Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Walking the Jewish East Side

Our walk ended with this memorial at Liverpool station where 10,000 unaccompanied children, mostly Jewish, fled from the Nazi's in 1938 to 1939.
Sunday morning I took a walking tour featuring Jews in London and particularly on the East Side. We started at the Tower Underground station. Harry, a crusty Jew from Essex, was our guide for the group of twenty of which about half were Jewish. I so enjoy these kinds of learning experiences.

We started by walking down Jewry Street and hearing about the Jews in medieval London. In 1290 the Jews were expelled - all of them - by King Edward I. In the late 17th century, Oliver Cromwell finally allowed Jews to live and be recognized in London again. Most of the Jews at that time were Sephardic from Spain and Portugal.
Jewry Street in London
We visted Bevis Marks Synagogue which opened for Rosh Hashanah services in 1701. Everything in the orthodox synagogue is original! There are seven large, brass chandeliers from Amsterdam that hold candles (not electric) which represent the seven days of creation and Cromwellian benches dating from 1656. We learned all about the Sephardic synagogue's history from a member, Morris. Morris talked in detail about Bevis Marks' most famous member: Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) who has a seat in front of the arc reserved (roped off) in memory of his great philanthropy.

Gate to Bevis Marks Synagogue purposely designed to not attract attention. 
Front of Bevis Marks Synagogue - notice how it resembles a London church except for the Hebrew - again on purpose to blend in ...
After our fascinating synagogue visit, we walked the streets of the East Side ...
First Ashenazi synagogue built by the Dutch in 1854.

Soup Kitchen (inscribed to left of date) for the Jewish Poor built in 5662/1902.

Children of the Kindertransport.
Harry (our guide) knows the boy with hat who is the violin player, Eric.
Harry finished our tour at the Kindertransport Memorial in Liverpool Station with these well said words:
"We are proud to be British and Jewish. Not allot of us but we punch way above our weight."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Today I sat in Trafalgar Square listening to the cast of Spamalot sing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." Bright indeed.

Our Commuter Family has taken logistics to a new level this month. Youngest Son is still vacationing in Turkey with Turkish Friends. Early last week he was at the Sapanca Gural Resort and now he is in Bodrum on the Aegean Coast. Tremendous gratitude to Turkish Mother for mothering a fourth child and for these fun photos of Youngest Son ...
Youngest Son at Sapanca Gural Resort - I want to go on that slide!

Youngest Son diving into the clear lovely waters of the blue Sea ...
I spent today in London. I started at the National Portrait Gallery with porridge in the roof top cafe. Then I listened four hours as my portable player told me all about the portraits and the associated British history from 1450 through 1750 - I totally enjoyed all 240 minutes of it! I admit that I am a certified history geek. After an afternoon pot of Earl Grey Tea and a scone, I spent the next three hours in Trafalgar square at West End Live. A local free show including performances from Dirty Dancing, Monty Python's Spamalot, A Chorus Line, Stomp, Rock of Ages and several more! And THEN I saw The Book of Mormon at Prince of Wales Theatre.  The Book of Mormon has to be one of the most entertaining, irreverent shows I have ever seen; l o v e d this show!
Porridge - eaten the English way while gazing over the rooftops of London.
View behind me at the West End Live event  in Trafalgar Square.
Friday evening I crossed the Thames on The Millennium Bridge to explore the Tate Modern. That is St. Paul's Cathedral in the back drop ...
And , the other half of Commuter Family ...

Oldest Son spent the first couple June weeks in Dallas finishing his baseball season. Another send out of huge appreciation to Running Family for housing, feeding and transporting an extra teenager and third boy child!

Now Commuter Husband and Oldest Son are spending two weeks in Houston. Oldest Son completed one great week of Rice Baseball Camp and will do a second week too. Apparently Commuter Husband and Oldest Son have been bonding over basketball playoffs and zombie movies! And then something about a transmission leak too ... well ... Always Look on the Bright Side of Life ...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Some Days Are Perfect

Our days are woven together with the excitement of the new and the familiarity of everyday family life. Turkish culture is one of great hospitality ...

WEDNESDAY - A Day On and Around Bağdat Avenue & Family Time
We started our day on Bağdat Avenue. Turkish Mother, Turkish Mother's Sister and I shopped while Youngest Son and American/Turkish Friend browsed in book store. My Makeover Part 2 (Part 1 was the previous day) continued. I now have several pieces of stylish clothing that fit so nicely!

We lunched by the Sea of Marmara and took a walk along the colonnade where huge houses from the Ottoman Empire faced the sea, the blue bike lane was filled with relaxed riders and children played in the parks.
Youngest Son and American/Turkish Friend are very excited to look at islands through the seaside scope.

