The Artist’s Ramble

Who has not been enthralled by textures and surfaces? From an airplane window, we marvel at the dendritic patterns of streams and rivers forming wrinkled hills, great alluvial fans streaming from mountain into desert, the rolling rhythm of basin and range, and the strange black mass rising from the ochre-and calcium-rich wastelands somewhere in the arid west. At the edge of the ocean, we are drawn to the time-worn cracks in a basalt boulder, those ephemeral waves of sand and cloud, the trickles and swirls of reflective water. On a deserted street, the decrepit walls of the old buildings seduce us: bony wood meets rusted bolts meet veiny artifacts of tile and the flaking mortar beneath. We run our hands over bone and bark, stucco and oxidized steel, absorbing the changes from smooth concave to rough edge. We bear witness to the great power of wind, water, heat, and time, in the transformation of what appears immutably solid.
What fun then, to discover the tactile pleasure of texture-making, a return to the mud.  The surfaces begin with board, are layered with gesso and other media, then eroded through scraping and sanding. There’s lots of play and exploration, intention and random revelation.  Certain motifs repeat: circles, bony fans, drifts, knots and puddles.  Others just show up.  The resulting surfaces provide intriguing possibilities for abstract and figurative painting.
Sometimes a painting works, sometimes not.  I have taken a destructive hand to a few unsuccessful pieces, exposing new “bones” and patterns.  some suggested repainting, others demanded to be left alone, to reveal what lies beneath.

A day in the kitchen

   Rose Apricot Conserves

I found these apricots first at the Monterey Market last Friday. They were  purple-black on the outside, with a slight haze of fuzz that gave them a silvery sheen. Super ripe, so I knew it was cooking time. At 98 cents a pound I could not go wrong. Except I didn’t buy enough, and they were all gone the next day, with no hope of more. Cooled my heels over the weekend, researching the variety. They have a short season, mid-July to mid-August, perhaps, and maybe they are the same as Black Velvet apricots, or you might find them as pluots or apriums. Like their skins, the naming gets a little fuzzy.  Apriums and Pluots are distinct crossbreeds of fruit, incase you needed to know (and you can do your own research, thank you).
Lucky for me, the Berkeley Bowl yielded a good selection on Monday of what they called Rose Aprium/Pluots (I didn’t feel the need to explain the difference-if you’ve ever been there, you know how important it is to keep moving-plus I was playing Russian Parking Roulette with only 5 minutes on my tag). Snagged three bags of the ripest I could find, got out with no wait and no parking ticket!
I worked with 12 pounds of them, but here is the recipe for
4 lbs /1.85Kg (16-17 pcs of fruit) very ripe and dark Rose Apricots (pluots/apriums, whatever…)
1 tsp/ 5gr ground ginger
Sugar to taste(add later)
9×13 or two 9×9  glass or ceramic baking dish
enough canning jars to hold 4 cups of cooked fruit (WHAT? yes, it really cooks down)
Large spoon or ladle
Big pot for sterilizing jars and reprocessing if needed
tongs for lifting jars out of really hot water
Wide-mouth funnel (check out my nifty cut-off plastic half-gallon top)


Preheat oven to 350F (177C)
Wash the fruit, remove any lurking stems, and remove the pits. This most easily done with the fruit in the pan, as the juices don’t get all over the counter.  Of course, then there’s more juice to bake off, so you choose. (Put pits aside in a small saucepan if there’s lots of pulp on them, to make some yummy fruity sauce*) As you are pitting, you can chop the fruit up as small as you like (10 mins or so). This will make it less gloppy when you are using it later. Stir in the ginger.

uncooked, ready to roast
When the oven is ready, stick the pan on a rack in the center of the oven, uncovered. Check every 20 mins, stirring in anything that looks like it is getting too browned,until the skins have turned everything a gorgeous deep rose color. The consistency should be thick like cooked rhubarb. Smaller pans will cook the fruit down faster, I believe. My large pans needed over 100 minutes!  One way to reduce the carbon footprint is to put this in with another roasting item, be it animal or vegetable. A higher temp will also reduce the time, but will require more frequent checking. 
This gives you plenty of time to cook the pits* and prepare your canning supplies, following the directions on the box of jars, or those in the Joy of Cooking Jellies and Preserves section, or your favorite method. Have everything ready when you take the fruit out.
partially cooked 

