Published: January 4th 2011December 30th 2010
Winter in Antalya
Turks know it's winter when there is snow on the mountains overlooking Antalya
Mutlu Yillar (or HAPPY NEW YEAR) and welcome to Bill and Carol's Senior Years Abroad, Months 6 and 7. Though we continue to be extremely happy here, we talk often of our family and friends at home and find ourselves longing for news of all of you. Of course, that's especially true during the holidays.
Since Turkey is a Muslim country, we expected Christmas would be a non-event. But the Turks have adopted all the non-religious decor from western Christmas for their festive New Year's celebration, so the streets and shops are full of lights and decorated trees--just as they are at home. And Antalya is an international city, so the folks from countries that celebrate Christmas have had their influence. As a result, there are Christmas bazaars, parties, and concerts. We went to see a fine performance of the Nutcracker Ballet on Christmas Day--for 10 TL (about $8.00).
Bill and our New Zealand friend, Anne, prepared an unforgettable four-course Christmas Eve dinner. The planning began long before with a devious plot to purchase an officially forbidden ham from an unmarked butcher shop across town. When Anne and Bill finally found the shop, they came home with a gorgeous
Our New Zealand friend Annie baked this NZ meringue cake for our Christmas eve dinner
but gigantic (7.5 kilo/16 1/2 lb.) Italian ham. Later, with a Turkish friend translating, we realized that what we had was, in fact, a prosciutto-- fabulous meat but requiring a whole new menu. The culinary team went back to the drawing board, and the end result was, well, a triumph. We sang Christmas Carols by candlelight at the end, then collapsed in sated ecstasy.
Speaking of Christmas, we want to pass on the little-known fact that St. Nicholas, the model for Santa Claus, was from a place that is now in Turkey. He was a bishop in 4th century A.D. in Demre, a smallish Mediterranean town not far from Antalya. According to the most commonly told story, Nicholas was an unusually generous cleric who frequently gave anonymous gifts to poor families who could not afford dowries for their daughters. (That circumstance was a frequent cause of prostitution.) In order to make gifts secretly, he put gold coins in socks, knotted them, and tossed the socks down the chimney of poor families' homes. Eventually, he was caught in the act and became famous for his kindness. The red suit, the pipe, the North Pole, and the reindeer were 19th Century
Our Italian adventure
We thought we were getting a "Christmas ham" from a Greek butcher.....it turned out to be a huge Italian Proscuitto.....Yum!
additions by some New Yorkers, but apparently the stocking gifts and the chimney have their origins with the historical St. Nick.
And here's a little holiday story. This one is personal and illustrates the kind of warm interactions we have in Turkey: When Bill asked what I wanted for Christmas, I asked for a floorlamp--since I love reading with good light. Floorlamps are rare in Turkey, and since shopping adventures are fun for me, I set off with Bill's blessings and a clipart image of a floorlamp. After seeing a couple of lamps that were too expensive and too flimsy, I headed to Gulluk, the used furniture district where we have bought all of our furniture. Two hours and perhaps 30 shops later, I was beginning to head home, dejected and lamp-less. Then I heard someone running after me, calling "Hanim! Hanim!" (Madam) It was the older man who had sold us our living room furniture nearly seven months ago. He kissed my hand and pressed it to his forehead (a gesture of respect), inquired as to my health and Bill's, and invited me to have tea in his shop. When, over chai, I showed him my crumpled clipart
St. Nicholas in Demre
Santa Claus is really a Turk
drawing of a floorlamp, he bowed, poured me another cup of chai, said "on dakika, lutfen" (ten minutes, please) and left clutching the drawing. It was clear that he was going to make the rounds of shopkeepers he knew in search of my lamp. He returned with a wonderfully funky, old-fashioned floorlamp of carved wood with a fringed shade. (Somebody's grandma died and the family probably couldn't wait to get rid of it.) I loved it immediately and asked the price. He said that that the other shopkeeper wanted 70TL, but he had bargained it down to 50TL (roughly $38) for me. The price was about 1/4 of what I had been quoted for a flimsy new lamp earlier, but when I took off the shade of the lamp of my dreams, the bulbs were hanging down from frayed electrical wires and one socket had been shattered. When I asked, in my best schoolgirl Turkish where there was an electrical repair shop nearby, my shopkeeper friend flashed a proud smile: "Ben elektrik tamirci!" (I am electric repairman.) Then, with a wide kitchen knife, a roll of masking tape, and a screw driver, he set about to put the lamp in
perfect working order, racing out to neighboring shops now and then to get parts. When we parted, I reached out to thank him with a little extra money and a handshake. He again kissed my hand and pressed it to his forehead. "Mutlu Yillar, Hanim," he said: Happy New Year, Madame. Now the lamp stands beside our Christmas tree, and it casts a warm glow -- almost as warm as my memory of buying it.
