•December 10, 2009 • 4 Comments

In his memoir, Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk. the Nobel Prize winning Turkish writer, speaks of hüzün, the melancholy of Istanbul. I realize I may have felt a bit of that yesterday. The gray smell of antiquity pervades the streets and cells of the city’s inhabitants. There’s a dankness around each corner, as if the entire metropolis is under the dome of past glories and history’s pressing gaze.

At the same time I believe I was feeling the beginning angst of my impending journey on the Sufi tour described by Phil Cousineau in his book “The Art of Pilgrimage”. Cousineau mentions how many people when they arrive at a travel destination often feel irritated, let down, an “is that all there is?” kind of attitude. Exactly how I felt yesterday. In fact I wondered if I had made a tremendous mistake in coming here. Realizing that the way I choose to see my surroundings is up to me, I decided to turn things around today.

What a difference. I met a lovely English couple at breakfast, had tea with a wonderfully warm young man who works at the Tulip Guesthouse, my hotel when I return to Istanbul after the tour, visited the magnificent glory of the Blue Mosque (right), even made peace with the fact that I bought a carpet from the first hawker who approached me yesterday. Oh, I think I forgot to mention that before. More about that later.

I opened to see the beautiful graciousness of the Turkish people. As an example I went to several stores looking for an adapter for my electrical appliances. Hard to translate that into Turkish. Finally I went into a pharmacy and one of the men understood what I meant. He asked me to  take a seat and he would be back. I thought he was going to find an address for me, but instead he came back with the adaptor! By the way, the lovely man here at the internet cafe just turned on the English keyboard so I’m zipping along now. “If I had only known to ask”, I sai. “There’s always an option,” he replied. So true.

Now, about that carpet. I won’t bore you with all the details of our bartering dance, but just know that I came to Turkey planning to buy a carpet, but only being willing to spend about $300 maximum. Visions of a bath rug whirled in my mind. Instead I was shown a miriad of carpets by Veysi Aslan of El Rincon de Fehmi. The 4′ x 6′ carpet I liked he could sell to me for the amazing price of$1,900 lira (about $1,400.) I told him I didn’t want to insult him, but I had no plans to buy a carpet today and I only had $500 in my budget. I knew that would get me out the door in no time. Well, leaving out many back and forths he showed me a similar carpet, about 3′ x 5′, and said he’d sell it to me for $480 lira (about $360 CDN, $330 USD).

First rule of buying in Turkey: they expect you to haggle. Second rule: if you offer a price and they meet that price, it is considered extremely rude to walk away from the deal. So, I now own an all wool, handmade Kurkish Kilim carpet which I love!  I’d include a picture, but it’s all wrapped up. Here is me instead enjoying my apple tea in Veysi’s shop.It will go in front of my couch, the place I write. Now I’ll always have a bit of Turkey at my feet for inspiration.

I’m off to dinner with my tour companions. Not sure when I’ll get to the computer again, but I’ll keep in touch with you when I can.

Bay bay!


Istanbul – fınally!

•December 9, 2009 • 1 Comment

Walking the streets of Istanbul, I am awed to fınally see the buildings, the people I only glimpsed on my computer screen at home. Aya Sophia is just outside the door of this internet cafe, the Blue Mosque is across the street.

Here is the view from my hotel at the Hotel Peninsula.

On the left is the Blue Mosque in the distance. On the right is a Muslem minaret. If you look on the ring of white just below the brick spire of the minaret, you might see the speaker attached to it. I am so glad I read about the five times a day call to prayer or I would have fallen out of bed this morning when the speaker blasted one of those calls at 6:15am.

By the way, I should mention that these posts will take longer for me to type, gettıng used to the Turkish keyboard.  Ugh! ğüçöe …

When I arrived last night after midnight, the whole reality of this trip hit me as my hotel minivan caressed the roads of Istanbul leading from Ataturk airport. It was when he pointed out the Sea of Mamara to me that it all hit me. I am in Turkey! Finally. All the months of planning and musing and wondering have culminated now. When he turned off the main highway onto the narrow cobblestone streets, I could feel myself sink into the breath of this place and that I sure wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Today, walking the streets of cobblestones and antiquity amid carpet hawkers and ATM machines, I feel a bit anxious for my tour to start tomorrow evening. I feel safe walking alone, but I would like to share this with others, to talk about it and practice my Turkish. Love the cat! He was in a graveyard across from the Blue Mosque. Wouldn’t you know I’d make friends with the two cats at the hotel as well. 

Off to the cistern and tea, or cay. Sonra göruşuruz. See you later!

