The end in sight

Over the hump.

I’ve taught art for 13 years and every year the spring is exhausting! There’s always a rush to get through all the lessons you planned, squeeze in more school activities and enjoy the sunshine and social life that springtime brings. This year in Istanbul is no different, however, the end is in sight and I have a lot to be thankful for and much to look forward to.

I’ve lived here for eight months and the time has flown by, as I knew it would. No matter how tired I am on Friday night, I force myself out on the weekends to partake in this great city and I’m always glad I did. When my alarm goes off on Saturday morning, even when it is foggy or rainy outside, I force myself up and out. I cannot conquer this amazing city; there’s always too much going on. And because of its enormous size, by the time I get back around to another part of the city, so much has changed! It is constant, and I am energized by it.

It seems impossible that already this summer I will be considering my future and trying to determine my next career move. Because the hiring season for international teachers starts about a year ahead of the school year, this fall, when I return back to school to fulfill the second year of my contract, I will need to determine what I will do next. I have three choices and I swing back and forth like a pendulum between them. 1) Extend my two-year contract in Istanbul either for one or two more years, 2) job search for a new school in a new country (where?) and move again during the summer of 2015, 3) move back to the USA (where?) during the summer of 2015 and find a job, a car and a house (and thank you, Mr. Obama, new, required health insurance). Blah. There are so many emotions and realities tied up in those three options! I am hoping this summer, after I visit back in the USA, I will better be able to know the answer.

 

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

• I went to my first Istanbul Breakfast Club. Olga, the hostess who served us in her home, prepared a Moroccan breakfast. She had just returned from a Moroccan foodie tour and brought back spices and recipes to try out on us. This was perfect timing because . .

• I went to Morocco over Spring Break! I traveled with a friend from my school and stayed with another lovely teacher friend in Casablanca. We then took a train to Marrakech, stayed in a Riad, drank loads of mint çay, shopped in the souks and watched a snake charmer! I read most of my next month’s book club book, The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles, about Morocco. Nice, serendipitous connection.

• I went to the Istanbul Tulip Festival in Emergan Park. From my friend Ginney’s blog, Istanbul’da you can learn the history of the Turkish Tulip. This once-a-year event is the gateway to springtime in Istanbul. Over 20 million!!! tulip bulbs are planted in the city and it is gorgeous!

• I walked on the TOP of the ancient, Byzantine city walls during the “Love Tour”, a historical, walking tour that highlighted famous love stories of Istanbul. We also went in beautiful mosques and a preserved, mosaic-filled Christian church.

• I took my Grade 3 students on a field trip to the Hali Carpet Museum in Sultanhamet. It was amazing seeing the beautiful kalims that are centuries old!

• I went to my Canadian friend, Melanie’s art opening near Taksim and went to my Russian friend, Oxana’s art opening in Arnavutkoy. These ladies are so talented and both almost sold out of their creations before I got there.

• I’ve found an art store that I love and have slowly begun to buy some paint. I am finishing up a few watercolors and a couple of acrylic paintings.

• During the recent elections in Turkey, both twitter and youtube were blocked in the entire country! That’s been interesting…

• I went to a Picasso show at the Pera Museum. Picasso is always so inspirational and I had never seen these prints and ceramics!

• I’m looking forward to spending time over the next month traveling in Turkey to amazing cities east of Istanbul. Turkey is a traveler’s paradise. Istanbul was just ranked the most popular travel destination in the WORLD by TripAdvisor.

• I planned, installed and exhibited around 250 student artworks in my first Primary School Art Exhibition at my school. It was wildly successful and I was delighted for the attention it brought to my kids and the visual arts!

• I went to the fantastic Marc Quinn exhibition at Arter Gallery and was amazed at his talent for painting, sculpture and textiles. What an inspirational, contemporary artist!

• I continue to be active in two groups and am making many friends in each: PAWI (Professional American Women of Istanbul) and Global Minds Book Club. Both groups are comprised of international people who have vocations that are admired: artists, writers, journalists, charity workers, sociologists, attorneys, psychologists, translators, educators and business owners.

I want to challenge you to get out and learn something new today. Don’t let the day slip by without smiling and sharing a bit of yourself with the world.

 

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Bullet Points

BulletPointsSpring awaits.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. The pace of my life here in Istanbul never slows down. It’s almost March and before you know it, I will have finished my first year of teaching in an IB International World School. It’s gone by fast, as I knew it would.