A highlight of this fall was a visit from Ted, who was able to wrangle time from his job in Washington D.C. to be with us for two weeks beginning in mid-November. We had a gaggle of friends over for a Thanksgiving feast in his honor. Fortunately, the weather was mostly warm and sunny, and Ted and Bill were able to swim in the Mediterranean almost every day. After Thanksgiving, we traveled west along the Sea for a few days, staying in the little village of Ucagiz and taking a boat out to a couple of great protected swimming coves. Just at the edge of the village, there were perhaps a dozen ancient sarcophagi from 2nd Century A.D.--long ago emptied by grave robbers. Such
The Christmas Lamp
The Christmas Lamp and Ficus (Christmas Tree) behind it.
antiquities are so common there, that the villagers string ropes from the tombs to hang their laundry! From the swimming boat, we could see the remains of the ancient city of Kekova and the charming island village of Kale, topped by a crumbling Roman castle. A bit farther west along the Sea coast, we came to Patara, a breathtaking ancient (2nd Century BC) site just now under restoration. One of the sites under re-construction at Patara is the first parliament building in the world. The Lycian Federation held their meetings there with representatives from all the Lycian states, up and down the Mediterranean coast. The Lycian parliament was actually a model for the earliest stages of the U.S. representative democracy. In another trip we climbed around the 2nd Century Roman ruins at Aspendos. From my observation, Ted's favorite adventure in Turkey was serving as Bill's sous chef in the kitchen. (The guy is developing some pretty fine knife skills.) Together, they prepared some sumptuous Turkish meals, and, now back in the U.S., Ted says his cooking still bears Turkish influence--especially the bulgur, large quantities of specially-prepared fruits and veggies, and a yogurt drink called Ayran.
Another great autumn treat
Red Underwear for New Years
This is what Turks give each other for New Years.....among other presents.
came when a Turkish couple, Emel and Ibrahim, invited Bill and me to join their university alumnae group on a weekend trip to the small Mediterranean city of Kas for a special celebration of Cumhurriet Day--the day in 1922 when Turkey became an independent Republic. It was a jolly and congenial group, perfect interpreters of the spectacular celebration. Together we joined about 10,000 visitors from all over Turkey --all of us seated outdoors at flag-decorated tables in the town square just at the edge of the Sea. After a fish dinner and lots of beer and raki (a demonic licorice liqueur), there were fireworks, high school marching bands--and then the dancing began. Traditional Turkish folk music blared, and young and old were on their feet, swaying and waving flags. We elders left around midnight, but the partying went on long after that. (An interesting aside: although there was alcohol everywhere, nobody seemed drunk or even tipsy. Maybe they're just discreet!)
We learned from our more liberal Turkish friends that this particular celebration has a sharp political context in the current environment in Turkey. The celebration we joined was particularly fervent because the merrymakers are expressing their love for Turkey
The Freighter on the Antalya Rocks
This freighter was blown onto the rocks in Antalya harbor during the mid-December hurricane force winds.
as a secular state, the way Ataturk formed it in 1922. Some fear that there is a trend away from secularism and toward more Islamic control in the government; they fear that Turkey could become like modern-day Iran. So, the celebration we attended was not just a huge, pretty party. We could feel conviction in the passion we witnessed there.
Bill and I are finding our days and evenings quite full now. In addition to the Turkish lessons 3 times a week and daily homework as well as our Wednesday night bistro gatherings with English teacher friends, we join various pals for dinner or to see the symphony (which is really quite good). I have three private English students (2 are pro bono), and we both spend all day on Saturday volunteering at a dershane for public school children in a working-class neighborhood. (A dershane is an extra school where students--even elementary-aged students-- take special classes to prepare them for the exams required for university entrance.)
Our days at the dershane are a perfect example of a favorite theme of ours. It goes something like this: Whatever we set out to do in Turkey (call it Plan X),
it will inevitably be thwarted, delayed, or altered beyond recognition. But, if we just relax about Plan X and pursue it in a flexible, curious way, something else will happen, and that something (call it No Plan X) is likely to be quite wonderful. We went to the dershane thinking we would be teaching children English (Plan X). Well, that hasn't really happened--at least not much--but we continue to go because OTHER things happen (No Plan X), and we never know what. One teacher brought a whole family he knows to the dershane to meet us--and they were truly extraordinary people. Another teacher brought a 16-year-old homeless girl with her and asked us to talk with her in English. This girl is absolutely delightful: extremely intelligent, fun to teach, and motivated. We've made fascinating friends there, and we wouldn't dream of stopping.
So, our lives are full of surprises. One surprise was a bit frightening. Two weeks ago, a heavy thunder and lightening storm began, and it just got stronger and stronger. Before long, the rain and wind were hammering our single-pane windows so hard that I was sure they would break. As the night wore on, we could
hear things crashing and glass breaking outside--even over the sound of the thunderous wind. Our building is just 1/2 block from the Sea, so we may have gotten more tumult than those farther inland. All t.v. news (except BBC and CNN) is in Turkish, and even that is national news--not about Antalya. There was nothing on the web, so we just didn't know what was going on. But the next morning all seemed calm. Outside, a few trees had blown down, and there was some broken glass around. The internet reported that there had been hurricane-force winds and rain. There was lots of coverage about a Bolivian-flag freighter that had been moored in the Bay right near us. In the storm it had lost its anchor and crashed into the cliffs just below Ataturk Park. Of the 18 crew members, 17 were rescued, but the cook was washed overboard and never found.) When Bill went down to investigate the possibility of swimming after the storm, he found the Sea still boiling and wild. In fact, just before he arrived, a cleaning lady who had been sent for a bucket of sea water had been pulled out to sea and drowned!
The neighborhood is still reeling from that tragedy.
As always, we'll include a few extra pages of photos that we call "Faces and Places". If you have time, we hope you'll take a peek.
I'll close with hearty best wishes from both of us to each of you for fun, serenity, and fulfillment in the year ahead. And when you lift your glasses tomorrow night, give a nod toward Turkey, will you? We'll be toasting YOU!
Carol (with Bill by my side, as always)
There are more photos below