Thursday, July 31, 2008

Images #9-Yanar Dag (Fire Mountain)

The second most popular tourist destination (this is all presumption) is Yanar Dag, which literally means Fire Mountain.
This is actually a natural attraction which formed from some fluke oil spill in 1958 (hmm...I should get an intern to verify this). But, I can verify that this place is hot, hot, hot!
I got very close to the fire for a photo that I hopefully post on my Facebook page just as soon as I can figure out how to post photos on my Facebook page (I would not last long in tech support).
There is a tea house next to Yanar Dag, but no one was drinking tea there on the day I was visiting.
If you are looking at this from an internet cafe in Baku, and perhaps contemplating your own trip out to Yanar Dag, be warned: The toilet is dreadfully bad! Fortunately, i just had to pee........

Image #8- Mud Volcanoes

It took a major effort to reach the mud volcanoes of Azerbaijan- arguably the country's main tourist destination (perhaps 20 people visit them a day). In fact, the taxi driver whom I should name my first male child after (well, first I would need to get married, have sex) almost rolled off a mud bank as we were trying to reach the summit. I had to get rear end out of the car to allow his car to make it!
I'm not sure if I felt like I was on the set of "Bonanza" or "Star Trek," as the area that the mud volcanoes are in looks strangely like the state of Arizona (without any cactus plants). But, the mud volcanoes also have a science-fiction quality to them. Or, perhaps that is because Azerbaijan feels like a distant planet.
I have to thank travel writer Mark Elliott for telling me about the mud volcanoes through his interesting travel book on Azerbaijan.
On the way back to the hotel in Baku, I spotted some cows lying by the Caspian Sea (see earlier entry).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Images of the Trip #7 (Who is that Guy on the Billboard?)

Anyone who has been to Azerbaijan has undoubtedly noticed the billboards to the late Heydar Aliyev (1923-2003), the president of Azerbaijan from 1993-2003* (the nation became independent from the USSR in 1991). His son Ilham Aliyev is now president.
These billboards are all over the place. I saw one in a small town. Others appear near the luna park, the airport, and near a street crossing in Baku. And, an image of Haydar appears in the corner of a tv-screen during all broadcasts on Azeri-tv.
This seemed quite amusing when I saw Heydar as I was watching a few minutes of the Billy Wilder classic "The Apartment" with Jack Lemmon speaking Azeri no less!
To western eyes, this seems quite Orwellian, but from what I gather the Aliyevs may actually have a higher approval rating then democratically-elected leaders like George W. Bush and Abdullah Gul (the Turkish prime minister whom many of my friends in Turkey intensely dislike).
Of course, by posting this, I am concerned that this blog will now be banned in Azerbaijan.

*-Upon researching this entry, I found out that Heydar Aliyev actually died in Cleveland!

Images from the Trip- #6 (Misha the Bear)

In one of my entries about my visit to Baku, Azerbaijan, I commented on how I chose to eat at Misha's over McDonald's.
Misha's was a Russian restaurant in Baku which served mostly breakfast items along with some fast food specialties like hamburgers and french fries, but it was the brosch soup (no idea if I spelled that right) which won me over.
Misha was the mascot for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
As everyone in the world knows, the Beijing Olympics are starting on Aug. 8. They will be broadcast on NBC ( if this isn't being promoted enough).
Former Olympic speed-skater Joey Cheek who is from the city where I now live (Greensboro, NC) is asking his fellow athletes to use the opportunity to bring social awareness to the fact that the Chinese government is an economic ally to the Sudanese government which is conducting genocide in Darfur.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Entry #5_ "Zagor"

"Zagor" is other Sergio Bonelli creation which was even more popular in Turkey than it was in Italy. "Zagor" was created in 1961, and it was also published in the former Yugoslavia.

Zagor's real name is Patrick Wilding and his sidekick is a short, fat Mexican man named Chico.

Zagor fights to maintain peace by protecting Indian tribes in Darkwood Forest, which is located in Pennsylvania. And, like most comic book characters, Zagor also chases bad guys.

I read both "Zagor" and "Mister No" a lot when I lived in Turkey as a child from 1977 to 1979. Both are still published in Turkey today, but their distribution is now very limited as most Turkish youths prefer playing video games over reading.

But "Zagor" has definitely left an imprint on the pop culture scene. Whenever a Turkish person sees a fat, short man they call him a "Chico."

Entry #4_ "Mister No"

"Bu ne bicim bok"  (What kind of shit is this) is something I uttered at a Istanbul taxi cab driver who started to refuse to let us into his cab from the boat landing in Kabatas.

I was reminded of it just now because a far lengthier version of this entry was going to be posted here.

As it is, I am just include one of Italian comic book artist Sergio Bonelli's (1932- ) series "Mister No" for this entry. His other famous comic book character is "Zagor."

"Mister No" was created in 1975. It is popular in Italy, Turkey, Brazil, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, though readership has dropped in Turkey in recent years. "Zagor" came out in 1961. (the pictured image is from a Brazilian comic book)

Mister No is a former U.S. Army soldier named Jerry Drake who moves to the Amazon. Along with his friend Esse Esse, he travels into the jungle to find various culprits.

