March 2009

We’ve really loved the food here in Turkey.  The kebabs (or kebaps) are almost always good, and sometimes fantastic (okay, so I’m a sucker for grilled meat on a stick).  The only problem is, I don’t have Amy’s iron stomach, and I got the bug a couple of days ago.  Amy and I were mostly eating the same things, and had exactly the same dinner the night before, but while I’m suffering, Amy is fine.

She’s not a very sympathetic healthy person.  She came back to the pension (small hotel) two nights ago raving about how she’d just had the best chicken kebab at dinner, then did the same thing after lunch today.  The next time she’s sick when I’m healthy, I plan to eat as much chocolate in front of her as I can.


Amy and I are in awe of the  linguistic abilities of the touts and everyone else working in tourist-based industries here in Turkey (and Egypt).  When touts see a tourist coming, they guess at the nationality and begin speaking in the appropriate language.  When they see us, most of the time they get it right and greet us in English, but a few times men (the touts are always men) have spoken to me in German.  Apparently, Germans frequently vacation here in Turkey for a relatively cheap holiday, and I think we’ve heard more tourists speaking German than English in Antalya.

When walking alone, though, Amy has been greeted in Spanish a few times.  Having visited Spain last year, I can understand why the touts might make that assumption.

Canakkale – Turkish Shave

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

We travel light enough to avoid checking baggage when we fly (no matter where we go, or for how long, we each bring one carry-on bag, which on most European airlines is a bit smaller than the size of American carry-on luggage). It makes travelling easy, but unfortunately it means we can’t bring some things with us, such as razors. Usually I pick up a cheap one within the first day or two of a trip so I can keep reasonably well-groomed but I didn’t get around to it quickly here in Turkey. I needed a haircut anyway, so a trip to a Turkish barber seemed in order.

The Haircut: This was unlike any haircut I’ve had for quite some time. Probably for the first time since my childhood I had a haircut without the barber resorting to the electric shears at some point.

The Shampoo: I realize it’s common for women to be shampooed when having their hair done, but I don’t think I’ve ever had my hair washed at the barbers. This barber washed my hair twice. Really, I didn’t think it was that dirty.

The Shave: The barber lathered up the brush, then spent more time lathering my chin than I take for the whole process of shaving at home. Out came the straight edge razor, and he began to shave me. He pinched my cheeks, or my lips, to make the skin more taut, and shaved away. Having someone hold a straightedge razor to my throat was not as uncomfortable as I expected.

The Burning of the Ear Hair: I long ago reached that age where men grow hair in new places, including in their ears (it’s a kind of second puberty), so the barber took out what looked like a gigantic oversized metal Q-tip dipped in butane and lit it on fire. He proceeded to bat the thing at my ears, singeing away any stray ear hairs.

The Trimming of the Nose Hair: Using a small pair of scissors, the barber trimmed my nose hair. Again, a first.

The Massage: At the end of all this, he gave me a shoulder and back rub. It seemed natural here in Turkey, but I think it would be a bit odd if my barber in Corvallis began giving me a massage.

The Cost: Twelve Turkish lira, or about €5.

There weren’t many “must dos” for either Pat or myself in Turkey.  Mostly the plan was to simply travel around, eat good food, absorb a bit of the culture, and if we found a little sunshine along the way, so much the better.  One thing that I knew I had to do before leaving Turkey, though, was go to a hamam or Turkish bath.  Back home in Corvallis, we had a hot tub that we used four or five times a week and both Pat and I have missed being able to sit in the warm water under the stars.  Oregon is also home to several natural hot springs scattered throughout the Cascade Mountains which we frequented several times a year.

During our wanderings around Istanbul, we found one of the more famous hamams:  Cağaloğlu.  It is over 300 years old and the all-marble bathing rooms are quite beautiful.  It is also outrageously priced compared to other hamams, although still less than a 60-minute massage back home.  Despite the over-blown tourist price we decided to go for it.  If it is good enough for Omar Sharif, I suppose it is good enough for us.  (There was a newspaper clipping displayed in the foyer showing that he had been there a few years ago.)

Upon entering this large public bathhouse we were both given a pestamal (wrap) to wear, but I quickly realized that it was mostly for the trip from the changing room to the steam room area.  Sorry guys, this hamam is not co-ed; there are separate bathing rooms for men and women.  When the hamams are co-ed I believe pestamals are kept on at all times, and Pat informed me that in the men’s section at the Cağaloğlu Hamam the men stayed wrapped the whole time.

The steam room is ringed with marble basins filled with water.  I saw several women using the small bowls sitting on the basins to pour water over themselves and I followed suit.  I relaxed next to the basins for several minutes until an attendant arrived to bathe me.  I haven’t been washed by another person since I was a child, so I wasn’t sure how I would feel about being washed by a stranger.  Honestly, it didn’t feel much different from getting a massage – except that I was buck naked and my towel was 20 feet away.  It was quite relaxing, and after having several layers of skin scrubbed away with a loofah I felt cleaner than I had in a very long time.

One word of warning though, you really shouldn’t go to a hamam more than one time a week as I learned the hard way.  I have a few raw patches on my arms from a second vigorous loofah experience that happened too soon after the first one.  Ouch!

Istanbul – Beyoglu

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

We flew to Istanbul, Turkey just over a week ago. For me, the first several days were a working vacation as I sat at the computer grading final papers each morning. Maybe it was because I was working for a short time when I got here, or because Amy felt really exhausted from the last three months of work, but as the vacation approached we found we were having trouble really looking forward to this trip.