Here is a quick summary of what I’ve been up to:

• I went to Barcelona for Christmas and fell in love all over again with Salvador, Pablo and Antoni. An art-filled week, spent with a friend I met and roomed with at the 2013 SA Boston Job Fair. Remember? This was during the horrible blizzard last year. She got a job at that fair and is now teaching in Switzerland.

• I had my teeth cleaned at my new Turkish dentist! After tie-dying with my students that day, my hands were stained red. My limited-English-speaking dentist found that quite curious and amusing!

• I went to Athens for a 3-day weekend with a few friends from school. It was breathtaking, coming up the narrow staircase to the hotel’s rooftop terrace and seeing the Parthenon lit up at night. It was one of those “Ah-ha” moments, like when I saw the Colosseum for the first time in 2007. It was an amazing, educational weekend, but I found myself in visual overload of Greek art.

• Upon arrival back in Istanbul, I got a horrible sinus infection and had to find a new Turkish doctor! He speaks English and, after a sinus x-ray, insisted that I not go to work for two days. Forced to stay home, I Skyped into my Grade 5 classroom and continued to instruct them in printmaking! Although I’m much better, I’ve had a hacking cough for 3 weeks. Urgh!

• I joined the Global Minds Book Club here in Istanbul. Our book this month was by American social anthropologist, Jenny White and she was in attendance at our meeting! We discussed her book, “Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks,” but I’ve also read one of her fiction novels, “The Sultan’s Seal.”

• I spent hours at Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. It was THE most interesting museum/installation that I have ever been to. The museum is based on his book of the same name. If you ever come to Istanbul, read this book, then go to the museum. I’m hoping to meet Orhan one of these days when I’m out strolling in his neighborhood.

• I’m planning a trip to Casablanca and Marrakesh, Morocco in a month. I can’t wait! Another friend lives and teaches there. I wonder how it will be different from Istanbul?

I’m continuing to meet interesting people here and I’m convinced there is no way to ever discover all the mysteries of this adventure-filled city.  Although chilly and rainy today, most days are spring-like and many of the trees have new buds on their branches.

Thanks for reading and I hope your days are filled with love.

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Wrapping Up The Year

treeimageDreams realized.

Sometimes I get paralyzed and can’t write. I have a hard time distinguishing what would be the best thing to share because I experience so much in this amazing city every week. I’m continuing to meet new people and I’m deepening relationships with friends I’ve met over the last four months. I’m witnessing wonderful, learning experiences in my classroom and I’ve (almost) memorized the names of my 240 students. I’m getting involved with organizations and continuing to explore art galleries, museums and the many little streets and shops in Istanbul.

Time is moving at an incredible pace. The end of another year will be here shortly and when I reflect on my Annual Review this year, it will show the satisfaction of a goal realized; a goal that began 7 years ago with a free trip I won to Paris and London.

PortaxeI am entirely grateful. My life is rich beyond measure. Somehow I was fortunate enough to get a job at a great school in a culturally rich city. Recently my school gave us an evening at Portaxe, a beautiful restaurant, on the shores of the Bosphorus. This was in recognition of Teacher Appreciation Day, an actual day on the Turkish calendar, in which teachers are given gifts of love. It is so nice to be in a country that actually appreciates its teachers! As we entered Portaxe, we were greeted with trays of cocktails and the evening was celebrated with an open bar, delicious food, live band and lots of dancing! This past week we were given a beautifully wrapped box containing a personalized bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and deliciously rich Christmas fruit cake.

PAWI11.9.13Two of the very best discoveries of moving to Istanbul are two organizations I’ve joined called FWI (Foreign Women of Istanbul) and PAWI (Professional American Women of Istanbul). FWI operates with a Facebook presence and these remarkable women can answer any question about Istanbul that is put before them, including, “Where can I find marshmallows in Istanbul?” and my recent question of “Are banks open on Sunday?” PAWI meetings are monthly and rotate between Asia Istanbul and Europe Istanbul. Their meetings always include guest speakers. Since I’ve been here, our speakers have included a psychologist, who shared her experiences of working with people on the residual effects of the Gezi protests, a historian-artist-writer who just published her second book, Drawing on Istanbul 2,  and the Adahan Hotel and Restaurant owner who spoke to us about the years of sacrifice she and her husband gave to an 1874 building, bringing it back from the dead and turning it into a thriving business.  The discussions and knowledge base of these women is broad. Some are attorneys, others writers. Some work in marketing, others as translators. Some are owners of restaurants and hotels and some work in banking and education. Within these groups I’m finding many new friends, each with her own unique story of how it is she lives in Istanbul.

