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“Soğuk” stories VI: “Urfalı” for a day

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And here’s the prove that I was an Urfalı kız (girl from Urfa) for a day 🙂 Girls love dress-up games 😛

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“Soğuk” stories V: One night in Urfa

Thank you Nicéphore Niépce for inventing photography! When memories start to fade away in our overloaded “hard disk” pictures work like a “Refresh” button!

I sat cross-legged like a Turk and smiled to the camera as I knew that one day this picture will steal a smile and give me back my memories.

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And it did. It took me back to the summer of 2012. To my first traditional Turkish evening. In Şanlıurfa. And I decided to take you with me. I won’t hold your hand… but hopefully I’ll hold your imagination. Ready? Imagine yourself entering a 450 year old konuk evi (guest house) in Şanlıurfa. The perfect place for tarihi kokusunu arayanlar (those who are seeking the scent of history) as stated on the Harran guest house’s website. And I was one of them, proud and somehow overwhelmed to be in the place where diverse people, histories and identities meet, in Mesopotamia, the so-called cradle of civilizations… A strange, nameless feeling embraced me and made me realize that we don’t have enough words, and sometimes living our dreams simply paralyzes our thoughts. My introspection was interrupted by the tempting flavors. I must say that South-Eastern Turkey’s history smells delicious. And spoils your tastebuds with its domatesli ve patlıcanlı kebap (tomatoe and eggplant kebab), bostana (Turkish gaspacho), salata (salad), lebeni çorbası (youghurt soup).

dscn0857After dinner I found out that preparing  çiğ köfte (raw meatballs, yes the meat is actually RAW, is not cooked) requires artistic skills. It is believed that çiğ köfte was invented in Urfa in the time of Abraham. Nimrod (the king of those times) wanted to execute Abraham by setting him on fire and ordered to collect all firewood in Urfa for this purpose. As a result people didn’t have firewood to cook and ate raw food. One day somebody found a way to make meat tastier by adding bulgur, herbs, spices and kneading the mixture. I mentioned above that making çiğ köfte is not an easy task. See the aşçı (cook) in action:

dscn0863The best çiğ köfte is made by dancing on the rhythms of the davul (drum) or on the davul 🙂 .

dscn0871And here’s the result:

dscn0874Well, çiğ köfte is not my favourite, and not because is raw meat, at the time I didn’t even know what I was eating! Actually it doesn’t even taste like meat… It’s like a strange combination of herbs and spices worth to try at least once!

The hallucinating combination of flavours, the rhythm of the drum and the traditional Turkish music made the evening unforgettable.

img_2951And prepared us for the next level: Halay (Anatolian folk dance) which is quite simple:  people form a circle by holding each others little finger and the leading dancer waves a handkerchief.

img_2961Dancing requires energy, and the best ‘fuel’ to boost your energy are taltılar (sweets), elbette (of course)!

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“Soğuk” stories: Fall fal told me my destiny…

tumblr_m23m1kLDcW1qa6qjbo1_1280Photo: LITTLEテアシ Draws

It was a fall fal, although I’m not so sure of that…but considering the fact that it was a little bit cold that night, it must have been autumn already, as Elazığ kept itself çok sıcak until our last days there and probably turned soğuk only to show us its disappointment caused by our decision to abandon it. Unless it was a summer night frozen in mystery… It doesn’t even matter anymore the exact time (or season) of the experience. It’s more important how it felt. It felt like fall. It sounded like fall (fal). Therefore it wasn’t a summer fal for sure, it was a fall fal for me. And it still is. But the resemblance of the 2 words (fall/fal) don’t give us any assurance about the truthfulness of the fortune-teller. I’m not even sure I had a real falcı (the person who can read the fortune in coffee), whatever that should mean. But I don’t care, It was fun. And I succeeded to avoid some paths of destiny written in the coffee grounds. Or not? Well, it depends what I want to believe… According to “Inside out Istanbul” (the post I shared yesterday) it is believed that the fal has the power to predict only the near future. The very near one. Forty days. Well, it has been 2 years since then. Let’s check the “list” of predictions:

