The Istanbul in Elja’s Head

Picture by ©Elja Daae

Istanbul tea vendor

After two days of a photography workshop with a world-renowned photographer, I have to acknowledge: Art requires expertise.
A photographer like him manages to look at 450 pictures in 20 minutes and in that time determines: 1) which photos need cropping for a better result; 2) your specific signature, style so to speak, and 3) which ones to add to your portfolio.

So after my 20 minutes, Thatcher Cook hits me right in the core of my heart – after selecting and reorganising a series of my photographs – when he described them as “The Istanbul in my head”. He continued: “A rather heavy place, quite gloomy, but beautiful”.

And so it is. I experience Istanbul as a beautiful city, full of the most amazing things. But at the same time it seems a burdened city, a dirty city, a city where life is hard and gloomy at times.  Americans call it grittyness.

Istanbul is full of entrepreneurs, from shopping malls and bazaars to restaurants. And there is the beautiful Bosphorus.
Istanbul breaths history. From museums and old buildings and lively neighborhoods to mosques and bus boats. Istanbul ís history.

But there also is the dirt, the many homeless people, the Syrian refugees who live on the streets, the many buildings without roofs, where only (partial) walls still stand. Or worse, collapsing while people live inside. Plus tens of thousands of stray cats and dogs. And traffic, lots and lots of traffic.
And a lot of people…

Istanbul grabs you by your throat, pierces your heart. She tires you. Surprises you and sometimes demolishes you. Makes you despair while she captivates you.

The Istanbul in Elja’s head was published earlier in Dutch on Elja’s website: Istanboel in Elja’s hoofd
Elja Daae currently lives in Istanbul.

From Turkey with Love

Since 16 years I live with one leg in The Netherlands and the other in Turkey.
Not that crazy if you realize I lived there for more than a decade, a quarter of my life, when I returned in 1997 to my first home country.

When I am in either country I miss to be in the other, so yes I do write a lot about Turkey, do road trips or Istanbul strawls whenever I can, and I feel happy to share both my what I call adventures  and the normal day-to-day life anecdotes.
I do intend to finish my book about that same mixed feelings subject, my continues feeling torn and my possible future plans relating my longings to have the best of both worlds.  Maybe to open a little Bed & Breakfast or find my way again as a host and guide for interested visitors. We will see. For now it is story telling time.


Inside Stories – Visiting once more – July 23th 2010

Slowly the squeaking noise of the maxi-cosy is fading, the baby, my sons half-brother, sound asleep now. The nanny stopped moving her feet and gets up to close the balcony door.
The reason must be to prevent the baby from waking up from the loud sounds of the water hoses and crickets outside.
A real pity because I love those familiar sounds ánd the room heats up even more without the little breeze coming from outside..


 Some minutes earlier she had been crouching behind the sofa, together with the baby.
Out of my sight, I could only hear her, and for a little while I thought she was singing a lullaby for the baby to get him to sleep.
Only slowly I understood that she was whispering her prayers, every once in a while directing it towards the baby to comfort him with her voice. In the end she sang him a thank-you for giving her the chance to finish her prayers.

It is two thirty in the afternoon and I am still recovering from my fright due the cup of coffee I just spilled on my keyboard.
That’s a real good start to get some work done in my holidays’, I thought, and the worst possible scenario past my mind as a quick video clip.

This morning we arrived at 04.30 hours on Kayseri Airport and were welcomed by Tahsin Bey with a big smile.
Him being the driver who usually does our transfers, we were chitchatting a bit about the what-a-bouts from everybody and the weather in both countries, before he left us to ourselves during the rest of the ride.
By then all the necessary text messages were already exchanged. The ‘Touchdown’ during the landing of the plane, quite soon followed by a “Hosgeldiniz’. and the We have arrived safely, to the home front.

At our arrival we are being met with great enthusiasm and there are congratulations, exchange of some of the gifts we brought, some glasses with cold Ayran, Turkeys famous yogurt drink, were gulped away and then, after the first updates, off to a couple of hours sleep.

It is our hosts birthday and he and his wife are already since days working there butts off in order to be able to leave for Antalya tomorrow, to meet up with the parents, children and all their grandchildren.
The gathering will be the most important event of the year and taking some days, after which they will continue their vacation direction Bodrum, where they will start their annual ‘Mavi Yol’  a Blue Voyage with a group of friends and their kids along the Mediterranean coast.