I’m happy to report that I’ve also experienced my first snowfall in Istanbul. It was gorgeous! It not only snowed in Istanbul, it snowed all over the Middle East and we quickly learned how Cairo, Egypt got snow for the first time in 122 years! After easing myself down the hill that morning, and into my warm classroom, I was shocked at the beauty outside my wall of windows. The sight continued to amaze my students and I all day long as nature painted a frozen picture across the landscape. Although we were graciously given two days of early release, I was hoping for a snow day so I could somehow get to Aya Sophia, lay down in its courtyard and make a snow angel, as I’d heard of some teachers doing last year.

MiroThe availability of world-class art continues to amaze me. Last week I went with a Turkish friend to the Miro Exhibition. I found it difficult to concentrate on the beautiful artwork because I was distracted by the amazing architecture. The exhibition building was a canon factory during the Ottoman Empire and I could not keep my eyes from wandering to the domes of the brick ceiling. After leaving, we wandered down antique-filled streets, twisting and turning, as all Istanbul streets do, and walked by Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. We made a quick decision to view that collection another day.

choirThat evening I was able to listen to a friend sing in a choral concert at the British Consulate. Because of the bombing at this British Consulate in 2003, its grounds are heavily guarded and security is ever-present. Walking past photos of Queen Elizabeth and ancient looking framed documents, I noticed how elegantly the Christmas decorations were placed; fully regal, yet understated and charming. The singing was beautiful and transported me to thoughts of peace.

This week I will be flying to another distant, far-away place. I will spend the Christmas holiday with a friend that I met at the SEARCH Associates Boston International Job Fair last year! She got a job, that wretched, blizzard weekend, at an IB school in Switzerland, and she now lives there with her daughter. We’ve deepened our friendship over the months over Skype calls and we are eager to see each other again and share stories of the first half of our school year.

In these last few days of 2013, I want to challenge you to set your own plan in place. Kick the rock to start its tumble down the hill. Don’t be afraid to make your dream happen. This beautiful place I live- this dream that I’m living- did not happen overnight. I started planning it in 2006-almost eight years ago! Time goes quickly and life is such a gift. As we quietly pass into 2014, I wish you love, peace, health and inspiration. Be well!

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Tour on a Rooftop

Me on roof of Grand Bazaar.In the distance.

I didn’t have to work on Thanksgiving but it wasn’t because of pilgrims, Indians, cranberries or pumpkin pie. A few days before Thanksgiving we received a welcomed email. Our school had been selected to host a national Turkish test and classes would be cancelled on Thursday. Although the forecast showed a rainy, cool day, this unforeseen holiday would allow me to go on a walking/photography tour in the massive Grand Bazaar that I’d heard about through a friend.

It was tempting to keep the covers pulled up over me in bed that morning, but I forced myself out and I’m so glad I did! Like I’ve said before, every time I step out my front door, I am whisked away into an adventure-filled wonderland and this was no exception.

Inside Gate 2; Grand BazaarMonica Fritz is a photographer in Istanbul and she knows the ends and outs of the Grand Bazaar like the back of her hand. She’s lived here many years and offers walking tours specifically for people who want to have photo opps in wild and unexpected places. This tour promised its attendees rooftop scenes from the James Bond movie, Skyfall. Rain or shine, I couldn’t allow this opportunity to slip through my fingers so I rolled out of bed and onto the wet streets of Istanbul.

The Grand Bazaar is just shy of 600,000 square feet in size. It is beyond enormous and you can easily get lost inside its maze-like streets. It is the oldest and largest covered bazaar in the entire world. From information inside a brochure I picked up while there, I learned that it has 21 entrances, 66 streets, almost 4,000 shops and employs more than 30,000 people. Mehmet II built the earliest structures after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453. It was hoped that the sales from merchants would provide financial resources for Hagia Sophia. For centuries it was the center of commerce, handicraft and finance in the Mediterranean and Near East. The two oldest buildings in the bazaar, called bedestens, provide examples of classical Ottoman architecture. It is so big and so confusing inside, I have been resistant to go there since arriving here in August. I dipped inside once on my vacation here in 2011, but haven’t been back since. It’s intimidating both in it’s size, its confusion of whereabouts and in the way the merchants call out and haggle to passersby. But to go and explore its passageways with someone who knows its secret stairwells and courtyards, and who knows the merchants themselves, would be an entirely different experience.

