The Best of 2013

1. Best surprise: Lolita’s complete recovery from a five-month back injury.  It was BLEAK for a long time, with every specialist telling us that the chances of her getting better without surgery were extremely thin and Nathan and I attempting to come to terms with the possibility of putting her down. Now that she’s recovered, I don’t even mind that she prefers Nathan to me.

me and lo

2. Best bad-ass: It’s a three way tie between Egyptian writer, doctor, and feminist Nawal El Saadawi, Oakland based blogger and novelist Mia Mckensie, and Russian performance artists Pussy Riot.  These women unapologetically confront the major injustices of our time and refuse to be silenced, not even by prison (ok so only two of the three went to prison, but Mia Mckensie is still a badass).

pussy riot

3. Best classroom moment: A senior’s recognition that his privilege as a white man from a wealthy and politically connected background has instilled in him a sense of responsibility to use that privilege to impact the world in a positive way.  BEST CASE SCENERIO!

4. Best blog: Black Girl Dangerous.  Razor sharp analysis of politics, the arts, and culture through a racial and LQBTQ lens. Inspiring. Empowering. Informative.  http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/

5. Best concert: Jay-Z. Ok, so it was the only concert I went to this year, but it still deserves to make the list.  Free box seats courtesy of Kris’s company, including free dinner and drinks, and a night of fantastic music with Nathan, Kris and Erika, two of our closest friends.

Jay

6. Best find (retail): Mary’s Closet in Noe Valley. Scored a vintage Valentino sweater there for $28 and two pairs of jeans (AG and Earnest Sewn), each for $25. Their jewelry selection is also amazing.

7. Best find (restaurant): Contigo, also in Noe Valley.  Taught me how amazing Spanish food can be.

8. Best weekend: The girls trip to SF in March.  Hiking in Muir Woods + Peruvian food in Bernal Heights + Midnight feast a la Chef Moi = Heart exploding with joy.  Best quote of the trip: Megan: “I’m having so much fun” a mere five minutes after my arrival at their rental in the Castro.

girls trip

9. Best robbery: Wait… Suck it, Zurich!

10. Best inspiration: Seeing Junot Diaz speak at the N.A.I.S. People of Color Conference in D.C.  His talk on his latest collection of short stories, This is How You Lose Her, his personal experience as a writer and professor at MIT and politics in the US and the Dominican Republic was peppered with F-bombs and witticisms. His fiery diction resparked my commitment to anti-racist education in 2014, motherfucker!

junot-diaz

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Tis (just about) the Season

While I am a fairly untraditional girl by some standards (I prefer the gritty to the cheesy, jeans to jewelry and The Sopranos to The Real Housewives), there is a time and a place for tradition in my adult female life.  That time is now and the place is a pumpkin farm in Half Moon Bay.

For the last four Octobers, Nathan and I have visited a pumpkin farm (it has to be a farm, not a patch) and that farm has to be in Half Moon Bay.  This visit marks the start of fall for me, and the home stretch to Christmas.  Not only do I stock up on all my pumpkin and gourd needs, I also treat myself to something deep fried at Cameron’s pub, our traditional lunch stop.

This year, Thaomy, Paolo and baby J joined us.  Although I must say that I don’t need a two year old as an excuse to make the trip, J’s cuteness was definitely a highlight.

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How cute is that picture of J trying to push the wheel barrow?!  Thaomy dressed her up as the Morton’s “Salt Girl” (go check out the image on the container) so she would be photo shoot ready at the farm.  Last year J was a piece of sushi for Halloween.  Loving Thaomy’s creativity!

Once home, I set aside the pumpkin I picked for carving (which will be placed on my stoop when ready) and proceeded to officially introduce fall into the apartment.

