Saturday, September 1, 2012

Afiyet Olsun, Part 3: (Cunda Edition) Rakı Balık

A more traditional and refined example of the local seafood offerings were the many types of local fish that could be paired with a glass or three of Turkish rakı for a leisurely Rakı Balık dinner. This usually consists of a few shared appetizers like cucumber-tomato salad that precede the main course of a whole grilled fish and a shared bottle of rakı, the local anise-flavored liqueur (which will get it's own post soon enough). Since the meal consists of several courses it takes longer than some of the other offerings I'll describe, but it is a great excuse for a leisurely dinner at a seaside restaurant that can last for a couple hours at least. Ordering can be a bit confusing at times since the Turkish names for the fish used by the restaurants are unfamiliar to most people; the ones that I came across most often were Çipura (Gilthead seabream) and Levrek (European Seabass). Luckily, in my experience no matter what you order it's always delicious and well worth the price, which is higher than the papalina but still pretty reasonable. And since the rakı is served over ice it makes for a refreshing companion to the grilled fish and a great summer evening dinner. Just be careful not to try finishing the bottle on your own!

Afiyet Olsun, Part 2: (Cunda Edition) Papalina

One of the best things about being in Cunda for the summer was that I  had easy access to all the great seafood that is part of living in the Turkish Aegean. The city's waterfront faces the exit from the harbor to the Aegean and fishing boats come and go all day bringing fresh catches into the city's restaurants. The first dish I tried this summer was called Papalina, which consisted of small fish resembling sardines that are deep-fried whole and eaten by the bowlful. When we first arrived they were described to us as the local equivalent of french fries, since they were available at every restaurant and were a great casual snack. At 10 YTL a bowl they also made for a nice, light meal between classes. It wasn't the most sophisticated offering available on the island but it did hit the spot for those times when we were out having a beer and looking for some great local food that wouldn't break the bank. And since it's apparently just a local specialty around Ayvalik and Cunda we had to take advantage of our chance to have it while we could.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ottoman Summer School and Life in Cunda

I am back in Istanbul and back to blogging after a long hiatus in Cunda for my Intensive Ottoman Turkish Summer School. I hadn't planned on taking such a long break from the blog but the workload at the school didn't leave a lot of time or mental energy for writing about my experiences. Thankfully I was able to enjoy some downtime on the small Aegean island that became our home for a month and a half, but I hope you all understand why I was more likely to spend it on the beach or the soccer field than at the computer.

After a month in Istanbul getting settled into the new apartment and getting all my research permissions squared away, I went into my summer program feeling pretty confident that I could find my way around without many problems. It turns out there's nothing like a trip across Turkey without a set itinerary to shake your confidence a bit. I had bought a ticket on a ferryboat that would take me across the Sea of Marmara to the town of Bandirma on the advice that when I arrived there would be buses leaving regularly to Ayvalik, my final destination. The first leg went fine, but upon arrival in Bandirma I learned that the buses weren't running at that time and I would have to adjust my plans. Luckily, these kinds of adjustments are fairly easy to make in Turkey and a (relatively) short train, bus and taxi ride later I made it to my hotel in Cunda. The trip was longer than I expected but still enjoyable, since the train gave me a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery. I'm always amazed when traveling through the Turkish Aegean how much it reminds me of Northern California. There's something about the foothills and brown grass broken up by fields of corn, fruit trees, and vineyards that makes it feel a bit like home. Unfortunately, the pictures can't quite capture it but I'll put one up anyway.

I was one of the fortunate few in the program to have visited Cunda before this summer. When I was studying Turkish in Izmir in 2009 our group made two trips to Cunda to enjoy the boat trips that leave regularly from Cunda and its neighbor Ayvalik. The boat trips are a great experience, but since they were always part of a day trip from Izmir I had never spent more than an hour or so in Cunda at a time. It turns out there is more to the island than the series of fish restaurants that line the waterfront. The town itself is not large, mostly confined to four or five streets running parallel to the main waterfront, but it's filled with small restaurants, bars, and shops. The food was amazing and the locally produced liquor, even more so. It's a pretty typical little Aegean resort town that was big enough to have almost everything we needed during our stay but not so big that it was overwhelming. The program put us up at Kapya Apart Otel [], a small hotel in the middle of town with air-conditioned rooms, a pool, and a comfortable, covered patio area. Given that almost all of the twenty or so students were housed there we occupied most of the rooms and it became like a private group house for all of us in the program. Though we had some complaints by the end of the five weeks, it sure beat any other student housing I've been in! We could gather every morning for buffet-style Turkish breakfast and we occupied the patio just about every night until at least midnight trying to puzzle through our Ottoman readings from the days classes. Luckily everyone seemed to get along and it turns out working in groups makes what can sometimes seem like an impossible language to understand be a bit more manageable.

