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Mandalinas and Dylan

Ever since I read the post (pasted below) back in 2010, listening to this song has brought either tears to my eyes or happy memories of  friendship since we listened to the cd mentioned on replay during one of our magical Field-Ozsarac Cirali visits.

Dylan also made a repeat appearance on our Bafa Golu trip when the boys were just little embryonic beans. I remember driving down that luscious country road that connects the main road to Bafa Lake just as the sun was setting over the ancient hills. We spotted mandarin oranges and pomegranates dripping from trees and we pulled over, jumped out and picked all of the wild fruit that we could, stuffing our faces with a good number of mandalinas. All the while, Dylan was blaring from the car speakers.

In fact, Dylan has been a part of so many memories I have with the Fields. But that is maybe for another post when the thought fox decides to visit.

This post will not be written by me entirely, but mostly by my friend Rog, who inspired me to keep my own thoughts archived for those who care to read, read. He has a way with words, that Rog.

This post and all of the positive energy it vibrates is dedicated to Rog.  We are all pulling for you over here and wishing we could be there.
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So it’s clear that I have found this disc of the soundtrack powerful and compelling. But it is cut (track) #17 that is for me the most compelling. I first heard it in St. Catherine’s in the background of our activities there when JE played the soundtrack and burned copies for us, and it engaged me. I heard it again when we were back home and it was playing when friends were over for dinner. I hadn’t yet explored the names of the artists on the CD so I didn’t know whose that lovely ethereal voice on #17 was. I turned up the sound and asked if anyone knew who the vocalist was. JJ who is an amazing vocal artist herself said she thought it was male and possibly African-American but not someone she knew. And no one else knew either.

I have loved that song ever since I first heard it, and my favourite version for a couple of decades has been the one Bob did on his Australia tour with a great chorus of backup singers including, I believe, Queen Latifah (and now I can’t find that memorable video anywhere). It was my favourite, but as I mentioned above, I’ve been living inside Disc 2 for a while and especially inside cut #17.

Actually I decided that if there were ever a memorial event for me I would want Antony’s version of the song to be part of it. Shortly after deciding that, I finished the article I was reading in The New Yorker about performance artist Marina Abramovic, and learned that she invited Antony to a party and announced that she planned to have him sing “My Way” at all three of her funerals (read the article).

No matter, all I want is this CD with this version of this song, not because there’s any heaven with a door in it to knock on, but because that voice and Bob’s words say something about what we might think of, what we might feel, what we might live for. That’s all.

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Here is a video of the song. Love you Rog.

Autumnal Lament

Sweating continually since arrival back in Turkey in August, I have been thinking about this post for a while now. However, the words did not make their way into the foreground until today when I was stretched out on a massage bed getting worked over by a burly Bulgarian woman who went after my neck and back knots like a Dachshund digging ferociously for a badger. The words were magically released from the confines of my mind.

I really should title this the annual autumnal lament as each year I am pretty sure that about this time I lament about the fact that it isn’t fall yet in Istanbul.  And I am pretty sure that I ask a colleague whom I have worked with for 11 years, each year if Istanbul is usually this warm this late into fall.  And I am pretty sure that his answer is always yes, and I am pretty sure that for some reason he nor I never realize that this conversation is like being in the movie Groundhog’s Day.  I have a feeling he is being polite and I also have a feeling that my brain, like a pitbull, just can’t let go of the fact that fall doesn’t hit here until November.  I have accepted many of the things that make my existence here different than the one I lived in the Pacific Northwest, but this fall thing I just can’t shake.

My mind was set into gear for the descent into fall when I sweated through 108 sun salutations to welcome the equinox way back in September. This didn’t help my current predicament.  And Istanbul isn’t really helping much either.  She is sending out the harbingers of fall: migrating storks, crisp mornings, yellowing leaves, chilly evenings.  The yorgans (comforters) are out in our house, and even the street peddlers are hawking roasted chestnuts, a smell that I always liken to an Istanbul fall and winter.  But today walking past said chestnut hawker on my way to the subway,  the trickle of sweat running down my back  screamed in defiance at the smoky autumnal fragrance wafting past my nose. And next week the weather is supposed to go up to a scorching 29/84 degrees.