The comic book reminds me of the American cartoon "Johnny Quest," which also took place in a tropical rain forest setting.

Useful Links:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Images of Turkey and Azerbaijan #3 (Karagoz and Hacivat)

The Turkish shadow puppets of Karagoz (left, the one with the beard) and Hacivat (left) represent the two facets of Turkey.
Karagoz is the rural Anatolian who is stuck in his ways and has little use for intellectual thought. He is also far and away funnier than his friend/rival Hacivat.
The sophisticated Hacivat, who uses proper language and conduct, is the symbol of civilized Turkey. He is frequently annoyed by Karagoz and his antics, and is frustrated by the fact that he can not easily win him over.
Though these figures emerged during the Ottoman Empire (the legend which can not be historically proven says they were based on a sultan's court jesters who were both executed for inadvertently insulting his majesty), they have been the consistent symbol of the eastern and western aspects of Turkish society.
And, like these characters, the two sides of Turkey are always in conflict and one side can not easily separate from the other.
In recent years, Karagoz and Hacivat who I used to watch on tv as a kid, have become cartoons and the subject of a feature film in Turkey.
My good friend Ugur Celikkol's family runs a Karagoz Museum and Theatre in the city of Bursa, where the shadow puppet figures emerged. A blog entry I posted from Bursa talked about our visit there during this past trip.
I often feel that many Turkish people have become bored with the figures whom they have been surrounded with their whole lives and many foreigners do not fully appreciate the deep social symbolism that Karagoz and Hacivat represent.
As a native foreigner, this is thus one thing I find truly special about Turkey and I find it amazing that the best political commentary ever produced in Turkey hails from a distant century.
Karagoz and Hacivat, though respected by many scholars like Metin And, are sometimes dismissed as a mere children's puppet show, but they are so much more than that.


Images of Turkey and Azerbaijan #2 (Koco Kalfa)

The image here on the right is that of Koco (Kocho) Kalfa. The longtime Buyukada resident who was of Greek heritage died at the age of 102 in April. He was our neighbor on the island. He was also certainly our friend.
An internet article (from which this image was taken) verified that Koco was the oldest living resident on the island. As I stated in my earlier entry about him, he also designed many of the houses on Buyukada.
Koco also met Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, and the island's most recognized resident the Russian intellectual/political leader Leon Trotsky, who lived in exile on Buyukada.
Koco met both men when he was a young man in the 1920s and '30s according to his son Nico.
I last met with Koco in 2003, which was my previous visit to Turkey before this trip. He was a very humble, generous man who loved his garden and his beloved Besiktash soccer team.
I'm certain that if I am somehow lucky enough to live to be 102, I will still remember him quite well.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Images of the Trip to Turkey and Azerbaijan (1 of 10)

Since all my entries during the trip were from internet cafes or hotel lobbies, I decided it would be best not to add visual images until after the trip's conclusion.
I am starting those now, and I begin with the horse buggies on Buyukada, the largest of the four Princess Islands off the coast of Istanbul.

The islands are known as an area where the city's ethnic minorities gather during the summertime. The ethnic minorities of Istanbul include Jews, Greeks and Armenians.
Though my family is Turkish, it is the influence of the other cultures on Buyukada which have made the place unique for all of us who love the island so dearly.

Back Home in Ole Virginia

Whew! It was a long trip back...........I could write a Kafkaesque novel about what happened today alone, but right now I am too freaking exhausted.
I was saddened to hear about the bomb blast in the Istanbul suburbs which killed 15 people while we were flying over the Atlantic today. My father's country is a truly special place with wonderful people, and no terrorist incident of any kind alters that in any way. Everyone in Turkey was great (well a few Istanbul cab drivers aside), and we truly appreciate everything that all too many people did for us there.
And, it is also good to be back in the home state of Virginia. I look forward to seeing my many friends here again as well as the chance to eat my beloved Life cereal (nothing against feta cheese and black olives....perhaps the Turkish breakfast is actually healthier, but I can still only go so long without Life!).
I miss the Blue Ridge Mountains over there and the Bosphorous shores over here. And, there is one place where they do come together.
And, that is in my dreams.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Exitting Stage Left.........

Tomorrow (Saturday) is our last day in Turkey.

We will be spending it İstanbul.

Beyond that İ have no idea what we will be doing.

The one thing İ have learned about big cities (and at 25 million people-Istanbul qualifies) is that you can never know what to expect.

İ am just thankful that İ will not have to see HANCOCK in Russian (see earlier entry about trip to Azerbaijan).


Reading Maxim in İstanbul

Anyone who has ever ventured outside their native country knows that there are times when you find yourself partaking in something you never thought about back home.

For me one of those things has been Maxim. There is actually a Turkish version of the magazine which seems to be aimed at grown-up teenage boys.

Whether İ am one of those or not is not something that İ can decide for myself:)

But besides the photos of women in bikinis- which are honestly a bit tiresome after a while- there were some very interesting articles.