The school itself is housed in a two-story building renovated to include classrooms, offices, a kitchen, and a patio, and is only a 3-4 minute walk away from the hotel. This was the 16th year that the program has offered intensive summer instruction in Ottoman Turkish and all the other linguistic odds and ends that one needs in order to understand Ottoman documents. It is unique in the kind of instruction that it offers and is indispensable for someone trying to learn this extremely difficult language before getting into the archives to do research. Founded by the late Harvard professor Şinasi Tekin, the school is run as a joint venture by Harvard and Koç University in Istanbul []. The lists of alumni that line a wall of the school are both impressive and intimidating since many of them are publishing some of the most interesting books coming out now in Ottoman History. It's a pretty high standard to hold yourself to, but it's somewhat encouraging at the same time. And for someone like me who doesn't have any other Ottoman history graduate students in my program, just getting the chance to meet other students working in the same field was a treat. It helped that they were all pretty great people in and out of the classroom and could make for some great drinking partners at future conferences. 

In hindsight, it's a bit of a miracle that we got along as well as we did, given how strenuous our daily schedule was. We started our mornings with two and a half hours of Ottoman Turkish class where we cycled through a series of printed and hand-written Ottoman documents from the 19th century. While the hand-writing was pretty tough, trying to break down the complex grammar of documents that were often made up of a single, page-long sentence and then translate that into English often proved to be a bigger challenge. Since I started studying Modern Turkish, I had been told by various people that Ottoman was basically just Turkish written in the Arabic script with a few Arabic and Persian words mixed in. Unfortunately, this could not be more wrong. The basic structure of the language is Turkish, but it also mixes in a number of Arabic and Persian grammatical structures along with the smattering of foreign vocabulary and writes it all in a hand-written script that can often feel impossible to decipher. Then just for good measure, the documents will sometimes lapse into pure Arabic or Persian for lines and even pages at a time. To be able to read any document that comes your way, it's really best to be educated in the old Ottoman style and know Arabic and Persian in addition to old Turkish so you're prepared for whatever mix a particular writer throws in your direction. So, after our Ottoman courses finished for the day we got to attend a series of support courses to help us cobble together the linguistic knowledge we would need to help us decipher the Ottoman texts. Often, this meant that two and a half hours of reading Ottoman documents was followed up by an hour and a half of muddling through 10th century Persian poetry, about an hour off for lunch, and then another hour and a half of Modern Turkish reading and conversation. With classes from 9-3:30 conducted in three languages we were pretty exhausted by the time we got out. We would often spend a few hours napping or relaxing at the beach and then gather for homework sessions that lasted until at least midnight most nights. This was maybe the hardest part about the program. While we got to spend a month and a half on a beautiful little Aegean island in easy walking distance to the beach, most days we were too tired to take advantage of it.

That being said, we did find time to get out for at least one boat cruise around the islands and to enjoy the amazing food and liquor that the island had to offer. I'll put up some special posts on the food as the week goes by when I have a chance to write them up. All in all it was a pretty amazing summer and I feel much better prepared for my coming year in the archives. It is good to be back in Istanbul with Amanda and to get settled into a more normal routine. My return was perfectly times to enjoy some of the festivities marking the end of Ramadan so I'll put together a post with some of those pictures as well. For now, it's time to get all my immigration issues settled and start getting back to work on my own research.
Our classroom

A view of Cunda from the ferry

The view from Taş Kahve during a Persian class

The Turkish Aegean countryside from the train

A class picture after our final lessons

A study session by the pool

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Afiyet Olsun, Part 1: Kaşarlı Pide

My life in Turkey would not be nearly as enjoyable without all the great food. With that in mind, I decided the local cuisine merited its own ongoing series. I'm calling it Afiyet Olsun, which is the Turkish version of "bon apetit" and roughly means "may you have good health." It's one of the first Turkish phrases I learned and is still one of my favorites because it usually means I'm about to eat something great. I thought about calling it "Hey Marcus, check this out!" but I think only my friends in Somerville would understand that.