When the fruit has reached the right consistency and color, remove the pan from the oven (if using two pans, keep one in the oven to keep the fruit hot). Taste the molten mixture, and add a little sugar if you need, maybe 2 teaspoons for the whole batch. Spoon the fruit into a jar up to 1/4 “, wipe the edges if needed, place a moisture-free lid on top, move to a cooling rack, repeat until fruit is all gone. Clean those pans while you wait (anxiously) for that satisfying ‘snap’ that tells you the jars have sealed properly. Twist the dried bands on the jars to fingertip tightness, label with contents & date, brag, and give some away.

uh-oh, these lids did not seal properly (flex lid still ‘up’).  Store these jars in the fridge, or re-process as follows:
Canning pot or Big pot to hold your jars with enough room to cover with 1-2″ water
Towels, if you don’t have a canning pot with a rack
unsealed jars, with bands on
Arrange towels on the bottom of the pot, and along the sides, placing the jars in the folds, so they won’t touch each other during reprocessing. Tuck in any remaining towel to snug everything up.
Pour enough water over the jars to cover 1-2″.
Place lid on pot, bring water to a gentle boil. Let boil for 10 mins, turn off heat, let jars sit another 5 mins, remove to a ooling rack, and allow to cool and reseal in next 12 hours. Cross your fingers. If they don’t seal, its refrigerator time!

Phew, re-processing worked!
Final results. 12.5 pounds of fruit yielded 11.5 cups of conserves 14 oz of pits. As is often the case, I overdid it. Conventional wisdom suggests working in smaller batches.
*The Pits
Put pulpy pits in a small saucepan, with some water, a little sugar, the juice of half a lemon, and the zest thereof. Cook for 5-10 mins, let cool. Squish the pits between your fingers to remove any pulp that you can, and discard the pits. Add a splash of water and cook a little longer if you believe in the germ theory of disease. Cool and store in the fridge.

Yellow sauce from the pits, red from the whole fruit. 

 It is YUM!

Back in the swing

A few days of wistful, with weather to match-grey and foggy. Our internal clocks have adjusted, as have our appetites. Regular routines, like laundry and shopping, and work have assumed their place.
The other day, however, I opened the spice bags, added a touch of Aleppo pepper to the lamb/rice meatballs, and then I removed the skins from the cooked garbanzos, to make a velvety humus.  All this while I was listening to a randomized mix of the CDs from Turkey, some of which Dore bought for us, all of it great.

I finally finished Birds without wings by Louis de Bernieres, which left me with an ache in my heart for the tragedy of the “population exchange”, and the inevitability of suffering by the many at the hands of the few stupid architects of war.

Now I am reading Barbara Nadel’s River of the dead, a mystery that takes place in Istanbul and Mardin.   Not the best read, but I’m hooked.

Next on the list: Istanbul passage by Joseph Kano, and reread Istanbul noir, a collection of modern short stories edited by Mustafa Ziyalan and Amy Spangler.

In the garden: 5 huge cucumbers (3.5 inches in diameter), and a zucchini easily three feet long.  The peppers are ripe and delicious. The eggplant has no fruit but insists on producing big beautiful purple flowers.

I opened a 3-lira box of  Turkish delight, and got what I paid for: 6 small pieces!

The last morning

October 10

This morning, another beautiful day dawns, clear and crisp. The weather has definitely turned. Crowded on the rooftop, we say our farewells to the city we all swear we shall revisit. The sun winks on the water, polishes the gold of the Sultanahmet Mosque, silhouettes the Galata Tower, as, off in the distance, the ships wait to channel up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea.

There’s nothing like an airport to seal memorable experiences into a separate compartment.  Ataturk International is comfortable and airy enough, but you could be anywhere. The trip home was long and uneventful, except for the mad dash in Frankfurt, from wherever the Istanbul flight landed to terminal Z, located at the end of a long and circuitous route through terminals A, B,C, and D.

Eleven or so hours later, we peeled out of our seats and waited in a very long line at US customs.
Goodbye & goodnight.

