Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Selen's birthday dinner!


I met Selen in 2003 when we picked her up from the AFS orientation in Boston. We took her to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch and horrified her with American portions. Our relationship--while tense at times--has withstood several years and one giant ocean. I am lucky to know her and constantly reflect on how lucky I am to havefamily living so near by to sleepy Tekirdag, especially when that family is located in Istanbul.

Well, last week was an important holiday. It was the 25th anniversary of Selen's birth so of course I made the trek to Istanbul. Before anybody gets any ideas about Turkish public transportation, I would like to interject a bit of my own first hand experience. Their busses are phenomenal. And, while I have yet to use their train system (I've only heard good things) their subways are are also impressive. I had a certain amount of skepticism before boarding my first bus but in the several I have since taken, my respect and affection for their services has only grown. This is nothing like the Fung Wah and from what Emily has told me of her trip to Boston from Rochester, it seems Greyhound has something to learn as well. They serve tea at least once each ride and also offer some kind of cookie or little cake, even though the trip averages 1:45. You do occasionally have to put up with a smoking driver, but I have found the seats comfortable and the staff friendly. One driver was so worried I would not be able to find the university on my own (after living there for 4 weeks) that he enlisted a student to deliver me there. When she saw me getting off to go to the hotel, she in turn enlisted another student who was also getting off at my stop to be sure that I found the hotel. Oh and the going rate is between $7 and $11 each way. But, back to the original story...

Delicious little fish that tasted like heaven.

Selen's birthday was a blast. Due to my lack of close friends (... I am still optimistic) as well as the social taboo of single women drinking in public places, I have not had a "night on the town" since I arrived. We headed to a fasil in Taksim, the famous center of Istanbulli nightlife and shopping (as well as the home to the Turkish Worker's Party--yes the communists are located in the center of Turkish metropolitan capitalism... hahaha.) We went in through some door that looked like an alley access route and then proceeded up a flight of stairs into a beautiful, dimly lit restaurant. I got to meet her friends (who were all amazing and so patient with both my English and Turkish), we got to dance to traditional music and eat delicious mezes (Turkish tapas.) The raki flowed, as did the music, as did the dancing. It was one of the more refreshing nights I have had (though, truth be told raki leaves you with a bad headache...)

The damage, both to the food and to my head...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Çay bahçe

I've been posting quite a bit and I hope you find them as entertaining as I do. I eventually will slow down but right now, everything is so new and exciting (or at least entertaining) that I have a lot to talk about.

While it deserves its own blog, I will dedicate this post to the Çay bahçe or tea garden. This will certainly not be the last time I write on the subject, but let me just speak about my initial reactions. There is so much to say about Çay bahçeler that I hardly know where to start. Its almost like writing about Irish pub culture.

First, çay, or tea, is served nearly constantly and in every conceivable social situation. Waiting on paperwork at the police station? Have some çay. Meeting with the university superiors? Have some çay. Have 15 minutes between classes? That is why God gave us çay. There are people specifically employed by business places (who bear a name that phonetically is Chef) whose sole position it is is to bring around trays of tea. The university has one for the Foreign Language Department. It seems that both the Rector and each of the Vice Rectors have their own çayci (çay-bearers.) The police station had a half dozen. There are even çayci running around the streets bringing tea to different businessmen as they work. I must have 8 cups a day, and that's on the low end of normal.

When you are invited to go out for a drink, don't be fooled. They don't want a beer, they want çay (much to my dismay.) So the Çay bahçe is an outdoor/indoor restaurant/cafe sort of a scene where you sit and just hang. A guy comes by periodically bringing around tea to those who want it. It is a phenomenal place to practice your Turkish. Sherri (the other half of the Tekirdag teaching duo) and I draw a lot of attention babbling away in English, because of this we often find strange new ways to impose our Turkish on unsuspecting strangers.

The other day, one such situation presented itself.

We were sitting drinking tea when we heard beautiful music coming from a table just next to ours. This brilliant sight is what we saw. So, Sherri decides that you know, what the hell, why not chat him up. I mean its not every day you come across someone with this kind of talent who has the looks to match. She starts talking to him and we find that alas, he speaks no English. Somehow we manage to talk for about a half hour and through much dictionary use and pantomime he invites us to his show later that night.

And, like that, thanks to the Çay bahçe we have our first Turkish friend.