Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day On the Bosphorus

This afternoon I went over to Ortakoy for a little last minute shopping, (Yes I know it's Christmas Day, but Mel doesn't come till tomorrow!) These pictures are looking back over the Bosphorus towards my neighborhood, Sultanahmet, or the Old City. Isn't that sky gorgeously dramatic? One of the many reasons why I love this city.

In the first and second pictures you'll see the dome and minarets of Haghia Sophia, my apartment is just 3 blocks from there.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hanging Out at Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Mosque from the Shangri-la Hotel.

Last year Mel and I walked around this mosque on the first day it opened, (Christmas Day), taking photos from the grounds. At the time we were unsure if foreigners were allowed in, (in the Emirates, almost all mosques prohibit non-muslims from entering). We had even heard a rumor that women weren't allowed inside.

This year, the authorities made it clear that infidels and women are indeed allowed in. But just this one mosque. So we headed out with Mel's friend Jamaal to finally see what's up with this mosque.

Just a few facts from wikipedia...

 - This is the 3rd largest mosque in the world. It's designed to hold 40,000 worshipers. I believe it. It's huge.  

 - The carpet inside is the worlds largest and measures 5,627 square meters. It was made by 1,200 weavers, 20 technicians, and 30 workers. The weight of this carpet is 47 tons — 35 tons of wool, and 12 tons of cotton. There are 2,268,000 knots within the carpet.

 - This mosque also holds the largest chandelier. There are seven imported chandeliers from Germany and are copper and gold plated. The largest chandelier has a 10 meter diameter and a 15 meter height.

I can also add that the flowers in the walls and columns are all inlaid precious stones a la Taj Mahal.

Check out these two snap-happy sheikhas!

The place is decorated from floor.....

... to ceiling.

The carpet in the above picture is not the largest in the world(more on that later), but the carpet in the "women's room". The ceiling is also from the "women's room". Although it's a smaller room away from the main prayer hall, this was my favorite part of the inside of he mosque. 

Mel rockin' the abaya!

Without a doubt, Mel looks great in an abaya. All the flowers, leaves and vines you see around her are all precious stones inlaid into marble. 

Guest workers from India and Pakistan laying the floor in the inner courtyard. 
This mosque is still very much under construction.

I much prefer the outside of this mosque to the inside. It's so large that you can see shadows of clouds pass over the domes. I was also lucky enough to visit this mosque on days when there were actual clouds in the sky. In fact, later this day the sky would turn black and actually pour rain!

This is me reclining on the biggest carpet in the world. I don't mind the abaya so much, it's not much different from wearing long PJ's, but the sheila (pronounced SHAY-la) - the head scarf is really annoying. It slips and slides all over. I remember the constant re wrapping of sheilas in my class at ADU last year, and now I understand why. I was glad to get the whole thing off. 

Honestly, the place is impressive, but a bit over the top. Check out this chandelier...

... a perfect example that bigger is not always better.
(This is the biggest one in the mosque, therefore, the world.)

And one more, smaller, but less gaudy.

Overall, it was a nice afternoon. Well worth circling the mosque twice looking for the entrance, donning the abaya and fidgeting with the sheila while trying to take photos. Mel's friend Jamaal was very patient with Mel and I and our slow progression through the mosque. One more thing crossed off my Abu Dhabi "to do" list!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nuro Osmania Street

If you ever come to Istanbul by cruise ship, you'll pass through Nuro Osmania Street, named after the big mosque at the end of the block (above). 

The small pedestrian street is full of expensive gold, rug and antique shops, a dozen banks, and at least 7 trendy cafes. The cruise ships use this street as a convenient chute to get their passengers directly into the Grand Bazaar, and on any given day you can see tour leaders with their flags herding groups around.

It's a great place to people watch over a latte and read the paper. The last month, I've had two nice encounters on this street. 

1) I met my mom's Avon lady from Naramata! She sat down near me and started a conversation, and within minutes she guessed who I was! "Oh my! You're Heather's daughter!" We were both so surprised! What are the chances? 