Once inside the maze, I was grateful to have a guide. We entered Gate (entrance) #2, and then twisted and turned ourselves through the silver and gold section, went down a few dark hallways and up shadowed staircases, and then found ourselves in a han or caravanserai. These are beautiful, u-shaped open courtyards that are surrounded by two or three-storied buildings. During the Ottoman Empire, merchants who travelled here from afar, to sell their goods, would feed and keep their animals, such as camels or donkeys, in the courtyards and stay in the inns above. Merchant workshops have replaced the sleeping quarters within the hans, called hucre (cell) and they face the rectangular inner court. Monica knows many of the merchants and we were able to photograph them at work on their wares and leisurely shop in their cramped quarters. Monica took us off the beaten trail. We didn’t see many people in these quiet courtyards and hallways. The majority of the public was shopping in the buzzing, loud, main streets of the bazaar.

During our 5-hour tour, sometimes we’d step inside the main bazaar and go down a few streets, but then we’d twist and turn and go through small, hidden doors and up a few staircases and then find ourselves on the roof, for example! She took us out onto the roof, for spectacular views, three times, but she waited until the end of the tour to take us on the rooftop where the scenes from the James Bond movie Skyfall were shot. It was so amazing! Even under cloudy skies, pockets of sunshine pointed at minarets and the river and its bridges were easily seen. Surprisingly, the roof looks like a street too! Looking down, we could see people walking on the roof sidewalks, just going about their business like normal. We even saw a dog up there walking around!

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After we came back inside, we visited a few more merchants and then several of us chose to eat a late lunch at a wonderful restaurant called Pedaliza, located just outside the textile area of the bazaar. We were relieved to warm up with corba, ekmek and chai (soup, bread and tea). I hope all my American friends enjoyed their Thanksgiving weekend as much as I did. I am constantly thankful for all that I have, including all the new friends I made on the roof.

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Zor Who?

Swanky.

The Jersey Boys billboardAs I understand it, construction started about six years ago. Four sleek, contemporary high rises are just around the corner, and up the hill, from me. All I have to say is “Zorlu Center” and taxi drivers can get me close to the neighborhood I live in from anywhere in the city. When I arrived in Istanbul in August, I was told that this building complex would house offices, a hotel, residences, an upscale designer mall, top restaurants, a performing arts theater and cinema. It has looked finished from the outside for the past few months, but, at night, while passing by in taxi, I’ve seen workers feverishly constructing on the interior. It looked marvelous!—and it is! The Zorlu Center opened about a month ago and soon after, a friend at school organized a group event, for those interested, to see The Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. This is one of the first productions to be performed on this new stage.

Of course I bought a ticket! Who could resist? As the event date approached, several of us decided to make a night of it and dine at the new Jamie Oliver restaurant, located in the Zorlu Center! I’m not much of a cook, but I’d heard of the famous British chef from one of my friends in the UK. Chef Jamie is not only known from TV shows and cookbooks, he has been a voice in the campaign against the use of processed foods in national schools. He is most interested in improving unhealthy diets in the UK and the USA and he made a believer out of me last night! The food was DELICIOUS and so beautifully prepared! As a vegetarian, I’ve not had the best of luck in menu selections here in the city, but that is not the case at this eatery. The atmosphere was trendy casual, not stuffy formal. Afterwards, we made our way to Gloria Jean’s for a coffee and then on to the show!

I didn’t realize all the songs that the Four Seasons made famous! The entire night we were chair dancing and singing along. In some ways, it made me wish for home, as I watched the life stories unfold of these young men, from poor backgrounds, who became successes. Their stories are like many people who find riches and fame; poor choices can ruin a life that has so much potential.

outsideescThe songs were stuck in my head all night. Big Girls Don’t Cry, Sherry, Oh, What A Night, My Eyes Adored You, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, Working My Way Back To You and Rag Doll to name a few. I typically wander the ancient streets and neighborhoods of Istanbul. This experience showed an affluent and contemporary side of Istanbul. East meets West; Old meets New.