Istanbul #2- the last days

October 4-9, Istanbul

Friday night was the most riotous of the entire tour.  Nineteen of us made our way to Taksim Square, the heart of Istanbul hipness and Youth Central.  Among the 18 million people living in the metropolis, it seemed like a million of them were there that night, streaming along the pedestrian spine of the hill.  Big, brightly lit windows full of western-brand global clothing, (perhaps manufactured in Turkey, one can at least hope), in fancily renovated old buildings, alongside blingy watch stores and sweet shops, bejeweled with mounds of lokum (Turkish delight), helvah, walnuts coated with syrup, pistachio-laden baklava, and more more more.

Weaving through the crowds and streets we arrive at Feraye, a supper club up a spiral flight of iron stairs, and into a room jammed with music and people.  A gypsy Roma band is playing at full tilt, and our party is seated right in front. This makes conversation impossible, so the best thing to do is groove and watch.  At the next two long tables of mostly young people, the conversation is lively, occasionally interrupted by spontaneous bursts of singing along to the chorus of a recognized tune.  They get up to dance together, dances maybe learned at school, maybe YouTube.  It turns out it is a going-away party for a colleague, a woman slightly older than the 20somethings, and beloved by all.  The raki is flowing.  Waiters are doing their own dance among the tightly packed tables, bringing us olives, and bread, and humus, and fava bean paste, and a cucumber tomato salad, followed by crispy sardines, and finally our entrees.

The clarinetist, two doumbek players, saxophonist, and kunanist all appear related; they drive the place crazy.  We dance, we stop, we listen, they play, and all is repeated until 1 am, and then, too energized for bed, we walk the 3k or so home, down Ishtiklal, still seething with people, to the Galata bridge, still lined with fishermen, up the sleeping tram tracks, with cafes open and lively, to Sultanahmet, where there are still folks out, strolling and selling.

Staggering to a breakfast of coffee, simit (a twisted soft bagel but better, coated in sesame seeds), feta, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, yogurt, dried fruit, and maybe a little pastry or two, we review the trip to the Chora Church, which we will do with a portion of the tour group. Traveling smaller is a relief, and it proves good for the others going to Galata as well, as their guide has more time for their questions and can accommodate them in his home for a delicious meal.

We head out in taxis to visit the 11th century church, home to some of the most exquisite Byzantine mosaics,  no small number of them depicting the life of Mary, mother of Jesus (according to the 2nd century Apocryphal Gospel of St. James).  Mary’s parents, so the story goes, were old and childless, until visited by an angel, who told them their barren days were over and they were in for Someone Special (a preview of What Was to Come). Our earnest guide Serdan (hired on the spot by the quick-thinking and thoughtful Frish) enhanced our experience with his focus and energy.



The mosaics and frescoes of Chora were added in the early 14th century, by Theodore Metochites, theologian, philosopher and official in the Byzantine government. An interesting observation: the mosaics have brilliant gold or yellow backgrounds, and are in the worshipping parts of the church.  The frescoes are in the parecclesion, or place of burial, and have a black background. They stand out against it. The most prominent fresco shows Christ pulling Adam and Eve out of their tombs, an act that allows them to be eligible for the Judgement Day. The message is clear: so too will the residents of the parecclesion, currently occupying their own underworld, be brought to Divine judgement.

Fortunately for the world, when the church was converted to a mosque, the mosaics were not destroyed, but preserved with a coat of plaster. Imagine the revelation when these were uncovered!

Lunch at Asitane was overrated and pricey, but pleasant nonetheless, in the shaded patio, sampling “Ottoman cuisine”: some of it tasty, but nothing mindblowing.  The pomegranate syrup drink, however, and the lemonade, were refreshing and distinctive.

We wanted to get to the Asian side early, so we decided to walk to the Golden Horn and catch cabs to the ferry. As elected map-reader, I charted a course down the hill, in the hopes of sighting a synagogue on the map (note-do some research beforehand, the Ahrida Synagogue is quite prominent, we were a street off).  That not found, we meandered through the Balat, an old Jewish neighborhood vibrant with people and small shops, and buildings in various states of decay, disrepair, and remodeling. Very friendly people, lots of children running about, through the streets, into the alleys, and up hidden staircases.

