Yea, the weather was a bit unusual…

We may have mentioned it in passing to some of you or maybe even somewhere in the depths of our musing here, but as near as I can figure we can’t say it enough. Signs of human impact on the world’s weather systems seem clear to us from our travels. While our evidence and stories remain anecdotal at best, I think they still need to be shared. Every voice on this issue should be heard. 

Two days ago in the NY Times, an Op-Ed piece by a farmer, Jack Hedin, out of Rushford, MN, shared his observations on weather patterns and their detrimental effect of an extreme nature over the past 3 years in a piece entitled ‘An Almanac of Extreme Weather’. This piece hits home here as we work towards opening a store and later small farm ourselves in the coming months to years. I highly recommend his piece if only to provoke some discussion on more thoughts on shaping our food systems here in United States. As conversations in and around the politics of food and sustainability in smaller farms gets more and more divisive with some posing it as a selectively ‘elite problem’ I want to suggest that soon, we may all be at the mercy of far greater issues beyond food price heading right down to food scarcity brought on by increasing extreme weather conditions around the world. Smaller farms that work towards sustainable practices, I’d argue are very much our hope for changing the weather systems to something more positive, if we can grow the base and add farmers that are interested in this. 

An unseasonably cool early summer in Northern Thailand

One of our first stops of our travels, landed us in a little known province of Northern Thailand called Isaan. There we were lead by Jo Jandai and Peggy Reents of Pun Pun Center for Self-Reliance on a tour a famers that were working their land by paying attention and working to sustain their local ecological systems and have limited negative impact to these ecological systems they’re a part of and in turn were making positive impacts on their community. In our brief ‘Sustainability Study’ saw evidence of micro-climates that were preserving indigenous plants and animal life on farms such as Paw Jo’s, whose farm stood out in the sun drenched drought stricken fields of the Thai summer like an Oasis in the desert. And it literally was. Paw Jo had noticed that on his land he had a pond, a forest and the cultivated areas of land that he’d been using for a number of years and rather than clearing the land where the pond or forest sit he’d decided to let them stay and instead plant near and amongst these indigenous features. The pond and forest, being on his land, adjacent to his cleared and cultivated area acted as a barrier to pest and disease. At every turn of conversation he would chime in something about his garden and land as his medicine. And his strong hands, healthy body and clear eyes and sense of humor all spoke loudly in support of these claims. Take a look at the man Paw Jo and a few glances at his farmland and gardens.

Paw Jo, watching a few birds fly in over his test ‘dry-season’ red rice crop.

Paw Jo

Looking out from the entrance over his pond and into part of his forest.

 

The Pond and Forest Protect and Provide

A look across a neighbor’s farm over to Paw Jo’s in the background.

 

It Sticks Out

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A Turkish Food Primer: Börek and Beyond

What is a börek? Put simply, it is a savory pie: a filling, usually of cheese or meat, is sandwiched between sheets of thinly rolled-out dough. It is baked, or pan-fried, or deep-fried, which allows the ingredients to combine in a delectable marriage as the filling melts, blending to a creamy consistency inside a crisp casing of pastry.

“Simply Sensational”, Berrin Torolsan. p. 346. Istanbul: The Collected Traveler: An Inspired Companion Guide. Ed., Kerper, Barrie.

I couldn’t really have described it any better. Some mornings we’d smell the rich scent of börek wafting down the alleys and we had to find our way to the nearest börekçi (shop that specializes in making börek) and fill up on an entire bag’s worth of them. They’re best when freshly made – when you bite into them, there’s a crisp airiness that I still dream about. I was especially fond of the cheese and spinach ones, but there were plenty of other fillings like ground lamb or potatoes or straight cheese. They’re made from yufka, thin unleavened sheets of dough similar to phyllo, so their shapes and sizes could vary widely. We saw cigar shaped ones, puffy ones, triangle ones – each börekçi had its own specialties.

