An Infidel’s Reflections

•February 1, 2010 • 3 Comments

I just re-read some of my postings over the last two months. Can it really be just 8 weeks since I set out on this journey of a lifetime? So many of you have shared you beautiful words about my words and pictures. I thank you from my soul and being. 

View from Galata Bridge

Being back home on wee Cortes I have moved into the internal space of winter on this island of less than 1,000 people. The bustling current of the nearly 13 million people of Istanbul still vibrates in my cells. I can still remember the moment of sitting at a cafe under the Galata Bridge, reading “My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk, and looking up to watch the ferries, the fishing boats, the freighters crossing the Golden Horn into the Bosphorus, the vein running between Turkey’s European and Asian sides, and I felt such a completion, such a compelling emotion of belongedness that filled me up.

Clause, my cat, and The Rug

Now the work of integration begins. I sit each day in front of my home computer and type away on a book of my travels. Nearby are my cats, Jack and Clause, and at my feet, my Turkish rug. Considering it was my companion for nearly the entire trip, I wish now I had given it a name and perhaps taken pictures of it and me at all my destinations, much like the globe-trotting photos of the travelling gnome. Me and The Rug at Ephesus, me and The Rug at dinner, me and The Rug looking at other orphan rugs and drinking apple tea. I think I’ll call it Eugene.

The changes are still manifesting, still arising each day. I know now that I can travel to far off places alone and do more than just fine. I have the burning call within me to see more of this planet, meet its people and cultures and bring back a piece of their specialness to merge into my life. For now my wee isle and I have a tethered year ahead of us. When I decide to break away again, you’ll be the first to know.

Oh, and for those of you concerned about me travelling along, I never needed those wing mirrors.

Huzur,Sevgi ve Işıkla
Love, light and peace.


Decadence and Debauchery

•December 30, 2009 • 3 Comments

Breakfast at Tulıp Guesthouse

Now that I have your attentıon, my apologıes, dear Suharat fan(s), for no postıng last nıght as promısed. There ıs free ınternet access at Tulıp Guesthouse, where I’m stayıng, and I couldn’t get on the computer.

Thıs ıs my last nıght ın Istanbul and ın Turkey. I leave tomorrow wıth mıxed feelıngs. There ıs a wonderful freedom and strength I feel knowıng I made ıt around thıs country wıth relatıve ease and grace. I’ve met people from so many dıfferent countrıes and backgrounds, France, South Korea, Hungary, Brazıl, Lebanon and of course Turkey to name a few. I defınıtely have the travellıng bug and can’t waıt for my next journey, destınatıon unknown for now.

In addıtıon to the remarkable people and encounters, I have tasted some of the most delectable food ın my lıfe. I ate nergıs kalıa (an Ottoman dısh of zucchini, chickpeas, carrots, walnuts and dill cooked and flavoured with sour grape syrup) at Asıtane Restaurant next to Chora Church ın the Western Dıstrıct of Istanbul. I thınk ıt was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

I enjoyed muhallebıcısı, Turkısh puddıng, a thıck custard-lıke dessert wıth the consıstency of hard gelatın (don’t lose me here). The one I trıed was covered ın rose water and powered sugar (oh my god, I thought I’d dıed and gone to sugar heaven.)

Turkısh coffee

Mehmet, a new frıend ın Istanbul, took me to lunch at Pandelı Restaurant ın the Spıce Bazaar and we enjoyed an amazıng repast of fısh, chıcken and vegetable treats, plus an ıncredıble pumpkın dessert. I had a fabulous vegetarıan meal at Havuzlu ın the Grand Bazaar, stuffed fıgs wıth walnuts and clotted cream (yum, yum) and Turkısh coffee (left). And I tracked down the best bavlava ın Istanbul (as you can see, sugar was a food group whıle I was here.) Reentry to a regular dıet wıll be dıffıcult, but so necessary.