But North America beckons us back into her embrace and we will soon be in a properly cold province come this November where the warmth of the hearth and friendship will warm us like an Istanbul October afternoon.  It is an undoubted bonus that the boys can still play football until just before dinner, or play Legos out on the back deck until the sun retreats behind the pinky hills, and Koray and I can go for a walk after work, still in sandals and sunglasses.  Just last week a package arrived from a good friend in a red-leafed city  bearing pumpkin spice latte mix,  an homage to my pumpkin spice latte obsession but more to the bonds of friendship.

So there is much to be grateful for, and grateful I am.

(But I still miss the fall.)

p.s. It was brought to my attention that there are a couple of new people following this blog. So for those of you newcomers, I hope that when you read these pages you understand that while my writing can always be improved, to get to the point where I felt comfortable enough to publish something on the web, it took lots and lots of practice, practice practice and the courage to make mistakes.

It seems only fair that since I make comments on all of your writing that you in turn tell me what you think of my writing and what I can improve upon.  Maybe you can even give me an E.T. writing prompt to write about.  =)

Hos geldiniz sevgili ogrencilerim.

Sweet Freedom

I have always loved the name my friends gave to their choice ride , a dirty-white older model Renault.  Sweet Freedom was aptly named as it was their chariot that carried them off a  then campus that was quite isolated with not much to do.

I now claim the name for myself and use it to describe the feeling I felt  upon arriving home at 4:20, tired and wanting to plop down on the couch like a big lazy slug.  Finding myself alone in the house after school for the first time in six years I realized that I actually could plop down on the couch like a bug lazy slug if I wanted to.  In fact, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted.

I wish I could say I have been doing amazing things with my time, but alas, I have not.  I have filled it with walks and reading books.  I still can’t believe that I have this glorious time to myself.  I am sure the novelty will wear off soon enough and it will seem like I have always had this hour and a half to myself, but for now, I will revel in its glory.

Roots

I have re-worked this post a number of times.  It has transformed from a post about missing Nova Scotia, to loving Seattle, to loving both, to a “hey, here is what we did this summer” post, all the while life carries on here in Istanbul, my home of 11 years.  It dawned on me that  while this post reads like a re-cap of our summer, its spirit is about roots, and how being an international teacher allows me to have roots in more than one place, which can be a good, but also unsettling feeling.  I have posted about being an expat before, about how you never really fit in completely and compactly anywhere anymore.  At a recent wine night out with other expats, some of whom were Turks who grew up in the US and have now found themselves here in Turkey, the discussion eventually found its way to the rootlessness you sometimes feel as an expat. While we were all from different walks of life, this was the one thing we all shared.   People often ask me if I would ever move back to North America and if I miss it.  My answer of late is that we have a good life here and that while I do miss North America, if I were to move back there, I would then pine for things that are here, like I do now for things that are there; once you enter the world of expatriation, you are forever changed and home is never in one place anymore.

So I will just get on with this post, it is sort of here an there, the transitions are abrupt, the ideas disjointed, but that was kind of how my mind was this summer anyway. I was lucky enough to spend it in two of the three places I consider myself to be rooted. While this reality can sometimes feel lonely it can also be pretty amazing because you get to enjoy the best of what each destination has to offer before you jaunt off to the other one. *****

So, we hit Seattle again  this year.  This lush, green oasis has lots to do, and we did it.  Not only is Seattle a respite from the heat of summer in Istanbul, Seattle is uber cool in its coffee shops and small neighborhood restaurants with tons of locally brewed beer and tasty food.  I finally got the chance to dine at Delancey’s, a pizza joint in Ballard that is run by one of my favorite bloggers.  We feasted on crisp, thin crust pizza topped with fresh local ingredients after downing a roasted fennel and goat cheese starter, and washed it all down with a chocolatey, earthy glass of red wine. Heaven.  Over the span of our time there we dined on fresh and smoked salmon from the fish mongers at Pike Street Market, scarfed down mussels and clams, sipped drinks on the veranda of a fancy Victoria hotel, savored squares of handmade salted caramels,  fried up plenty of bacon, sipped gallons of coffee, gobbled down copious amounts of Red Mill and Dick’s burgers, nibbled on taco truck tacos that will make you swoon with happiness, and scarfed down wood smoked beef  tenderloin at Uncle Dave’s.  It was a festival for the taste buds.