  • you’ll work a lot: ok, I did work a lot…but who does not? A whole year I was reading for and writing my Master thesis, participated in as many conferences as I could, learning for my exams, preparing for my Ph.D admission exam, learning Italian and Turkish on my own, having a strict programme from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and only a few hours of free time during the weekends. Working for a foundation and coordinating a youth programme (Youthbank), writing editorials for a newspaper… If this is not a LOT of work, then what is it? So this one is true…but I don’t consider it a prediction! Unless you are filthy rich or you won the lottery, you must work. And estimating your amount of work is a subjective issue.
  • and succeed:  True…up to a point. If I take only the ups and forget the downs. I did pass my Ph.D. exam in Italy, so now I’m one of the 15 lucky Ph.D. candidates in History of Europe (my thesis focuses on Turkish politics) at Sapienza University of Rome, the oldest and biggest university in Europe. And one of the 3 foreigners studying there. This was the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced. And passed. Successfully. Another achievement I am proud of is being one of the 50 students (from more than 320) selected to participate in an international conference this year in Izmir, and one of the 10 students who received funding. Well, I did participate in many conferences before, but this was my first one in TURKEY! Just one more and I’ll stop. Promise! A live TV show, a few weeks ago. Me as a presenter. 3 guests. Topic: Linguistic journey in Turkey. Turkey and Turkish- 2 words which transformed this humble experience in something extraordinary! (Even though I could have been more extraordinary) I’m sure for most of you these are not great achievements, but I was happy like a child, a child in her twenties. Ok. I agree. Enough with the praise! The following word spoils the magic:
  • BUT
    (there is always a silly BUT, right?)
  • but you won’t be rich. The falci‘s eyes said “Don’t panic” and his mounth continued the idea. You won’t be poor either. You’ll have enough money to live well (and to travel, I hoped secretly!).  No. I didn’t panic. I’ve never dreamt to be a rich girl:-) And if  I were one, I would use my money to bring smiles on the faces of poor children. Take this as a promise! The fal was right, I’m still not rich!:-))
  • you’ll live somewhere in the mountains near to a lake. Now that was really disappointing for someone who’s hopelessly in love with the sea… From that moment I’ve started to dislike the mountains. Last summer while being in the Alps for 3 weeks at a conference, instead of enjoying the sight I was complaining about the weather (it rained a lot!) and about our host, who said “Romania nicht schön, nicht schön” (Romania is not beautiful, not beautiful), although she has never visited my country! I hate the stereotypes related to my country! Ok, I lived in the mountains for 3 weeks, but there was no lake near to our pension. Now I live in Romania. No mountains, just hills, no lake just a river. And in Rome (Italy) not too far from the sea.  Dear falcı, at this point I prefer to consider you a liar!
  • You’ll make a parachute jump. I did not. Not yet.:-)

The truth is I am my best falcı, I’m drawing and guessing my destiny (destinies). But still, who knows? Let’s keep a little mystery!

DSC01353This is a picture of my coffee cup. If there is a falcı, I'm waiting for a second opinion:-)

“Soğuk” stories III: Hasankeyf… my love!

dscn0633Oh, Hasankeyf! Forgotten cave town of Eastern Turkey…you are haunting my daydreams and memories. Testimony of the past, secret of the present … I was enchanted by your calls to prayer, colourful bazaar, rainbow spices, medley of flavours and smiling people…

How time flies, but still keeps our memories alive, held captive in a picture, an object, a flavour or a perfume… All we need is one look to trigger the sparkles of a false déjà vu…

It has been two years since I discovered this otherworldly place, which seemed rather the product of an imagined book written in a surreal time, between now and then. I instantly fell in love with its sunbathing hills, dusty paths, ancient rocks, mysterious caves and warm turquoise Tigris, which carries the secret of this place far away… to an uncertain future or maybe to a new, yet undiscovered past…

I fell in love with its playful, friendly children… whose dreams can change the future and memories the past… who know more than they can ever guess… but unheard stories pass away…

DSC00178surrounded by the children of Hasankeyf

Fell in love with the mystery of the around 4000 caves… some of them 12.000 years old… can you imagine what would it be like if these rocks could speak…?
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I fell in love with this bazaar… guarded by the proud minaret of the Rızk Camii… which has been calling people around to prayer for around six centuries… never loosing its unifying voice… its fate and hope…

 

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I fell in love with the Tigris river… so quiet… melting its refreshing water in the hot earth…

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Hasankeyf, I fell in love with you!

 

“Soğuk” stories II: “Cover up, look down!”

