After the storm: Karagöz puppets gone wild

Aegean Sea Pan

Panoramic image of the Aegean Sea (Ege Deniz) at sunset from Clara S. via Flickr

It was an otherwise glorious scene, blue skies heading to sunset, hot sun fading towards evening, smooth teal Aegean sea with the beginning pink twinges towards twilight, a litter of white adobe houses taking on the pastel hues of nature as they lay splayed across the arid landscape covered in sweet-smelling herbs – and the blessed evening breeze.  What could be wrong when the world around me looked just like this?

When I last left you, I was sitting on the terrace of M.’s brother X.’s summer home near Bodrum.  X had just delivered what I am referring to as a “Sicilian message” about what would ideally happen to women who cheat his brother – and by his definition – the family.  It was a jarring statement that took me completely off guard.  The statement did not seem to fit right in this otherwise “modern” and from what I could see “western-oriented” home full of English and French speakers, all with master’s degrees from European universities.

As the bead-laced door into the kitchen swirled with the exit of X., I sat, a bit dumbfounded.  Silent.  Part of me in shock and part of me so imbued in trying hard to accept the culture around me in this family that I almost did not register that X. had talked of “taking a (cheating) woman to the mountain to rape her a thousand times.” This was not some tribal village.  This was not Eastern Turkey where stories of honor killings filtered out from in the media.  This was not the 1800s, what the heck was going on?

The shoes Karagöz left in the purse once he commenced sliding across the tile floor

I soon learned that my shadow-puppet friend Karagöz was more than happy to fill me in on what was going on as I sat, log-like, confused, torpid even.  Karagöz had at first emerged from the purse where all of the puppets had been hiding during my conversation with X.  Instead of launching into a crazed, alliterative diatribe as was his usual wont, he commenced sliding across the tiled floor, row by row, at breakneck speed, screaming bloody murder at the top of his waxy-papered lungs.  He was sliding in his socks, having left his fancy shoes back in the purse, I presume.   Then, stopping at a dead halt, he turned to face me from the middle of the terrace floor, and he said this “Watch out for this guy.  Yes, he’s acting crack-cocaine high.  But he says this not on the fly.  My oh my.  You may be asking why.  You’re only answer comes from drinking rye.  Just let the conversation die.”

At this point, Hacivad crawled out of the purse.  I watched him with almost blank eyes as he made his way across the floor, up the white canvas couch and on up my dress and onto my right shoulder.  I turned to my left, leaning my head on my shoulder, remembering finding some comfort in my Granny’s house by the herb garden there, the scent of sage intermingling with mid-summer tanned-skin smell.  “M’lady,” Hacivad prodded gently, “you just need to take space and time to understand this.  You need to talk to M. about this.  He will help you to understand.  This is nonsense talk, unacceptable talk from X., but you need to understand it and where it comes from. Do not expect to understand today.  Also, do not expect to be X.’s equal, which I think you did.  You think of him as one of your age cohort, as one of your generation, but it is clearly different for him.”

Karagöz and Hacivad resembled a tumbleweed as they fought, their wax-papery selves getting shreded and intertwined in the process

Karagöz let out a screech.  Back to his old mnemonic tricks, he exclaimed with more of a fevered pitch than usual “you need to kick his ass, tell him who’s the lass, no raising of the peace glass, tell him he must not be so crass!”  Annoyed, Hacivad began to display a set of uncharacteristic behaviors and verbalizations.  “You fool, do not encourage this!  Serious business we have here and you must cease and desist!  She does not know what she is up against here!” Before I could even imagine it, Hacivad had, in his uncharacteristic ire, leaped off of my shoulder and jumped full-force onto the jokerish Karagöz.  The two were fighting, whirling in the process, flailing all over the cool tiles like a raggedy-edged tumbleweed gone wild.