In Eskesehir we were quite lucky to try çiborek, a variant on börek that apparently came from the nomads in Central Asia. They seem like a cross between a flaky pastry and a dumpling, filled with minced beef and onions, and comes burning hot out of the fryer. When we bit into it, meaty-fragrant juice leaked out and scalded our tongues but at the same time we couldn’t eat them fast enough because they just tasted so good.


çibörek – eating nine of these is considered a normal portion!

Another savory bread-based snack that we encountered was gözleme. It’s a thin dough that’s rolled out by hand and cooked on a saç, a convex shaped griddle/oven with a flame underneath. Yufka is also traditionally made on a saç, but yufka is much thinner while the gözleme dough is more the consistency and thickness of lavash.


woman making gözleme by hand

Once the dough is almost done cooking, fillings such as cheese and spinach are placed in the center and the dough is folded up to contain the filling. By far the best one we had was at Bugday‘s organic market in Istanbul on Saturdays, as it was made freshly by hand. We found gözleme at every café in every bus station and town we visited, but often they had been sitting there for hours and were rather soggy. So we recommend a trip out there to try some.


gözleme

Bugday organic market
in its 4th year!
Saturdays
Sisli neighborhood, Bomonti, close to old Tekel Beer factory

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A Turkish Food Primer: Bread

So now you have all these meze on your table – what do you eat it with? Bread, of course! To say that Turks “like” bread is the understatement of the year. We had bread with literally every meal of the day, every day. Early one morning on the farm we were on our way to the fields in a cart attached to the back of a tractor. Suddenly the farmer pulled over and ran into the corner store. We realized, oh, he’s grabbing a huge loaf of bread to go with breakfast! (What do the girls we’re working with buy? Lollipops.)  We observed a few types of bread (ekmek) that  seemed to be most common: giant loaves of white bread similar to scali bread, pide, which is similar to pita but without the pocket, and lavash, which is a thin type of flatbread that’s slightly thicker than pide.


Bread and Water

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A Turkish Food Primer: Mezeler

On our return Stateside we’ve been cooking all our meals from scratch – partially because we don’t have a lot of money right now, we’re sick of eating out at restaurants, and we wanted to try to make some of the dishes that we’ve eaten on this trip. We’ve been reflecting a lot on Turkish food in particular because generally it doesn’t require any crazy ingredients or specialized equipment. So for the next few posts we’ll share what we observed about food while we were in Turkey and present some recipes.

One aspect of Turkish food that I fell in love with is the meze (plural: mezeler). Mezeler consist of small plates of food, similar to tapas, that are eaten at the beginning of lunch or dinner as appetizers, or can make up the entire meal if enough dishes are ordered. At many restaurants, the waiter wheels out a cart loaded to the brim with dishes wrapped in saran wrap for you to ogle, prod and salivate over.


at Değirmen Restaurant

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Doric, Ionic, Corinthian

One of the reasons why we picked Turkey as one of the countries on our itinerary was the fact that it has such a rich and long history. Wayne and I both have wanted to see classical ruins for a long time, and then we realized, duh, there are plenty of classical ruins to visit in Turkey! It’s super close to Greece and was part of the Roman empire.

After we ended up at Değirmen farm, we discovered that we weren’t far from Ephesus (Efes in Turkish – also the name of Turkish beer!). It was the second largest city after Rome during the Roman empire and was an important trading port. It had an enormous amphitheater, a network of aqueducts, large public baths and a beautiful library. After a few centuries though the city fell from prominence because the river gradually silted up the harbor and it became unusable. The history of Ephesus and the amount of remains that have been dug up/restored seemed quite impressive, so Wayne and I put on our tourist hats and joined the crowd.

The amphitheater. This place is ridiculously huge. And yes you can hear people murmuring on the stage rather clearly.

A view from about halfway up the steps in the amphitheater, looking out down the avenue. The port would have been farther into the distance. The sea is now about 5 kilometers away from Ephesus.

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Two Lumps, Please

One of the things I am missing the most since we've left Turkey is çay – pronounced “chai”. Çay at its most basic is black tea, but at the same time it's so much more than that. If there's one thing I had to pick to represent Turkish culture as we've experienced it, it would be çay. 