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Elazığ

Ok, I agree! The title sounds a little bit like a stereotype, but I assure you, that was not my intention when choosing it… Actually, it may prove to be up to a certain point a myth debunker. I hate stereotypes and I try to be as open-minded as possible, imagining myself in the same boat with those whom I’m tempted to judge, finding “excuses”, explanations for everything and even ending up judged for being too understanding but…  Even though we try hard to avoid falling into stereotypical traps, we cannot deny that we all see the world through our unique lenses, reality being affected by our perspective. Frankly speaking, this whole blog shows you Turkey through my eyes, not Turkey “as it is”. Can we even talk about “Turkey as it is”, when “Turkey as it is” is decided by humans who are by definition subjective? Some argue that the best perspective is that of the majority. Well, I don’t agree with them! I think “Turkey as it is” is the sum of all the perspectives and in the same time each one of them separately.  What is reality when everything is relative? …. That’s a good question and an interesting topic, but given that the purpose of this post is not to debate the nature of and the reasons behind stereotypes, I’ll get back to my “soğuk stories” before getting into deep waters.

“Cover up, look down” is nothing more than an advice. And it’s a very good advice for those who travel through Eastern Turkey and don’t want to be misunderstood or find themselves in odd situations. Anyway, when you grow up in a country where everybody wears short skirts, dresses and pants during the summer and where people consider you shy  if you don’t establish eye contact with them, you might find this advice a little bit unusual, even if you did your homework before departure. And I did, I did a serious but mostly disappointing research… Actually you cannot even imagine how many stupidities I’ve read about Turkey! Rude men, dangerous places, unsafe for women blah blah blah… The icing on the cake was: if you are a blond you should either get your hair darkened or cover it. Really? I’m a natural blond and I was as blond as always when being in Turkey, without having any trouble because of that… No, no! Don’t rush to draw conclusions! The “cover up” part of the advice doesn’t have anything to do with covering your hair! It simply means you should dress decently, cover your legs and shoulders. It’s not even a rule, you can dress as you wish, but if you show too much skin you’ll probably draw attention to yourself, you can be misunderstood and even taken as an easy woman, and I’m sure you wouldn’t like that!

In Eastern Turkey (Note: Eastern Turkey! not the Western part of the country or the touristic places where you can see people wearing any type of clothes) people are more conservative, many women wear başörtü (headscarf) and you hardly see someone with bare shoulders or knees in the city. I’m kindly asking you to think twice before you judge someone by the way they dress. Wearing a veil is not a sign of backwardness, nor is wearing a mini skirt. I meet a lot of friendly and open-minded women having their hair covered, the same thing I can say about girls wearing short dresses. Of course, stereotypes exist on the both sides and all they do is separate us. We all have the right to dress as we like and the obligation to respect others and ourselves. And to respect others and yourself means that you should inform yourself and adapt to the host culture when traveling. And this way you’ll keep yourself out of troubles. You probably wouldn’t wear bikini when skiing in the winter, just as you wouldn’t go to swim wearing boots and jacket. So, why on Earth would you go in a tiny dress to a place where most of the women cover their hair?

Well, reality on the ground can be very confusing… No one (at least, I didn’t see anybody) was wearing short dresses in Elazığ, but… the shops were full of skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops. I could not understand why, until I went to a wedding. Many women wear short skirts, dresses at weddings or parties. And on holidays, as one of my friends told me. While wearing skirts or dresses in the campus was ok, I avoided to wear them in the city. It happened only once or twice at the beginning, and even though I was wearing knee-length dresses I felt uncomfortable, having the impression that people are gazing at me. The attention was also due to my “different” appearance, being one of the very few natural blonds in the city. But nothing bad happened. Of course, I had been approached by people asking me Nerelisin? (Where are you from?). I answered to some of them, others I simply ignored, pretending that I do not understand them.

The “cover up” unwritten rule “hit” me with the occasion of our trip to the cities near the Syrian border (more about in a following post), when one of the  coordinators informed me that I would better wear long pants, unless I want to get myself and the group into trouble. She presented me the worst scenario ever: I could put the group in the situation to fight for me if some man wants to take me away (!?). You don’t get everyday this kind of warnings! I did panick a bit. Ok, let’s chill out! There is a very very small possibility for this scenario to happen! Most likely, in such a situation you’ll be just watched in a disapproving way.  And that’s not really pleasant. I followed her advice and everything went well. What I learned from this experience is, that if you don’t put yourself in danger everything is going to be all right!

But what about the “look down” rule? Well, looking into the eyes of a Turkish men on the street can be considered a sign of interest, so it’s better to avoid holding eye-contact with strangers. I was a little “shocked” when my friend advised me to look down. I must admit that I had some troubles with this “rule”, even though don’t usually stare at people. But I do use to look at them when walking. It’s something natural, done unconsciously, and hard to change. Sometimes I like to guess what people think, where they go, what they do for living… Or, if someone is staring at me I do look at him/her in order to stop them. I’m like “Ok, I got you! It’s rude to stare at someone, don’t you know that? Now look somewhere else, please!” I’m sure it happened to me in Turkey as well but as soon as I noticed I looked away. If you cannot change your habit try to control it.

