Berlin in Spring

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

I’ve been to Berlin a few times over the past few years, and have left each time incredibly hung over and happy as hell. As in my normal life, I experience a wide range of emotions mixed with enlightenment and self-realization, however when I go to

Delicious trout and Miss Maria

Delicious trout and Miss Maria

Berlin it happens within a matter of days instead of years. Perhaps this is why I have a special place in my heart for the vibrant German city that offers proper European

Cem and Maria, tour guides and drinking buddies

Cem and Maria, tour guides and drinking buddies

hospitality. Yes, European hospitality seems like an oxymoron, especially coming from my

Bikes in the Park

Bikes in the Park

life in Turkey, but somehow the city and the people contained within shine like polished gems. And I fucking love them.

My dear friend Maria, who I met in Istanbul a few years ago, was the perfect hostess and tour guide. She made sure we tasted every beer possible, ate all the tasty German morsels, and explored as far and wide as possible. Drinking beer on a rooftop community garden,  Klunkerkeranich, overlooking the city was fucking awesome. Riding bikes around all major historical and government buildings, through parks, and

Art for babies

Art for babies

along the Spree was fucking great. Listening to Hip Hop heads make beats at Cafe Wendel, wandering through Bethanian, an old church converted into art studios, and eating California pulled pork during street food Thursday at Markthalle 9 were, well, fucking brilliant. Let me not forget the May Day festival in Kreuzberg, which was a mass of humanity from all walks of life enjoying live music and life in general.

Cafe Wendel

Cafe Wendel

We heard metal, Hip Hop, and traditional Turkish music all within a 3-block radius, with colorful people dancing tirelessly and imbibing freely.

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May Day

I had the honor of being a “model” for my friend Alesh’s sketch class. While it wasn’t the dreamy, romantic notion of sitting nude, draped in velvet fabric, in front of passionate artsy types, I enjoyed sitting on the pavement, drinking beer and chatting with a

Sketch class with Alesh

Sketch class with Alesh

lovely lady from Hamburg, all the while being sketched.

As I had usually visited Berlin for music festivals and short

Neus Museum

Neus Museum

stopovers, I wasn’t able to absorb the rich history of conflict that is an integral part of the city’s past. Maria is a wealth of knowledge about the GDR, Nazi regime, and the cultural implications both entities instilled into modern

Maria waiting for Korean sustenance

Maria waiting for Korean sustenance

Germany. What amazed me most was how far the German people have come in reversing the damage that was done and how progressive they continue to be. Especially when I compare to police brutality in the United States that hasn’t ceased to exist.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Cem and I visited Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, aka concentration camp, a short journey outside of the city. The small town of Oranienburg is very sweet, with colorful houses, children on bicycles and white picket fences. As we reached the camp, the experience became very surreal as the smell of death permeated my nostrils.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

While I still have images in my memory from the atrocities displayed in the Holocaust Museum in Houston that I visited nearly 20 years ago, walking on the earth was a completely different sensation. This camp was a “home” for mostly Senti and

Hair and eye color samples to determine race- Sachsenhausen Camp

Hair and eye color samples to determine race- Sachsenhausen Camp

Roma, or gypsies, who are people I deeply respect for their cultural contributions to civilization. Walking around the land, imagining thousands of people forced into a slow demise, was sickening, yet humbling somehow. The categorization of people according to their eye and hair color made me nauseous, but also pushed me to have a better understanding of humanity, both good and evil Hatred for people based on ignorant perceptions is a concept I will never fathom.

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The Victory Column

The moral of my story? Drink beer. Appreciate art. Listen to good music. Respect people regardless of their skin color, gender, or education level. Then all will be well. Peace.

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Maria and Mathias

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History Repeated Itself last February

Jumping for Joy

Jumping for Joy

During my formative, albeit rebellious years, aka high school, I fell in love with musicians and photography. I spent countless weekends at local clubs in downtown Houston snapping photos of friends playing in Metal and Hip Hop/Metal fusion bands before they were cool. My best friend and the most influential person in my life during those few years was the multi-talented and incredibly self-confident Geoffrey. He taught me bravery, self-love and that musicians are badass. There was a particular night I “stole” my parents ’86 Chevy Suburban, much too large for my petite self, to see Geoffrey’s band play at Fitzgerald’s, in the once decrepit part of the city. It most certainly must have been his overflowing courage that inspired me to drive the ’86 Suburban that night, fearlessly, like a proper dumbass teenage girl should.