We're starting off with Kaşarlı Pide, if for no other reason than that's what I decided to pick up for dinner tonight. Pide is one of those perfectly simple and cheap dishes that makes Turkish cuisine so great. It's a type of flatbread molded into kind of a canoe shape, topped with cheese and any number of things like sausage or vegetables, and cooked fresh in an oven. The kaşarlı type of pide is topped with kaşar cheese, which is a soft white cheese (normally cow, sheep or goat) that is the closest to mozzarella I have seen in Turkey. That's probably the reason most Americans I know refer to pide as Turkish pizza. It's not exactly pizza, but it satisfies a similar craving and I'm far more likely to go for a pide than I am to hit up the Domino's Pizza down the road (and yes, we do have a Domino's down the road). The one I got tonight was rolled out fresh and popped into the oven right in front of me, giving it that really fresh taste that characterizes so much of the food I have here. And for 5 lira (roughly $2.50 at current exchange rate) it really can't be beat. I'm going to do my best to branch out and try as many dishes as I can this year, but with great stuff like this it's easy to get stuck in a rut! I'll keep you updated on new dishes whenever I can.

Afiyet olsun!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Road So Far

Since I'm into my third week in Istanbul it seemed like it was time for an update on how my life here is taking shape. I have settled into the apartment, got over my jet lag, and developed a bit of a routine, which is reminding me of the things I love about living here and the things that can be frustrating, too.

We'll start with the positive bits. The first day Amanda and I arrived, we found our way to a little commercial district not far from our new place that has just about everything we need on a daily basis. Since then I've fallen into the routine of heading down there every two or three days to pick up a bunch of fresh fruits and vegetables, a loaf of fresh-baked bread, and anything else I may need at the time (which too often includes a whole rotisserie chicken from one of the street vendors). On my other trips abroad I've always been able to visit these little markets and pick up some fresh food, but this is the first time that I'm really forced to fend for myself and I'm enjoying getting the hang of it. There's something I really love about going to one store to pick up a bunch of farm-fresh fruit and eggs and then going to the baker next door to get a fresh-baked loaf of bread (especially when it only costs about 35 cents). I'm definitely eating healthier than I ever did in Boston, though I'm sure I'll be trying to convince one of you to mail me a burrito in about a month.

I've also been settling into a daily routine of preparing for my summer language program. After breakfast and a little time trying to entertain the cats, I've been sitting down and going through a chapter or two a day from my Ottoman textbook. I'm still not at the level that I need to be for the program, but I've got a little time left and I think I will get there. Just being immersed in Turkish again is helping a lot, as things that I learned two summers ago are starting to come back to me in waves. Granted, it takes a bit of effort to use what I know of Modern Turkish and figure out that it's mostly there in the Ottoman as well, just in a different alphabet. I'm still at the stage where I feel like I'm doing two sets of translation - from Ottoman to Turkish and then Turkish to English - but the more I practice the more natural it's feeling. I'm still sticking with the Turkish novel as much as I can and using my Turkish whenever I head out of the house, but it's a slow process trying to get back to where I was when I was in Ankara two years ago. One of the most frustrating things about using a language outside of a classroom is that no matter how many times I think I know what I need to say in a given situation, the person I'm talking to always goes off script or has a slightly different way of speaking than I'm used to. I leave the house feeling like I'm really starting to understand the language again and then head home having been knocked down a peg or two. It's all good for me and part of the process of learning, but damn it's frustrating sometimes! But that's also another reason why I'm happy to be living in a smaller neighborhood outside of Taksim or Sultanahmet, where most of the tourists end up. Most of the people I encounter on a daily basis don't speak much English and I'm forced to use my Turkish, even when it would be so much easier to just slip back into English for those really hard to craft phrases. Hopefully by the end of the year it will feel a bit more natural.