Scenes of Balat

Established by Greek Jews in Byzantine times, Balat became the home to Sephardic Jews following their expulsion from Spain, then Armenians, and now is largely working class. It may also be doomed by land grabbers and redevelopers attempting to tear it down and rebuild for a wealthier clientele.  If required to rebuild in the historical style, will we see a Disneyfied Balat in the future? Yuck.  Signs put up by the CHP, The Republican People’s Party (Kemalist, center-left opposition party), in Turkish, were perhaps announcing an event we witnessed later, or perhaps decrying the  landgrab, or maybe none of the above.

Mad cab ride to Eminonu, where the afternoon rush hours had begun.  Crushes of people through the Galata Bridge underpass, to the Kadikoy ferry, and there was Dore, our tour leader, waiting for the others.  We all made it on the ferry except Bob, who had his own adventure, eventually meeting us at Gitar Cafe. What a wonderful way to get home, the ferry.  I suppose a daily routine of it might get to be just that, but I couldn’t help but feel the heat and pulse of the city sweep off us as we crossed the cool waters of the Bosphorus.

Disembarking, we catch a small but noisy demonstration with CHP banners -“no war!” is communicated very clearly. We cheer them on.

Another adventure on the Asian side,  using incorrect Google map info on iPhones instead of memory to get to Gitar Cafe.  So instead of going through the market of fresh fish, piles of fruits and vegetables, nuts, spices, and breads, all displayed with vibrance and hawked voluminously, we wound around the sterile electronics section, then into mostly deserted streets with shuttered modern buildings, to the place where Gitar used to be but was no longer. This gave us the opportunity to recalculate/redirect ourselves and discover the Street of Everything Bridal. Building after building, shop after shop: wedding dresses, formalwear, watches, jewelry.  It makes for a spectacle, as well as good sense.  Why, in a city such as this, wouldn’t you put all of this together?

Across the busy boulevard, ducking unto a side street, up a little hill, and we got to Gitar Cafe the back way, settling down to some tasty food and drinks at the sidewalk Biper Cafe.  Very good french fries, a vegetable crepe, and then upstairs for the Sumru and Cenk concert at Gitar, a tangential and traditional mix. While Dore schmoozed afterwards with his friends the artists, we impatient ones headed to the ferry, enjoying the warm clear evening. The boat ride back was sublime.   Tram and to bed.

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Sunday and Topkapi Palace. Jihan our guide again, knowledgeable and up the task of our insatiable inquisitiveness. We listened and followed more, through gates and gardens, pavillions and exhibitions, the harem, the sultans’ suites, audience rooms,  the Hall of Justice.  Six hours later, too tired to view the golden throne, we stumble to a cafe for sustenance. In a few hours we will have our last dinner as the entire group, where we will share our appreciations of one another.  We are also planning a poem for Dore, which requires some mad composition on the part of a few of us.

Topkapi Palace, the first gate and courtyard

Hall of Justice
Jihan the Patient

Tiles in Topkapi

Sublime dome and courtyard

Back to Galata, through some dark alleys, into Biblioteka, a small community center, where we are fed a yum vegetarian meal by a couple of young women, friends of Dore’s. The after dinner talk is lively, and the appreciations bring a glow of positivity to the trip.  Some of us head back to the hotel, while others follow Dore to a club, where the music is too loud to be enjoyed, so we all decide to retreat to the hotel.  The usual thumb-twiddling confusion as we wait for a van, but all works out in the end.

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Monday morning, we headed for the Basilica Cistern, a vast underground water reservoir built in Byzantine times, to hold water for the city. It is dimly but dramatically lit, with an aura of mystery and spirituality, assisted by the faint echoing music. All is hushed, as hundreds of people tread the elevated walkways, looking up and out at the  tall marble columns laid out in a 12 by 28 grid (the lunar calendar?), and below at the water, not very deep, but inhabited by large fish swimming under the lights. Sacred space.

Returning to the surface, Larry, Clare, and I head towards the Rustem Pasha mosque, by way of side streets that lead us into the garment district. First the underwear section, shops with windows full of bras and panties, briefs and boxers, then the socks and tights, then the suits, dresses, skirts and coats. In the latter, there is a range of styles for women in this Muslim country, from short jaunty blazers to full-length button downs, both  tailored and loose. Full religious covers were not in the windows. People were buying large bales and bags of goods, hauling them off on dollys, to sell in their own stores, or wherever.

