Smells like Turkiye in here: Antep’ten pul biber, Bozcaada’dan kekik

Our stash of pul biber (Aleppo pepper) and kekik (dried thyme) in old, hand-blown glass malacology specimen jars on my Granny

It’s been days and days of not being able to smell anything during this bout of flu. My good friend even gave me three bottles of the most lovely perfume – and I couldn’t understand a whiff of it although M. assured me it was perfect (she has the most amazing taste and totally “gets” my taste, thank you again, G., I love them). Not being able to smell really heightened my thinking about how important – and interesting – scents and smells and odors can be.

Last year, I invited some of my students over to work on the last touches on their thesis, and one exclaimed, “this must be what Turkey smells like, spicy!” I laughed at this in the friendliest way possible, as I was slow-cooking pulled pork for sandwiches at the time, which my students were surprised to hear. It was a good moment for a little soft education on Turkey, Islam, secular Turks with Muslim origins and the Turks in America that I know who eat lots and lots of barbequed pork.

But back to the topic at hand…aromas and the fact that I have been missing them as of late. In my dream last night, I could smell everything….my dream was set in Konya, where Rumi is from. I smelled a lot of clean bright air, the smoke of pine-infused incense and the unctuous wafts of pomegranite and garlic-infused lamb kebabs. I could smell freshly-squeezed tangy portakal suyu (orange juice) and salty ayran (yogurt drink like a lhassi) that left goosebumps on my tongue. Mercan Bey was in my dream, he is the spice trader puppet from the Arabian peninsula who was swirling and twirling along with a band of Sufis I had never seen before. Mercan Bey had a robe that was both cayenne red and sage green and the colors swirled into a range of Iznik patterns as if sand drawings were floating in the ephemeral air around the dancing Sufis like a kaleidescope. I forgot about the aromas for a while, and just watched the shape-shifting colors.

From the National Geographic

Although the Sufis usually have white robes – in this dream, some had deep vibrant red robes and some had dusty but deep grey-green or blue-green-teal robes – including the colors of pul biber (Aleppo pepper as Americans call it – from Antep) and kekik (dried thyme gathered by ancient aunties on Bozcaada – at least that’s what I have in my kitchen). Swooshing sounds filtered into my ears- as much as I love the Sufi dancing – I am dizzy every time, ending up looking away and just focusing in on the music of the ney instead.

As I swooned along to the sounds, a whispering, Arabic-accented voice entered the realm of my head through my left ear…”I know what you need, m’lady,” Mercan Bey whispered, “you need a lot of your most hot and spicy pul biber – and some kekik too – put it in a soup – it will make you feel a lot better and bring some sunshine into this cold, grey, Godforsaken place you call New England. It may help you regain your sense of smell as well.” Dreaming of those pungent smells that come alive when heated in the kitchen – or in the sun at the Bozcaada bazaar on market day…I began to craft plans to make a creamy spicy soup as I eked out a few more minutes of golden shuteye before beginning the morning awakening process. I thought about making Tarhana Çorbası (you can read more about Tarhana Çorbası in a previous post, here) but decided to do something different today.

Mercan Bey (the spice trader puppet from the Arabian penninsula) wore an Ottoman-style Kaftan much like this in my dream last night, the colors of cayenne red and sage green merging into lovely patterns as he watched a band of Sufis dancing (image thanks to this Sultanahmet-area-focued blog)

Musing on the psychedelic patterns in Mercan Bey’s dream kaftan, I stumbled around on this, my first day out of bed in a while. Kenne, the Queen of Manners and PROPER BEHAVIOR, decided that this NEEDED to happen. She also decided that I NEEDED to cook supper for M. as I am, after all, his wife, and as he has been doing EVERYTHING (i.e. cooking, cleaning, dog-walking, grocery store visiting, eczane (pharmacy) visits to get more Kleenex and NyQuil) for the past couple of days.

Kenne, you see, she is really shocked at M.’s not-traditionally gendered behavior. Esma, on the other hand, has been ever the peaceful counter-cultural hippie, encouraging Kenne to question her gendered assumptions and search for her potential Feminine Mystique a la Betty Friedan’s famous book.

