Monday, August 27, 2012

EPHESUS, TURKEY: The Temple of Artemis, Wonder of the Ancient World

Remains of the Temple of Artemis, Selkuk, Turkey
In May, I went to Istanbul for a writer's workshop.  One of our writing exercises was to take a favorite picture from the trip and create an ekphrastic response, that is to use one art form, in this case words, to recreate and reinterpret another art form, in this case a photo.  I chose to write about a picture I took at the Temple of Artemis, one of the many ancient sites in and around the city of Selkuk (Ephesus in ancient times), in southwestern Turkey.

The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once boasted twenty-one marble columns surrounding a large open-air platform.  Now, all that remains is a single lonely column, bravely standing in a damp meadow, its broken pieces reassembled like a child’s tower of blocks.

On top, a pair of storks have built their messy nest, adding yet another level to the tower. While they wait for their eggs to hatch, one bird hunts for food, and the other stands watch, stretching its wide wings, flexing its long legs, periodically leaning over to rearrange the sticks of the nest furniture.

On the ground below, spring flowers bloom and grasses sway in the breeze.  Pistachios ripen on hillside trees. Out of sight, a lizard scampers along a wall in search of a sheltered niche for sun bathing.  A mother goose herds her fluffy goslings toward the safety of the pond, where clusters of turtles cling to rocks that rise like small islands in the water.
Two millenia ago, throngs of worshipers came here to pay homage to Artemis, goddess of the hunt and wild animals. Then, in 400 A.D. Artemis and her cult fell out of favor and her temple was destroyed. Its pieces were scavenged to build churches, roads, and forts. Little is left of the ancient wonder. And yet, like the single column rising to the sky, the spirit of Artemis remains.  I think she would be pleased to know that so many wild creatures have made her temple their home.
Plan of the Temple of Artemis

Note:  For information about the workshop that inspired this piece, go to my May 23rd post on my Art and Books blog.  Other posts about Turkey on this blog were posted on June 28, July 2, August 6 and August 20.
Podcast from workshop:  On the final night of our workshop, our group read aloud our "postcards home" from Istanbul, a fitting end to diverse and full five days.  To listen to the podcast, click here.  
Writing Istanbul Online BookFor a wonderful compilation of photos and writing from 14 members of the Writing Istanbul group, go to this online magazine Writing Istanbul at

Monday, August 20, 2012

Letter from Istanbul

Dome of the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey
In May, I went to Istanbul for a writer's workshop.  One of our writing exercises was to use the form of a letter, written to a real or imaginary person, as a way to focus our thoughts and to personalize our writing.  I chose to write to the memory of my fourth grade teacher.

