Friday, April 29, 2011

Semana Santa: Istanbul

Istanbul.  Once the heart of the worlds most imposing empire and now the world's second largest city.  

Originally, it didn't seem like Istanbul could hold a straw to Rome.  Although it was incredible in its own rite, Rome is... well, the Eternal City.  But looking back on the trip as a whole, I think my perspective has changed.  While I visited Rome, I experienced Istanbul.  If you merely visit Istanbul, it will be worthwhile. If you experience it, you'll never forget it.

The Hostel:  Mavi Guesthouse
Mavi was one of my favorite memories.  When Kelly and I realized that our original reservations didn't go through a few days before arriving, Mavi was the next best thing...  staying in a 22-person room on the roof.  The roof, it turned out, was an opaque tarp.  Admittedly, the first night was a bit rough, not to mention cold.  Kelly said at one point she awoke and looked over to find me completely submerged under three enormous blankets, head and all.  However, waking up to see and hear birds feet on the tarp above me magically erased the previous night, and the trip really began.

Breakfast everyday consisted of slices of tomato and cucumber, a hard boiled egg, cream cheese and jelly, and an endless supply of sliced bread with coffee and apple tea (a Turkish staple!).  One of my bunk buddies was an enormous bald Turkish guy who worked at the hostel, and after a few days, he had our eating preferences down and brought our food immediately with a smile.  Ali, the hostel owner, was an endless fount of information and advice, as well as an offbeat sense of humor that continually caught me by surprise.

The Blue Mosque
Our hostel was literally right around the corner from two of Istanbul's most famous sights.  The Blue Mosque is an impressive structure, but as Mars, a new acquaintance who happened to be attending OU, pointed out, it appeared to be in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape.  Kelly and I stopped by right before the evening call to prayers.  To enter, we first had to remove our shoes and cover our heads.  Habitually at a loss for all fashion tricks, the scarf wasn't working for me, so I turned to a Muslim woman who was also removing her shoes and asked for help.  With a quick flip of the scarf and whipping out a pin from her own covering, mine was perfect!

Inside was spacious and colorful... in a subdued sort of way.  Women already praying lined the walls while tourists flashed their pictures.  An unfortunate [ugly] American girl seemed to have forgotten to take her shoes off and got into an embarrassingly loud argument with one of the mosque men who was quietly asking her to leave.  A few minutes later, that same man returned and herded us all out as quickly as possible right before the call to prayer thundered from the minarets.  The whole city echoed with the various mosques' calls as the sun began to set.  It was beautiful.

The Hagia Sophia
Right across the street, the Hagia Sophia kept a watchful eye on the Blue Mosque.  Originally a Byzantine cathedral, it was much more imposing than the Mosque.  However, when the Ottoman Turks invaded, they converted it to another mosque and plastered over many of the Christian paintings and mosaics.  Kelly and I, becoming adept at eavesdropping on others' tours, learned that the plaster had begun to chip away in spots, allowing some of the original work to show through.  There were also several beautiful golden mosaics of Mary, Christ, and a few other saints that had survived.  My main lament on this trip was not having brushed up on my ancient history more thoroughly.  10th grade was a long time ago.  Still, the tours we pirated were quite helpful :)

Meat House
On our first night, we arrived famished.  Ali recommended a restaurant down the street, Meat House.  We were skeptical until, at that very moment, his to-go order arrived.  One look at the dishes and we were convinced.  Dinner began with the best yogurt I have ever tasted and the most enormous puff of pita bread, fresh from the oven.
  The next dish, a combo platter, was equally as delicious, and our server watched attentively and answered all our questions.  When we were finished, he begged us to stay for a cup of apple tea on the house.  This was to become a custom no matter where we went.  Turkish people are, above all, hospitable!

Jimmy and the Asian Side
Let's be honest:  crossing into whole other continent for the price of a 2 Turkish Lira ferry ticket is pretty incredible.  The city didn't change at all, but I did get to add another checkmark to my To-Do List for Life!  We went without a clear agenda, and after wandering around, we decided to find the TV tower hill for a 360 of the city.  The only thing was, we had no idea where it was.  An older gentleman just happened to overhear us wondering out loud and offered to show us the way.  As it turned out, he (Jimmy) was an ex-journalist and diplomat, and he resurrected 25-year-old English with little difficulty.