“It must be in there, Kenne, I mean, don’t you feel unfulfilled as a woman – at all? Is etiquette and proper ladyhood REALLY your end all and be all in life?”

Kenne won out over Esma, who gave up her battle to enlighten Kenne on the benefits of feminism and gender equality. Kenne just sniffed her way through it.

But back to the topic of Turkish aromas, let me tell you that I placed Kenne at the helm of my cooking ship for the day. First, she instructed me to look at what I had in the house by way of provisions, as I wasn’t venturing out of it. I noted that we were awash in bananas, clementines and carrot juice with a snitchet each of sausages, lettuce and cheese. Looking in at my pantry, I was relieved to see big bags of potatoes and onions, so I decided to make a healthy creamy potato soup to go with salad and open-faced broiled cheese sandwiches. Kenne suggested that I make Patates topları (see photo below to the left), but I didn’t have it in me to go and get some plain yogurt – as we only had mango-apricot yogurt.

A delicious taste of patates topları (potato-yogurt balls rolled in pul biber, kekik and the black seed called nigella or in Turkish

Feeling exhausted already, I decided to start by baking the potatoes and the garlic at the same time. Placing the potatoes and peeled garlic cloves in a healthy drizzle of zeytinyağı (zay-tin-yah-uh, olive oil), I let the 350F oven do the rest. Kenne clucked approvingly – that’s been a long time coming. Sitting down in my Great-Grandfather’s Mission-style reclining chair, a place in which much of my writing magic occurs (along with all of my grading), I sat back and caught up on my favorite blogs as I imagined wafts of slowly roasting sarmısak (sar-muh-sahk, garlic) begin to roll out through our home like flower petals unfurling on a warm dawned day. Too bad I couldn’t smell that wafting magic.

As I wound my way through the Interwebs to Ankara (to visit Adventures in Ankara) and west to Bodrum (to visit Perking the Pansies) and on down to Okçular (to visit Archers of Okçular ) and then up to Kirazli (to visit Being Koy) and over to nearby Selcuk (to visit Pul Biber with Everything) before I decided to take a bigger step into the pool of Istanbul-based blogs. I was lucky enough to find a new one – Drawing on Istanbul – which is part of a two-year project to document, in pen and paper, well, Turkey – the blog’s author describes her project as follows: “Since 1999, I’ve been creating an ongoing documentation, in drawings augmented by written vignettes, of life in Turkey. The drawings are in sketchbook format, and there are now over 2000 of them, with about 100 polished written pieces. Turkey’s growing recognition as a pivotal world power, tourist destination, and host to the genesis of much of Western culture makes these drawings increasingly relevant. In addition, much of the subject matter has been irrevocably altered or destroyed since I drew it, so the Drawing on Istanbul database is a unique record of the way Turkey looked during this shifting, changing time in world history.” Check her out!

After my armchair travels and half a box of Kleenex, Mercan Bey appeared at my side – “m’lady, I’m so sorry to interrupt you,” he said, anxious and clearly the bearer of bad news, “but I think you should use what you can of your sense of smell right now.” As I moved my head up – there it was – my sense of smell – returned from the dead along with a houseful of just slightly over-roasted but not yet burnt garlic. While this would for sure make my eating-a-bulb-of-raw-garlic-a-day-if-he-could husband happy – this did not bode well for a creamy garlicky soup…

A reduce, reuse, recycle-inspired snack – discarded roasted garlic wrapped in discarded baked potato skins

I quickly removed the mangled garlic bodies -and added in several healthy dollops of pul biber and kekik – revelling in the newly-returned aroma of both together in the hot oil. M. arrived just then, smiling at the aroma of garlic. As we stood shoulder to shoulder at the counter, peeling hot potatoes for the soup – we wrapped each of the discarded paper skins around the baked garlic for what can only be described as a reduce, reuse and recycle-oriented appetizer.

“It’s so nice when this house smells like Turkiye,” I thought, as the puppets sighed in happy-hearted agreement.