The weeks to come I will be living in their house, this period meant to be a mixture of rest and work, visit of some concerts and finalize the preparations for the October retreat for a group I will bring from Holland both for cultural and meditative purposes.

Since the few hours we are here I already got a lot of information on doe’s and don’ts in the house, including the shops I can call for home delivery of gas and water supplies.
Also it is arranged that I can dip in the pool of the neighbors camping site whenever I want and I can use the car if necessary but preferably not, as the driving habits are quite extraordinary. Which I know from experience as I have been one of them myself.
I will take it as it comes. There are 3 dolmuses, mini-busses in an hour, stopping just down the road and taxi’s are cheap.

I notice how not-tired I am from last nights journey.
In spite of the 20 minute delay the regular Turkish Airlines flight has been incredibly comfortable, quite in contrary to charter flights, thus  starting with a relaxed on-line check in. Although I felt embarrassed when this also meant we could pass the whole cue of 50 people waiting to check in and give our luggage to continue to customs.

The airport itself supported us as well in a contest to get us smoothly from one place to another.
Schiphol was very quiet that time of  night and near to deserted on this Thursday evening, sandwiched in between the two most busy weekends of the year.

During the flight, with enough space for our legs and a movie to give my Turkish a wake-up call, we could make a choice between chicken, köfte or a vegetarian meal as a late night supper. And although midnight came and passed during the meal, it tasted great.
The cleaning lady just left, the men, father and son, will go and pay a visit to the barber, the nanny is in the kitchen preparing ‘biberli dolma’ for supper and the baby is sound asleep. I open the balcony doors and prepare myself for a little nap and some daydreaming.

Hoşgeldiniz : Welcome
Bey: Sir
Ayran: Yoghurt drink with water and salt
Köfte: Spicy meatballs
Dolmus: minibus driving on a regular basis through and between towns
Mavi Yol: Blue Voyage with a gullet in this case
Biberli Dolma : Stuffed peppers


early Morning balloon flight



Pleasure and pain – no empty words – Istanbul

Pleasure and Pain, at the moment it is the translation of the title of my Dutch blog, and this morning it became once more perfectly clear why I choose it. Pleasure and pain, for me the two together define the essence of life as I see it, at least of my life and maybe so in general.

At 6 AM I read an email from best friend U who’s husband is fighting pancreas cancer.
She writes in In German, her mother tongue, so I right away know she must be devastated, as her English is as fluent as mine and we speak mostly either Turkish or English together, hardly ever German.
It reminds me of how I decided all those years ago that I wanted to give birth in my home country, no matter how much at home I felt in Turkey, because I was sure that I would not be able to communicate in anything else than my mother tongue, if at all, when in this painful roller-coaster called giving birth.

It was an extremely short message, full with desperation and fear.
‘ This Thursday he will be operated once more and like last time it is extremely risky. ‘ They found another tumor and I am soo scared. I do not dare to tell it to our [6 year old] son as I am afraid I will be so much in tears that it scares him too much’.
Ending with: Ich drucke dich fest…

When I write this, again my own tears are there in a heartbeat and for the first time in weeks I want to be somewhere else than in beautiful Istanbul. Catch the first plane to Hamburg comes to mind.
I respond to her with a quick e-mail and the offer to Skype whenever she wants.

I hear sounds from the kitchen and all those lovely smells of both coffee and toasted bread make me want to jump out of bed.
I realize the sun is shining and how incredibly lucky I am to be here and I decide to get up as quickly as possible to have a chance to see her, my host, before she goes to work. She being the wife of a friend, and we only just met 3 days ago.

The friend I mainly know from Facebook, although we were more or less in the same peer group when we were young.
Both his brother and the brother from my lover in those days connected us enough to start asking online questions like:
‘Are you who I think you are?’
Him living in Istanbul and our mutual interest in Turkey was enough to keep contact every once in a while online and to make a dinner appointments as soon as was clear that I would come and visit.
And this was only 4 days ago.

IRL [In Real Life – as still supposedly opposite to Online life] I have animated talks both with him and his wife although not with the three of us together as he is seriously ill and stays most of the time in bed.
I love the chances and possibilities life is offering me, in spite of all the challenges coming with it.

No pleasure without pain they say, and how much I wished it wasn’t so, but yes it seems the reality of life, at least as I know it to be.
So much more reason to enjoy the Pleasure part tremendously.