Geoff

Geoff

Fast-forward 19 years. As important life events are always put on social media, I learned that Geoffrey was on a European tour with the sultry Jolie Holland. I searched for flights to Spain and France attempting to find the most logical city to meet my high school sweetheart. Logic aside, Valencia turned out to be the right decision. Unfortunately, there was a massive snowstorm in Istanbul the day I was supposed to fly, so I was grounded in frustration at missing an extra day with my virtuoso classmate.AHH_7936

I headed to the airport the next icy morning, in hopes my flights would be on time and get me to the beautiful Spanish land I had always dreamed of putting my feet upon. On my layover in Ataturk airport, I strolled through the throngs of people from all over the world, (literally people wearing everything from dashikis to stilettos) with a skip in my step incited by excitement of this reunion. It had actually only been 11 years since I last saw Geoffrey in NYC, when we had the privilege of seeing the Beastie Boys play Madison Square Garden, but still. My heart fluttered a bit as I went through the 3rd security check, with everyone around me speaking Spanish. Fuck yeah. Let the adventures begin!

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Geoff eats patatas bravas

 

Naturally, I inhaled a few mini bottles of imported red wine on the short 3-hour flight, as I was unable to sleep due to the flood of memories from three lifetimes ago. It had been a long time since I felt like a giddy little girl.

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Breathing deep once outside the airport in Valencia, I headed to the hotel where I found Geoffrey, sitting on a sofa, in all his Texan glory. It turns out people don’t really change much with age, aside from the occasional wrinkle. He still has the death grip embrace that blesses those lucky enough to experience it. After a quick refresher thanks to the bidet (major swamp ass occurred from the lack of AC on the plane), we hit the city streets chattering away as if we hadn’t missed a day.

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Geoff took me on a tour through the architectural history he had learned in his explorations the day before. We drank delicious wine, climbed castle stairs, and noshed on cured pork and patatas bravas. We spoke incessantly of our pasts, relative presents and new found love for Valencia. It’s a city we could live in, based solely on our minimal hours of experience here. Duly noted in my infinite book of future plans. Part New Orleans, part El Paso and part Game of Thrones, Geoff and I conceded that this Spanish city wasn’t so unfamiliar, yet was different enough to incite a sense of vigor.

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Geoffrey

In the early evening, we were off to sound check at Loco Club, where I met the headmistress Jolie, and band members Breezus, Whoopi, and tour manager Thorsten from Germany. They’re unique characters that produce a band of sedating and lovely players. Speaking with Jolie, much like conversing with Geoffrey, was enlightening, inspiring and motivating. My love and appreciation for musical artists is a constantly burning fire, and these endearing people tossed on logs and spewed lighter fluid.

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Jolie and Whoopi

Jolie appears as the child of Janis Joplin and Leadbelly, who was raised by the nanny Skye Edwards (of Morcheeba). Intoxicating vocals mixed with calculated, yet captivating, guitar picking demand attention on Jolie, despite her distaste for the spotlight. Members of the audience tapped their toes and bounced their heads in the dimly lit dive bar. I felt as though I was in high school again, admiring musicians with guts enough to stand under stage lights while entertaining mesmerized onlookers. The music was a perfect mix of heart warming melancholic melodies and bluegrass enthusiasm that provided the spiritual refreshment utterly necessary for my personal growth.

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Thorsten

 

I joined these beautiful people again the next morning, and watched them eat breakfast as I had inhaled mine earlier at my hotel before racing over to theirs, in fear they would hit the road before I could spend a few more moments with a group of American souls I’ve been missing. (I won’t mention the alcohol had yet to wear off in the three or so hours of sleep that somehow happened so logic didn’t exist yet). Turns out they were still sleeping when I arrived, so my

Whoopi and Jolie

Whoopi and Jolie

indigestion was unnecessary. Ah, we live and we learn.

My final dose of Geoffrey’s utter positivity and smile brighter than the sun prepared me for a day of wandering the streets of Valencia solo, as the band was headed to the North. It was a short, but extremely sweet reunion with the delicate man that remains as my first hero. Death grip embrace number two accomplished, I was ready to take on the world, or at least Valencia city center. We have to start somewhere right?

Breezus

Breezus

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Geoffrey at Loco Club

Walking shoes ready (or so I thought), I explored the architectural wonders of the City of Arts and Sciences. I strolled through a massive kilometer long park full of palm trees, people promenading their spoiled dogs, and children running amuck chattering in their sweet Spanish. To my astonishment, I realized no one was interested in talking to me, and if I knocked elbows or bumped into someone, all parties apologized swiftly. Not like Turkey, where every body wants to ask me where I’m from and overgrown women intentionally “brush” shoulders then scowl at me as if I had run head on into them. It’s quite amazing how a slight bit of decency can change the atmosphere of a city and ultimately, an entire culture. I had almost forgotten what personal space, minding your own business, and respect meant.