To make çay, a double boiler consisting of two stacked pots of differing sizes is employed. The bottom larger pot is filled with water and brought to a boil. Some of the boiling water is poured into the smaller pot on top that contains the tea leaves. The heat is kept high as the tea leaves steep and the water continues to boil. After a few minutes this thickened tea liquor is poured into small tulip-shaped glasses, and the strength of the tea can be adjusted individually by adding more hot water from the bottom pot. Çay is served extra hot, always in small glasses, a ceramic dish and a spoon, with sugar cubes on the side, and never with milk.

People drink çay all the time. At five in the morning on the farm we'd be greeted by the clink-clink-clink of a spoon being stirred in a glass in our next door neighbor's kitchen. You can while away the hours on a one lira glass of çay in a cafe while playing backgammon with a friend or reading the paper, we saw scores of old men in every town passing time that way. We'd drink it with lunch, breakfast and dinner. We'd drink it at in between times, and were offered it every time we visited someone's house. We'd watch men with trays filled with those tulip-shaped glasses weave their way through the crowd in the bazaar in Istanbul, delivering it to each shop. We drank it (yes, in tulip-shaped glasses) on the twenty minute commuter ferry past the Golden Horn while watching the sun set.

To be honest I didn't get it at first. I thought, “it's so hot, why would you want to drink tea?” And the first time I tried it, I wasn't thrilled with the taste. Because it's been steeped for so long the tea ends up being rather bitter. And ran counter to everything the tea lady in Beijing told us about making tea! But çay is everywhere, you can't avoid it. Two sugarcubes seemed to mellow it out a bit, and after a while we got addicted. It's actually refreshing when it's hot out, and I always looked forward to having some çay with a meal, especially breakfast. (Have we talked about Turkish breakfast yet? Bread, cheeses, olives, honey, cucumbers tomatoes, boiled eggs? Still my favorite.) Perhaps we also got hooked on the ritual as well. We'd get mesmerized by the clinking of the spoon and watching the sugarcubes dissolve into the tea. It's a social glue, a way to kill time while waiting for the dolmuş, stretching out dinner just a bit more, an excuse to people watch, a moment of relaxation.

We ended up liking çay so much that we stuffed an entire “crystal” tea set into our backpack. Next time we'll have to figure out how to bring one of those double boilers home.

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The hidden ones are best.

Ten days after arriving at Değirmen Farm, the day we are leaving in fact, we take a walk with Tarik, the farm manager, and the agricultural students. The afternoon was a hot one and we had been lounging around since lunch hoping to see something else besides the hours we had already spent toiling in the fields. And it was the hottest time of the day, too hot for our old bodies we decided. Much to our delight our hopes would bear fruit.

I had a suspicion that Tarik and the group were spending the majority of the day talking about techniques and methods used on the farm because after we came back to the staging area. We had seen Tarik and the students returning from the fields with a bag of soil, so after lunch I asked them what the bag of soil was all about.  

Turns out that the group had spent the morning learning about how Tarik tests and monitors the soil and the bag of soil was to be taken to the University for analysis. We didn’t learn how Tarik tests his soil or what the group learned as a whole that day as our Turkish and their English just weren’t that good. But it got me thinking I could at least tag along on the rest of their excursions that day and see what I could gain from watching. When I saw the group head to the fields I knew it was our last chance.

We headed out to the vegetable fields that are just beyond the staging barn (draw a map of the farm). We had been to this area of the farm a few times. We’d harvested zucchini (kabak) and cherry tomatoes there just a few days before. This field sits between another vegetable field, divided by a row of fruit and nut trees  to the left (southwest) and grapevines and fig trees to the right (northeast). The rows that we harvested were between what looked like rows of vegetables gone to seed and weeds to the left and beyond the fruit trees and other vegetable field and the fig trees to the right.

