Saturday, July 25, 2009

Freud Returns

Although Freud never visited the Holy Land in his lifetime, I took it upon myself to return him to the land of his ancestors. Here he is looking thoughtful at the Kotel (Western Wall). I wonder what he is thinking. Has he seen the light? Or is he a bit circumspect, muttering, "Sometimes a wall is just a wall"?

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem could not be more different. Jerusalem is golden white, cool, hilly; Tel Aviv is busy, dingy and peeling, congested, towering, hot and sweaty, and despite or because all this extremely compelling, especially to Freud. It is filled with arty graffiti.

The love-child of Keith Haring and a Hasid:

Freud's favorite spot (voden?):

Friday, July 24, 2009

Middle Eastern Engrish

There are probably fewer examples of Engrish in Istanbul and Tel Aviv than can be found in Japan, but I did manage to find some:

This is a coffee-shop in Sultanahmet, the historic neighborhood of Istanbul full of wooden houses, cobblestones, and cats. I passed it on my uphill walk to the Aya Sofya.

From a hotel room door in Tel Aviv.

"Naughty" Air Freshener isn't technically Engrish, since the Hebrew actually means "naughty child scent". I think maybe it's supposed to be used when your (bad) little boy makes a nasty stink in the bathroom. Incidentally, I recently learned that the Hebrew word for mouth (peh) and the French word for fart (pet), are homophones.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spice Bazaar

Overlooking the Galata bridge which crosses the Golden Horn in the Bosphorus, linking Eminönü to Beyoğlu in Istanbul, sits the spice bazaar, an ancient spot where traders on the spice road set up shop. The current structure dates from the 17th century, and is called the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Market) in Turkish, because the first merchants there came from Egypt (supposedly). Inside the displays of pyramids of peppers, curries and teas are dizzying. You can also find towers of lokum and helva, both of which look like jewel-studded precious stones and come in every possible flavor. There are also long strands of dried okra, eggplant, and peppers, for stuffing with rice and simmering in stews.

As I walked the length of the spice bazaar, shopkeepers placed bits of lokum in my mouth, shoved pungent loose pomegranate tea under my nose, and tried to entice me in Spanish and French. (Apparently I'm not very American looking). I replied in Turkish with "yok teşeker" (No thank you).

I bought 100g of Aşk çay (Love Tea) at a shop near the entrance. It has rosebuds, pomegranates, hibiscus, lemon, dried apple, dried sour cherries and camomile in it and made everything in my suitcase smell delicious. When he scooped it out for me, the clerk asked me how many "darlings" I wanted to lure with the tea, 10 or 15? I settled for a modest 5- no use provoking a full-on assault. He also insisted that I purchase some lokum to serve with it because Turkish Delight is supposedly an aphrodisiac. I was a little miffed- did he really think I needed such devices? But I bought both, and gave the lokum away.

At Arifoğlu Natural Products, I sniffed four types of rose essence, made up of roses from Turkey, Syria, and Iran. I chose a tiny dram of Attar of Roses and after I paid the (cute, young) shopkeeper proposed to me even though I hadn't offered him any of my Aşk çay. When I politely refused him for the seventh time and went to join my parents, he saw them and after striking a comical deal with my father (he promised to throw in his sister), finally stammered that he was only joking. Too bad, because I was already planning my life as a spice-bazaar shop-keeper's wife.

The Attar is very strong- only a quarter of a half of a drop is needed. But it is 100% natural and blends very well with my favorite Parisian perfume (an extravagant gift from one of my 5 or 6 darlings), adding a little warmth to a very unobtrusive light incense scent.

The Food

Oh, the food in the Middle East. It seems fitting that I dedicate an entire blog post to it. Looking back at my trip, it seems as if I ate vast amounts of food, even though I lost about 7 pounds.

