Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday, July 29th: A Cooking Experience

Tuesday, July 29th: A Cooking Experience

Deniz börülcesi (called samphire in English but literally sea cowpea in Turkish) is a type of marsh weed readily available around Burgaz Island. One can find it growing on the sidewalks in this area actually. I witnessed a couple of Kurdish women scraping it up in to some plastic bags today, apparently to cook it later. Our batch, however, was purchased at Friday's open-air market and is fresh (and not scraped off a sidewalk). It is stiff and looks like seaweed when it is uncooked.

After cleaning it thoroughly, we immersed the stalks in a pot of cold water, and brought it to boil on the stove. We let it boil for about 15 minutes.

After draining the water, Vincent pinched each stalk between his fingers and pulled off the cooked shell off each stiff strand. What was left was like a stick and this part was thrown away.

The cooked shell slips off easily
Vincent shows the stiff stalk

This is the most time intensive step in cooking deniz börülcesi

The cooked shell is limp and ready for eating.

Although, of course, no Turkish dish is complete without garlic. Vincent grated 3 cloves in to the bowl with the cooked deniz börülcesi.

Lastly, we added 2 spoons of tomato paste and mixed it all thoroughly. Turkish tomato paste is pre-salted and delicious right out of the jar. With the tomato paste mixed in, the dish is then ready to eat. Served cold, it is a great side salad for a hot day.

Here's the meal we ate:

Cooked XX
Cucumber salad with garlic and yoghurt.
Cold red lentil dolmas
White feta cheese
Roasted eggplant and garlic
Raw green peppers

Afiyet olsun!

If you haven't had enough, here's another recipe you can try:

Monday, July 28, 2014

Presidential Elections: Commentary

Presidential Elections: Commentary

In Beylerbeyi 
On August 10, 2014, for the first time in modern Turkey’s history, the president will be elected by the public instead of by parliament. Citizens will visit their local polling station to unfold their ballots and choose their 12th president. The three-term Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdoğan, of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is considered the candidate to beat. I observed political banners of Erdoğan all over Istanbul with more frequency than I did his competitors, and with the resources of the State behind him he is surely able to be familiar to Turks residing in other countries, numbering 2.8 million according to Today’s Zaman newspaper, now able to vote in Turkish elections for the first time. Erdoğan's image as a “street fighter” for challenging Western countries has made him popular among the lesser-educated Turkish citizens abroad.

In Bebek
But Erdoğan's image remains shaky in urban Istanbul. Low voter turnout would be to Erdoğan's advantage, my friends shared. The educated classes are disenchanted with him since the government’s handling of the Gezi Park protests which took place in May of 2013. From what started as a modest sit-in in opposition to an urban development plan in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the violent eviction of protestors inspired as many as 3.5 million of Turkey’s 80 million people to take part in what became a widely publicized demonstration. Shortly thereafter, Turkey joined China, in blocking Twitter.

“Twitter, schmitter,” Erdoğan was reported on the CBC News site to have said in an angry speech to supporters in the northwest town of Bursa. He vowed to “root out” the social media platform. “I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.” (www.cvc.ca, “Turkey tackles Twitter, comes out bruised” By Sasa Petricic, March 24, 2014)

This home belongs to a member of Erdogan's family in Beylerbeyi
Despite Erdogan’s efforts, the penetration rate of Twitter among Turkish internet users is about 30 percent. The Twitter block was originally politically motivated, after taped conversations were leaked in which he Erdoğan was allegedly heard discussing with his son how to get rid of millions of euros during a corruption investigation. I can share from my own experience this house on the right which was raised recently near in Beylerbeyi. 
It stands out like sore thumb, not abiding by the many strict planning rules imposed 
on homes near the shores of the Bosphorus, where residents cannot even change the size of a window. I was told this house was 
built for Erdoğan’s brother-in-law.

My friends Nükte and Vincent were drawn to the Gezi unrest, as many secular Turks were, as it inspired hope that Turks had found their pulpit for civil rights and democracy. Compared to the Occupy movement, the Gezi Park protests galvanized both left and right-leaning Istanbuli Turks. Nükte relayed to me an encounter she had with a local policeman on the ferry boat on their way back from Taksim Square, her face still burning from tear gas. He expressed his own bewilderment on being at the other side of the protest, and described the round the clock shifts he worked alongside a police force that was bussed in from Anatolia to face protestors. 

I asked about the baby. No one knows who it is.
Turkey’s experience with a multi-party system is short and riddled with problems. The parliament is largely dominated by the conservative party, with two or three strong parties able to exert some influence, but as many as 30 others that are not electorally successful, resulting in a polarized domestic political environment. The leftist parties, most notable of which is the Republican People's Party or Kemalist Party (CHP) draw much of their support from big cities and coastal regions. Erdogan’s main competitor, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, was hand-picked by the Kemalist and Nationalist Movement (MHP) parties without securing the support of their bases. As a newcomer, İhsanoğlu is relatively unfamiliar to the greater Anatolia, and has cast himself as an independent, vowing to unite the secularists and the Islamists. but many secularists remain skeptical and view the secularism of Kemalist Turkey as at its last breath. Whether a vision of secularist Turkey can be kept alive with Erdoğan at the helm, remains in question.