Breezus and Whoopi

Breezus and Whoopi

Once my feet were blistered and my mouth parched, I made my way to Mercado de Colon, where Geoff and I made our first pit stop the day before. I sat on a cushiony wicker sofa, kicked up my feet, and ordered red wine. Oh hell yes! Drinking wine on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Yes please. The veggie paella was filling enough to get my shopping legs ready to continue wandering about, with a different focus from history, architecture, and culture. It

was time to find some cool Spanish boots.

 

City of Arts and Sciences

City of Arts and Sciences

Unfortunately, I didn’t find boots, but did manage to understand that “siesta” really means “We will look at you inside the store, but we’re not fucking working.” So I found my way back to the hotel wherein I, yes, drank more wine and ate more cured pork and cheese. This was heaven I tell you.AHH_7899

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The following morning, I somehow jumped out of bed, inhaled the buffet breakfast, and walked briskly to the marina so I could see, smell and breathe in the Balearic Sea (or a cove AHH_7892 copywithin said sea). My spirit and heart were rejuvenated, yet again, this time from seeing nearly everyone on the street walking their pups early on a Sunday morning, some purebreds, some mutts, some big, some small, but all jubilant with wagging tails. I must take a moment to give respect and blessings to people who love and take care of animals.

I made my way back to the hotel with only a few minutes to spare (thank you again my bidet friend) to get my shit and go to the airport. The wind was blowing furiously, and I secretly hoped my flight would be canceled, or at least delayed. Of course it wasn’t, but a girl can wish! As I reveled in my concluding mini bottle of non-imported Spanish wine, I reflected through three decades of existence. It seems the winds of change are a blowin’…AHH_7988

Farewell to Konya

As with every journey that comes to a close, a little reflection always helps me understand what I learned about life during a particular time in my reality.

Though I lived in the bustling town of 1 million for only four months, it was as though a huge stone was lifted off my chest when I finally left Konya. Granted, sometimes it was nice to be stared at like I was a celebrity, but that charm wore off and I began to feel as though I had three heads. Based on my lessons from living in Brooklyn, if you stare at someone longer than 5 nanoseconds you best have something to say or crack a smile. A small lesson in cultural learning for me has been that Turks stare for seconds, sometimes minutes with nothing more than a blank stare. My anecdote at first was to smile, which sometimes Rumielicited a slight smile in return or a giggle from a shy child. By the end of my days in this traditional Islamic city, I would say, “Take a picture it lasts longer,” which would make most people scurry away or whisper to their friend that indeed I was a real foreigner. When I told my friends and students in Istanbul I was moving to Konya they all replied with the same wide-eyed wonderment, “Konya?!” Now I understand why.

The claim to fame for Konya is Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, or Rumi as most Westerners know him, or Mevlana as most Turks know him. He belonged to a sect of Islam called Sufism, which (in theory) is based on mystical, respectful, and loving ideals that embraces the earth and humans as one. I suppose in his days of the 13th Century, people were quite receptive to his messages and teachings, but in modern day Konya these positive revelations are optional.   Rumi’s poems are known by people of diverse religious, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. This is obvious by the variety of tourists that visit his tomb in the city center.

A well-known aspect of the Sufi religion is the Whirling Dervish. The men in white dresses that spin into a meditative fury. I was privileged to attend a meeting at a local dervish lodge one Saturday evening. I walked, my head loosely covered with a purple scarf, into a large room with about 30 men and 10 women

Mevlana (his tomb is turquiose)

Mevlana (his tomb is turquiose)

sitting or kneeling on over sized cushions lining the walls. I immediately darted to the back where the women were sitting but was summoned by my guide to give regards to the Sufi master, Hakkı Dede (“grandfather”) then was given a seat next to him. A young woman, Derya, was called in to be my translator. She lived in England for many years before meeting the Sufi master, which changed her life path and introduced her to Sufism. She was the only person living at the lodge and despite being tightly covered, was very jovial. Between translations of the Qu’ran, she asked me questions about how I found the lodge and other general interrogations about my life. We laughed many times as she translated the verses of the holy book to me, which mostly consisted of people not acting like animals then everyone can live peacefully. She was a pleasant surprise in the pious atmosphere. After Hakkı Dede exhausted his answers to the pending questions about the essence of Allah and humans, we separated to gender specific tables where we shared a delicious chicken soup and broke bread with our fellow attendants.  It was a lovely dinner, but I didn’t taste much of it as I was busy answering a barrage of questions about who I am , where I’m from, where I’m going…