One was an interview with Sean Penn which was translated from the American version of Maxim. İn the interview Penn seems intelligent and articulate yet also a person who is quıte rebellious!

There was also a story about strange ways the some unfortunate souls met their death. İt reminded me of the story about a Swedish zookeeper who died while cleaning up the elephant cage (the animal crapped on him).

A more serious story dealt with heroin trafficing through Turkey which is right between the poppy fields of Afghanistan and the European market. Turkey also has its own fair supply as there is a city called Afyon here (Afyon means heroin in Turkish).

There was also an article about a Turkish-American cartoonist in New York who likes to work at home as opposed to a cafe so he can smoke!

Lastly- there was also some advice about what do and not to do with women. Of course articles like this- whichever language they are in- never help.



Thursday, July 24, 2008

And the Grand Prize İs.......

.......Two cds from Turkish pop singing sensation Candan Ercetin plus one more cd from some guy İ am not familiar with (but the music store guy in Beyoglu said he was fevkalade-fabolous!).

İ was hoping to see another Turkish pop diva Sezen Aksu in İstanbul on Sat. night but tickets are a staggering 100 TL (90 USD!).

İ sure miss the days when one dollar could actually buy three bags of apricots here in Turkey!

And the Big Grand Prize Winner İs.........

İ am declaring my brother-in-law Matt Lovell of Mesa AZ (not where he actually resides) the big winner in my contest to guess which film was showing at the Lale Cinema here on Buyukada island (near İstanbul).

The movie that was showing was 'Nim s İsland' (İt s almost impossible to use an apostrophe on a Turkish keyboard!).

This week my new friend Ferruh Dilmac- the manager of the Lale Cinema (which is not named after my sister Lale) will be showing 'Kung Fu Panda' this weekend. Alas İ already saw the film in the states.

My friend Jason Garnett who manages the Grandin Theater  in Roanoke VA will be showing the classic Coen Bros. film 'Fargo' for two midnight screenings there.

İ guess İ will have to hope there is a decent movie on the plane.



Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Perhaps God Exists After All (perhaps!)

The girl İ mentioned in a previous blog entry (Waiting for Godot) actually came to meet me after all!

İ am not quite ready to propose to this woman who may be the only woman in the İstanbul metro area who is my age (38) and still single!

Though she made some comments about my weight (which is the norm here!)- out get-together  went quite well. But İ am always more comfortable around Turkish people who do not make me feel like American actor John Goodman or the French Asterix comic book character Hopdediks. Both of whom weigh a lot more than me. 

İ must profess that at 275 pounds İ do not usually feel like the fattest person in the room back home. İn fact usually İ am not. My weight and body frame is very similar in nature to actor Jack Black. But alas at the wedding for my friend İlhan this weekend İ did look around.

İn a room of 200 people İ was actually the only one who looked like a contestant on The Biggest Loser!

For my meeting with the woman we walked around Buyukada island and talked about our childhood.

 We went to school together when İ lived in Turkey from 1977-79 and amazingly enough she found an old picture which featured me (as well as my mom and perhaps my sister who was 3 or 4 at the time). And apparently my name was written on this old photo. She later found me through Facebook.

İ wish things like this happend to me more often. 

Time for a Humane Society in Turkey?

İ had a chance to see my friend İlhan who lives in America get married to his lovely new bride Elgin over the weekend in the Turkish capital of Ankara.

Yesterday İ came back to İstanbul by bus. İ was very impressed with the Ankara bus terminal which almost looks like an airport.

İt is times like these when İ think the country is ready to join the EU by next Tuesday. But nationalist Turks might be disappointed when İ say there are also times when İ wonder if my beloved ethnic homeland is slowly regressing back to the Seljuck Empire!

However at the end of the day one must profess that this cultural schizophrenia (prostitution is legal but Youtube is not!) does make for some unique travel stories even though İ have now visited Turkey some 15 times.

The eventful bus ride started a 9:30 a.m. İt was a mostly empty bus but in Turkey (and if the bus is full this prvoes useful) there are assigned seats on the bus.

So İ was forced to sit next to a man who was not only sleeping but snoring quite loudly.

İ settled in my seat and starting read a Tom Miks (Mix) comic book which is actually from an İtalian comic book series called Captain Miki. Strangely enough there are three comic book series in Turkey which feature cowboys in America which can not be found anywhere in the states!

The others are Texas (which is from the same İtalian folks who created Tom Mix) and the French 70s-ear comic book Lucky Luke (called Red Kit in Turkey).

The comic book costs have skyrocketed in recent years as have many things in Turkey. Amazingly enough these same comic books which cost me the equivalent of 75 cents as a kid 30 years ago now sell for 10 Turkish Lira (which comes out to nine bucks!). İn comparison American comics have gone from about 50 cents to three dollars in the same amount of time.

İ chose Tom Miks because it is hard for me to ready anything else in Turkish. My reading level is about the same third grade level that it was when we returned to America in 1979 when İ was nine years old.

As it is the bus host (similar to a plane hostess) seemed infactuated by my Tom Miks book.

