists and even broadcasting live football matches, but nothing is definite.

I've managed to get around the block. It's a DNS ban enforced by TTNet, the main internet provider here in Turkey. Blogger joins, Youtube, and over a thousand other websites. Wordpress was blocked last year thoug it has been reopened now, so moving the blog is not a solution.

Anyway here's the link to the first part of the mystery I wrote Rear Window - Turkish Style

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Curious Girl

The Brown-eyed Girl asked a question the other evening after her bedtime story. Asking questions is a routine event, most being merely 'Why?' But this one got me thinking.
"How do you know the story's over?" she looked at the picture of the Little Wooden Horse in the book. "How do you know without turning the page?"

'Because it is', was the first response in my mind but I controlled myself.
'Because the baddy's been killed/eaten/banished', didn't seem a positive message.
'Because everyone's happy', only applies to some stories; even fairy tales ended badly for someone.
'Because the crisis has been resolved', seemed a little advanced for a four-year old.
'Because the loose ends are all tied up', would have led to a discussion of what a loose end was.
'Because it can't go on without introducing something else' didn't quite explain what I meant.

"Because the book is called 'Five Minute Stories' and five minutes are up" did quite nicely.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Creepy Crawlies

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind howled, and lashed the rain against the siding of the little blue house. The heavy black clouds pressed ominously low, illuminated by the flashes of distant lightening. The rumbles of thunder came closer, leaving the children crouching, fingers shoved into their ears.

DH paced the veranda, torch in hand, looking for early signs of a deluge. Occasionally walking to the gate and back he monitored the flow from the drainpipes, the sheetflow across the path and the windblown trees. Inside a semblance of normality was upheld, the dinner eaten and the dishes stacked for washing. And then they noticed it, long, black, many-legged and most probably poisonous, it lay on the floor, still and menacing.

Hastened by the high-pitched calls from the house DH entered the kitchen and followed the pointed fingers to the black creature lurking by the sink. Quickly he put on slippers, an action followed by all members of the family.

"He'll be fast" he said, approaching with caution.

"No, I think he's hurt, he looks squashed" said I.

DH grabbed a rolled newspaper, and slapped it down, catching the tail of the speeding monster. It disappeared under the fridge as a roll of thunder roared closer.

DH pulled the fridge forward, out from under the counter, as I held the children back. Nothing moved, nothing disturbed the thin layer of dust. He pulled the freezer forward, again nothing save the scatter of dropped coffee granules.

"Look under the fridge"

Torch in hand I got on my knees and looked under, dust, plastic and nothing moving any moment expecting a flurry of movement as the creature would launch itself at my eyes from halfway across the room.

DH moved the fridge, again and again until the hideous creature sprang out, moving back under the counter. Newspaper forgotten, DH stamped and stamped, destroying the creature, leaving scattered body parts in his wake. Gingerly he gathered up the bits and took it outside dumping it unceremoniously over the wall.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The open road

The other weekend I did something unusual, for me anyway. It had lodged in my brain as a possibility over a month ago and refused to budge in spite of the guilt, the recriminations and the arguments. These before I even told the family. So having spent the previous week in a state of nervous indecision I finally told the children I was abandoning them, for one whole night.

There were tears, of course, from the Brown-eyed Girl. "But I want you and Baba" she pleaded. A few minutes of uncertainty ensued as she gauged how serious my threat to leave was. Then the major question arose: "Who will put me to sleep?" Baba wouldn't do. She thought a few moments "I'll put myself to sleep". I sighed with relief and got ready to go. Little Boy Blue seemed unfazed, even watching me board the bus he was fine.

On the bus I admit to suppressing the urge to soothe the crying baby before being distracted by the young woman beside me. Apart from fiddling with the air conditioning at irregular intervals, she rang at least ten people to tell them she was moving 100km south of where she had been. She ignored the signs warning passengers to turn off their mobile phones. One wasn't enough either, she had to have two phones.

