Friday, August 19, 2011

World's Shortest Trip to Lake Como

My adventure in Italy, alas, has almost come to an end. (I wrote this Thursday night and am now posting it early Friday morning, just before we leave for London.) I left Istanbul yesterday on a noon plane, arrived in Milan at 2pm, and after an hour-and-a-half van ride arrived in Menaggio, on the left leg of Lake Como. My grandmother, as it turns out, is fine and I think it’s safe to say that she was more freaked out than actually ill. But I’m happy to be here…who can pass up even a minute in Italy? (Interestingly, I wrote a last-minute freelance article for a magazine in Turkey about two weeks ago extolling the lake’s virtues…maybe my subconscious was calling out?)

When I’ve come to Lake Como before with my grandmother, we’ve usually spent two or three weeks here, always at the same hotel, the delightful Grand Hotel Victoria. There are quite a few jaw-droppingly beautiful villas to visit but other than that, there’s not a lot to do – it’s the kind of place where you have a nice lunch, stroll along the promenade, indulge in a late-afternoon gelato, maybe stick a toe in the lake. Personally, I’ve always thought "little-to-do" was its appeal. It’s gorgeous and all you have to do is sit back and soak it in. As a result, in years past I’ve tended to do nothing…I’ve toured some of the villas, sure, but mostly I’ve just read on the porch and enjoyed the view. And that=bliss.

But this time, with only one full day, I wanted to take advantage. I woke up unexpectedly at 7:15am so the first thing I did was take a 40-minute walk, mostly along the water. I’m not much for waking up early but here it’s worth it. During the day, the sunlight can be really harsh, bouncing off every direction from lake, slopes, and buildings; the sunsets aren’t great because the town faces east with a wall of mountains behind. But in the early morning, everything is bathed in a rosy light and the town is so quiet, except for the few fishermen languidly trying for the day’s catch. It’s a simply gorgeous time. See?


Admittedly, I did spend most of the rest of the morning reading. But after lunch, after my grandmother went up to take a nap, and after I read some more, I walked down to the piazza for a late-afternoon gelato. There’s one main place, the Gelateria Edo, and I usually only go there once or twice a trip but today, I felt like I couldn’t leave Italy without having had some gelato. It just seemed wrong, you know?  So I ended up having a cup of chocolate and pistacchio di Bronte. I don’t know what “di Bronte” means but this was the SINGLE.GREATEST.FLAVOR.I.HAVE.EVER.TRIED. I might actually dream about this ice cream, it was so good. I think it was the salty-sweet combination, like a good piece of sea-salt caramel. It was amazing.

Afterwards, I sat on one of the benches along the promenade and just watched the people and the water and the world. Ah, Lake Como. Love, love Lake Como.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Good/Bad News: Bad News Alas

Everything here has been going really, really well...and then yesterday, out of nowhere, illness arrived.

First, one of our kittens got really sick and we now suspect that he ate something poisonous. :(  When I got home yesterday afternoon, I noticed that he was meowing and throwing up but at dinnertime, he seemed okay. He was sleepy but he drank water and ate a teeny bit of food, so I thought he had gotten whatever out of his system. When I came out this morning, he was sprawled out under a bush and I thought that he had died. He was still alive, thank god, but incredibly cold and barely moving. Cagatay took him to a volunteer vet service here and they spent the day treating him but his prognosis is not good. They said that since he hadn't had shots (still too young), his body is very susceptible. I am very, very sad but still hoping he will recover. I took this photo of them (he is the one looking up) the other day...

The other piece of bad news is that grandmother is also ill. She has been staying in Lake Como, as she usually does, but this year is by herself and had some sort of fainting episode (or perhaps even a minor stroke). She can't really understand the doctor and is afraid to leave the room so I am going there tomorrow to rescue her. We are hoping she just had a medication mix-up and only needs some TLC. So I am flying to Milan tomorrow and then we are going on to London, to my aunt and uncle's house, on Friday. At the moment, the plan is that on Saturday, we will fly together to Florida...which means that at some point next week, after getting her situated, I will be back in DALLAS. Which just seems crazy to me. Pin It

Good/Bad News: Good News First

My good news post - which I intended to put up over the weekend - was about how much the kittens have grown! We started feeding them more expensive cat food and it's like they became superkitties overnight, running faster, exploring father, and chasing each other up trees.