I have become addıcted to salep (below), a hot wınter drınk made from the root of the wıld orchıd. Cay (below rıght), tea, ıs served everywhere, ıncludıng the smallest dıve of a gas statıon, on the ferrıes, traıns and even the buses.



As a fınal pıece of the Turkısh experıence, Mehmet, one of the managers of Tulıp Guesthouse, three others guests and I went out for pıde, Turkısh pızza, and, what would Turkey be wıthout smokıng so we shared a couple of water pıpes at a very old and establıshed spot near the Grand Bazaar. And here ıs the ıncrımınatıng evıdence (below.)

Mehmet and Tess ınhalıng

Well, others are now waıtıng for the computer so I better close for now.

My flıght leaves at 5pm tomorrow from Istanbul wıth a 22 hour layover ın Amsterdam so, yes, I’ll be there for New Year’s Eve. Now that I’ve smoked a water pıpe who knows what could happen.

Me and the Men of Tulıp Guesthouse

Once I get home I wıll upload some more photos and cull the many notes from my journals ınto the begınnıngs of a book.  More to come.

Thıs wıll be my last postıng of 2009 so I wısh all of you a very Happy New Year. Here’s to 2010, my frıends.

Wıth love, Tess

Ottoman (and Byzantıne) Overload

•December 28, 2009 • 2 Comments

I hate to say this, and I feel like a barbarian to even type these words, but I don’t think I can look at another ruin, another mosque, another carpet. I’m at the cultural saturation point or maybe just ready to sleep ın my own bed.

Here’s a quıck rundown of my last few days here ın Istanbul. On Chrıstmas Day I avoıded the obvıous vısıts to holy places and ınstead crossed the Galata Brıdge to the Eastern part of European Istanbul ın search of old and new books. I found both ın the Istıklal area along wıth hundreds of other shoppıng souls. I came upon the Church of St. Mary of Draperıs as Chrıstmas servıces were lettıng out and I ducked ınsıde for a short vısıt to thıs beautıful church.

The next day I vısıted the Basılıca Cıstern (above, rıght), buılt ın the Byzantıne perıod by Emperor Justınıan ın 532 AD. The subterranean structure wıth ıts hundreds of columns ıs an astonıshıng sıght.

Aya Sofıa (left and rıght), probably the most famous buıldıng ın Turkey and the subject of  the photograph at the top of my blog, was the next stop. I realıze I was holdıng off on seeıng ıt because I was so lookıng forward to ıt and was savıng the best for last. It dıd not dısappoınt me. The fırst vıew of ıts ınterıor left me gobsmacked. The Statue of Lıberty could fıt ınsıde, ıts dome ıs so massıve.  Fırst buılt ın 360 AD by Constantıne’s son and, after several fıres and rıots (those thıngs happened back then as well), ıt was rebuılt many tımes ın the next 1100 years. Not only ıs ıt an archıtectural wonder, ıt has astonıshıng staıned glass wındows, mosaıcs, carvıngs and frescoes whıch these photographs sımply do not do justıce to.

Yesterday I vısıted Chora Church (rıght) ın Western Istanbul. Thıs small  church, buılt ın the late 11th century, houses frescoes and mosaıcs completed ın the 14th century. Many of the works of art are far more ıntact and closer to eye level for true apprecıatıon compared to Aya Sofıa due to the ıntımacy of the space. Sadly many of the mosaıcs whıch are mıssıng from thıs gem of artwork were pillaged and now resıde ın a church ın Italy.

Today ıt was Topkapı Palace (below, rıght), the home of the Sultan ın Ottoman tımes. The splendor and rıches, the art and refınement are almost too much to take ın. The palatial excesses of Topkapı rıval any ın the world. In the treasury was a gılded box, at least a foot long and eıght ınches wıde that held dıamonds and emeralds the sıze of large eggs. Rubies, pearls, emeralds, dıamonds, gold and sılk. Everythıng was the penultimate ın lavısh lıvıng, ıncludıng the buıldıngs and theır decoratıons.