2) Then tonight I was reading the paper in my regular seat,when an old Chinese woman came in and asked if she could sit in my empty seat. Her feet were tired and her family was still shopping. Of course she could! She pulled up a chair and of course we started talking. What a fascinating lady!

She was originally from Shanghai, but during the war with Mao, her family escaped to Hong Kong, then Taiwan and then finally arrived in California as refugees. She was just a little girl when they left Shanghai, but goes back often to visit family members who weren't able to make it out, even though she is now over 75.

We lamented the tearing down of the Xiang Yang Market, (the fake goods market) in Shanghai. She told me a big developer from Hong Kong bought the land. She also pointed out that the big maple trees that line Nuro Osmania Street are the the same that line the French Quarter of Shanghai, (she was right!) She complained that the Olympics drove the prices up and railed against the government.

We talked about Hong Kong and Taiwan seeing all the Philippine workers who line the streets on Sundays and share food and listen to Philippine music and how the Vietnamese do something similar in Orange County.

She told me about how she grew up near Pudong in Shanghai, and that the streets she played in when she was a kid have all been replaced by sky scrapers. Also, in her opinion, Vancouver's China Town has some of the best Chinese food around, she's been there four times. 

We talked about an hour, before her family came back to fetch her. We were both sorry to say goodbye, but the tour bus was leaving to take them back to the ship.  As she left she called out - "I hope to see you walking the streets of Shanghai next year!  I'm going in April!  And Merry Christmas!!"

Making Christmas! (....and Halloween!)

This week I've been putting all sorts of things together in anticipation of christmas. I have an extra room in our house which has been turned into an "arts and crafts" room, but I won't post a picture of it, cause it's a disaster!

The main project, I can't show yet cause it's whizzing around the world en route to my parents house in Naramata, but here is a wreath I made out of 100% recycled materials. I didn't buy a darned thing for it! (Except a glue gun stick!) Most of it came from christmas wrapping from last year and old paper shopping bags.

And below is my Halloween honeydew passing itself off as a Halloween pumpkin! Once I lit it up - who can tell the difference? 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Banned in Turkey

Along with YouTube, Blogspot is also now banned in Turkey. I've used another website to sidestep the ban, for now. There hasn't been a reason given as to why it's been blocked, but rumor has it that the man behind a few other bans is behind it - Adnan Oktar. He's an Islamic fanatic who is offended by anything appearing on the web that creates ideas or theories that don't relate to the Koranic version of creation. And for some reason, the conservative-leaning governing party, the AK Party, listens to him.

He had wordpress banned earlier this year, (unblocked now), although he is not behind the now 5-month-long YouTube ban. (We have that thanks to a childish argument between a few Greek and Turkish twits that went something like, "Ataturk is gay!" "Oh yeah? Well the Greeks INVENTED gay!". Then the Turkish government drew international attention to the insult by closing down the whole site and barring the whole country from seeing anything the site has to offer. Way to punish those Greeks! That'll show them!)

I have not lived in a country before that bans it's people from any sort of mainstream information, and it really bothers me. I have also not lived in a country where the people roll over passively and allow the government to do as it pleases. If you blocked YouTube in Canada or Taiwan, I'm pretty sure the locals would take to the streets. (You don't mess with the Taiwanese and their technology.) It's all part of progressing and moving forward which I feel the Taiwanese actively pursued and the Turks wouldn't pursue if they weren't forced to by the dangling carrot of the EU.

This week, because of the US election, the subject of elections came up in a few classes. Although Turks love to talk politics and worry about the state of the government in Turkey, none of my students had ever voted!!! I was shocked! They sit and complain about taxes and social policies and have never bothered to take any action. Why not? "There are no good candidates", "all politicians are all the same", "we are powerless against the government".... All really lame excuses because unlike their Arab neighbors to the south (that they never want to be like), they don't appreciate that they CAN vote or bother to apply their vote.

How disappointing. My students are all wealthy and represent the top management of their international companies. They are the upper echelons of Turkish society, and they don't even bother to vote.