Turkish Mother, Youngest Son and American/Turkish friend pick out yummy gelato after our seaside stroll.
We spent the afternoon with Turkish Father's mother i.e. Turkish Grandmother. Turkish Grandmother and Turkish Mother's Sister (kids' aunt) both live off  Bağdat Avenue on the Asian side in city apartments.
Turkish Grandmother's three bedroom apartment is on the 10th floor.
The most wonderful park is down the street. The park has state of the art equipment (some I have never seen in US), sculpted flower beds, a large rose garden, water fountains and a pretty pond. Youngest Son, American/Turkish Friend, Turkish Daughter and Turkish Prince played and played and played ...
Youngest Son is swirling around on the left and Turkish Daughter is finishing her ride on the right - this is so fun!

All four kids, ages 3 1/2 to 11, play tag on the ship. See Youngest Son in yellow on middle stairs. Children have endless energy!

Youngest Son, Turkish Daughter and American/Turkish Son happily walk and chat with Turkish Mother's Sister on the walk back from park.

The evening brought a homemade Turkish feast at Turkish Grandmother's apartment. Once again Youngest Son and I thoroughly enjoyed the ten different Turkish dishes! At 9pm, the whole neighborhood started beating pots and pans and whistling from their apartment windows and balconies to support the protests. Youngest Son, American/Turkish Friend and Turkish Prince happy joined with chorus from Turkish Grandmother's balcony.

Youngest Son holds the pot while American/Turkish Friend bangs it loudly with a spoon.
THURSDAY - The Grand Bazaar
Thursday was the perfect girls' day and I will remember it forever. Turkish Mother, Turkish Mother's Sister and I crossed the Bosphorus on a ferry to get to the Old City. We climbed the steep and narrow streets to arrive at the Grand Bazaar. Grand is the exact right word.

One of many gates to the Grand Bazaar.
Turkish Mother and Turkish Mother's Sister guided me through the hundreds of indoor shops to those select merchants that that they have visited most of their life. We started at the bag and purse shop - let's just say I am set. We were then taken to a secret door - seriously - that opened into luscious scarves of all colors and fabrics. The 23 year old Lebanese/Turkish man who assisted us was incredibly handsome and completely charmed us with his scarf tieing magic.  We sipped on Turkish tea as we played among the silks and cashmeres. We then lunched at a quaint cafe and chatted about our family histories which included sad, watery eyes at some points but mostly exemplified the feminine strength on which we and our families depend.

Our lunch finished with an impressive presentation of Turkish Delight, water with mint & lemon, liqueur and Turkish coffee.
Our afternoon brought a visit to the rug dealer, jewelry shops and general browsing. Turkish Mother's Sister helped me find the rare items with a Star of David. An antiquities shop had some intriguing Jewish pieces from 19th century Ottoman Empire - while tempting were far beyond my pocket book. The day of Grand Bazaar shopping completed My Makeover (Part 3) - Turkish Mother and Turkish Mother's Sister made me feel so incredibly special in a way that only true friends can do.
Handmade pillow cases with vibrant colors at the rug dealer.

The gate we exited from the Grand Bazaar - notice the year.
As we made our way out of the Grand Bazaar and down the streets, Turkish Mother's Sister guided us into the Armaggan which was an art gallery and an upscale department store. The modern art was fantastic.
What do you think? (get it?)
We caught the ferry back across the Bosphorus and browsed the ancient city streets. We made a few more purchases of sweets and finally rested our weary feet with an excellent Cafe Latte.
View of Haydarpasa Train Station from ferry.

Shop is hundreds of years old . I got a walnut and grape confection that I love.

Traditional Turkish sweets ...
And the grand day concludes with a family walk through the forest. Turkish Father, Turkish Mother, Turkish Mother's Sister, all four kids and I listen to the birds, look over the fields of wheat and admire the wild ferns growing under the trees. Peaceful and perfect.
Turkish Father, Turkish Prince and Youngest Son ... no description required.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Authentic Turkish Days

This time in Istanbul is really about visiting and catching up with friends. Turkish Friends have embraced Youngest Son and me in every sense. Of course, the location does makes it incredibly, super duper special.

Over the past couple days, we have had many authentic Turkish experiences:

- Attended 8 year old Turkish Daughter's Musical: Youngest Son and I enjoyed the musical (even in Turkish) and Turkish Daughter was delightful.

- Took a Pilate's Class: Turkish Mother generously took me to her Pilate's class. It was in Turkish but my "hamstring and gluteus maximus pain" apparently had no language difficulties!

- Shopped on Bağdat Avenue: Yes you read that right - me shopping (I rarely shop) on a very cosmopolitan street that is the heart of the Asian side of Istanbul. The best part was having Turkish Mother's Sister be my own personal shopper! No exaggeration. I am wearing my new black & white patterned tights and a sparkling red bracelet as I type this - feeling quite fashionable I am!

Turkish Mother and American/Turkish Friend help Youngest Son pick out Turkish Delight from the one and only Divan Patisserie (Oldest Son was thrilled when I told him of our acquisition to bring home.)

Youngest Son now collecting Trashies ... Fairly certain he cannot catch up with American/Turkish Friend's multitudes.