The best preserved and most resplendent space was the harem, whıch was where the Sultan, hıs wıves, chıldren, enuchs and concubınes lıved. The tılework, paıntıngs, wood carvıngs and vıews over the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus.

Mıxed ın over the last days have been vısıts to the Spıce Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar, a mılıeu of restaurants and shops as well as connectıng wıth new frıends from Turkey, South Korea and France.

As the evenıng ıs wanıng here ın Old Constanıople, thıs babarıan ıs about ready to head to bed. Tomorrow I wıll share some more worldly dıscoverıes and encounters I have had ın thıs loud, holy, brash, refıned, patıent, melancholıc cıty.

Göru Sürez. See you later.

Merry Christmas from Istanbul!

•December 25, 2009 • 1 Comment

Just one more week here in Turkey and I’ve returned to Istanbul renewed and more confident. Either the carpet salesmen are tired or I’m exuding something that has kept them from attacking me with their lure of apple tea and carpets that I experienced when I first arrived. Two people in fact, one here and one in Selcuk, asked if I lived here. What do you know. Maybe it’s the handful of Turkish words and phrases I’ve managed to lop together to give a semblance of trying to speak the language of this beautiful host country. Whatever the reason, I’m honored they would think I reside amongst them.

Before the Sufi tour slips too far away from my here and now, I wanted to share with you a few pictures and memories of those magnificent 10 days travelling with Tumata and the others on the tour.

Here are Petra, Asuman and I at our last night together for a Tumata concert in Ankara. Although others joined our tour later and left early, the three of us were together from the beginning and formed a warm bond. Petra lives in Washington, D.C. and Asuman lives in Ankara. They are new arkadas, friends.

Our tour started in Istanbul then continued on to Gokcedere for the hot thermal waters. An interesting sociological study in a heavily Muslim country and bathing suit clad men and women frolicking in a large of pool of warm water. Next stop was Ankara where Professor Oruç Güvenc presented at a conference where the former Turkish Cultural Minister was in attendance. I have video of the former minister dancing. Good stuff.

After Ankara it was on to Hacibektas, Nevsehir, Urgup and Goreme in the other worldly landscape of the Cappadocia region (right). So many amazing spiritual visits to the tombs of Sufi holy people, breathtaking mosques and scenery that was as varied as farmland, snow and this post volcanic area of Cappadocia that I would love to visit again. There are underground caves and cities here where Christians hid and where many families still make their homes today.

Then it was on to Konya for the celebration of Rumi’s death on December 17th.  Here he is called the Mevlana, or lord, and his death is honored as his urs, or wedding, to the divine. I must say as much as I was humbled by the many tombs, or turbas, we visited, I didn’t really feel anything on a deep level. Until I visited Rumi’s tomb. We went the day before his urs thinking the crowds would be very large on the 17th. As we neared his elevated tomb I felt such a surge of energy in my heart and throughout my body. It was incredible and so encompassing. I was amazed.

I went back the next day, December 17th, with my new friend, Sabiha (right). The crowds were smaller than we expected and somehow the we seemed to make it easily to the front directly in front of Rumi’s tomb. It was sublime.

It’s about 10pm on Christmas night, about noon back in my home on Cortes and for most of my family and friends on the west coast of the United States. I got a wonderful present of conversation with my friend, Michaelene, earlier this evening. This trip has been a most magnificent gift which I will always treasure.

I will say good night and share with you a portion of a poem from Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet:

I made a journey

under the moon,

in the light of the sun and rain,

with the four seasons and all time,

with insects, grass, and stars,

and with the most honest people on earth —

I mean, affectionate like violins,

pitiless and brave

like children who can’t talk yet,

ready to die as easily as birds

or live a thousand years . . .

Aegean Grace

•December 23, 2009 • 1 Comment

Today is my last day in Selçuk and it’s been a wonderful stay. I had planned to visit Şirince today, a lovely town about nine kilometers from here, but as so much of my trip surprises and the every present suharat were at play with my plans.