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I absolutely love seasonal decor, especially in a city like SF where you never know exactly when you are. Since the weather in SF does not change much year round, seasonal decor nicely marks the passage of time. It serves as a visual marker of the season but it also releases in you all the memories you have of that season.  The bowl of gourds is really just the first stop on association lane.  It reminds me of the way my mom decorates our home for the holidays and the way she literally lives in the kitchen my entire stay at home, making sure I have all my favorites to eat.  When I was growing up, every holiday it was always my mom and aunts in the kitchen all day and all night, and now when I go home, I join my mom’s side as we make our traditional favorites: stuffed eggplant, hummus, tabouli, roast duck, leg of lamb, almond rice…

Now that I have my own home, I love carrying on her tradition of decorating the place only at Halloween and Thanksgiving, and then Christmas and New Year’s Eve, always leaving the tree up long enough to be enjoyed on my birthday on January 5th (and when we had a fake tree, sometimes long enough to be enjoyed on Valentine’s Day). My mom was never one for Easter or fourth of July decorations. One of the cool things about being an adult is combining the traditions you inherit from your parents with the new ones you create with your own little family. Since the Half Moon Bay tradition is the first one Nathan and I started together, I hope that wherever life takes us, a pumpkin farm is just a short drive away.

A Summer Reading Critique of 1,673 pages

1. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (172 pages)

lean in

I’m not a complete Lean In convert.  I’m glad I read it and I would recommend reading it, but with a critical eye.  I think that Sandberg gives some solid, practical advice especially when it comes to negotiating tips, the significance of mentors in one’s career and challenging the notion of the straight trajectory.  Where Sandberg loses me is her claim that the Lean In “movement” is a feminist one.  The most recent Baffler published a great critique of Sandberg’s movement in which Susan Faludi dubs it “corporate feminism” (i.e. molding the woman to fit into a corporate world).  Lean In is top down, not a grassroots movement and does not push against the norms and structures that continue to oppress women today.  Sandberg claims that once women are in power, they can change these oppressive structures.  But if Sandberg is shaping the woman in power, will she suddenly shed the conformity that led her there?

Sandberg also acknowledges that her audience is a specific one (i.e. a privileged one).   But is her acknowledgement enough? While women of color have long been left out of the feminist dialogue (since Carol Gilligan), the growing population of minorities in this country demands that we can no longer be ignored and it is time for women like Sandberg to realize that a “movement” targeted at women just like her isn’t inclusive enough to be called progressive.

If you’re looking for something more empowering, my go to ladies are still Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua and yes, even Virginia Woolf, who may have been writing in the early 1900s but her ideas are still eerily relevant.

2.  The Autobiography of Malcolm X (501 pages)

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Can I just say, wow?!  This text is one of the most powerful reads of my life.  Malcolm X is probably the most misunderstood and most pigeonholed man in American history, and he does not get the credit he deserves for the role he played in the civil rights movement.  His life story is incredible.  My heart broke at the start reading about how the KKK killed his father and how the state systematically tore his family apart, forcing he and his siblings onto the street.  From the streets to prison to Mecca, Malcolm poignantly dissects the power structures of his surroundings and offers an ever-evolving critique of the ills of society.  He is known for his hate but only because America didn’t want to see how powerful his love of his fellow man was.  It was all too important for the US to discredit a black man who found his humanity and worth in Islam.  We often kill the most progressive thinkers of our time – even Plato knew that in 380 BC.  At least Malcolm left this thought provoking record of his life behind.

I strongly suggest reading the original version that contains Alex Haley’s 70 page foreword.  Alex Haley interviewed Malcolm X over the course of two years and those in-depth interviews led to this autobiography. Haley’s forword details Malcolm’s emotional state as he shared the most intimate details of his life and it also chronicles Malcolm’s assassination and funeral, shedding light on the immediate impact Malcolm’s death had on Harlem, the US and the world.

 

3. Paul Kivel’s Men’s Work: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Out Lives Apart (264 pages)

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I appreciate how Kivel addresses what contributes to our rape and bully culture with a combination of personal stories from his own background and references to specific workshops he’s facilitated with men in various settings (from prison to high school).  In general, I’m a huge Paul Kivel fan but I will say that I think his workshops on masculinity, Christian hegemony and Judeo-Christian power paradigms are more powerful than his prose.  He knows what he’s talking about and I found some helpful tidbits on masculinity in this text but his audience definitely isn’t an academic one, leaving me wanting a little more depth and little less “Joe theory” appeal.

