I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Turkey is a wonderful memory

At Topkapi Palace, with the Bosphorus behind me
I am so glad to be sitting in my bed with my laptop on my knees, partner sleeping beside me, and a cup of tea warm and inviting on a Sunday morning. I have slept through the night for most of the five nights I've been home, and I think it's safe to say I didn't get sick and have that naturopath to thank. I took all the supplements and probiotics he suggested, and now I'm cutting back on those large doses. Except for the probiotic: I think I will continue to take that for awhile.

I received a really nice note from Mickey, my old boss. He said, "Thanks so much for coming to Turkey. We did it again. Don't expect I'll do it again. You helped more than you realized." That was such a nice thing for him to say, and it made me feel much better about my participation. Turkey was an experience I'm glad I had, and I wouldn't trade it for anything, now that I'm home and back to my old routine.

Other than having brought back some souvenirs and a couple of extra unwanted pounds on my hips, Turkey is now a memory. I have to say it was nothing like I expected. There was no sense of the anti-American sentiment I feared; in fact, I think the people of Turkey are much more hospitable and welcoming than I've experienced in other countries. Even in the bazaars, I didn't feel pressured to buy things. When I visited the Great Wall of China, the people hawking their wares were the worst: there are even lines on the pavement that they are not allowed to cross so that one can look at the souvenirs, but if I touched one, they often wouldn't stop haranguing until I walked away. Turks are polite and would never do such a thing.

I would also fly on Turkish Air again in a minute. The flight from Antalya to Istanbul is only one hour, but we were treated to a hot meal, a really good one that I would never have expected from an American carrier. In fact, one of the women who had to travel from New York to Los Angeles said she never even received a peanut on Delta. Of course there was food to purchase, but otherwise they only received water and other drinks. My Delta flight from Istanbul to Seattle was much nicer: we were fed three times during the ten-hour flight. If I had been able to sleep on the plane, it would have been perfect, but I just can't.

There are some people whose heads barely touch the back of their seats before they are sound asleep. I looked at them with envy. I have tried, and even with my extra pillow and one of those things that wraps around your neck, the best I could do is doze fitfully for a few minutes. I ended up watching two movies: The Grand Budapest Hotel (which I'd already seen but enjoyed thoroughly the second time), and Frozen, an animated movie that I hadn't seen since I don't have any little ones around to take me. I loved it; I was reminded of how much I loved Cinderella when I was young. Animation has come a long way since 1950, but Disney's sense of magic was well developed, even back then.

And finally the plane touched down on my home soil again. SeaTac's customs system works well. It is now automated with a kiosk that scans your passport and takes a picture of you. After answering the usual questions on line, a printed paper with passport and photo emerges that you give to a customs official. He glanced at it all and said, "welcome home." It was all very efficient and speedy. Within a half hour after landing, I was inside the terminal. This meant that I could catch the airport shuttle back to Bellingham two hours earlier than I'd expected. I was back home exactly 24 hours after setting off for the airport in Istanbul.

There is real truth to the adage that travel broadens one's perspective. Even though Turkey borders all those bellicose countries that we hear so much about these days: Syria, Iraq and Iran, the Turks I interacted with all seemed very considerate of others. In fact, the only belligerent people I encountered were Americans, to my chagrin. Why is it that we often think that foreign countries should be like home? My fellow travelers on the streets of Istanbul were from Peru, South Korea, India, Colombia, and America. Guess which ones had a sour face when things didn't go their way?

If I had my way, every university in the country would require its graduates to spend a month or two in a foreign country, so they might become citizens of the world rather than remain parochial and intolerant of differences. But I am not the Master of the Universe, so I'll just carry on my own little part by absorbing and appreciating the wonderful variety of people and places I get to visit during my travels.

That said, I'm more convinced that ever that those travels are now all behind me. Although it was really enriching in many ways, I realize that being in my eighth decade of life means that venturing out of my comfort zone will be limited to visiting family in various parts of the country. Even traveling to Florida to visit Norma Jean sounds arduous right now, but this time next year I'll probably be heading off to see her, in order to escape the long winter for a few weeks.

And lo and behold, when I returned, I see that there is plenty of light in the sky when I walk to the bus, and the plum trees are blooming! Daffodils and crocus are abundant, and spring is actually here already. I know that many of you who are on the East Coast will not be experiencing anything like we are here, but it will probably all turn around in the summer. Spring may be late, but it will return.

Our snowpack is so far below normal that unless we get some late winter storms, we'll be dry during the summer months, much drier than normal. I am so accustomed to everything being so green here; I hope we will get some much needed moisture in the form of snow in the High Country. We are right at normal precipitation, but because of warm temperatures, it's fallen in the form of rain, even in the Mt. Baker wilderness. A strange weather year, that's for sure.