The chorus of shadow puppet dancing ladies began to emerge from the purse by the beaded door in huddles of two and three.  “Oh!” they cried to a one, “oh, horrors, this is a terrible, terrible thing.  Such things that men do.  Such words that men say.  So misguided they all are. Shame on them all.” The melee and audience continued as Kalinka arrived through the beads with a glass of strong black tea.  She sat next to me for a moment after looking around furtively to make sure her boss was not about to come back and see her sitting with me, or at least that is what I imagined the look to be about.  She began to talk to me in her own Moldovian (limba moldovenească or лимба молдовеняскэ) language which, of course, I understood nary a word of.  She smoothed her hand up and down my back, clearly seeing some upset on my face.

While my conversation with X. had been in English, and I know she could not have understood it, she had seen a bit of the affect involved in the interaction, and so she had a sense that something bad had gone down.  Her soothing led to my tears letting down like breast milk responding to a baby’s cry. Kalinka wiped my tears away with a cold washcloth and got me back into a presentable state by starting to do whatever she could to get me to laugh.  First, she amped about like X., imitating his movements to a t.  Second, she just began dancing around in the goofiest manner possible.  She had no idea that at one point, she stepped clearly and firmly on top of the tumbling testosterone duo comprised of Hacivad and Karagöz, who crumbled to dust under her foot whilst the little ladies sighed and fainted.  I felt as though she must be employing the tactics used on a two year-old child to distract them from whatever the upset of the moment was.  It worked.

All of a sudden, she stopped at the sound of a door shutting downstairs  Turning to listen, we heard X. and M. walking up the stairs into the terrace-kitchen area.  Kalinka winked at me and scuttled back into the kitchen.  The laughter and joking felt clear and easy between them as futbol-related words emanated from their conversation into the part of my brain that understood some Turkish.  As X. went to get his tea, M. jumped onto the sofa next to me, planting a big kiss on my cheek before saying  “X. said you had a good conversation, really got to know each other, while I was asleep.  That’s great!”  I could tell beyond a reasonable doubt that he had no idea about the rape comment.  I leaned towards him and stared out at the dimming light over the sea, wondering how such ugly words and mixed-up feelings could possibly be present in such a lovely place.

Of road trips and rose hips (with recipe)

Kuşburnu Suyu (khush-boor-new soo-yoo) a.k.a. Rosehip Juice (with grape juice, in this particular package)

Well, over the last week or so, we have been (virtually) to the U.S. to discuss Obama and 9-11 and Italy to discuss the plight of mozzarella mammas over the last week here on slowly-by-slowly, and now it is time to get back to what happened in Turkey during my very first visit there.

To be specific, slowly-by-slowly is officially now back in Bodrum for the last 24 hours of a visit there in 2004 – a visit punctuated by the slamming of the gates in a gated compound by the sea, the clink-clink of spoons in tea glasses on cement beach and the tsk-tsks of the swim parade ladies who all think I should invest in a bit of liposuction. I, on the other hand, am at this point “over it,” this worse-than-America focus on body size, etc.

My little shadow puppet chorus of Ottoman-era ladies (the ones that reside in my purse but like to come out for a moon dance once in a while) have given me an invisible burqini (Islamic bathing suit) and now I just let that burqini deflect the askance-glance rays that head my way as I walk from my chair to the sea. I’m so over this. Instead, M. and I are plotting our course north, to Bozcaada, where we will meet his Teyze (Aunt) after a week or so exploring the Aegean coastal region.

“We need snacks, for the car,” M. says, grinning, “Atatürk liked salted chick peas and sunflower seeds in the shell, do you think you could do that? I don’t want any potato chip junk.” Karagöz opened his eyes wide from his spot across the table from me saying, “them’s fightin’ words – you, m’lady, apparently like POTATO CHIP JUNK! WOO-EE!” Ignoring Karagöz , I tell M. that those snacks sound fine to me, as long as we have some fruit juice as well. “And that means, ” I jumped up with happiness, “that means we can do my favorite thing – check out the supermarket in another country, when can we go?”