Turkish and Israeli food are quite different, but have at least one thing in common: they are both delicious. The best thing about both is the freshness of the ingredients. Somehow even the most unassuming tomatoes are bursting with flavor (they actually taste red), and cucumbers, so bland in the States, positively sing with green, melony flavor. An Israeli I know bites into both as one might bite into an apple. They are, after all, fruit.

My favorite Turkish meal is breakfast. My Istanbul hotel served breakfast on a rooftop overlooking the Sultanahmet neighborhood, with the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya on one side, and the Sea of Marmara on the other. Laid out on a long table was an overwhelming buffet- copper bowls and jugs filled with three kinds of olives, yogurt, various white and marinated cheeses, fresh cherry tomatoes, bunches of mint and parsley, walnuts and hazelnuts and watermelon and sometimes plums, a mess of dried fruits including apricots, sour cherries, figs and white mulberries, and a full-sized honeycomb, hanging vertically from a wooden trestle.

There were also various egg dishes like menemen (finely scrambled eggs with tomato), plus small pastries sprinkled with sesame and black cumin seeds, and jars of various spices including aleppo and urfa pepper, to sprinkle on top. There were Turkish jams and confitures like pekmez (pomegranate molasses), rose petal jam and pumpkin preserve. And fruit leather, and halva, and even some tiny jewel-like pieces of lokum (Turkish Delight) to tempt those with a sweet-tooth. And Turkish coffee and Turkish tea to drink, served in a tiny tulip shaped glass on a white porcelain dish decorated with red and gold. Iced drinks included sour cherry juice and oriental sherbet, which tasted like spiced sour cherry mixed with lemonade and cardamon.

For my first three days in Istanbul, it was impossible to choose what to eat. I always took too much of everything and ended up skipping lunch and not having anything until 9pm. Finally on day four or so, I settled on melon with feta and walnuts with some veggies and a cup of Turkish tea. And that is what I ate contentedly for breakfast for the next 8 days. My mother settled on oats with hazelnuts, dried white mulberries and hot milk, and my father always had a mixture of dried fruits, bread and nuts. We never deviated.

The other Turkish dishes I love are the cold meze, small dishes (like tapas) of dips and such, usually served as appetizers. In restaurants, they come around with a huge tray of them and you get to pick. All were delicious, but I had three favorites, and I don't remember their turkish names. One was a simple dish of thick strained yogurt and purslane, a lemony succulent. Another was a tapenade made from almonds, olives, and red peppers. And the third was a marinated white fish called levrek (translated as Sea Bass), served in slivers in a simple sauce of olive oil and lemon. I could eat these three things alone for the rest of my life, but they also taste divine layered on a piece of bread.

I didn't eat as much in Tel Aviv as I did in Istanbul, but I was equally impressed by the food. The sandwiches are amazing, especially sabich (grilled eggplant, hard boiled eggs, tehineh and pickle) and shakshukah, which is fried egg and tomato in a pita with all sorts of pickles and veggies and tehineh and other things- I didn't really pay attention to what the guy put in it, but it was incredibly delicious. My friends CAG and AP swear by the coffee, but I had a taste and found it too bitter for me, though the texture was thick and grainy, like Mexican hot chocolate.

I already said that the vegetables were ten times more flavorful than here in the States, but so are the fruits. You can get tubs of giant fresh green and purple figs just about anywhere, along with fragrant lychees which sometimes come in little heart-shaped plastic boxes bearing a red sticker with the brand-name b'reshit ("In the beginning . . .") which must be a reference to all kinds of fruits being thought-up at the creation, i.e., "In the beginning, God created lychees." It is very tempting to remove the label and stick it on something else like an arm, or a laptop ("In the beginning, God created macbooks").