Dear Mrs. Guiney,
            I write to you from Istanbul, where I sit with a group of writers, mostly from the U.S., but some from Turkey too. We are here to see the city–the great domed Hagia Sofia; shops filled with spices, sweets, kebabs, carpets, jewelry; boats on the Bosphorus; the hotel where Agatha Christie wrote her book Murder on the Orient Express; a performance of the mysterious dance of the whirling dervishes, and more–and then try to put our impressions into words.  Each day is punctuated with the calls to prayer broadcast from skinny minarets aside crescent topped mosques. In the streets, trams clang along metal rails from one part of the city to another. Overhead, raucous gulls wheel in the sky and the smell of the sea makes the air slightly damp. Never did I think as I sat in your fourth grade class nearly sixty years ago in Northeast Minneapolis that one day I would be on a trip half-way around the world to the city that is the meeting point of East and West. (It is a ten hour difference between here and my home in Los Angeles. As we finish our dinner each night in Istanbul, my friends and family in California are just starting their day.)
            My dream of traveling and seeing the world began in your class when you handed out the books we would use to study world geography. I remember turning the shiny pages filled with pictures of people and places so different from our world in Minnesota. The first chapter featured the Belgian Congo and was illustrated with black and white photos of dark-skinned women pounding manioc with wooden poles in large containers. I loved the new words and ideas–what was manioc? What did it taste like? Did they eat it every day? Why was the country called the Belgian Congo? Belgium was a country in Europe!
            I also loved the maps in the geography book with their rivers and mountains and wide oceans. In Minnesota, where we lived, we had the Mississippi River, which you could cross to go to St. Paul, but at age ten I had never seen mountains or oceans. Here in Istanbul, we walk downhill from our hotel near the Galata Tower to the bridge across the Golden Horn, an arm of water separating our newer part of Istanbul from the old quarter, with its many mosques, museums, and markets. From the bridge, lined with fishermen, we can look out into the Sea of Marmara, filled with ferries, fishing boats, cargo ships, ocean liners, yachts, and party boats turned into restaurants. At night, the sea sparkles with the lights of all this water traffic in the process of moving goods and people to and from the Black Sea in the north to the Mediterranean in the south and beyond. We are staying on the European side of Istanbul, but just a short ferry ride away lies the Asian part of the city, where we went one day for lunch and to explore the market stalls.
            I think you would love Turkey as much as I do with all its sights and sounds and bustling commerce. It is a photographer’s paradise. I have taken hundreds of photos, which, when I get home, will help me remember the wealth of things we saw. I have always loved to take pictures and got my first camera for my tenth birthday. It was a Brownie box camera. I remember that I had to open it carefully to insert the roll of film, making sure to keep the film rolled tight to prevent it from being exposed to the light. You probably don’t remember, but I took it to school on the last day before summer vacation.  
           I have a picture of you, Mrs. Guiney, taken on the school playground. You are wearing a plaid dress and have your head slightly cocked, perhaps because you are looking into the sun. The picture is a little blurry, because I must have jiggled the camera, but I can see that you are smiling. You were always one of my favorite teachers and you encouraged me to read and dream. Thank you.
            Your former fourth grade student,
            Caroline Scheaffer Arnold

Note:  For information about the workshop that inspired this piece, go to my May 23rd post on my Art and Books blog.  Other posts about Turkey on this blog were posted on June 28 and July 2 and August 6.
Podcast from workshop:  On the final night of our workshop, our group read aloud our "postcards home" from Istanbul, a fitting end to diverse and full five days.  To listen to the podcast, click here.  
Writing Istanbul Online BookFor a wonderful compilation of photos and writing from 14 members of the Writing Istanbul group, go to this online magazine Writing Istanbul at

Monday, August 13, 2012

ENO RIVER STATE PARK, Durham, NC: A Place to Enjoy Nature

Eno River, North Carolina
The Eno River is a swift, shallow stream that flows for 33 miles through Orange and Durham counties in North Carolina.  Its wooded shores and surrounding forest are home to birds, deer, and other wildlife, and have been preserved for public enjoyment as Eno River State Park.  On a recent visit to North Carolina, we went on a family outing to the park.  We began our visit with a naturalist program at the park headquarters where we learned about red-shouldered hawks, Cooper’s hawks, ospreys, eagles and other raptors (birds of prey) that can be seen within the park.  Many raptors, including bald eagles, are seen more easily during the fall migration season.  (We didn’t see any during our visit in July.)  We also learned that when the bald eagle was chosen as our national symbol, it almost lost out to the wild turkey, the bird preferred by Benjamin Franklin for our national symbol because of its industrious nature. Wild turkeys can also be seen in the park, along with more than one hundred species of songbirds, such as the cardinal, the North Carolina state bird, and water birds such as great blue herons and wood ducks.

Bridge across the Eno River
After the raptor talk we hiked down the trail from the visitor center to the river.  In the shallow water we watched fish dart among the rocks and dragonflies flit over the water’s surface.  We even saw a turtle.

Summer flowers bloomed along the path, which we followed along the river to a suspension bridge.  The narrow pedestrian walkway, which spans the stream to connect to a path on the other side of the river, provided a few thrills for the kids and a nice view down the river from the middle.  Afterward, the kids took off their shoes and splashed and cooled their feet in the stream.

Fungus on a fallen log, Eno River State Park
It was a warm day, as most summer days in North Carolina are, but the late afternoon hour and the shady forest made our visit a very pleasant and rewarding experience as we immersed ourselves in the natural beauty of North Carolina.

