Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quick Update

We made it back from Ankara last night, and today is our turn-around day to get ready to leave for a week in Ephesus (modern Selcuk for those who want to consult a map) tomorrow evening. Whew!

We will write when we get back about not only Ephesus but the great time we had in Ankara. We met some wonderful people, including the Ambassador, and had a good (but very wet) time seeing some of Ankara. Stay tuned for pictures, etc...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Modern Turkish History

It's 9:35 pm here and Peter is reading a book on modern Turkish history. We are headed to Ankara on Wednesday am (we have a reception with the other Fulbrighters at the US Ambassador's residence Thursday night) and Peter is eager to see the tomb of Ataturk. For those of you who don't know, he (Mustafa Kemal, now known as Ataturk) is the father of the Republic of Turkey. He led the military against the British and Greek forces in the 1920s and formed the Turkish Republic. He is the one who made Ankara the capital, and who Westernized Turkey a great deal through such measures as banning the wearing of the head scarf for women and the fez for men and demanding that the Turkish language be written in the Latin alphabet rather than Ottoman script (which looks a lot like Arabic). He is everywhere here -- on the money, on every official building, his portrait hanging in restaurants like some people hang pictures of the Pope back in America. He is the symbol of modern Turkey more than anything else, and is held in such high regard that to say anything negative about him is regarded as a crime. Sometimes it is difficult not to laugh just a little when we see a statue of him that is not particularly well-proportioned -- like the one outside Topkapi where he is posed like Abraham Lincoln on the Lincoln Memorial but his head is just a bit too big for his shoulders, which are a bit too broad for his torso, etc. This is especially true in some of the famous paintings or photographs of him in which he bears striking resemblance to Bela Lugosi. But we try our best to be respectful. Even when he has a tophat.

Our turistic excursions this week, which have been a bit limited by the rainy weather, have revolved quite a bit around modern Turkish history. Our main outing was yesterday, Sunday, when Peter and I walked to the Turkish Military Museum. Ironically, when the museum collection was first formed in the 17th century, it was housed in the church of Hagia Eirene, which means Holy Peace. Now, it is housed in the former military academy which was attended by guess who? Of course, Ataturk. There is even a recreation of one of his classrooms, where they display, among other things, the gradesheet from his class. Now there's a nightmare for all of us: 100 years after we graduate in the middle of our class (he was 6 out of 12), thousands of people a year troop through every year to look at our grades in every subject!

But there is much more in the museum than just Ataturk's classroom. There is a rather amazing panoramic life-size diorama of the fall of Constantinople to Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 (from the point of view of the Turks of course), lots of weapons from the 15th century on, and from many countries. Some were given as gifts to various Sultans, some not quite so willingly. One of the most interesting exhibits was of flags of ships from various nations that were captured by the Turks at one time or another. There was a Union Jack among them, but most interesting of all was one captured from a ship of the Byzantine state of Lavaron in a 15th century naval battle.

Other highlights include the chain that was stretched across the Golden Horn during the Seige in 1453 -- according to history/legend, Mehmet got his navy past it by pulling his ships up off of the Bosphorus and carrying them across the Galata shore of the Golden Horn (through our neighborhood no less) and putting them back in the Horn on the other side of the chain. Outside the museum visitors can also see two of the cannons that were used by Mehmet during the seige.

Also, we visited the Hall of Martyrs. It seems that the word "martyr" is used differently in Turkish tradition (perhaps in Islamic tradition in general?). Every soldier who is killed in combat fighting for their homeland is considered a martyr. The Hall of Martyrs bears the names of many who died, especially fighting at Gallipoli, as well as the famous words of Ataturk "Peace at home, peace in the world" in the languages of many countries. One interesting detail in this hall was the uniform and Koran of a soldier who fought at Gallipoli. According to the museum text, he was wearing the Koran around his neck, and it protected him from shrapnel, and although the edges are apparently damaged, the area with the words is not, showing, of course, the holiness of the words of the Prophet. This is very striking considering that a similar story is often told of an American soldier who was saved from a bullet by the Bible in his pocket, or something similar.

Another detail of interest: apparently the Turkish military was the first military in the world to fire a torpedo from a submarine.

But by far the highlight of the Military Museum was the concert by a military band which was dressed in traditional Ottoman costumes, including big fake moustaches. Well, some of them were fake anyway. The guys in armor and the ones with the long white hats are dressed as Janissaries, the personal guard of the Sultans and the most highly-trained of the Ottoman military units. The music was very good, and it was actually possible to imagine that seeing a line of Janissaries marching towards you would have been a terrifying thing (even with the moustaches).