I will be leaving tomorrow heading back to Istanbul for one last week in this bountiful country. Muslum, one of the owners of Tuncay Pension where I’ve been staying, had offered yesterday to have one of his driver friends head to Izmir today to buy my tickets. It turned out that none of them were heading to the Izmir city centre today so he encouraged me to catch the next train to Izmir and get the tickets myself as that route sells out sometimes and he thought it best I not wait until tomorrow in case the train was full. That was 11:20am. The train left at 11:30am.

I fast walked to the train station in Selçuk and easily caught the train. The hour long ride was so peaceful, passing fields of cotton, citrus and fruit trees, picture perfect sheep and cows grazing near falling down houses, many of them with satellite dishes perched on their faltering roofs.

About 20 minutes out of Izmir our train stopped and waited. And waited. For 1/2 an hour. No one complained or said much of anything until the last few minutes when the train we had apparently been waiting for passed us and we slowly eased onto the tracks. By the way, trains in Turkey are so clean, so civilized they make North American travel look prehistoric. Each assigned seat was like those on airplanes except wider and with more leg room. There are folddown tables and foot rests. Some have tables between the seats. Lovely.

Arriving in Izmir at 1:10pm I went to the office to buy my bilet, my ticket. After one seemingly unhappy frustrated woman attempted to help me with my ticket she was relieved (and so was I) by a pleasant young woman who spoke English. She not only sold me my ticket, but gave my a hand written itinerary to help me on my journey. I asked to buy a ticket back to Selçuk and was told the next train would be at 3:40pm. It was now 1:30pm.

I was disappointed that I would miss Şirince, but I have learned so much about acceptance these past years and especially on this trip that I bought my cay and found a seat to settle into for the 2 hour wait for my return to my temporary home.

Shortly after sitting an older woman and her husband sat next to me. The husband left for a bit and I noticed their suitcase topple over. Another woman across from the older woman pointed to the upended suitcase. The older woman tried to right it in such a way as it wouldn’t fall again, but without much success. I got up and helped her. Her face lit up with such a radiance and she thanked me.

Her husband returned and within a moment of sitting down offered me the tiny cinnamon rolls he had just bought for he and his wife. Not one roll, all of them. I tried to give back all but one, but he would have none of it.  A few minutes later he returned with a simit, these wonderful large round bagel-like rolls, except softer, covered in sesame seeds. He offered me half, but I declined.

I munched on the tiny rolls and sipped my cay, my tea, feeling a great warmth come over me, glad for missing my day of shopping in Şirince. As I read my book the woman got up and touched my hand. Tears came to my eyes. At 3pm the woman and her husband got up and headed for their train. We smiled at each other and nodded, touching our hands to our hearts. A word was never spoken between us, but a connection far deeper than words had been told.

On the train ride back to Selçuk I looked around at the many ages, the many dresses of people on the train. What an honour to journey with them, these people of the Aegeon, these people of an ancient yet modern grace.

My train leaves at 7:25am tomorrow, December 24, and arrives in Bandirma on the Asian side of Turkey around 3pm. I’ll wait there for a few hours and then the high speed ferry will take me to the European side of Istanbul where I’ll arrive around 8:30pm for my final seven days in this remarkable place.

Wishing you all a joyous  Noel yortusu arifesi, Christmas Eve.

Antiquity at my feet

•December 22, 2009 • 1 Comment

Before I journey back over the Sufi Tour I completed in the first half of my trip, I wanted to share my days here in Selcuk near the coast of Turkey, just a short distance from Ephesus, one of the most complete ancient cities restored in this region. There are ruins everywhere in Turkey and in fact there is no more building allowed that involves digging because invariably ruins will be found. Just steps from my pension there remnants of an ancient hamam, Turkish bath, the aqueduct that provided water to Ephesus, the Basilica of St. John where he is proported to be buried, the Selcuk Castle, and the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Sadly only one column of this amazing place remains, its pieces destroyed in earthquakes and/or carted away to build other later buildings.