I missed the children, though not as they are now; confident, articulate, ambulant. I missed my babies, their cuddly helplessness and easy smiles. They are not so big that I've forgotten everything though. Neither slept through the night until during their third year; the frustration of not knowing what was wrong as they cried; the need to keep them constantly entertaine; and the eating cold dinners after catering for everyone else first. Actually the last still applies, it's a rule to ask for something just as Mammy sits down, first one, then the next and so on. Then when they've got everything they want, they demand to be fed. Maybe one night away isn't enough.

After three hours and countless local bus stations, we arrived at our rest stop to be greeted by bare-chested beer-bellied Bulgarians drinking beer. It was a shock to my delicate sensibilities to be confronted by bare chests on the street. So I hurried downtown to make my virtual friends real.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Autumn colours

The ridge is a wash of russets, reds and browns. The few pale glimpses of green are slowly overtaken by the darker colours.

But these are evergreen trees, dying in the wake of the fire.

Already a lot have been logged, standing stacked by the roadside, shorn of their burnt bark. The village workers are shrouded head to foot in black soot, pale eyes standing out against the burned earth.

Here and there the growth begins, hints of green sprout from the ashes. Our gozlemeci has reopened in the petrol station a few km's down the road.

Life goes on.

Friday, August 1, 2008


By the early hours of 31 July the fire was under control. The helicopters and planes started flying at 6.15 am, after sunrise, and just before the winds began to pick up again. They worked alternate hours through the day, three helicopters cooling the smouldering embers. A walk to Guzelyali brought us right alongside where they were refilling their buckets sequentially.

Bulldozers are used to clear the firebreaks and limit the fire's spread. Here's one being transported over the pass to Intepe.

We drove to Intepe along the main Izmir road shocked to find trees that appeared healthy through binoculars from home were thoroughly burnt at their bases, all undergrowth gone. The entire ridge and pass had burnt.

Deeper in the forest the devastation was complete, especially in the valleys.

Looking north from the pass at Intepe the whole area is burnt.

On the south of the pass the view was much the same. The fire swept down to the sea here. The valley below the road still smoking yesterday evening.

The village of Intepe had a lucky escape as the fire passed below it. Behind the village there were rumours of fields burning as far south as Dumrek.

All that remains of Bag Evi and the restaurant beside it are the frames. Bag Evi was a small wooden chalet that served great gozleme and traditional breakfasts. The restaurant closest to the pass was unharmed by the fire. Similarly a house nestled in the valley below the pass survived though the fire passed around it.

Looking east from Guzelyali the fire smokes. The lower ridge channeled the fire south, saving the centre and the complexes to the north of the village. The fire came within a few hundred yards of the wind turbines in the top left of the photo.

At the southern end of Guzelyali the fire passed very close to these houses before being limited by the coast at Karanlik Limani past the Youth Camp. The ridge is burnt and shows outcrops of rock that were hidden before.

At Karanlik Limani a pile of ashes smoulder. The fire moved along the coast here and yesterday evening a single helicopter was still working near some new houses being built near a tree plantation on the coast road to Kumkale.

Apparently started by farmers burning stubble the fire was called in quickly. It started within sight of the Fire Post in Dardanos. Still within a very short time it was out of control and required six helicopters, five planes, multiple fire brigades from as far away as Istanbul, Izmir, Mugla and Bursa, army backup for ground crews, bulldozers and road graders. In spite of all this effort 500 hectares burned.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Hanging the washing yesterday at 11.30 am I noticed the planes circling overhead. It wasn't the fighter jets as usual but small propeller planes that look like they were left over after the WWII. I expect the propellers to be wooden looking at their flimsy structure. They belong to the Turkish Aviation Foundation and spend the summer in Canakkale, waiting to be called up if a forest fire starts. They fly over occasionally but this time all four of them are circling behind the house. Must be a drill I thought and shout to the kids to take a look.