All in all, we saw only just over half of the museum I think, so we might make a trip back sometime. Some of you will be sorry to hear that the shooting gallery that used to be open to the public so they could try out Turkish firearms was closed in the 1920s, but the Museum is still worth a visit.

In other thrilling news, yes, we did figure out how to use the washing machines and driers. But our clothes are once more lying all around our apartment drying since the electricity in that part of the building went out before we could get them into the dryer this evening. Neither electricity nor running water is guaranteed 24 hours a day here, although the Center does have a generator and a 40 ton water reservoir that the director says will provide enough to withstand a siege. Apparently the generator only provides electricity to some rooms though, and the washroom is not one of them. But we would rather have it here in our apartment than in there.

Speaking of the apartment, here are a few pictures, finally. It's difficult to photograph because the flash makes everything look white, and without the flash it's a bit dark. But the walls are a pleasant sage color really.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Old friends and new experiences

So you know how they say (or at least I say) that you have to be on your best behavior when traveling abroad because you never know who you might bump into, and that you will always see someone you know? Well we were here a short four days before it happened to us.

Thursday, Peter and I walked (quite a long way) across the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn to the Sultanahmet neighborhood, the old part of Constantinople where Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are. We were strolling through the First Court of Topkapi palace -- the area that is outside the ticketed area, so it's a free place to spend a pleasant afternoon -- when suddenly we saw Sarah Morris, a professor from UCLA. She and her husband John Papadopoulos, who was one of Peter's MA thesis advisors, were in town leading a group of UCLA alumni on a tour of Turkey. I guess it's not so odd that two professors of classical archaeology would be in Istanbul, but what are the chances Peter and I would be in the exact same place at the exact same time? It's was definitely one of those "Fancy meeting you here" moments. It turns out that they are both on sabbatical and spending the year in Athens, so Sarah invited us to come over to visit, which I think we will plan to do at some point.

That day was Peter's first introduction to parts of Istanbul outside our immediate neighborhood, but we are pacing ourselves -- we didn't go into any buildings but the Blue Mosque, his first mosque visit. We mostly wandered around and got lost in little neighborhoods. We found the fish market (stinky but interesting), and a man offered to take us across the Golden Horn on his VERY small boat, but we declined. There is so much to do here, but we have time, so there's no reason to burn ourselves out.

Yesterday (Friday) the Center took us all out to the campus of Koc University, where we took a tour and had lunch with the President of the university. Peter and I sat across from him at the table and had a good chat. He's a very nice man, a mathematician, who keeps saying that "People who know these things" told him the best way to set up the Research Center program. For instance, he wanted to house it on campus and have the Fellows teach classes at Koc, but "someone who knows" told him that that would make the program less attractive because it would not mean time off for research (which is true) and that no one would want to live on campus (also true) because it is far far out of town and away from all of the libraries and archives. I'm glad they set it up the way they did!

that being said, the Koc U. campus is pretty amazing. It is only 7 years old in that location. It sits in a heavily wooded area (which we were all surprised existed so near to town) on the point of land directly where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. We went up to the top floor of the administration building, which is almost like a lighthouse tower done in the Ottoman style with cushioned benches surrounding it so you can sit and admire the view. Some of you may remember from your mythology (or from your Ray Harryhausen movie "Clash of the Titans") that the spot where the Bosphorus and the Black Sea meet is where Jason and the Argonauts had to dodge the clashing rocks that the Greeks said were put there to prevent ships from passing safely. The rocks were said to come together and crush any vessel whose crew was foolish enough to brave the passage. Interestingly, the entrance to the Bosphorus looked so peaceful (picture above) that I had a difficult time understanding where they myth came from until a professor at the University explained it to me. Apparently the tides in that area are extremely dangerous under the surface. There is one tide that flows out from the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, and one that flows in the other direct, above it. These two tides form whirlpools which could easily catch a ship, especially a smaller one. She told me that within the last few years two divers who were working for the city, doing some maintenance on underwater pipes in that area, got caught in the current coming in from the Black Sea and it was so strong that by the time they were able to escape from it hours later, it had carried them all the way into the Dardanelles!

After our campus tour and filling out a lot of paperwork for residence visas, insurance, etc., we were treated to a Bosphorus boat tour. The University had chartered a small private boat and it took us very slowly from the Black Sea back up to the Golden Horn. We passed several smaller communities and saw some surprising things, including pretty young children out in the middle of the Bosphorious fishing alone (see picture below)! All in all, the tour took about 4 hours. We had drinks, and a really fabulous meal including fresh fish from the Black Sea, and we all chatted and listened to music and let the Turkish Fellows point out all of the landmarks to us as we passed them (mosques, Ottoman palaces, military buildings, etc.). It was really the best way to get oriented. Istanbul can be difficult because it is easy to forget that it is really a maritime city that is split by two waterways (Bosphorus and Golden Horn), and without seeing it by boat (or from the air, I assume), it's hard to understand where you are standing at any particular time. But I think we get it now!

