the best mosque I've ever Sinan... (or fighting boredom in Bodrum by being blabbering bum...)

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September 18th 2008
Published: September 24th 2008
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America is now safe from the Azerbaijani menace, a tall, haunting hurricane of terrorism and data collection! FBI in Orlando airport saves the day...

(more on that later)

My approach to celebrating Ramazan has apparently been to fast from blogging. Consider this my iftar, my breaking of the fast.

I can say without exaggerating that I've covered a fair bit of ground in Turkey at this point. Why it's taken me four years to visit the spectacular city of Edirne, spitting distance west of İstanbul, I'm not really sure. Matt, Farah, and I made our way to İstanbul's massive main bus terminal (it dwarfs many an international airport, I kid you not), hopped a bus and a few short hours later found ourselves gazing at one of the finest mosques on earth. We paused for tea next to one of the ugliest and funkiest fountains on earth before doing the tourist thing.

We worked our way up, stopping at two other exquisite mosques before hitting the Selimiye. The vastly different Üçşerefeli Camii and Eski Camii may not be quite as well known as Sinan's masterpiece, but they are awe-inspiring mosques in their own right. Edirne is a very handsome city, proving to me once again that the Ottomans knew how to build their capital cities. It radiates the magnificence and dignity of İstanbul and Bursa, but on a less overwhelming scale.

Twice we visited the 16th century Selimiye Camii, the finest work of the Ottoman Empire's finest architect, Mimar Sinan. It's difficult to put into words just how awe-inspiring it truly is. The word masterpiece even seems to sell it a bit short. I recommend visiting.

The city is also positioned on the edge of the country, meaning if you get lost enough you could stumble into either Greece or Bulgaria. Or if you had a time machine, you could stay in one place and just go back to times when it was part of those countries. Once again, well done Atatürk! We found restaurant menus in three different languages (probably English too, better make that four...).

After two long days of exploring the city on foot and basking in its grandness, we parted ways, Farah to prepare for her return to North America, Matt to settle into student life in İstanbul, and me to go visit Pınar, who early in decade inspired me
Selimiye CamiiSelimiye CamiiSelimiye Camii

sorry about the power lines in the photo
to come to Turkey in the first place.

I stopped in İzmir long enough to change buses. Unfortunately, time did not allow a visit to the marvelous city. Approaching it at 5:00 AM is quite an experience. It's a wide, dense expanse of lights blanketed over small hills and shaped around its Aegean harbour. Watching the endless, handsome residential buildings from my bus window I couldn't help but see them as sort of Turkish versions of the trendier parts of Brooklyn or Queens. They are certainly a far step up from the characterless Easter egg-colored housing lumps that litter the newer outskirts of most big Turkish cities (and comprise nearly all of Ankara) - though, İzmir probably has those too. The city was probably more lit up than it normally would be at that hour with people breakfasting before the day's long fast.

The city has been a grand place since ancient times (it used to be called Smyrna). It seems to have recovered well from being burned down at the end of the revolutionary war. I passed through İzmir for a few days four years ago, but I think seeing it again would be more meaningful for me now. I look forward to someday stopping there again for a longer visit.

Sixteen hours after leaving Edirne, I arrived in Bodrum by bus. It was a hot morning which grew into a few very hot days. The dolmuş ride to Türkbükü was cake and I found Pınar waiting for me on the side of the road as I rolled into town. We walked down to the market and met her mother, a quiet and very observant woman finishing up a few deals and carefully inspecting some spinach. She later put this to good use in some delicious börek.

There was some drinking and swimming that followed and tons of catching up on old times and current news. This lasted a few days. My time with Pınar was like all my time with good, old friends: precious and fleeting. It was fantastic to spend time with her in her home country, if not her home (The Bodrum peninsula is a viciously exploited extension of land at the confluence of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, drenched in Europeans, ports, and expensive real estate. Her family has spent half a decade here and seems to be content with the area, for the time being, not in love with it. I likely would never set foot in the area were it not to visit them...).

My last full day in the area, we ended up in Bodrum proper, sitting in a tiny park. A man down on his luck had hit us up for some pocket change and twenty minutes later found himself in the embarrassing situation of walking past us with a beer in hand. We had also equipped ourselves with a few beers and invited him to sit down and join us. He had spent a fair bit of his life in Germany, but was now back in Turkey and apparently struggling with the financial challenges that a large amount of Turkey's population faces. He seemed to be a good man, if a little defeated, and we chatted away a few hours - OK, I mostly listened as it was all in full-speed Turkish, but I caught a fair bit of it. In any case, it was a real experience. It beat the obscene circus of shopping, neon clubs blasting deafening Western music, and all the other tourist nonsense that defines just about all of Bodrum.
who else?who else?who else?

haven't posted any Atatürk statues for a while...