My favorite kitten, who we've named Mustafa and plan to keep, learned how to jump up on the windowsill last Thursday night. It's kind of amazing because A. he's the smallest of the bunch and B. none of the other kittens have grasped the concept. But somehow he manages to launch himself up there and does a pull-up to actually get on the sill...and now spends time exploring or napping in the apartment. He seems to like the idea of being our cat.

So in celebration, I thought I'd put up a mini-gallery of his latest antics...

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Weekend Ride up the Bosphorus

The last 24 hours have been kinda crazy (more on that to come) so I haven't had time to blog...and don't have much time now. But I wanted to put this photo up as a placeholder for a post about our awesome Sunday ride north along the Bosphorus... Pin It

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 15 Photo Challenge: My Shoes

Unfortunately, I never got around to my to-do list today. All I managed to do was take a photograph of my shoes, when I was on the ferry this morning on the way to Kandilla for the tutoring lesson. It all looks very exotic, doesn't it?

More real posts tomorrow, really! Pin It

Day 14 Photo Challenge: Flowers

Is the weekend really over?!? Hard to believe. I'm giving an English lesson in the morning but otherwise, I'm pledging to catch up on my overextended to-do list...which includes some long-overdue regular posts and individual emails. :) But for now, flowers from today's adventures...

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Photo Challenge Day 13: From a Distance

Everytime I read this phrase, I can't help thinking of that awful Bette Midler song (and normally I'm a fan of hers). But anyway, I digress. In the middle of the photo, you can see some minarets in Etiler...which is where we drove, about 10 minutes later, to have dinner with friends. 

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 11 Photo Challenge: Something Fun

It's pouring rain today (for the last week, it's actually felt like fall) and so my options for fun were limited. So I did what I always love to do on a rainy day: curled up with a mug of hot tea and read a book...

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News in Turkey: Assault for wearing shorts

A couple of days ago, Cagatay told me about this news story that was gaining traction, about this professional volleyball player who said that a man on the bus in Istanbul assaulted her, on my birthday as it happens, because she was wearing shorts and had stretched out her legs.

According to the Hurriyet Daily News, "A male passenger reportedly hit İbrahimoğlu's feet while walking past her and sat next to her despite other available seating. İbrahimoğlu asked the man to apologize for hitting her feet. The man in turn yelled at İbrahimoğlu, saying, 'You cannot sit on this bus, stretching out your naked legs, you are corrupting the morals of the people,' and called her 'insolent.'" When she told him that he was the one being insolent, things escalated and the man punched the volleyball player - who is only 19 years old - in the face. When she tried to call the police, the rest of the passengers told her not to make trouble. The police apparently told her she was fine and didn't need to file a report.

Frustrated that the general answer to the situation seemed to be "shut your yap," a group of volleyball players have decided to stage a protest this Saturday and will ride the same route in shorts. It's Ramadan now and while I'm not sure if that actually heightens the protest (ie scantily clad ladies out and about during the holy month), the first Hurriyet article seems to imply that the imminence of Ramadam, which started on August 1, had something to do with the initial assault - although no one will ever know since everyone let the man get off the bus scot free.

I partially posted this because it brings up a gray area, in my opinion, here which is how clothing, religion, and a secular society intersect. Ataturk modernized Turkey (introduced the Roman alphabet, adopted the Western calendar, made people take surnames) after WW2 and founded a decidedly secular state. He was a military man and since then, the military's role has been to preserve the separation of church and state - which is why it was such a big deal when the top generals quit in protest two weeks ago. As the New York Times wrote, "The decision [to put in his own guy] stamped Mr. Erdoğan’s civilian authority on the country’s military, which has long regarded itself as a protector of Turkey’s secular traditions." Besides basic puppeteering, one of the problems with this is that Prime Minister Erdoğan, in power since 2002, is the head of the AK Parti, which supports a more Islamic way of life. Tellingly, even though he is supposed to be the head of a secular government, his wife wears a headscarf. Does this vague dismissal of secularism then seep into regular society, like with what happened on the bus?

