Friday, July 30, 2010

Caretta Caretta

Dalyan RiverImage by Simon Grubb via Flickr

The most likely place to find a Loggerhead Sea Turtle in Turkey is Dalyan. Already famous for it's Lycian Tombs, the town has been fortunate enough to sustain a valuable eco-tourist site as well. Conservationists, assisted by David Bellamy, thwarted a development plan for the famous turtle beach there.

Turtles mate in March and April and then generally lay their eggs along the Mediterranean coast in the month of July. The sandy beaches around KızKalesi, where Sybil spends the summer, are also good nesting grounds. They make an appearance in Chapter 7.

Here's a video of some tourists feeding the turtles of Dalyan:


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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Boğaziçi University

Boğaziçi University, formerly Robert CollegeImage via Wikipedia

My main character Sybil is an exchange student at Boğaziçi University because somehow the stars aligned and I discovered the Duke in Istanbul program. I was excited about that because Duke is in my adopted home state.

Anyway, without getting into the argument about Duke Blue vs Carolina Blue... the program description made me wish I could go back in time for a do-over. It was so perfect it gave me goosebumps. Did you know that Duke is also home of the Blue Devils? How convenient :)

And even more convenient, most of the classes at Boğaziçi are taught in English. FYI:

Originally an American College, Boğaziçi was founded by a wealthy New York merchant and a professor from New England in 1863 but had recently been transferred to the Turkish government. (Burnt Amber Chapter 1)

The university's setting in the Bebek area is breathtaking, with views of the Bosphorus, a historic castle near the gate and tons of great places to eat and play nearby. I can't wait til my kids are old enough to go! Do you think I'm being too pushy??

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Marid Mavi

'AlienImage by 'PixelPlacebo' via Flickr

You all know Mavi means blue from my post about the evil eye...but did you know blue is an important color in Burnt Amber?

One of the reasons is the association with the most powerful djinn, the Marid. They are creatures of the sea, associated with a sapphire talisman and often portrayed with blue skin or in the form of a porpoise. Much like Neptune or Poseidon, they are also masters of the weather, wrecking ships and causing chaos when they are unhappy about something.

…the sudden squall descended on us like a tornado, tossing the 34 foot boat around like a bath toy. Burnt Amber, Chapter Six

Marid are arrogant, proud and difficult to bind because they are so strong. Their enemies are the dark djinn, or Ifrit, which I’ll discuss next week. Marids of Cilicia control the Ifrit and keep them from crossing into the human world…for the moment anyway.

I use this information as a base for djinn abilities, but not djinn appearance. There are no blue-skinned people running around in my book. I think we had enough of those this year in Avatar :)

Marid can also be found in video games, the Japanese manga YuGiOh and the Ars Magica roleplaying game.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vakko Style

Vakko, Turkey’s premier fashion house, is reminiscent of other famous European names. Scarves like Hermes, bags like Gucci and clothing like Christian Dior… All crafted in fine silks or other Turkish materials and uniquely combined into the signature haute couture of Istanbul. I have a weakness for the scarves.

Owning anything from Vakko is a special treat for most, but Turkish socialites find it as necessary as breathing. Sybil has an encounter at Vakkorama, a line designed to appeal to a younger generation.

From Burnt Amber:

I reluctantly handed the dress back to the shop assistant. She was ecstatic, probably getting a nice commission off the sale. Then again, maybe she was new because everything in the store was outrageous.

Yes, everything in the store is outrageous, even for someone earning in dollars.

The story of Vakko is not what you would expect either. Vitali Hakko, the founder of the house was actually Jewish (Istanbul is known for some diversity) and he introduced the idea of Christmas sales too. A very forward thinking man.
You can find Vakko at my favorite online Turkish store:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Rules of Engagement

Methods of courtship everywhere have changed over time, but something about the rite makes us pine for tradition. In Turkey, even the most progressive families stick to the old standard to some degree.

The söz kesme, or promise, is the first stage. The man’s family visits for coffee to request the hand of the bride. They bring flowers, usually roses, and a silver tray of chocolates or sweets. Traditionally the girl would serve the coffee. These days everybody has most likely met before and it's just an occasion for a pleasant social call with some friends and family. Some people combine this step with the engagement party.

An engagement ceremony is like a mini-wedding. Two bands, bound by a red ribbon, are placed on the right hand of the couple. The ribbon is cut by a witness and the man's family gives the bride some more gold jewelry, a necklace, bracelets, etc. Some gifts are given to the woman for her wardrobe. If the engagement is broken, the jewelry is usually returned. Sometimes a western influenced solitaire might be given.

A popular band for the woman is the interlocking promise ring (above). If the puzzle ring is removed, the bands fall apart, meaning the wearer has been unfaithful.