Then I see the helicopter. It is Ukranian rented by the Forest Fire Brigade, we see it on the ground at the Forest Fire Post as we pass on the bus into town. Must be a drill. But even as I repeat this the helicopter drops beneath the treeline beyond the Jandarma camp. It fills its bucket from the Dardanelles. It rises again from behind the trees, flys above the house and up towards the ridge behind us. A few minutes later it returns and repeats the procedure. This is no drill.

Looking behind the house the smoke billows slowly, blown by the strong wind. We walk up to the corner of the complex but see very little through the trees and olive groves. The smoke is rising from below the ridge that the wind turbines are on. From then on it grows continuously. A few of the neighbours arrive, curious about the aerial activity and worried by the smoke. One prays, pacing and muttering under her breath.

By lunchtime, the ridge is barely visible beneath the smoke cloud. Fire brigades and bulldozers pass on the main road from Canakkale, Lapseki, Eceabat and Mahmudiye.

By 2.00pm, the ridge is hidden in smoke as the fire moves south through the valley. The number of helicopters is increasing from the original two to four and eventually six. Our electricity is cut off sometime after this.

By 3.30pm the main Izmir road is closed. A seaplane owned by Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi has joined the other planes, drenching the valley below the ridge in seawater, circling, filling up and repeating.

On the way home from work my husband is stopped twice by roadblocks. He is allowed to continue given the warning that he should evacuate his house. Shocked by the fire on the ridge behind he is surprised at how little we can see from the house. Around 6pm all the planes and helicopters focus behind the house, towards Cinarli. The seaplane and helicopters all refill in front of the Jandarma camp and fly straight over the house. If the wind changes there is a chance the fire could come towards us. The noise is intense from the low flying planes and the double-rotar helicopters. All the neighbours gather, looking for news, exchanging ideas of where was burning, how the fire started and whether they would control it or not. Some of them I know, mostly to see. Without fail they all know which house I live in and that I am Irish. Neighbours who quarrel gossip together, bound by fear.

By 7pm the fire moves south of Guzelyali, towards Karanlik Limani beyond the Scout camp. The ridge is visible through the smoke, lined with matchstick trees. There are rumours that the restaurants on the road below Intepe, including our favourite gozlemeci, have burned.

By 9pm the area south of Guzelyali, Karanlik Limani, is burning. The Izmir road is reopened in a controlled manner and our electricity is restored. The planes and helicopters aren't flying in the dark and it is eerily quiet after the noise of the day. Having been bumped from the news headlines by the Constitutional Court decision we go to bed with no idea of whether the fire is under control or not.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Turkey is No 1!

Turkey is on average the highest producer of fig, quince, pomegranate, hazelnut, apricot and cherry in the world according to the Vegetable-Fruit report (Sebze-Meyve Raporu) released by the Agriculterers Association of Turkey (Türkiye Ziraatcilar Derneği) at the weekend. Turkey is second highest producer of cucumber and watermelon and third highest producer of tomatos, aubergine and green peppers. The country produced 14.4 million tonnes of fruit in 2007 though apple, apricot, pear, sour (morello) cherry and cherry production was down from 2006. Other fruits produced include plum, peach, orange, mandarin orange, olive, melon, kiwi, banana, grape and lemon. Nuts include pistacio nut, walnut and peanut. Vegetable production was 25.6 million tonnes with increasing yields of onions and carrots. Red pepper, potato, beans, peas, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, chickpea and sesame are also produced in Turkey.

So how come when I visit my local (albeit British-owned) supermarket, the garlic comes from China?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Conserving Evolution

A lot of people don't seem to realise that evolution involves extinction just as much as it does the development of new species. The niches that species evolve to fill were not empty before they came along. Rather the newcomers out-competed the existing species and took over. In the process they affect the whole ecosystem from the creatures they eat to the ones who eat them and so on up the line.