We had wanted to travel to Turkey for some time (Amy’s aunt is from Turkey), but we were just so drained. Also, Turkey was proving to be surprisingly difficult to imagine, harder than any other place we’ve been. We had visited Egypt less than three months before, and it was easy to anticipate most of what we saw there, such as the Nile, the pyramids, and the Sphinx. Turkey was harder, though. We had looked at the travel books and Amy’s cousin’s photos, but we still found ourselves thinking Turkey is like Egypt, only different.

That has proven to be partly true, and because of our trip to Egypt, we have found Turkey to be more familiar than exotic so far. Both countries are largely Muslim and are filled with mosques (the call to prayer can be heard several times a day in all the cities, and while it’s not something we’re used to at home, we both find it soothing and familiar now). Many of the styles of clothing are the same in both Egypt and Turkey, in that much of the clothing is brown or black. There are bazaars with tourist souvenirs, and the touts are fairly aggressive in both places. But Turkey seems calmer, quieter, slower (in a good way). Yes, the touts can be persistent in Turkey, but they aren’t as persistent as the touts in Luxor. Istanbul is a big city, but there is less traffic, and things seem less hectic, than in Cairo. In some ways, Turkey has less of a “wow factor” than Egypt, but I feel more content here. Amy and I have decided Turkey is a place we could live for some time and be comfortable (when travelling now, we no longer just ask ourselves if we’re enjoying a place, or if we would come back, but whether we could live there). Egypt was great for a visit, but it’s harder (but not impossible) to imagine a life there.

We’ve met quite a few people here in Ireland who take trips to New York City for shopping weekends because things are so much cheaper in America, particularly with the weak dollar.  Actually, that should probably read took rather than take because with the economy crashing here, I suspect fewer people are travelling across the Atlantic to shop.

Because so many of the Irish think (thought) nothing of flying to New York, they are often shocked to hear that Amy and I have never been there.  How can two Americans not visit New York City?  The thing is, most people over here just don’t realize just how big the United States is.  It’s 2449 miles (3941 km) from Portland, Oregon, to New York City.  Get on a plane in Dublin, fly that distance east, and you’ll arrive in Ekaterinburg, in Siberia, Russia.

Flying from Portland to Houston, Texas, is 1834 miles, almost exactly the same distance between Dublin and Istanbul (1833 miles).  Oregon is more than three times larger, Texas is over eight and a half times larger, and the United States about 120 times larger than the Republic of Ireland.  To give people here a sense of the scale of America, I sometimes tell them a person can start the morning in Houston, Texas, drive all day west on highways and freeways, and around 12 hours later (with a couple of breaks) still be in Texas.  Texas is just plain big.  Amy’s dad (a native Texan) used to ask people where they were from.  They’d say something like “Maine,” and he’d cock his head and ask in a strong Texas accent, “What part of Texas is that in?”

I may need to point out for our Irish readers that Maine is a state, and a beautiful one, I hear.  I’ve never actually been there, though, since it’s about 3000 miles from Corvallis, Oregon, where we lived before moving to Ireland.

McSweeney’s on Barrack Street, Cork

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

Americans tend to think of most Irish surnames as beginning with Mc or O’ and while that’s an exaggeration, it has some basis in the truth. Out of just under 300 pages of listings in the Cork phonebook, there are 56 pages of names beginning with O (and almost all of those are O’Something) and about 16 pages of names beginning with Mc (or sometimes Mac, which is the original unabbreviated form, but which is less common with Irish names today).

An Irish Times article claims that all Gaelic surnames actually do begin with either an O or a Mac, but this isn’t entirely true. An excerpt from Eugene O’Growney‘s 1898 book The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume III, which appears on the Library Ireland website, explains that Ni indicates “daughter,” and was historically used by women. To provide a modern example, the Gaelic (or Irish) name of the new-age singer Enya is Eithne Ni Bhraonáin.

The Irish Times article does provide a nice explanation of how surnames originated in Ireland, pointing out that “up to the tenth century, surnames in Ireland were not hereditary,” but each generation would have a new last name. The Mc or Mac signifies “son of” in a name, and the O at the beginning of names does not mean “of” as is sometimes thought (in fact Irish names almost never indicate where a person is from), but rather “grandson of.” So, a man’s last name would reflect the given name of his father or grandfather, depending on who was more prominent. For example, Cormac O’Sullivan simply meant “Cormac, grandson of Sullivan,” and his son might be known as Brendan McCormac. Surnames eventually became fixed in the eleventh century.

Over time, though, Irish names usually became more Anglicized, and the O or Mc was usually dropped. To take one example, and show some of the variations on the name and how prevalent each variation is, O’Súilleabháin (17 listings in the Cork phone book, with some variation on where the fadas appear) became O‘Suilleabhan (one listing), and even Osuillivan (one listing). The Anglicized versions of these names became O’Sullivan (almost 9 pages, or about 3% of the total listings in the phone book), and Sullivan (about half a page of listings). There are no listings for Súilleabháin without the O‘, which I suppose reflects the idea that a person who keeps the traditional Irish spelling would keep the entire Irish spelling, and be less likely to drop the O‘.

(As an aside, on my mother’s side I’m a Sullivan, as well as an O’Connell and Crowley. My dad’s Irish lineage is harder to trace, since his grandfather was apparently born in Ireland with the decidedly un-Irish name John London.)

Names that are not originally Irish in origin but may now seem Irish to many of us don’t begin with O’ or Mac. Fitz, for example, that other piece of many Irish surnames such as Fitzgerald or Fitzpatrick, also means “son of” but is a bastardization of fils, or “son” in French, and a relic of the Norman invasion of Ireland.

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