Since I was a child, I have loved visiting supermarkets in whatever place I am in to really get a sense of the lay of the land. In the 1970s, I found marmite in the local store near my Uncle’s home in Cornwall. In the 1980s in Soviet-era Tbilisi, Georgia, I found canned sardines and walnuts. In the 1990s, I found green packets of tea leaves and Parmalat brand milk for all the chai that is made near Meru, Kenya. In 2001, I found masa harina and pickled loroco flowers in the Xochilt neighborhood of San Salvador, El Salvador. I am lucky enough to say that I have had many other international supermarket adventures, but those are the ones that rise up to my mind at the moment. In any case, I had to, just had to, get to the Turkish supermarket nearest me to complete my own personal shopping-slash-cultural-immersion mandate.

Feeling nostalgic for more time with his little brother, X. drove us out of the compound-by-the-sea and over to the supermarket. As the three of us headed into the modern Migros supermarket, I note an entire aisle for fruit juice and commence purchasing the most exotic (to me) juices possible. In this shopping instance, exotic juice primarily meant the sour cherry (visne) and rosehip (Kuşburnu) varieties. Always an over-shopper, M. does a combination giggle-snort and eye roll upon seeing me roll around the corner with my juice-laden cart. Karagoz approves of this giggle-snort and eye roll combo whole-heartedly and re-creates the sound on my left shoulder, one of his usual haunts.

Coming out to see what’s going on, two of the tiny ladies that are almost inseparable these days make their presence known from where they are hanging, figure-head-like, on my purse strap. Kenne and Khadijah eye my cart suspiciously. “Are you sure, m’lady, that you really want quite so much Kuşburnu suyu?” they ask, as if prodding gently, “do you have THAT big of a problem?” Though I don’t really know what they are on about, I respond to them by speaking in the assured tone of a seasoned Turkish store shopper that I most certainly wasn’t but wanted to be. You know, the voice of an American who just “happens” to buy rosehip and sour cherry juice on a regular old trip to the market. I responded with “I am not sure what you mean by problem, little ladies, and I sure I will be very thirsty, ladies, as we do not have air conditioning, so I will need to stay hydrated and need to mix it up – not all water – some juice too.” You see, if I admit it to myself, I wanted to be exotic, to know what it was to drink rosehip juice and not think it was special or unusual. I wanted to be exotic at home in the U.S. and totally normal and in-sync here in Turkey. Clearly, rosehip juice was the answer according to me in that moment. Kenne and Khadijah just looked at eachother with a sigh, and murmured something that sounded like “we tried to tell her…”

Meanwhile, M. was picking up and looking at the different brands of juice that I have chosen – not only did I have a lot of boxes of juice in my cart, I had multiple brands of boxes of each type of juice – especially the Kuşburnu. “Um, sweetie, are you planning a taste test?” As if he has just heard the little ladies on my shoulders, M.’s Turkish-level-decibal voice (e.g. loud) rings out “do you really have THAT much of a problem? Why didn’t you tell me? Do you know what this juice is for?” Feeling a bit in the spotlight as the ladies shopping around me are giving me the hairy eyeball due to my man’s protestations about the cart contents, I protest a bit, saying “I don’t really know what you mean about a problem – I know what it is for – I mean – my Granny used to drink rosehip tea for her joints, but this is juice, you know, just juice? Juice for the road? Because it is hot? Do you have a problem with that? What about the fact that you look like you are going to feed all of the birds between Bodrum and Bozcaada with that cart full of pumpkin seeds?”

Just as M. says “if you say so, dear,” M.’s brother X. walks around the corner. “Ah – oh dear – THIS IS AN EMERGENCY” X. says – immediately in emergency mode. Although I have only known him for a few weeks, I already know that X. LOVES emergency mode. It is a chance to shine – to be the dude that takes care of stuff – you know – emergency stuff. I am convinced that this is a very big part of the “big brother” role in Turkey – at least in the family I have been observing in Turkey. If X. could have snapped his fingers for an assistant to support him in carrying out his efforts to address whatever the emergency was at that moment, I am sure he would have. His hands are itching to snap – he takes his glasses off – wipes them – runs his hand over his head and stakes out which direction he will go to deal with this EMERGENCY. I, of course, have no clue what the EMERGENCY is.