I night bussed it back to İstanbul and collected my things from Sercan's and Jakis's pad. Then I hopped another night bus back to Ankara. I don't care how luxurious and chicken-free Turkish buses might be, I've had enough of these overnight deals for a while. Since then I've been settling back into life here on campus, and discovering that my Turkish is still totally insufficient. Classes started this week and that's really about all I have to report for now...

But I won't leave you there.

This next story isn't mine, but it belongs to a dear friend and it warrants re-telling:

Imagine a tall, dark-haired man with wavy hair and a warm, smiling face. He's the type of person always eager to buy the next round of tea for the table, help out a friend in need, or do whatever else he can to make his general vicinity a little more pleasant for everyone within reach. He's a lamb, a dove, a gentle giant - everybody knows one or two of these... utterly selfless and seemingly designed to simply make the world a better place. This is my friend Orxan.

I found out last spring that he had been deemed worthy of an American visa and was going to Florida with a popular student program here called "Work and Travel," for the summer. He said "I want go imprrrooove my English." I told him repeatedly that Florida might not be the best place for that, but he wasn't discouraged. Trouble started upon arrival, with his disembarkation card. His immigration official wrongly entered "Orkan" into the computer and this caused a full summer's worth of paperwork problems.

Not one to be discouraged, Orxan dived into his new job at a gift shop outside of Orlando, selling kitsch to tourists. His coworkers all hailed from different corners of Latin America and eventually taught him some rudimentary Spanish. His customers spoke, well, he wasn't always clear on that part, thanks to some of the interesting accents that make the southeast corner of the country, uhhh, interesting.

"It rain everyday!" Orxan said of Florida weather, in slightly outraged disbelief. Anyway, he survived the summer and even found time for a little bit of sightseeing, though he unfortunately did not get out of Florida, which he described as being "as big as Turkey." Not quite, but, fair enough, Florida is big.

Moving on, to the meat of the story...

Last week he found his wallet a bit empty, so rather than pay for a last expensive night at a hotel, he decided to go to the Orlando airport 24 hours early. After passing through the final security checkpoint, where he was detained for 40 minutes (while the rest of the people in line passed in one or two), he started walking toward his gate. Suddenly, he found himself surrounded by two police officers, and three plainclothes FBI agents.

They wanted to have a chat.

"What government are you working for? Turkey? Russia?"

"I am from Azerbaijan" replied our very bewildered hero, "I am a student."

"Where?" -only one of the FBI agents had ever heard of Azerbaijan (It's a small country wedged in between Armenia, Iran, Chechnya, Georgia , and the Caspian Sea. In its post-Soviet Union years, its corrupt ruling dynasty is supported by Washington because of a large oil pipeline deal).

Hours passed and Orxan's flight and checked luggage went onto NYC without him.

"We've been watching you. Why did you come so early? Why were you on your laptop all day long? What information were you sending to your government?" The questions went on and on and on - knowing Orxan, I can only imagine that this was in many ways a rather funny ordeal. I would've loved to have been a fly on the wall. Every inch of his belongings (though, thankfully, he didn't mention a cavity search) was thoroughly inspected, down to the pages of his pocket dictionary.

Eventually, it became apparent that Orxan was about as threatening as Mother Theresa holding a box of kittens, and they decided to let him go. They bought him three new tickets to get him back to Ankara and apologized for the inconvenience. He would have to wait at the Orlando airport another 24 hours before his new flight would leave.

As it turns out, Samir, another Azerbaijani student here and another student, from Kayseri, who I've not met, also went through the same ordeal at the airport. I can't imagine the expense of providing all these new plane tickets as well as the cost to the FBI and airport police for wasting their time with ridiculous goose chases. Money well spent.

"You country security veddy good!" said Orxan, with a laugh, after explaining all of this to me. He left last night to go home to Azerbaijan, to share his stories of frightening America to his worried parents...

Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


what a charming name for a boatwhat a charming name for a boat
what a charming name for a boat

Bodrum is to Turkey as Taco Bell is to Mexican food
The face of a dangerous threat to America'a securityThe face of a dangerous threat to America'a security
The face of a dangerous threat to America'a security

Orxan, on the right, looking like an international criminal mastermind...

24th September 2008

As per your part of the story: Ataturk looks a tad like Stalin, no? As per Orxan's: LOL
25th September 2008

I can't say that I like that comparison, Masha. Atatürk was a great man in many ways. I have nothing positive to say about Stalin no matter how far I stretch my imagination...
26th September 2008

Oh I meant the outfit, posture, etc. After all, Hitler and Charlie Chaplin had some similar appearance business going on as well. Just remember Jima, "there were some... problems" ;p
1st October 2008

fair enough. I guess I've just seen soooooooooo much Atatürk in the past year that he looks to me only like Atatürk.
1st October 2008

Jim, Thank you for sharing this with me. What a wonderful adverture you are on. I wish you all of the peace and happiness and good friends the world has to offer you. Take care my friend.

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