Istanbul has the best of both worlds.

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The Republic

anitabillboardTo be remembered . . .

In Istanbul, you don’t have to step far, in any direction, before you see a flag, a banner, a poster, a sign, a magazine cover, a sticker, a billboard adorned with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s photo. There’s so much I don’t know about Atatürk, but I do know he is revered and loved, still to this day. Today, November 10, commemorates the day of his death in 1938, seventy-five years ago. Because the Turkish Republic is so new, the memory of this country’s first president is fresh. As an American, we learn about George Washington, but I’m not convinced that we have such a love affair with his memory as the Turks have with Atatürk.

Taken directly from Wikipedia: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a Turkish army officer in the Ottoman military during World War 1, revolutionary statesman, and the first President of Turkey. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, he led the Turkish national movement in the Turkish War of Independence. Having established a provisional government in Ankara, he defeated the forces sent by the Allies. His military campaigns led to victory in the Turkish War of Independence. Atatürk then embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular, and democratic nation-state. Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, while the burden of taxation on peasants was reduced. He is credited with being the founder of the Republic of Turkey and his surname, Atatürk, means Father of the Turks.

October 29 was Republic Day and I got a day off from school. This is the day Atatürk commemorated on the calendar as the remembrance day of the forming of the Turkish Republic in 1923. A school friend and I spent the morning hours of Republic Day at the Dolmabahce Palace. We saw the room where Ataturk died. Every clock around the palace, including the beautiful clock-tower on the grounds, is stopped at 9:05, the time of his death. Today is Sunday, November 10, and a ceremony is planned at the National School part of MEF, where I work, and I’d love to go and learn about Ataturk, but it will be presented in Turkish and I wouldn’t be able to understand.

There are a multitude of books written about this great leader and to learn about him is a part of every school child’s Turkish history class here in Istanbul. An understanding of Atatürk and the former Ottoman Empire would have to be included to fully understand our current world, its countries, its boundaries and its wars and its victories. There is no escape from learning about history when you live in Istanbul. It is all around you. It is on the sweet faces of the people in the markets, it is on dusty, cobbled streets, it is up the steep hills surrounded by rock walls, it is down the deep alleys surrounded by architecture and it flows down the river. It is vast, this world history of ours. I’m left with the understanding that the global problems we see in 2013, are the same problems that have always been. All of us, no matter what country, are a part of each other’s history, the history of the human race.

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Head in the Clouds

headerThe land of beautiful horses

When my new friend asked me what my plans were for our October school break, I replied, “I’d like to go to Cappedocia, Turkey.” She looked at me and said, “I’ve always wanted to go there. Let’s just do it!” So we did! – along with several other friends from my school.

In the days prior to departure, I read as much as I could on the odd geographical formations called fairy chimneys. As our tour guide explained, three nearby volcanic mountains erupted over time, centuries ago. Each “spewed” different kinds of lava containing different kinds of minerals. Earthquakes happened. There was ice, next a flood and this area was covered in water. Then rivers and tide pools formed. When all the water went away, a bizarre landscape was left. There are a variety of these odd phallic, stone towers, but many of them are made from minerals that are soft on the inside and hard on the outside. Thousands of years ago, communities were formed as people scraped out the inside of these caves to live in.

There are thousands of these caves dotting the mountainous landscape and inside some of them are marvelous Christian frescoes that are centuries old!! It’s hard to imagine how these people had thriving neighborhoods on the face of a mountain, but they did. They didn’t have the advantage of helpful wood and steel staircases up the mountain.

After arriving and finding our cave hotel, we rested a bit before going to a performance called Turkish Nights! Food and drink was provided, as well as a live band. We watched all kinds of traditional Turkish dances performed in stunning, traditional costumes. I’m guessing because our group was all women we got a lot of attention from the wait staff. Two members of our group were selected to participate in a few of the evening’s performances! Afterwards we went back to the hotel to sleep in our cave.

The next morning our group booked a private shuttle van with a driver and tour guide. We spent the next nine hours (!) exploring the Cappedocia region. We parked at beautiful lookout spots that allowed us to step onto the edge of panoramic views that looked a bit like the Grand Canyon, with the added delight of fairy chimneys. We went on a tour of a fascinating onyx factory and learned about this unique, transparent stone, as well as learning the meaning of Cappadocia: land of beautiful horses. We had a lovely lunch next to a bucolic creek, saw the geographical area that was the inspiration behind some of the Star Wars scenes, climbed up rocky paths and peered into caves that ignite imaginations. We also went to Derinkuyu, an enormous underground city.

