Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A visitor

Having not heard footsteps the voice surprised me with it's closeness. 'Komşu?' Neighbour.
When I appeared at the top of the steps the stooped old lady asked if I accepted visitors. She used her walking stick to climb the steps, leaning heavily on my arm, plastic bag swinging as she lurched upward. I guided her into the house, sat her on the couch and supported her with multiple cushions. Her stooped back was emphasised by a towel and several scarves around her neck, to protect from the breeze.

I offered coffee and biscuits and we chatted. She admired the house, congratulated us on the garden and explained that she was staying with her daughter in the houses behind us. She asked my name and tried to come up with a Turkish alternative. Mishearing my nationality she thought I was Dutch and launched into a story about her 17 years in Germany. She had to have a kidney operation and the nurses were kind, gentle and allowed her to pray before the operation. She ended with the moral that the heart counts, not religion, not nationality.
With her tight white curls and black-dyed eyebrows she looked a little strange, but her eyes were sharp and bright behind her bifocals. As I made more coffee she observed the room. When the children came in from playing she admired them both, but warned them against knocking the table.

She talked about being born in Erzincan, moving to Istanbul at four years of age and living in sight of the Jewish Graveyard, of her love for Edirnekapı. She nearly shed tears at her father's death at 48 years old, describing her parents loving marriage and her mother widowed at 32 years old. She talked and talked and all stories ended with the importance of the heart and of character. By now drinking sugary boiled water she proclaimed the greatness of Ataturk, his love for Turkey and its people, and of the civility of his divorce from Latife Hanim.
She asked me to fill her water bottle, put the remaining biscuits into her plastic carrier bag. She was polite, encouraged me to make the dinner while she sat there 'Don't think of me as a stranger'. Her daughter hadn't married and she asked if I could find a suitable husband for her. She told a story of a doctor who had been a suitor many years before.

Then she mentioned her husband, the tall man I would have seen him. 'Köpek, hayvan, şerefsiz.' Dog, animal, dishonourable. A triade of abuse followed; she didn't want to marry, her father gave her away. Her husband beat her father, still fights with her daughter; lazy, useless moron. May Allah curse him, may Allah punish him. He is older and healthier than she is, he doesn't have kidney, heart and back problems, he is waiting for her to die.

When the Handyman arrived home she recovered somewhat, echoing her desire to find a husband for her daughter 'Don't tell her though.' She rose awkwardly and I helped her as far as the gate, feeling her to be far older than her 68 years.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Troy and Hittites

I decided to take the kids downtown to Cimenlik Kalesi yesterday. The castle is at the narrowest point of the Dardanelles and has a lovely park outside with various remnants from WWI dotted about the grass. We went because there was an exhibition of sculptures by Erdinc Bakla on show. The Hittite portion was out on the grass. The pieces were mainly marble and bronze. I liked the one above most of all, but it seemed very familiar somehow.The fertility goddess seemed a little vulnerable standing in the centre of a military establishment without a stitch on her. The castle is run by the navy and even the tours are conducted with proper military precision.So that was the Hittites where were the Trojans hiding? They were in the exhibition hall and didn't make the impression they should have as pale marble against white walls didn't stand out.

This was the nicest piece, I really like the way he thinned the marble to make the soldiers inside the horse. The mane was made of stone, and made it all a little top heavy.Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, possibly trying to escape her hair! The Brown-eyed Girl got a great kick out of recognising the characters, having spent the last year doing a project on Troy in preschool. She took over the camera too.Homer, the man behind the legend. All the pieces compliment Bakla's piece on the Kordon next to the Trojan Horse (the one from the movie!). It shows the walls of Troy with the horse inside being stormed by the Greeks all contained in a glass pyramid. The opposing soldiers are all blocks of white marble against black/green serpentinite.
This was the most spectacular piece, the head and mane of the horse is glass (sorry the photo's not better). Little Boy Blue was wandering around having gotten a little bored. And as the Brown-eyed Girl and I were looking at this he made a run for me, missed my legs which is what he was grabbing for, slipped, knocked over the guide rope and slid to the base of the sculpture. Thankfully he didn't hit it but I had flashes of it falling and smashing into thousands of pieces over his head for the rest of the afternoon. Took icecreams for all of us on the seafront before I was calm again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A scone, a goat and the Conor Pass

Food has memory. Each mouthful transfers those memories directly to the sense centres in the brain, allowing the entire body to engage with the taste. As an expat I started to build these memories of Turkish food later in life, and initially looked on in amazement as my friends went wild for a dish that may not be appetizing to look at or eat. It happens in the opposite direction too.

Now there should be a picture of a scone here, but it being a hectic week I didn't have time to make any. So use your imagination and picture a golden brown bun studded with raisins, the firm crust masks a butter-yellow, springy inside. It smells of warmth and tastes of comfort. The mouths of anyone from Ireland or the British Isles should be watering.