“I see, you have an EMERGENCY problem,” X. states, as if this is obvious to me. “I don’t have a problem -um, I just really like juice?!” I said, trying to be gracious but sounding a bit panicked at all of the attention placed on my juice-filled basket that was somehow an EMERGENCY. “Oh yes,” Karagöz says with his finger a-wagging, “you do, you do have a PROBLEM lady, a PROBLEM with showing off and being the seasoned rosehip juice-drinking traveler – so nonchalant!”

Before I could ignore Karagöz, X. took me aside, placing his arm around me in a protective stance, playing the big brother role for all it was worth. “No, really, Liz, you should have said something before! Why didn’t you tell me? I have this problem too at times – it is bad- very, very bad, and you must not let it go for so long – but there is an easier way than this juice, really.” He sighed, took off his glasses again, wiped them clean, again, with a handkerchief, and put his arm back around me. “I know it would be easier maybe, to speak with my wife about this, but since we are here, and since you are a guest in my home and I have created this problem, or rather, Kalinka has cooked up this problem, I really do feel terrible about this. You must be so uncomfortable! But all of this? Maybe you should put some back, yes? It cannot be healthy, all of this.” Flummoxed, I stood still, having no idea what the emergent issue around me was.

After two weeks of fitting in completely, I’d be damned if I’d let anybody tell me what I could and could not take on the road trip with me. “Perhaps,” Karagöz piped in with glee, “perhaps you should fill the cart with chocolate bars! That will leave their tongues wagging about the American fatty!” Marching past M., I took my basket up to the checkout line. Placing carton after carton of juice on the conveyor belt, M. joined me, placing packet after packet of dried, salted and spiced seeds and beans along with them. “We’re going to have to stop a lot, but if that’s what you want…” his voice trailed off, as he gave in to my stubborn purchases and his brother’s EMERGENCY sighing.

The shopkeeper at the cashier cracked a joke in Turkish, to which M. and X. responded with laughing approval. On the way out, I tugged at M.’s sleeve while X. was expounding on something on his mobile – it involved a lot of pacing up and down the parking lot, hand waving in the air, excited utterances spilling all over like pumpkin seeds out of a birdfeeder when a squirrel jumps on it unexpectedly. M. explained it all to me “I don’t know why you want all this kuşburnu suyu because you don’t need that much to stop diarrhea…you are going to get really constipated,” he explained gently, “so the shopkeeper suggested it must be really a dire situation if you need all the juice.” I blushed the shade of a thousand glasses of Kuşburnu suyu and had to own up to not knowing about THAT property of rosehips. Having passed what we joked about as the “fart barrier” in our relationship fairly recently (a.k.a. admitting to one another that we did in fact fart once in a while, something M. was more keen to pass than I), this was still shy territory for me. Now, not only was I too plump in the eyes of the Turkish family, but now I was also either going to be constipated, full of diarrhea or just an idiot buying a lot of rosehip juice bulimic – or all of the above. You just can’t win, I thought and in the end, who cares? Why do I care so much? I gave up with a laugh, more blushing, and a lifetime supply of Kuşburnu suyu in the boot.


While I have only tried rose hip tea and rose hip juice, this summer, I intend to make some rose hip syrup, akin to this recipe from that I thought you might enjoy. Apparently, rose hips are not ONLY consumed by people in need of constipation. :)

Turkish Doughnuts with Rose Hip Syrup

Gourmet | October 2009

by Susan Feniger and Kajsa Alger

For rose hip syrup:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup dried rose hips
  • 1 teaspoon green cardamom pods
  • 1/4 cup rose water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For doughnuts:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs, warmed in very warm water 10 minutes
  • About 10 cups vegetable oil for frying

Equipment: a deep-fat thermometer

Make rose hip syrup:
Bring water, sugar, rose hips, and cardamom pods to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then gently simmer, uncovered, until rose hips are softened, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in rose water and lemon juice.