And then there are the freshly squeezed juices and lemonades, preferably had on a sidewalk cafe shaded by potted plants. The empress of all these is the limonana, a refreshing drink made of lemonade, crushed ice, and tons of fresh mint. The perfect thing on a hot day, though one limonana is clearly never enough. Because it is extremely hot all summer long in Tel Aviv (indeed, the coolest parts of the day are 6am and dusk), the city is full of incredibly refreshing things to eat and drink to cool off. Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv's first settlement, which feels like a tiny southern European village, is worth the short walk for the gelato alone (though it's also full of French tourists, who find it "franchement sympa"). My only regret foodwise is that I didn't get around to trying Israeli frozen yogurt, which I'm told is icier than American.

Yesterday was my first day back in North Carolina. I went to the grocery store and bought watermelon, feta, walnuts, lemons, and mint.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Back Stateside

Phew- I am exhausted. I have so much to report, but I'm going to need a few days to recuperate after the disappointing ordeal of spraining my ankle on my last night in Tel Aviv just as I was leaving my cousins' house, and then having to navigate airport security in TA, Istanbul, and Chicago with a bum leg. But in the end I got bumped up to business class, so it worked out fine.

I've got a handful stories and images from my trip, so watch this space, if indeed I still have readers left- I hear that blogs are already quite antiquated.

I took many more pictures of Istanbul than I did of Tel Aviv, which I'm regretting- along with not bringing home a giant jar of tehineh and/or a kitten -but will try to describe my impressions over the next few days. I find I already miss both places profoundly, in very different ways.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I promised photos of this blog's mascot on vacation and I do not want to disappoint. Freud took a little trip up the hill in Sultanahmet and visited both the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, pausing to smell the roses in between. Roses and rose-scented things are everywhere in Turkey. I found rose-scented vaseline at the pharmacy, and bought a tiny dram of Attar of Roses in the spice bazaar. The Turkish word for rose, gul, may or may not be related to the word for smile, which is gulay. The Turkish word for "bye bye" is gulay-gulay, which means "smile, smile."

Freud was particularly fond of this street, which means "street of the bald beards."

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Real Istanbullus

My photos today are sadly Freud-less, only because it was too crowded and busy in the Bazaar, I was afraid I'd lose him, and I felt kind of weird taking him in to a functioning mosque.

Anyway, Istanbul is full of cats, and most of them are born in the spring and summer, so that means kittens of varying sizes everywhere in early July. Kittens that come and beg at your dinner table when you dine at a fancy al fresco restaurant, kittens that jump in front of you on the sidewalk in the dark and make you squeal, and kittens sleeping anywhere food is discarded and it's warm and sunny. Istanbul residents (Istanbullus) seem to like the cats, and I've also seen several headscarfed women happily feeding and cooing to them. In the First Courtyard of Topkapı palace, I noticed a number of kittens large and small, and two rather indulgent fathers letting their toddling sons pet and talk to them. It turns out that cats are sacred to Islam. A story goes that Mohammed cut off his sleeve, rather than wake the cat that was sleeping on his arm.

Monday, July 06, 2009

GMT +2.00

. . . I'm in Istanbul. And it's lovely.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Back in the Midwest

My parents live in a sizeable old brick house with a sizeable terraced back yard, with a sizeable fence.

Yesterday my parents' neighbor rang the doorbell and threatened to call the cops because the dog was barking too loudly. I kind of sheepishly agreed with him- not about calling the cops, but about the noise the dog was making. And the whole thing was my fault because I was on the phone with someone halfway around the world and had shut the dog outside and completely forgotten I had done so, or for how long.

Still, I think this neighbor serves as a perfect example of Midwestern self-importance. His own, ample yard is at least 50 yards away from my parents'. He just happens to be retired and happens to spend a lot of time outside. He also happens to be an asshole. If this were a big city, he would never complain about a barking dog 50 yards away because his ears would already be deafened by car horns and sirens and people's stomping feet in the apartments all around him.

I leave for Turkey tomorrow and have been told not to pet any of the stray cats, because I don't have a rabies vaccination. This will be very difficult for me, but I'd rather not get sick so I will try really hard to resist their feline charms.