After the meal and continuous curiosity about the American girl in Konya, there was a Whirling Dervish “show.” I wasn’t allowed to photograph as I wasn’t

Whirling Dervishes at the mall

Whirling Dervishes at the mall

there as a tourist but as a student. Musicians came from a back room and began to play traditional Turkish music, with the drums being the centerpiece. After a while of instrumentals, five young men came from the same back room and did the drill of greeting their master then began their spinning. One hand up to the heavens and one hand down to the earth, the enregy of these elements passes through the bodies of the Dervishes. It was fascinating to see these spiritual figures in their element and not in a shopping center or restaurant whirling for the tourists. The spinning continued without stopping for nearly an hour. It made my ankles hurt thinking about how many times they revolved. The scene was quite majestic until, towards the end, when the spirit overcame many of the participants and they started to chant “Allah! Allah!” at a ribcage vibrating octave. Derya, who was sitting next to me, was visibly moved and began sobbing with her entire body. It seemed to be a purging of emotions induced by the spinning men. Or it could have been the overwhelming heat and no air circulation aside from the slight wind created by the Dervishes. At that point, it became somewhat of a cult meeting and I made a mental note to not be brainwashed or sacrificed like a lamb. This was obviously an effect of reading too many stories about modern day cults and I walked out unscathed. I was grateful to have been able to experience the gathering, but was no doubt in need of a cold beer.

national non-alcoholic drink Ayran

national non-alcoholic drink Ayran

Cold beer in Konya is something of a delicacy. There was a bar we frequented often, XSide, which was attached to a

Beyti kebab

Beyti kebab

luxury hotel. The other 3 bars in town were spoken about, but remained a legend. There were only a few places we could buy beer, called tekels, in which our pirate booty was put into black opaque bags as though we had just bought pornography. When carrying multiple bags of bottled libations I often felt liberated, but other times I felt like a whore of the devil. It depended on how many hijab (headscarf) wearing women I passed on the walk of shame to the car.

Other options for alcohol are paviyons, the Turkish version of a brothel. No doubt a haven for sex-trafficked women from former Soviet countries and the East of Turkey, my friends weren’t interested in taking me, even for a beer. I proposed a photo documentary project of these so-called “fun centers,” but it has yet to come to fruition.

There are many gems in this over sized village, most of them food. Etli Ekmek, a flat pizza covered with chunks of

Tirit kebab

Tirit kebab

lamb and garnished with parsley and lemon, numerous kebabs, which is lamb cooked in various ways from şiş (shish) to tandir (cooked in clay pots)  to tirit kebabı (presented on a bed of yogurt). My favorite dish is bamya corbası (okra soup) sometimes with lamb, but if I was lucky, without the animal. The desserts were decadent layers of something made from cracked wheat, dough or nuts smothered in cream, honey or syrup of tooth aching sweetness.

Long story short, a free spirited pain in the ass American girl doesn’t really belong in a conservative religious small town. I thought I learned that lesson living in Northeast Tennessee, but apparently I had to reaffirm the notion.

I’m grateful for the culture, religious and history lessons I gained while in this ancient city. The exceptional gift, however,  is the newest addition to the family and god of the house, Zeus.

Zeus

Zeus

Now it’s time to conquer the capital city of the deceptively democratic reigning regime, Ankara.

Hittites, Byzantines and a Crater Lake

A perk of living in central Anatolia aka the near middle of nowhere Turkey, is the virtually endless history lessons and observing the mix of people living with old traditions and those that struggle to evolve into a modern culture.

Without giving too much of a history lesson, I’ve compiled a few excursions I made over the past few months. Some were treacherous, some educational and some downright comical.

reincarnated Çatalhöyük cave paintings

reincarnated Çatalhöyük cave paintings

Çatalhöyük is a Neolithic city 40 miles southeast of Konya. It is the largest Neolithic site that has ever

Excavation site, Çatalhöyük

Excavation site, Çatalhöyük

been excavated. While it is still under current excavation (work has been off and on since the 1950’s), it is well worth a visit to learn how people lived in this area nearly 9,000 years ago. Pack a snack as there isn’t sustenance after the town of Çumra, which is about 10 miles from the site of Çatalhöyük. The major art and cultural pieces from this new stone age are on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara and the Archaeological Museum in Konya if you can’t manage to make the trek to the site.

Eflatunpınar

Eflatunpınar

Eflatun pınar (“lilac colored spring”) is 80 miles west of Konya, near the town of Beyşehir. A temple built on a spring in dedication of a Hittite god, it is an oasis of sorts among the sprawling farmland. Though it’s off the beaten path, we made a stopover on our way from Konya to Isparta. If you want to see a piece of Anatolia history without a mass of tourists, Eflatun pınar is an intriguing antiquated temple. And like many of the other excursions in this blog or in Turkey, pack a picnic and make a proper adventure out of it.

