Istanbul Greece Diary

 

April 2014

My Stories

Granner

Putting on the Ritz

Granada and Sevilla

Amsterdam

Tuscany and Umbria - 1

Tuscany and Umbria - 2

Driving in England

Dwelling in England

A Dozens Reasons

In the Hamam

Istanbul Greece Diary

Pearl Harbor Team

Old Girl

Paris

Provence

Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners

Mexico

Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say

Middle School Relay

Grad Party

Yellowstone

Moving On

Newlywed Couches

Visitors

Old Faithful Inn

Snowbound

Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Curly's Truck

Old Buildings

Chelsea's

Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

Istanbul, Entry #1

ARRIVAL

We nearly didn’t make it here.  A routine medical screening delivered sketchy results, results sufficient to put our trip--and my health--in jeopardy.  Thankfully we got word that I was perfectly okay after all.  The trip was on. This was just 11 days before our departure date.  We are so grateful, in multiple ways.  We consider everything about this journey a gift. 

We nearly didn’t make it out the front door of our Istanbul apartment.  After getting settled, we set out for our first look at the city, but couldn’t figure out how to open the door to the street.  Jim poked his fingers into small mechanical door parts; I pulled levers.  My lever-pulling succeeded in both opening the door and squishing Jim’s index finger. Jim is a forgiving man, but that pinch smarted, and now the bed of his finger nail sports a black and blue spot, not unlike the evil eye adornments we see everywhere here. 

We nearly didn’t make it to the main wharf area of this Turkish city.  As we climbed down our hill, a shoe-shine guy walked in front of us.  His brush fell the ground, directly in our path.  Jim ran to pick up the brush and called out to shoe-shine man.  He smiled broadly and touched his heart in gratitude.  Then he pulled out his tools and motioned an offer to shine up my travel-weary boots.  How could I refuse this gesture of thanks? 

Shoe-shine man polished my boots for the next three or four minutes while working on my sentiments.  Where was I from?  Did I know he had children--sick children--in the hospital?  They were not only sick but hungry.  Several hungry sick children, all in the hospital. 

Only then did I realize I’d been had.  Jim had scampered off ahead, disturbed at my naiveté. 

Shoe-shine man continued his shpeal.  Where was I from?  I was so pretty!  Was I married?  (This was not such an odd question, really, as my husband was currently nowhere to be seen.)

After shoe-shine man finished, he held out his hand, waiting.  I pulled out a 10 lira bill (worth about $4.50).  He wanted more.  How about 18?  He had change for a 20, he said.  No, ten, I said, handing him the bill and walking away. 

Jim couldn’t believe I’d fallen for it.  I blame my victim-hood on severe jet-lag.  But really, I didn’t mind so much.  I’d gotten my dirty boots polished for $4.50.

Despite these obstacles, we eventually reached the bay.  The Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn inlet sparkled before us.  In the distance, lights illuminated ancient towers, palaces and mosques.  Calls to prayer sang through minaret amplifiers.  Seagulls glided and squawked overhead.

We crossed the Galata Bridge, watching the lines of fishermen reel in their tiny catches.  Smells of grilled fish wafted up from the restaurants on the bridge’s lower level. 

In place of dinner, we purchased treats we could eat while walking, fearful that sitting down would cause us to fall asleep prematurely.  Charming Turks sold us sweets of Turkish Delight and baklava.  A sidewalk ice cream vendor entertained us with his magical delivery of our chocolate (Jim) and lemon (me) cones. 

We reached the main historical area and its crown jewel of the Hagia Sophia--a Roman church turned mosque turned museum.  We are eager to return during the day to explore inside, but this first evening’s look in the lights is already breathtaking. 

Back in our neighborhood across the bridge, we stopped at a small fruit market to pick up some fresh fruit for breakfast.  Along with several other choices, I selected mandarin oranges. 

I will open the oranges carefully, just as we open Istanbul carefully.  Both exteriors are a bit bumpy and require some effort to gain entry.  But once inside, the fruit is sweet and juicy and colorful.  I can’t wait to taste more. 

Istanbul, Entry #2

POLITICS

In our first 24 hours here, we experienced the dropped shoe-shine-brush scam two additional times.  During the last incident, we ignored the dropped brush and the guy eventually turned around in confusion that we hadn’t called out to him.  Jim laughed and told him he was funny.  Shoe shine scammer looked even more bewildered.  He didn’t know what to say. Finally he asked if there was something he could do for us.  No thank you, we didn’t need a shoe shine, Jim said, and we walked off, laughing to ourselves.

Our un-shiney shoes have already clocked many miles exploring Istanbul.  East meets west here, not just culturally, but geographically.  Istanbul is the only major city in the world to straddle two different continents.  Everyday thousands of Istanbulites board ferries to cross the Bosporus Strait.  They travel to jobs and homes between Asia and Europe. 

Turkey has interesting neighbors.  To its west, Greece.  To its east, Syria, Iran and Iraq.  The Turkish/Syrian border makes international news these days.  It’s a hot spot, so contentious there’s not been any actual border crossing there for years. 