Amsterdam – Part One

•December 8, 2009 • 4 Comments

I’m sitting in an internet cafe near the red light district of Amsterdam. What an amazing, beautiful, energetic, weird, and gentle place this is. Walking down alleyways looking at prostitutes smiling blindly behind sheer window panes, then to come out on the bustling street with virgin white swans floating, bobbing in the canals of the city centre.

My trip began with so many pieces of me, my life,  falling away. The pearl from my goddess necklace fell on the ground of my cabin minutes before I walked out the door to head for Vancouver on Sunday.The bracelet I bought on Saltspring Island fell at my feet in the car to the ferry my first morning.  My watch stopped the next morning. The zipper on my wallet broke hours before I headed to the airport in Vancouver. My pen began to bleed incessantly on the train from Amsterdam airport to the city.

Pieces to leave behind, let go of. Time and the extras needing to be shed, perhaps, making room for something more, something else, new, unexpected.

I’m off to the airport for the final leg of my flight to Istanbul. More to come.

Constantinople “Lady”

•November 30, 2009 • 2 Comments

I love this image. It’s a photo from National Geographic . The caption reads:

“Perched on a tassled divan, swathed in silks, her face demurely veiled, this elegant Constantinople lady just might not be a lady.

“Western curiosity about the Ottoman imperial harem created a demand for exotic postcards like this in the early 1900s (the National Geographic Society’s archives received this photo in 1911). But because Islamic tradition discouraged Turkey’s Muslim women from being seen by men who weren’t their husbands, photographers sometimes asked men to pose dressed as women.”

Well this “lady” may be a he, but I’d love to know where he shops.

Merhaba World!

•November 27, 2009 • 1 Comment

Okay, here goes. I’m now an official blogger. Merhaba is “hello” in Turkish. I created this blog to invite my friends, family and any hungry wanderlusters out there to join me on my travels and, hopefully few, travails. I’m off on my virgin encounter with Turkey, with a stop to and fro in Amsterdam, another city I can’t wait to dip my toes into.

The photo at the top (and below) is of Aya Sophia, now a mosque and once a Byzantine church. I love the rich you-can-almost-bite-them colours. It’s as if a chunk of the blueberry sky fell to earth as a big hooped skirt with the silver minaret as its oh so proper hat. The arches of the saffron dipped windows serve as the perfect escort. Istanbul. The seat of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, the former Constantinople. Marvelous mosques, museums, the Grand Bazaar, ancient ruins,  and delights for every sense. Yes, a Turkish bath is definitely in my future.

As for the name of my blog, suhurat is a word of the east that means to flow with the events we encounter. I’m not sure of its origin or the language from which it derives (if someone knows, please share), but I learned of it through the Sufi Tour I will be a part of upon my arrival. We will visit the holy Sufi sites of Western Turkey, from Istanbul to Ankara to Konya to Goeme and so many other places in between.

In fact suhurat guided me gently to the tour after I failed numerous times to find a room in Konya for the Mevlana festival celebrating the death of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, the iconic Sufi philosopher, poet and founder of the whirling Dervishes. After running into more than a bit of frustration over failed faxes and unanswered emails I decided to set the whole piece down.

A couple days later Andrew Harvey and Banafsheh Sayyad arrived at Hollyhock where I work. Banafsheh and I had been exchanging emails for weeks about my upcoming trip to Turkey. She was heading there for 40 days of dancing (ahh – wouldn’t that have been amazing to experience). Both she and Andrew know Turkey very well and are keen followers of Rumi. Banafsheh told me of the Sufi tour and I immediately contacted Tumata to find out more. Within a day I was signed up. Even though I had made my travel plans months ahead, I was amazed at the synchronicity, the suharat, around the fact that the tour started a day after my arrival in Istanbul.

The tour lasts 12 days and I’m toying with leaving it near the end and striking out on my own for a few days before heading back to Istanbul for another week. We’ll see. A dear friend has expressed concern over my safety, being a western woman travelling alone in this very male country. He shared with me the experience of a female friend of his who years ago, at the insistance of her father, travelled to Turkey with a helmet rigged with bike wing mirrors attached on either side so she could keep her eyes peeled for any males that may dare to sneak up behind her. She didn’t have any problems. I think it had more to do with the male Turks perception of a crazy woman wearing a helmet than any forbearance on her part. But I could be wrong.

Well, here I go. The start of an adventure. I’ll post when I can and keep all of you updated on my encounters, be they the stuff of suharat or a great cup of Turkish coffee.  I’ve got my passport, my backpack and my virtual helmet with wing mirrors and a head scarf which I’m told is all the rage in Turkey.

Bay bay! Bye for now.