Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kizkalesi Spring

Summer is really throwing me for a loop, so if y'all don't mind, I'm turning back to spring and a quick little clip about one of my favorite places: KIZKALESİ. Catch you on Monday with a post about Kendin Pisir, Kendin Ye and interesting Turkish picnics. :)


Monday, June 27, 2011


Looking almost like a carpet, apricots are nea...Image via Wikipedia
Sweet southern peaches are in season -yum! It reminds me of the time I was up in the village of (I don't know. It was somewhere around Arslankoy.) and a farmer gave me a giant peach. Like... James had nothing on me with his "giant". Anyhoo - a word about the more famous cousin - errr - neighbor of my peachy friend.

Prunus armeniaca is the latin name for apricot because it's thought the fruit originated in Armenia. Today, Turkey is the largest exporter of apricots with Malatya as the main production center. You can safely guess that most of the apricots on the shelf at the grocery store are from Turkey. (Fresh ones are probably from California.)
And while fresh, locally grown, apricots have no equal, most of us don't live in the sweet spot where they're cultivated. Apparently, the apricots are fussy about soil and have a very short season. As a result, the most common apricot you'll see is a dried one.

Some interesting uses of apricot:

Egyptian amar al-dīn: Dried apricot paste reminds me of a huge fruit roll-up that you dissolve in water for a very tasty drink. People usually float some almonds on top. Gosh! I could go for one of those right now.

Italian: Amaretto liquor is flavoured with extract of apricot kernels. I always thought it was almonds, but the two are interchangeable and often mixed.

Medicinally: Apricot is an antioxidant (carotenoids), a laxative (high fiber), and the kernels can be made into poison (hydrocyanic acid). In the old days, people thought apricots were an aphrodisiac. (??)

Idioms: In Turkish: Bundan iyisi Şam'da kayısı means the only thing better than this is an apricot in Damascus, or it doesn't get better than this. In Arabic: Bukra fil mishmish means tomorrow when it's apricot season, or it's never going to happen. In China: Expert of the apricot grove refers to a physician.

Did you know Jacques Pepin loves apricots? Must be why I like to watch him cook.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Which Way The Wind Blows

I've heard of the Sirocco and even used the Mistral in one of my chapters. It got me to thinking about the winds of Istanbul. There are two major ones. Lodos (Notus) comes up from the south. In the winter, it cancels the ferry schedule it's so rough. Poyraz (Boreas) comes down from the northeast. Both are named after Greek wind gods.

Care for another one of my adventure stories?

This time, I'm a naive young woman on Büyükada. DH and I borrow a Zodiac from a family friend and take it out fishing one day.

The owner says to us: Make sure you come back before the wind picks up in the afternoon.
DH: Absolutely!

So we head off on our merry way, enjoying our little outboard cruise around the island.

Me: checking out all the houses on the shore from a new perspective. Picnic lunch, etc. We anchor on the back side of the island in the forested park area. There's a pretty steep rock face on that side. (read: no safe place to hide) lalalalalala. No fish anywhere. It is the middle of the day. Well, we catch one rock fish. Ugly as sin.

Loose track of time and guess what....the wind changes. The sea just up and does the cha-cha underneath us, slapping me around in the boat like the fish I'm supposed to be catching.

Me: fear for my life. That rocky shore is getting awfully close. No houses in sight on this side of the island. It takes three times as long to get back. Almost run out of gas. Worst. Fishing. Trip. Ever.

That was not even Poyraz. Not even close.

Now in Mersin there are winds of a different sort. There you want the north/south dynamic. Winds from the south bring air through the house during the day. Winds from the mountains in the north bring cooler air down at night. If you're buying an apartment, direction is one of the the first things you check. If the house faces east/west? Too bad. How sad. Lowball offer.

On a hot summer evening, we joke about the heat: "Don't worry, in a little while the wind will come down from the mountains." We even have a special word for the sea when its waiting for a wind, reflecting the moon like a mirror - Yakamoz.

Which way does the wind blow for your hero?

Istanbul Winds Battle Over the City

The Wind Gods
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Emrah Yücel Turkey - Be our guest ad
Did you notice there are lots of great ads for Turkey lately? I have. In fact, I was watching Glee and saw the Times Square ad on the right, designed by Emrah Yücel.