Yet, it’s still a worthwhile read especially for newbies to gender theory.  I will also note that since most gender theory focuses on feminism and female gender norms, Kivel’s work is a good first step in addressing that void.  His inclusion of a suggested reading list with a wide range of related topics (Jewish masculinity, victim blaming, parenting, intimacy, sexuality, race and class dynamics, spirituality, veterans) is a smart move.

4. Tim Wise’s White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son (271 pages)

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A must read.  I’m dying to fit this text into one of my classes in the near future.  This memoir is the only Tim Wise text I’ve read but of course, I’m familiar with his work in general.  I think his unpacking of his own white privilege is amazing.  I don’t know of any other writer that outlines his/her family history through the lens of privilege.  He unveils systemic privilege and racism in ways that have expanded my own knowledge (and this is an area I’m already quite comfortable in).  Much like The Autobiography of Malcolm X, this text packs quite the emotional punch.  I often had to put the memoir down because I was too angry after reading his descriptions of Katrina and the surge of anti-Arab sentiment post 9/11.  I needed periods of cooling down before I could pick his prose back up again. Not a fast read because of the heaviness of the material but an absolute necessity if you have any interest in understanding how power functions in this country.

5. Wally Lamb’s Couldn’t Keep it to Myself (350 pages)

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Wally Lamb has single handedly inspired me to apply to teach at a prison one day.  This collection of non-fiction short stories written by women in York Correctional Institution, where Lamb teaches a writing workshop, is gut-wrenchingly beautiful.  Each story explores the tension between taking responsibility for their crimes while acknowledging all the pain, abuse, and trauma that lead them down their paths.  What human beings are capable of enduring will stir your sense of shame and awe.

I read the entire collection, crying every page of the way and I’m excited to include several of these pieces in my class, Literature of Imprisonment.  I think it’s good to make your students cry!  It gives them a much needed empathy check.

6. Angela Davis’s Are Prisons’ Obsolete? (115 pages)

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If you are ever in the mood to have your mind completely blown, pick up some Angela Davis (any Davis text, will do).  My students pushed back against this text at first, claiming that her argument to abolish prisons just wasn’t practical but once they finished her last chapter where she offers very real alternatives to incarceration, many (though not all) came around.  Davis nicely traces the history of incarceration, referencing the works of prominent prison studies scholars, including Foucault, and successfully unpacks the “criminalization of communities of color.” She reminds us that white people commit crimes too, they just aren’t targeted and punished the same way minorities are.  Yet, Davis goes beyond systemic racism to reveal sexist and capitalist power structures that destroy entire cities. Davis works to reveal the root causes of incarceration and advocates for the adoption of preventative measures. Her text explains why we must focus our activism on prisons because they are at the crux of the problem with American justice.

Forever Vacation, Forever Funny

Here is what made Yasmine and I laugh during our 3 week trip to Turkey and Lebanon in June 2012.  We named the trip, “forever vacation” inspired by the name of our resort in Bodrum, the Forever Club.

*Note: There are some quotes without authorship here.  Yasmine and I are pretty similar especially when it comes to our sense of humor so I often forget who said it, she or I.  “Get out of my head” is a common Yasmine saying when we’re together. 

Night 1:

  1. “YOTO: You Only Turkey Once” – Yasmine
  2. “Fart omelet” – Melissa, describing the smell of certain streets
  3. “Pre-meditated outfit”
  4. “One tuck and one no tuck” – Melissa

Boat Tour, June 12, 2012:

  1. Dolphin rape caves (Yasmine explained this horror to me as we watched dolphins jumping in and out of the Bosporus.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012:

  1. “I want to throw away this cookie ad” – Yasmine at Doubletree Hilton in Moda complaining that we never got our cookies.
  2. “Nicey nicey” (Code words for “you’re really annoying me right now” or “stop being a jerk.” It’s a nuanced difference. Mom came up with it but it caught on quickly with the rest of the family.  Funny side note to this funny note: Auntie Sibel asked if “nicey, nicey” is an American expression because she isn’t familiar with it.  No, it’s not.  It’s a Momism, our favorite kind of expression!)
  3. “Meatbrush: toothbrush kebab”
  4. “Where did he go?” -Mom referencing Uncle Izet during our 6 foot kebab dinner.  “We ate him” -Yasmine

Friday, June 15, 2012: Istanbul Shopping Fest!