The hill entailed a bus ride and a sharp walk upward.  Jimmy accompanied us the whole way and was an endless source of knowledge and conversation.  While some of us were worried he'd turn around and demand millions of dollars at any moment, the rest of us enjoyed a lively conversation.  He seemed to take a balanced perspective on most things, whether the Kurds, or gypsies, or censorship, or Turkey's pending admittance to the EU.

At the top, we stopped for Turkish coffee and dessert.  I'm not typically a fan of chocolate lava cakes, but whatever we ate blew that away.  It was delicious.  Afterwards, Jimmy explained their tradition of reading fortunes from the coffee grounds left in the bottom of the coffee cups.  The descriptions were humorous, at best, but it should be noted that Will's involved an Evil Eye (common in Turkey), and less than 24 hours later he had a whopper of an eye infection.  When he mustered enough strength to find a pharmacy, people would stop him on the street: "My friend, my friend!  Your eye is going to explode!"

The Whirling Dervishes

In college, Dr. Spencer's classes nearly killed me.  British Literature Since 1800 and Ancient World Literature.  Even the memories make me shudder involuntarily.  My biggest problem with world literature was that most of it was so foreign that, despite having traveled, I had little experience to which I could connect my readings.  Nevertheless, I did emerge with some favorites, one of which was Rumi, the Sufi Islam mystic.

While waiting in line to see the Hagia Sophia, someone gave us a flyer to a whirling dervish performance that evening.  Dervishes, as you may know, are the mystic clerics in Sufism, and they dance in circles in a set ceremony as a spiritual practice and entrance into meditation.  Intrigued and wishing I'd brought my Rumi book of poems (which actually did make it to Spain!), I put it on my If-We-Have-Time-and-Money-I'd-Really-Like-to-Go list.  The timing worked perfectly, though it meant we had to scarf down the world's greatest kebab en route.  (I kid you not, most kebabs are pretty similar.  This one was divine.)  The performance itself was cool, but it was definitely helpful to have an explanation of the ceremony in front of us!

Turkish Baths
I'm currently debating how much to explain about Turkish baths.  It is easily one of my favorite memories.  However, on the off-chance that some of you mystery readers will make it over, I think you should just experience it.  Let's just say, it's not a Roman sauna experience by any stretch of the imagination, though it begins like that.  Red-checkered towels, steamy stone rooms, vigorous exfoliation and olive oil soap suds... yes, it's better to just experience it.

The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is an enormous market in a catacomb-like building that stretched on and on and sold everything from soap to leather and Persian rugs to jewels.  It really puts Disney to shame... it was like Aladdin on steroids.  So many people, so many products, everyone shouting and vying for attention, some of the vendors genuinely interested and others 100% sleazy.  It was fun to see the sights and haggle over a few things, but it was exhausting.  There is a pretty good chance that the lamp I bought didn't make it to Athens and Rome and Madrid completely intact.  I still haven't opened the bad to see.  Yikes.  Superglue maybe?

Most Unexpected Moment

Favorite Second-Hand Story
(told without permission... sorry Kelly!)
One of the nights, most of our group opted to go to Taksim, the nightlife hub of Istanbul.  Ready to call it a day, I declined but wished them a good time.  Off they went.  They arrived at a huge club, only to find that it was mostly deserted except for the fourth floor.  The bouncer, however, was not very understanding and flatly refused to admit them.  Kelly and Tina watched from a distance as the Wills tried to argue (sweet-talk) their way in.  Defeated, they returned to the girls with the bad news.  It was a no go.  Not ready to give in, Kelly spoke up.  "Step aside, Will, let me handle this."

Now, you need to know that Kelly is a few inches shorter than me, has beautiful eyes, and is altogether gorgeous.  In fact, as Evil Eye Will put it, "You just so adorable, it's disgusting!"  So Kelly walks up to the bouncer and smiles sweetly.  "Is there any way we could go up to the fourth floor, please?" she asks.

"For you," the big man grinned, "no problem.  Open sesame!"  And that was that.  The boys followed in silence :)

Istanbul to Athens Interlude

Allow me to make a few seemingly innocent and unconnected observations:

1.  Istanbul is the world's second largest city.
2.  Istanbul has two airports.  One is in Asia, the other is in Europe.  They're 86 km apart.
3.  Olympic Air was voted Europe's Best Airline last year.  Unlike budget-airlines, it waits for passengers.
4.  If, in the event that you go to the wrong airport, there is a 5% chance you will have enough time to get to the other...
5.  ...Unless your bus is involved in a traffic accident.