A little history here:  In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk led Turkey out of a tattered and failed Ottoman Empire. We’re talking sultans, harems, the whole shebang.  Ataturk established a democratic republic along with a bunch of reforms.  Among them:  separation of religion and state, women voting, abolishment of polygamy, Christian calendar, no wearing of veils or fez hats in government or school buildings, Roman lettering, and adoption of last names (no more “Mustafa, son of Mehmet, who lives across from the Spice Market”).

Turkish Kurds today (20% of the population) long for a return to a government run by Islamic law.  Turkey continues to walk a tightrope between its modern ways and its 99% Muslim population.  Most Turks identify as western, holding dear every hard-gained freedom.  They shudder at any threats that might chip away their liberties, and sometimes show their displeasure with huge demonstrations.  These demonstrations usually take place in Istanbul at a place called Taksim Square. 

Last May police responded to a demonstration with heavy-handed force, blowing tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons at peaceful protesters.   Some had been sleeping in tents.  Eight people died. 

We haven’t seen any of the normal big cruise ships around so far; we imagine the May riot heard ‘round the world might have something to do with this.   

This Sunday the people vote whether to re-elect their Prime Minister, the man behind the deadly police response.  Folks here are getting tense.  The Prime Minister has outlawed Twitter and curtailed YouTube in attempt to inhibit political protest organization. 

Jim and I may be near the thick of a Twitter riot soon.  Our apartment sits one mile away from Taksim Square. 

Yesterday morning we visited Taksim Square.  Yes, we did.  I wanted to see it before friction prevented a look.  Jim was less keen, but agreed to go if we went at 8 AM.  We figured that rioters are generally the sorts to sleep in.  Police are already making their presence known at Taksim.  They have piles of barriers ready and mini-stations installed around the perimeter.  Jim was nervous, so we didn’t linger. 

Our apartment manager described how last May she walked near the riots on her way to work.  The tear gas effected her so much that a couple of teenagers had to assist her.  She assured us that the rioters never, ever reach our quiet apartment street.  We don’t plan on showing our faces anywhere near Taksim Square during our next few days here. 

Normally Jim and I don’t experience much culture shock on our travels, but I think we have a little here.  Jim dealt with his cultural anxieties by wandering into an uninteresting Catholic Church on our way to Taksim Square.  I handled my tensions by visiting the lobby and luxurious women’s bathroom of the Four Season Hotel.  We each have our own unique ways to self-comfort.

Istanbul, Entry #3,

WHAT IS JEANS NATIONALITY?

We visited the Grand Bazaar where we had a shopping list of two purchases.  One was a key chain, the other a simple glass bracelet that a friend requested.  These items were everywhere.  I selected a shop and prepared to bargain.  Here’s how our conversation began:

Friendly vendor checks me out, confused:  “Belgian?”  I shake my head no.

“Dutch?”   Head shake.

“Canadian?”  Head shake.

He gives up.  “American,” I say.  He looks surprised.  

I low-ball a price for my items.  He accepts.  Then his “brother” wants to guide us over to look at some rugs for sale.  No thank you, says Jim.  

I’ve also been addressed in French, asked if I were Dutch or Czech, and had others guess I was Italian.  I actually am part French and Czech, but I really don’t get the Italian assumption.  

Nobody has ever guessed American.  I think they just don’t get a lot of stray Americans here, loose from their cruise ship day tours.  Jim and I remain a puzzlement to Turkish hawkers. 

DOGS

We see stray dogs all over Istanbul.  They seem well-fed and groomed and socially adjusted.  They just sorta hang out.  On the flaps of their ears, the dogs have tags to prove they’ve been fixed and vaccinated.  

The people love these “neighborhood dogs,” as they call them, and claim they protect their little piece of the city.  The dogs meander from business to business on daily routes.  The people feed them, name them, groom them, offer them shelter and occasionally take them to the vet.  

The government isn’t so keen on the whole stray dog thing.  They think it un-fitting for the 8th largest city in the world.  Street animals have been part of Turkish culture and tradition for generations, but officials now consider them backward and embarrassing.  The dogs are not in keeping with Istanbul’s desire to be seen as a modern city, like New York or Tokyo.  So a couple of years ago, officials proposed sending all the dogs to a forest out of town, where they’d provide some food and have groups of schoolchildren come visit.

The people of Istanbul were outraged.  They had bonded with their neighborhood dogs, dogs so assimilated and urbanized that they read green and red traffic signals.  How could they ever survive in the forest? 

Demonstrations followed, and officials backed off.  So the neighborhood dogs remain, for now, in this ancient city that maybe doesn’t need to be 100% modern after all.  

P.S. I keep forgetting to mention this, but Jim is in complete control of the photos here. Not just how theyre presented, but which photos to include. He likes the power. I think the artistic license helps keep him willing to do this job for me.

P.S. #2 I hear that some of you are having trouble seeing Jims photos. Depending on how your browser is set up, you may have to click on an attachment to open the photos.   

Istanbul, Bonus video

Here is a link to a two-minute video Jim made of us.  It is outside the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.  Hope you like it!  Love, Jean

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10203575262845174&l=7928765592785722748

Istanbul, Entry #4

FASHION FORECAST:

On previous trips to Europe, we’ve noticed that our European counterparts are trend-setters for next year’s styles in the USA.  We like to check out what folks are wearing on the streets to give friends back home a heads-up of what to expect in their boutiques in the coming fashion seasons.  Istanbul is partly in Europe and partly in Asia, so we figured that was close enough.    