The “Istanbul Shopping Fest” was going on while we were there and during our first and only trip to a “mall,” the jingle played non-stop.  That song still gets stuck on my head!

  1. “Reverse monopoly: you win when you’re out of lira!”
  2. “Pants mania: endless pants cycle”
  3. “Pants therapist” (aka Yasmine’s role in the dressing room)
  4. “Pants Twilight Zone”

Sunday, June 17: Two Day Pilgrimage to Virgin Mary’s tomb

  1. We had to fast to see the Virgin Mary (we were in the car for 10 hours without a meal.  At that point, we were used to eating every 15 mins).
  2. “Isn’t Nathan’s mom religious?  Might be a good idea to get her something from here.” –Yasmine, professional girlfriend.  Note: Start business, certify people as good girlfriends.
  3. “Four Stars,” says Forever Club
  4. “SALT, SALT, SALT, SALT and it’s not even the O-cean!” – Yasmine
  5. Remix: “BEACH, BEACH, BEACH, BEACH and it’s not even the O-cean!”  -Yasmine

Monday, June 18: First day at Forever Club in Bodrum (after one night’s sleep)

  1. “Even Turkish children stay up later than Melissa” Yasmine in reference to children playing on the playground around 9 or 10pm.  We passed by them when walking in town, looking for a happening club to get a drink.

Friday, June 29: Back in Istanbul and back at the Hilton.

  1. “ROOM, ROOM, ROOM, ROOM and it’s not even that awk-ward!”

One week in Lebanon:

It’s not that Lebanon was less funny than Turkey but by the time we hit Lebanon, we were exhausted so we were less diligent about writing things down.

  1. “I’ll cook you a Lebanese breakfast” chef at the Golden Tulip walks out with fried eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers
  2. While driving in Beirut on a major street, we spot chickens walking in middle of the road and then see a man pull over to load one in his car.  We slowed down to ask him if these are his chickens and he said no but he wanted to bring one home to his wife to make for dinner.  Apparently, they fell off a truck!
  3. After seeing Boli drinking arak, Yasmine asks for child size arak.
  4. “Yasminanator” – Melissa teasing Yasmine’s freakish looking buff arms in a photo of us clinking glasses at lunch after the boat ride (see photo below)

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Yasmine laughing at the photo of herself as “Yasminanator”

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Can’t Buy Me Love: Why I Won’t Wear a Diamond

A typical reaction to an engagement announcement includes a congratulatory exclamation and a demand to see the ring.  What irks me about this reaction is that the bling seems to outshine the thing that really matters: the person you’ve chosen to make a lifelong commitment to.  What this reaction illustrates is just how much our consumer culture has permeated even the most sacred, the most intimate decision the human heart makes.

I’ve told Nathan countless times not to buy me an engagement ring, but the peanut gallery often undermines me, giving Nathan the aside, “she doesn’t mean that.”  Actually, peanuts, I do. If I don’t find meaning in a tradition, or rather, if I find all the wrong meanings in it, then why participate?  For many women, the diamond symbolizes the eternal nature of love.  But it’s a symbol I never bought into (pun intended, bonus points for collecting them all). I don’t understand why the symbol of a lifelong partnership is so frivolous and gender biased.  Why would a couple just starting their lives together spend so much money on something that literally does nothing?  It just sits on a finger, and sometimes by the sink.