And they don't even bother to speak up when the government takes away their freedom of information.

I'm totally disgusted.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oh yeah!

This picture is being used in an ad for John Robshaw Textiles, but the taxi, the dirt road, the driver, the textiles reminds me of a day, long ago, when my sister and I begged a poor Mumbai taxi driver to take us to the suburbs in search of Fabindia.  

Although  we actually found it, (after hours of driving around and asking directions), when we arrived it was closed! We asked if he would take us back the next day since he already knew where it was and he agreed. Soon he was whisking us all over Mumbai to temples, Dhobi Ghats, and markets and finally, he took each of us in turn to the airport. 

If I had scanned my India journal, I could have figured out his name. I do remember he told a touching story about his wife. 

When it was time to get married, his mother and father went out looking for a suitable match. Like every Indian boy, he envisioned his future wife would be a beautiful girl with good cooking skills and super-model good looks. He was horrified when his mother introduced him to a short, round, plain girl. He rejected her on looks alone. (Although he himself was no Shahrukh Khan!)

But his mother insisted this was her choice for him and he was pushed hard into the union. He finally gave in and married her -- only to make his mother happy. But he was unhappy and made the first few years of their life together unpleasant for his new wife. He admitted he criticized everything she did and cooked and never had a kind word for her. 

Over time, she gave birth to a son.  He softened and they began to talk more. He grew to appreciate her cooking, maybe even more than his mother's, (gasp!) and then one day he realized that he had grown to love her. Not just love her, but ADORE her.  

He explained that his mother had been right all along, that although she wasn't thin and willowy with "wheat-ish" skin, her personality and temperament were an exact match for him. In his eyes, she was perfect, and he gushed when he spoke about her.

Looking back on the early days of his marriage, he said he felt ashamed he had treated such a wonderful woman so badly, but that she endured it all without holding a grudge, and for that, he loved her even more. 

It was a nice story. You hear so many negative arranged marriage stories, it was refreshing to hear about one that actually worked out. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Suzani Rescue Operation!

This chair is covered in a material you can find all over Istanbul called Suzani, which actually means "embroidery" in  Uzbekistan where they come from. They can also be very pricey.

I've always really liked the fine silk pieces like this....

....and when I arrived home from Canada I saw that Bulent had bought me a red one not unlike the one on the chair up top. 

It only had 2 problems:

1. It had some crazy hot pink and lime green on it. Not my first choice of colours, and...
2. It really stank like mildew. (He bought it off a guy who was trying to sell a few items for money on the street - I can see why he got such a good deal.)

So, I hung it off my washing line for 3 days, but the smell did not budge. I had no choice but to wash it, knowing full well the colours were going to do crazy things - but it was unusable the way it was! 

So I got out  bucket and filled it with a generous amount of salt and vinegar to try to set the dyes. I soaked the whole thing overnight. In the morning I found that despite my efforts, the colours ran anyway.

Nothing to lose, I put it in the washing machine. I always wash everything on cold. Halfway through the wash cycle, I decided to check it and found that during my time in Canada, someone re-set our washing cycle to use hot water! The whole Suzani was really dark. Almost black. I looked it over, and actually didn't mind it. I set it to cold and let the wash cycle finish. 

End result? Most of that black came out in the rinse cycle. It's still red, but darker. The hot pink and lime green are gone, replaced with a deeper purple pink and the lime became pale sage green. Much better. And the best part, it doesn't smell like a barn anymore. 

I wish I had a "before" picture. Here is the "after". 

The colours are slightly off in this pic, the pink should be a bit more purple, and the the big white flowers have a bit of green to them. But it's miles better than it was!

A Sister Collaboration!

Many, many, many years ago, (more than 10!) my incredibly talented sister carved this design for her book making business in Victoria. This summer when I was home, I picked through the old stamps and brought back a few of the Islamic and Christmas -ish ones to play with.