İ had heard some commotion in the back about something that someone was doing something which was an absolute no-no. İ later figured out this person was carrying a pet. The girl who was in her 20s had decided to bring her dog on the trip. Much to my shock and horror İ would later realize that she actually put the dog who was in a carrier in the luggage compartment beneath the bus!

Sure enough as we approached the mountain city of Bolu where the bus would stop so we could eat lunch the dog would start yelping and İ actually thought it would die from heat exhaustion. The trip between Ankara and İstanbul lasts five and a half hours.

İn Bolu the girl decided to take the poor pooch out of the luggage compartment and bring it with her on the bus. She apologized to us passengers about any problems that the dogs might cause. İ wanted to say something about how awful İ thought what she had done was. But alas İ was in that awkward quandry that many visitors to a different country find themselves in. Even though my father is from Turkey and İ speak the language İ feel just as constrained as other visitors in such difficult moments.

Much to my delight  though the bus driver would decide to turn on the AİR-CONDİTIONER, which bus drivers have not traditonally done often enough mainly because Turkish people do not tend to like breezes! (My late grandmother Zekiye Gokbudak was a classic example of this). The bus host told me a great place where İ could feel the AC. And he actually allowed me to leave Seat 19! Though the man had quit snoring.

As İ looked forward to the front of the bus İ noticed my beloved bus driver was discretely smoking. İ watched him for a few minutes to realize that yes he was indeed smoking! İn Turkey there is now a 62-Lira fine for anyone who smokes on a bus. İ guess the rules do not apply for the drivers.......! Nevertheless since he turned on the AC İ was not about to lodge a complaint even though İ am taken back by those who feel that rules do not apply to them.

And lastly as we passed the industrial city of İzmit the bus host noticed İ had finished Tom Miks. Without asking if he could now read it he grabbed it and said Cok Tesekurler- which means THANK YOU.

İ guess all in all it was just another bus ride in Turkey. 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why İ Should Not Have Read 'Waiting for Godot'

Yesterday during some down time İ decided to read the classic Samuel Beckett play 'Waiting for Godot' which İ purchased at a used bookstore ın Wilmington NC for a mere three bucks.

Today İ am hoping to meet a very attractive woman who is single (though she has a boyfriend in Europe) who also happens to be my age- which is 38. İ met here in another lifetime while İ was here in Turkey and we have recently been reacquainted.

As many folks know 'Godot' is about how people hope god (who is symolized by the mysterious bearded man Godot) will come to them in a time of need and despite many promises to the contrary he never shows up.

For those of us who openly question/doubt the existence of a supreme being_ the play is one which makes perfect sense though a devout believer could probably relate to it as well.

However it does seem like every time İ try to meet a gorgeous woman- even for the most platonic of occasions- they never seem to show up. The most infamous time was some ten years ao when İ waited at the Mill Mountain Coffee Shop in Blacksburg VA for a German woman for a full hour and a half before İ came to the realization that she was not coming.

İ really wish I had not read that freaking play!

Remembering Kocho Kalfa

The most famous resident of Buyukada was perhaps the Russian political figure Leon Trotsky who resided here in exile at the invitation of then Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He tried to evade Russian agents who alas caught up with him im Mexico where he was murdered.

But in recent years one of the most beloved figures of the island was our neighbor and friend Kocho Kalfa. He lived to be 103.

Kocho was an ethnic Greek who knew practically everyone on Buyukada and he built many houses on the island.

He died this past April and all of us who knew him will miss him a great deal.

But his legacy will be a part of Buyukada lore for many generations to come.


Friday, July 18, 2008

CONTEST: Guess Which Movie is Showing Here?

As the six people who have been regularly reading this blog know İ have been seeing a couple of films at the Lale Cinema (an outdoor movie theatre) here in Buyukada.

Tonight they are showing a movie that İ have already seen in the states.

Guess which movie it is and İ will send you a postcard from here.

You can send your address to

İ should disqualify members of my own family but they are probably among the six people who regularly read this blog!

İs the movie that is opening here tonight (Friday):

A- The Bee Movie

B- İron Man

C-Sex and the City

D- Nim s İsland

E-August Rush


İ will announce the winner here.......

Stateside LOU REED BERLİN is opening at the Film Forum in New York. BATMAN THE DARK KNİGHT is basically showing everywhere including the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke Va and Eden Drive-İn in Eden NC. The Grandin is also showing the Oscar-nominated epic MONGOL about Genghis Khan along with the Cine in Athens Ga.

Useful Links:

UPDATE: İ feared few people seem interested in this contest! İ willl thus give a hint.......the movie that is showing here is not an animated film nor was it based on a comic book.

SECOND UPDATE: Hmmmm........No one really seems interested in this contest after all! Perhaps Americans are too uptight about privacy-LOL! İ will disclose that Sex and the City is not the answer. My new friend Ferruh Dılmac runs the Lale Cinema. His day job is that of a jeweller.

Sign of the Times

As most folks know Turkey is a country which has a long smoking tradition. The country has helped produce Camels and at one time some 90 percent of the country engaged in this unhealthy activity.