Here’s what we’ve discovered for your style forecast:  Black is the new black.  Think the little black dress, but head to toe.  It’s a classic look... made bigger!  Jim says it’s like chocolate--can you ever have enough?  Scarves and veils provide countless ways to express your individuality.  Wanna be daring?  Go full-facial!  Next year’s look will surely deliver something entirely new and enticing!  

Actually, it turns out that most fully-veiled women are tourists from places like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  Istanbulites aren’t too keen on the nothing-but-eyes-showing look as its doesn’t mesh with their progressive yearnings.  

But the truth is that in Istanbul, you can pretty much dress how ever you want, just lean a tad towards the conservative side.  We’ve seen zero cleavage here, for example.  You are essentially free to sport anything from full burka to mini-skirt here, no problem.  And nobody seems concerned with men’s fashions, either way.  

I am reminded of the musical “Billy Elliot” and its song called “Expressing Yourself.”  This song refers to experiences in cross-dressing, but the idea remains the same.  Dress to please yourself and don’t worry so much about what others think.    

P.S. I couldnt actually test out the link to this video myself since the Turkish prime minister has blocked all YouTube here before the election. I had to get Annie back home to test it for me.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RAfQI5nj6s

 Istanbul, Entry #5

WHATS A BYZANTINE?

Today we visited the reason we came to Istanbul:  we had to see the remnants of Constantine’s wall.  For a thousand years, this massive brick wall protected Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), retaining the Christian stronghold within. This period of time was called the Byzantine Empire. 

The people of Constantinople also strung heavy iron chains across the Golden Horn inlet.  This prevented marauding ships from accessing this peninsula city.  An odd, but effective method for hundreds of years. 

Jim had wanted to see the Constantine’s wall for over five years, ever since hearing a lecture series on tape about Constantinople.  I thought it sounded a bit too advanced and exotic of a trip for us and suggested we practice our travel skills in western Europe first.  

I’d probably remembered too clearly that old movie called “Midnight Express,” the true story of an American college student caught smuggling drugs in Istanbul and sent to a horrific Turkish prison.  I still recall the creepy heartbeat opening.  Surely this movie scared off a generation of American tourists from Turkey.  Days before our trip, I noticed the movie playing on TV, but steered clear.

 

Heres a brief Turkish history of the past 1,700 years:

330 AD--1453 AD.  Byzantine Empire.  After the fall of Rome, Constantinople is the center and keeper of the Christian faith for a thousand years.  As far as the Christian faith goes, this is pretty much it in the world during the Middle Ages. 

1453--1922   Ottoman Empire.  Muslims conquer Constantinople and establish Islamic rule.  They institute conventions such as sultans, harems, and chicken kebab-making.  Many Christians and Jews also live here happily over the years.  

World War I era   Ethnic cleansing.  Considered the first mass genocide (2nd being the Holocaust).  Still a touchy subject among Turks today and continues to hold political repercussions internationally, such as non-acceptance to the European Union.  

1923--today   Modern republic.  Ataturk secularizes Turkey and changes the name of the city from Constantinople to Istanbul.  Istanbul has a 99% Muslim population now (undoubtedly a product of earlier genocide).  Turks consider tourists as honored guests, but apparently are less accommodating to non-Muslims if they move here full-time.  

March 2014--  Banning of Twitter and YouTube, and Jim Southworth fretting over possible airport closures following potential election riots.  

From our third floor apartment windows, we watch the festive voting station at the school directly across our narrow Medieval hillside street.  Organizers provided coffee, tea and rolls to early morning arrivals.  As I write these words, Turks show up in droves to vote.  After they have their political say, they sit and smoke and chat and have a snack together in the schoolyard.  The energy is palpable.  

We’ll see what happens next.

_______________________

We can’t watch this delightful “Istanbul, not Constantinople” video here in Turkey right now, but you can:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTO10Xgl0eM

 

Istanbul, Entry #6

A ONE-MAN ELECTION PROTEST

Yesterday at 5 PM, the election polling station across from our apartment closed.  Election staffers shut the metal gate but continued loitering inside the courtyard throughout the evening---milling about, chatting, smoking.  

Around 8 PM, we heard a guy screaming and yelling up the street.  He sounded pretty deranged.  He also seemed like he was screaming at nothing in particular; certainly nobody responded to him.  We couldn’t understand him since he ranted in Turkish, but some of the phrases apparently warranted repetition.  Occasionally we heard the crash of what sounded like metal garbage cans.  

I tried observing from one of our windows but couldn’t see much due to our 3rd floor height and angle.  But I could tell that Screamer must have been just a couple of doors up.  

For nearly an hour, Screamer never let up, not for five seconds.  Or as Jim explains, “He had staying power.”

Election staff gathered at the gate, opened it, and looked up the street.  They didn’t seem overly concerned.  

Eventually two police cars appeared and took Screamer away.  Jim and I were relieved.  

Less than five minutes later, Screamer returned.  This time he staggered to a spot directly in front of our door.  I peered out a window to watch, but could see him only from behind.  Screamer was barefoot (it was a bit chilly outside) and swayed back and forth.  

I called Jim over, asking him to help me open our window to better witness the show below.  Jim freaked at the noise I made pulling the shades; he feared attracting the attention of Screamer and becoming his next focus.  I pondered the integrity of our front door.  