Meke Lake is a salt lake surrounding a crater that has existed near Konya for, well, eons. I highly recommend to check the weather conditions before making the trek to Karapınar, where the volcanic lake is located. We went on a beautiful sunny day, but the wind was so intense when we reached the top of the crater we weren’t able to take photos much less stand upright. Despite the insane wind, my people and I had a rollicking good time mucking about in the sulphur infused mud and cactus covered hillside. It is an ideal location for a picnic in the spring and fall. I imagine the summer heat can be sweltering.

Meke Lake and Wind

Meke Lake and Wind

Karaman delights

Karaman delights

Karaman

1001 Churches, Karaman

I’m currently working on a documentary project about the Yörük, a nomadic people living in the southern region of Turkey. My translator, Can (Jon), and I traveled to Karaman to meet with a few shepherds in the surrounding villages. (Karaman is the region where the Persian language was first replaced by the Turkish language). Just by luck, we went during the time domalan mantarı (truffles) were being harvested. Can and I had a gluttonous lunch of local food that included stewed lamb, grilled vegetables, and a mouth-watering honey soaked desert topped with kaymak, a heavy cream made in the Ayfon region. And as luck would have it, the restaurant owner gave us the truffles he had prepared for himself. I asked if I could buy this delicacy and our guide (a friend of Can’s) replied, they are a gift from god and only the earth can provide me with these delicious mushrooms. Apparently, they didn’t grow last year due to the lack of moisture. After interviewing a local middle school principal and Yörük historian, we stopped at a corner market and I’ll be damned there were truffles for sale! We added them to our picnic basket and headed up the mountain to a Yörük village, Kılbasan, where we met a couple old shepherds who were happy to share their stories. Needless to say, I learned a lot about the differences between raising sheep and raising goats, but my interest grew into how and why they manage to migrate each summer and winter despite the advances in livestock technology and traffic jams.

The highlight of the day was atop a hill where a few nomadic families lived among ancient churches. I was astounded at how the people were existing within the ruins as if they were hobbits or fairies. When Can started walking in a pristine grassy area, a young man with a machete came trotting down the hill and telling Can to not walk there. As we noticed after, the bright green patch of land was a rooftop for an underground dwelling that could have been destroyed very quickly by a city boy. It was a reminder when exploring in Turkey, we must tread lightly!

At nearly 14 miles long, Tınaztepe mağarası (cave) is the longest cave in Turkey and the third largest in the world. About 30 minutes from downtown Konya, Tınaztepe cave is an easy day trip and interesting exploration for people charmed by the magnificent creations of the earth. After walking down many stairs deeper and deeper into the mountain, we reached the end of trail, a pristine, ominous lake. It’s possible to go diving in this lake, but the water looked as though it could penetrate any wetsuit. It’s a breathtaking view that should be visited in the fall when the water levels are low.

Tinaztepe Cave

Tinaztepe Cave

Cappadocia fairy chimney

Cappadocia fairy chimney

Anyone that knows about being a tourist in Turkey knows about Cappadocia. In this ancient Byzantine region, there are the fairy chimney rock formations, Kapadokya1the cave hotels, the hot air balloon rides and of course, the wine. My favorite Cappadocia excursions are on horseback through the rocks and an ice-cold beer after the ride. Baba Evi hotel is a little off the path in Ibrahim Pasha, near Ürgüp, but highly recommended for the hospitality and comfort. The owners are the perfect hosts and the traditional breakfast is fulfilling. On our first visit to Kapadokya (as the Turks know it), we had dinner at the Orient in Göreme then watched a traditional culture and dance show complete with Whirling Dervishes and belly dancers. The spring weather is perfect for all day outdoor exploration and I imagine autumn is quite pleasant as well.

Sille is a quiet little village that was primarily inhabited by a Greek Orthodox population until 1924. Sille was my favorite to place to visit when I was bored with the shopping centers in Konya. At Sille Cafe and Nargile, I always ordered salep, a hot milky drink made from orchid tubers. Topped with a dash of cinnamon, salep is the highlight of Turkish winters. Sille is small, but hosts a historic Christian/Orthodox cemetery, a renovated mosque and a really small old mosque, and

View of Sille

View of Sille

most impressively, the Aya Elenia Müzesi, a museum and church that has been under renovation since 2012. After the sightseeing, we hiked up the hill into the old Byzantine homes in the rocks and watched the sun set over the village. The only thing missing was the salep. Perhaps because now it’s spring.