Disclaimer: the pictures, which Peter took, are a bit blurry because the boat was small, so it was rocking quite a bit, especially when larger boats passed us. We saw the Norwegian Jade sitting at the mouth of the Golden Horn, hogging the entire thing! It was really kind of obnoxious.

The Research Center

So much has happened this first week in Istanbul that I am already playing catch-up with this blog. Since I can't stand the stress of always being behind on something, I think we will all have to agree now that this will not necessarily be a regularly-updated record of mine and Peter's lives, but more someplace where we can post interesting events and thoughts. Of course, since practically everything that has happened so far has been interesting, there is still a fundamental problem with this solution. But I suppose we have to start somewhere...

We are pretty well settled in now. Still no pictures of the apartment to share because we haven't really gotten it 100% together yet. We bought all the hangers we were able to find at the only shop we have found them so far, and it is not enough to hang our clothes. But tomorrow (Sunday) there is some type of market in our neighborhood and we have been told that there is a section devoted entirely to plastics where we may be able to find hangers.

Other items we have not located, or had great difficulties locating:
* laundry detergent without perfume (it apparently doesn't exist here)
* cereal bowls (we had to settle for decorative pieces to use for everyday)
* electric converters/adapters. We thought this would be easy in such a touristic destination, but it took several days of searching to find them, but we finally located them underground, in a strange electronics mall that is in the metro station.

Things we HAVE found in case we should ever need them:
* a street of chandelier and lamp shops
* riding lawnmowers and Miracle Grow
* a complete neighborhood of hardware stores and building supplies
* homemade violins
* about a dozen trophy shops
* a store that sells nothing but stamp collecting albums

Basically, our neighborhood, Beyoglu, is centered around Istiklal Caddesi, a famous street with a trolley and lots of overpriced clothing and food shops, but opening off of the street are Pasaji (passages) in which you can find basically anything you could ever think you might want (except hangers, cereal bowls and electrical converters). Here's a picture of Istiklal in the daytime, just down the street from us. We'll put in some night pictures before long.

Most of this week has been spent being walked around to libraries and other research centers that might be useful to us fellows for our research. In the evenings, we all have dinner together at the Center (it is catered by a restaurant), and mostly spend time getting to know each other and finding out about each others' research projects.

But what else do Fellows do with their spare time in the evenings, you might ask? Well, one popular pastime has been riding the Center's elevator. I know that might seem like an odd thing for adults to do (repeatedly), but it really is quite interesting, because of the design of the Center. Basically, the Center is two historic buildings standing next to each other. The Merkez Han, the building we all have our apartments in, was the building that Vehbi Koc (the founder of the University we are a part of) lived in when his family first moved to Istanbul, before he grew up and became an insanely wealthy man. In his will, he stipulated that any buildings the Koc family owned could be sold EXCEPT Merkez Han, hence its use as the Center. However, in its prior condition it was not suitable to be used as a research library and housing, so the Koc foundation purchased the building next door and reworked both of them to make one large complex. Happily, one of the projects was bringing both of the buildings up to the most recent anti-seismic standards by reinforcing everything with structural steel. We were all very relieved to hear that. Then the two buildings were joined by a roof which is actually a massive skylight that provides all of the light for the library, salon, cafeteria, and residential hallways (see picture). The exterior of the buildings were preserved to maintain their historic appearance, but the interiors were divided into the necessary apartments and other spaces. It's actually a pretty amazing building.
In the picture at left, the apartments are in the left building, behind the glass walls, and the right hand side houses the kitchen, salon (sitting room), library, and Dutch Research Institute, behind the columns.

But back to the the elevators (which are glass on three sides) start on floor -2 and go up to 5 (that's 8 levels because there is a floor "0"). At level 3 they "break through" the glass ceiling in a very Willy Wonka fashion and keep going up for two more levels, but since the building stops at 3, there are no longer any walls on either side of you, you can't tell where you are going to stop, so it's like you are just shooting up into the sky! Add to that the amazing view from the top, and it's a trip worth taking (again and again and again). So that's one pastime. I'm sure it will get less interesting as time goes by, but for now it's not only fun to do, but to watch the expression on other people's faces while they're going up and down -- because every wall in the center of the complex is glass, you can sit in the library or the lounge and watch people come back down through the ceiling and pass through the room you are in. It's kind of difficult to explain, but a very interesting effect. I'm sure the guards think we are all crazy! (Note: I just went out and got in the elevators to take the pictures I put in above, and when I passed through the library the Fellow from Georgia -- the nation, not the state -- was in there working and laughing at me for riding by!).