Just like in the case of the “cover up” advice, you are not bound to follow it. But if you don’t want to be disturbed by flirty guys it’s better to take it into account. Nothing bad happens just because you hold eye contact with someone or dress in a specific way (except when you exaggerate) if you establish clear limits from the beginning.

DSCN1642Me in Elazığ

1. “Soğuk” stories from “sıcak” Turkey: First steps on Turkish land

Bir varmış, bir yokmuş…  when the world was literally full of Lokum… just as sıcak as today but more acı, there were 5 Romanian girls discovering the East at 45 degrees… tasting its kırmızı biberli dishes, drinking its sıcak çay, cooling down with limonlu ve vişneli dondurma on the crowded streets… learning to complain “Çok sıçak!” and to ask “Bir soğuk su şişesi!”, instead of çay… Lately, Romania has been almost as “sıcak” as Elazığ two years ago, bringing the already “soğuk” memories to my mind. I decided to melt them into my blog  before they become as cold as ice. Therefore from now on I’ll be writing my late diary, some of my “soğuk” stories from “sıcak” Turkey.

It all started in July 2012. Location: Elazığ havaalanı. Main characters: 5 Romanian curious girls determined to “conquer” Eastern Turkey: Bibi, Giorgi, Cristina, Flavia and me. Or according to our welcoming committee, who misspelled my name and Flavia’s second name turning them into something funnier: Lulia instead of Iulia and Mandalina istead of Mădălina:

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In the case of Mădălina the explanation is simple: Mandalina means mandarin in Turkish. As for the misspelling of my name, it probably occurred because of the differences between English, Romanian on the one hand and Turkish on the other hand. While in the case of English and Latin languages the capital “i” is dotless and written like “I” in Turkish is written with a dot above as “İ” given that the dotless “I” is another letter (Check my lesson about Alphabet and Pronunciation). Therefore, as ıulia (with dotless i) is very hard to pronounce, they thought my name should be Lulia. While in Romania I was used to be called Lulia only by babies who couldn’t pronounce my name (The first syllable of my name, “iu”, is pronounced like the English pronoun “you”), in Turkey I was Lulia for almost everyone! And Lulia is still hunting me… If Turkish people had problems to pronounce our Romanian names we were not better at pronouncing our destination’s name: Elazığ. I still remember the confusion on the face of an airport employee in Istanbul when asking about our flight to ElaZİG.

When we finally arrived we were all tired, given that we travelled almost 20 hours by car and plane, including the never-ending waiting in the airports (around 3 h in Bucharest and 7 h in Istanbul).

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERASleepy girls at Atatürk Airport, Istanbul

But we were too excited and too hungry. So we decided to discover the city together with the students who had waited for us in the airport. We were informed that it was not safe to walk in the city on our own after dark without being accompanied by a male. So we were really grateful to have our “welcoming committee”. We took the city bus, a memorable experience as the şoför was driving like a crazy, balancing the bus on the rhythms of Turkish music. We went to a lokanta and ate more than we could for only 7 TL per person (around 2,5 Euro). The low cost of living in Eastern Turkey was a nice surprise. Our scholarship was 500 Euro per month and it was more than enough. We even travelled and had some serious shopping sessions with that money. Back to our story, I had my first ayran, real Turkish kebab and çorba (which I have to confess is not my favourite) that night falling in love with Turkish cuisine.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAOur first dinner in Elazığ

The garson was very excited to serve us when he found out that we are yabancılar, as the city is not really a touristic destination, even though it has a rich history and culture. I’ll write more about in my following posts until then let’s learn some Turkish words!

Bir varmış, bir yokmuş-Once upon a time

Lokum-Turkish Delight

sıcak- hot (weather)

acı- hot (taste)

kırmızı biberli- chilli pepper

sıcak çay- hot tea

limonlu ve vişneli dondurma- lemon and sour cherry ice-cream

Çok sıçak!”- Very hot!

“Bir şişe soğuk su!”- A bottle of cold water (We used it incorrectly as Soğuk su şişesi or cold water bottle)

Havaalanı– airport

şoför– driver

lokanta– restaurant

garson– waiter

yabancılar– foreigners