But now one must be 18 years old to buy a pack of smokes here. And perhaps more stunning is the writing which appears in large letters on brands like Marlboro:

Sigara İcmek Oldurur



İ suppose this means that there is a possibility that İ might be able to meet Uma Thurman for a latte at Starbucks!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Today at the Pazar in Buyukada

For those who saw my earlier entry there is an open market here on the island which they call pazars here in Turkey. They are grander in scale but similar to farmers markets like the one they have in my hometown of Roanoke VA.

Today İ got two kilos of cherries in addition to a kilo of pears and a kilo of peaches.

İ would have gotten my favorite fruit apricots but alas İ got sick from eating too many of them the other night! But in a world with terrorists and Russian prostitutes (they were all over the place in Azerbaijan!) getting sick from overindulging in apricots is the least of my concerns.

Bad Cat!

News came from my sister that our family friend Linda who is taking care of my beloved cat Gizmo that the 4-year-old feline is misbehaving!

He has broken into packets of food and has done naughty kitty things (İ will spare the details!) in in in appropriate places. But he is still the one thing İ miss most about the USA (see earlier entry).

Here in Turkey there is a relatively high stray cat population. Though more people are bringing cats and dogs into their homes.

İ saw a shopkeeper here on Buyukada İsland get scolded by a passerby for leaving dog food out in the sun. She asked him if he would feed his dog that food. İt was an interesting moment in which İ decided to merely observed and keep my mouth shut. İ just hope that is not what UN peacekeepers do in places like Darfur!

The worry of what is going on back home can add to travel stress but so can the thought of being hit by a horse buggy here on the island!


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Top Things İ Really Like About Turkey

Here are the top 10 things İ like most about Turkey. Some superficial things like the people were left off the list.

1. Free tea wherever you go!

2. Simit (My Turkish Seda Ertanis who lives in Dubai agrees!)

3. The outdoor Lale Cinema in Buyukada (alas no movie tonight due to the rain but they were going to show SUPERHEROES: THE MOVIE).

4. boat rides across the Bosphorous in İstanbul

5. beaches with topless European tourists (alas İ will not be able to visit the coast this time around!).

6. horse buggy rides on the islands

7. Karagoz and Hacivat shadow puppet plays in Bursa

8. Tarkan songs on the radio (he is famous everywhere except the USA).

9. tabloid Turkish newspapers

10. Kemal Sunal movies on tv (the late comic actor was a beloved figure in Turkey).

İ wanted to list several food items like kofte and ayran but there were too many to list!

Useful Links:


Top 10 Things İ Miss Most in the USA

Before İ went to Azerbaijan (İ have since returned to Turkey) _İ made a list of 20 things İ missed most about America. İ have also made lists about things İ liked most about Turkey which will be my next entry.

İ almost made lists about things about both countries that İ did not like (Wal-Mart and Turkish toilets top those respective lists). But İ thought it would be best to focus on the positive!

Here are 10 things İ miss most about America:

1. Gizmo- the family cat

2. Youtube (İ am still stunned that it is banned here- see earlier entry)

3. Charlie Rose

4. Life cereal (though they have Special K here!)

5. Grandin Theatre in Roanoke

6. Eden Drive-İn

7. minor league baseball

8. The New Yorker (İ made the list before the controversial cover came out but even though İ support Obama İ think the cover is a great lampoon of FoxNews politics).

9. Zippy the Pinhead

10. Mexican food (İ guess that would disqualify me from the GOP!).

Useful Links:



Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Last Entry from the (Former) USSR

I was going to list ten unusual things I saw here in Azerbaijan, but due to time constraints I will limit those to a mere five.

1. Some 27 consecutive vendors were on the road selling watermelons outside of Baku!

2. A couple across from me in the ferris wheel seemed on the verge of making whoppee! Thankfully, I was able to exit......

3. Azerbaijani headstones in the graves actually have pictures of the deceased on them!

4. A kid who was dressing up like Goofy near the luna park took a water fountain break as assuredly the inside of his suit was perhaps 70 degrees (Celsius!).

5. And, last but not least I should apologize to the manufacturers of Turkish toilets......(they have no seats!) Azerbaijani toilets are even worse!

Misha's or McD's?

It is fittingly ironic that I found out that the right-wing Reagan-era action film "Red Dawn," which is one of my friend Jason Garnett's favorites, is being remade here in the former USSR (I found out through Moviezzz's blog).

Here in Baku, Azerbaijan- a place I will be departing from very shortly- there is actually a cafe with Misha, the 1980 Moscow Olympics mascot. The bear apparently also has a fan site in Japan.

I chose it for a quick meal over McDonald's which is pretty close to it.

I guess some zealous, militant folks back home may actually accuse of being a commie for choosing the nice, quaint cafe with tributes to Russian icons like dancer Mikhail Whatshisname (actually I know his last name, I just can't spell it!) over McD's.

But, hey Misha's had the best borst soup I've ever had!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bumper Cars Without Bumping

Last night, I went to the local luna park here in Baku and I took in a bumper cars ride followed by a whirl on the ferris wheel.

Surprisingly enough, folks here in Azerbaijan seem much more polite when it comes to bumper cars.

I imagine at the Salem Fair back home in the Roanoke, Va., area, kids would be knocking each other left and right to the point of whiplash.

That was not the case here. In fact, everyone seemed to avoid trying to collide with each other. Perhaps, folks here see too many real-life collisions on the roads. I saw a truck with flour on the side of the road here and it was a mess!

But, I did get hit towards the end. It was inadvertent, but it almost gave me whiplash!

The ferris wheel was made more adventurous because of the Caspian breeze. I thought it was going to knock me over! But, it was nice to get an aerial view of Baku complete with the Kiz Kalesi (tower) in the backdrop along with the Caspian Sea.

There were also teenage boys who dressed like Mickey Mouse and Goofy in order to get kids to take pictures with them at the luna park. One has to wonder if the Walt Disney Corp., has any knowledge of this!

Cows by the Caspian

Greetings once again from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku.It is a bit hot here today,but hopefully that Caspian breeze, which makes Chicago seem mild, will be kicking in here at any given moment.

I saw many strange things yesterday, including a bean bag teahouse, a Russian doll with Bill Clinton and a cafe bearing the name of the bear from the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

But, it was the site of cows laying out on the beach as if they were sunbathing by the Caspian shore on the outskirts of Baku which stood out more than anything else.

I imagine if I had been my brother-in-law Matt Lovell or my friend Jonathan Fredin, both of whom are photographers, I would've made the driver stop and drive down there.

As it is, I am a shy person, which surprises some people who think of me as out-going, and the battery in my digital camera is running low.

However, I was able to capture several images of mud volcanoes on top of a mountain in Gobustan, which is about an hour north of Baku.

Traveling in Azerbaijan has been challenging, but I am having a fairly good time though I am wondering when that breeze will kick in! 

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Strangest Thing I Saw Today in Baku

There was a homeless woman drinking a Fanta near Fountain Square here in Baku.

Sadly, the country of Azerbaijan with all its oil wells has a lot of poverty.

Gotta go!

Closing time...........

Will Smith Dubbed in Russian?! Oh Nyet!

This is my first entry from what was once a part of the Soviet Union as I am in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

I return to Istanbul on Tuesday, and I come back to North Carolina towards the end of July.

I must profess it is odd to be in a place like Turkey but since it is where my father grew up and I speak the language, it only feels like a foreign country when I see a Turkish toilet (you aren't allowed the luxury of sitting down!).

But Azerbaijan really does feel like a foreign country and I think I might even feel that way if I lived in Baku!

Turkish and Azerbaijian are very similar languages, but I ended up getting a cold cucumber yogurt beverage when I asked for soup. (It was good though!).

And there have been many off-the-wall things which are simply too detailed to explain at length here.

The most amazing of which though may have been going to see Will Smith's new movie "Hancock" with expectations that it would be in English with Azerbaijani subtitles. But, in fact, the film was dubbed in Russian!

What was even stranger was the fact that the film featured Azerbaijani subtitles for the first 15 minutes of the film and then they all disappeared!

But, it was a unique cultural experience and the Azerbaijan Cinema (that is the theatre's actual name) was an old cinema which actually had a bar in the back of the screening room.

As is the case in Turkey, there is an usher who shows a person to their seat. Interestingly enough in Azerbaijan though the usher seems to stay for the first few minutes- or until the subtitles disappear. He seems want to make sure that everyone is behaving. There are countless reminders that one should not smoke or use a cellphone in the screening room. But. sure enough a cellphone went off at a climatic point during the film.

It also interesting to see product placement ads which can't work in Azerbaijan because the country only has McDonalds and Red Bulls (well plus a few other things), but there are no Dunkin Donuts here in Baku!  And, amazingly enough there is not one single Starbucks in all of Azerbaijan (see earlier entries).

The guidebook said that it was easy to meet girls here since many would love a chance to leave the country. The problem is that lady sitting next to you at the William Shakespeare Pub here in Baku (yes, there is such a place!) might be a prostitute-oh yes that is quite legal here.

There were actually lots of gorgeous Azeri girls at the movie. There was one hot blonde (yes there are blonde Azeri girls!) sitting very close to me. The problem was her god-damned boyfriend was sitting between us.

Why did the usher have to put me there?


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Judas Priest in İstanbul

As İslamic fundamentalsm is spreading in Turkey (like Christian Coalition memberships are in rural Alabama) so is heavy metal music.

Can İron Maiden save the universe?

Those guys will not be in Turkey but Judas Priest will perform in İstanbul on Saturday (July 13).

Metallica will follow with an even bigger concert at İnonu Stadium (where soccer team Beshiktas plays) on July 27.

The Turkish daily Gunaydin had the following headline concerning Judas Priest:


The band will be performing songs from their new album Nostradamus.

İ am actually going to be in another country this weekend as İ am preparing to go to Azerbaijan_ of all places.

İ hope İ will get the chance to update my travels from there as well.

Movie fans might be interested to know the latest İndiana Jones film was showing at the outdoor cinema on Buyukada last night. They will be showing The Bee Movie there over the weekend. The owner was disappointed that İ had seen most of the movies he plans to show over the few weeks back in North Carolina. İf the Turkish economy was better he may have decided to start letting me in for free.......!

