The will o’ the wisp and the Ottoman seal make a comeback in Turkey

Mr. Punch's History of the Great War Ottoman Empire William O the Wisp

Cartoon from Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War, depicting the Ottoman Empire being led astray by a will o’ the wisp named William, presumably after Kaiser Wilhelm. (Image by Liz Cameron, of her Grandfather’s book likely sent to him whilst he was in the trenches in France)

The puppets are all snowed in thanks to Blizzard Juno…and in order to stave off cabin fever, Karagöz led the charge to find some good reading in our vintage book collection.  Hacivad Bey, our resident history buff, came across my Grandfather’s copy of Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War.

Mr. Punch makes a brief commentary on the state of the Ottoman Empire.  During this phase, the Ottoman Empire was famously referred to as “the sick man of Europe,” which the puppets find interesting given the ongoing saga around the European Union’s possible accession of Turkey and debates about whether Turkey is, or is not, European.

Reference to “the sick man of Europe” was indicative of the fact that the once-great power that was the Ottoman Empire was crumbling.   For over half of a millennium, it had dominated the Eastern Mediterranean, held a tight grip on vast swathes of Central Europe, and encompassed Arab lands as far down as Egypt. By the time of World War One, however, all that remained outside of Turkey were Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

Image from the cover of Mr. Punch's History of the Great War depicting the puppet Punch of Punch and Judy fame

Image from the cover of Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War depicting the puppet Punch of Punch and Judy fame (Image by Liz Cameron)

The puppets wave me off, with Karagöz in the lead, saying “M’Lady, we KNOW all of this already, let’s focus on interpreting the cartoon you found in Mr. Punch’s book.  He is a lover of anarchy, and a kind spirit to the Karagöz puppets, so, on with it!” And so, dear reader, take a gander at the cartoon we found in Grandpa’s old musty book.

You will note that a will o’ the wisp is referred to in the cartoon’s caption.  So let me start with that, non-Brits and non-Anglophiles out there may not know of this character, so let me fill you in. As a child, my Granny warned me about the will o’ the wisp who laid in wait within the nearby marsh – to lead people astray with his glowing light.  This British mythic creature made a big impression on me…and was used in this cartoon to suggest that the aging and sickly Ottoman Empire had lost its way thanks to Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (see the text from Mr. Punch at the bottom of this post).

As I thought through my interpretation of the cartoon, I couldn’t help but think of all of the talk in Turkey around the maudlin glorification of the Ottoman Empire.  This glorification manifests in several ways, the first of which caught my eye in the form of window decals with the Ottoman seal on cars all over Turkey.  This was a precursor to certain political figures’ attempts to glorify (themselves? No, of course not!) the nation by doing things like staging a costume show with sixteen soldiers in costumes from all of the alleged Turkic empires and generally ranting and raving on about the greatness of Turkey in some quite cringeworthy ways.  I must say, at times it seems to me that the Will O’ the Wisp is back, leading Turkey astray yet again, taking it down a dangerous garden path, to be sure.  Time will tell. The puppets are glad to be observing it all from afar, as are we.

Ottoman nostalgia is making a comeback…according to Joshua Walker and many others…

Mr. Punch’s commentary that went along with this cartoon:

“A new and possibly momentous chapter has opened in the history of the War by the attempt to force the Dardanelles. At the end of February the Allied Fleet bombarded the forts at the entrance, and landed a party of bluejackets. Since then these naval operations have been resumed, and our new crack battleship Queen Elizabeth has joined in the attack. We have not got through the Narrows, and some sceptical critics are asking what we should do if we got through to Constantinople, without a land force. It is a great scheme, if it comes off; and the “only begetter” of it, if report is true, is Mr. Winston Churchill, the strategist of the Antwerp expedition, who now aspires to be the Dardanelson (LOL, says Karagöz) of our age. Anyhow, the Sultan, lured on by the Imperial William o’ the Wisp, is already capable of envying even his predecessor:

Abdul! I would that I had shared your plight,
Or Europe seen my heels,
Before the hour when Allah bound me tight
To WILLIAM’S chariot-wheels!”

Posted in Turkish Controversies, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

To eleven years together: “Love is grabbing hold to the great Lion’s mane”

“Love is grabbing hold to the great Lion’s mane” or so go the words from the poet Hafiz.

I’ve been clinging to that mane – whipping in the wind it often seems – for eleven years now. Actually, it has been eleven years today – and married six years ago today – but it was only four years ago that I started this blog.

The original idea for the blog was to narrate the experiences of a troupe of Ottoman-era Turkish puppet characters who had grabbed onto that lion’s mane along with me. Specifically, a set of Karagöz puppets that inhabited my head one day while I was eating kebap in Bursa.

And it wasn’t a casual kind of inhabitance, it was a commitment on the part of those puppets to assist me on the cross-cultural Turkish and American marital road trip that is my life. Whether they have indeed assisted me or at times confused me, or just voiced the various realities that exist in my head at any given time is up for debate.

My original goal was to tell the story of how M. and I met, and to narrate the ups and the downs – and all of the funny grey areas in between.  I felt there was a need to do so, as we hear way too little about what a cross-cultural relationship is really like on a day to day basis.

