Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bridges

Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge; Istanbul, TurkeyImage via Wikipedia
There are two suspension bridges across the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul. They bridge the continents of Europe and Asia, literally and figuratively. Because Istanbul is the point where east meets west.

In the past, European influence spawned a unique blend of arcitecture, known as european orientalism. Streets of Istanbul's fashionable Nişantaşı area look like they were dropped out of an art nouveau Parisian arrondisement. While the Orient Express carried eastern design from the Ottoman Empire to the heart of western Europe and those are only elements we see in the buildings around us. Aslan (the lion) even made it into Narnia with some Turkish Delight. I like to think of my WIP as another bridge to bring us all closer.

To celebrate thousands of years of history, Istanbul was designated as the European Culture Capitol 2010 by the European Union. The button on my sidebar always links to the offical site, which lists lots of museum exhibits, events and amazing performances. U2 had a concert there earlier this month as part of the program. Unfortunately I missed it, but my husband's cousin went and she keeps telling me how wonderful it was. I think she's rubbing it in.

Here's Bono speaking to the crowd about the bridges of the city and singing "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". (That would be an agent, for me. :))

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Psychokinesis

I swear - researching these posts is so much fun! I've come across some interesting things out there!

For example, let's take a look at my last homework assignment, The Men Who Stare at Goats. It's a book, movie and TV series about the US military and psychic security measures, all based on an actual program at Fort Bragg, NC. (I knew there were some different people around here.) The spoof on the New Age black op began with a "story about a story of a hoax which is actually a story." Area 51 anyone?

Of course, I'll take any excuse to watch George Clooney... even if he is masquerading as part of a Jedi psychic security team who likes spoon bending parties.

The Psyops Unit uses the principle of psychokinesis, or mental manipulation, to harness the power of the universe. Each person has a biospherical magnetic field (Are they talking about an aura?) which allows a Jedi to use "The Force" for remote viewing (sometimes of the Loch Ness monster).  Invisibility is possible at the highest level (Clooney "eventually settled on finding a way of not being seen").

Some Jedi even practice phasing - turning physical matter to energy (for walking through stuff). In the middle east, they call phasing Tay Al-Ardh or Keramat. Spiritual people like Rumi are credited with the ability. Sounds like good djinn material to me!

The Evil Eye is supposedly a form of psychokinesis too. (I think Barney torture is more sinister.)  All of it ties back to the Third Eye and the chakras of Kundalini.

Think I'm making all this up? Watch this courtesy of the Science Channel:

NB. From now on, links back to my earlier posts will be bolditalic to differentiate between wikipedia, etc.
And thanks again to Tracy Marchini for letting me guest post on her site yesterday. Check it out, if you missed it. She's great and she's agreed to post a Q&A here sometime soon, once I get the Qs in a row!






Thanks to Leigh over at That's Write for the Yo Gabba Gabba Award - which she created for bloggers who write Strangely Irresistible posts.





And thanks to Mara Nash over at Mara Writes for the One Lovely Blog award too!

I'll be passing these on this weekend...since I need a post on Sunday because it will be October and that means NaBloWriMo!


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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lanterns

Announcement: I have crossed a new threshold. I'm guest blogging today for Tracy Marchini. (Formerly of Curtis Brown and Taconic Press - Check out her writing prompts on Mondays - sometimes with crit prizes!) So I say away with all those Dunning-Kruger moments dragging me down....Today I am a torchbearer for aspiring fantasy writers and my beloved Turkiye!

Speaking of torches, today is Tuesday and I have to write something about Turkish style.  I thought I'd go with lanterns. You know, those pretty ones you can't find a place for in your house (I've tried) and which don't actually hang in most Turkish homes either.  They're usually made of colorful glass or pierced metal. The best place to find one is at the Grand Bazaar (see pic). Somehow they seem to be a decor prerequisite for Middle Eastern ecclectic. 

Djinn tie-in *Ahem* Aladdin's genie may come out of a lamp. However, my djinn prefer lanterns. They don't live in them, but they can control the light within (think "the clapper" ). Fire and energy respond to their whim. As I work on my revision and start to collect my thoughts for the second installment (my NaNoWriMo project), I'm finding there really are no limits to what I can do with that power.

Suggestions, anyone?

I try keeping to things like cultural anomalies, especially ones which can be explained away scientifically, but sometimes I get the best ideas from off the wall things. For example, tomorrow I stare at goats... Psychokinesis, you know :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Children's Day

Last week I read a couple posts about about Peace One Day.  It inspired me to share a Turkish national holiday, Children's Day.

