Tuesday, June 2, 2009  

Invisible Cities

One of the most difficult parts of traveling for me is facing my ‘normal’ life again upon return.  The jetlag, the hassle of the language barrier, the loneliness of being a stranger, and the fear of what might come across while meandering unfamiliar streets, and other annoyances really all feel like nothing more than quirky small animals that come out to surprise and tease you in a forest in comparison.  It’s a matter of confronting the past and being forced into a place of self-reflection, verses meeting the long anticipated new world and new possibilities.  And for every escape, there’s a reason.  To me it’s completely logical that I feel this way, but justifying it doesn’t make it any easier.

For a great part of the month of April, I was traveling in Turkey with my mother, much to amusement of my friends.  It was amazing beyond explanation, and I was dreaming about going back almost soon as I got on the flight back to New York.  During our 1 day layover in Madrid on a mission to check out the Prado, I even missed the incessant curious staring of the Turkish people, which felt like such an act of kindness and exuberance compared to the indifferent Europeanness of Spaniards.  And unfortunately, that’s about all I can say to summarize the whole on the spot.

In my mind, I can visualize my past, like how Marco Polo described his travels to Kublai Khan in Calvino’s Invisible Cities.  But the reality is that I have an enormous fear of counting my days back with great expectations of discoveries and epiphanies, or at least something at least a bit worthwhile, only to find that there really was nothing.  Naturally, this kind of pressure is amplified after an absence.  There was a time in my naivety, when I believed that my experiences, and observing and collecting of my surroundings would eventually enrich my being some how.  Now it seems more to me that, my habit of perpetually collecting impressions makes me nothing but an internal hoarder.  Some people collect junk; I collect useless impressions and information that never see the light.  And this is why I have a hard time telling you about what I have been doing, how have things been, and so on.  So, this is the beginning of my feeble attempt to redeem myself to some of friends who I’ve frustrated in the past by being a mute weirdo.  I read a long time ago in an interview with Gisele Bündchen the sage, that she always starts off the day with horseback riding, because doing fun things first keeps her motivated.  And the though of food is my equivalent to her horseback riding (bo-ring!).  So without further ado, I present to you, the stuff I ate in Turkey.

After an annoying flight that’s neither long enough to rest, or quick and easy, we landed in Istanbul, and immediately, I knew that it was worth every inconvenience, and every minute lost in the air. Is it the center of the world?  Maybe.  After going to the market in the Asian side of the Bosphorus, it’s really hard to argue. Why people are so obsessed with the food culture of Italian and French markets are beyond my comprehension, so I am just going to assume that it’s simply due to the Eurocentric tendencies brought on by colonialization.  Have they been to Istanbul?  There are markets where you can buy the freshest, the most delicious fruits, nuts, candies, and produce in every neighborhood of Istanbul, but this market which happens every Tuesday is supposedly one of the biggest.

My friend Ayça was born on this side of Istanbul, and I met her in New York, where she owned a fantastic record shop in Williamsburg called Marquis Dance Hall. Lucky for me, she was back in Istanbul, and took us across the sea, and to this funny restaurant with a China Town decor that made some delicious dolma’s, my new favorite food.


From Istanbul, we made our way up East and North to a small village called Safranbolu which happens to be the saffron capital of this side of the globe, and up to the Black Sea.


My one regret throughout the trip is not having stocked up on loads of Turkish delight (lokoum) from Safranbolu. If only I had known that no where in Istanbul I would be able to find the saffron pistachio lokuom even half as perfect as this. And back in New York, where people’s idea of ‘Turkish Delight’ is confectioner’s sugar dusted gummy balls, my chances are even slimmer.

In Cappadocia, these terra cotta pot kebabs were ubiquitous. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Turkish person eating this, but as a shameless foreigner, I proudly enjoyed my vegetable pot kebab, which was like a hardy (?)bruschetta soup.

Do you see something familiar above? That’s my mom across from me, having herself a ssam, in Göreme. We some how managed to find a restaurant that had lettuce and ssam jang to cater the growing number of Korean travellers. When you travel with mom, strange things happen.

When we arrived in Antalya, it finally felt like a vacation. Unfamiliar with the scent of orange blossoms, we were greeted by the pleasant smell which we mistakenly thought as acacia scent. It was finally warm, and the streets were clean. On our first day in the mediterranean, we strolled around aimlessly, and then took a boat ride. Afterwards we grabbed a table on a rooftop restaurant overlooking the mediterranean for some fresh sea food for my mom, and some fresh salad with Efes Lager for both of us.

One morning, we took a minibus to a nearby beach town called Çirali.  There, we met the nicest people in the world who drove us to the beach, and took us out for some mezze.

I spent the entire day swimming with Mr, and Mrs Karakas’s daughter Ayça (no relation to the previously mentioned Ayça). It was still considered too cold to be swimming in the ocean, but it was my last day there, so how could I resist? Also, Çirali is the place where the rare Caretta turtles come annually to lay thousands of eggs.

People use the rocks gathered to form a circle that signifies the location of the eggs in order to protect them. Unfortunately, the carettas weren’t feeling my visit, and stayed well out of my sight. But even their immediate absense could not disturb the beauty of this place. This was our final destination before going back to Istanbul to catch our flight out of Turkey. We have considered so many places to end our short journey, and as I was sure that other places would have been just as beautiful, at the moment, this was perfect.

Back in Istanbul, we had our final Turkish dinner at Hamdi Et Lokantasi, possibly the most famous restaurant in all of Turkey. As I had been warned, the vegetarian mezze made me nostalgic for the amazing lunch with the Karakas family in Çirali, but it was still pleasant, and the view made it really impossible to complain.


The day I returned to New York, M and I rode our bikes to the MET, went to thrift stores in the Upper East Side, and stumbled upon the most bizarre tea house in the world. The day after, we reunited with my mother for some Korean food in Flushing, and she left to Seoul next morning. As always, I struggled a bit to readjust to my daily pattern, kept quiet when asked about my trip, and moved on. I have returned, and I loved it here. I miss a lot of things about Turkey, but the thing that I miss even more than the Safranbolu lokoum ,is this:

Fresh pressed Antalyan orange juice for 1.50 lira! I don’t even know how I can justify these oranges other than just testifying that they are the sweetest, most delicious oranges I have ever tasted. Florida oranges taste like raw potatoes in comparison. And I can’t help being slightly outraged at the $6 cup of god-knows-where-it-comes-from orange juice that is considered the norm here.   Thanks to Antalya, oj, to me, is ruined permanently.

Filed under: inspiration  out  fruits  spring 

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