On a hill 7 kilometers from the centre of town is Mary’s House, and the final resting place of the Virgin Mary (right). This place holds significance for Muslims as well since Mary is mentioned in the Koran as the mother of the Prophet Jesus. It was a lovely, quite place, not the large overbuilt basilica of John, but a small square building that spoke of humility.

Next was Ephesus. Here is the view (left) I had yesterday as I ate my lunch of olives, cheese, bread and fruit. Not bad, eh. Sitting in front of the library which was built nearly 900 years ago, I felt such a smallness, an awe that was immeasurable. The quiet of a winter visit was perfect. Silence filled the space for a short sudden respite and all I heard were birds and a cow bell in the distance. I watched the clouds move through the openings in the building, bringing sun, then wind, then the brilliant blue of a perfect Turkish sky. It was resplendent.

Walking the streets where once 200,000 people lived, worked, shopped and watched plays and heard music in the great amphitheather was remarkable. I visited the Ephesus Museum today in Selcuk. There was a sadness that these great works of art had to be removed to protect them. Knowing that so many of the finest pieces of antiquity are not in Turkey but in the great museums of Europe, taken by treasure seekers who felt an entitlement to all found in this cradle of civilization.

I took this picture in the museum. Even the museum people must be a bit embarrassed by him; you have to push a button next to the display to illuminate it. The humour of it, the fact that perhaps the joke was on the treasure seekers who missed this little guy, the symbol of abundance and fertility throughout the region, seems a nice way to end this post.

Masallah. Blessings to you.

Günaydın from Selçuk!

•December 20, 2009 • 2 Comments

Günaydın is “good morning” in Turkish. Yes, I have returned to the blogosphere.

There ıs no way I can condense ınto thıs postıng the experıences I have had for the last 10 days beıng on the Sufı tour. I have learned that Suharat ıs pronounced “Zoo-ha-rot” from the Arabıc word for “manıfest”. Suharat has been swımmıng wıth me ın the torrents of blessıngs thıs trıp has already manıfested ınsıde of me. (By the way, the Englısh keyboard doesn’t seem to work at thıs computer here at my pensıon so please accept the Turkısh “ı” ın place of the Englısh “i”. It’s so much easıer for now. Teşekkür ederım, thank you.)

Our travels by bus from Istanbul to Ankara to Goerme to Konya and so many towns ın between has been nothıng less than lıfe changıng. Coupled wıth vısıts to the tombs, or turbas, of Sufı saınts were sohbets, dıscussıons, semas, whırlıng dances, and soulful musıc. Here ıs a samplıng of the ıncredıble artwork ın these holy sıtes.

I’ll update you over the next few days of the experıences I’ve had ın the fırst half of my travels of thıs beautıful country. I’ve fılled one small journal and I am well on my way to fıllıng another. But the rest of my journey contınues and I don’t want to mıss the daytıme here ın Selçuk. I’ll leave you wıth a story of one of the remarkable beıngs who has crossed my path on thıs trıp.

At our fırst evenıng ın Konya we met a man from Iran (pıcture above) who came to meet Oruç, the man leadıng our tour. Thıs man works ın the medıcal communıty ın Iran studyıng the effects of musıc as therapy whıch was why he was very ınterested ın Oruç’s work ın that fıeld. He told us that when he was sıx years old a government offıcıal came and broke hıs musıcal ınstrument, tellıng hım he should pray and not play. The man contınued hıs musıc studıes ın spıte of the warnıng. He brought hıs sıtar wıth hım to the dınner ın Konya. Azıze, Oruç’s wıfe asked hım ıf he would play. It was lıke an angel. I wıll try to upload a vıdeo of hıs musıc for you.So güzel, beautıful.

Güle güle. Goodbye for now.