I sat down one night with all my block printing supplies and printed up a heap of these in gold, turquoise black and red. Signing them R&M was the icing on the cake! I think they'll look awesome in frames.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Turkish Coffee

In Sultanahmet's hippodrome, next to the Blue Mosque, there's a nightly "night market" during the month of Ramadan. At sunset, the square fills up with families and picnic blankets taking up every spare centimeter of grass. Surrounding the eat-a-thon are even more places to eat; ice cream, donair kebabs, baklava,  dried fruit, nuts and, of course -- Turkish coffee!

In the Hippodrome, there are several vendors making Turkish coffee. Always made by men, who brew the ground beans traditionally over hot coals in little individual copper pots. The cups are kept hot in a big pot of hot water off to the side.

Coffee ground reading is big here. It involves first enjoying your little cup of thick strong coffee, but don't drink it all!  Stop when you get to the black sludge at the bottom, (it tastes bad so you probably will anyway). Then place the saucer over the top of the cup and flip it over. Make a wish and make 3 swirling circles with the cup and saucer and place it on the table. After a few minutes the reader will flip the cup and saucer and begin reading.

These are the basics....

Then you take a look at the grounds themselves. You'll see that there are shapes in the grounds that can be interpreted but the reader. Every symbol, from ants to zeppelins have special meaning. 

Some people love it, some hate it, some acquire a taste for it, (as I did).  As the evenings turn a little cooler in late September, and the moon is full, (like it is tonight) nothing beats a tiny, steamy cup of Turkish coffee!

Even if you don't like Turkish coffee, you can still get a reading!  Try this out!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Little Cloud Pictures

This is a cool site. You put an URL or piece of text into it and it creates a little picture. The large words are the ones that show up most often in the text. I actually did this one a few months back when I just came back from Canada, can't you tell! (I even have the word "pine beetle" in there!)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Most Prized Possessions

One of my projects while i was a t home was to locate my travel journals and scan them into my computer for safe keeping. Honestly, I didn't get all of them, (India, Egypt and Arizona still have to be done) but I got a large part of them scanned. Here's a glimpse of a page or two from the few that i did get uploaded....


...and Spain!

and Taiwan in Spain! I was in Madrid during the big 9.21 earthquake, this newspaper is how I learned of the news.


and more Thailand!

Bali - my first time across the equator

The lost and reworked book of Cambodia - I lost my original book in the Hong Kong airport on the way home. I made another journal with extra post cards stamps and in-flight magazines gleaned from friends and fellow teachers.

Cambodia again!

Turkiye!! (my second time through)

....and Turkey again. Documenting my love affair with this city!

Now that I'm looking at these, I realize one of my favorite books, which includes my favorite page is missing. It's the King of Jordan summarizing our trip so far through his country in a postcard home to my parents. (Not really!) 

Absolutely my most prized possessions!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

From the Air

I like taking pictures out the windows of airplanes. I have started a collection of them ever since I missed the mother-of-all-out-the-window-of- an-airplane pictures - I passed over "The World" when leaving Dubai with no batteries in my camera. 

Never again!

So here are some pics I took on the way home from the Okanagan to Istanbul via Vancouver and Amsterdam. I had a middle seat from Vancouver to Amsterdam so no good pics of Greenland, (sorry!) but there are some of the ones I did get. 

Above is Kelowna and it's brand new floating bridge!

Okanagan Lake looking north towards Vernon. I love the feeling you get of looking down the valley.

This was taken about 10 minutes after takeoff, heading west. As you can see from the rusty red, the trees that haven't already been logged are being heavily infected with the dreaded Pine Beetle. 

Vancouver! We passed over the downtown area, then made a huge sweeping U-turn to land at YVR.
This picture was taken out the window at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Too tired to drag my body into the city a second time. Jet lag is MUCH worse heading east than it is heading west. 

Below, the sunset about 5 minutes after take-off from Amsterdam. Not much mystery as to what crappy airline I was flying!!  (To their credit, I was pleasantly surprised -- they were much better than when I flew them 13 years ago!) 

Too dark coming into Istanbul to capture any images... maybe next time!