First celebrated in Turkey on April 23, 1920, the holiday was created as a symbolic gesture by Turkish leader, Ataturk. It marks the sovereignty of Turkey and celebrates the nation's children, who are its future.

Children run the country for the day. They sit in the offices of elected officials and even run a parliament session.  Its an international event now because other countries send children to participate. The celebration also includes children performing traditional dance in costume, which I watch with some awe. It reminds me of my days at Krakowianki, learning Polish dances and wearing the pretty flower crowns.

My boys have managed to escape that experience because of assimilation. I try hard to keep them aware of their heritage, mine and my husband's. Boys seem to care more about Panthers football though, even when its a losing team!

Gaziantep Children Performing:


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Friday, September 24, 2010

Yalanci & Compelling Characters

Leaf Sarma.Image via Wikipedia
Some of you might notice a new name scrolling across the top of the blog. I've been searching for a good name since I joined the blogosphere and it finally came to me last night. 
"Serendipity" comes from the Persian Tale of The Three Princes of Serendip. The story is representative of the way ideas link together for me and ultimately relate to my writing. Or, as Wikipedia puts it, my "propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated."
Serendipity was also the name of my 6th grade science book. Apparently, serendipity is one of those things scientists are thankful for too. Did you know chocolate chip cookies were created serendipitously? Yum! Which leads into the rest of the post.

Friday is usually a Food/Flora/Fauna post and Angela McAlister is Starving for a Blogfest, but today is also a Blog Experiment with Elana Johnson, Alex J. Cavanaugh and Jennifer Daiker. Of course, I like to multitask so the dust bunnies in my head got together to find a link between.....

Yalancı and Compelling Characters (?)

*The importnant footnote here is that Yalancı means liar in Turkish. 

Stuffed grape leaves, also known as dolmas or sarmas, are the best Yalancı. You see, dolmas are supposed to have meat in them, but Yalancı doesn't. Its filled with spiced rice, currants, pine nuts and drenched in olive oil with lemon juice instead. (My favorite meze!) Other dishes can also be called Yalancı. For example, if you want something which tastes like Mantı (Turkish tortellini), you use spaghetti and throw the filling into the sauce on top. Then you have Yalancı Mantı.

Yalancı is just not what it seems, much like the most compelling characters.

Observe:
  • Villains aren't great until we find out why we should be sympathetic. 
  • Heros and heroines aren't wonderful without their quirky weaknesses.
  • Even settings (which are best treated as a character) are cliché until you add sensory details.
Bottom line...in a great character, there is always an underlying backstory or facet to discover. Its a writer's job to give you only what you need to know, when you need to know it and hopefully keep you engaged in the process.

(I think I just saved Elana's left kidney.)
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Palais des Papes


Hayton Remitting His Report To The Pope in 1307Image via Wikipedia
Hayton remitting his report to the Pope.

I've mentioned previously that the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia was a crusader state along the road to Jerusalem. Hayton of Corycus (KizKalesi) was the Armenians' most famous historian. His work has even been compared to Marco Polo and Oderic of Pordenone.

Hayton (not my Haydon) was also a monk and spent time with the popes in Poitiers, pushing his agenda for Amalric of Tyre to be the rightful ruler of Cyprus. Which leads us to an important field trip to the museum of the Palais de Papes in Avignon France.

French Pope Clement V initially moved to Avignon to avoid fighting in Rome. Later popes stayed on, prompting the Papal Schism, complete with Popes and Antipopes.  It was essentially a period of the French and the Italians vying for power. (Check out my friend Teresa's travelpod post for more details.)

Successive popes made the Palais des Papes into the largest Gothic palace in Europe. Eventually they left, the French revolutonaries took it and Napoleon even used it as a barracks/prison. Then the palace finally became a museum. 

Know where djinn like to live?  Ruins, museums, underground cities. Bingo!  The seat of my djinn court is now in Avignon, France.



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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kundalini Rising

chakrasImage via Wikipedia Tradition says djinn are created from smokeless fire. I've even read they are "the fire of a scorching wind" so I made fire and energy a big part of being a djinn. Then I needed to figure out how to tame that energy.

My solution stems from Kundalini Yoga. Yogis who practice Kundalini energy management strive to ultimately free their souls from their bodies. They use the The Third Eye  to reach the superconscious through spinal energy centers called the chakras.  