This meandering brought us right into the old building of the Spice Bazaar, which we traversed without stopping too much.  Spice is relative, as it also included nuts, jewelry, souvenirs, scarves, etc.  Perhaps we missed the larger part, just as well, since too much viewing can weary the mind. Had coffee in a corner cafe (see photo), then popped out onto a busy street (is there any other kind in Istanbul?), and just by chance found a side entrance to the Rustem Pasha Mosque, which is one flight up from the street. The plaza area around the mosque is small and quieted by the surrounding greenery.  With just 15 minutes until the midday prayer, we slipped in to enjoy this little jewel, another sanctuary of perfect proportions and blue tile wash.

Our tea clinic
Wooden eiling in the Rustem Pasha

Arches and domes


On to the street, searching for lunch, finally taken on the lower deck of the Galata Bridge, enjoying fried fish sandwiches and french fries, in view of the fried fish sandwich boats, rocking drunkenly in the wakes of tour boats on the Golden Horn.

Fish sandwich boats

Clare savors the view-was that a lemon she just ate?

Eminonu blues

Back across the bridge to the studio of world renown percussionist Okay (ohk-high) Temiz, but first a little more confusion about where to meet up with the rest of the group-Kadikoy ferry building or Katakoy ferry landing? Meet at Galata tower instead, as it begins to look very rainy.  Finally duck into the cavernous studio of Mr. Temiz, who proceeds to amaze and regale us with his collection and then lead us in a drumming workshop, which was lots of fun, and another opportunity to unify the group.

The Tibetan water bowl
Cats on Galata Hill

By now we are hungry, and running tight to the schedule for dinner and our club concert, so it’s a little puzzling, but not really, when our fearless leader ducks into a CD store to fulfill his desire/duty to acquire more music for people in the group. Then we are  actually late for dinner, which is delicious, but must be eaten post haste before we haul off yet again for the babylon club, for the electronica of Werner Hasler and the oud playing and poetic recitations of Kamilyah Jubran. Their collaborative compositions were cutting edge, and this was the first time they had appeared in Istanbul. An adoring audience approved. Our group had mixed reactions, and once again, many headed to the tram, followed swiftly by Dore. And. off. to. bed. Iyi gejeler.

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Today is our last full day in Istanbul.  Some are going to an instrument maker nearby, while others will take free time, and the rest of us are going to the Archeology Museum, established by Osman Hamdi Bey, an artist, archeologist and intellectual of the late 19th-early 20th century, who did not want the antiquities of the Ottoman Empire to end up in the British Museum or the Louvre. The museum is housed in three buildings on the Topkapi Palace grounds. We start with the antiquities, and it is amazing to realize the thousands of years of civilizations that are layered in Turkey and what was the Ottoman empire. There are Hittite tablets with minuscule cuneiform writing: the earliest love poem, the treaty of Kadesh between the Egyptians and the Hittites promising peace, mutual support and extradition rights “forever” (I wonder). There are wonderful pots of irregular shape, and magnificent vases that inspired ceramic shapes in Art Nouveau, huge tablets of stone twelve feet high, carved with monsters, angels, and kings.  Tiny fertility statues and prosaic toys of household items. Dolls’ legs of clay, bronze lamps, cylindrical seals. It is apparent that everything we could think of expressing artistically has been done thousands of years ago, and for thousands of years thereafter.  So it’s not about trying to create something new; perhaps it is realizing how connected we are as a species. Several obsessions over the millennia: death and beauty, and winged creatures. Do these latter represent the soul, or the connection between the divine and the earthly? Don’t we all wish we could fly?

For lunch, a teras cafe, offering mediocre food and a beautiful view of the Sea of Marmara, sparkling in the clear air, with views to the Princes Islands and beyond.  Seducing us to return.

Returned from an afternoon of shopping just in time to get ready for our last evening. We boarded a bus, which made its way through torturous rush hour traffic to the Eyup district outside the walls, for a special  meal and concert at the sacred home of the Erdemsel brothers, Sinan and Omer Faruz, Sufi musicians and descendants of Sheik Ibrahim Ummi Sinan, 16th century Sufi master.  This was a most honored occasion, as we were invited into their ancestral compound, fed a sumptuous meal of lentil soup, salads, chicken, bulgur, vegetables, creamy mashed potatoes, and semolina helvah for dessert. But the truly wonderful part of this was the singing and playing of the sacred music they have sung since they were children, and which their own children are now learning. It was serene and profound. As we left, Sinan showed us the tomb of the Sheik Ummi Sinan, his succeeding sheiks, and their wives. This is viewable through a window on the street. There is no current sheik; it is not a matter of direct succession, it is a spiritual succession, according to Sinan.