The following day was a holy day for Muslims. It is called Kurban Bayram. This is the day of sacrifice and all over the world, Muslims will sacrifice a sheep or a goat and share the meat with people in need. Although this holiday has special significance to them, I had to be careful as we walked past little stone homes in quaint, rocky villages, not to see the remains of the slaughter. After a long day of traveling and exploring, we ate dinner and went to bed promptly because the following morning we had to be up at 5:00 am to catch our shuttle to Butterfly Balloons!

There are hundreds of hot air balloon companies in this area, but my favorite travel guru, Rick Steves, used this company last year when he toured this area so this was the company I wanted to use. Everyone here in Turkey knows that you simply MUST go up in a hot air balloon if you find yourself in this part of Turkey. I was a bit frightened to think about it, but because of the insistence of everyone who’d been here I decided that I would do it. Once we arrived at the take off point, next to the gigantic canyon, it was dark but we could begin to see the silhouettes of balloons starting to fill up. After shooting some pictures and wiping the sleep out of our eyes, we were loaded in the basket and off we went. It was not what I had imagined. This balloon ride was the most peaceful, slow and relaxing ride I have ever been on. It was breathtakingly beautiful! Our basket was large, holding about 16 people. Our pilot, Mustafa, has been written up in Trip Advisor as simply one of the BEST pilots, and he proved to be very cautious and experienced. He was able to maneuver the gigantic balloon down into the cavern right next to the chimneys and rock formations. He was also proud to tell us that we were the highest balloon in the sky at 6300 meters! As we peered over the edge, we could see colorful dots beneath us. These dots were the TOP of other balloons.

We stayed up in the sky for over an hour, Mustafa gently guiding our balloon to all different parts of the canyon. What an amazing experience! It is customary to be served champagne upon landing, but Butterfly Balloons had more planned. I still don’t know how they knew this, no one took any credit, but as a complete surprise to me, they knew it was my birthday on that day and I was presented a beautiful chocolate cake, and flowers, to be shared by everyone in our basket! One man on the ground crew threw me across his shoulders like a sack of potatoes and then all the ground crew gathered around while he tossed me into the deflated balloon for pictures. It was amazing; a birthday like no other.

When we arrived back at the hotel, it was just 9:00 a.m. so we ate a quick breakfast and then went back to bed for a few hours. When we got up for the second time, all us girls decided to go to a Turkish Bath (hamam). I hadn’t yet been to a Turkish bath, although they are very popular here in Istanbul. Baths have been a part of this culture for centuries and many hamams are very old. We enjoyed a sauna, a swim in a mineral pool, and then a scrub down. It was quite an experience and we were left invigorated afterward. After lunch and a little shopping, we relaxed until the evening. Several of us went to a Sufi worship center and watched a Whirling Dervish ceremony.

whirlderPrior to arrival we read about the symbolism of the performance. On the website called The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi we learned about the dress, the hand movements and the sounds played by the musicians. I really loved watching this trancelike, harmonious, worshipful dance. The Mevlevi Sufi order was founded to follow the teachings of Rumi, one of the great spiritual masters, and poets, of the 13th century. If you are interested in learning more, I’ve just finished reading a novel by Elif Shafak called, The Forty Rules of Love, and through this story, Rumi’s biographical story is told. It is fascinating and I highly recommend it. The colors, sounds and textures of Cappedocia are totally worth exploring if you find yourself in this part of the world.

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The Melting Pot

single2Colors of the world.

This past week was UN week at my school. As a new international teacher, I really didn’t know what to expect. There were no pictures shown at our planning meeting, and as the agenda items were checked off by the administration and experienced teachers, there weren’t any details given that would allow me to visualize what I’d see. Most of the teachers I work with have already been teaching in international schools around the world and this is all familiar to them. All I knew is that the homeroom teachers had a special schedule all week, which included activities outside the normal PYP curriculum. Some of these included flag making, map building and food tasting and then there would be a Parade of Nations on Friday.

Monday morning began in assembly. A beautiful and heart-warming book, by Mem Fox, was read aloud by my new friend, and our Australian librarian called, Whoever You Are. Let me just say that this book is on my “To Buy in USA” list. This is a book to own if you have small children! Afterwards, a young woman and young man from the high school came and presented to our group on this history of the UN and on UNICEF. I learned so much!