Walking through Ptown at night: LGBT civil rights symbols and the Sultan of Nutcrackers

Image of the Provincetown monument at night

The wood upon wood sound of the lazy susan rotating dominated the tiny white house as I made ready for bed in our Provincetown perch.That lazy susan was carrying the tiny Karagöz puppets as they spun their goodnights to the universe as a silent group.  As if suddenly inspired by Madonna’s “vogue” they had all seemed to strike an early 1990s pose versus adopting the Sufi spinningstance of my roadtrip dreamscape.  Imagine tiny wax paper puppets, striking cool poses, flying around on a wooden lazy susan at about 11 at night in Provincetown- yup, that’s my life.

Madonna, "vogueing"

Click clack, another sound was back, and I noticed that our pup was walking anxiously back and forth, ready for his walk, his nails indicating the time for grooming was upon us and that we had totally forgotten to take him on his night walk.  The puppets – a few of them – broke their “vogue” pose stances a bit to see if they could gather my attention – but no.  Donning coats over our pajamas – as anything goes in Provincetown – we headed out the door for a walk around our quiet end of town with just enough time for the puppets to join hands and jump at the last rattle of the lazy susan onto my coattails before climbing up to nestle themselves into my moss green, magenta and satsuma green scarf with turkuaz flecks.  There will be no peace from the puppets, most of the time.  Karagöz rode herd on the top of my head, crying “giddyup, cowgirl!”  The little chorus of dancing ladies burrowed themselves deeply in the scarf now – looking out between the wide woven spaces to check out the scene.

We passed Angel Foods, it’s halo signage painted on the window, stacks of gourmet cheese and chocolate spilling off of the shelves, and the broken china driveway glowing ghostly pink in the holiday lighting.  Khadijah was perplexed.  “Why, m’lady, is all of this broken china not in the rubbish, but in the driveway?  The housecleaners must be very lazy”  As usual, I entered teaching mode.  “Well, Khadijah, it is a style of driveway that mimics the broken shell driveways on the coast here – it is a way to re-use something that is broken, a green concept.”  Khadijah pointed out that green was the color of the Ottoman flag – what did this have to do with Islam, and a conversation ensued about the various meanings of green as we ambled down Commercial Street.

Red saplings installation in front of PAAM – the puppets were very curious about this!

We passed the painted-red sapling installation at the Provincetown modern Art Museum.  Kenne and Zenne were wide-eyed through my scarf – “What strange place is this where trees grow in bright red shades – and have no leaves?”

We passed pink and rainbow-light lit houses galore…with the puppets wondering about the choice of colors.  I explained that pink is a color that has been adopted as a result of re-claiming the negative use of the color in Nazi GermanyAs wikipedia says: “Originally intended as a badge of shame, the pink triangle (often inverted from its Nazi usage) has been reclaimed as an international symbol of gay pride and the gay rights movement, and is second in popularity only to the rainbow flag.” The puppets expressed outrage at the story of the pink triangle – and talked about how to some extent, Gay and/or Bisexual men  were accepted in the Ottoman court…so why was this an issue?  As our dog pulled us along in our sleepy, pajama’d state, we had a long talk about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender history re: oppression and civil rights movements.  As we spoke, the puppets pointed out the rainbow flags, pink triangles and pink lights they saw along the way.  Hacivad proclaimed: “This must be a very open place, this Provincetown, from what we can see!”  I nodded my head, indeed it is.

The Nutcracker Species of Puppets/Dolls caught the collective eye of my very own in-house puppets – - in a window in Provincetown

And then we walked by a brightly-lit window…and all bets were off.  Apparently the puppets have better eyesight than I do, as they all leaned forward and nearly choked me with their collective weight pulling the scarf down around my neck…”Look…at…that!”  Hacivad cried.  “It is people, well, dolls, our size – all together!  Why are they all standing at attention in that window like that?  This must be a different puppet species…”  The collective gasps, oohs and ahs flew around my head while the puppets led me via my scarf (as if I was a horse with reigns) towards the window.  “Oh, this is a group of Nutcracker dolls, for Christmas!” I said, proceeding to explain about Tchaikovsky and The Nutcracker Suite and the hilarity of a Nutcracker collection here in Provincetown given the double entendres that could ensue.  Pulling me close to the glass, they practically plastered themselves to the window – and I realized for the first time that the puppets had breath – as I could see little foggy patches where they were pressing themselves to the window – calling out to the Nutcrackers in all of their various Ottoman era languages to see which one would work – Armenian, Arabic, Turkish – and finally settling on the commonality of English.