We returned quickly on quiet streets, and set off to find last-minute gifts of Turkish delight and perhaps more. The evening was fresh and, of course, there were people everywhere. On our way back to the hotel, laden with lokum, here was another tomb, visible through quite a large window, prime real estate in Sultanahmet, devoted to the sacred.


October 3

On the plane from Izmir to Mardin, where temperatures promise to be in the 90’s, and dry.  The flight instructional video was very effective, as it featured child actors in all parts, including pilot.  Hysterical (although we Americans were the only ones laughing), with some subtexts: children are the future, children are really in charge, nobody’s in charge, if you love your children you will follow these instructions, children are cute when put in adult roles, we might as well be flying with this kid as the pilot, for all the control we have in these matters (inshallah). The woman next to me prayed as we took off.  I’ll go with that insurance.

Airplane iPad chat with my neighbor
– kizim mardinde okulda ingilizce ogretmeni (I teach English to girls in Mardin-hmmm)
– ben isim kutuphanede. I work in a library. (I work in a library)
-o isir restaurantde. (He works in a restaurant, referring to the konked-out Larry)
-benim adim asiye  tanistigima memnun oldum  (My name is Ayse, it is a pleasure to meet you
-benim adim paysi patience (my name is Paci, spelled in Turkish pronunciation, then I tried explain patience, probably lost in translation)
– mardinde kalacakmisiniz (you can sleep in Mardin-what was she trying to tell me?))

-sizin ogrencilar nasil yillp? (trying to ask how old her students are)
 8 yillik? 10? (they are 10 years old)
– ogrenmek Turkce cok is zor. (to learn Turkish is hard)
Bu kitap butun kelimelar ir yok lazi. (this book doesn’t have all of the words I need)

Time to buckle up, approaching Mardin.

Oh my, Mardin. Ancient town on the side of a mountain, trading place on the Silk Road, confluence of multiple cultures: Assyrian, Aramaic, Jewish, Muslim, Kurdish and more.  In recent history, the area of contention between the PKK and the Turkish  government, but it survived. Today it appears to be thriving, with lots of shops in a very busy bazaar.  The surrounding mountains are rocky and arid; below us, almost directly, stretches the Mesopotamian plain, flat and fertile into the hazy distance. Syria is about 17 miles away, but we face no danger.  About 240 kilometeres away, the Turkish government has bombed Syria in retaliation for a  strike against Turkey.  Whether this is a stirring up of Kurdish/Turkish antagonism I do not know: bilmiyorum.   Extracting this information is more than I care to do.  We are safe.  Turkey may be on the brink, however.

Looking out at the Mesopotamian Plain
from the top level of our hotel

Umu Camii

Sahmeran, the Snake Goddess
Stairs to the next level
Street repair

The town is built of a soft sandy-colored limestone, that lends itself beautifully to stonework.  Everywhere there is carving: doorways, windows, rooflines, wall facades.
The main street is undergoing major infrastructural renovation, and is all torn up.  They are laying new cobbles and curbs and drain pipes, all the while business is being conducted in the shops, and men delivering trays of teas, among the piles of sand and stone and dust.

We wandered through the bazaar, inspecting the mundane goods, foods, and spices. Little stores tucked under eaves, into corners, up and down stairs. Bought magenta underpants, two notebooks, some rustic wooden spoons, and various spices.  I’m going to see if painting with henna works.

a forge

Dried eggplant and peppers for dolmas

Dried okra

Henna in bulk

Our lunch

After a refreshing pomegranate and orange juice, Clare, Kathy, Larry, Lois & I found our way to Cercis, a lovely restaurant in an old Syrian home. The food was awesome, different from the fare we’ve been eating.  The five of us split a meze platter of scoops of hummus, a chickpea yogurt sumac dip, a carrot spread, smoked eggplant, a cheese yogurt dip, and a few others, follwed by a pomegranate salad, and a walnut bulgur salad, stuffed stewed onions, and desserts of baked pekmez  and a semolina halvah, both with chocolate ice cream.  It was yum.  Then turkish coffee was served in covered dishes sitting on velvet rings, giving the impression of silver turbans. Then back to the hotel for a siesta.