The philosophy is shared by world religions using different names. The strongest example is Plato's explanation of psyche in his work Timaeus, but its also found in Sufism, Kabbalah, and Eastern Orthodox Hesychasm.

Kundalini is represented by a coiled sleeping serpent or goddess at the base of the spine. Years of training are required to awaken it. If the energy is released improperly, the Kundalini Syndrome, may result. This negative experience reportedly results in uncontrollable physical and mental impulses which resemble psychosis. Kundalini Rising is the positive experience of uncoiling the serpent in the form of energy, either creative or sexual. The energy follows the spine, up through each Chakra, from the sacrum to the crown of the head. 

Sybil struggles with her energy while she is human and learns to use it as a djinn. Kundalini rises when she finds balance. Talk about character arc!

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Silversmithing

via gumuslale.com.tr
Yesterday I mentioned Gumuş the TV show. Today we'll explore my other favorite gumuş (silver) - Turkish Sterling Silver.

I love it so much, I used to sell holloware on eBay. Candlesticks were my best sellers. I sold a pair, something like this one from Gumuş Lale , to a guy in Texas.

You won't find anything comparable stamped with Wallace, Gorham or Towle. These are old school! Heavy, solid sterling pieces are created using the lost wax technique. Artisans first carve out a model, then create one in wax, surround it with packed sand or plaster and heat the mold to melt away the wax.  Then the mold is filled with silver. The final step is polishing the piece.

Turkish sterling jewellery is also exquisite. I still have some pieces on my wish list. (The bracelet with the rope design and the ram heads, if you're wondering. I'll also take gold if you can't find the silver one. :))

Sterling is also one of those topics that leads off into another. Armenians. 
 
Armenians are reknowned in the east for their metalsmithing artistry. Berj, my favorite jeweler in Abu Dhabi was Armenian. He created a stunning ring for me. Custom, not customized.  Many of the craftsmen in Istanbul's silver trade are Turkish Armenians. (In Istanbul there are minority groups, like Jewish, Orthodox or Armenian Turks.)
 
I'm almost entering a sticky area with this topic, but I will say that the vacant homes on Buyuk Ada gave me inspiration for some of Burnt Amber.  My MC is also based on an Armenian historical figure.  I like to tell my Armenians friends: your history is part of our country and our country is a part of your history.



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Monday, September 20, 2010

Turkish Television & A Blog Hop

Aşk-ı Memnu (TV series)Image via WikipediaThe theme is TV over at Alex Cavanaugh's Blogfest so I thought I'd multitask and entertain today with the Turkish romantic drama Aşk-ı Memnu (Forbidden Love). 

Following in the footsteps of the Cinderalla story Gümüş/ Noor,  Aşk-ı Memnu is insanely popular outside of Turkey. The soap opera has its own Youtube channel, in case you miss an episode.  There are versions with English subtitles and the series, also dubbed into Arabic, is aired all over the Middle East. Need a French version? How about Romanian? Got it.

No one can get enough and I have a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with the male lead of both of the shows, Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ.

Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ
The root of Aşk-ı Memnu is a bitter love triangle. Behlul  is the (very handsome) young man who falls in love with Bihter, who unfortunately is already married to his uncle. Then Behlul gets engaged to Bihter's step-daughter, Nihal. Bihter doesn't want to let him go. The affair continues with the danger of discovery lurking around every corner. Nihal and the uncle are oblivious, of course. The story is adapted from an Ottoman novel by Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil.

This is the episode where Behlul gets engaged to Nihal, with English subtitles.  If you haven't read my post on Rules of Engagement, you might want to that too.

So...who else is following Kıvanç now? I call dibs on him for one of my characters (betas take a guess)!


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Friday, September 17, 2010

White Oleander

White OleanderImage via Wikipedia
"When we too are armed and trained, we can convince men that we have hands, feet, and a heart like yours; and although we may be delicate and soft, some men who are delicate are also strong; and others, coarse and harsh, are cowards. Women have not yet realized this, for if they should decide to do so, they would be able to fight you until death; and to prove that I speak the truth, amongst so many women, I will be the first to act, setting an example for them to follow."


—Veronica Franco
 
That was Venice of 1575. This is 2010.
 
Enough with the damsel in distress already!  And enough with the reactionists who take us to the other extreme with heroines so prickly it hurts to read.  Womanhood is complex, not weak or strong, but a blend of both, like the Oleander.  Beautiful and yet, it can protect itself too, with poison.