In fact, I learned that when I left Istanbul on Tuesday, it began to snow and continued for two days, with a 28-year record for snowfall broken. Two feet of snow fell, snarling traffic and grounding flights. Fortunately for me, I left before it hit. A strange weather year indeed. Although it's impossible to know whether it's just an anomalous year and things will return to normal soon, I suspect that even climate change deniers might be having second thoughts. I hope so, anyway.

But for now, the sun will be shining brightly this Sunday, and I am going to head to Skydive Snohomish to make what will be my first skydive of the year, if all goes as planned. My friend Christy is meeting me there at noon, and we should at least be able to get our knees in the breeze once or twice. That's my hope, anyway. So until we meet again next Sunday, be well and happy. I wish it for you, anyway.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Trip to Turkey Part 2

Japanese tourists in front of the Blue Mosque
We arrived in Istanbul yesterday afternoon, and I've already been walking on the streets to see the Blue Mosque (above) and eaten in a local restaurant. And then we came back to the hotel and waited until 8:00pm to begin an evening session of the writing group. As a creature of the morning, this didn't work well for me, and I was glad when we stopped by 9:30pm. We will work all day today (Sunday), and then Monday we will have a tour of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The day will end with a trip to the Grand Bazaar.

And then I'll take a taxi Tuesday morning to Atatürk Airport and fly to Amsterdam, with a connecting flight to Seattle. Finally a three-hour-long bus ride back home to Bellingham by evening. I will be so happy to be back into the routine of my life, I can't tell you. I've learned quite a few things during this adventure.

The first lesson is that I don't ever want to work again. I don't have my mind in the right place any more, and I freely admit that I have been basically useless to Mickey and thought that at least here in Istanbul I could join the writing team and contribute something. But frankly, it seems that I am only counting the hours until it's over. I thought it would be like riding a bike, that I wouldn't forget how, but all I've really learned is that I've changed. My priorities have changed, and wordsmithing a document I don't care about is just a task to be completed.

It's very cold here in Istanbul, but still there are many groups of tourists, such as the one in the picture above. On the right-hand side of the picture you can see benches that are usually filled with tourists during the high season, and all I can say is I'm glad I'm not here during that! Just now I began to hear the first Call to Prayer from the mosque, which occurs five times a day. This one is just before dawn, which is kind of nice from a distance. When we were walking around right under the loudspeakers yesterday, it wasn't so nice and I could hardly wait for it to be over.

At least here in Istanbul at a three-star hotel (instead of a fancy five-star one like before) I feel as though I am in a foreign land. Since I am finally over jet lag, I think I will enjoy tomorrow's tour, but the truth is that I can hardly wait to get home. Most of the people here are very nice, and it's obvious that they have developed a relationship to the tourists that includes hawking their wares and bargaining with us, but basically ignoring us otherwise. Did you know that Istanbul has a population of 15 million? I didn't, but now that I am here, I can believe it. Even now in midwinter, people crowd the streets.

You see every kind of dress imaginable, but with the cold weather everyone is bundled up. I would estimate that about 10% of the women wear head scarves, but not the hijab. I don't think I have seen any woman yet in a burka on the street, although it's obvious which women are observant Muslims because they are dressed in dark long dresses along with their head coverings. Basically we are all jostling each other as we make our way up and down the main street.

Our hotel is adequate, although after I finish this post I will try to take a shower and see how that works. One of our group said the water in his shower varied from very hot to very cold, and he was on his way to the desk to see if he might get it fixed. I enjoyed the food I ate yesterday, and I look forward to going out and exploring the area a little more, given my limited time in this ancient city. Everywhere there are ruins from the past, and I'll try to get some pictures tomorrow that will show what Istanbul is like today.

I have seen little to no evidence of the war raging in Syria, except for a couple with a baby begging on the main street, with a sign in English saying they are refugees from the war. Of course I gave them money, but I couldn't help but feel a stab in my heart for the awful war and all those displaced by it. There are many feral cats in Istanbul, too, but they look a lot scruffier than the ones in Antalya. There are also a few large stray or feral dogs wandering the streets. Nobody seems to care about them, and they look half-starved and it pretty much broke my heart to see them. This is not an easy place to live, I suspect, whatever kind of animal you are.

Another lesson I've learned on this trip is that the entire universe of bloggers have become a virtual family that I can feel even while I am here in this place. I have been able, because of the internet, to continue to read most of the blogs I follow, and I've gotten comments on my own posts from all around the world. I see the names of you all and I feel a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness that you are there, somewhere, along with me on this journey. Almost daily I've been able to video chat with Smart Guy, and it really helps to keep me connected with my real life. This is just a short interlude, one that has taught me that I've moved on, and that my life in Bellingham is full and meaningful.