So I find it very difficult to feel sorry for the Adelie penguins or the soft-bodied benthic invertebrates mentioned in this article about the Antarctic Peninsula in American Scientist. The sea ice is retreating and in doing so favours Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins over the Adelie. The influx of predators such as the King Crab as the waters warm threatens the soft-bodied invertebrates. The invertebrates are soft-bodied because they evolved in an area where shell-cracking predators could not and so lost their shells. The population of Adelie penguins is falling while the invertebrates are under pressure.

Whatever the reasons for the retreating ice sheet (that's another days post!) the natural progression is that as the ecosystem changes the dominant species must adapt or move over. Here we have an example of a changing ecosystem and it's effect on the fauna. These changes cannot be described as being for the worst or for the best. They simply are.

Some will shout immediately for to make it a conservation area, to help the Adelie and protect the invertebrates. But that is preventing or skewing the natural progression of evolution. Because the ecosystem is unique, it's special; the hand of man should not set foot. But whether we like it or not humankind has already affected these creatures, Antarctica may seem remote but whaling in Japan or the North Sea still affects it. And has been affecting it for centuries.

Perhaps we should leave well enough alone and allow evolution to proceed. At least then the creatures that evolve may be able to cope with humankind and their effect on the environment.

Friday, July 4, 2008

On Planning

Stephen King's 'On Writing' is a wonderful little book. Starting with
his earliest memories, King explains how he writes before describing
the horrific car accident that he survived while writing the book. The
description of the accident is classic King, underplayed and all the
more terrifying for it. I started to tell Himself about it but was
pulled up ''Another book about writing! Why don't you just write your
own?" It's exactly what every writer needs to hear and guaranteed to
piss one off too. It could have turned nasty except that he was just
repeating what King was saying "Read a lot; write a lot".

King advocates writing while the story is fresh, extracting it as
carefully as a fossil from the ground with as little plotting as
possible. It's an attractive idea. Excavate the fossil and then flesh
it out on the later drafts instead of blasting it out with a
sledgehammer plot. It seems a more sensible way than planning every
single step only to find that the actual writing is slowed to a crawl
by constant reference to notes and research. My novel is in the
planning stage and doesn't show much progress. (I'm finding it
difficult to shut the door while I write, so much for our open plan
living room.) The problem is that the story keeps changing; the fossil
has life and metamorphoses every day. If I'd excavated sooner then
perhaps it wouldn't be the monster it's become.

At the moment it's called 'Ground Down'; the story of one woman's run
in with a rogue belt sander which kills her friends and family. As she
faces the renegade machine, she finds perspective on her pettiness and
immaturity. Has the King influence gone too far?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Impersonating free speech

Watching Bill Maher's standup act a few weeks ago it suddenly struck me that there is no equivalent in Turkey. (Ok so perhaps I'm a little slow to catch on but anyhow...) It was refreshing to watch him, he didn't give a damn about political correctness and just pointed out what he saw as wrongs. There is no Turkish comedian who gets up and slags off the prime minister, government policy and religion with a decent helping of curse words thrown in. The majority stick to safer topics of family relationships, dealing with the boss and so on.

Over six years ago when I first arrived here we had 'Reyting Hamdi' and 'Olacak O Kadar' which were skit shows that would gently parody politicians among other things. But they've disappeared now, replaced by endless soap operas and game shows. A quick read of comments on various news sites indicates that political satire is still alive and well albeit sheltered behind anonymity.

Why did it disappear? Well after the prime minister sued a comic book for publishing caricatures of his head attached to various zoo animals the mainstream media has kept its toes well behind the party line. There are very few television channels who oppose that, one recently had its founder arrested. One national newspaper claims to be objective and also had a senior journalist arrested at the same time.

Censorship is becoming the norm. Individuals who bring a case to court can persuade a judge to block access to websites. In the past year YouTube has been blocked multiple times, reinstated after they deleted the insulting material, WordPress ISP is blocked completely and last week Google groups were blocked.

