Monday, May 28, 2012

Last Evenings on Earth

I love writers who break the rules. Roberto Bolano is like the cool, mysterious boyfriend who rides a motorcycle, whom you know your parents disapprove of, but you go out with him anyway. His writing felt like a guilty pleasure to me, like listening to gossip, and despite the unfamiliar settings and haziness of the information provided, I stuck around until the end. His stories are sparse, full of telling, not showing, lacking in both dialogue and action, yet somehow, I was hooked. Common themes in Last Evenings on Earth are friendship, loss, rejection, failure and early death. While reading, I felt as if the stories were being told to me by a shadowy figure in a hot stuffy bar with the lights turned off to keep the room cooler. Even with lukewarm beer and flies buzzing, sizzling skin and cigarette smoke wafting past my face, I remained a captive audience.

People talk about Roberto Bolano’s death at 50 as being a great loss to literature, like he’s the the David Foster Wallace of the Spanish-speaking world. He wrote two massive novels, The Savage Detectives and 2666, which received wide critical acclaim. Like Infinite Jest, these books are big ambitious works, so I  think I’ll wait until I reach the end of these tomes before I gripe about how there aren't any left. The literary table is resplendent with stacks of books to keep me busy for quite some time. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Adventures in Istanbul

I’m sorry, green beans and eggplant. I misjudged you, but only because I ate some disgusting eggplant dish at an upscale restaurant where I had to discreetly spit the offensive substance into my napkin and quickly rinse my mouth with water, and because of all those pitiable school lunches in elementary school when I was served some green bean slop in one of the little compartments of my plastic tray. I’m so glad I have come to Turkey where eggplant and green beans have had the opportunity to redeem themselves in my eyes, and my mouth. After all, everybody deserves a second chance. Turks can do no harm to food and I’m lucky to have found a man who is an amazing cook. I know that was quick. I mean, I haven’t even unpacked and already, I’ve found someone. I enjoy watching him cook, because he treats cooking like a science. With Turkish pop music playing, he’ll roast an eggplant directly on the stove’s burner, peel it, dice it up, stir in some crushed garlic and pour melted butter and chili powder over the top. The other night, he made a fantastic green bean stew. When the call to prayer sounded from a nearby mosque, he turned down the music out of respect.

I’m really happy. In the beginning, I wasn't so sure everything would be okay. I've been falling asleep to the sound of street music, yowls from stray cats mating, and chatter from people socializing. I’m feeling relaxed these days, and now that I've gone shopping, I don’t have to worry quite so much about my sartorial likeness to Velma from Scooby Doo.

Below are some photos taken from a great spot in Uskudar, and me dressed as a Turkish soccer fan. 
Until next time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Food Tour and Topkapi Palace

Over coffee yesterday, I told my Turkish conversation partner about the food tour I went on last Friday.

“Where did you go?” he asked.

“To lots of restaurants,” I said. I listed all the wonderful things I ate, trying to remember all the ingredients.

“But why did you eat so much food?” he asked.

“Because it was a food tour.” Eventually he figured out that I was saying “food tour” and not “foot tour."

The food tour, arranged by the company “Istanbul Eats,” deepened my appreciation for Turkish cuisine. Now I know the best places to buy olives, cheese, Turkish delight and coffee, in addition to knowing a whole array of restaurants where I can satisfy all my cravings. My favorite of all the restaurants we visited was called Siirt Seref. It was the last stop on our 6-hour tour and although I was stuffed, I couldn’t pass up all the exquisite food set before me. I took notes the whole time, which I realized wasn’t all that necessary, because Megan, our guide, gave us all a copy of the Istanbul Eats book, which includes all the places we visited and plenty of others, and even includes a little Turkish glossary of food-related words in the back.

I went on the tour thinking I could use my newfound knowledge to give my mom a tour when she visits me, but now I am thinking she might enjoy the tour led by Megan, who went through the same Middle East Studies program as my mom at the University of Chicago. Even though I live in Istanbul, I would definitely go on another tour with Istanbul Eats, seeing how it’s a great way to meet people and receive insider information.

I met some nice people on the tour, all American and all on vacation. After the tour, some newlyweds named Jeremy and Suzie invited me to walk around Topkapi Palace with them, where we puzzled over the long sleeves and pointy pants of the Ottoman clothing on display. I liked the clothing the best and I wished there was a runway fashion show so I could see how these clothes looked on people. Jeremy made me laugh by pretending to be a haughty sultan and saying to an imaginary servant, “Bring me my shirt with the extra long sleeves and the pants with the pointy butt.” I learned from someone later that the point actually goes in the front, which is good to know. Now if I ever put on a pair of those pants, I can spare myself the embarrassment of wearing them backwards. I don’t want to look silly, after all. (:

My second favorite part of visiting Topkapi Palace was seeing all the suits of armor and swords. I wondered how many bodies the sharp edges had slashed through. I’m morbid, I know. Some of the swords were so long, I couldn’t imagine how they were used. I think I would die from exertion just trying to lift one of those things.

After walking around the harem for about an hour, all the rooms started to look the same. Seeing all the jewels in glass cases was less interesting than the clothes and swords because I remembered seeing them five years ago when I first visited Topkapi Palace. I shuffled past all the cases, thinking, “Giant diamond, been there, done that. Emerald dagger, seen it. Fancy pearl throne, yawn. Gold cradle, meh. More ruby and diamond medals that belonged to some sultan or Persian king, booooooooring.”

We left Topkapi Palace and walked down some cool streets full of shops and restaurants. Suzie and I got to talking about dieting. She’d had great luck with the Quantum Wellness Cleanse, Kathy Freston’s plan. But we had just spent the day tasting some of the best food Istanbul has to offer. I can’t imagine how the subject came up!

This guy on the right is making cocorec, a sandwich made with lamb, sweet bread, intestines, wild thyme and red pepper. It was delicious. 

Perde pilavi, made with rice, pine nuts, chicken and some other delicious ingredients. 

Pomegranate and molasses. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Kunefe, my favorite. It has cheese inside!