Along the same vein, you might remember my earlier posts about Goldenchain, or Colchicum....pretty plants in my settings that pack a deadly punch. Oleander is another one of those. It's a Mediterranean bush with sweetly scented, lovely blooms and its tough as nails.  Drought resistant. No animal wants to eat it. Must be the strychnine-like oleandrin that keeps everyone away.

Reportedly, lots of suicide cases in India use mashed oleander seeds.  The notorious toxin is also integral to Janet Fitch's fabulous novel/film, White Oleander.  Some people say poison is a woman's weapon.  I say you're just as dead buddy and my hands aren't dirty. ;)

I was partial to gardening until I moved south to the land of red clay and drought. Even so, I have tried to grow Oleander in my zone, but winters are a little harsh for it here.  I suppose I could grow it in a pot and bring it in for the winter, but I already have a Meyer lemon tree doing that. Oh, well! Good thing I don't need to poison anyone anytime soon...

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bazaar

Gate of the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, TurkeyImage via WikipediaSince we sort of visited on Tuesday with perfumes, I thought we's stop into the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul today. Bring your wallet!

The real name is Kapalı Çarşı (covered market). "Market" is Souk in Arabic so where the name Grand Bazaar came from, I'm not sure.  It could be because the vegetable market is called the Pazar.  The farmers bring in their goods on market day which must have originally been Sunday, which is also "Pazar". 

I don't even know where to start myself, so this is where I pull out my Luxe Istanbul city guide. They recommend Nur Carpets and Kilims, just outside the Nuruosmaniye Gate (pic left).  Their list also includes Koç leather, Kirgiz jewellers, and Etno for handicrafts, but don't stop there. Wander the arched halls in search of colorful art glass, lustrous silver, copper or whatever else strikes your fancy.  Lots of the things I've previously written about can be bought there, like porcelain wares and evil eye charms.   
The best way to go about it is to find the section where they sell what you're looking for. Then you can't get distracted from the task at hand as easily (good luck with that).

A lá Assassin's Creed, Clive Owen scrambled around on the rooftops in The International and I realized for the first time just how massive it really is (see the pic below).  He also visited my Secret Cistern and the Blue Mosque

There's another, less famous bazaar I like to visit is the Mısır Çarşı. It translates to Egyptian Marketplace and you can find it down by the water at the tip of the Golden Horn peninsula. It's basically a very fancy spice market.  There you can sample dried fruits, nuts (hazelnuts come from Turkey mostly), and every imaginable kind of Turkish delight (try the pistachio). Unfortunately, you have to eat it all on the plane if you're coming back to the states because customs won't let you back in. You can buy perfume from the merchants lined up there, though. 

If you can't afford the time or the plane ticket, you can still get Turkish things stateside (with an upcharge, of course).  Try my favorite online retailer, Tulumba.com.


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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blog Hop!

We interrupt our scheduled programming today for my first ever blog hop!

SA Larsen over at Writers'Ally is hosting. Look for the Linky List at the top of her right sidebar.

The theme is "I GOT U!!", beautifully illustrated by Garfield and Oddie here.  So let's delve into the most important writers' resource...the community of bloggers who have your back.
Today I'm singing the praises of my super supportive blogging budette, Leigh Moore of That's Write.

Leigh was the first writer/blogger to reach out to me. Though I've never met her or even heard her voice, I always imagine her smiling. (Could it be the emoticons?):D  We gripe about the Rs, we sigh about the magical kisses, we compare notes on YA writing. While Nathan Bransford is discussing the Dunning-Kruger effect, she's helping me cut out the "mer" and keep going.

Her posts remind me to tap into the emotional side of things, not just the plot twists and grammar tricks. They keep me grounded when I get caught up in too much subtext. They make me laugh on those days where I really want to give up.  Because let's face it...I have confidence, but how many Rs can a girl take alone?? (In my case, not very many.)

I have to share something I snagged off my fabulous critiquer, Tracy Marchini.

Hint: I think the old guys, Statler and Waldorf, are supposed to be the agents. I love The Muppets!



Disasterpiece! LOL
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sandalwood & Roses

Rosa damascenaImage via WikipediaI wish we had scratch-and-sniff for this. I'm crossing a flora post with style today to write about perfume.

Many of us know parfum is famously made in France. Lots of people have been to Eze or Grasse to visit the factories. The oils perfume makers use there come from all over the world.