Make doughnuts while syrup simmers:
Whisk together flour, kosher salt, and spices in a small bowl.

Bring water to a boil with butter and sugar in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until butter has melted. Add flour mixture all at once and cook over medium heat, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan, about 1 minute, then cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute more. Cool 5 minutes.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition. (Dough will appear to separate at first but will become smooth.)

Heat 2 inches oil to 350°F in a wide 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat.

Divide dough into 12 portions. With wet hands, form each portion into a 2-inch ball (dough will be sticky). Slightly flatten one ball in a wet palm, then make a 1-inch hole in center with fingers and add to hot oil. Quickly repeat with 5 more balls and fry, turning occasionally, until golden-brown and just cooked through (cut one open to test), about 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Return oil to 350°F and repeat with remaining dough.

Reheat syrup (if necessary), then dip each doughnut in syrup, turning to coat, and transfer to a platter. Drizzle doughnuts with some of remaining syrup and serve warm.


•Syrup can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Reheat before using.
•Doughnuts can be fried 3 hours ahead and kept at room temperature. Reheat on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven 10 to 15 minutes, then dip in hot syrup.

Tea at breakfast: Sweltering in my smile with Hacivad and Karagöz

Strong shafts of heat hit my back as I walk up the stairs from the guest room.  It is not yet nine in the morning, and already dry-hot beyond my comfort level.  Sliding into a space next to M. after greetings in Turkish, I slide my tiny stainless steel tea spoon around the fine Paşabahçe tea glass.  (Paşabahçe is a Turkish company – formerly run by the government – that has lovely glass and ceramic products, akin to Crate and Barrell).  Crystalline ting-ting sounds are emanating from spots all across the table as everyone is doing the same thing.  Armed in my best sundress, in other words, the one I feel most thin and attractive in, I hope that the mealtime talk will not, once again, turn to the American obesity epidemic.

“Fat chance!!!!!!” Karagöz yodels from the buffet before making an impossibly long bounding leap over to my shoulder.  I am hoping that M.’s family did not see me flinch at the morning surprise that is the caustic and jesterly Karagöz , embodiment of my internal, sarcastic and somewhat base self.  They all seem absorbed in a very important discussion about their futbol (soccer) team – Galatasaray and the politics of the club’s inner circle.  I have become adept at adopting a pose of apparent listening with respectful intent while sending my mind around the block on a journey to gather all intelligence I can about everything else going on around me.  Today, I don’t make it around the block in my mind, but I do make it out the window, over the balcony and onto the massive, two-story tall red and yellow Galatasaray banner that M.’s brother has hung there.  It billows in the breeze like a sail on a sailboat – ready to launch this chalk-white dollop of a summer home over the hill and on across the Aegean to Kos Island, in Greece.

“Tell them you thought Fenerbahce was the best team!” Karagöz screeches into my ear, dancing with hilarity across my shoulder in a mock soldier’s dance.  “That’ll really get them.”  Hacivad sighs, tearing himself away from the morning paper, which he has magically tapped with his Chartreuse parasol in order to shrink it down to a readable size for a human-inhabiting puppet.  “You must remember, my dear canım, that Fenerbahce is actually the mortal enemy of the grand and gallant Galatasary Futbol Kulubu.  As Karagöz says – you must unsay.  As Karagöz walks, you must lie down.  It is black and white in this manner, and as for controversy, you must mind your manners, bide your time, and swelter in your smile, canım.”

“Swelter in my smile,” I think.  “Yes, somehow that is how I feel despite the antiquated English. ”  I recall friends who have had massive weddings and complained of sore smiling muscles from all of the photography and videography.   Although Bodrum has been lovely, the water warm and buoyant, the window into the family illuminating and the sun relaxing, I do still feel like a duck out of water.  No amount of salon visits, clothing shopping, walks on the boardwalk with the ladies seems to get me to a point of feeling at ease.  “This is not the life for me,” I muse, “but a necessary thing for now, and many would covet this time.”  I feel maudlin, but with no excuse to feel that way.  I have way to much time these days feigning interest in Turkish as I over-analyze everything.  As entitled and financially blessed as these folks are, I am equally so with all of this mental energy for analyzing everything.  I am entirely too inwardly focused.  “I must remember others would covet this,” I remind myself silently, “yes, they would covet it.”

