Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Birthday Hike in the Belgrad Forest

 The entrance to the
Belgrad Forest
Back in Istanbul, after a week in France, I was excited to see that a Turkish friend was organizing a hike in the Belgrad Forest.  It was scheduled to be on my birthday.  As nature can often seem far, far away in Istanbul, I loved the idea of spending my birthday meeting new people by going on a hike.

Aren't you grateful for friends that take the time to organize things? They always deserve a little extra appreciation, don't they? Yasemin, my Turkish friend who put this together, hadn't hiked here before, but she did all the work of finding out what bus to take, where it leaves from, how often it leaves, etc. When someone has done all of that work, it makes it so easy for the rest of us to go out and discover new places and opportunities, doesn't it? If you're one of those people who are always connecting others by organizing events, thank you!

To give you an idea of what a commitment it is to get to an event in Istanbul, I took a bus to Taksim Square (50 minutes), and then got on the 42T bus to go to the Belgrad Forest (another 50 minutes).  That second bus has a route all along the Bosporus, so it often seems like I'm getting a sightseeing tour at a municipal bus price! The scenery was fantastic, and since another hiker from France and I guessed we were each going to the same hike and started talking, so was the company.  The 50 minutes flew by. We got to the end of the line of the 42T and there was the forest!  After paying a 2.25 TL entrance fee ($1.27) we were in.
 It's not every forest
that has a cafe
with checkered tablecloths
 Or horses and bicycles to rent
Paths were wide enough
for all kinds of traffic:
foot, hoof, or wheeled
 Yasemin, our organizer,
is the tall woman in green
in the middle.
Fun folks I met:
Jackie, a fashion designer from Ireland
and Ibrahim, an importer/exporter from Turkey
Beautiful, isn't it?
We were surprised the park was so deserted.
It was the middle of Ramadan though.
Anyone fasting couldn't even
take so much as a drop of water.
Not good conditions for locals to go hiking.
Another view of the beautiful lake
in the middle of the park.
The forest paths were so beautifully maintained
it was as if we were the first people to use them.
It turns out we were.
We came across a maintenance crew laying down
rubber backing (like under carpet)
and then covering it with this natural material.
If you are a runner,
this would be a very healthy place to run.
The path was springy and easy on the joints. 
 The majority of our group
headed back to Istanbul.
I finished our hike around the lake
with Misty and Kristin,
two fun American women
I was meeting
for the first time.
A last calming view of natural beauty.
What a terrific resource this forest
is for the urban dwellers of Istanbul!
The view as the municipal bus starts back to Istanbul.
 This is an Ottoman-era grove of trees. 
In France and in Turkey, I kept coming across these
magnificent tree groves planted under
authoritarianism forms of government.
I kept wondering if democracies
could create such gorgeous groves
for future generations.
  Are there any where you live?
Planting groves like this
requires a long-term view,
doesn't it?
 In my country,
people often don't seem to want to invest tax money
for those living alongside them,
let alone those who aren't even born yet.
On the bus back,
Kirstin and Misty talked up Mehmet's,
their favorite kebabci in the
Istanbul neighborhood of Ortaköy
with such gastronomic fervor
I had to try it for myself, no?
We ate fabulous Turkish comfort food
(mine was chicken shish kebab).
They introduced me to "ezme,"
which they described as a Turkish version of salsa.
On the hike,
these two hip, happening, can-do women
mentioned that they were organizing
a trip to Bulgaria...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Last Meal in the Lubéron

After a week of getting to enjoy my best friend from college, Robin, and her husband Jim, it was time to go home to Istanbul.  I have never been around someone recovering from chronic illness. Jim amazed me with his ability to withstand the everyday discomforts of his recovery with good humor.

I kept asking myself, "would I be able to be as pleasant to be around, as he is, if I was in his shoes?" Because Jim's lack of balance, post brain-surgery, makes it hard for him to leave the house or even walk from room to room, Robin puts lots of thought and effort into how to bring the world to him. I hope I helped in some small way.

I asked her, "how would you take care of him physically if you didn't have access to your resources?" She said, with emphasis, "I have no idea." We were silent for a moment in complete acknowledgement of how hard it must be for those struggling with brain-tumor recovery in their family but no ability to hire someone to come in and help.

Life can be pretty easy when nothing is going wrong.  When everything is going ok, it's easy not to think about what would be needed when catastrophe strikes.  Robin is my second friend from the same Women's College we went to who has had a husband with a brain tumor.  Luckily, my other friend's husband was French, and he received outstanding care that his wife, an American, raved about. But what about those Americans at home coping with something so completely over-the-top health-wise as a brain tumor? What about those Americans with inadequate health insurance coverage or no coverage? How do they do it?

I can't help but think Europeans have the answer and show an incredible REAL sense of community with their willingness to extend significant resources toward each other when their health needs help. Everything I have learned as an expat has made me believe in the European version of health care rather than the American version.  The Europeans have it figured out. It's not just an anecdote, the data about who lives the longest backs them up.  

  Lunch al fresco
amidst life-long friends,
with amazing comfort food,
and wonderful French wine.
the fact that the chicken's feet
are still there.
Yikes, there they are.
all the lemons that were used
to stuff him inside.
There are the lemons: peeking out.
Thank you, my dear, dear friends
for a wonderful week
in your beloved Provence.
Until we meet again,
most probably,
 in Singapore.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Scenes from Farmer's Markets in the Lubéron

For a week straight, my college friend Robin and I did nothing but shop and eat and talk to her husband Jim.  Jim, as a wine maker and a long-time restauranteur, was always the cooking showman in the family.  Now as he recovered from his brain surgery, Robin was the family chef, and Jim reveled in her skills.

Robin and I loved to go to the Farmer's Markets in the Lubéron and see what was on offer.  While the Loumartin market was possibly the most showy, the one in Cadenet was charming, accessible, and not too crowded. The people-watching was just as wonderful.
Beautifully-displayed zucchinis
  Equally Pretty Melons
A lovely French shopper
shows off
the sculptural quality
of the lettuce
This handsome couple
spends two months in Provence
each year and 10 months in Spain.
They showed me their French car.
It's called a 2CV.
They told me the design of the car
resulted when the French Government 
asked Citroën for a vehicle that could carry four people,
50 pounds of potatoes,
and a dozen eggs,
without breaking the eggs.
That is such a French thought, n'est pas?
It is an iconic vehicle
and much loved
in France.
Not every shopper
was full-grown.
The Cadenet Farmer's Market was set up on the Municipal Boules Court (the French game of lawn bowling). 
In nearby Cuceron, I had the chance to see another municipal place that French people had created for themselves: the breathtaking grove of plantain trees in Cucuron surrounding a city pond. I found it calming.
 There were restorative sidewalk spots to
enjoy the view of the Plantain grove
and the water.
A French woman sustaining their
worldwide reputation for chic.
When you see a pork leg
with the hoof still on it,
you're very aware it came
from a real live animal, aren't you?
Ack! I've written before
how American food writers say
Americans have the reality
that they're eating actual animals
kept far from them
by styrofoam and plastic film.
I know this ham is a delicacy.
I love this ham!
I have no desire to be vegetarian!
Facing this pork leg being sliced
made me so uncomfortable.
 It's so *real* served this way.
I love to eat rabbit,
at least fresh rabbit from
styrofoam and plastic film.
But...when it looked like
it had a pet name of Bunny
only yesterday?
Culture shock!
 The French version of a
lemonade stand.
This little boy was selling
packaged herbs.
Does your mail carrier look like this
back home?
Mine neither.
The Cucuron village mail carrier.
Everything is more glamorous in France,
even the mail.

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