Tonight we will wander more, eat more, pack up. Tomorrow we fly from Diyabikir to Istanbul.

Afyon, thermal waters, Sirince

September 30

From Afyon, a three hour bus ride to Pamukkale, where some went to bathe in the medicinal waters, and others went to view the ruins of Hierapolis.  The waters were warm and soothing.  One can see why the site was chosen by the Greeks: thermal baths, atop a mountain of brillant white calcium travertine deposits.

Another three hour ride, arriving in Sirince at 10 or so, after climbing a precipitous hill. Dinner within earshot of a town celebration, with what sounded like a traditional band. The celebration was for a circumsion (6-10 yr old),  and the band consisted of a drummer and a singer playing a keyboard.  Lots of dancing and good vibes.

October 2

Sirince was formerly an all-Greek town. After the Greek population was removed, Turks who had lived historically in Salonika moved in.  So in a sense, these folks kept a part of the culture of the departing population alive.  They still make wine, though from fruits, not grapes, they grow olives and raise goats, and there is lots of honey.

Our cottage

An old spinning wheel

Nisanyan room


We are staying in what might best be described as a paradise- the Nisanyan hotel.
( It overlooks the town and a valley, where olive trees grow on steep hillsides, and bees swarm the abundant flowers. Donkeys with beaded necklaces bray, dogs have their say, and the muezzin’s call echoes in the distance.  Yesterday,  we went to Ephesus, an amazing site with layers of cultural richness and history.  Again, a tribute to human ingenuity and devotion to beauty. The evidence of daily life, like game boards carved into marble  lining the main drag, serves as a reminder of how communal we are, and of how some things don’t change. The library was built with an insulating wall, protecting the 12,000 scrolls from the ravages of heat & moisture.


Water delivery system, Ephesus

An arena for a few thousand

The main drag, Ephesus

marble detail

Mosaic floors


The Library

The Library ceiling

Today is a day of rest for me, as I was felled with a stomach bug yesterday. Larry went off with the group to the Aegean Sea, which I hope will bring great reviews. Last night we sat outside on our porch, watching lightning and listening to the thunder.

Balloons, Konya and more

September 29

An early rise for the balloon ride. Great experience to see the landscape from that perspective, and to see the extent of settlement in the rocks. Larry, who ordinarily does not like heights, enjoyed himself thoroughly.

Larry, intrepid

Dore Stein

Peppers drying

Goreme Valley


“Love Valley”
Larry on terra firma

Konya: a visit to the Tomb of Rumi’s teacher Shemsi Tabrezi, on Hilary’s recommendation. A small modest mosque, with some at prayer, and others viewing the tomb.  Outside, a quiet shady park, with people sitting on the grass.  Larry, Cecile, and I ate at a local pide restaurant, with lots of “lost in translation”, and terrific results. Then on to the Mevlana Museum, site of Rumi’s tomb, a place of pilgrimage for thousands. Extremely crowded, and while there were some beautiful things to see, the power of the place is the meaning it has for those who believe.

Shemsi Tabrezi Camii

Outside Shemsi Tabrezi Camii

Mevlana Museum, the fluted turquoise spire

Long ride to Afyon, a modern industrial city, center of legal opium production. Prosperous.  Of note is the Seljuk minaret and the stone hamam, and this high school, whose proportions seemed perfect. I was unable to communicate with the man who came to the door, to find out when it was built (further research indicates 19th century). Not much English spoken in Afyon.

Larry and the hamam
Imaret Camii Seljuk minaret in Afyon
Afyon Lisesi

Lisesi entrance

Off to Cappadocia

Sept 26
Way early morning departure for the airport on the Asian side.  A swift ride through the streets normally clogged with traffic, over the Bosphorus bridge, past the acres of new housing and modern buildings.  A couple of hours in the airport, a short plane ride over dry and wrinkly terrain, and we arrived in Kayseri, central Anatolia. The heat and the dust strike first. There is lots of industry in Kayseri, in Turkey in general, and much of it seems to be construction related: rock quarries, concrete blocks. With our host Mehmet, we made our way to Goreme, Cappadocia, to stay in his Sultan Suites Hotel, atop a hill. Rooms restored from old cave houses, beautifully appointed.