Turkey is absolutely at a crossroads and it remains to be seen whether or not they'll stay with the secular, E.U. route or opt for more religion-based laws and align themselves with other Middle Eastern countries. I think this quandry reflects very clearly on the street in terms of clothing, in the sense that you see women in all kinds of outfits. In our residential neighborhood, I often see women wearing headscarves but increasingly, burqas too. (Whether they're residents or tourists, I don't know, but it would be odd for tourists to be in our area.) I never see women wearing shorts or short skirts in our neighborhood. On the other hand, last weekend we were at the Starbucks on the Asian side's main shopping street and it was like being in Miami Beach. As a result of the typical dress in our 'hood, I tend to be more conservative and always wear long dresses, capris or pants if I'm alone...mostly because I don't want to invite the sort of attention that the volleyball player received. When I'm with Cagatay, I'll wear skirts, but I never wear shorts, mostly because it marks me immediately as a foreigner. Nothing has ever happened to me, nothing has ever been said, but again, I can do without any special attention.

So, uh, everyone still wants to come visit, right? Pin It

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Photo Challenge Day 10: Something I Made

While I'm an avid DIYer and theoretically have many options for this here post, I have very little of my handmade goods with me in Turkey. So I went with this letter necklace that I made in April and which currently hangs on my jewelry tree.

I made it after seeing this J.Crew catalogue photo. I love the joy portrayed here (in fact, I love it so much that I actually own the bathing suit - go marketing!) and have always been curious about what the necklace read...on the actual page, it's a little less fuzzy though the second word is still impossible to make out. But I imagined that it read "Hello Sunshine" so that's what I went with here. Pin It

Blog: Under Construction

As I've been posting, I've been working bit by bit on my blog's design. (I added a background, didja see?) I think I've worked out all the kinks thus far but I know web pages can look different depending on the browser. So if you see something funky, would you let me know? Thanks! Pin It

Weekend in Sapanca

The weekend following my birthday (erm, yes, we're talking about events that happened nearly two weeks ago), we went to Cagatay's friends' lake house with some of his other friends (who I guess are my friends too now). Cagatay spent most of his childhood summers in the southwestern city of Bodrum, at a beachside community called Aktur, and most of his friends now are from those days. So he's known most of these people for 25 years or so; as it happens, he also works now with the lake house's owner, Selcuk. Despite living in a city of 15 million people, his life and friends are oddly interconnected.

But I digress...on Friday night, we drove with with Emir and Idil to the lake house at Sapanca, which is about 1.5 hours east of Istanbul. It was such a great weekend, so relaxing. Since we mostly spent our time eating, lounging at the pool, or sitting out on the patio, there's not a lot to write I thought I'd mostly just show photos in this post.

The house is located in a development...there were probably about 20 houses, mostly weekend places I gather, and all looked pretty similar. In addition to the lake (which we only looked at), there was a glorious blue pool. This is only the second time I've seen a pool in the month and a half that I've been here.

Sapanca is a little town and we were about five minutes out anyway, so it definitely felt like we were out in the country.  Animals - frogs, ducks, geese - abounded and flowers were in bloom all over.

Saturday night, the sunset was gorgeous. (The windows in our Istanbul apartment mostly face east so alas, I don't have a prime sunset view.) Cagatay and I walked to the water to check it out. When I came back, everyone surprised me with a birthday cake. Isn't that sweet? (He actually surprised me with a birthday cake last year too, the day after we met, so perhaps this is the start of a tradition.) Shortly thereafter, fireworks started going off over the lake, in celebration of another wedding. So all in all, a very festive Saturday.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Photo Challenge Days Eight and Nine

Yeah, I skipped out on the weekend's photos, mostly because we were running around and I didn't have time. Oh well.

So, yesterday's criteria was technology and the first thing that popped into my mind was my iPod. Today's is Faceless Self Portrait so I went for things that both represent me and were near to hand...thus People of the Book, which I'm currently reading, my boarding pass for Istanbul, my oh-so-stylish glasses, and a nameplate necklace (pre-Carrie Bradshaw!) that my mother gave me so long ago I can't even remember when.  


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Friday, August 5, 2011

Photo Challenge Day Five: Someone I Love

It's been an exhausting day today - I worked all day on an article and now my brain is fried (and I still need to prepare my tutoring lesson for tomorrow morning). I didn't have much time to devote to today's photo but I did try to snap a good one of my favorite kitten this morning when I went out to feed them. (Is it wrong to have a favorite? Worse, does this mean that my mother actually has a favorite child...and just won't admit it?) He was being a bit squirrelly so alas, this was the best I could do...