And now the sun has arisen over the ancient city, and it's time for me to take a shower and begin my day. I remember that although it's dawn on Sunday morning here, you will be able to see this post on Saturday evening in the US, Valentine's Day. It continues to boggle my mind that I am able to travel back and forth in time, so to speak. So, from the future, I send you my most sincere greetings from Constantinople! Until next week, when I'll have traveled back to my comfy home, be well.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Trip to Turkey Part 1

Pools from the lobby
I am finally at the hotel, after thirty grueling hours to get here, through one bus ride, three airports, a taxi, and finally I arrived, tired and grumpy, having shed a few tears along the way. But now it's Monday morning (still Sunday night at home), the sun is shining, and I've toured the hotel and gotten a good night's sleep. One night when it should have been two.

The long haul from Seattle to Amsterdam was not bad at all. I watched two movies (The Judge and Lucy) during my flight. It took nine hours instead of ten, since the jet stream was pushing us so fast, it didn't matter that the flight had been delayed by one hour. We arrived on time, and my bags were checked through to Istanbul. I enjoyed the Amsterdam airport very much, and the three hours that I spent there went quickly, as I sat with my iPad and enjoyed a nice frosty beer (Heinekin) while catching up on my blogs.  The internet connection wasn't great, but it worked well enough, as long as I wasn't trying to post anything. And then it was time to fly to Istanbul.

That three-hour flight wasn't nearly as comfortable, as the seats didn't recline and by this time I was getting very tired. I couldn't sleep well (I never do on planes) but napped a bit. When I arrived in Istanbul, it was late afternoon and it was raining as if I were back in Seattle! I had a couple of hours before my plane would leave for Antalya, but things never happen as they are supposed to. I was to pick up my bags and take them to the domestic terminal, since I was flying from Istanbul to Antalya. However, when I went to get a seat assignment, the plane I was scheduled to fly on was overbooked, and I had no seat. Well, by this time I was so tired and stressed that I began to cry. I couldn't help it, the tears just streamed from my eyes. I was given a standby boarding pass, and then I had to wait until everyone boarded before it would be possible to see if I could get a seat.

It was because I must have garnered some sympathy that one of the ticket agents took me (and two young men from Norway) to the boarding area and waited with us, hoping that there would be some people who didn't make the connection, and sure enough, at the very last minute I got a seat. Although the flight is only an hour, I felt as though I had been wrung through a wringer by the time I got off the plane. I stood with all the other people as bag after bag came off the conveyor, but mine wasn't there. I went to Lost and Found and was told that my bag would be in the domestic area, not the international area. Well, by 8:30pm I was reunited with my checked bag and went outside to find the purported ride to the hotel. Nobody. I ended up taking a taxi for the 25-minute ride and arrived after 9:00pm.

When I walked into the hotel lobby, I felt like a half-drowned cat. I probably looked like one, too. I registered for the conference, paid for my six nights and learned that Mickey and his wife Karen had already arrived and were in the dining room. I went to say hello and ended up having a glass of wine and spending an hour visiting with them before I went up to my room.

To say that I was overwhelmed by the room is an understatement. It is the nicest room I have ever stayed in, and I was dirty and exhausted and should have taken a shower, I just climbed into the comfy bed and lost consciousness. Several times during the night I woke but just turned over and went back to sleep. At about 5:00am Turkey time, I woke as usual and went right to my computer, but I found that the connection wasn't wonderful, so I went down to the lobby and called Smart Guy on FaceTime to let him know I am okay.

Now I am in the dining room eating a wonderful breakfast of fabulous foods, and soon I will finish this post and go walking around the hotel to see what it's like. The conference starts tomorrow, so I hope I'll be completely over my jet lag by morning. I also hope I have a chance to swim in one of those fantastic pools; there seem to be several, and boy am I glad I brought my swim suit!

By the time I went to sleep last night, I had a raging headache that I attributed to the stress of the day, but after a good night's sleep it was worse than ever. I found out why: I had not had any coffee or caffeine during the trip, hoping that I would be able to sleep on the plane. If I ever needed anything to remind me that I am addicted to caffeine, that was all I needed. A cup of coffee this morning, and the headache vanished.

Now I am rested, well fed, and posting my Sunday Eye on the Edge post, just a little late. It's Monday here, but it's still Sunday evening back home. I've connected with my guy, and now I am relieved that he knows I'm here safely, and it's time to explore my surroundings. I hope you will all stay safe and sound until we meet again, hopefully not so late next week. I'll he in Istanbul next week at another hotel, but I have five more nights at this one, and I'm not at all unhappy about it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Superbowl Sunday

Superbowl #49
I'm not much of a sports fan, but it's almost impossible to live in the United States these days without being aware of the final football game of the season: the Superbowl. And living in one of the states that has a team in the game, well, the enthusiasm borders on a fever. One team will win today, and one will lose. This is a matchup that should deliver a close game, one that millions will be watching.