Jim was also concerned that the election staffers would leave before Screamer did, and we’d be left alone with a deranged Turk outside our door.  Our apartment owners live off-site.  Essentially, we’re on our own most of the time.  We have no idea how we’d call the police here.  

A couple of male election staffers walked out of the gate and Screamer approached them, ranting while jabbing his hand toward their chests.  Perhaps Screamer thought his screaming insufficient as a communication tool.    

The election staffers remained calm, but I noticed a couple of the guys quietly pulling out their cell phones.  Five minutes later, the police returned.  They re-gathered Screamer and hauled him off, this time to a location greater than two blocks away.    

After our own private election drama ended, Jim and I Skyped with our kids back home.  Then we went to bed and slept peacefully, finally released from the terrors of both jet-lag and the screamer.  In the end, a good night.  
_________________________  

This is Louisa from Turin, Italy. We met while on our day cruise up the Bosphorus Strait to the Black Sea. We chatted about travel, learning foreign languages, and espresso. Louisa approves of Starbucks and loves how theyve taught Americans to speak Italian--at least in coffee-talk.
__________________________

This is my new friend Noor, originally from Damascus, now living in Istanbul as a refugee from the Syrian Civil War. I also got to meet her extended family, also refugees. Noor had been studying English literature in Syria and hopes to teach English one day. I met Noor in the ladiesroom during our Bosphorus cruise, where she insisted I take the regular toilet instead of the Turkishone. She won my heart with that gesture of kindness.  

Istanbul, Entry #7

PRACTICAL MATTERS

  1. FOOD:  Yummy and cheap; we’re enjoying it way more than we expected.  Some of our favorites:  warm hummus, chicken kebabs and rice with the perfect combinations of seasonings, seafood from the Bosporus, green and tomato salads, baklava.   Pomegranates and oranges get squeezed fresh into juice before your eyes at seemingly every corner.  Perfect pineapple spears on street carts for about 45 cents.  (We’ve ignored the mild guidebook warning about street fresh fruit.  So far, so good.)  Turkish bagels, called “simits” are everywhere, sold in little red rolling carts.  Cost--also about 45 cents.  Grab one on your way to work or your next tourist attraction.  On the downside, we’ve noticed a frightening scarcity of chocolate here, even as a dessert ingredient—Turks just don’t seem to favor it.
  2. APARTMENT:  We’re staying in the “New District” across the Gold Horn, a little away from central tourist area.  Our area has a more modern, European feel.  We’re just below the landmark Galata Tower, which makes our place easy to locate.  This tower hails from the Byzantine days of a strong Genoa (Italy) presence in the neighborhood.  Our remodeled apartment has a great view from the roof deck.  Our only potable water comes from the kitchen sink—when the tap is turned to cold.  Occasionally we get power outages.  Other than that, it’s pretty great here.    
  3. BATHROOMS:  I encountered my first “Turkish toilet” (a.k.a., hole in the floor) here in Turkey at the Chora Church Museum.  Jim said that the men’s room at the museum had regular toilets.  Somebody please explain that rationale to me.  I met my second Turkish toilet on a boat, a particularly tricky proposition.
  4. MONEY:  The dollar to Turkish Lira exchange rate currently favors us greatly.  Turkey’s per capita income has tripled in the past ten years, but the cost of living remains fairly low.  

TEN SIGNS YOU’RE IN ISTANBUL:

  1. Men offer their seats to women on public transportation
  2. Hookah smokers and backgammon players linger on the streets.
  3. Men deliver tea to shop vendors.  The tea arrives in small glass cups, carried on glass trays.  Fishermen on the bridge have their own special tea delivering service. 
  4. Whirling dervishes.  Their museum up our street has a two-hour ceremony on Sundays.  We considered going, but worried that two hours of dervishes whirling might make us feel like we’d spun too long on a carnival ride.
  5. If you ask a security guard for directions, he’ll leave his post to shepherd you there.
  6. Women rarely work as merchants or vendors.  Men man women’s boutiques. 
  7. Hand-pulled carts transport goods; surely these big wooden carts are a remnant of days gone by.  One old Turk hauled his cart down the tram track and got trapped in the side barriers.  Behind him?  A trail of police cars escorting several official-looking Mercedes (the Prime Minister?) and then the tram itself.  Poor old cart-puller ran as fast as he could, looking rather stressed.  Policemen rolled their eyes. 
  8. You’re in a 99% Muslim country but it’s okay to drink alcohol.  Some surmise that the desire to keep alcohol legal has thwarted the return of a strict Muslim theocracy.  
  9. People walk through construction zones, not around them.  Bulldozers drive down sidewalks, weaving through pedestrians. 
  10. Calls to prayer sometimes come from so many directions that if you didn’t know better, you’d think they were siren warnings indicating the city was under siege.

Istanbul, Entry #8

IN THE HAMAM

Before we go on big trips, I do my homework.  My research for Istanbul suggested we visit a Turkish bath, which they call a “hamam.”

Hamams trace back hundreds of years into Ottoman history, and before that as the Roman bath.  Men and women segregated in the hamams for a time of cleansing, visiting, gossiping, and allowing mothers to check out potential brides for their sons.  They’d bring along snacks for an almost picnic-like experience, which often lasted for hours.  Access to a hamam ranked high on the needs-scale; a husband failing to provide the means for his wife to attend her regular bath constituted grounds for divorce.  