However, the best culinary experience happened just shortly after dropping the boys at summer camp.  We tracked down a Cuban sandwich joint that promised to deliver the tastiest sandwich ever, which also meant long lines.  So we got there as early as possible and already there was a line of 6 people spilling out of  this tiny establishment.  But it was the BBQ pork-laden smoke wafting  out that  convinced us that we had made the right choice for lunch that day. Being a small joint, there was no where to sit so we took our order to the car where we delivered ourselves into culinary magic.  After minutes of breathless eating, Koray stopped and said, “I think this is the best f-ing sandwich I have ever eaten.”  Mouth brimming with pulled pork and cilantro sauce, I giggled and nodded in agreement; it was a damn good sandwich.

The most memorable eating experience was at an ice cream shop called The Fainting Goat.  Owned by two Turks from Izmir, I couldn’t resist popping into this neighborhood establishment situated just up the road from us.  The ice cream was creamy in flavors like pistachio, rose vanilla and mastik.  Not only was the ice cream good, but it seemed to have an added ingredient that caused  giggling/hysterical laughter  on the car ride home on more than one hilarious, scar-your-child occasion  (one of those “you had to be there stories”). And there is such a thing as a fainting goat, just youtube it.

But it wasn’t all about food.  Visiting friends and family as well as just living like pseudo-Seattleites was also high on the priority list. We hiked to a beautiful alpine lake that still had snow around it, kayaked on the cusp of the straight of Juan de Fuca, and combed the beach overlooking the Sound.  There were many great moments and one of the best things I loved to do was to get up at the break of day and head into a yoga class, afterwards picking up a coffee at the local coffee house. I was tickled one morning when the barista eyed me in the line of regulars and said, “12 ounce filter coffee, room for cream, right?”  My plan of becoming a pseudo- local for the summer had come to fruition.

Three weeks and a bit might seem like a lot of time to get everything done and see everybody, but in fact it isn’t and we missed a couple of people. One person we did see was my childhood friend Tracy who, as expected, has brought herself back.  She looked as she did last year, she just sounded like she had a cold and walked as if she had sprained her ankle.  Truly amazing she is.

Through all of this wonderful, hectic business, my mind continuously wandered back up and over to Nova Scotia where good friends situated in grey green Atlantic landscape carried on with their lives.  Where sweet, red lobster with salted butter and Pino Grigio and fish chowder and sunsets and good chats live.  On the airplane over and back, when the flight map showed us the east coast my eyes focused often on that lobster claw that claimed my heart and I sent down as many good vibes as I could from way up in the sky.  We felt the absence of Nova Scotia in our spirit and bones this summer. The boys too miss it. They annotated our time in Seattle with comments of missing NS, and those that live there.

I remember the first time Nova Scotia entered my radar.  It was a St. Patrick’s Day party at a neighbors and our friend R. had brought fish cakes to share.  “L. brought salt cod from Halifax” he said and I thought to myself, “now that sounds like a place I want to go.”  So when the aforementioned friend invited us to his home in Nova Scotia my response was, “hell ya.”  Flights were booked and off we went. We spent six wonderful summers in a row there, five with the boys.  Dad’s death yanked me back to the west coast of the US, reacquainting me with all that is there. This coupled with the birth of my adorable little niece has made us Seattle bound for these past two summers and on this last trip we struggled with what to do next summer.  But hey,  having to pick between Seattle and Halifax for a summer locale, well, let’s just say it could be a heck of a lot worse.

And this weekend on my way back from a yoga class, I drove over the Bosphorous bridge just early enough that traffic was flowing,but late enough to see the much sought after skyline of old Istanbul bathed in golden light perched atop the glittery waters coursing rapidly down the Bosphorous. With iced coffee in hand, I thought to myself, “well, this sure ain’t bad.”