I started off with some of the highlights (visiting our shared heritage at the Gelibolu/Gallipoli memorial) and lowlights (the weight-related battles I had with my sister-in-law as well as my fantasies about showing up at her tony resort beach in a burquini).

Over time, however, the blog has morphed into commentary on this and that aspect of Turkish or Turkish-American life between me (“M’Lady”) and my husband (“M.”)…and has also addressed Islamophobia, my early and late introductions to Islam and Turkey and all manner of other matters such as visiting Mexico, describing a tiny mosque on the Georgian border or sharing a recipe or two.

This year, however, my goal is to write at least a few more posts about what happened between M’Lady and M. after the beginning and before the present day…in between other commentary!  I hope you will enjoy the ride and feel the touch of the lion’s mane as you join me in my quest to make sense of it all.

And while you are at it…check out some of my blog-mates who also write about cross-cultural Turkish relationships, specifically Turklish (Turkish-American), Janey in Mersin (Turkish-Aussie/NZ I think, sorry Janey, couldn’t find it on your blog), Turkey with Stuffins (Turkish-English), Earth Laughs in Flowers (Turkish-English, I think), Irish Gelin (Turkish-Irish), Eat with Me Istanbul (Turkish-Korean, although primarily a lovely food blog) and of course the wonderful column over at Today’s Zaman which details the life of a yabancı gelin (foreign bride).

And let’s not forget the wonderful book Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey – which while not totally about cross-cultural marriage, certainly gets at the topic! This book is soon to be followed by a successor, Sofra: A Gathering of Foreign Voices Around the Turkish Table…and if you wish to write for it, you can read their call for writers here!

So, while I may not be unique in writing about cross-cultural love, I think I may be the only one crazy enough to admit that I have a gang of Karagöz puppets egging me on all the way! :)

Posted in Introducing the Karagöz puppets, On writing about my life with the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A fındık (hazelnut) fiesta in Güneşliköyü


Recently, the puppets joined me on a trip with the Archers of Okçular. Clinging onto the backseat, the puppets didn’t complain as we wound our way through the mountains of the northeastern Black Sea region near the Georgian border. M’Lady was thrilled to be so close to Georgia – a place she visited during Soviet times in what feels like a century ago.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c31/25541592/files/2015/01/img_0443.jpgWhilst exploring the small towns near the border, we came across an ancient Keystone Bridge. The puppets insisted on getting out and taking some pictures – it’s not every day you see such a relic. Check out the pictures here from the old bridge in the small hamlet of Güneşliköyü, which is even locatable on a Google map. And, I might add, the use of the word “hamlet” is a generous one – we saw only two houses on the winding river road.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c31/25541592/files/2015/01/img_0444.jpgAs we poked around the bridge, a figure emerged from the hazy green distance. He carried a hoe and wore a plaid shirt with a rolled up sleeves. His hair was silvered with the ages and his eyes were twinkly. Greeting us with warmth, we worked our way through the pleasantries – where we were from, how lovely the area was, falan filan. (i.e. yadda yadda in Turkish). His name was Fazlı.

Fazlı Bey soon whipped out his cell phone and asked for assistance in programming it. “Who the hell knows how to work these damn things anyway,” he said with a chuckle, I’m a pistachio farmer… This isn’t my expertise.” None of us could figure out the magic touch. Losing interest in the cell phone, Fazlı Bey announced that we would be ceasing that activity and would henceforth be gathering hazelnuts.

“You will not leave without a bag of my hazelnuts! Even though my wife and I are locked in an argument so deep I can’t even remember what it’s about anymore, she’d kick me if I didn’t share some of our beloved nuts with you – and I want to share with you!” Kenne, the Queen of Manners, nodded her head in approval.  “While this man is somewhat disheveled, at least he has a mind for manners!”  Mercan Bey shot Kenne a sidelong glance, pointing out that he was a farmer after all, his hands dirty with honest work.

As those ornery puppets began to quarrel, we tromped on into the fields just off the road, and quickly filled the plastic bag with fresh hazelnuts. It was a treat to see where the central ingredient in Nutella comes from…Recently, the United States’ National Public Radio reported on hazelnuts, mentioning the tradition of hazelnut farming in Turkey.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c31/25541592/files/2015/01/img_0452.jpg“Karim Azzaoui, vice president for sales and marketing at BALSU USA, which supplies hazelnuts to the U.S., says the hazelnut trees grow on steep slopes that rise from the Black Sea coast. The farms are small; grandparents and children help to harvest the nuts, usually by hand. “It’s a very traditional way of life,” Azzaoui says. “The Turkish family farmers are extremely proud of the hazelnut crop, as it has been part of their family history for centuries. Farmers have been growing hazelnuts here for 2,000 years.”  Nutella is now making this traditional crop extremely trendy…That’s pushed up hazelnut prices. And this year, after a late frost in Turkey that froze the hazelnut blossoms and cut the country’s hazelnut production in half, prices spiked even further. They’re up an additional 60 percent since the frost.”

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c31/25541592/files/2015/01/img_0442.jpgBack in the States, as I listened to the radio on my way home from work, it was wonderful to have a face to add to the story in my ear.

I wish Fazlı Bey all the best for his hazelnut crops for years to come!


Posted in A Karagöz puppet battle, Turkish destinations, Turkish Food!, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments