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.

Bosphorus Cruise

September 24

Bosporus Cruise: we all trooped down to the ferry at Eminonu, embarking for the hour and a half cruise up the Bosporus, almost to the Black Sea. The water is a beautiful deep bluegreen, turquoise when churned by a propeller. Our ferry was loaded up with tourists from all parts, eager to take pictures at all points of interest.  This led to a certain amount of tipping when we passed the Dolmabahce Palace, a princess of a summer house, white and frilly and elegant, right along the water.  All along the coast, villas of enormous value if not size; it is not hard to see that they would go for millions of dollars.

Dolmabahce (Stuffed Garden) Palace

Beni,  Frish and the beautiful Bosphorus

Bosphorus Bridge

Villa on the Bosphorus

We passed the Rumeli Hisari, an old fortress crucial in the conquest of Constantinople in 1453; in two months, Mehmet II’s army rebuilt it, thus controlling the traffic up the Bosporus (the Ottomans already controlled the Asian side and its corresponding fortress). The Bosporus is relatively narrow, with steep wooded slopes.

Rumeli Hisari

We stopped but did not disembark, at villages along the water, exchanging passengers, while folks sitting at cafes enjoyed the same beautiful day.  At our destination, Yoros Kalesi, another fort, this one in ruins, we proceeded up the hill. Most walked, but Deene and I took a cab; I had a freak fall just as we got on the ferry, and whacked my knee, and did not want to risk further injury.  The others plodded up a steep road to reach our goal. But first, lunch, at the fish restaurant perched on the side of the hill. Delicious fish and a spectacular view.

Oops, no time for the ruin, back down the hill, to catch the ferry and cruise back down.  On the way, all kinds of ships heading to the Black Sea passed us.

Dinner with the 8 at a hip place in Galata, followed by our first concert at a jazz club near the tower. Percussionist Yinon Muallem, the Israeli cultural attache to Istanbul, and his fusion ensemble: ud, guitar, basss, ney and other woodwinds, and vocals. Tangential Fusion, and very good. Veronica, Larry and I enjoyed it in other states of consciousness.

Istanbul day 2

September 23, 2012

Our second morning in Istanbul heralds another warm day.  The sky is clear, with smog and haze on the horizon; a soft breeze stirs, lifting the heat.  From the small rooftop of the Spina, the view is unrivaled. To the east,  the Bosphorus sparkles, the large boats steaming by, the smaller ones performing some kind of choreography in tight formation. Fishing boats? Water taxis?

Moving South, beyond other rooftop gardens, hints the Sea of Marmara, with an armada of trade ships facing into the Bosphorus, waiting to proceed perhaps to the Black Sea, or into the Port of Istanbul.  What are they carrying? Not food, for Turkey is proud of the fact that no foodstuffs need importing. Well, bananas and other non-essentials, I imagine, do get brought in.  Istanbul, we were told by our Tunisian-born taxi driver in Berkeley, is the place many North Africans go to buy things; the quality is higher, the selection better. Yesterday, while in Galata, we saw the windows full of hip, American brands for the wealthy youth of the city: Nike, Timberland, etc.

To the immediate South, the stunning presence of the Blue Mosque arrests the eye, a massive grey structure with its multiple domes and six minarets, each topped with a golden spire, now glowing in the sun.  I look forward experiencing the magnificence of its inner space and light, in contrast to its exterior bulk. The call to prayer from this is singularly unpleasant, unfortunately: very loud, tinny amplification. This  morning at five, or whenever dawn appeared, the sound blasted me into consciousness, with a splitting headache.

To the immediate North, facing the the Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), across a park, sits the Hagia Sophia, originally finished in 537 CE (!!!) in the Byzantine era.
Right below our hotel, on the other side of a parking lot, sits a squat building with the traditional structure of a medresse: u-shaped, 12 small domes and one large one, each with its own chimney, suggesting small rooms or cells, opening into a courtyard shaded by trees.

What looks like a medresse but is actually stores

Our day brought more adventures thanks to Frish, who had arranged the Pera Museum tour. This time we visited SALT, an art and design archive, founded by the Garanti Bank.  ( There is also an extensive archive of the bank, with documents, and photos of staff dating from the turn of the 18th century. Salt in Turkish means, according to our guide Melisa, total, comprehensive, absolute.  It is housed in the building of the former Ottoman Bank, and the renovation is stunning. Naturally, we had to eat in the Ca’ D’oro restaurant, overlooking the Golden Horn.  The food was not memorable, but the company was.  Further forging of friendships. The views from SALT:

Across the Golden Horn

The New Mosque, with Sulimaniye Mosque on the hill

The tour starts tonight and we are a little wistful that our little group of eight will have to merge with the others and follow a regime. But we shall see.