One day when we’d nearly exacerbated the supply of zucchini from the main weeded rows I noticed that there were some in the weeds. I poked my head and hands in there and retrieved a nice one and noticed that there were other plants mixed in. It wasn’t the usual organized group of vegetables that I’d become accustomed to. I saw tomatoes, eggplant and melons. I thought they were abandoned and put it in the back of my mind to ask about it when I found a chance. The Turkish beckoning of “Gel! Gel! Wine!” turned me back from further investigations that day. So, when we headed directly into that field with Tarik and his students I got excited.

Up until that moment I had started to lose faith that the farm wasn’t interested in finding alternative ways of growing vegetables and that they were primarily focused on increasing yields of their organic fields from some fairly traditional and conventional practices. While Değirmen Farm is certified organic and obviously following biological ideas and processes for raising fruits, vegetables, grains and animals,  they sow large fields of the same vegetable. They have nice organized rows and try to maintain that through tilling, hoeing and weeding. They don’t really use straw to cover the earth. They irrigate all their rows with drip hoses. The use lots and lots of heavy machinery. They use hired hands that they work very very hard and I doubt pay very much.  It is a 300 Hectare farm. I just counted 103 fruit and vegetables that they grow on the farm and that doesn’t even include the products they produce from those.

Backbreaking Work

What they grow…

In general, while in awe of their production output, I was starting to think they weren’t looking or researching into any of the methods that we had seen in use or read about in theory during our travels. I was getting judgmental and thinking that our visit was never going to yield us any new information about organic farming. I was thinking that was it was a nice reality check on what the work on a farm can really be like, it isn’t at all like anything I would want to do myself. Nor will it ever be, but at least it could use some ideas I cared about.

Then Tarik started picking tomatoes and passing them around. Not ten feet away were organized staked and tied traditional rows of cherry tomatoes, but right here in front of me was this snaking mess in four feet of weeds and somewhere in there he had plucked these delicious orbs and handed them to us. I bit into one. Sweet, sunny, tender, light snap, melting flesh. I looked at Ebru, one of the agricultural students, and said “It’s better than those…” and pointed to the regular rows. She looked at me seeming to not understand. “The same…” she said. “No, they’re different…taste again…hold on…” So, I walked over to the regular organic rows of tomatoes and found the ripest one I could find. Then I walked over to the buried treasures and found one of comparable size and color. I didn’t have a knife so I bit it in two and handed her the rest. I did the same with the other. I told her to taste them side by side. She smiled. It is better. Wow.

Heirloom Varieties of Tomatoes

Hungarian Variety

This is what I’d been looking for. Did I have to go half away around the world to find it? No, in fact I’d first seen it back in California nearly 6 years ago at Bob Cannard’s farm in Petaluma, California. Beautiful, perfect vegetables growing amidst the weeds. What a concept I’d thought back then and proceeded to spend the next six years cooking my brains out unable to find that delight in taste in the basic form again. So, finding it here in Turkey after several weeks of working in what seemed to be very conventional ways of growing organic vegetables I found my hope and delight again.

It turns out that this was Tarik’s experimental field. He was testing new seeds and new techniques, his lab to test ideas for future plans for the farm. Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. In this field he had at least eight varieties of tomatoes, several varieties of zucchini, coriander, melons, cape gooseberries, tomatillos, and more than I could find out from my limited Turkish. Tomatillos for God Sake I said. Tarik asked me what I knew about them and what we do with them and I tried my best to explain through our little phrasebook, his dictionary, and Ebru’s limited translation ability how to make a Salsa Verde (need to write my recipe up for that eh?). He was growing something he didn’t even know how to use. That is adventurous and the kind of risk taking that could lead to good things.

We walked back to the staging barn and I took a few photos of the varieties of tomatoes and Tarik began sorting them and splitting them open to seed save. Here we had the end of our trip and it wasn’t by speaking the same language that we ultimately figured out some of the most interesting workings of Tarik and the Değirmen farm, it was simply by observing. Only by paying a little more close attention did we discover that even in Turkey farmers are looking for new and different ways of producing organic vegetables. No one thinks they have it right. No one settles for what they are doing. As a farmer, you are constantly looking at your fields, your yields and your practices to see what works.

Tarik Seed Saving

That’s why it is so surprising to me still that all around the globe farmers continue to turn to big businesses and large universities to tell them what works in their fields. Sure they have lots of money and land to conduct vast experiments and intensive research on increasing yields. But the real knowledge comes from working in the field and paying attention to what you do and how the land responds to your actions and what yields the best result for your farm. After several weeks I hadn’t seen any evidence of Tarik doing this in the fields of Değirmen farms. From the field workers’ perspective, their method was still very hard and intensive on the worker and the land. Working on the farm is backbreaking and seemed like there was no hope for change on this farm.

But after seeing that one test patch of vegetables I know Tarik is headed down a hopeful path. I can envision that there is hope even on large scale organic farms to do something different, something that can make healthier food, richer soil and open doors to new kinds of work on the farm.

Seeds drying

After our jaunt out to the fields Tarik let me walk through his seed saving storage area and showed me the variety of seeds that they saved and some of the Organic “products” they use on the vegetables to ward off pests and increase fertility. I saw a bottle that I’d seen dumped into a large water tank and sprayed on the fields earlier in the week and asked what it was. He rifled through his dictionary to no avail. He said a word that sounded sort of like “..neem?” Yes. Neem. Neem was and is used in some farm by nearly every organic farmer I’ve ever met. One farmer in Thailand chopped the leaves of the living plant and mixed it directly into the composting process to ward off pests.

Next, he handed me a cryovac’d package of pepper seeds and said “..you take, we trade…” Of course, even on a farm as large as the Değirmen farm, the farmer recognizes there are other ways, other seeds, other places and other things to learn and the best way to do that is by sharing and trading knowledge. Full circle from Jo’s field in Northern Thailand we come back to the same idea, that diversity benefits from conservation and conservation arises out of the desire and will to see another species grow and thrive and foremost to pay attention to what is going on in the world around you. Farmers like these are saving the world one seed at a time.  We look forward to adding our seeds to the world.

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Crazy and Wine

For the past two weeks we’ve been working on an organic farm in Kuşadası – it’s a summer resort town on the Aegean coast of Turkey close to Izmir. Yerlim farm is the largest organic farm in Turkey, and in part supplies Değirmen Restaurant which is on the grounds of the farm. We’ve been helping and observing the team with their daily tasks, like picking tomatoes and eggplant or collecting mulberries. The team consisted of small groups of mostly teenaged girls led by an older (usually male) foreman. One of the most frustrating things was the language barrier, seeing as we didn’t know any Turkish and nobody really speaks English. So it was really difficult to ask anything beyond rudimentary questions and just straight observation.

At the same time, it gave us an opportunity to learn some Turkish, more than we had been since we had mostly been spending time with English speakers. And it gave us (and the farm team) endless hours of amusement, as we often tried to pantomime what we wanted to communicate. Best of all, our names were “Crazy” and “Wine” – at least that’s how it came out whenever anyone was trying to get our attention. “Crazy! Gel!” meaning “Tracie! Come!” What’s even more hilarious is that it was usually a teenaged girl saying it. And whenever they wanted to talk about me amongst themselves my nickname was apparently was “japon”. Probably meaning “that asian chick who says she’s american”. Mehmet, one of the farmhands, would randomly shout across the field: “Wine!” to get Wayne’s attention. I’d snicker but no one else got the joke.

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Did Wayne just kill someone? Oh wait we were picking mulberries.

We accepted our new names and tried to learn as many Turkish words as possible in the meantime. (Please don’t ask us to conjugate any verbs.) We had probably the most crappy dictionary for doing farmwork seeing as our dictionary was actually a phrasebook geared towards tourists. At least Turkish is relatively straightforward to pronounce once you know the rules, it’s very regular so at least we could sound it out from the phrasebook. We also used lots of hand and body gesturing to get our point across, and luckily one of the interns spoke enough rudimentary English that she was able to help us figure out more words. The teenaged girls were a bit more mischievous, as they’d try to get us to call each other names or tell each other to shut up when we had no idea what we were saying. We wised up pretty fast and turned the tables by telling them to “sus”! “Shut up”!