A nautlus shell - if this were my brain, I would be withdrawn into the tiny compartments during today's breakfast

Karagöz snorts as he somersaults over to Hacivad’s shoulder “Covet this time!  Use them for all its worth – this is a jet set lifestyle – you don’t have a maid at home – look at your life here – you should live like this!  Listen to yourself.”  After expelling Karagöz with a gentle shove, Hacivad raises his left eyebrow and looks at me straight in the face.  “Listen to yourself, canım dear, you sound ridiculous and pedantic.  These people are not your cup of tea, perhaps, but it is time-limited, and you must reap the silver linings of this lovely spot despite the glitter and glitz. As your Yankee father would say, “stiff upper lip” and as your much more reasonable Granny would say “be polite and appreciative” and as your stepmother would say “pretend you are an anthropologist, trying to understand this new culture.”

M.’s sister in law -taps me on the elbow, repeating something I cannot yet focus my mind on, as it is still too deeply whirled in the inward spiral of the Nautilus shell that appears to be my brain right now.  I have been sweltering in my smile too long. “Sorry,” I lie, “I was trying to pick out the verbs and the adjectives in Turkish, what was that?”  “I am wondering, my dear, if you need your full American breakfast today,” M.’s sister says.  “I have just had one almond, one dried apricot and non-fat yogurt along with my tea, but I am sure you are used to something more. What can I have Kalinka make  you?” The air sucks out of my lungs, and I find myself speechless.  Kalinka, hearing her name, hovers her way over to the table, anticipating the orders from the lady of the house.  She winks at me and smiles as her bare feet make an imperceptably silent plip-plap sound on the marble floor.  “Buyrun, efendim,” she says, and I understand this to mean “please go ahead, ma’m.”

“Woo-hoo!” Karagöz yells as he stomps on the table, “now what are you gonna say to this b-word lady!  Look at how she slid that insult in there!  You have to think of a good one.”  Hacivad doesn’t even look up from the paper, saying “just go easy.  First meeting with the family and all, she may be trying to be nice.”    “Umm, ahh, well,” I stutter and splutter as my face shades from pink to as red as the Turkish flag fluttering next door, “I was just hoping to start with a bit of tea – you don’t have any milk, do you?” Shifting in her seat, her cigarette held high above her head, diamonds glinting in the sunshine, she responds with an eager glimmer in her eye “Dear, of course we don’t have milk, not good for the health in the summer, and certainly not on a day when one eats fish, don’t you know.  Why not the Turkish way?  It might help your regime some (regime=diet).”

I blushed so much, I wished for a turtleneck in the Bodrum heat

Karagöz screams “don’t let her get away with it!”  I ignore him, focusing instead on placing my cool hands on my cheeks to hide some of my blushing, which I know is a losing battle.  I begin to wonder if it some sort of lady game, this one-upsmanship at all moments.  Maybe I am really just not ever going to be accepted into a family as a non-Turk.  I wonder what I would have to do to endear myself to her, how much hazing I would have to take.  Maybe she doesn’t mean to hurt me so – maybe I am just so easily hurt, overly sensitive, maybe I am making this up in my head.  As M.’s sister in law is calling over to Kalinka, the Moldovan maid, M. puts his arm around me and squeezes my shoulder in recognition of what’s going on.

As M.’s sister-in-law angles herself lithely out of her rattan chair to take a mobile call, Kalinka delivers my Çay with a side glass of milk, extra sugar and with a wicked wink, says to me “what a bitch” in Russian, our shared language.  My gratitude knows no bounds and I could hug her, if it wasn’t against the protocol of the moment.  We beam at eachother in some sort of knowing sisterhood that transcends language and culture.  M., his brother and his sister-in-law have no idea that the Moldovan put-down has just landed.