I knew we had to go.  I just had two concerns:

  1. I heard they were pretty naked.  Turks run fairly conservative with modesty between the sexes, but within their own gender, inhibitions go out the window  Yet, I figured, could it really be any more traumatic than the women’s locker room at my gym after the Silver Sneakers class lets out?
  2. I wasn’t sure how I could convince Jim to go.

 

I decided to offer Jim a trade.  I would go with him on the day cruise up the Bosphorus Strait, and he would go to the hamam with me.  My worries about the Bosphorus involved sea-sickness (I am capable of nausea after simply watching a video of ocean swells.)  Jim visualized a beefy, hairy Turk scrubbing his near-naked body at the hamam.  (I ended up loving our short cruise on an especially calm day up the Strait.)

I picked the swankiest hamam I could find.  I reserved the simplest wash option for Jim, just 35 minutes long.  For me, I selected the “Elixir of Life” 90-minute treatment--the whole-enchilada.  I figured if I were going to do this, I should do it right.  I had us go to the hamam first-thing on the quietest day possible, when I heard we might just have the place to ourselves.   

Since Jim knew he would finish his treatment long before me, we made plans to rendezvous outside the men’s hamam.  Jim could go snap more photos of the Hagia Sophia next door while I completed my Elixir of Life.

A young Filipino named Ryan escorted Jim into the mens’s hamam.  As I watched Jim pass through the door, I had a twang of trepidation, like I’d just dropped off my kindergartner for his first day of school.  

I went around to the other side of the building to the women’s section.  I entered a large domed pavilion.  A young woman directed me upstairs to a private changing room with a self-coded entry lock.  She instructed me to remove all my clothing and put on rubber slippers and a purple sarong, which I wore in the manner of a beach towel cover-up.  

I walked downstairs where my attendant fetched me.  She appeared to be in her mid-fifties and had a somewhat hefty build.  She wore a pink uniform, not unlike that of a dental assistant.  She asked for my name and then pointed to herself.  “Norton, “ she said.  I’m sure that’s not how it’s spelled, but that’s exactly how it sounded, and I don’t know of any other way to spell Norton.  So she was Norton. 

Norton took me by the hand and guided me into the inner bath area.  In the center was a large raised platform shaped as an octagon.  Around the periphery were several niches with marble fountains and benches.  Nearly every surface in the room was covered in this glistening mottled-white marble.  Above, a large dome delivered ample sunlight through its pentagonal windows.  Yellow-orange spotlights streamed up the walls toward the dome.  

TThe air felt warm and moist, with just a touch of steam.  Norton seated me next to one of the little niche fountains.  She filled the fountain basin with nicely hot water.  Using a small gold bowl, Norton started throwing water at me, including my head and face.  I learned to breath between water tosses.  Once sufficiently doused, Norton instructed me to sit and rest for five minutes.  Her exact words:  “Sit, rest.”  I leaned back into the wall and did just that.  

A few minutes later, Norton returned and grabbed my hand.  Now this was not just a sweet gesture, but a practical one, given the wet marble floor.  Norton had changed from her dental assistant uniform into her own sarong.  She appeared to be wearing some type of black thong bikini underneath.  

Norton delivered me to a fountain on the other side of the room, where she sat me down and threw more water on me.  Then she started scrubbing me with a Brillo-type mitt.  This sounds worse than it was; it actually felt okay, like a mild back-scratch.  

Okay, here’s where the naked part starts.  

Norton yanked my sarong down to my waist.  She started scrubbing my upper regions, treating my back just the same as my front.  Made no difference to Norton.  Okay, I thought, this is weird, but probably Norton has man-handled more female upper body parts than my mammography technician back home.  

Next it was time for hair-washing.  Nobody besides my hairdresser has washed my hair since I was about five years old.  I have to say, I enjoyed it.  Norton was pretty nurturing, actually, like the gentle nursing home caregiver we’d all be lucky to have someday.  

Since I’d signed up for the big-game Elixir of Life treatment, it was time for my mud bath.  Norton uprighted me and seized my sarong entirely.  She handed me a small barrette to secure my hair.  I stood there naked, fumbling with the barrette because it was no match for my big head of hair.   

Norton chuckled and told me to wait.  Or as she said, “Wait,” and then she disappeared.  

I stood under the dome, abandoned, alone, 100% naked, wondering how I should react if somebody else arrived.  Norton soon re-appeared with a towel which she began wrapping around my head, turban-style.  (Note that nudity wasn’t a concern here, but muddy hair was.)  

Norton had trouble applying my turban since I towered over her.  She asked, “Model?” while pantomiming somebody shooting a basket.  

Did Norton think I was a model, a basketball player, or a basketball-playing model?  “No,” I replied, covering all of the above.  

Norton decided this was a good opportunity for small-talk, with me standing naked (except for my turban, of course.)  “Where you from?”

“America,” I answered.  (If you answer “the United States,” Turks automatically say, “Oh, America!” as in “Amerika!”

Norton wanted to learn more about me.  “Where Amerika?” she asked.

“California,” I said.  