Imagine explaining this tradition to an alien:  The man saves up for months to buy a rock dug up from the ground, most likely by exploited workers of color, in dangerous conditions (If you think that diamond of yours is fair trade then prove it with something more than a piece of paper furnished by a mostly unregulated industry. The truth is you can never really know what the working conditions are: if the workers aren’t in direct physical danger, chances are they are underpaid and overworked.  Don’t believe me?  Google it and read the scores of articles highlighting the industry’s challenges, exploitation being only one of many).   After he’s done his research and has fooled himself into thinking the rock is ethical (or at least concedes that unethical exchanges are often difficult to avoid and he has no choice in the matter because society demands this act from him), he then places the dusted off, questionably sourced rock on the finger of his beloved.  That’s it.  “Why doesn’t the ring fold out into a new apartment, something she really needs?” asks the alien. (I like the way this alien thinks.)

So, don’t get a diamond, you say.  How about a nice ruby or emerald, you persist, ignoring the perfectly good point made by the alien.  That doesn’t address the gender inequality of the gesture.  Why doesn’t the man get a gift?  How can I teach a class on gender, stand in front of my students and push them to challenge gender norms and recognize patriarchal ideologies in fairy tales, Disney movies, clothing trends, song lyrics, magazine covers, legislative bills and relationship dynamics while wearing a ring reminiscent of Victorian era female dependency and male ownership?  Why do we even need a gift exchange to be part of the engagement ritual?  Isn’t a promise to spend forever together enough?  Must the market be involved for love to be recognized?? (That last question is for you, Marx.) While we’re spitting in the face of tradition: I don’t want you on bended knee, either, Nathan.  I want you to stand beside me and make this promise to me, eye to eye, as equals.

Lastly, and, most importantly, I want our kids to grow up seeing a ring-less mommy as normal.  I want to model for them that it’s ok to challenge traditions and encourage them to create their own.  They will face a lot of pressure to conform in every way imaginable and I want them to be able to say, “Nah.  That just isn’t me.”

My intention is not to make those of you who have a sparkly band on feel bad.  Chances are, you look down on your ring and are reminded of a romantic and life changing moment, charged with love and happiness.  In fact, I hope you do! Of course, I don’t think all traditions should be abandoned; I just think we should take a critical look at our customs and only engage in them if the value of the practice rings true to us.  I have my own traditions that I’m sure many see as frivolous or wasteful such as decorating Christmas trees, carving pumpkins and tucking my dog in at night (ok, so Nathan does that but I love it).  I think that when seeped with personal meaning and reflective of our belief systems, rituals can mark milestones in life in beautiful and ceremonious ways.  It’s just that my engagement milestone doesn’t need an actual stone.

Philanthropy looks good on you, Ikea

Let’s end this week acknowledging that there is still good in this world.  While many of us expect the low profile projects of corporations to be pure profit driven evil inspired by the latest exploitative trend, it’s uplifting (and surprising) to see a giant like Ikea using its expertise in the economy furniture industry to redesign the tents used in refugee camps.

Their hard plastic tents offer a door for more privacy and solar panels with a “fabric shade net” to help heat up cold nights and cool down hot days (a huge problem in the canvas tents normally used).  According to this NPR article, the Ikea version is also more spacious and lasts for 3 years versus the 6 month lifespan of the canvas tent.  It is also more expensive ($7,500 vs. $500 for a canvas tent) but once mass produced, Ikea is estimating the cost to be $1,000.  Considering the scary statistic that refugees spend an average of 12 years in displaced, temporary communities, the upgrade is a good human investment.

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inside the tent

How Turks Do Turkey

Traveling to the motherland is not the typical travel experience.  Seeing the lands, people and culture that shaped you from thousands of miles away is just as much an internal exploration as it is an external one. Family stories come out that you haven’t heard before and histories are revealed that make you understand your loved ones in new, often unexpected ways.  A new form of pride is instilled as you look out on the emerald green water of the Bosporus and enjoy the country’s beauty and culture first hand, from a Turkish perspective and not a tourist’s.  You may not speak the language but your stomach does.  You reach for the olives and ask for another Efes (dark if they have it).  You feel at home, even amongst relatives you haven’t seen in years.