For more information about park hours and special activities click here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

ISTANBUL: A Food Lover's Delight


There are many reasons to go to Turkey, but one of them is the food. The shops and markets are full of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish caught in the Marmara Sea, spices, grains, olives, pastries, baklava, Turkish Delight, and more.  Carts in the street sell fresh bread, roasted chestnuts, corn, sweets and other snacks.  Fresh orange juice, squeezed as you watch at street-side stands, is sweet and refreshing.  In May, I spent five days in Istanbul with a group of writers. (See my post at for May 23 .) Every day during our stay we went to a different restaurant and sampled new and delicious foods.

Simitci cart on Itskial Street
Each morning, in the lounge/eating area of our hotel in Beyoglu, we had a simple breakfast-- pieces of what our host called Turkish pretzels (Simitci), bread stuffed with cheese, olives or salami, and served with coffee or tea.  For anyone who wanted more, the main shopping street, Itskial, at the top of the hill, had numerous restaurants, all with breakfast buffets of meat, cheese, tomatoes, olives, cucumber, hard boiled eggs, soup, bread and more (typically costing 10 Turkish lira, or about six U.S. dollars.)

On our first evening, after our visit to the Museum of Innocence (see my post of May 28), we ate at a  restaurant near Taksim Square called Kardesler, Kebap Salonu (Kebab Salon).  I was at a table next to the kitchen and watched them make the lahmacun (a pizza-like bread dough topped with meat, cheese or vegetables, and cooked on paddles in a hot brick oven.)  We drank ayran, a salty yoghurt drink, a bit of a strange taste at first, but refreshing with the rich food.  We also sampled an icli kofte, a stuffed meatball inside a coating of bulgur wheat.

Datli Maya restaurant
On the second morning of our stay, our group had breakfast at the coffee shop up the street, Alayli Cafe, crowding into the tiny space where we ate fresh bread with honey and jam, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, fruit and a thin omelet.
Lunch was at Datli Maya, a tiny health food restaurant in Cucurcuma featuring a large stone oven, where we filled the few tables in the upstairs room overlooking the street.  The meal began with nettle soup followed by various lahmacuns and a sweet Halvah dessert.

On our third day, we took the tram to Sultanahmet, in the old part of Istanbul, to see the Hagia Sophia and Underground Cistern, and ate lunch at one of the many cafeteria style restaurants designed for hungry tourists. (It’s easier to point at what you want than to pick from a menu. I got peppers stuffed with lamb, tomatoes and spices.)  Afterward, we went up the street a short ways to the Literary CafĂ©, “Edebiyatcilar Kiraathanesi” to meet Turkish writer Jale Sancak and sample an amazing variety of pastries and coffees.  I never realized how many kinds of baklava there could be! 

Lunch on our fourth day was on the Asian side of Istanbul.  We took the ferry to Kadikoy and, after wandering through the small market, filled with everything from fresh food to carpets, clothing, and household items, we met at Ciya Restaurant, famous for its Anatolian dishes.
Olive stall at Kadikoy Market
Our last day in Istanbul was a trip to the Grand Bazaar where, after shopping and getting lost in the maze of the huge complex, we met for lunch at Havuzlu Restaurant, which features Turkish dishes.  And finally, for our last meal together, that evening we went to Peymane, in the Tophane neighborhood, not far from our hotel.  Of all the restaurants during our stay, this was the most upscale and the perfect finale to the trip. Peymane – La Cucina brings together two seemingly disparate cuisines under one roof: the ocakbas tradition of Turkish cuisine (a meat restaurant with an open grill in the middle) by Peymane and Italian cuisine by La Cucina.  Housed in a 5-story historical building, the restaurant includes an indoor-seating area, a garden, and a bar. We had choice of lamb or salmon for the main course.  I had salmon and it was excellent.
There are many reasons to go to Turkey, but for a wonderful variety of new and delicious foods, it is definitely a food lovers delight.
Fish stall at Karakoy market
For a wonderful compilation of photos and writing about Istanbul and Turkey from 14 members of the Writing Istanbul workshop, go to the online magazine Writing Istanbul at

If you want to read more about food in Istanbul along with a list of restaurants, check out this article in the Sunday travel section (August 4, 2013) of the LA Times by food critic Irene Virbila.