Friday, May 30, 2008

marketplace in Ulus

Ankara, May 29, 2008

My sister's last day in Turkey, we went shopping in Ulus, a historic neighborhood in north-central Ankara, where from the broad, grimy, cacophonous Ataturk Boulevard, smaller streets and alleyways spread up toward the castle. At the base of the hill is a typical urban marketplace, with an indoor area dedicated to food ringed by small shops, shoulder to shoulder, selling baby clothes, teapots, drill bits, nuts and spices, and any other household item you might want. With the clock ticking toward our date with auntie Turkan and uncle Faruk across town, and the list of people to buy gifts for glaring at her, Kate got down to business. In the kitchen shop, she bargained like a pro with a short, balding, tight-lipped man. A true professional, he held his own in the haggling, but Kate came away with a good deal on tea pots, glasses, saucers and spoons.

She spoke, and I interpreted. Mind you, I speak Turkish poorly. It helps that I have pactice working profesionally as a Spanish interpreter, but interpreting Turkish feels like batting practice, with baseballs flying at me from two machines set to super-fast.

Meanwhile, the salesman's coworker shuffled between us and the door, where called out the shop's wares, prices for soup pots and such. He was taller, thin, mustachioed, smoking, wearing a straw cowboy hat. He smirked as he sized us up and asked us where we were from, then turned to help an elderly couple wearing Muslim skullcap and headscarf. Soon he bounced back to where we were, tapping a few piles of tea saucers. When Kate looked up to see what the racket was, he opened his eyes wide, pointed to one as if to say "check this out," then banged dozen saucer piles in quick succession, like a xylophone. We chuckled, his coworker scowled. Later he came up to me, grabbed my forearm, pointed at my sea star tattoo, and in the simplest of body language, he asked, "what's all this about?" I answered in kind, "who knows?" Looking at me in the eye, up close, he smiled, and went back to yelling for customers at the door.

too cool for Istanbul

Bebek, May 23, 2008

In this chic neighborhood, a young man walks alone past yachts and scrappy fishing boats. His t-shirt says, in English of course: Define girlfriend.


May 26, 2008

Today we toured the Green Mosque. Four years ago, my friend Gus was there, and had a similar experience:

"Went to the fabulously beautiful Yeşil Camii just as 20 year old İsmil was opening the place. He spoke some english (a rarity here) and we talked about the early Sultans. He took me to the usually closed Sultan's balcony booth and helped me find the spinable vertical cylinders that were installed by the original architects to test the "health" of the building. If they spin, all is well. If not, the supports are bearing too much pressure. The cylinders became unspinable about four years ago. The mosque was built by Mehmet I in the early 15th Century after he had salvaged the Empire following the rampage of Tamerlane (one of the most interesting figures in history). "

The man who guided us around explained the fountain inside the mosque -- very unusual -- was built so that when the Sultan held secret meetings in his balcony rooms, the water's sound would cover the conversations. Also that the ground-level shelves in the mosque's center were for people to discreetly leave food, if they could, or take food, if they needed.

Outside the mosque my father joked with a handful vendors selling trinkets. I only caught snippets of the conversation, but it ranged from bragging about his father the Congressman, about his grandfather, the pasha who owned the entire state of İzmit, and about himself, claiming to be something like the Godfather back in the States. (Yes, as in Marlon Brando.) These and other tall tales had everyone laughing and shouting back, but hardly matching his silliness and pomp.

Later in the day, Judy, Kate (or Suzan, as she insisted we call her) and took a taxi up the hill to the castle and Tophane area to see the tombs of Osman, founder of the Ottoman empire, and his son Orhan, who conquered Bursa, made it the empire's first capital, and during whose reign many elements of modern Turkish culture (such as architecture) were established. In Osman's tomb, although its size and design reminded me of a chapel, I was surprised to see an older couple praying, as if they had gone there to pay homage. What did that mean for them, exactly, that their prayers include the return of the Empire?

In Orhan's tomb, just a few steps away, across a shady patio, I first shooed away a kid insistenly selling packets of facial tissue, but after reflecting on the place and taking a photo, I reconsidered my automatic reaction. I called him over and gave him a coin, calling him "little brother," one of the many affectionate and respectful forms of address people use for strangers all the time. Soon he was out the door, buying simit, a ring of sesame bread, from a white-haired man with a wooden-glass cart that looked like a carriage.

Looking for Necip Bey

Bursa, May 27, 2008

Over breakfast, shortly before we are to leave Bursa, my father mentions that his father's birthplace lies not far from the hotel. Now he tells us. Local foks offer various estimations of the distance -- a few blocks away, a 35 minute drive -- so we decide we can't go, but it's nice to know we have a lead in case I come back here.

With an hour to spare, I walk through the covered market. It seems stories saturate every stone, every shop as narrow as two broom handles, every glance and voice of vendors and shoppers, chidren and beggars. I come to the Great Mosque, leave my shoes at the entrance. Scaffolding blocks some of the colums and decorations, and temporary walls hide construction equipment, but the solemnity and cool air still feel soothing. A few men and women pray in different sections; a Japanese tour group listens to their guide.

Outside, I request a shoe shine from a dark-skinned man who is missing a tooth. He speaks like a drum roll. After asking him to slow down and clarify certain words I almost understood, I give up and just nod, repeating the two or three Turkish affirmations I know: yes, true, of course, ah hah.