(can anyone tell us what “çani başi” means? I think that’s how it’s spelled, and means “how are you?”. and apparently the reply is “başim tu çani”. please correct us if we are wrong!)

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The girls at work.

One of my favorite Turkish phrases is “çok güzel”. It literally means “very beautiful”, but Turks say it all. the. time. Once we learned the phrase I could hear people saying it across a restaurant, on the beach, on the dolmuş, basically everywhere. It seems like you can use it to describe the taste of something, the beauty of a place, the weather, a girl (not boys though!!), an experience. And often a hand gesture consisting of putting your fingers pointing upwards, with your palm facing you, and your thumb touching your forefinger, accompanies the phrase. I think it’s the earnestness with which it’s said that really appeals to me.

çok güzel!

We even surprised other Turks with the amount of Turkish we had picked up. Last night we were trying to get back into the center of Kuşadası to move on to Selçuk but the dolmuşes kept passing us by because they were full. So just for kicks we put our thumb to hitchhike. And a car actually stopped! Three Turkish college students were super nice and gave us a ride into town. And as we were chatting and telling them about our experiences, we listed off a whole bunch of Turkish words for various fruits and vegetables and describing what the farm was like. (“çok sıcak” – “too hot” – was an all encompassing phrase.) They were like, “uh, wow you know a lot of random words in Turkish. And by the way why did you want to be on a farm??”

More about that next time.

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Widening the circle: Friends of friends of friends in Istanbul

As we ride our train away off to Eskişehir, Istanbul remains one of the most remarkable places in our travels. I know that sounds kitschy and cliché but go to Istanbul. Check out some of the tourist attractions and then figure out how to navigate the buses, trams, ferries a bit and head out into Istanbul proper. Meet somebody. Take a chance. It’s so easy to do in Istanbul, you just have to try.

We lucked out and found a cheap accommodation in the bustling European neighborhood of Beyoğlu (pronounced: Bay-oh-loo). A Turk, a Greek and a Hungarian all came together and built an upcoming and busy little hostel called the “Stray Cat Hostel”. You might think of the band but it actually references the cats that wander in from time to time off the city streets. If you don’t mind them, in general the cats are a clean bunch, then it’s a great place to choose as a homebase to explore the city.

Sadath, Maya and Chris were always near when a question arose or we just needed to know something practical about how to get to a local site. Tracie and I, as usual, were always challenging the limits by asking about areas not even on the tourist maps. We lucked out and visited places that most tourists would never see. That’s partly because we really aren’t tourists and partly because we are a fortunate pair.

At the Stray Cat Hostel you can choose to get up and head out as early as you please or wake up in the leisurely way that is Istanbul and rise in time to catch a Turkish breakfast from 9am to 11am. For us it turned out to be filled with a trove of remarkable individuals, many we spent countless hours passing the morning and evenings discussing our “plans of action” present and future. The Stray Cat hostel provides just enough amenities and space to sleep well, get ready for your day and get the information you need to enjoy the delightfully European city with an Islamic flare. Anyone willing to step out and off the tourist map just needs to come armed with a little information and a few questions to get Sadath going.

Of course we checked out some of the most intriguing sites of Istanbul but there are enough to keep you busy for a lifetime. Mission bound as we have been we set our sights to find out about volunteering for a farm stay somewhere in Turkey. Before we left the states we had found an organization called Buğday (Pronounced: Boo-dye-meaning wheat in Turkish) but the majority of their information seemed to be in Turkish so we opted to procrastinate and head to Turkey before we really got our nose into planning. This lead to a lot of down-to-the-wire communication and coordination that eventually cleared into clouds with silver lining. We finally got in touch with the right person, a gentleman named Victor Ananias who has been working with the organization for over twenty years. Victor told us to come find him at an upcoming Saturday organic market close to the Osmanbey Metro stop.