We'll start with roses, because I like the picture. Rosa Damascena,  known as the Damask Rose, is the best rose for pefume.  If you guessed it comes from Syria, you're right.  (Notice lots of interesting things come from there, like the post about swords and the one about inlaid woodwork.) Syria is right next door to Turkey, so of course the rose made it's way across the border, wherever that was at the time.  Then in 1420, the rose travelled via a Turkish judge's love for botany to Bulgaria, where it became locally known as the Kazanlak rose.

Much like with wine, coffee or tea, terroir makes a difference to the scent of the rose oils. Turkey and Bulgaria come out at the top in that category, though rose oils are made in other regions of the world.

Making the rose oil known as Rose Otto or Attar of Roses is a very labor intensive process. Petals are gathered by hand, then steam distilled. It takes 4,000 kilos of rose petals to make 1 kilo of perfume oil. After the oil is extracted, the remaining rose water is sold for use in the kitchen (not my favorite flavor). 

You can find Turkish rose parfum at the Mısır Çarşı in Istanbul, as well as at other bazaars and shops around Turkey. Buyer beware, the oil is sometimes altered with rose geranium to make it more affordable. If that's what you want, that's fine. Just be careful you aren't buying the wrong stuff for the real price. If you smell the two side by side, you should notice a difference.

Sandalwood is an unmistakeably oriental scent I can't do without, especially when its combined with rose.  I once bought a vial of Sandal Rose from arabian perfumer Ajmal Al Otooor when I lived in Abu Dhabi. It was my absolute favorite.  Unfortunately, I can't find a US source. Part of the reason may be because oil of the Sandal tree is so precious, it costs between $1000 - $1500 per kilo.

High demand and low supply are a result of harsh harvesting practices. The entire tree is torn up out of the ground, root and all, to get every bit of wood for oil. Over the centuries they were never replanted so the sandal trees are a now protected species. In India and Nepal, the trees are government owned and harvesting is prohibited without a permit. Australia may save the day for the sandalwood tree, since its being grown successfully in plantations there.

I've come up with some substitutes for the Sandal Rose blend I found in the Emirates.  They aren't exactly the same, but they evoke a similar exotic feeling. Most of these scents are very long lasting and one spray is often enough to last the whole day (or longer for Hermes).

Ferre Rose from Gianfranco Ferre - sandalwood, rose & fruit
Jardin Mediterraneé from Hermes - no rose, but notes of cedar and fig
Magnifique from Lancôme - uses nagarmotâ instead of sandalwood.  Perfect for the evening.

Fun facts:

Besides its use in perfume, the lovely smooth sandalwood is also carved into decorative objects and furniture. The scent can last for decades.
In Zoroastrianism, worshipers offer sweet sandalwood smoke to Ahura Mazda (not a car) in the fires of the temple. Remember this, it will come up again later.

The name of my book, Burnt Amber, was partly inspired by fragrance.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Greetings from the Frog Prince!


All around the world, people have different ways of greeting each other, some use handshakes, some bow, others bump noses.  In Turkey, Merhaba means hello and it's usually accompanied with a kiss on both cheeks.

Kissing friends hello might feel a bit awkward to handshakers, but in Europe and Turkey its not only fashion, its proper etiquette.  Even chic Americans are doing it these days. The closer you are to someone, the more affectionate you can be, even adding an embrace for family.

However, I should warn the ladies about the possibility of overzealous gentlemen -ahem- who might have had a bit more lager than they should. Its nearly impossible to disentangle yourself from them. To avoid situations where they might actually plant one on your lips, always kiss the right side first, then the left.  If you're meeting someone for the first time, or want to send him a message like "back-off buddy", extend your hand for a shake to keep your personal space undefiled.

You might notice I'm implying something here.

Some, OK lots, of Turkish men fall into the same category as other Mediterranean Casanovas. As a foreign woman, I would hesitate to go anywhere alone in Turkey unless I want to be pestered by "helpful" young men, especially if I had blond or red hair. (I guess they're upholding the tradition of the Ottoman Sultans.) Girls blessed with those hair colors are a virtual magnet for attention. 
I had fun with this in chapter one!

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Camargue Horses

White horses of the CamargueImage by Stellas mom via FlickrI think I'm going to make field trips a weekly feature, especially considering that France is important to Burnt Amber.