“Oh, California!” Norton responded.  This was the first time I’ve ever told anybody I lived in California, but everyone in the world knows California.  Oregon?  Not so much.  I figured that Oregon exceeded Norton’s knowledge of international geography, and California was close enough. 

“Hamam- New York!” Norton told me.  I believe she was trying to brief me about a hamam in New York, and that maybe I should drop by there sometime.  

“Okay,” I nodded.  

Norton finally got to the mud.  She spread the gray goop everywhere...well, almost everywhere.  She saved a small amount for me to complete the job.  How considerate of Norton, I thought.  

Once fully plastered, Norton sat me down to dry, then vanished.  Soon Norton returned bearing my special snack, part of my deluxe hamam package.  My treat consisted of fresh pomegranate juice plus a platter of nuts and fruits-- both fresh and dried.  Quite an impressive spread, really.  Norton handed me a fork, which was helpful, given that my hands were caked in mud.  Then she left me to enjoy my little feast, snatching my wet sarong on her way out, lest I be tempted to cover up during her absence.

Now comes the truly strange part:

For several minutes, I sat there completely naked, covered in mud, munching on sliced strawberries, pears and apples.  Eating the grapes proved challenging because I couldn’t touch them with my muddy hands.  I stabbed individual grapes with my fork and shook them loose from the bunch. 

I started thinking just how creepy and eccentric I must look.  Please, I thought, don’t let anyone else come in here right now except Norton.  

Norton materialized and confiscated my fruit tray before I could finish, promising to save it for me for later.  Or, as she put it, “Save.”  Then she pulled me to my feet and blasted hot water at me with the gold bowl.  Mud streamed from my body.  

Now it was time to recline on the octagonal slab in the middle of the room.  Norton spread a towel on the warm marble and instructed me to lay my naked self down.  “Lay,” she said, so I did.  She doused me with bubbles, rubbed them around and rinsed me off.  “Roll over, “ she instructed, repeating the bubble wash on my front side.  Then she hurled more water at me.  

It occurred to me that Norton’s English vocabulary wasn’t all that different than our dog Bailey’s.  Sit, stand, lay, roll over...

Finally, Norton concluded my bath experience.  She toweled me dry then handed me a fluffy white robe.  She slipped on my rubber slippers, and took my hand.  As we exited the bath area, she pointed to herself again, saying “Norton!”  I suspect she wanted to make sure I remembered her name when it came to tip time.  

Norton discharged me to a wide couch where the remnants of my fruit tray and juice awaited.  I took a seat and tossed back a few walnuts and dried apricots.  

But my visit wasn’t over.  The Elixir of Life package comes with a massage following the bath.  The massage therapist appeared, took my hand, and said, “Come, lady.”  She guided me to the top level of the pavilion for my massage.  The massage was okay but nothing to e-mail home about, other than:

  1. It was pretty naked, too.  (The towel served more as a warming tool than for modesty.)
  2. Like Norton, the attendant also treated my top front exactly the same as my upper back.    

 

After my massage, I noticed that two hours had elapsed.  I dressed quickly, tipped Norton and the massage therapist, and raced out the door.  I scurried to my meeting point with Jim, but when I arrived, Jim was nowhere in sight.  I figured he’d gotten distracted taking his photos after completing his own Turkish bath long ago.  I waited for several minutes until Jim finally emerged from the men’s hamam.  He appeared happy and relaxed.  

“How was it?’ I asked.

  “Great!” he answered, smiling.  Jim’s attendant, Ryan, had taken extra long with Jim because he was the only client there, too.  Jim got to keep his towel wrapped safely around his lower half the entire time.  After his bath, Ryan guided Jim to the bench couches, spread out some towels and handed Jim a glass of pomegranate juice. 

Jim lay down while Ryan wrapped towels over him, cocoon-like.  Jim then fell fast asleep for about an hour.  Jim imagines there was snoring involved.  

As Jim awoke, he knocked his pomegranate juice all over a pillow and towel.  Ryan ran over to Jim, apologized (for what, I’m uncertain) and swiftly replaced the towel and pillow.  

We each submitted to Turkish experiences that we dreaded--the Bosphorus cruise for me and the hamam bath for Jim.  In the end, those very experiences wound up as favorites.  Some risks are worth taking, I guess.   

Bonus: the apartment:

o my relief, Norton and I were the first arrivals.  

SANTORINI, Entry #9
GREEK ISLAND FANTASY

We’re on the Greek island of Santorini, land of amazing photo opportunities. A few years ago, Jim pointed to a poster of a cliff-side village overlooking the sea, resplendent with blue domed churches and white cave houses. “I want to go THERE,” he said.

I asked our Greek friends, John and Maureen Sacoolas, where ‘there’ was.

“The town of Oia, on the island of Santorini,” they said.

Salem Art Association already has Jim penciled in for an Istanbul/Greece art gallery show in 2015. We figure that Santorini will constitute the lion’s share of this show. So, in a sense you could say this part of our trip is for business, and Istanbul was more for pleasure.
It’s early season in Santorini, but our flight here was packed. Ferry service closed for four days due to a strike, leaving only planes as the way to get here. (This only validates my boat-avoidance--except as exchange for a hamam visit.) One step out of the Santorini airport, and the world transforms, like Brigadoon. Santorini is a daydream come to life. Even in the pitch dark, the village of Oia sparkles.