Kudos to Yücel! Since his ad campaign started, there's been a measurable increase in tourism from the US. I'm talking a double digit percentage. After you've seen his ads, you'll want to go too. Don't take my word for it. The United Nations' World Tourism Organization voted his ad campaign the best 'country advertising' in Europe. In fact, you should really visit his link (above) and check out the other beautiful things he's done.
 So who is this guy? He's a Turk. Grew up and went to school in Ankara. Lives in LA. (That's where talent like his likes to dwell, I guess!) Does important stuff, like found the Turkish Film Council so that Sony pictures can have people like Clive Owen run around the rooftops of Istanbul (The International).

Yücel has worked on high profile projects like Avatar, Kill Bill, Narnia, and What Women Want. Have to mention the last one, even though it's from way back in 2000, because Yücel certainly knows what what we Americans want - we want authentic adventure! Sure some of us are interested in dusty museums (myself included). We'll even settle for replica theme park. (OK, the theme parks are great, I admit.) But Turkey offers the real thing. That guy in the picture looks like he's climbing in Cappadocia. Yücel made another ad where there's a girl resting against a bas relief of Nike - the goddess, not the running shoe. Touch history! It's lying around all over the place in Turkey. Literally.

btw - Istanbul was voted number one place to visit for NY Times readers in 2010.

Dear agents and editors,
Want to ride this wave? I've got just the book for you.... I promise I'll get it to you as soon as I finish this last edit. ;)

More US Tourists Coming to Turkey Thanks to Designer's Ad Campaign

Turkey Gets It's Place At Times Square
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Scent of Amber

Amber - many stonesImage via WikipediaThere are many reasons why I chose amber as a part of my book title, but the first is probably scent.

Wikipedia: The term “amber” is loosely used to describe a scent that is warm, musky, rich and honey-like, and also somewhat oriental and earthy.

"Oriental" and "earthy" are key for me, although I suppose "warm" is important too.

How do you get that scent? You burn the stone. In fact, the name for amber in Germanic languages is litterally "burn stone".  In Polish it's burstyn. (I grew up surrounded with burstyn. Who knew it would be so important to me one day?) When you heat amber, the stone softens and eventually an oil is released, leaving a black residue behind. Flame unlocks the essence, if you will.

The flame is also important to my djinn (and to Zoroaster). Fire represents the life force and connection to energy. Energy is one of the properties people associate with amber too. Perhaps that's because amber is smooth and warm to the touch, almost like the life blood of the tree still remembers how to live in the stone.

Of course, many authors have referred to amber's trapping abilities. (Dragonfly in Amber anyone?) It works for me too. Like any good heroine, Sybil gets stuck in a bad situation. The difference is, for Sybil, the amber is key to (How much can I tell you? Me thinks I'm too close to spoilerdom here. Sorry!)
Vanadis/Freya - who just decided to show up as a facet of my MC - wears a necklace of amber (Brisingamen), cries tears that turn into amber, there's even an invocation to her about it that I use in the end.

There are many more attributes to amber in folklore and I can go on, but I'm getting away from the purpose of the post. The evocative scent of amber. Go get some! :)

I hope someday an editor appreciates the thought I put into this...

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Istanbul Summer Days

I had a long week of promotion ceremonies last week. I didn't even realize that the blog was set for 6 pm instead of am! Sorry!

Anyhow, here's the Turkophile's fix of the day: a short clip about Istanbul. I hope it keeps you satisfied until Wednesday!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Paradise and the Peri

One morn a Peri at the gate
Of Eden stood disconsolate
-Thomas Moore
One of my characters has always reminded me of a fairy, so I decided to dig around for details of the eastern equivalent, the Persian Peri.

Beautiful winged Peri are descended from fallen angels. They repented and, in search of redemption, they often frequent the human world to help people. The evil Daeva persecute them for not having enough courage to rebel against good.