It’s been a year since my family trip to Turkey and I’ve been planning to go back with Nathan every day since then.  Since being back, many friends and colleagues have often asked me for travel tips knowing that I have family in Turkey who took us to all the local spots and helped us avoid the tourist traps.  When a fellow teacher went in December, I asked my aunt for tips and she and I put together a little guide for him.  I have since expanded on that guide and thought I’d share it with a wider audience.

Download this PDF or keep reading to see how Turks do Turkey (the only difference is that the PDF has an extra section on public transit and doesn’t contain images): How Turks Do Turkey

Points of Interest in and around Istanbul:

(Aside from the obvious like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque)

1. Spice Bazaar vs. The Grand Bazaar.

If you only have time for one, I recommend the Spice Bazaar.  It is smaller than The Grand Bazaar (yet still has a ton of little shops) but I find it more charming.  I also prefer the neighborhood the Spice Bazaar is in.  The Grand Bazaar is in an area that looks very European.  The Spice Bazaar, however, is in an area that is very Ottoman.  It is right next to a gorgeous mosque with a large historic compound.  The prices at the Spice Bazaar are also more reasonable.  The Grand Bazaar is overprized because it is such a tourist attraction.

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(Above) Inside the Spice Bazaar.

2. Boat tour on the Bosporus.

If the weather permits, it is worth it.  I suggest a shorter tour.  In the summer, there are 1.5 hour, 3 hour and 6 hour tours.  I’m not sure if all tours include stopping to get lunch.  My family and I took the 6 hour tour (pretty lengthy) but we enjoyed the lunch immensely.  It was the best fish we had while in Istanbul.  From the boat, you see several palaces, the old fortress walls, and multi-million dollar homes.  Apparently, real estate on the Bosporous is amongst the most expensive in the world.  Homes go for about 100 million US dollars.

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3. Topkapi Palace. (closed on Tuesday)

Istanbul’s version of Versailles.  The exhibits at the palace range.  When we were there, we were able to see the harem.  I think the harem is the most beautiful and ornate part of the palace.  If it is still open, I highly recommend it.  The palace also contains several items that belonged to the Prophet Muhammad.

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4. Turkish bath: http://www.ayasofyahamami.com/en/index1.html

The Ayasofya hamam is a historic hamam, built in 1556, and is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) in Istanbul.  It reopened about two years ago after being closed for years of restoration.  It is about 90 euros for a traditional Turkish bath.  You can find cheaper in Turkey, but cheaper could mean not as clean and not as beautiful.  It is a great way to end a day of walking around.  My family and I toured the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia then went to the hamam (located right in between the two mosques) to freshen up before dinner.  Even though the location is touristy, even locals come here because of its reputation and beauty.  I recommend making a reservation.

Tip: You should be completely naked for the bathers to be able to scrub you down.  Technically, you can be as naked as you are comfortable with but it is weird to wear a full on bathing suit. Locals go naked.  Don’t be shy!

5.    Galata Tower

Offers a great view of Istanbul from the top.  The area is also very charming.

Galata Tower Istanbul

6. Prince Islands

A chain of 9 islands off the coast of Istanbul. Great day trip from Istanbul, just a short ferry ride away. You can get there by boat from Eminonu. There are a lot of nice old Turkish houses on the island and cars aren’t allowed so you get around with horse and cart.

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7.  Milli Saraylar Palace: http://www.millisaraylar.gov.tr/portalmain-en/default.aspx

If you have time to see another palace, this one is a favorite of mine because it still has the beautiful rugs, ornate chandeliers, and some furniture.  It also has a very different feel than Topkapi Palace and is right on the Bosporus.

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My two favorite resturants in Istanbul:

1. http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Istanbul/Sights/asia/ciya.html Çiya or Chiya restaurant in Kadıkoy is small and has tables directly on the street but offers many unique vegetarian and meat dishes that many restaurants don’t.  It was one of our best meals in Istanbul.  The area is also very charming and contains many cafes, spice shops, olive stores, fish markets, etc.

2. Şenol Kolcuoğlu, or Shenol Kolcuoglu, in Göztepe (Anatolian side of Istanbul).  I couldn’t find an English website for this restaurant.  This restaurant is fine dining and the service is very dramatic.  This place serves 6 foot long kebabs and takes half a dozen men to carry the kebabs to the table.  I recommend dressing up for this place as it is on the nicer end of restaurants (and Turks like to dress up).