Note to Self:  next time flag down a motorcycle and bribe them to cut traffic.  Not kidding.

Semana Santa: Athens

Athens is worth going to in order to take pictures.  It's not worth much else though, so they'll have to speak for themselves.

That said, I came to realize what an entitled traveler I am in Athens.  Until now, I'd been able to rely on either English or Spanish (or worst case scenario, pointing) to make myself understood.  A surprising number of people in Istanbul spoke English.

And then I was hungry in Greece.

On my way to take more pictures, I passed a roadside sesame bagel stand and noticed one bagel seemed to have some sort of filling.  Intrigued, I pointed to it and asked if it were salty or sweet.  "Salt, no," the man told me.  But sweet?  I asked.  Fruit?  He didn't understand and spat out a string of Greek.  I smiled sweetly and tried again.  Same response.  How much?  I asked, making a sign for money.  He replied in equally unintelligible Greek.  One?  I asked.  At this point, he threw up his hands with an unpleasant sound and picked up his newspaper again, right in front of my face.  

Well, EXCUUUUUUSE ME!!!  Sorry I asked one too many questions!!!  The American in me was mildly appalled and reasoned that, with the Greek economy in crisis, my business should be welcome regardless of my language.  I guess not!  And then the traveler in me rushed in and patted my head with a gentle "There, there, Natalie, it's different here" coo.  So, I guess I'm not as un-Americanized as I thought.  

I bought the bagel anyway.  It was okay.

But, in the same vein, few of my experiences were phenomenal.  Even a visit to the Poet-Sandalmaker was disappointing.

By the last day, I needed a change and decided to hunt up the coast.  Little did I know that the bus I chose would take me two hours away!  Getting to see the Greek countryside soothed all the chafing Athens had caused.  It was rugged and beautiful.  Suddenly, I had a new respect for Odysseus.  In fact, it made me want to pick up his story again.  Note: this is new and unusual due to overexposure at a very early age... occupational hazards of having English professors as grandparents!  That said, I would have liked to visit Athens with Grandaddy to hear his perspective and learn the literary facets!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Semana Santa

10 days of Easter vacation Apr. 15-25!

Athens, Istanbul, Rome

There are definite perks to living in a Catholic country!

Stand by for photos.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brown Paper Packages

Riddle me this... what do the following things have in common?
  1.  3G
  2.  I-35
  3. Stars
  4. Carpet
  5. Netflix
  6. Lean beef
  7. Backyards
  8. Dinner at 6
  9. Taco Bueno
  10. Long showers
  11. Going barefoot
  12. Small blue Aveos
  13. Dryers and jeans that fit
  14. Rick, Gary, Mike and "tornado precautions"
  15. Colorful classrooms
  16. Paseo Arts Festival
  17. Campbell's soups
  18. 9-5 bank hours
  19. Rocky Road
  20. Wal-Mart
  21. Croquet
  22. Lakes
  23. Nate

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


My kids can't decide if I speak Spanish or not, despite the fact that they occasionally hear me explaining things in Spanish to the students who need it.  It obviously doesn't have much of an effect on their working memories... Here's a typical conversation:

Student 1:  "Natalie, que ...... [insert roll of mostly-intelligible Spanish] .....?"

Me:  "Hmm?"

Student 1, realizing he just wasted a lot of breath:  "Pero, ¿hablas español, o no?"  But you don't speak Spanish?

Me:  "No."

Student 1:  "Pero, ¿me entiendes?"   But do you understand what I´m saying?

Me:  "No."

(Student 1 is understandably uncertain.)

Student 2:  "Que no habla español, coño."  Ya lo sabes!  Dude, she doesn't speak Spanish.  Duh!

Me:  "Exactly.  Gracias, Roberto. Ya lo ves."   Thanks.  That's about the size of it.

Oh, the life I live... :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No Reservations

A look at history and food with Anthony Bourdain, best stuff starting at 1 min 10 sec.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Don Quixote

In this, they found thirty or forty windmills that were in that field.  As soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire:

"Fortune is guiding our affairs better than contrive to want, because you see there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or a few more, monstrous giantswith whom I do battle and take away all their lives, from whose spoils we shall begin to enrich; that this is righteous warfare, and it's great service to God to sweep so evil a breed from the face of the earth."