This is a clip of a ribbon cutting. Notice the blending of East and West. The girl wears a scarf, but gets a solitaire and the dress of the show host is less than traditional.:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Istanbul Restaurants

Choosing which restaurants to include in Burnt Amber was difficult. There are so many good ones in Istanbul that I had to narrow it down by proximity to Bebek, the area where Sybil and Haydon both live. I also didn’t want a stereotypical Turkish restaurant which might conjure images of belly dancers and wandering sultans. Turkey certainly has plenty of them, for tourists. Sybil’s Istanbul shows us a more cosmopolitan view of the city.

Featured in chapter one, Lucca’s varied menu might include tapas, pappardelle with duck or local sea bass with lemon. It’s a modern hot spot where Istanbul society goes to see and be seen. And it has a great location right near the water.

Here’s a link to a recipe for the snapper/sea bass.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Secret Cisterns

When people think of Istanbul, the first thing which comes to mind is probably the Ottoman Empire. The roots of Burnt Amber go back to 12th century (see The Seed), but for this post I go all the way to the 6th century and the Yerebatan Sarnici.

Alternatively known as the Yerebatan Sarayi, or sunken palace, the cistern was built by Emperor Justinian I as part of a system to supply Byzantium’s palaces with fresh water from the Belgrade Forest.

Aqueducts and other cisterns can be found in unexpected places throughout the European side of the city. You can walk right by the unassuming entrances if you don’t know what’s right under your feet. The only way the Ottomans discovered them was because people were selling fish from the “wells” under their homes.

Carp swim around the columns still, and James Bond paddled around in From Russia with Love, but I thought it was a great place for an encounter with a djinn.

NB.  The cistern was also featured in The International, but producers decided it should appear under the Blue Mosque.  And The Bachelorette was there recently too.

If you have the time, the best virtual tour can be found here.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


While I put some creepy stuff in my writing, none of it is off-the-wall insane. Some people actually experience the things I describe. I think that makes things all the more frightening and easier for Sibel to dismiss scientifically, while leaving room for doubt.

One idea I use is Sleep Paralysis, which is related to REM. In this case, your mind wakes from the dream but your body remains frozen. Sometimes it's accompanied by hallucinations. In Turkish culture, the phenomenon is referred to as Karabasan, or the dark assailant. It's believed to be a demon or spirit which presses down on the chest and steals your breath.

From Burnt Amber:

Only my eyes did what they were told. And the only thing I was able to do was to squeeze them as tightly closed as possible in an attempt to escape the shadows.

This is part of my reference to the Karabasan. I can’t tell you why I use it, or how, because it would be a spoiler. What I can tell you is that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Here's a clip explaining how it happens.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lovely Leather

I had a lot of fun shopping Istanbul vicariously through Sibel. I had so much fun, I got carried away and my critiquer told me to cut the fat.

Good thing Sibel isn't overly concerned with fashion anyway. Her roommate is though, and we see most of the local style through Anna, or by observation. Since Haydon is part of chic Istanbul, he treats Sibel to a few nice things, but thoughtfully remains conscious of her sense of style. My favorite find for the book is a jacket like the one on the left.

Turkey is known for quality leather, and Istanbul is full of shops with unique handmade products.Now, if there was only a way for me to get it here in NC…

Monday, July 19, 2010

Whirling Dervishes

I got a blog post request (Yay!) to discuss my use of Rumi, a Sufi mystic who once lived in Konya, Turkey.

Rumi founded the Mevlana brotherhood, which many recognize as the Whirling Dervishes (at right).

I’m not encouraging a meditative state which involves possible dizziness, and I’m not even what you would call a spiritual person. However, I do admire people who can tap that inner, personal source of peace.

I once picked up a hardcover copy of his poems for a ridiculous price. So one evening, when I couldn't sleep because I was trying to figure out a good plot twist, I flipped through Rumi for some inspiration.

Warning: Rumi poetry has the power to touch your soul.

Now poetry foreshadows each chapter of Burnt Amber. No rhymey stuff, just insightful verses that apply to any creed. Not every one of his poems resonates with me, but for example, a two minute search pulled up this:

I tried to remember in my heart
what I’d dreamt about
during the night
before I became aware
of this moving
of life

You can find more Rumi poetry on the web at

You might also like:

Change is afoot for 800-year-old whirling dance

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Imam Bayildi or The Imam Fainted

Before I lived in Turkey, I never knew what to do with an eggplant besides an Italian style parmagiana, which I couldn't figure out how to make very well.

Breading, frying, baking, ahh!

Easier to get some at the restaurant down the street than spend the hours required to make it too.
And I didn't love eggplant that much -  back then.

I actually LOVE eggplant now. It’s like my Green Eggs and Ham…I like it with my rice…with pasta it’s very nice…

Along with other signature Turkish dishes, I mention Imam Bayildi (translation: the imam fainted) in Burnt Amber, and I explain the story behind the fainting:

“There are two theories…one because his wife used so much olive oil to make it and the other because it was so good. Plus it kind of looks like an imam the way they prepare it.”