It's not a healthy atmosphere. The only political comedy is provided by two lads on a Turkish Cypriot channel who annoyingly break off the comedy to talk directly a lot of the time. Rory Bremner and the two John's, if the UK doesn't provide enough material there's rich pickings over here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Story of Stuff

A few weeks ago my friend Nassim sent a link around to The Story of Stuff. It's a twenty minute animated video about stuff, from extraction to production to market to home to disposal. It's well made and fun to watch but I'll be honest I thought 'doesn't everyone know this?", followed quickly by the discouraging thought that life ain't that simple.

But perhaps people don't know or rather don't think about it at all. Maybe if we did we wouldn't be so easily taken in by advertising and campaigns. There's an ad on Turkish television at the moment featuring an annoying girl in a stripy top posing as a doctor. Her patient sits in a gown looking worried while she looks at his x-ray. He has 10 ytl worth of points lodged in his chest, a situation brought about by buying lots of petrol from a particular petrol station on a particular credit card. So how can he be cured? 'Spend it and it'll pass' says the chirpy girl.

So having bought the most expensive petrol in the world (3.30 ytl/1.56 Euro/2.48 USD per litre!) the poor lad now has to go and spend even more money! It's all feeding back into the golden arrow. Perhaps he can spend his 10 ytl buying rice before the shortage hits in.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gender stereotyping

I witnessed a very disturbing scene last week when I spent an afternoon with the Brown-eyed Girl in her preschool. After attempting to teach twelve four year olds 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' in English and determining that the average attention span is nine minutes, I was treated to a mini concert. The Brown-eyed Girl performed a solo of the 'Walnut Man' complete with actions, then the choir chimed in with a lovely rhyme about a dog who wanted to fly. Starting with his aeronautical ambitions and ending with splat after he launched himself from the balcony, it stirred the heart and made me glad to see my little girl in such an educationally stimulating class.

But by far the most excitement was generated when the teacher began the song 'Little soldier, little Ayse'. First the boys jumped to attention, marched about and saluted as they sang their chant about protecting their loved ones, then the girls leapt up, rocking imaginary babies and singing about staying home and making babies. It was all I could do to pick my chin up off the floor at such a blatant display of gender stereotyping being taught to impressionable four-year olds. I resisted the temptation to launch into a rant at the teacher about equality, feminism and suffrage. A disgrace in a society that can demean women and lock them into traditional roles. Surely they should be teaching that a girl can do anything she puts her mind to, and that a boy does not have to fight if he doesn't want to.

But the mothers of most of the children in the preschool work outside the home, they are teachers or university lecturers. I am the exception there: I am a stay-at-home mother, I made my babies and rocked them. I do the cooking and the cleaning and keep house. You could place me in the 1950's and I wouldn't stand out. I never had a career exactly and hope to carve one out by working from home. So my example to my children, so far, upholds the stereotypes.

And in a country with compulsory military service, all the boys do have to fight.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Spring in the air

The mundane task of hanging out the clothes was a joy today. A slight tingle of warmth on my back and the chorus of birds trilling their hearts out brought spring to mind. There are buds on every tree in the garden and we even did some digging over the weekend.

I was back to my grandmother's kitchen in Dublin, a self-conscious eleven-year old, trying hard to put on a teenage air of disaffection. My grandmother would always break this down with a cup of milky coffee and a few slices of half-stale fruitcake. On this particular day she held a leaflet in her hand, a newsletter from the local supermarket. She shared this hilarious piece with everyone who came into the house...

'Spring is sprung, the grass is riz,
I wonder where the birdies is.
Oh look a bird upon the wing.
Ain't that a funny thing,
I thought the wing was on the bird!"
I picture her there surrounded by clutter, reading it out in her Roscommon accent, slow and deliberate, while my sister and I exchange bewildered glances. She never threw anything out, margarine cartons, letters, envelopes. I wonder if that leaflet was among the papers my mother threw out after she died many years later.