This time I'm taking us to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in the south of France. I have lots of reasons, as you know I make the most random connections, but the main reason is because the Popes were in France when Queen Zabel was alive.

I suppose, since I 've been talking about Goddess Culture, you would also like to know that the town is a Roma (gypsy) pilgrimage site.  Every year they gather for the feast of Saint Sarah, whose story gave the town its name.  Its a sad thing the French government doesn't appreciate the value of that cultural heritage.

Anywho... Gypsies are supposed to be excellent fortunetellers, so I have reason to include them in my research too.  Did you know that The Gipsy Kings are from that area? I didn't.

The region, called Camargue, is an important estuary. The Rhone river splits in two, forming a vast delta with lagoons and marshlands near the coast of the Mediterranean.  Lots of wildlife to see and admire, like flamingos who only have the slightest tinge of pink on their wings.  Legendary black fighting bulls also call the Camargue home and Gardians Camargue horses to herd them.

The Camargue horse is an ancient breed that still runs wild in the marshes today.  Gardians, or local cowboys if you will, only break in what they need for saddle horses. Even those aren't kept in barns though, they're let out on the marshes.

The Camargue horse is a graceful, sturdy breed, which is actually a pony. A horseman would call them grey because the skin under their coat is black.  They're born black or dark brown but they change out their coats with white as they mature.To the layperson, its a white horse. Or grey or gray?  Whatever you call them, they're magical!



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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Olba and a Temple of Zeus

Zeus-Olbios-Tempel, Diokaisareia/Uzuncaburc TürkeiImage via Wikipedia
Time to go off the beaten path...

3000 feet above sea level, in the foothills of the Toros mountain range, along a narrow, winding road (no guardrail) at the end of a pitted, dirt lane strewn with rubble which scraped the bottom of my car, I found Olba

(I think I might have used up all the descriptors for this post with that ridiculous and intentionally too long sentence. Oops! Slipped in some more adjectives!)

Olba is so far off the grid, peasants living near the ancient site use it like their back yard. Who can blame them? It's hard to find a spot there without some sort of ancient something-or-other. You really feel the rural, untouched-by-tourists atmosphere. There are vineyards planted right up to the edge of the ruins, sometimes a shepard might pass through with a herd of sheep or goats. 

I remember once I was visiting the Roman theater of Aspendos and my husband stepped in a cow pie (whole story attached to how that happened). Talk about land mines! If you visit though, please buy something from the villagers. There's a whole cottage industry and the women really do rely on visitors for income.

Back to our historic site of the day!

The modern name of the Olba is Uzuncaburç, which means tall tower, a nod to the Roman lookout tower at the gate and city wall.  The most famous feature of the city though, is the Temple of Zeus. According the Greek historian Strabo, the temple was originally built by the legendary Ajax, a hero of the Trojan war.

30 out of 36 columns still stand, which is pretty good considering it was built in 300 B.C.! The rest of the site is well preserved too because, as with other places of worship, (like the Pantheon in Rome) the temple was also a church for some years.

The people of Olba, not the site, are the connection to my writing.  Go all the way back to my first post, The Seed. The King of Olba was supposedly the man who ordered the castle of KızKalesi, to keep his daughter safe. KızKalesi  is where Sybil's story began for me, seventeen years ago...

For an interesting traveler's account visit My Merhaba or for more great photos visit Dick Osseman (highly recommended if you like ruins).



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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Meditation and The Third Eye

Cross-legged posture. See also: Lotus PositionImage via Wikipedia
Interrelation of world religions was integral to last week's Wednesday post about Goddess Culture.  Lots of you had thoughts on that, so this week I'll try to give you more of what you want. Some of you are going to think I'm way out there today.  But after all, I write fantasy and if I want to unlock a portal to another world, an open mind is a requirement. 

You might remember my post about the meditative whirling dervishes of the Mevlana Sufi? They belong to a mystic branch of Islam. The poet Rumi formed the order in Konya, Turkey, influenced by Persian and eastern theologians.  Meditation, eastern theologians in Islam...a light bulb went on in my head.

My head, by the way, functions in interesting ways.  It's like a cabinet with the most random form of filing. One word often links two things in the same folder. Remember how your teacher taught you to associate things in order to study them? My system uses the same scheme. Hey - it works for me!

So Sybil uses Yoga to deal with her predicament, but also for other reasons (no spoilers). The whole meditation idea set me thinking and led to further researching. Basically, as eastern philosophies like Yoga, Qigong and Aikido become mainstream in western culture, we (researchers) discover more and more shared principles in our own religions.