My aunt’s recommendations on where to eat (she lives in Istanbul):

1)   Hamdi in Eminonu – Turkish food

2)   Sultanahmet Kofteci (Turkish meatballs) in Sultanahmet

3)   Fish in Kumkapı

4)   Many restaurants in Beyoglu

5)   Many restaurants on Bagdat street

6)   Many cafe & restaurants (with nice view while looking at the Bosporus) in Ortakoy.

7)   In Anadolukavag, in the Anatolian side, there are several fish restaurants. The boat rides on the Bosporus take you here.

Dining Out Tips:

1. Turkish beer is awesome but Turkish wine is not.  If you’re a wine drinker, it’s time to get reacquainted with beer. (Efes dark is my favorite but harder to find.)

Efes_stout

2. Turks mostly eat Turkish food so other cuisines are not very popular there (nor do they taste authentic so I would just avoid them).

3. Tipping 20% is not expected in Turkey.  It’s more like 5-10% if you’re generous but basically a couple of extra bucks is fine.

4. If you get friendly with any locals, see if anyone can read your Turkish coffee cup and tell your fortune.  A fun tradition!

5. If you’re vegetarian, no problem! Plenty of dishes to choose from!  If you are a meat eater, don’t shy away from the lamb because Turks don’t prepare it like Americans do.  It is the main meat in nearly every dish, often used ground up.

6. You can eat the fried fish whole, bones, head and all.  Yum.

7. If you don’t know what to order from the menu, tell them that and just ask for a mezze spread (specify if you want vegetarian or meat or both).  Turks, like the Italians, eat late and take their time with their meals so it’s common to be at dinner for hours (like four).  It’s a major culinary experience as they bring plate after plate to the table until they are stacking them 3 to 4 layers high.  Sit back and enjoy!  Take breaks if you have to and then go for that fifth serving.

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Other cities worth checking out in Turkey (of course, there are more but these are my fav!):

1. Cappadocia: Known for its “fairy chimneys,” a remarkably beautiful and unique natural wonder. Hot air balloon rides are popular here for obvious reasons.

Cappadocia_Turkey_5

2. Ephesus:  Turkey used to be part of the Greek and later Roman empires and the Greek and Roman remains at Ephesus are unbelievable.  The tomb of the Virgin Mary is also near Ephesus and worth checking out even if you aren’t religious.

Ephesus_ruins

3. Bodrum: Where Turks (and most of Europe) summer. If you want to get some swimming and beach time in, this is the place to be.  I highly recommend renting a private sailboat for a day.  They take you to beautiful bays to swim and prepare a fantastic lunch for you on the boat.  You will be tempted to spend all your time at the beach but put some clothes on (for just a few hours) and check out the Bodrum castle (pictured below).  The 360 views from towers are not to be missed.

bodrum

Spending money:

1. You can have lunch for approximately $20 per person in nice restaurants. For dinner (with alcohol), it is about $30-35  person. You can eat for less in more casual places. In big shops, restaurants, and cafes, American credit cards are accepted, but in smaller places, it can be a problem.

2. ATMs are everywhere and offer the best exchange rates.

3. While you shop, don’t forget to bargain! They will automatically overcharge you because you are a tourist. They give different prices to locals. Counter with about 30% less than asking price (my aunt’s approach).  Some people are bolder and immediately cut the asking price in half (my father and I both do this). They will pretend it’s insulting but they still want your business.  Inch up from the halfway point to a price you are comfortable with.  If you really want the item and they are not budging on the price, pretending to leave the shop is a great maneuver!  They will start slashing prices to keep you in the store.

4. Turkey is known for its high quality leather and rugs.  If you want a new purse, a new leather jacket or a rug (silk or wool), this is the place to shop for it!