These were once homes

Old homes, new hotel

Sultan Suites hotel

An abandoned Greek Orthodox church

Mustafa and members of the group

All around us, more construction, or the remains of former cave houses, rectangular holes in the rock.  The abandoned houses often have been converted to pigeon nesting places, with the purpose of collecting their poo, to fertilize the grape vines.  The grapes are used for raisins, and for making pekmez, a syrup made from grapes, water, sugar, and sand, cooked down and strained. Quite wonderful.  On our way to our next day’s activity, Mustafa our guide had us stop quickly when he saw some women making pekmez.  They invited us to participate, and we explored their cave cellar. Everyone is so gracious and open: that is the Turkish way.

Pekmez in the making

Skimming the pekmez

Cecile and hostess

House interior

a garden

the crushing place
into the cellar

and further down…


Mustafa is a wealth knowledge and a great guide. We learned about the Greek/Turkish “population exchange” of 1923, which removed 1.2 million Greek Christians from their homes of hundreds of years, leaving none behind, and brought in 400,000 Turks from Greece. “Population exchange”makes it sound like a transaction, not an evacuation/removal/relocation/exodus. Mustafa was fairly doctrinal about the Armenian “massacre”, and absolute in his opinion about the Turkish approach to the Kurdish “terrorists”.  Dore tried to argue a certain point, but Mustafa was hardline.  An admirer of Ataturk, he is opposed to the current government, which he feels is two faced: catering to the islamists, and turning away from the west socially, while still making deals militarily.

Two concerts: a Mevleni Whirling Dervish ceremony, and a balama player, who played in a beautifully restored cave.  Very difficult to stay awake, as we had gone to the underground city of Kaymakli and the beautiful Ihlara Valley.  The city was dug into the rock, eight storeys down, over a few hundred years. Why? To avoid the Mongol invaders, who would pass through now and again. These cities could house and support 30,000 people for three months at a time! Truly amazing work.  The valley was green, with a river running through it. After a wonderful trout lunch, we powerwalked up the valley. Young boys were in the pistachio trees, shaking them down-sweet and bright green. Too bad we had no more time.  That is the constant refrain. Not enough time!

Kaymakli-the stables

Larry demonstrates the ventilation system

In the kitchens, several storeys below

spices and  nuts
Traffic jam!

Ihlara Valley from above

River-side dining

On the river dining, Clare and Derek

Sharon and Beni

Kathy and Larry

the view from below

flowing water, a luxury

the sound alone is cooling

the sun on the rocks above, the water below

Hagia Sophia, Ciya, Gitar Cafe

September 25

Tour of the Hagia Sophia, with a superb guide, Jihan (phonetic spelling used here). We are in a group that likes to ask questions, so a three and half hour tour stretched to around five. The inside of the building is awesome, and both architecturally innovative and inspirational in its time. Byzantine wonder. What impressed me, among many things: when Constantinople was conquered by Mehmet II in 1453, he did not have the mosaics in the Hagia Sophia destroyed.  Instead they were plastered over, but a record was kept of what was where. In the the late nineteenth century, during a remodeling, the mosaics were uncovered using this 400 year old record, recovered, and finally uncovered when the building became a museum in the 1930’s.

Just made it onto a packed ferry to the Asian side, winding through a busy market scene, dinner  at Ciya, food pretty good, conversation better, and a house concert at Gitar Cafe, with Goksel Batagir, a classical Kanunist (zither), and his fantastic band. This concert was soulful and beautiful. The Gitar Cafe is upstairs, in an apartment much like ones in San Francisco victorians: high ceilings, bay windows, long corridors.

Returning to Sultanahmet exposed some of the difficulties of traveling with a group of 19.  Stop and go, counting heads, repeated instructions. I personally felt that we should have crossed the street at the lights, especially at night, when we are less visible.  No casualties. Crossing the water at night, magical. Funny conversations about children, grandchildren: forging new friendships.