The Sultan of Nutcrackers in Provincetown, Massachusetts

The Nutcrackers didn’t move, at first.  And then a few of them started to move their eyes.  And then I noticed the Sultan – resplendent in his blue velvet cap, with a diamond on the front – a diamond the size of a golf ball.  He shook himself a bit, as if to shake of the stiffness of standing in a window for so long – and issues his greetings! “Welcome, puppet people – from where in my kingdom do you hail?”  A hushed silence fell on the shadow puppets, as Hacivad Bey was pushed forward to speak for the group.  (To be continued).

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A strange, (spinning) journey to pink paradise with the Karagöz


I awaken to find the world still swirling and spinning, but pink - much to the shock and delight of the little shadow puppets in my brain - it must be Provincetown in the holiday season!

Rocketing through the night air, our little engine that could (after 11 years on the road) made its best possible way out to our retreat spot, in Provincetown.  Hacivad Bey annoints the trip with his words: “Rise up nimbly and go on your strange journey to the ocean of meanings. The stream knows it can’t stay on the mountain.  Leave and don’t look away from the sun as you go, in whose light you’re sometimes crescent, sometimes full.”

While the puppets have been there before, they have never driven out there with us at night.  So, they are excited about “America at night.”  It’s been a long week full of trying to stay on the job, trying to get the work done, trying to get some sleep, trying to feel at least for a moment as if I do not need to have sleep immediately – and of peeling the puppets off of the ceiling after discovering that they are not the first Ottoman Americans.  This is what the puppets say now, they have re-identified themselves as Ottoman Americans.  I remind them that M. is from Turkey and that he is also from Turkey – and they are quick to remind me “that’s no Ottoman empire!”

Always keen to get on the road and see a bit more of America even before their Ottoman American discovery, the puppets were first to load their bags (it’s a good thing my brain has extra space in the overhead compartments) and hop onto the top of the back seat – facing backwards, watching the world go by.  “You can learn a lot, m’lady,” Hacivad Bey said knowingly, “from watching what you leave behind.” I don’t disagree with the little puppet man, this is certainly true.

Ever since the puppets found out about the musical treasury of Ottoman American immigrants from the turn of the previous century, they have been talking a lot about what they left behind – namely – the sublime service in the Sultan’s court where they used to reside, the clean fresh air of Anatolia, the sounds and smells of their homeland.  They relate just about everything back to the homeland here in 2011 in America…it is a constant point of vexing reference for them – but they embrace the vex and show lots of curiosity about how this world over here works.

Zenne has spotted the golden arches, illuminated in the night sky

“We are going to learn even more about Amer-ica!” Zenne cries, excited and open to learning.  “What are those golden arches over there, m’lady? Is that the entrance to some modern-day Sultan’s kitchen?”  I hope not, I think, glum at the vision of obese American children shoving french fries in their mouths. Sighing, I whisper to Zenne “well, you know, we may treat it like a Sultan’s kitchen, but we shouldn’t – we need to learn from looking backwards and forwards since the before and after of that place.” “Yes that’s right, m’lady, you can learn a lot from looking backwards with one eye and forwards with another, but it makes for what the Mevlana Rumi says is a strange, strange journey, golden arches or not.”  I reflect on the fact that my life appears to be one strange journey.  Hacivad Bey winks at me and nods his head.  “Just go with the flow, the way will become clear.”

All of the puppets respect Hacivad Bey, and they all nod their heads with respect and agreement.  Then the chatter returns – wondering about where all of those Ottoman Turks landed around America.  I tell them about the Armenians in Watertown where we buy our groceries and in Los Angeles where the Kardashian brand abounds, the Greeks all over the country who opened diners, et alia, and the Turks – who are silently present as well – but much less so if you look at annual immigration statistics as an indicator.  These puppets are on a quest.  “Maybe,” Zenne says, “just maybe we will find some other Turks in this place you call Provincetown.  Do you think we will, m’lady?”  It is hard to say, and I am highly doubtful, but on ne sait jamais (one never knows).