Not me. I care too much about who wins and who loses to watch the play-by-play drama. Although I have friends who are sports enthusiasts and wouldn't dream of missing it, I will be at the movies, which I discovered is the best time to be out and about: everyone else will be at home or ensconced in a bar somewhere watching. And I will be home and in my bed before the drunks hit the streets tonight. Win or lose, you know there will be people celebrating to excess. Last year a drunk drove up on the sidewalk and killed a pedestrian in downtown Bellingham. Many times a week I pass by the spot, where a memorial to the young man is still lovingly tended by those who miss him and honor his memory. Hopefully the man who killed him is in jail somewhere.

It reminds me how quickly things can change. In an instant, the young man's life was gone, and the life of the man who killed him is essentially over as well. It's a scene that plays out all over the world, and in this country, every half-hour on average another person is killed by a drunk driver. That's rather terrifying to realize. And that's just alcohol: I wonder how many more are killed by distracted drivers. It's a scene that only a few years ago I couldn't have imagined, but today I see more and more people looking down at their smartphone screens while walking, sitting, or... driving.

But that is not what I intended to write about this morning. I'll be missing this wonderful little scene in my bedroom for the next two Sundays, since I will be traveling. Now that it is upon me, I am excited for the adventure, and I'll be doing what I can to maintain my blogging schedule, since I should have lots of interesting things to write about. I've never been in a Muslim country before, and I have been reading about Turkey and all the controversies over headscarves and proper dress. I didn't know that, as in France a few years ago, the headscarf was banned in many cities in Turkey for some time. The reforms that were instituted by Atatürk in the early part of the last century gave women many rights that were ahead of the rest of the world: the right to vote, hold office, and own land.

But as often happens, there was a conservative backlash in the country, and once the current Islamist president, Erdoğan, who was elected more than a decade ago took office, he repealed the ban against headscarves in Turkey. I've learned that it will be all right for me to walk around on the streets without one, but when visiting mosques I should cover my head, as well as making sure I don't show too much skin. Well, I never do anyway, so that shouldn't be much of a problem. Long pants and long sleeves are pretty much all I ever wear, summer or winter. There are times when I wear short-sleeved t-shirts, but as someone who is all too conscious of what old-lady upper arms look like, I'm always careful to cover them. I sure don't want to stand out in any way while I'm over there. I've also learned that means to leave my purple Crocs behind and wear dark shoes.

Turkey is ten hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, and I will have my schedule thrown off by a full day of travel and that big time change, but if I recover sufficiently, I'll be walking around the city of Antalya next Monday. The conference doesn't start until Tuesday and will continue through Friday. Then I'll board an airplane on Valentine's Day and spend three nights in Istanbul. During that time, we will forge a document from our combined notes and then return to our respective homes. I'm looking forward to seeing old friends from my working years, but in almost a decade we will all have changed. My old boss Mickey is bringing his wife Karen, and I look forward very much to seeing them both.

There is a tiny nagging doubt that I will not be able to carry out the duties that came so easily years ago. I've learned that I don't bounce back like I once did, either from travel or stress of any sort. Writing in these blogs has helped me to keep a semblance of my former language skills, and I suspect that it will all return to me. It was hard to learn how to bring my own personality into my writing, since all science writing is expected to be formal and academic and expressed in the third person. Mickey has always bent these rules a little himself, and I will be counting on him to help me with my writing. He has always been a prolific writer, and it was my duty once upon a time to help him in the same way. I've taken a look at the tentative agenda, and it is very similar to dozens of meetings that I've helped Mickey organize in the past.

As I said at the beginning of this post, that is the plan, but as we know things can change very quickly. I'm not exactly nervous about the actual flights, but in these days of so much political unrest around the world, I hope I am able to avoid any conflict myself. I will be only a few hundred miles away from the Syrian border, and nowhere in any of my imaginings did I see myself there. And now here I am going to the Middle East. Well, things change. Hopefully it will be a positive experience and all will be well.

I'm not sure how or when I will get next Sunday's post up here. In the long waits in airports, I'm thinking that if they have internet connections I might be able to get some pictures and thoughts organized and posted here. My other blog will have more pictures and less dialog (probably, anyway) if all goes according to plan. I'll have my iPad, my iPhone, and my MacBook Air with me. Although they will all be disconnected from the internet while traveling, they will nevertheless still have many usable functions.

It's been quite an education so far, and I have learned a few Turkish phrases, thanks to YouTube. I've become so accustomed to being constantly connected to a wealth of information, and Turkey is a very modern country.  şimdilik güle güle (goodbye and until we meet again in Turkish)