So off into this beautiful sunshine now. Although indeed, my heart cries for my friends at the same time.

Ich drucke euch fest, meine Freunde

lovely breakfast
and yes Thursday I will pray like I have nothing else to do.

This song makes the tears break through like the sun now as well is doing


In Love and Friendship we do real – NL

In friendship  the same values count Friends / Vriend

Upstairs my son is talking Turkish with his grandparents, English with his father and in Dutch with my sister, all within 5 minutes. It reminds me of his carousel talking when he was 4 years old, turning to his grandparents and speak in Turkish , to me in Dutch and run to his friends and continue in English.
Yes, just like he did until we left Turkey for Holland, when he was 4 years old…
Only now not In Real Life, but with Skype, a great way to stay connected.

It is his birthday, and 19 years ago that I was jinxed into the ER after 26 hours of labor.
Pavaroti was playing out loud, and doctors and nurses were scrubbing their hands and getting ready to deliver my son, our son.

The A-Team = friends as family and vice versa

His father couldn’t be there, had to leave  two days earlier to open a Hotel in Turkey.
My sister and brother were there to support me, jokingly calling themselves my ‘A-Team’, and they would also accompany me on my/our journey back home, to Turkey, 5 weeks later.
During the whole labor we had a hot line, no Skype unfortunately, but ordinary 1.0 telephone landline, with my husband.

Although separated, we are still the best of friends, so in honor of this friendship and for the love I feel for my family and friends in Turkey and abroad, today’s blogpost is in English.

Write on Thursday

Today’s theme word of #WOT is ‘Friend’ (Vriend). I guess the ‘official’ theme is ment to be written in Dutch, according to a bond I have with Karin Ramaker and other bloggers.
Every Thursday she chooses a * Dutch* word and all of us write a blogpost with this word as the anchor. But as the title is in English, [ I choose it to be like that] I take the liberty to further bend the rules a little bit.

The moment I saw this picture one month ago, I planned to paint the text on a door or a wall  in our house as well.
I simply love it, and it covers about everything in relationships which is important to me.

Time-wise it didn’t work out so well, as it was not ready before my son arrived home from Turkey two weeks ago, but there is always something good in something chaotic, so early this morning, his birthday, I finally started.
It needs one more coating, and probably will be ready when the first guests arrive this afternoon.

After I read today’s #WOT theme, I looked at the text once more and I realised that if you replace ‘This House’  for ‘Friendship’, and read it again, it totally matches my understanding and definition of friendship.

Alles is Liefde| Not my typical Sunday | From Turkey with love (Dutch)  | Another Sound (English)


Another Sound – Cappadocie during Ramadan

First published Friday, August 21st 2009 for IEDP Columns LinkedIn

Already two weeks in Turkey, the country where I used to live for more than ten years, I enjoy most of the known and some of the new sounds and movements, although some of them  shock me very much.