Comfort and Safety:

1. As Westerners in a Muslim nation, remember that Turks are secular and thus feel free to show some skin (wear shorts, dresses, etc).  Just cover up the shoulders, back and chest when you enter a mosque.  (Note: The women you see completely covered up in a full hijab, niqab and jellaba are not Turks, they are usually from Saudi Arabia.)

2. I’m sure you’ve heard of the protests happening in big cities all over Turkey (if you haven’t: basically Turks are protesting a more conservative and religious government than they are used to. Turkey was founded as a democratic, secular Republic in 1923).  Turkey isn’t Syria so don’t worry about being shot!  But if you check out a protest, be smart about it: stay a safe distance away and don’t approach if there is tear gas.

3. Watch out for pickpockets!  Especially in crowded areas.  Zip up or buckle up those purses and keep them in front of you. If you’re wearing a backpack, I recommend turning it around so it’s on your belly in really crowded places like bazaars.  There are pickpockets in every major city in the world and Turkey is no exception.  I recommend registering with the US Embassy before you go (in case you lose your passport, etc) and making a photocopy of your passport and driver’s license and keeping those copies separate from the real documents.

4. Turkey is HOT during the summer (can be up to 115 degrees) but at least it’s a dry heat.  Wear sunscreen, drink lots of water (we often poured whole bottles of water on our heads) and wear a hat.  Evenings stay warm so leave that jacket at the hotel.

The Quote Board: What would Michael Kors Say?

“I cant believe he/she threw me under the bus!” – Everyone on project runway, all seasons

1/30/13

“Do you want to go to a Superbowl party?” – Nathan

“When is it?” –Kris

“That’s the one party you can’t ask that question” – Mel

 Later, sometime in spring

“If I think about a Danish, I want a Danish.” – Nathan

“Being uncomfortable around your hairstylist is the worst.” –Yasmine

“Huh?  What did you not say?” – Nathan

“Coral reef – it’s like the downtown of the fish world.” –Kris

“Bland and bland aren’t dating at this point.” – Mel on Gossip Girl

4/ 25/13

“This show is a little risqué for the Christian mingle viewer.” – Nathan

“A full moon for a full moron.” –Mel

5/8/13

What the NPR pledge drive hosts really want to say:

“Listen up free loaders, this is the richest city in the world.  Pull over that BMW and call us right now.  Are you seriously going to sign up for the lowest membership rate?  You pay more for socks!  You would have nothing interesting to talk about without us!”

Knock, Knock. Who’s there?

Perhaps the rent in the city is getting so competitive, even the woodland creatures feel like they can’t leave the trees they call home for fear they won’t find another abode. Thus they’re simply claiming their territory and locking up to prevent those pesky tech industry mice from pushing out the local residents because they have more cheese!  Or perhaps the crime in the city is getting to the squirrels who just want to rest assured that their acorns will be there when they come home from a long day of teasing dogs into thinking their K-9 teeth can actually catch one of them.

 

mousedoor

This little door was found in the Concourse in Golden Gate Park.  The Richmond District Blog posted these two images sent in by a reader.

mousedoor2

Whoever made this little door, I applaud their whimsical creativity.  Thank you for taking my mind off of grading papers and allowing it instead to think of mice dressed up in overalls, with a little tool belt, hammering away at this little piece of wood to make a door that will be just right.

Design for the People

Reality is rarely the muse of designers.  It isn’t as sexy or as flashy as fantasy and tis so much more fun for the artist to live in the world of the opulent and the svelte.  Here are two design spotlights that ignore the trends in their industries and instead offer up the real and the practical, and inspire us in the process.

Curvy Swedish Mannequins

Ahlens department store in Sweden. These two mannequins in the lingerie section have softer, rounder stomachs and thicker thighs.

Resource Furniture

Resource furniture is compact and serves multiple functions, ideal for apartments that are smaller than your lifestyle.  The video features beds that tuck away and become part of the wall decor, complete with shelving units that remain undisturbed as you raise and lower the bed, amongst other innovative pieces.

I think labeling these designs as progressive is not quite accurate.  It isn’t forward thinking, it is present thinking.  It is nice to see people who are plugged in, responding to the here and now.  Reality welcome here.