Jim rose early this morning to snap photos around Oia. When he returned at 8:30 AM, he said that he probably already had enough good photos for a show, if necessary.

But of course he’ll keep snapping away. Here in Oia, it’s all but impossible not to.

 

Santorini, Entry #10

ISLAND PHOTO TOUR

Today professional guide Dimitra took Jim and me around Santorini for an 8.5 hour tour, covering nearly the entire island.  Jim wanted to hire an expert to show him all the best photo spots.  

Jim asked me to come along as it would be less awkward.  I wasn’t thrilled since I thought it would be a photo tour, but agreed to go.  I am happy I did.  

We got to see so much amazing stuff, including the archaeological ruins of Akrotiri, circa 1,600 BC.  Think Pompeii, but much older--and Greek, of course.  

I’m done writing for tonight as I’m exhausted.  Better to just let Jim’s photos speak for themselves. Enjoy. 

SANTORINI, ENTRY #11

LIVING IN A CAVE

You may have noticed in yesterday’s photos that I’ve gone native.  I don’t mean native as in hamam-naked, but island native with loose flow-y clothing.  Skinny black pants simply don’t cut it here, plus they were too hot, plus Istanbul’s food was too good...  So I went shopping in some of Oia’s boutiques for more appropriate and comfortable island-wear.  

Another difference:  we’re living in a cave, as in a 500-year-old cave house.  Originally, wealthy sea captains lived on the hill tops, while the poor dwelled in caves burrowed into the cliffs.  Oh, how times have changed!

These cave houses are not only charming, but resilient. Their unique arch construction kept them standing during the island’s devastating 1956 earthquake, which killed thousands and led to the desertion of many villages.  In the 1960s, architects snapped up cave houses for pennies and BOOM=cave house tourist fantasy.  

Probably the only draw-back to staying in a caldera cave house is the lack of privacy.  People can see your terrace from multiple angles.  Our guide, Dimitra, told a story of the dangers of living in a tourist mecca cave house: 

One morning Dimitra emerged from her shower, wrapped only in a towel.  She discovered a couple of tourists sitting at a table on her small balcony.  Clearly the couple was confused and thought they’d wandered into a tiny cafe.  Dimitra offered them coffee; they accepted.  After Dimitra served their coffee, she sat down with them to chat.  The couple seemed rather put out that their ‘waitress’ took such liberties.  Eventually Dimitra told the the truth, to the couple’s embarrassment.  

The owner of our cave house, Katerina, is a former architect.  Katerina greeted us with (literal) open arms and kisses when we arrived.  She hovers over us in a motherly fashion, always making sure we’re okay and lack for nothing.  Katerina loaned us a cell phone so we could reach her (and she us) at anytime.  “Make sure you carry it with you at all times in case I need to call you!” she instructed.  (Don’t tell Katerina, but we haven’t been entirely cooperative.)

Katerina started renting her three cave house apartments back in 2008.  Since then, she’s had many honeymooners as clients.  Some inform her that they made their babies right here; sometimes they bring their children back to meet Katerina.  To Katerina’s delight, they call her an honorary grandmother.  

Our cave house has two bedrooms, more than we need.  I discovered this place a year ago when we’d originally planned to bring Zach along with us.  Since then Zach’s gotten married to Sarah, become a daddy to Sarah’s four-year-old Jessica, moved to Missouri, and started a new engineering job.  How life can change in a year!

Anyway, I decided to stick with this cave house because I liked it so much.  Our first night, as we crawled into bed under an arch, it reminded me of a tent--the most cozy, elegant and comfortable tent imaginable.  The cave has few windows, and they keep some of higher ones open for light and ventilation, which only adds to the tent effect.  We’ve slept soundly. 

Our cave house has two bathrooms, also more than we need.  The larger bathroom is downstairs in a former cistern, accessed by a narrow spiral staircase.  There’s nothing downstairs except this bathroom.  Taking a jacuzzi bath in a well isn’t something a person gets to try everyday.   

Our town of Oia is Santorini’s key destination for sunset photographers.  Oia is a wealthy place, thanks to endowments by rich sea captains who maintain homes here.  The streets here may not be paved with gold, but they’re paved with marble.  Oia is the only town on Santorini where you can drink the tap water, thanks to a desalinization plant.  

Other island towns, like larger Fira, rely on trucks to deliver non-potable water for household cisterns.  Fira, however, has its own endowment:  cable cars.  These cable cars carry cruise ship and ferry passengers up from the main port to the town, for a five-Euro fee.  In the past, passengers had to choose between climbing 600 steps or riding a donkey.  Since today’s cable cars mean less donkey business, they award one Euro from each cable car ticket to the donkey owners.  Today, the donkey owners are among the wealthiest islanders.  (And you can’t just go out and open up your own donkey shop.  You have to get grandfathered in as a donkey owner.)

Donkeys still carry some adventurous cruise ship passengers up the hill, but their main job today is hauling construction materials through village streets.  Without the donkeys, it would be nearly impossible to deliver heavy

bags of cement up and down stairs and through three-foot-wide passages.

Today while Jim ran off to take more photos, I got to read and write outside on our terrace.  Life is very good here in Oia.   