(Of course I would have taken a photo of Cagatay as my someone but he was gone all day at work.) Pin It

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Birthday Thursday: Tutoring, Dinner and Fireworks

It was my birthday last Thursday (yes, I am woefully behind) and also coincidentally, the day I was giving my first English lesson. Through a friend of Cagatay's, I had met Ahu who has basically set up her own freelance business after working at one of the universities for a number of years. She and I had met up the week before and as it turns out, she is going to London with another student for three weeks (nice, right?) and has turned over two of her students to me while she is gone. So long story short, last Thursday Ahu and I went to meet Ayse at her apartment to do the first lesson together. (Which was a total relief...I was feeling a little lost at how to teach English to someone else but now have it under control.) As it turns out, Aysa is a former model and used to be Miss Turkey...and we essentially were born on the same day. (I was born in the U.S. at night and she was born in Turkey in the morning which, with the time change, makes us born just hours apart.)

We were supposed to meet her at 9:30 but she was running late so Ahu and I ended up hanging out at a cafe in Ayse's neighborhood of Kandilla that had a gorgeous view. Incidentally, Ayse has the exact same view from her apartment.

That night, in celebration of my birthday, Cagatay and I went out to a pizza restaurant in Rumeli (where the castle is) called Mama; I suggested it after seeing it on one of our recent walks along the Bosphorus. We sat outside, along the road and in sight of the lit-up Fatih Mehmet Bridge. We both had mojitos - he picked classic while I opted for the mixed berry. I really enjoyed the place - as you know, I like sitting outside here in the warm weather just taking everything in. Perhaps Istanbul should be called the city that never sleeps; it always seems like there is something going on somewhere.

After dinner, we took the mandatory stroll along the water. As luck would have it, wedding fireworks started going off, exploding picturesquely under the bridge. (Fireworks commemorating weddings are very big here - I've seen or heard them at least twice a week every week that I've been here.)

After that, we went back home, exhausted but sated. We were too full to have dessert (though I spent a lot of time admiring my colorful macaroons) but I did open presents! Cagatay gave me a pair of Adidas/Stella McCartney flats that I had been admiring and a blender/mixer thing. Although a blender seems kinda weird (I keep thinking of that scene in Father of the Bride where Annie freaks out because her fiance gives her one and she thinks it represents his regressive expectations), I really wanted it, mostly to help with my adventures in cooking. Pin It

Photo Challenge Day Four: Favorite Color

Cagatay got me a package of macaroons for my birthday "cake" and there were nine of them, in ridiculously bright colors. While most of them have been eaten by now, I saved the pistachio one in anticipation of today's challenge:

Truth is, I don't really have a favorite color - it depends on my mood in the moment. But I love the emerald hue here...I have an iPod in the same color. Pin It

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Photo Challenge Day Three: Clouds

We had lovely clouds today, big and full. I took the first photo of our street; in the distance you can see Sapphire, the new mall that opened when I was here during Spring Break (and which houses both an H&M and Papa John's!). In the second photo, the cloud formation reminded me of a mustang rearing up...anyone else see it?

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The return of the "porcupine"

I was all ready to tell you how our porcupine friend returned last night around 7:30, in daylight-ish hours, and how he doesn't seem too bothered by me or the kittens. I was googling to see how far they can shoot their quills, to add a little factoid to this post (and it turns out that they can't actually shoot their quills) when I started to notice that our little guy didn't much look like the porcupines in the photos.

That's because he's really a hedgehog. (Sadly, my photo here isn't great...he wasn't in the mood to pose, I guess.) So I guess the kittens nor I really have anything to worry about - if he gets scared, he'll just curl up into a little ball. As I googled, I learned that A. there are no wild hedgehogs in the Americas and B. they are sweet enough to keep as pets. Pin It

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

30-Day Photo Challenge

I just came across this photo challenge on Oh So Lovely and decided to give it a whirl. It's pretty simple, you just take a photo that fits the day's description. Mostly I like the categories and think it will be a nice way to capture eclectic moments in daily life. Anyone else want to join?

Since I missed yesterday, I decided to combine Day 1 (self-portrait) with Day 2 (what I wore). In the future, I will try and be more creative... :)


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Coffee, Gypsies in Bebek

Last Sunday, we joined friends for coffee at Caffe Nero, just a few doors down from where we'd met my aunt for drinks, in swanky Bebek. We parked about seven minutes down the road, along the Bosphorus, and so as we walked, we got to see people going about their Sunday.