Tomorrow I brave the ferry boat to find my way to Sultanahmet and visit the archives for the first time. I am meeting up with a student from Georgetown who was on Fulbright last year and has kindly agreed to share her wisdom about life in the archives with me. I'm hoping to get my research permissions squared away while I'm there and maybe even look around a bit. I will post an update on that when I can.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Our New Home

As promised, here are a few pictures of the new place and the view from our livıng room. I`m settling into the apartment and really starting to get comfortable navigating the neighborhood and getting around town. This keyboard at the internet cafe is terrible so I will keep this short for now, but I will have an update soon on what I have been up to in the last week or so.
View of the Golden Horn from our living room

Sunset over the Golden Horn
Our living room

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hoş Geldiniz!

One week ago today Amanda and I boarded a plane in Boston to begin our Fulbright year in Turkey. So, I decided now was as good a time as any to put together my first post for the third iteration of the blog and kick off another year of sporadic updates.

Everything feels a bit different this time. Not only will I be here longer than I ever have before, but Amanda will be with me and I will be living a less structured life outside of a planned program. As of now, I'm still in the pre-game period; I won't begin my archival research until the fall and I'm still three weeks from beginning my big Ottoman program in Cunda. All this was fine last week when Amanda was still here and we were preoccupied with settling ourselves and the two cats into the new apartment. But, now that she's off at the dig and I'm faced with a large block of free time, I'm struggling to keep myself productive.

I should start at the beginning. Amanda and I made it through the long flight from Boston to Frankfurt to Istanbul, but more importantly so did our luggage. We hopped in a taxi from the airport and met up with our new landlord to get settled into the apartment where we will hopefully be living for the next year. It's a very nice 2-bedroom on the second floor with a bit of a glimpse of the Golden Horn from our balcony. Since we're pretty close to the water and at the top of a hill we get somewhat of a nice breeze to keep the place cool. With no air conditioner this has proven to be a lifesaver, though still not perfect since trying to keep two cats from investigating the screenless windows is almost a full-time job. We spent most of our first week exploring the neighborhood and doing the necessary but tedious work of provisioning the apartment. Luckily, the place is already furnished, but picking up all the odds and ends that really make the place home took a little effort, especially when there is no Target Superstore around the corner that will let us pick up everything at once. All in all, the place is a bit more like home now, which has made the transition much easier. Something about being back here with Amanda and not having anything too pressing to do for the first few days reminded me a lot of our honeymoon in Turkey a few years ago. We even got to spend our third wedding anniversary together (for once!) by enjoying a nice dinner out around Taksim Square.

Now she is off at her excavation in the Hatay for the next two months and I am faced with the prospect of entertaining and fending for myself for a while. I'm using my time before the Ottoman program to reintroduce myself to speaking and reading in Turkish. I have been able to get out into the city at least once a day since we arrived and have had a couple nice chats with the guys at the cell phone store and the locksmith. I'm also getting back into the practice of reading thanks to a new novel I picked up by Ahmet Umit. I tried reading one of his books a couple summers ago in Ankara, but found it difficult to stick with, especially after I returned to Boston. He is almost Dan Brown-like in his weaving of murder mystery with bits of historical fiction, which helps keep me interested in a way that jumping straight into historical scholarship might not for now. I have an ambitious plan to read for at least a few hours a day and get through most of the book before I get to Cunda, though reading a few lines and flipping back to my dictionary is rather laborious and can be difficult to stick with when I'm not properly motivated. I will keep you all updated on my progress.

So, for now my life is a little boring. The apartment is quiet without someone to share it and no TV to fill the empty space with noise. Maybe it will be a good adjustment period to get me ready for a long year in the archives starting in September. Though, since I'm not getting out much this space may not be all that exciting for a little while. I will update when I can and when I have something fun to share. I'm sure things will pick up when I make my way down to the Aegean for my summer of deciphering old Ottoman handwriting.

P.S. I will put up a few pictures of the new place when I can. For now, I'm working solely off a 3G key for internet in the apartment and it is just too slow and too expensive to justify uploading photos. We'll see if I can't make it to the internet cafe in the next few days to give you all a glimpse of our new life here.