We set out late on Saturday morning and eventually found the market. The way it works when you want to find something, not just in Turkey but any country that has a foreign language you don’t know, is to copy down the words as best as you can and show them to people. One person sends you to one corner with some hand gestures and tells you to ask again when you get there. And you do, and eventually you find it. We ended up at a crossroads of a road and what seemed to be a walled parking lot and a Turkish woman overhead me saying that “…I don’t know if this is a road…” that it was. This took us across to another road where a bicycle bound Turk asked in Turkish if we knew where the market was and switched to English when we looked perplexed. We told him no and he said he’d ride down and check. He waved us to the right place.


Once we arrived we found the Buğday information table front and center and managed to track down some people that knew where Victor was. We sat down at a table and met a Woman named Gizem and a woman named Esra that both spoke English and were chatting with a Turkish friend that was there to play saxophone for the market’s 4th anniversary. Gizem it turns out was the communications director of the organization and Esra was on the board, so we’d stumbled into the hands of the right people. Victor was also there and we talked to him intermittently until he got up to greet a few people that had come to visit with him. Victor was a busy man and the charismatic and intellectual leader of the organization and was being beckoned at every turn.

But Esra and Gizem had dropped in just to hang out and celebrate the market’s 4th anniversary and welcomed us with some local food and flavor. We quickly all hit it off, them recounting how our blog had made the rounds in the office, which explained while they shook their heads yes as we introduced ourselves to them and we all settled down to talk. We chatted about everything and nothing and eventually Esra declared it was time that they (Gizem and Esra) figure out who we should try to volunteer with as it seemed Victor had his hands full with just saying hello to everyone that had come to celebrate the market’s four years of success and hard work.

Esra and Gizem quickly settled on a woman named Gürsel Tonbul (Gew-sel Tahn-bull) and her farm and restaurant near a city called Izmir. When Victor finally was freed up they mentioned this to him and he explained her requirements and some things we could do to try and set it up and then we launched into a short history of his experience with the organization. The market itself, thriving over the past years took six years to build via the bureaucratic layers as they are and continues today as one of the four examples of organic markets for the ordinary consumer in Istanbul today.

Victor recounted how Buğday began as a restaurant, as he was a cook for many years who traveled the world learning many ways of vegetarian cooking. He decided to open a organic vegetarian restaurant to help educate and spread the word about sustainable ways of living. He figured a restaurant could be one of the most direct ways to connect with people and eventually, eight years later, the restaurant spawned an organization that works to connect people of all levels of experience and profession to organic and sustainably raised foods. They also provide trainings on sustainable living and much of there work is hands on learning. Not only did his early ideas sound akin to our own, but his passion and sense of direction radiated from his being and he quickly helped us realize we’d stumbled into a group of golden individuals. Our luck had come again.

Not only were we lucky to meet Victor, but we were lucky to meet Gizem and Esra. We chatted about the World Cup as it seems it had taken two more victims, both of their husbands, Esra’s from France and Gizem’s from the United States. Both were home separately watching the game while we shared Gösleme in an organic market. When we finally all decided that we’d better explore the market and say our goodbyes Esra invited us to join her, her husband Damien and friends for a dinner later in the week. We said yes and exchanged information.

A few days later we were standing in her kitchen looking south out the kitchen window into the Sea of Marmara and North into the Bosporus. You could stand in one place in the kitchen and see both. That evening we met her friends she’d grown up with since middle school and we chatted about food ad life and ate food, drank wine and enjoyed the evening. We all sat around the table at one point and Esra declared that this wasn’t the “real” Istanbul and let out a shriek of laughter. But for us it was Istanbul is nothing if it isn’t diverse. We experienced the streets and the mosques by day and the European blend of partner pair ups at a party like this. Istanbul is truly a city where cultures and continents collide.