Speeding across turnpikes and tunnels, I am fighting ever-present sleep, and notice the moondrops of dewey condensation that appear on the ceiling of the curled, Nautilus-like, illuminated with fluorescent orange-y pink light cement tunnels we are winding through.  I realize that I am seeing frosted glass-domed lights, not massive drops of condensation.  The lights blur as if sparks on the tip of a marshmallow roasting stick that is then swung through the air – many at a time – orange-ish, blue, white-green light and yellow in the deep blue.  The smell of the ocean gives way to the smell of the cranberry bogs as I snooze deeper and deeper.  I can feel the vibration of the car around me, M.’s hand occasionally placed lovingly on mine as if to check that I am still there until I descend into spinning in what I will later realize is a dream.

I have always wanted to spin and twirl and fly around in a swing, on a Ferris wheel, a carousel or anything else exciting such as it might be to a young child, and since I was a child, I have always suffered from being easily dizzy. This is why I am surprised that I am slowly spinning – one hand up to the sky, one hand down to the ground as in the Sufi tradition – slow deliberate circles being made by my feet.  I remember Hacivad Bey’s softly-spoken dictate – “go with the flow, let the way become clear,” and I let go of my nascent dizziness.

Once, M. took me to see the Whirling Dervishes, and I spent most of the evening with my head in my hands, dizzy from just watching, although their spinning was marvelous.  And here I am now, spinning, much to my surprise that it does not feel like the bed spinning after just a tad too much wine.

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I realize that I am a slow spinner.  I have never spun before, or tried to spin, as an experimenter with Sufism or not.  But now, I am spinning in the dark with flashes of light grounding me and holding me up along the way so that I don’t fall.  I hear the crunch of wickety branches under my feet, the smell of cranberry bog near me and the smoothness of a driftwood tree-stick to right me when I spin a bit out of balance.  “Look ma, she’s spinning!” Karagöz hollers from his unseen perch.  I let Karagöz fly off of me as the spinning increases ever so slightly.

One by one, the little shadow puppets are flying off of me – softly, gently and falling to the ground more slowly and gracefully than an oak leaf past its colored-prime in northern New Hampshire.  The puppets can be flown off – but will always come back, I have learned.  I have learned to live with them, but I am liking the peace and quiet that comes with their absence, with this spinning thing. Soon it is just Hacivad Bey holding on and talking me through the spinning – “spin to let go, spin to re-center, spin to clear your mind.”  Karagöz can’t help himself “and when you are done, spin the bottle!” Even Hacivad Bey, peaceful as he is, loses it a bit- but sacrifices his spin-mentoring to fly off me as well – confident I can do it on my own now – and grabs Karagöz to take him down into the bog with him.  I am spinning and free of voices in my head and this is a first.  I am relaxed.  I spin, not spindizzy, until I enter deep sleep.

My mind awakes before my eyes do, and the puppets rumble and grumble in their place on the back window. “Look – it is all pink, this place!” Opening my eyes to a blur, I see spinning pink lights as we creep, slowly now, down the familiar streets near our retreat spot.  Pink lights, must be in Provincetown at Christmastime, I realize.  Where else would you see a preponderance of pink floodlights?  “You are in for a treat, little puppets,” I say sleepily, “wait until you see Provincetown in the morning. A pink paradise awaits you, I promise.”

M. stops the car, and I emerge to press the garage code that will let us in to our place.  Hacivad Bey, once again, finds the perfect Rumi quote for all to hear as we bathe in the pink light before pulling into the garage, ready for a weekend of rest, away from the madding crowd:

“Rise up nimbly and go on your strange journey to the ocean of meanings. The stream knows it can’t stay on the mountain.  Leave and don’t look away from the sun as you go, in whose light you’re sometimes crescent, sometimes full.”