The third candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş, is a Socialist and represents the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). He is considered to have no chance at all of winning the election. Demirtaş was identified as his party’s candidate late and has very little visibility in the greater city of Istanbul, from what I observed. 

Voting was at one time mandatory in Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey, with turnout rates still hovering close to 80%. (http://www.idea.int/vt/countryview.cfm?CountryCode=TR). Many view Erdoğan's election as a sure thing, and won’t bother to vote. And yet, with the memory of Gezi still fresh, perhaps they will speak.

Source: wsj.com, July 10, 2014

Erdoğan sent this spam propaganda text Sunday wishing customers of this particular phone service a 
Happy Bayram. Others got similar messages from the opposition candidate İhsanoğlu.

Taksim Square, May 2013

Sunday, July 27th: Ramazan Bayramı (updated)

Ramazan Bayramı is the three-day religious holiday that follows the end of the holy month of Ramazan, the holy month of fasting. The three-day holiday this year begins this afternoon and extends through Wednesday. 

In Turkey, Ramazan Bayramı is a time for observant Muslims to send greeting cards to friends and loved ones, pay visits, and enjoy a lot of sweets. It is also a time of celebration, and after sunset the feasting begins with a ceremonial "break-fast" light meal called Iftar. For my secular friends, Ramazan Bayramı is mostly a time to avoid the freeways in the evening since they become crowded with people heading to Iftar events. I was also told that people who are fasting can be more irritable.

The most evident sign of Ramazan is the abundant availability of freshly-baked flat pide bread.

My friend Müge discussing which bread to choose at the bakery.
I wish I could post the smell of this bakery as I could a sound or a video.

A Pide seller, going door to door with fresh Pide.
Many of the workers and Pide sellers are fasting for Ramazan,
but continue to work and sell food to other non-observant residents and tourists.
It is commonly understood that people fasting may be irritable or short-tempered.
Kınalıada is the most populated of the Prince's islands.

I returned to Burgaz Island from Beylarbayı on the last eve of Ramazan, and found the ferry boat loaded with tourists (Arabs mostly it seemed) heading to the Prince's Islands. As we passed, I observed that every inch of the shores of Kınalı Island were covered with beach chairs and umbrellas, and children swam in the deep shore waters of the Marmara as the massive ferry boat floated by. 

Burgaz Island's shores, on the contrary, were serene and calm.  Nükte has said that this was the primary reason she chose Burgaz over the other islands.

Climbing the hill in the heat, with my large overnight bag, was difficult, but how wonderful to return to my friends' lovely flat, with its sea breezes drifting in through the french doors! I immediately put on my swim suit and went to soak in the neighbor's swimming pool and made one final errand to buy the last Pide of Ramazan at the bakery.

Here's is a quick view of my walk. Do you hear the seagulls?

I encountered this scene on my way back.
Wild cats and dogs are a common site in Turkey.
These ones were hoping to pick up
some scraps from the fellow's barbecue.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday, July 26: Trip to Beylerbeyi

Saturday, July 26: Trip to Beylerbeyi

Nükte and her sister Müge have known me since 1989, when I made my first trip to Turkey.
I found this snapshot from 1989 framed at Müge's house when
I visited today. That's Nükte on the left, me in the middle,
and Müge on the right.
In 1989 I designed three independent study courses to be undertaken on Turkish art, culture and feminism during my 5th semester at UC Santa Cruz.  In advance of arriving, I sent a letter to Bosphorus University English Department looking for pen pals and for help with finding somewhere to live. Nükte responded to that letter and when her and her sister we quickly became friends. I returned again to Turkey in 1991 and worked with Nükte at Dateline Newspaper in Istanbul. We reconnected in 2006 and have managed to see each other about every other year since then, in Turkey, in Paris, or in the States.

Since my mother was leaving today to go back to Iran, it seemed an opportune time to make the visit to see Müge and her family.

The trip entailed 2 ferry rides, and a taxi north from Üskudar to Beylarbeyi. Müge has a lovely home overlooking the Bosphorus which she shares with her husband Alp and their son Sinan (7 1/2 years old). Thanks to Vincent's and Nükte's helpful hand-drawn maps, the trip to Beylarbeyi was uneventful and easy. Müge is a physiologist now, and her husband is a Psychiatrist.

We arrived to find a lovely lunch waiting for us.
Fish, potatoes, cucumber salad and roasted eggplant salad.