Today driving home from school thinking about a Skype conversation I had had earlier in  the day, I was stopped by twin 1 so he could quickly  jump in the car.  As I looked back at him nervously sitting there, surmising why he wanted a ride home instead of playing with his friends  he said to me, “just drive the car.”  Feeling very cloak and dagger, I hit the gas and  listened as he confessed to an incident involving a Nerf gun. Kids have a way of rooting us to the here and now, moving us along this twisty turny path of life, which sometimes goes on just a little too quickly.

School starts tomorrow, my 12th new year at Koc and a new crop of students will pass the threshold of my classroom, new lessons will begin, for them and me, and life will indeed, go on.

I have been in school all of my life  either as a student or as a teacher, so I have always had summers off.  This post is an homage to that first glorious day of summer break, when the dog days of summer stretch out before you and life gets a little easier.

Sitting out in the sun, book in hand reading and supervising the inflatable pool party chaos, my mind wandered back to a first-day-of-summer memory with my good buddy T.

School let out on a Friday that year and we decided to have a sleepover at her house.  First on the agenda was to ride our bikes way up Horne, past The Red Apple market, and then back to her house.  Looking back on it, this probably wasn’t too far to ride, but we felt like we had biked half way across the state and back.  Time was no issue and the road beckoned us to keep pedaling and pedaling.  When we got back, we gorged ourselves on fresh cherries, which grow abundantly in Washington State, and watched TV until we fell asleep.  I don’t remember the other details, but I do remember that this was the summer that I realized just how special that first taste of freedom is.

Because summer has been good, and free, and mostly lazy,  it is just now that I am re-visiting this post I started back in July.  Summer vacation is coming to an end, and even though I am now a job-loving teacher, I still wish that summer could last forever and that I didn’t have to go back to school.

Istiklal Caddesi.  What a street it is.    This past weekend, whilst strolling down the street, giddy on a couple of glasses of Pino Grigio and  full to the brim with Thai food, it struck me that in ten years, it has been the setting for some pretty significant  phases of my life.  In each of those phases, my perspective of it changed  though the street remained constant in its’ lively indifference towards me.

My first memory of this grand street is from my first trip to Turkey, the trip that set everything in motion.  I remember walking down the busy street, marveling at its’  European feel.  I remember thinking, “Ya, I could live here.”

Fast forward 10 months after a move half way across the world, to the night my friends and I met up with this guy named Koray for dinner.  We met at a cool wine bar (now a trendy shoe shop) just next to the balik pazari.  Nervous and electrically charged, we meandered down the busy street to the meyhane meal that sealed the deal.  My next trip to the street was arm in arm with Koray as he showed me his favorite places in and around Istiklal.  One of them which happens to be the islak burger, a small burger doused in garlicky tomato sauce, something Koray indulges in whenever we find ourselves there.

Our wedding dinner was here as well.  Giddy and newly married with childhood friend in tow, we ambled down the busy street just past Starbucks where a restaurant full of guests, candle light, bubbles, music and applause welcomed us.

For a couple of years after that we strolled Istiklal whenever the mood struck us, not bothered by the teeming crowds of people and noise.  But the arrival of our baby boys put a stop to our Istiklal excursions for a good solid year. When we finally crawled out of the intense and sometimes dark cave of twin parenthood, Istiklal looked different to us.  Our cool, urban hipster days were over and the street seemed overwhelming and overstimulating to us.  With little ones and lots of little-one paraphernalia, the place we once frequented regularly had became something we avoided like the plague. So Istiklal was put on the back burner  for a couple of years while we took refuge in the calm, safe, green surroundings of the school’s campus.

Then one New Year’s Day morning, we were up bright and early while the rest of Istanbul slept.  Missing our old haunt,  we decided to  venture in to the grand avenue hoping it would be quiet and peaceful in the aftermath of December 31st party goers. Empty and somehow bigger and wider, we were able to look up and drink in the towering, beautiful architecture dating from the Pera era.  With baby boys strapped to our backs, we enjoyed the quiet and calmness that eventually faded into noise and chaos, our signal to escape for our home in the suburbs.