In a nutshell, the United Nations is an international organization that was founded in 1945 after the Second World War. At that time, fifty-one countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. From their website I found this information:

The work of the United Nations reaches every corner of the globe. Although best known for peacekeeping, peace-building, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance, there are many other ways the United Nations and its System (specialized agencies, funds and programmes) affect our lives and make the world a better place. The Organization works on a broad range of fundamental issues, from sustainable development, environment and refugees protection, disaster relief, counter terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, to promoting democracy, human rights, gender equality and the advancement of women, governance, economic and social development and international health, clearing landmines, expanding food production, and more, in order to achieve its goals and coordinate efforts for a safer world for this and future generations.

After we learned about the UN, they went on to educate us about UNICEF. Although for years I gave to UNICEF through donations at a former employer, JCPenney, I didn’t fully realize the capacity and importance of the program. Taken from their website:

UNICEF is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized. We have the global authority to influence decision-makers, and the variety of partners at grassroots level to turn the most innovative ideas into reality.  That makes us unique among world organizations, and unique among those working with the young.

We believe that nurturing and caring for children are the cornerstones of human progress.  UNICEF was created with this purpose in mind – to work with others to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path.  We believe that we can, together, advance the cause of humanity.

One of the reasons I knew I would love working in an international school was because I wanted to be influenced in my thoughts, in my prayers, in my teaching, in my art, in my personal philosophy of life on a global level. I felt my existence in the USA was too narrow. The school where I teach is an enormous melting pot of children and families. I don’t yet know the number of countries represented in our student body but I can assure you it is a lot!

foodDuring the week special activities were implemented but on Thursday, one of the Grade 1 teachers ran downstairs to my art room and invited me to come upstairs and taste the assortment of foreign foods that had been brought in from our international families. Of course I followed her upstairs! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Delicious, savory and sweet foods were lovingly prepared by our school’s families and a buffet was spread out for all to enjoy “tastes from around the world”. I loved sampling the delicious foods. Each of the food trays was marked with a small flag designating the country from which the food was from. It was yummy!

When I came to work on Friday, my eyes were in for a treat. Traditional costumes, flags and hats were on the children as they marched proudly into school. I grabbed my camera and asked permission as I continued to shoot pictures of these lovely, beautiful children. Seeing them made me want to visit every country! It made me realize that next summer, when I go home to America, I will have to get some kind of “American” costume to wear on UN day next year! Here’s a shout out to my family and friends in the USA…this year, on July 4, PLEASE grab me a BIG American flag and some American “memorabilia”. I want to participate in costume next year. I had nothing special to wear. I can sense that I’m already starting to change…When I left the USA I held many negative feelings about my country, based on politics and economy. However, after being here just a few, short months, my views are beginning to broaden.

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During the Parade of Nations assembly, at the end of the day on Friday, I sat with a colleague who has taught in four international schools. We were both in amazement at the beautiful, colorful children and their traditional costumes that filled our entire auditorium. He whispered to me that in all the other international schools he’s taught in, although the students possessed an international passport, most of them were “from” the country that the school was located in. That is not the case at MEFIS. Our student population is from all over the world! Lucky me; our students are truly global! This teaching experience is like none that I’ve ever done before and I love it!

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Anish is bliss


Anish Kapoor
Me and my art buddy.

Every weekend for the past month, I’ve been climbing stairs, high and low, and in and out of a variety of city districts, to look at contemporary art in this great city. The 13th Istanbul Biennale started on September 14, 2013, and a wide variety of galleries, museums and public art spaces have put their best foot forward. Amazing exhibitions and installations are being shown from one corner of the city to another.

Before I left the USA, I was reading many blogs about Istanbul written by people that were living here. When the riots started in June, I used these sources to stay abreast on the conditions in the neighborhoods that I soon would call home. Through my research, I came across a blog that I enjoyed because of the rich photos and personal commentary. After reading many articles, I decided to write the author and compliment her on her work of maintaining her blog. As it turns out, she wrote me back. Then I wrote again, etc., etc., and low and behold, once I moved here in August, we met face-to-face and have become friends. She, too, is an artist and we both belong to PAWI (Professional American Women in Istanbul) and Artists in Istanbul. My new friend, who has lived here almost a year, knows the city, and its language, better than I do. With Google maps in hand (and on iPhone), we’ve started conquering these exhibitions, one neighborhood at a time.