I return to the hotel a few minutes late; the taxi driver has already arrived. He knows the old village off Chelik and takes us straight there, chatting amiably with my father in the front seat. Leaving behind the city's busy boulevards, we pass apricot groves, crumbling plaster homes, a new mosque under construction. My father tells us about visiting his grandfather here as a child, recalling the peach trees, the sheep and goats, and the silkworm hut, where the little critters ate mulberry leaves all day long, "making a sound like crunch crunch crunch." At the roadside, between tilled fields, red poppies grow in batches like bright flames, like blood.

We come to a graveyard that spans both sides of the lane to look for the grave of my great-grandfather. It's quiet, no cars, a breeze in the tall creekside grove. At the driver's suggestion, we split up and work toward each other from either end.

There are many graves grouped by family name, none of them our own. According to many headstones, the person was born in the 1300's and lived into the mid-twentieth century. I scratch my head for a minute and realize this is because the new Turkish Republic adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1925.

My father starts getting anxious, saying we should go. He speaks Turkish, losing track of which language is which. We cross the road to search the other section, and again he calls for us to leave. I ask for a few more minutes and walk gingerly around graves.

Then the driver calls out: "Look! Necip Simer!" Sure enough, there it was, a gravestone bearing the same name as my father. Inscribed with graceful Arabic calligraphy at the top, the dates and birthplace follow in modern Turkish. We gather watering cans and empty them in the weeds atop his resting place. My dad cries a little, swears he will come back one day and fix the whole place up. We take some photos and return quietly to the taxi.

Prospect Park on a sunny day

Brooklyn, 5/21/08

At the entrance, two farmers chat beside their large truck, in the shade of an umbrella, a stone's throw from a massive traffic circle. Their folding tables boast potatoes, bell peppers red and green, apples, tomatoes.

A grandmother reads a letter aloud, in Russian, to a baby, hidden in a stroller.

Three Latina nannies call out with accents to white children, spinning dizzy on the grass.

Six Hassidic men at a picnic bench, beneath the tallest tree, at the edge of a large field, discussing.

A teenage girl straddles her boyfriend on a bench, like a horse, whispering.

Beneath shadowy trees, a small blond boy quietly marvels at a waterfall.

The sound of streams running.
Tennis balls bonked by rackets.
Two birds take turns: a bold and melancholic melody, then a shrill whistle.
A Haitian woman sings woefully, eyes closed, one palm up to the cloudless sky.

The Hassids saunter by like it's Shabbat: an elder rabbi among five young men, each with sideburn curls, beards, black suits. Some continue the discussion. One straggles behind, thumbs jumping from key to key on a mobile phone.

Three white guys scratch in their notebooks.

a few other photos from New York:

Friday, May 09, 2008

Sabri Boğday urgently needs your help.

A message from my friend Ezo:

I am writing to ask for your help in saving a life of a Turkish man who has been unjustly sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia. Sabri Bogday is from my home town Hatay, a southeastern Turkish province. He had moved to the Saudi city of Jeddah and was running a barbershop. He was arrested by Saudi officials after being accused by his Egyptian neighbor, a tailor with whom he had a brawl, of “cursing the name of Allah.” Saudi authorities condemned him to death, and an appeal case is in progress. Boğday's family demanded that the president and prime minister intervene to prevent the execution.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül has joined in the efforts to save Turkish barber Sabri Boğday from execution in Saudi Arabia. Gül emphasized the unfairness of the accusation against Boğday, and stressed that Turkey expects the withdrawal of the execution decision. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan, too, is taking part in the efforts to save Boğday's life. He told reporters that he had contacted Saudi officials, and was waiting for the result. For more information please see:

Turkish Daily News:

Los Angeles Times:

Amnesty International USA
But even though the president and the prime minister are involved there is no guarantee that would be enough and Amnesty international is urging as many as people as possible to contact the Saudi Arabian government and has issued the following urgent action.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English, Arabic or your own language:

- expressing concern about Sabri Bogday's death sentence and calling for it to be commuted immediately if it is upheld on appeal;
- reminding the authorities that they are bound by international standards for fair trial, and in capital cases they are also bound by the United Nations safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, which guarantees adequate opportunity for defence and appeal.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the Amnesty International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 4 June 2008.


His Majesty King Abdullah Bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Royal Court, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +966 1 403 1185 (please keep trying)
Salutation: Your Majesty

His Royal Highness Prince Naif bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud
Minister of the Interior
Ministry of the Interior
P.O. Box 2933
Airport Road, Riyadh 11134
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 403 1185 (please keep trying)
Salutation: Your Royal Highness

His Royal Highness Prince Saud al-Faisal bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Nasseriya Street
Riyadh 11124
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 403 0645
Salutation: Your Royal Highness

Mr Turki bin Khaled Al-Sudairy
Human Rights Commission
PO Box 58889, Riyadh 11515
King Fahad Road, Building No.373
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 4612061
and to diplomatic representatives of Saudi Arabia accredited to your country.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

This kid is a genius.

I just learned about Quizlet from my friend Sara's "Spanish for Social Change" vocabulary blog. Quizlet was created by a high school student named Andrew Sutherland to help him learn words for French class. It's a super useful version of flashcards. You can create your own list of things to memorize, or draw on others' lists. The computer program tracks which words you know and which you don't, and repeats words as necessary. I just learned how to say "ceiling" in Turkish, as well as "refrigerator," "wall," and a host of other words, and refreshed my memory about dozens of other terms. (I'm headed to Turkey in two weeks, in case you're wondering.) Check it out –