And now we enter a new phase.  Equipped with six-year- old boys on their own feet, navigating the crowds has become much easier and Istiklal is now back in vogue at the Ozsarac house.  Ali and Omer enjoy the sights and people watching. They are also quite keen on the various buskers that dot the avenue who draw crowds of onlookers and other music aficionados. Urban hipster revival?  Not quite, but we are back out there and it feels good to share this part of the city with the boys.

Last Saturday back on said street, sitting alone with a book and coffee in a cafe with a view of the Galata Tower, I enjoyed the sights the played out before me. Even when the skies opened up and drenched Istanbul with an unforgiving rain shower, the ambiance and charm of Istiklal remained. In fact, the cafe became just a little bit cozier.  I gathered my things, bundled up and ran for the Metro on to my next adventure. But I know I will be back.

Life and its’ curve balls.  Not such a cliche after all.

On the way to the airport after a weekend at my favorite beach in the world, my good friends R and L  and I chatted about life, and systems, and how we can get too wrapped up in things that aren’t that important and that don’t really matter. We discussed how we must step out of what is comfortable and take a look at what we are doing and see what is really happening there. Perspective is not only important, it is crucial.

We often take for granted the lives that we lead. The fact that clean water pours freely from the tap, hot or cold, whenever we want it. The ease in which we have access to food.  The houses we live in. The right to vote.  The safety of our neighborhoods.  The right to have a voice.  The right not to be scared that the government will take a loved one away. And each other.  We take for granted the people in our lives.  Or even if we don’t take them for granted, sometimes we get so wrapped up in everything else, we forget that what is really important are those relationships and bonds that we create and maintain and nurture.  And even if you don’t take that for granted, I think we too often forget how delicate our lives really are, and that we really are just hanging by a thread.

My friend Tracy.  The first kid to approach me in my first scary days at public school back when I was in the 4th grade.

“Hey, I like your jeans.  I have the same pair.  Did you get them at The Bon?”

The first kid to be my friend at my new school.  My high school buddy. Sleepovers. Movies. Boys. Make-up. Parties. The Laguna. Picking rocks and pulling weeds. Shopping. Swimming. Silver purses. Babysitting at Aunt Mary’s.  Walk America. Homecoming. Legos and hockey sticks.  Prom.  Fights.  Christmas Eve gatherings. Bagel dogs.  Ol’ quick finger. College roommates. Costco runs. Dinners when I was stateside. Marriage.  Death.  Babies.  Laughter.  Lots and lots of laughter.

The last time I saw her, this summer, with her two little boys, I thought about how she had so easily slipped into motherhood.  So organized and together, as she always was really. As we sat there and watched our four boys frolic in the golden summer sun, running and screaming through the sprinklers, I thought about what a great mom she is, and how lucky I am to have a friend, a number of friends, whom I have known since  I was a kid.  A relationship so special with a  bond so strong that distance and time and life circumstances and choices cannot break it.

This weekend when I got the e-mail from another beloved childhood friend that Tracy was being flown to  a hospital in Seattle, that bond buried deep inside my cellular make-up welled up and took hold of my heart.  My friend, fighting for her life.  Images, conversations, memories dance across my memory and visit my dreams.

My heart aches for her and her family.  But she is a fierce, strong woman.  I have seen her do what needs to be done to get through difficult times and I know that she is doing the same right now.  She is a worker and a survivor, and she will survive this.

Reading her facebook wall this morning, tears welled in my eyes as I read the numerous messages posted there.  One post in particular captured that intensity that I am failing to relate here, so I will share those words that so concisely describe her spirit:

….ever since I heard what happened I’ve had one image in my mind. It was the 1992 volleyball season at Ki-Be. One of the team rituals for the season was “no ball will ever touch the floor.” Brandon was running you guys through an INTENSE practice. I distinctly remember you Tracy, near the point of exhaustion, absolutely screaming “NO BALL WILL EVER TOUCH THE FLOOR!” and then sprawling after a Brandon spike from the stand. You made the pass. I saw what a fighter you were. I saw your heart and your toughness and your courage. That’s who you are, and you’re going to fight this challenge now…and you’re going to win. You are in my constant prayers.

So, my friend, go to that place that makes you do what you do and pull out of this.  We are all waiting and cheering you on.