 İ only wish gorgeous women like Uma Thurman liked me half as much as movie theatere managers around the world seem to. But perhaps İ can find myself a hot blonde in Azerbaijan.

Hmmmm...........maybe not! 

Youtube Really is Banned in Turkey...but not Facebook!

My friend Bahadir Acuner who lives near Seattle said something about Youtube being banned in Turkey a few months back. İ thought it was some kind of dealyed April Fools joke at the time.

But now that İ am here İ have found out that this is indeed true!

From what İ read on the internet the Turkish government which is even less popular than Bush is back home decided that there were too many nationalist Turks and Greeks trading insults with each other through Youtube videos.

Youtube took down the videos which included video rants from the Greek side about how Ataturk the founder of the republic was gay as well as counter rants from the Turkish side about how all Greeks were gay.

But Ankara decided enough was enough.

İ wonder if the real reason is because there is growing hostility towards the Turkish government. İ even saw a bumper sticker in Bursa which said: WE DONT WANT THE AK PARTY. The caption had a toilet plunger beside ıt!

But Facebook is very popular here. İ have seen lots of young people use it at various internet cafes around İstanbul and Bursa. There is even a Facebook reunion group for alumni of the local middle school here on the island of Buyukada!

Another thing which is popular in Turkey is violent American video games. İ have seen 11 year old boys playing Scarface with their friends and laughing as they shoot each other.

Perhaps if the government is going to ban something they should ban these games and let people watch Woody Woodpecker cartoons on Youtube!

Amazingly enough the traditional gun violence which has ruined cities like Philadelphia (thanks to the NRA and people like Clarence Thomas) is not a problem in Turkey. But there are more terrorists here. Perhaps a statitician should compare the figures and let political pundits like George Will and Paul Begala figure out which country is more dangerous to live in. 

Oh İ forgot to mention that the ruling AK Party are the equivalent of the modern Republican Party back home (where are Eishenhower and Ataturk when you need them!).  They have İslamic roots and they have managed to put the Blue Mosque on a postage stamp....among other things.

A businessman in Bursa told me they were ruining the country.

 İ guess the world is a small place after all!

Useful Links



Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Turkish Cab Driver Endorses Obama

There have been many amusing things which have happend to us on our trip to Turkey.

One of them has to be the outright endorsement of Barack Obama by a taxi driver in Bursa.

Saban Corlu told us that if he lived im America he would defintely vote for Obama.

Corlu has been a taxi driver for some 30 years.

He told us that Obama seemed like a highly intelligent and likeable person who would enhance the image of America around the world.

İ did not argue with him!

The trip to Bursa also gave me a chance to visit my friend Ugur Celikkol.

His father perfomed a shadow puppett play with Karagoz and Hacivat for us.

The Celikkols run a antique business in Bursa near the Ulu Mosque. Ugur also has a travel agency business.

They also think Obama would make a great president.

Who knew Turkey was a blue state..........!

İ Was Not Near the American Consulate Today...

For those who may have heard_ there was a shooting which claimed the lives of three Turkish police officers in İstanbul at 11: 30 am Turkish time (4:30 am EST). Three of the four assailants were shot by surviving police officers.

Other details are sketchy right now.

İ am 30 miles from the downtown center of İstanbul and I was nowhere close to the American consulate today.

My heart goes out to the families of the police officers.

The Turkish people have been very nice to us. İt is truly ashame that incidents like this will distort the image of the Turkish people.

As an American İ am upset that anyone would attack our embassies and consulates anywhere in the world but  since İ am a Turkish-American it is even more annoying when it happens in Turkey.



Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Koreaphobic Waiter

İ am continuing my blog diary of the trip to Turkey. Alas due to the fact that these entries are being conducted from various internet cafes İ am not going to even attempt to add images!

Anyone who has travelled in a foreign country (although I am not sure İ can call Turkey a foreign country since İ speak Turkish and my late father came from here) has come across an unsettling experience.

İ had one on Friday as we were going through the port district of Yenikapi in İstanbul.

We decided to eat at a Korean restaurant that just happened to be across from the boat landing as we were getting ready to take the boat to Bursa.

Turkey seems to have relatively few ethnic restaurants compared to most western countries though we did eat at a Russian restaurant in the Taksim district of İstanbul as well as a Chinese restaurant in İzmır during previous trips here.

There are many complicated reasons for this but alas there seem to be a handful of people who are so nationalist that they can not contemplate eating anything besdides shish kebab or doner (gyro meat).

One such person appears to be a Turkish waiter who was working at the Korean restaurant. Upon our entrance to the vacant restaurant the waiter informed me that the restaurant did not serve Turkish food.

İ said İ assumed this was the case since it was a Korean restaurant.

He then asked if he was sure İ wanted to eat at this restaurant. İ said yes. İ explained to him in Turkish that there were plenty of ethnic restaurants in America and İ thought Korean food would be fine.