Mom and me with their son Sinan

Muge looking over the sea ferry map for me.
The view from their balcony

Mom departed after lunch, and Sinan and Müge and me took a walk to the water for a cup of tea and some shopping.

This week it is Bayram, a religious holiday tied to the end of Ramadan. The holiday means that many people, including Müge and Alp, are not working. The seaside was full of people fishing and milling about, enjoying the beautiful clear weather and breeze coming off the water.

Friday, July 25, 2014

July 25, 2014: Market Day

July 25, 2014
Market Day

Friday is market day on Burgaz Island. Everyone appears from their homes to haggle over trinkets and clothes. Vendors were from all over, even other countries such as China and Bulgaria.

Ne kadar means "how much" in Turkish. It's not hard to say. Trickier though, is understanding the responses I would get to the question.  I heard a shirt was on beş when it was really otuz beş. That's the difference between being $5 and being $12. I didn't figure out the mistake until I got less change than I was expecting.

Describing how to cook Chile Relleno
Mom was searching for the ingredients to cook a Persian meal for our hosts. Eggplant, mint, cilantro, garlic and onions were all on her list. We found all of these and so much more that were new and difficult to translate between Turkish, French and English.
Artichoke hearts. Turks don't eat the leaves of artichokes. Only the hearts.
They steam them in an inch of water with a bit of olive oil.

Dried eggplant is used for dolma. See here for a recipe: 
Mom wanted greens (sabzi) for her meal.
She found mint and cilantro

Vincent followed us along to help find ingredients. He'd filled a rolling shopping bag full of items already and it was quite heavy. "Bouvard," he said, "my family name, it means strong as a bull," he told my mother.

My mother went in search of a bathroom,
poking her head in to the first open door
she could find. No luck there.
But a few minutes later, with only the word
toilet, she had success. She came strutting
back down the hill to find me.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July 23, 2014: A Day of Rest

Mom seated on the veranda to the sounds of seagulls and ship horns.
July 23, 2014: A Day of Rest

Yes, as you might expect, I wanted to move as little as possible today. I spent most of the day shifting from one cozy spot to another, looking for escape from the sun to write, battling my head's desire to be on a pillow. Meals were lengthy affairs, relaxed encounters over familiar flavors and full of laughter as my mother told each story of the day before multiple times, in great detail and with a lot of dramatic flair. Slowly, the story of where she had ended up in Aksaray began to sink in and it was clear how desperate a moment it had been for her.  Perhaps it was also the sheer beauty - and tranquility - of the space she had ended up in (could she have even imagined it from her perch on the dirty sidewalk, that a place like this could even exist?), in sheer contrast to her crash landing in Istanbul's cheapest tourist quarter, that was the biggest shock to the system. In any event, we were both recuperating.

Finally, at about 5:00pm, at which point I felt myself sinking in to a deep sleep as soon as my lids would close, I rose and announced it was time to leave the house. Braving the path back down the hill to town, and then finding the house on the way back, seemed like enough of an adventure to keep me awake. I convinced my mother to join me. I needed coffee. So, armed with a simple map, we headed out.
The map includes their wifi password,
so in case you end up on Burguzada
and need to log on, you ought
not have any problem. ;-)

To our surprise, it took us only 5 minutes to walk down to the seaside! The horses, evidently, can't handle the steepness of the hills, so they head up in wide switchbacks which explains why the trip up had been so long, and disorienting. Coupled with the exhaustion I had been battling, it was as if I had been blindfolded and spun for a game of Marco Polo. If it hadn't been for the hill we were climbing, I don't think I would have even known which way was up. But in the light of day, and with the sounds of the gulls to follow, it was an easy stroll down the path between houses to reach the shore.

We sat for a coffee at one of the many cafes by the dock. The garçon (that's what you're supposed to address them as, which leads me to wonder if I'll encounter any women in the job of waiter) got a kick out of figuring out our order. My Turkish is still a mess in my head, so the words that emerge when I try to communicate have, thus far, been coming out all wrong. I'm mixing my verbs (gid, gel, gör - not to be confused with gün which is morning), so I haven't been brave enough to try yet. So for now I'm an awkward tourist looking for someone who understands English.

Our biggest challenge was buying the ingredients we needed for dinner (my mother had offered to cook), and it took five shop visits to get all that we needed for a simple chicken and rice dish. By now I think all the shopkeepers downtown are aware that there are a couple of Americans on the island.

So as not to throw a lot of words at not much to say, I'll be brief with the rest:
She cooked, we ate, and our upstairs neighbors invited us up for tea to enjoy their unobstructed view of the sea and Anatolia. Delightful. And I managed to stay up until 1:00am before sleep overtook me. Altogether a restful day.
A long dinner at around 10:00pm

The view from the upstairs neighbor's house.
An approaching ferry boat.

Iyi geçeler, which means goodnight,