Saturday, August 2, 2008


After leaping off a mountain and unfurling our wings, I was completely silent. My flight instructor eventually got worried.

Him: "Are you OK?"
Me: "I can't speak I'm so happy."

Friday, August 1, 2008

Four Small Things

1. A flower in the Kaçkars.

2. A mother cricket carries her child.

3. After a long cab ride, the driver asked me to trade shoes.

4. The ferry ticket windows in Istanbul are so small. It's undignified.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I'm in Shambala, a tiny commune perched on a cliff over the Mediterranean.

Accessible only by a 30 minute hike from a remote bus stop, Shambala soaks up money like a resort hotel, or like a cult. This indescribable little society is run by a three-generation matriarchal dynasty of self-described "witches"

whose bidding is carried out by a corps of volunteers

who trade a few hours work for lodging, fun in the sun, and spiritual enlightenment.

Liıke a cult, people don't leave Shambala. They come for a few days and end up staying for weeks. I don't know if it's the views, the meditation, the chakra readings, the delicious dinners

or the nightly raves. Maybe it's the communal sleeping on sofas overlooking the sea, where in the middle of the night random guests climb into bed next to you and falls asleep:

Whatever it is, as my stay ends, I too find myself asking for one... more... night.

"There is no room for you," a volunteer informs me placidly. "But you can sleep where you want and put your bags in the white tent for 40 Lira a night."

I contemplate becoming a volunteer instead.

In the end, I decided to leave. One can only become so enlightened, and anyway, maybe I don't need Shambala: the owner, Emine, had read my chakras in the temple:

and was astonished to find them in perfect harmony!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Escape through the Kaçkars

With Adnan as our guide, Olee, Hadar, and left on a two day hike through the Kaçkar mountains:

On the way we passed glacial lakes:

and met a mountain girl with a wreath of flowers:

The people of this region are invariably beautiful. The Israelis brought absurd amounts of food with them, and that night we pitched tents and cooked what was probably the only Kosher meal in all the Kaçkars:

As we looked at the stars after dinner, Hadar and Olee taught me Israeli folk songs and I taught them the few American spirituals I know (thanks Maman!).

At dawn, we were awoken by men installing electricity in the region for the first time. I snapped this photo of the view from my tent:

Escape through the Kaçkars: Cast of Characters

Unable to bear any more partying in Istanbul, I sought a few days refuge in the Kaçkar mountains of northeastern Turkey.

Here are the characters:

Mutlu and Reynold: This unlikely couple of a Turkish Chocolatier and a Dutch color expert. They were kind enough to give me a ride to the nearest city. Despite their union being completely unnacceptable to Turkish society, they were some of the most charmingly straight-laced people I've met on this trip.

Adnan: Our guide through the mountains. Ardent Turkish nationalist, hiker, hunter, and defender of the environment.

Olee: My irrepressibly funny and outgoing Israeli treckmate. She's been traveling through Turkey with her friend Hadar.

Hadar: A thoughtful Israeli who speaks Turkish and is writing her PhD thesis on a secretive Kabbalistic cult of professed Muslims who have survived in Turkey for centuries.

Ayder: The secluded mountain town from which I started my hike. Pictured here is the lobby of my guesthouse. This town is so remote that when Nazli called the wrong guesthouse, they asked if she was looking an American professor. When she said yes, they gave her the number of the right guesthouse!

Istanbul: Old and New

Istanbul is ground zero of the war between old and new. Here, a woman with a Muslim headscarf watches bikini-clad women frolic on the beach:

What's old and new? The old, of course, is the fiercely Western and secular Turkish society. The new is the resurgent Islam, battling secular Istanbul street-by-street and neighborhood-by-neighborhood.

Old Turkey:

New Turkey:

Many secular Turks refuse to go to highly Muslim neighborhoods, where people frown upon men and women walking together. So my guide was the daring and protean Linden:

a liberal, American friend of Nazli's who had no problem donning a headscarf to explore these treacherous parts of the city.

A Night at the Turkish Movies

How better to cap a day at the baths than a night at the movies? Nazli had introduced me to her actress friend Pelin:

who's famous enough that everyone in Turkey immediately recognizes her name. Pelin invited us to the set of her latest movie:

a gangster flick where she plays a Russian prostitute. Her face was made up as if she had just been beaten up.