As we approached the Egyptian consulate, right before we hit the Bebek strip, we saw a number of men standing around in their swim trunks, jumping into the water, or sunbathing on the sidewalk. It was ALL men - no women in sight. When I mentioned this to Cagatay, he said simply, "of course." Apparently the water is clean enough to swim in but with all the boat traffic and trash (the average Turk has no issues with littering), I would never dream of dipping a toe in the Bosphorus. Yuck.

However, the biggest surprise came when we got to the large waterside park right next to the Caffe Nero - there were hundreds of gypsy families picnicking there. I was probably least surprised of the group because I had no expectations - but the other three were shocked to see the Roma in such large numbers in such a fashionable neighborhood. (Apparently, the picnicking even made the front page of a newspaper the next day.)

I don't know much about the Roma except that, as in most places, they're not well liked by the greater community and have been pushed to the fringes. Personally, I can't tell the difference between a "regular" Turk and someone who is Roma, especially considering that a lot of the religiously minded women here wear headscarves, which is what traditionally identifies a gypsy in other countries. But I do know there's been some controversy here as the Turkish goverment seizes now-valuable land from the Roma and other impoverished communities in the name of urban renewal (and then moves them into distant apartments they can't afford). They controversially razed the Sulukule neighborhood, which Time says was home to the world's oldest Roma community, a few years ago, and are now focusing on a crime-ridden neighborhood relatively near us called Tarlabaşı. You can see a little bit of what Sulukule and its residents looked like in this sad ten-minute video called My Beloved Sulukule.

Anyway...(umm, I don't know how to segue from that), as we were walking back to the car - after passing the gorgeous and newly renovated Art Nouveau Egyptian consulate building - we passed this dog, sleeping on a scooter...

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Adventures in Cooking: Gnocchi

As we all know, I am useless in a kitchen. I am not a bad cook, I just lack experience in even the most basic culinary skills. Among other things, I've recently had to google how to boil eggs and brown hamburger meat - I already knew basically how to do it but I gather there's a technique to these things. And I decided a couple of months ago that this time in Turkey would be a good opportunity to figure out just what those techniques are. Julia Child didn't learn how to seriously cook until she was 37, right?

The main reason for this project is that when I feed myself in the USA, I tend to rely on packaged foods, like frozen pizza, maybe frozen waffles, macaroni and cheese, etc. And while there are amply stocked grocery stores here, they don't generally have that kind of stuff - rather, it's more focused on basic foodstuffs that you combine into other things. (Having said that, I've only been to our local grocery story, the double-M Migros...perhaps there's a world of packaged wonderland waiting at the larger triple-M stores.)

I'd already made other simple dinners like spaghetti or quesadillas, but I decided to make my first foray into "real" cooking last week with gnocchi. Which I know is supposed to be really hard to cook well but the instructions in The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook, which I picked up in London some years ago, made it seem downright easy.

I had plugged some recipes into OneNote before coming here and as I got started, I realized that the cookbook actually had two different gnocchi used egg and one used melted butter. I didn't know which way to go so I ended up consulting the doyenne of all things kitchen, Martha Stewart, who it turns out favors the egg route. Luckily I had some friends supervising my progress...

The recipe is pretty simple, however you do it. First you boil the unpeeled potatoes though I made a mistake by peeling them first. Not sure it made a difference. Then you mash the suckers. (Yes, I had to look this up.) The first real mistake I made was here, in not mashing them well enough - I used a fork and didn't crush every single chunk into smithereens...which I can see in retrospect was necessary to a smooth and fluffy final product. Then you plop the mashed potatoes onto a work surface and dump the flour and eggs into the middle to make a dough. I had no idea how messy it would all become; I felt like I was back in preschool playing with paste.

 Once you do that, you roll the dough into little logs and then cut them into pieces. I boiled them in groups so that I could adjust as I went along, if necessary.

It was necessary to adjust. My first batch surprised me, in the sense that they were edible; they weren't the greatest gnocchi ever but they still tasted like gnocchi. However, I hadn't used enough flour in the dough because it had just seemed like too much when I was mushing it all around; once I added the rest though, the gnocchi improved. Overall, I probably could have used more salt and next time I will definitely mash the potatoes better.

Final result...

So, anyone know how to do any/all of this better? Suggestions welcome! Pin It