Take the fact that a simple email to my sister, who has a Turkish friend that she hasn’t seen in over a decade, whom we’re on a train heading towards. We called up Nusret and he not only welcomed our visit to his home in Eskesehir, but seemed genuinely determined to help us find our way in this vast beautiful land that is Turkey. He even went as far as to call up his brother who live in Istanbul who then offered to come welcome us to Istanbul, Hosgeldiniz Istanbul! We called up Selvet and he arranged to pick us up the next day for lunch.

Selvet showed up right on time the next day. He whisked us off to a lovely fish restaurant in his neighborhood near Levent that sat overhanging the Bosporus. We chatted about our ideas for farming and his life. After lunch, gracious of another host that brought us to another beautiful place in the world I sneakily paid for lunch, much to my regret. Selvet boiled at the server in Turkish about how a Turkish host was supposed to pay and we left under a weight of silence.

I felt terribly bad for having insulting him, that wasn’t my intention. It began to clear up a bit after I re-iterated our thankfulness at his welcoming us and the fog cleared and he announced we’d share dinner together too. He took us to his house where we relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon chatting about ideas about life. He told us about his business, his farm and his family and we told him about our ideas for our project. We finished off the day watching Japan lose to Paraguay in the quarter finals of the World Cup and then set off to a lovely dinner that served up fare from his hometown area Adana. After stuffing ourselves fully he took us up and over the mountain back to our cozy little hostel.

Despite ourselves, things work out. Despite our inability to speak or read Turkish we saw things and went places few tourists from other countries have or will. Over the course of the previous week we finally figured out that the bureaucratic way is not the favored way of making connections in Turkey and that meeting and talking to people is the best way to operate. We got in touch with Gürsel Tonbul who welcomed us to come visit and told us where and how. So, now we’re nearly to Eskisehir, and by the time I post this we may already have come and gone from there. But we travel in a familiar landscape into friendly hands thankful for the goodwill that truly fills the globe.

 

 

 

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Istanbul and a evening of Classical music…

As Americans, we are used to having tons of stuff. When we left the states we were very selective about the stuff that we brought. I’ve often bemoaned the amount of crap that we’ve lugged across the world, but people are always remarking on how little luggage we brought. Last night was one of those nights that I wished I had just one more thing with us. I wish I’d brought our Mini-Disk recorder. Then I could have posted the sonorous beauty that we experienced at one of the concerts at a music festival here in Istanbul. Organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts back in June of 1973, this year marks the 38th year of it’s inception.

We rubbed elbows with the Istanbul bourgeoisie last night, me in my Birkenstock sandals, jeans and a wrinkly linen shirt and Tracie in a lovely linen dress. Fifteen minutes before the performance began I bought a ticket for a glass of Turkish Malbec and began to warm up to the atmosphere. Tracie could only take a sip as she’s nursing a small cold. The wine was filled with mellow tones of walnut and cherry goodness. The bells chimed ten minutes and then five minutes prior to seating and we all began our lulling march to the toilets and to our seats inside Aya Irini (Hagia Irene) which sits in the outer courtyard of Topkapi Palace. Originally an Orthodox Christian Church, it was built sometime in the 4th century, commissioned by Constantine I, burned down in 361 and then restored by Justinian in 537. We sat there underneath the only example of a Byzantine church that retains it’s original atrium. The dome sat high in front and above us and reverberated the sounds of Mendelssohn, Chopin and Beethoven.

According to one of the books we’ve been reading about Istanbul, Istanbul: The Collected Traveler, An Inspired Companion Guide, Edited By, Barrie Kerper , Constantine the Great’s tomb is somewhere within the church itself. We looked and couldn’t find it, but knowing it was there added emphasis to the chill I felt on the back of my neck at the crescendos.

There is something unique about listening to classical performances, the sense of timing, the teamwork and the giant intellect that created the pieces all comes together in a group of musicians hands. All of their experiences and yours seem to hang just above your head, filling the room with dreams, memories and hope. Sharing all of that in such a place, is something that will always stay with us. To experience this all in such a central place to European and World history brings to life those composers that lay at rest yet still stir our imaginations.

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