Imam Bayildi takes some time to make too, but if you're inclined to try it, here's a link to a good recipe

There are short cuts, like using canned sauce, but the garlic, fresh lemon juice and good olive oil are an absolute must!

And this is a clip of a Turkish lady actually making it. I bake mine off instead of cooking it on the stove, everyone has their preferences. Eat it at room temperature.

Afiyet Olsun!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Prince's Islands

Many of the historic sites in Turkey are well known around the world, like the Grand Bazaar perhaps. Others are not so famous. I try to include places people wouldn’t think of right away in my writing.

The Prince's Islands in Istanbul were a popular retreat of the late Ottomans and the architecture reflects a marked European influence. They are worth the trip though you need a spare hour on a ferry to get there and another for the way back. People with a couple days in the city rarely make the time investment to visit. I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks on Büyükada one summer, and it was a great inspiration for my writing so many years later.

While describing my absolute favorite house on the island from memory, I came across a tourist's photo of it on the web. Way back when, I was so taken by it that I even asked one of the island real estate brokers how much it might cost, or something similar, since it wasn't actually for sale. My husband thought $100,000 was outrageous. I knew better (I'm a broker now myself) and if I had the money then…still don’t have it now, but you get the idea. The photo on the right is something like that house.

Related Articles:

Exhibit of Adalar Photos at the new Prince's Island Museum

The opening of the the Prince's Islands Museum

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fortunetelling 101

Tasseography, or the art of fortunetelling by reading your coffee cup, is a popular pastime in Turkey. My husband has an aunt who seems to have the knack for it. She even pulled the name of her new neighbors out of a cup once. I can’t explain it and I’m not saying I believe it, but there’s something fishy going on! 

Sibel visits a coffee shop with Seyhan, who does believe. His explanation of the practice deviates from the norm and includes djinn.

From Burnt Amber:

Anna turned the cup upside down on its saucer and swirled it around between her thumb and forefinger as we’d been directed. 

“Come on Sibel. You too.”

“Fine.” I was supposed to make a wish too. But in all seriousness, I couldn’t think of an interesting one, let alone believe it might come true."

My method uses a connection to djinn via the fortuneteller. A medium taps into the superconscious telepathy (think The Secret) to scry your fortune. The patterns and symbols which appear in the cup are translated into a fabulous story, which may or may not apply to you :)

Known to western cultures as genies, without the flying carpets in this case, djinn are a Middle Eastern equivalent to fairies or demons. 

Get a cezve like the one above, along with other Turkish coffee products at 

PS. Per wikipedia

In 2007, a coffee-reading fortune teller was charged with practicing magic, a crime punishable by up to five years in jail. The fortune teller in question was acquitted of the charges after the Israeli Gov. deemed it too hard to prove she was knowingly 'faking it'.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mediterranean Monk Seals

In writing Burnt Amber, I tried to include as many unique things about Turkey as possible. Some of these things I was not aware of even though I had lived there. For example, the Mediterranean Monk Seal. It’s no surprise I didn’t see one. There are about 500 left in the world and only 100 in Turkey.

From Burnt Amber:

"Seals born in the summer have the best chance.” Seyhan explained. “The research team was locating as many of them as possible and tagging them for data.”

Sibel’s villa at Aykar is on the fringe of Cilicia Trachea, home to monk seals because of the isolated mountainous terrain. Cliffs come right down to the sea, forming coves and sea caves where the seals can breed and live undisturbed by man.

Over the years, fishermen targeted the seals because they would ruin nets and steal fish. However, the main reason for the decline in population is loss of habitat. Though Sibel and her friends do dive into a cave, it is really best to leave the seals in peace.

For more information about the seals in Turkey and how to help, visit

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Ubiquitous Evil Eye

Evil eyes are found all over Turkey. The blue charm, known as a nazar boncuk, is designed to ward off envy and it’s found on everything. People wear them around their necks, hang them from their doors, stick them on invitations and gifts... I stuck one on the bottom of this blog.

You name it, there’s an app for the evil eye.

From Burnt Amber:

As he closed the door after me, I noticed an evil eye embroidered on his back pocket.
“I’d want to protect that valuable asset too.” I teased.

As illustrated by the quote above, Mavi Jeans (double entendre - Mavi means blue) has adapted the nazar boncuk into their brand, so my favorite place for the evil eye happens to be on the back pocket of my jeans.

The Turkish brand is sending a message: We can be fashion forward and embrace our traditions at the same time. It’s an idea that Istanbul - the city on two continents - has adopted for centuries.

The clip below illustrates Istanbul’s YA generation and their outlook.

Mavi 2010 - Burası İstanbul reklam kampanyası from mavi on Vimeo.

"Evil Eye" is Good in Turkey
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