When I step into these venues, and catch my breath, I think, “I’m going to write about this!” but then I go to the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that, and by the end of the day, I’m completely confused on what to write about. Too much to choose from! Today, I’ve decided to share with you photos from the stellar Anish Kapoor show at Sakip Sabanci Muzesi, north past Babek and close to the shores of the Bosphorus.

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Anish Kapoor is an Indian-Brit. His work being shown here in Istanbul covers the last 25 years of his career. As I looked at the monumental pieces of steel and marble I kept wondering how they got here; how did those enormous pieces make their way into this beautiful, but crowded, neighborhood on the Bosphorus? I rode the bus to get there and it took an hour. It’s not that far of distance, but the roads were so crowded with cars, motorcycles, buses, melon carts, pedestrians that it felt like I’d never arrive. Did the sculptures float up the Bosphorus on a barge? Did they arrive on a truck up the steep hills of the city? This would have been an interesting installation to see!

Americans may know his large, chrome-like “bean” the best. It sits in Chicago’s Millennium Park and is wildly popular. The sculpture’s title is actually, Cloud Gate and, although it went way over budget (to the tune of about $25 million) the city of Chicago and its residents love it! His most recent piece, Ark Nova, is a one-of-a-kind inflatable concert hall in Japan.

I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves. The work was mesmerizing and provoked curiosity. How did he do this? Were the pieces fabricated by machines? How many assistants does he have? I’m so fortunate to have been able to see this exhibition. It’s up through January sometime in the event you want to see it!

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Shipwrecked

Into the depths.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hidden_Harbor_Mystery, Author: Franklin W. Dixon, Publisher: Grosset and Dunlap

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
The_Hidden_Harbor_Mystery,
Author: Franklin W. Dixon,
Publisher: Grosset and Dunlap

Noticing that I would soon be accompanying Grade 5 students to the Istanbul Archeological Museum during their Ancient Civilizations Unit of Inquiry, I invited a friend from Ireland to go with me and check it out. I wanted to get my bearings before taking the students and I’m so glad I did! Although we only made it into two of the three vast buildings, our eyes and minds were full from the experience. The museum houses artifacts from the centuries and it would be nearly impossible to see everything in one day. As in many ancient cities, there is scaffolding and renovations happening all around the grounds. I can’t imagine the expense of taking care of an ancient city! One could easily start digging in a grassy garden and unearth an ancient arch, pottery or who knows what! This modern city has been built on top of many cities that came before it. Although the treasures of this fine museum are remarkable, I was most captivated by a special exhibition called Stories From The Harbor, Shipwrecks of Yenikapi.

Just south of Sultanahmet, the popular tourist part of the city, where many famous Istanbul mosques and shopping bazaars are located, lays the Sea of Marmara and the Theodosian harbour. In 2004, during a transportation project that was underway, a great discovery was made. Under the sea, in an area called Yenikapi, a total of 37 shipwrecks were found, unbelievably preserved in a water grave. The Yenikapi wrecks constitute the largest collection of shipwrecks ever found in one place. These thrity-seven boats vary from long warships (galleys) to sea-going traders and even include small, local trading vessels. The boats date from the 5th-11th centuries and included a surprising artifact inventory. This amazing archeological find sheds light not only on the trade business of the harbor city, and Byzantine capital, Constantinople, but on vessels of the period and everyday life during the Ottoman and Byzantine periods.

The special exhibition was of the highest caliber. Multimedia video and interactive displays delighted and mesmerized me as I pushed buttons to see how a thunderstorm at sea could easily set a ship off course and lead to its demise. Other videos showed the common trade routes through this area of the world and gave information on what was carried on the ships. Not only did they carry a plethora of vessels but also coins, jewelry, candles, leather sandals and rigging equipment, to include ropes and anchors. I was most surprised to see nuts and seeds, like peach seeds and walnut shells, on display. Skeletons are also a part of the findings and provide a frightening reminder about all the lives that have been lost at sea. Another video, with the speed of a factory, showed how these beautiful, old ships were crafted.

As we were leaving we stopped by a beautiful, outdoor café on the grounds for a cup of tea. The tables were placed amongst the many ruins and helped to provide a lovely time of reflection.

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