That's another thing I should mention about the complex -- we have 24 hour security, and all the doors in the complex are run using magnetic keycards, so it's quite secure. We each have one key that opens our apartments but also all the doors in the Center (for exiting as well as entering). Plus, in a very cool detail, there is a card slot when we first walk in the door to our apartment where we can keep our "keys." When we come in and put a card in, it automatically turns on any lights that were on when we left, and when we take the cards out to leave, it turns the lights out and locks the door, so no forgetting anything! Or, if we don't shut the door to our room well when coming or going it beeps at us to let us know. It's taken some getting used to, but I think it's a good system!

So that's about it for the Center. Unless I forgot to mention in the last post that we share the building with the Dutch Research Institute, so we have two libraries on site to work in, and there are other scholars coming and going, which is nice.

I'm going to move on to the next post to talk about things we have done so far, to keep this one from going on too long. and I promise we will post pictures of our room as soon as it is clean, but here is a picture of our hall at least...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Welcome to Istanbul -- Hos Geldiniz!

This is a blog that will allow our family and friends to keep up with our adventures while we live (and work) for a year at the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations in Beyoglu, Istanbul. We arrived in the early morning in September 15, and had to hit the ground running.

We have a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment in the Research Center (RCAC) -- more about the RCAC and the building in a later post.

It seems like we have been here more than two days. Physically, it feels like a week. Mentally, a month. So much has happened in the brief time since we arrived.

Everything here is so amazing -- the Research Center is gorgeous (we'll send pictures later). Our neighborhood is very lively, day and night -- so, not quiet, but vibrant. Today Peter and I took two very long walks -- one to the Fulbright office which was a bit further than we thought (doesn't that always happen?), and one in search of hangers. I'll bet most people never think of it, but finding hangers in a foreign country can be very difficult. Now all the other scholars want to know where we got them. Maybe that could be Peter's side job -- selling hangers at a profit.

The director of the Institute also arranged tours of two libraries for us today. The Netherlands Research Institute shares our building, so that is convenient. The other we visited is the Istanbul Research Institute, which is 5 minutes on foot and has three floors: one dedicated to modern Turkish history, one to Ottoman history, and one to Byzantine history. They also hold a large manuscripts and rare photographs collection, which Peter is very interested to spend time in. Tomorrow, we will go to the French, German, and Swedish Institute libraries, which should be useful for me, especially the German. Then on Friday we will all go to the Koc University main campus to lunch with the rector and provost, then we will be given a tour of the Bosphorus by boat. They say this is so we can understand the geography of Istanbul better, but I secretly think it is so we can all drink wine. Either way, it's free, so we're certainly not complaining!

Although we haven't gotten around to taking any photos of our apartment or the RCAC in general, I am attaching a few pictures taken from our rooftop terrace. We have an absolutely incredible view. Our building is situated on a point of land almost exactly where the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn come together, so when you look at the picture which is a general view from our roof, you are looking at Europe on your right and Asia on your left. Last night we all had dinner up there and there was a lightning storm in the distance, perhaps in the Black Sea area, and it was incredible to think that we were seeing lighting strike two continents at the same time! There is really something magical about this spot. We can see Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque, in the second photo from left to right. The third photo is a view of Hagia Sophia that I took from the roof as well -- I'm pretty happy with my new camera!

The other pictures are interesting in a different way. Yesterday afternoon (our very first day, remember), the restaurant next to our building caught on fire. The firemen were able to contain it to the patio area, where an outdoor stove had gone crazy, but flames and smoke were pouring out of the smokestack and our entire rooftop was enveloped in smoke. At first it was being fought by the waiters who had climbed onto the roof, but soon the fire department showed up and took care of it. Three hours later, the restaurant was cooking again, in the same oven! We were all thinking that that is exactly the type of accident that 100 years ago would have destroyed this entire neighborhood!

OK, I'm signing off now. We are trying to learn how to use the washer and drier here, and so far we have only managed to get our clothes really wet and soapy, but somehow not rinsed, after an hour in the machine. Tomorrow we will have to get a Turk to show us how to use them properly.

I hope all is well there -- Celia says their power finally came back up today after Ike took it out. Any other excitement to share?