Take the third or inner eye, for example, a gateway to inner realms and higher consciousness. Mormonism calls it the spiritual eye, there is suggestion that the Book of Revelations references it many times, in Kabbalah, its the sphere of chokmah, the highest potential of thought.  Just think of all the places you can go with that... I can't tell you what I did with it, but lets just say Avatar wasn't necessarily a new idea.

Kundalini is another important and related topic but I think I'll save it for next week.

Unfortunately, the only eyes I have right now are red ones from staring at this computer screen all day.  I used to find time for yoga classes once. Life gets busy, though, and "me" time fell by the wayside.  My mind often wanders to solving plot holes or creating better twists. Maybe I should try a class to get some perspective, since I've been stuck in a parallel universe! Anyone else find something (besides spinning in circles) that you find especially therapeutic?

Thanks for reading!
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Damascene Technique

via damascenetreasures.com
Last week, I briefly discussed Damascus steel.  The swirling vanadium ore in the blades of my djinn knights is exquisite, but swords aren't the only thing from Syria I find inspiring, of course.  The castle of the Knights Hospitaller,  Krak des Chevaliers , makes a cameo appearance in Burnt Amber and I have plans for a much longer sojourn in mind.  Until I can actually get the chance to visit Syria though, I'll have to content myself with the craftsmanship of other things Damascene I've collected over the years.

My favorite items are purely decorative. Besides Damascening metal, Intarsia , or the technique of inlaying metal, ivory or nacre into wood, is a Syrian specialty. You can find examples of similar work from Turkey or Egypt too.

The wood of choice is usually walnut, which contrasts the bright inlays nicely.  Possibly the most recognizeable use is the tavla backgammon board, but craftsmen also create beautiful (and extremely expensive) furniture. Geometric mosaic patterns are the most common, with floral scrolling mother-of-pearl a particularly Syrian design. I couldn't resist the opportunity to use a piece with the symbolic tulip motif in my writing.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Blog Holiday

Since today is a Bank Holiday, I'm officially making it a Blog Holiday too.  US readers, enjoy your Labor Day!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Çay or Chai?

You say it the same way, but if you order chai in Turkey, you won't get what you're expecting, you'll get çay. The word simply means tea.

Tea is very important to Turkish culture. Most of what is consumed there is grown in the Turkish province of Rize, near the Black Sea. Per wikipedia: in 2004, Turkey had the highest per capita tea consumption in the world, at 2.5 kg per person--followed by the United Kingdom (2.1 kg per person). Now I live in the south and we like some sweet tea here, but not that much!

This is the way they make çay in Turkey:

Get a teapot like the one in the picture on the right, not necessarily a fancy copper one. Most people have a stainless steel version at home. In the upper kettle, place loose tea and a little bit of water. Fill the lower with water and set in on the stove to boil. The idea is to have concentrated tea on top and dilute it according to taste in each glass with the boiling water from the lower kettle. Serve çay in the hourglass shaped glasses like the one in the picture (this one is missing it's saucer) with or without a few sugar cubes. Hold the glass at the rim, btw or you'll burn your fingers.

There are herbal teas too, such as ada çay (sage), or ihlamur çay (linden) which are supposed to be good for digestion. When you visit the carpet shops you'll famously get apple tea. Between you and me, they all taste good but I think the tourists are really the only ones who drink them.

Now if you don't know what chai is, I recommend that too. It's an Indian version of tea which is essentially black tea with spices and milk. You can make it yourself by adding clove and cinnamon to your tea or you can get it at most grocery stores. I had a very nice spiced chai latte at a friend's house last week. She picked it up at Target.

I'm happy to see that tea is making a comeback in the US as well. Tea bars serving gourmet teas and exotic blends are at the mall. Master tea blenders have crawled out of the woodwork selling loose teas and lovely hand tied bunches called art teas that open up like a flower in the pot. (I like Harney & Sons. If you get a chance, visit their tea room outside NYC and pick up some Jasmine Fairy Maidens.) Tea pots and cups have even resurfaced out of grandma's cabinets. I have plenty of tea pots, but if you really love tea, get yourself an electric kettle.

All of those things make great gifts (hint). Tea promises a relaxing morning or afternoon curled up with a book (mine) or a nice time with friends discussing one (again, mine). If you have the talent and inclination, you might even try some tasseography with the loose leaves for fun.
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