Probably the most famous western tale about Peri is Thomas Moore's Paradise and the Peri , which is part of his adaptation of the oriental romance of Lalla Rookh.

more images in the related article below

Engaged to the young king of Bactria, Lalla Rookh goes forth to meet him, but falls in love with Feramorz, a poet from her entourage. The bulk of the work consists of four interpolated tales sung by the poet: The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan (loosely based upon the story of Al-Muqanna), Paradise and the Peri, The Fire-Worshippers, and The Light of the Harem. When Lalla Rookh enters the palace of her bridegroom she swoons away, but revives at the sound of a familiar voice. She awakes with rapture to find that the poet she loves is none other than the prince to whom she is engaged.

Sort of a reverse Scheherazade thing going on here, I guess. Anyhoo, thank goodness it's public domain because it's out of print and originals like the one above cost thousands of dollars! I'll let you know what I come up with...

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Solar Sizzled

Here's a little household adventure thought I'd share:

Last weekend, all four of us were out in the backyard, moving wheelbarrows of dirt (read heavy, red clay), weeding, moving stones, and just working hard. By the end of the 92 degree day, we we covered in grime and all needed showers badly. Especially the boys.

OLDEST: Streaks out of the shower in under two minutes.
ME: Hmm...What's with that?
YOUNGEST: Goes in for his turn. Point two seconds later: "THE WATER IS FREEZING, MOM!!!!!"
ME: "DH, Did you have any hot water?"
DH:"No. I thought you used it all up with the dishwasher and washing machine."
ME: What century do you live in? "Did you check the water heater?"

Apparently, one of the boys had knocked the hot water heater knob down to ridiculous, so I had to wait for another hour while it heated up something for me. And the conversation about freezing water (and what century DH lives in) turned to solar hot water heaters. Specifically the gravity fed hot water heater, aka güneş enerjisi, of our summer condo in Turkey.

ME: "Let me tell you a little story kids."

Almost every rooftop in Baba's hometown sports an ugly (usually orange) water tank connected to a solar panel. The system heats water very well and thankfully, the villagers don't have to chop down the forest to get warm water anymore. At the summer condo, we had an old-fashioned, gravity fed version. Mersin is steamy in the summer, so hot showers aren't appealing. Why spend the extra money on a pressure regulator?


In comes Mommy (the American bride) and HELLO! I practically lose the top layer of my skin the first time I shower.

You see, we lived up on the tenth floor and the gravity thing works a little too well when you're closer to the tank. Cold water from the municipality has more pressure, so I turned it down to let the hot water mix in, and then the hot water took over! I turned the hot way down and then the cold was too strong again. Ever try to adjust a knob after it's been in the same position for nine months? I inched it up and down, up and down, get the idea. The water was nice for a minute and as soon as I got under it, it would change. I think there was a malicious djinn living in that tap!

So for the rest of the summer, I stood outside the shower trying to adjust between scalding and freezing. And since there's no winning that game, I just got used to taking cold showers.

OLDEST: Looks at his dad. "You fixed that, right?"

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's With the White Horses?

A Camargue horseImage via WikipediaThe white horse is a divine cliché. (See that pun...hehe.)

Because white horses are less common than other colors, they make for exceptional mythology, all over the world. Creatures like the Celtic white unicorn, Greek winged Pegasus, Norse eight legged Sleipnir, or even Donkey of Far, Far Away play the part of whatever desireable trait a myth requires. Purity or fertility are popular themes.

Sometimes though, being a white horse isn't such a good thing. People like the Magyars might think you're a perfect sacrifice to the god they're trying to bribe. Or you might be stuck with eternal service to some hero/saint, without any vacation days.

Tishtrya got a pretty good deal. As the Zoroastrian representation of the Dog Star, he only works on the 13th day of each month and the fourth month of the year. Of course, he had to battle the evil black horse demon Apoasha first. Tishtrya brings rain to drought stricken lands and lends a literary trope to my MS via the Camargue horse

Before you roll your eyes, know that the Camargue horse was right there staring at me, daring me to look away. After that, a regular horse just wouldn't do. On the other hand, the white knight wasn't so...ah...fortunate.

Announcement of the week:

My new post schedule for the summer is Turkish Miscellanea on Monday - Lore and Symbolism on Wednesday. I find I can't respond to my Friday commentors and the kids are home and I'm trying to re-vision an ms and you know the drill!

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