İ wondered how the waiter could get away with criticizing his own place of employment until İ saw that the Korean family who ran the place did not speak Turkish.

When the waiter got us appetizers he warned us that they would be spicy. He then effectvely asked if it was indeed too damn spicy unlike Turkish food.

İ later reasoned that some of the reason for his Koreaphobia was because some of the meals had PORK!

İ informed that my main course which was a squid dish was great. And it sure was. He was taken back by this. Though he was probably more taken back by the fact that we refused to leave him a tip!

Some American tourists might unfortunately surmise that this xenophobic waiter was indicative of all Turkish people. That is not the case though. İ told some people İ met in Bursa about this experience and they laughed at the insane foolishness of the waiter.

As a Turkish person living in a small town in North Carolina İ fully sympathize with the Korean restaurant owners all too well. And it seems quite disturbing that when someone is a native foreigner that the very people they trust the most are the very ones which might well turn on them without hesitation.

Simply put_ there are far too many people like this xenophobic waiter all over the world and we must each be aware not only of the power of discrimination but the fact that each of us is capable of judging other people unfairly especially if one feels there will be no one who will stand up to their bigotry and disagree with them.

NOTE: There are no commas in this entry as well as apostrophes because İ sımply have a hard time finding them on a Turkish keyboard. This is made more frustrating by the fact that İ teach several grammar classes back home!


The Last Pazar on Buyukada

İ am still in Bursa as of this writing. My mom and İ were awaken at 4:47 a.m. by the call to prayer from the Ulu Camii (Mosque) which is near our hotel. But we are heading back to the İstanbul area this p.m. where we may get some peace and quiet. Then agaın, we may not!
The other day on the island of Buyukada we went to the pazar (market). There were quite a number of fruit vendors. We got lots of cherries, apricots and grapes among other things.
There was actually a Chinese vendor who was selling toys there. İt was quite a sight to see a Chinese man among Turkish villagers!
Alas, the pazar on the island is going to become a thing of the past soon enough. The local government on the island has decided that the vendors, most of whom come from the nearby city of Yalova, should not have a pazar because it allegedly interferes with the fruit vendors downtown who also sell fruits and vegetables.
But, the pazar generates lots of revenues and it brings people to Buyukada from neighboring islands like Heybeli and Burgaz.
İ am saddened that this special aspect of the island will no longer exist because of some idiotic bureacrat. İ guess İ feel like things like this are not merely happening all too often in Turkey but back home in the states and in other parts of the world as well.
But, Buyukada remains a pleasant place which reminds one of a Thomas Hardy. More on Buyukada later for we have a boat to catch here!

Useful Links:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Frappucino in Beshiktash

Greetings from an internet cafe in Bursa Turkey.

The other day İ reluctantly assisted globalization (well not İ am that liberal!) by visiting a Starbucks in the Beshiktash district of İstanbul after a taxing visit (no pun intended!) with some lawyers in town.

The reason why we stopped at Starbucks as opposed to a local pastane (pastry shop) was a rather simple one. We wanted to use a bathroom that was not ala turka! For those who are unfamiliar with Turkish toilets_ there are some old-fashioned ones which actually require a person to squat directly over a hole with two places for your feet.

For this reason alone, (hey İ finally figured out how to use a comma on Turkish keyboard) places like Starbucks and McDonalds are popular with tourists in İstanbul who might rarely care for cappucinos or Big Macs.

But, my main reason for this entry is not to disclose how İ manage to use an ala turka toilet (that might make for another entry), but rather the amazing fact that for some odd reason a frappucino in Beshiktash is actually better than a frappucino in a place like Lynchburg, Va.

My mom and İ agreed that our frappucinos here were far better than the ones back home. Perhaps, this is the reason why they are also more expensive in İstanbul!

We have since journeyed down to Bursa- a city that is about two and a half hours south of İstanbul. For those keeping score at home, Starbucks has made it to this city which was the Ottoman capital before Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror paid a visit to Constaninople in 1453.

This was about 520 years before the first Satrbucks opened in Seattle.

İ saw one Starbucks at a shopping mall here in Bursa, but there is a rumor that there is another here in the city somewhere else though no one seems quite sure exactly where it is.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Secret Lives of Dried Apricots....

İ am here on the island of Buyukada at the moment. Hope all is well back home in Portland Maine..........wait a minute...I live in either Roanoke Va or Greensboro NC....hmmm....anyway other than amnesia no major setbacks here....İ found out that the dried apricots we get back home in the states actually include food coloring....A merchant at the Spice Market in İstanbul showed me what the apricots looked like when they come in from the eastern city of Malatya....They have a brown red coloring as opposed to the bright yellow ones that you would find at the Food Lion in Christiansburg Va! Gotta run...We have a mere three hours to get ready for dinner.....(They eat late here!)



Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Greetings from the İsland

İ am now on the island of Buyukada in İstanbul Turkey. We had feta cheese olives and baked bread for breakfast. No goat meat so far.........!

İ would write more but we have to catch a sea bus to the city and as usual mom is about to kill me..........nothing new there.........til tomorrow....

Best Regards

Tilly Gokbudak