Athens, Entry #12

A Solitary Day at the Parthenon

Today we reluctantly said goodbye to Santorini.  Katerina made us promise that we’d e-mail her once we made it back to Oregon.  She said she’d worry otherwise.  

We flew into Athens early enough to tour the Acropolis Museum and then the Acropolis itself.  Up we climbed to the Parthenon, with dark clouds threatening...and us forgetting our umbrella.  

The Acropolis stays open until 7:30 PM, and we’d read that the later, the quieter.  So we arrived after 5 PM.  And as it turned out, we had the place nearly to ourselves.  

Then the rain started.  I mean downpours.  We huddled with a handful of Japanese folks under a tree for a few minutes until the worst let up.  Then we resumed our meandering.  The puddles and deserted grounds made for great Parthenon photos for Artist James.  

But soon another rain shower hit, big-time, drenching us.  We laughed as made our way to a slight marble overhang near the entrance.  We took shelter under a 2,500-year-old edifice.  

I’m not sure why we bothered seeking cover since we were already soaked.  I considered just walking around in wet stuff anyway, but worried what the smattering of other visitors might think us.  They wouldn’t understand about our web-feet as Oregonians.  What’s a little rain, guys?  We’ll take rain over crowds any day!  

When the rain eased a second time, I asked Jim he if wanted to take another run around the Parthenon for more photos.  I hadn’t finished my sentence when a huge bolt of thunder crackled overhead.  

“Zeus says ‘NO!’” Jim said.  And we high-tailed it back to our hotel.

Athens, Entry #13

Hiking Through History

“My feet hurt,” I said.

“From wearing your cute but impractical boots? Jim asked.

“Nope.  I’ve been wearing my ugly, sensible walking shoes today, just like you suggested,” I answered.

“Then why do your feet hurt?” he asked.

“From walking too much.  We’ve been walking through Western Civilization,“ I said.

“That would take a toll,” he agreed. 

Greek ruins, Roman rubble, Ottoman references--it’s all here in Athens in one delightful mish-mash.  

We actually like Athens more than we anticipated.  We’d heard too many stories of how ugly, unsafe and dirty the place was.  

Instead we’ve found a surprising amount of green spaces in the old center core, a sense of relative safety, and some excellent and reasonably-priced food.  Plus everyone speaks English.  Even the video in the Acropolis Museum was in English, with Greek subtitles (which seemed sort of wrong to us, to be honest).  I suspect the dogs speak English here, too.  

Which leads me to:  How Turkey and Greece are the same, according to Jean:

  1. Dogs here in Greece enjoy a similar life to those in Turkey.  The street dogs are well-cared for.  We even saw two dog houses inside the gates of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  So Athens doesn’t just have street dogs, it has ancient monument dogs.  We hear that dog owners let their pets run free to explore the world during the day, because they worry they might feel cooped-up otherwise.  We’ve never seen a “no dogs allowed” sign anywhere.  
  2. You aren’t supposed to flush your toilet paper.  This has something to do with ancient plumbing systems plugging easily.  Instead, you’re instructed to place used toilet paper in little garbage cans next to the toilets.  Jim and I find this disgusting.  We’ve already experienced toilet paper flushing moratoriums in Central America, but that doesn’t make it any less nasty for us.  This afternoon we confessed to each other that we are secret paper flushers--but with the tiniest amount necessary to do the job. 
  3. Baklava.  But the servings run bigger in Greece.  (I apologize for listing baklava right after toilet paper.)

Before our trip, we’d heard that the Greeks despise the Turks for their past brutal aggressions, notably a 400 year occupation.  (Greece has been free from Turkey just since the 1820s.)  I can see how that might garner some resentment.  

But these days the Greeks seem less focused on the Turks.  They even acknowledge a common ancestry.  Or as our former tour guide, Dimitra, says, “If a Greek tells you they’re a descendant of Alexander the Great, they’re lying.  The Turks and Greeks got all mixed together during the Ottoman Empire.  We look alike, and our foods are similar, like baklava.”  (You can never have too many references to baklava.)

Today’s Greeks direct their anger toward the Germans, a much more recent occupier (as in World War II.)  Recently the Germans bailed out the cash-strapped Greeks, as any good, wealthy European Union partner would do.  You might think that the Greeks would be grateful, but no.  The Greeks aren’t happy because of the accompanying tightening of the collective belt, as directed by the Germans.  “The Germans always want to be in charge, just like they did during WWII,” Dimitra concludes.  

Anyway, Jim and I now feel that our Western Civilization education has been rounded out with the Ottoman Empire, previously a mystery to us.  Today, Turkey ignores the Byzantine Empire, and the West ignores the Ottoman Empire.  It all balances out, I guess. 

Speaking of the West, we’re coming home soon.  In fact, I suspect this will be my last travel entry for this trip.  I document our travels mainly for my own records, but I also take great pleasure in sharing them with friends and family.  Your comments have been very kind and fun to read; thank you so much. 

During this trip, Jim has been answering me with Oui, and the occasional confused waiter with Gracias.  I suspect he will be adding some Turkish and Greek words to his vocabulary back home.  You never know when Jim might spring some of his new lingo on you.  Consider them fruits of the trip, along with his future “Colors of Istanbul and Greece” art show.   Merhaba and gia sas to you all.