Today is Monday, May 1st, a national holiday in Turkey. It’s pleasantly warm here in Ankara, but cloudy and rather muggy, and indeed the predicted thunderstorm has just burst forth. For my university, this is the first break since classes began last February 6. I felt a huge relief. A three-day weekend, at last! My fellow staff members, not to mention the students, surely feel the same.
I profited from the extra time by making a nice dinner yesterday evening. Included was “siyez bulguru,” which I was preparing for the first time. “Siyez bulguru” is “einkorn,” a very old form of domesticated wheat, dating even back to the Neolithic period thousands of years ago. I bought some in Kastamonu, a city four hours by car north of Ankara, during a trip last November. I was looking for wild mushrooms, a local delicacy, but a shopkeeper told me that because the autumn had been dry, mushrooms were scarce. Would I not like to try this other local specialty? I followed the recipe on the sack. As for regular bulgur, you sauté an onion in butter and vegetable oil, add some tomato paste, water / bouillon, salt, red pepper, and the dark red-brown siyez grains, cook the mixture for 15-20 minutes until the water is absorbed, and then let the grains sit for 15 minutes. Delicious: a chewy texture, but with a very nice flavor. For an archaeologist, the chance to eat this grain which you usually only read about in textbooks was very exciting.
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It has been quite a year for elections. Brexit, Trump vs. Clinton, the Dutch elections in March, the referendum here in Turkey on April 16, and now the French elections (Round One over; Round Two this coming weekend). It’s emotionally draining, even if you don’t have the right to vote in a particular country and are watching from over the fence. If your side loses, it can be a shock. Here in Turkey, the result of the referendum on proposed changes to the constitution was close: 51.4% for, 48.6% against. The “no” position did very well, considering the restrictions its proponents encountered when they tried to explain their views. “Yes” took the conservative, pious, provincial heartland of the country, whereas “No” won in the biggest cities (Istanbul, Ankara, and, by a big margin, Izmir), the Mediterranean and Aegean coastal areas, Thrace, and in the southeast. The Çankaya district in which I live, Ankara province’s largest with over 600,000 voters, went 78% “no.”
The country is divided – but then so are the UK (with Brexit) and the US (with Trump) and, so it seems, France. Reaching out to all, to losers as well as winners for national unity, seems not to be in the air these days. It’s a winner-takes-all mentality. Here, we are still living under Emergency Rule (recently renewed for another three months). Yesterday, a new round of purges was announced: nearly 4,000 civil servants, including 400+ academics, were fired. That makes some 140,000 dismissed from state and private jobs since the attempted coup last July. In addition, Wikipedia was blocked, because of (I am reading now in a report in today's “Hürriyet Daily News”) “two English language pages which claimed that Turkey channeled support to jihadists in Syria.” The Turkish government has requested Wikipedia to remove these pages; until this is done, Wikipedia will remain blocked, even the Turkish-language version. Wikipedia has been a godsend for teachers and students in particular. How will we live without it?
One benefit from the referendum was a reacquaintance with the vast and colorful world of Turkish proverbs and sayings. After complaints of irregularities in the referendum and cries for a recount, the president, refusing all protests, used the expression, “Atı alan Üsküdar’a geçti.” Literally “The one who took/stole the horse has already passed Üsküdar,” this means: “It is far too late now (to rectify it).” This expression was new to me, but two Turkish friends with whom I was playing bridge the other day confirmed this was widely known.
What other Turkish expressions use “at” (“horse”), I wondered? I checked my Redhouse Turkish-English dictionary. Lots, it turns out. At random, I plucked out two, to test on my friends:
“Atın bahtsızı arabaya düşer.” Ah, yes, they liked that. Lit: It is an unlucky horse that has to pull a wagon. Meaning: Some people do not get work suitable to their talents.
And one more: “Ata nal çakıldığını görmüş, kurbağa ayaklarını uzatmış.” Lit: A frog saw them shoeing a horse and he stuck out his feet. Meaning: He/She wants things he/she has no right to expect. My friends didn’t know this one, but they burst out laughing, enjoying it.
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I was sad to read of the recent death of John Freely, on April 20. Freely (1926-2017) was a professor of Physics at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University (aka Bosphorus University, formerly Robert College) and a prolific author of books on travel and history. [Sadly, his biography on Wikipedia is blocked today in Turkey: “Hmm, we can’t reach this page.”] I must have met him, at least in passing, although I don’t have a precise memory of having done so. Nonetheless, he was a legend among Americans living in Turkey, for his long experience here and his love for the country, so I feel I knew him well. When Marie-Henriette and I first spent a year in Istanbul, in 1974-75, Strolling through Istanbul, the guidebook he wrote together with Hilary Sumner-Boyd (orig. 1972, revised 2010), was our essential companion as we explored the old parts of the city. I have just taken it off the shelf, and am leafing through it now. What pleasure it gives! The warm, friendly language; the level of detail; the privilege and joy of penetrating the secrets of this great city . . . it’s still a truly marvelous book.