Handing a plate of these to a Turk, smiling proudly at how close they resemble my mother's scones, there is a moment of anticipation before they take one. It's obviously not like baklava, the layers of buttered filo pastry and nuts, so soaked in syrup it melts in the mouth. It's not like simit, the teatime standard, a ring of twisted bread covered in sesame seeds. Perhaps it's a little more like poğaca, soft pastry enclosing cheese or olives. The closest would be kuru pasta; sweet or salty bite-size pastries. So they bite the dry scone and nod faint approval, though it's hard to know do they approve of the scone or the fact that I baked them myself.

I cut my scone in two, lather on butter generously, spread strawberry jam and then, to amazed stares, I top it all with a dollop of sugary whipped cream. As the butter melts I bite and am eleven or twelve years old again. We are in a hotel, sitting down to afternoon tea by a large bay window overlooking Dingle Bay in the southwest of Ireland.

We have been driving past corry lakes and green cliffs on a steep mountain road. In spite of the remoteness of the area there is traffic, slowed further by the narrowness of the road. We have made our way from Tralee, I think, past Castlegregory and Mount Brandon to climb over the Conor Pass. We stopped cautiously at the top of the pass looking south towards Dingle Bay and north to Mount Brandon. Our caution had nothing to do with the many cars and caravans constantly pulling over without regard for pedestrians. It was to do with goats. Years before we stopped here just as a herd of goats was roaming by. My mother decided to take a photo of myself and my sister beside one of the goats. We posed, two skinny-legged kids in shorts. And as the camera shutter clicked our goat friend turned and butted my little sister squarely on her hip. The scene is re-enacted with my little brother as the goat, much to my sister's disgust.

And finally my father asks are we hungry. He has been talking about these scones all day; it will be a big treat, the hotel is famous for them. And in spite of our pre-teen skepticism, he is right: they are the most delicious scones, served at just the right temperature with homemade strawberry jam and magnificent whipped cream. We devour the lot and possibly even order more.

I look up to find my Turkish guests with quizzical looks on their faces. I choose not to tell them my recollections, let them make their own memory of scones - eaten with cream by the foreigner with a wistful grin.


Here's Corinne, the next post in the World Blog Surf Day list. And the WBSD link list, just in case.

Thanks to Sher for arranging World Blog Surf Day and to Anastasia as offical Twitterer for WBSD. Anastasia Ashman (Thandelike) is an American cultural producer based in Instanbul, and is a creator of Expat Harem, the anthology by foreign women about modern Turkey. Her Tweetstream focuses on women, travel and history, and she shares resources for writers/travelers, expats, Turkophiles and culturati of all stripes.
Twitter Home Page: Thandelike

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Attention, please..

I had great plans to write a wonderful post today but after a night of interrupted sleep and a child with a rash to think about my mind is not fully focused. Instead I'll just get to the point!
Photo credit: NASA, public domain

I'll be participating in World Blog Surf Day on Saturday. Thirty-one expat bloggers will blog about 'Food', linking to each other in a chain. All organised by Sher. Thank you very much. Anastasia Ashman will be tweeting about the posts.
So check in here and you can travel around the world from your armchair!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Decisions, decisions...

I didn't plan my kids to match school timing so the Brown-eyed Girl and Little Boy Blue miss out. The Brown-eyed Girl misses starting primary school proper by being born in November. That's not a definite rule, if we met the teacher and the principal I'm sure they'd agree that she's ready to start (no, I'm not biased, she really is a smart girl!). In order to do that we have to choose a school though, and fast, as registration has already started.

When we moved here I was delighted to find there was a school on the doorstep. Alas it is a private school and the most expensive one in Canakkale at that! Looking up the Private Education General Directorate (Özel Öğretim Kurumları Genel Müdürlüğü) under the Raports (Raporlar) tab I found the list of private primary schools for the whole country. By going to the Primary Education General Directorate (İlköğretim Genel Müdürlüğü) I searched by state and county to get a list of primary schools for the county. So narrowing down the list by location leaves me still with a long list. And the best way to judge each school is by visiting them one by one.

This could be avoided as a new system has just come into effect where based on address, a school will be assigned for your child. However we live outside town, and don't intend to send the kids to the village school. There could be debate about which village school would count as local as we don't live within village limits, so our post goes to one village, we vote in another, and the local public health clinic is in yet another village.

In the face of so many choices we'll probably just put off making a decision! Currently she's in the Children's House (Cocuklar Evi), the creche/preschool in the university. The facilities are good, she loves her teachers, and gets on well with her classmates (see if you can spot her in the pictures on the website). Next year they'll work on reading and writing, and Little Boy Blue will join the 3/4 class. With the two of them occupied, it will leave me time to traipse around every school in the area...