Flying and arriving in Istanbul

Sept 21-Frankfurt airport-

Waiting for the flight to Istanbul, and–what time is it? Or, as they say in Turkish, saat kach? We had what they referred to as “a short night” on the plane: a few hours of darkness, during which we slept very little.  Luftansa is a cushy ride, with cool bathrooms and a terrific entertainment selection of music, movies, TV shows, and audio books.  After listening to Brian Eno’s Music for airports (how long had it been?), I settled on Hard Times audiobook, which engrossed me to the point of sleeplessness. Each character perfectly captured, no overacting, Dickens’ feminism and fury at class hypocrisy clearly coming through.  At what point in Dickens’ life did he write this?

Hanging out with Lois and Clare, waiting for the call, going over some of the past, playing Jewish geography.

The call has been given.  Time to go!

September 22- Istanbul

Adventures last night and today, of the getting-our-feet-on-the-ground kind .  Last night, after meeting up with Kathy, Frish & Veronica, and later Beni, searching out a restaurant not too touristy,  during which the eight of us ordered too much and were surprised by the bill, though it came out all right.  I think it will be hard to find bad food here.  Overpriced, no problem.  Great yoghurt, eggplant, cucumbers, lamb.  Ordering carefully and in an organized manner will be the key. Lots of laughter and bonding.

After dinner, a meander through Sultanahmet square, and tea in the Bazaar, listening to some musicians, and watching the nargile smokers, both men and women, separate and together.  Many shops with charming salesmen, engaging in a most persuasive way, hope springing eternal.

In the morning we embarked for the Pera Museum, across the Golden Horn in Galata.  (So fun to be retracing the steps of Kemal Pasha, from Jenny White’s detective novels). Back to Sultanahmet Square, to buy the jetons and cram ourselves into the tram to Karakoy, then up the Tunel, an underground funicular, the second subway built after London.  One tunnel, two stops, running from the bottom of Galata Hill to the top. Then an exploratory adventure to find the Pera museum, located on a boulevard that winds along the outside of the hill.  The museum is a beautifully repurposed old hotel, founded in recent years by a very wealthy couple, committed to promoting emerging Turkish artists in may media, including film, and housing some of their personal collections as well. The lovely, smart, and articulate Fatmah guided us through it all. The art show features the work of students from an Izmir art school, all of it interesting and some of it outstanding.

Ate lunch at the Culinary Institute, which was good but not memorable.  Then more and more exploring around Galata, finding the main pedestrian drag, Ishtiklar, FULL OF PEOPLE, finally escaping down some side streets to find a specific shop in Ciangir. This took us through small streets that wound down.  Ooh, a hamam (Turkish Bath), and we were tempted to go in, but Clare wasn’t getting  a good vibe, so we moved on. On and on, getting further into parts where daily life is lived.

Popular tea spot

“The state has no business here”


The buildings are mostly in a state of lovely decay, though some are being energetically renovated (by whom?). After getting turned around, we finally found the shop, a little hole in the wall, full of scents and soaps and other over-priced items, run by an emaciated Englishwoman (not a reassurance). In front of the store someone had developed the habit of taking a pee, so the smell prevailed. Not an invitation.

By now we were exhausted, but did not want to return to the hotel, since we planned to eat in Galata, so we proceeded down the hill to the water, hoping to find a park and somewhere to rest. Found respite in the Kilic Ali Pasha Camii (mosque) which took us off the busy street and provided some quiet time. it is one of the 300 designed by Mimar Sinan, architect and builder to three sultans.

Sought some way to sit by the Bosphorus, but could not find it.  Recuped enough to set off back up the hill, straight up, through small streets busy with evening activity. The street signage is mostly not there on the small streets, and at times the names of streets a not the same as what appears on the map.  Newer signage might include the street name (Kumbaraci) the name of the immediate vicinity (Tomtom), the intersecting street (Istiklal), and the larger district (Galata).

More adventures getting to our restaurant, a yummy meal of meze and fish, then further adventures along Istiklal, people watching, buying Turkish delight and other sweets, and finding our way back to the Karakoy tram stop, and finally to Sultanahmet and bed.

Garden at the end of Summer

The end of summer in the garden.  Gone already are the mile-high sunflowers with deep red velvety flowers, the padrone pepper plant, the under-performing haricots verts.  Not pictured: the heroically -producing persian cucumber, and the amazingly-restrained zucchini. But, hooray-the persimmon finally has fruit–six of them, which the squirrels will probabbly enjoy, just as something has nibbled every ripe tomato so far. The strawberries spawned and will go out to spread their juicy sweetness in neighbors’ gardens. The iris will remind us that Spring is only 6 months away.

Artist’s Statement Wordle

Another wordle, this time my artist’s statement, so much easier than writing several paragraphs. Just hung the show, which took lots longer than planned, but looks great.

Wordle: About art

April 2012 Painting Show

This Sunday, I will hang my new show at the Espresso Roma Cafe on Hopkins St. in Berkeley. Works will include this painting (The Path,oil on canvas), some of the paintings in my Spring 2011 post, plus a few new ones. Watch for photos of the show and the paintings.
Reception 4/15/12, 3-5pm.