All is not shopping ... Protesters are placing their "demands" on this spot on Bağdat Avenue. This is where we marched Sunday evening.

- Relaxed in the Garden: Turkish Mother's Father brought a bottle of blush wine to share just with me (no one else drinks alcohol) as Turkish Mother, Turkish Mother's Sister, the kids and I gathered outside in Turkish Family's garden this afternoon. Turkish Mother's Father is a man of stature physically and with a bigger than life personality to match. Turkish Father does not speak English but we all had vibrant and flowing conversations thanks to our patient Turkish Family translators.

Our afternoon in the garden with Turkish beef, cheese, homemade quince jam, olives, walnuts, bread and wine.

Turkish Prince (age 3 1/2) LOVES to wrestle. American/Turkish Friend, Turkish Daughter and Youngest Son are thrilled to oblige this afternoon. Miraculously NO tears!

- Eating Sea Fish on the Hilltop: Turkish Mother's Father also took us to dinner in the most spectacular setting on an Istanbul hilltop. We had four different kinds of fish from the Black Sea! I honestly have never seen Youngest Son eat so much food: fish, more fish, then more fish, then dessert, then fruit and more fruit and more dessert and Turkish tea ... it when on and on and on ...
Turkish Mother's Father picked out our obviously fresh Turbot Fish.

Turbot fish velvety white meat cooked perfectly.
Our marvelous meal and day ends with Turkish Tea, fruit and baklava ...

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Not So Ordinary Sunday

View from the kitchen looking over the Sea of Marmara 

We are deep into the European side of Istanbul in a home that overlooks the beautiful Sea of Marmara. Turkish Family, Youngest Son and I arrive at 10:30am to spend the day with two other Turkish families. This is a Sunday gathering of school friends who have known each other ... well forever. There are seven children who quickly separate into two groups: the older four boys (ages 10 to 11) and the younger three kids.

The day is like many that happen all over the world when great friends gather. We ate too much amazing food, we talked, we laughed (allot), we took a walk and the children played all day. The conversation includes many topics such as family, schools, politics, jobs, vacations, recipes, religion, etc. And ever present is the easy banter and playful teasing that only friends of many years can achieve.

These Turkish adults succeed at weaving English throughout the conversations so I feel included. But I am also okay just listening to the rhythms of the Turkish language and the frequent bursts of contagious laughter. Youngest Son fits right in playing soccer, shooting Nerf guns, swimming and even creating Coke/Mento Rockets! American/Turkish Friend plays translator for Turkish boys and Youngest Son when needed. As local custom dictates, Youngest Son and I naturally slip our shoes on and off as we move between the inside and outside.

The house is normal sized but the setting is lovely. The modest sized yard has these items planted: peach tree, olive tree, apricot tree, apple tree, pomegranate tree, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, mint, sage and a mulberry bush. The host describes to me in detail how she cured her own three month supply of fresh olives!

There is no sense of urgency or need to be at the next obligation and genuine hospitality rules the day. We stay until 6:30pm. Today may look like a normal gathering of friends but for me it is an extraordinary day. I loved today.

Just part of our breakfast!

Our host cooked for two days - Turkish food is so wonderful ...

Youngest Son obviously quite relaxed eating his Tiramasu

Youngest Son and another guest picking and eating black mulberries. Imagine purple ALL over their faces and hands!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Politics & History in Instanbul

The last two days in Istanbul have been full of the present and the past.

Turkish Mother says to me: "Should we go to the protest or have a peaceful night at home?"

After some thoughtful deliberation, we find we cannot resist. Turkish Father, Turkish Mother and I head out to participate in a peaceful protest march through the neighborhood in which Turkish Mother grew up.

The street was filled with the sound of energy through the chants, songs and patriotic waving of meaningful Turkish symbols. The future of Turkey may change if the voices of these passionate Turks simultaneously shouting from all over Turkey are heard ...

The flag is everywhere you look and is proudly waved by Turkish Mother.

From the van, Young Turks lead the smiling and responsive crowd.
Afterwards, we sit at a side walk cafe drinking tea and snacking on savory buns. I am completely fascinated listening to Turkish Father explain the history and present state of Turkish politics. And his speculation of the motivations.

We have seen many ancient sites already and my understanding of Byzantine, Roman and Turkish history takes a giant leap ...

Youngest Son looking over the Rumelian Castle (1451) on the Bosphorus. Boys climbed to the top of that tower!

American/Turkish Friend and Youngest Son pick mulberries off the tree and eat them while exploring the Castle.

Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople from this Castle which sits on Bosphorus's European side.
Hagia Sophia with a 1,400 year life-span! A cathedral then a mosque and now a museum.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque commonly known as the Blue Mosque for those blue tiles inside.

Youngest Son on the return fairy ride from the Old City. I chatted with an observant Muslim woman who had formerly lived in Pittsburgh ... new experiences in high gear today!

Not all is history and politics, Youngest Son plays tag with Turkish Prince (the baby of Turkish Friend's family) in a park on the Bosphorus.