- Don Quijote, Part 1

Why Dora the Explorer Can Change Your Kids' Future... also known as: Economic Speculation on Bilingual Education

Mmm rainy days... good for soup (unavailable), sleep (too much coffee earlier), and nerdy reading (Google scholar, anyone!!!).

So, topic for today:  The economic benefits of bilingual education to both the majority and the minority.... condensed by yours truly and perhaps worth pondering.

KAAPOW...Bet you weren't expecting THAT, huh!!!

Original article found here, off the Social Science Research Network.

Here we go:

Imagine for a moment that our dear old Oklahoma is locked in deadly political combat over the latest controversial educational bill:  unilingual schools or bilingual schools.  And yes, you're right, it's between English and Spanish.

While no one really wants to admit it, there is a bit of a brouhaha attached to officializing Spanish, though of course the business advantage of speaking it is readily recognized.

So you have the die-hard English speakers on one side, many of whom feel legitimizing Spanish would legitimize a whole lot more than crossing language borders, and  the moderates are sagely in the middle... but where does the minority stand?  And where SHOULD the others stand?  Economically speaking, of course.

(Obviously, a bilingual campaign is financially impossible both for the state and for most individuals...  and yes, this is a major factor cited by the article... play along.)

All sides are aware, of course, that the numbers of the majority and minority languages are not important in influencing this decision.  For example, in the late 1700s a fragmented France voted unilingual to unify a country in which less that 5% of the population spoke actual French... and it worked.  However, both sides also know that Finland voted to go bilingual with Finish-Swedish in 1917, and even today Swedish has not diminished despite a demographic shift, a situation which gave rise to this article.

Nevertheless, it's the majority who will, in fact, decide this outcome (the majority's language is not a predictor of the outcome though).

Now then, to wade through a whole lot of symbols I don't pretend to understand, here's what happens:

1.  The majority - English speakers - go for the money.  As the majority, they are, at heart, most interested in their future prosperity.  We love our money.

2. They realize that, if they decide to continue with unilingual schools, they will continue to be ahead in the world.  Why?  They already speak the language, and they are also improving their own skills / productivity every day they go to school.

3.  HOWEVER.  The most entrepreneurial of them see even more opportunity on the other side.  When they graduate, they will enter a market comprised of... surprise!  Other English speakers!  And it will be a jolly good market at that.  But that's a bit limited, don't you think?  What if they could also communicate and do business with the minority - Spanish speakers?  Wouldn't that maximize your opportunity and therefore your profits?  Now then, what is the easiest way to begin that process?

"For language spread, schools have long since been the major formal (organized) mechanisms involved" 
(Fishman 1977, qtd. 2).

That's right.  By maximizing your communication abilities, you maximize your opportunity for productivity.  And we Americans value productivity above most other -ities.

So the wise majority holder will choose bilingual education.  

But what about the MINORITY?  It's a bit revolutionary to ask what do they want, isn't it?

1.  If they choose unilingual education, the article speculates, they, too, will go to school and learn both the language of the majority as well as the skills necessary to succeed.  What does this do for their economic opportunities?  It increases them.  Very smart, Charlie.  Even the unskilled worker has a larger fish tank.

2.  However, they will eventually lose most of their mother tongue, if not in the first generation, then in the second or the third.  Think for a moment, what does THIS do to their economic opportunities?  Decreases it.

(Side note:  occasionally the majority may favor this position, because the minorities inability to communicate effectively with their own people locks them into business with the majority instead.)

3.  So the obvious answer is, once again, bilingual education.  (Unless, of course, it is prohibitively expensive, in which case neither side would benefit much at all, and the minority is ambivalent.)

Now then, as a word of disclaimer:

First, I am no economist, and the deltas and thetas and derivatives I looked over this afternoon held me at the mercy of the narrating text.  If you would like to peruse the article and offer an alternative interpretation or nuance, please do so; I would welcome the intellectual stimulation.

Second, though largely up to the individual's choice to attend school (a detail I should have mentioned above), most of this is largely taken from a collective, utilitarian point of view.  Cool, but not always the best... hence the problems with public education in general.  Right.

Third, well, at this point I have no idea what three is... something about devil's advocate, no doubt.  If you think of it, let me know.  Thanks.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT...  maybe Dora the Explorer is not such a political travesty after all.  Economically speaking, she's probably the best thing that's happened to your child since Mr. Rogers.