After twelve years I still love to come and stay here for holidays every year. It ’s really like my home away from home. I get excited the moment the plane takes off from Schiphol Airport.
This year I make a trip down memory lane first, via Kalkan and Antalya, some of the places  I used to live, after which a 7 hour drive from the South Coast through Middle Anatolia brings me to Ürgüp, Cappadocia, the natural wonderland with its typical fairy chimneys.
Volcanic and chalk stone shaped by centuries of storm and snow, leaving behind strangely shaped figures, with cave houses sand underground cities  sometimes as deep as twenty floors down.
Here the first Christians lived, hiding away for the Romans, and leaving behind a legacy of countless churches both above and underground  full of burial places and icons everywhere. A magical landscape where these days the old cave houses are still inhabited by the most poor people of the area while sometimes less than hundred meters away from the most beautiful 4-Starr hotels,  newly build or extended old cave-houses situated deep into the volcanic chalk stone rocks. Old and  new alike make use of the natural climate control and perfect isolation of the thick walls.  No air conditioning needed in summer and in winter a modest heater suffices.
Last night the ‘Davulcu” woke me for the first time, a ritual drum player who traditionally walks the streets to wake up everybody long before sunrise in order for them to have ‘Sahur’ , a good breakfast before there long day of fasting starts.
Which means no food, drink or sex until sunset. And last night it also meant the official start of the month of ‘Ramazan’.
So today will be the first day that a good part of the Turkish population will not eat food, not drink, smoke or have sex between sunrise and sunset, in order to honor Allah and all living beings, to contemplate about the things they are normally taking for granted and count there blessings.
I am glad to be here once again during the Ramadan because of the special atmosphere, and I do respect the people who start and maintain the fast during this whole holy period, although personally I consider it a very unhealthy way and certainly not a purification or detox in the real sense as I know it, although it’s even said to serve this purpose in order to get more people to join. Detox is hot, also in Turkey.
Fasting without any liquid at all, may it be water or tea, during more than twelve hours is very much opposite from draining toxin’s from the body, let alone with the copious meal which is eaten just before going to bed at night. It will not become anybody’s metabolism.
No matter how much I am an ambassador for taking time off, for a time out from the regular routines, cutting down on abundance and luxury in order to get more than usual in touch with  authentic cords strung by our soul and detoxing from major and minor addictions, but not in this rigid, in my eyes very unhealthy way.
I remember too well, when I was living here in Turkey and working as a tourguide, I would have to talk my driver into going to the side of the road and eat, as he was looking gray while postponing starting to eat until the mosque would give the time of ‘Iftar’ , breaking the fast , in the evening.
In that heat, in a bus still without air conditioning in those days, without having a sip of water the whole day, it was totally irresponsible, both for himself, all the passengers as well as everybody else in the surrounding traffic.None of my Turkish friends or relatives and only some of my acquaintances are living according to this rule of the Koran.
They are either non-practicing Muslims, Alevi’s or atheist, and most of them are principally against the more orthodox religious ways in their from origin, at least since 1923, seclusive country.
Since ten years, especially after Erdoğan became prime minister, religion and politics are getting more and more entwined.
His party knows itself financially supported by Ülker, a huge national company chain which is for the bigger part into Erdoğans family.
He himself is shareholder of three different distribution firms. All, what a surprise, working with Ülker.
The friends I stay with refuse to buy any Ülker products, even if they have to travel far to  get another brand, like so many others I am finding out these days. Even when ,  like with a friend with a heavy gluten allergy, there are hardly any other gluten-free products to find on the market than Ülker.
There is hardly any food, drink of dairy product, which they don’t produce or distribute under their name.
They were the ones who put the figures of Cocoa Cola to an unknown low in favor of ColaTurka.
And although I am not a Cola fan at all, it frightens me to learn that Turkish Airlines flight attendants claim that at the request of the governments increasingly substitutes CC for CT and where it used to be in all fridges next to and in equal amounts of water, this development is very scary to me.Even so, and being in the religious orthodox area of Central Anatolia , shop owners will order the requested brand, even though they are sincere and strongly believing people themselves, the pomegranates juice which my sons father ordered, arrived the next day in the ‘market’.
Turkey has a long secular tradition since Atatürk in 1920 started Turkey’s reformation and since my first visit in 1985, I do not know of a stronger and popular integrated opinion that state and church should stay separate and the non-Islamic legal system of justice should be maintained. So there is in general a lot of resistance against this revival of Islamic politics.
As most of us know, the Turkish military has always been in favor of a secular state and will do everything to prevent this Islamization of the system, so it might not come as a surprise that there is no Ülker product to be found in the whole big army apparatus, they are said to even have initiated the boycott.
Talking about old and new sounds: it is amazing how many I-Phones I have seen here in those weeks since my arrival, they total more than I have seen the whole last year in Holland. With, to my surprise, the two daughters of friends of ours, 9 and 14 years young, who both use their parents ‘old’ one. How old can they be :)
And they look with deep frowns at my son when he declares his confidence in Samsung in general and his Pixon in particular. His dislike of I-Phone and Apple is not understood here at all. You can see them think: “Saka yapiyorsun” (you must be kidding), although they are too polite to say this out loud.
The Davulce of the old days is no more , the one I remember from the days when I was living in Antalya, hitting a traditional drum and singing his nasal hymn.
The sound of last night is sharp and irregular; certainly does not produce the deep tones I remember , and the song (Manii) I was nostalgically waiting for last night, seems forgotten on the way.
My ex-husband says that these days it seems that the Davulce is hitting on an oil drum and he can appreciate it even less than I remember, this disturbance in the nights to come. So the Plan is clear for everybody, where the drummer of the Ramadan band would normally come around the doors with his ID card to gain his yearly pocket-money, in this street he will be asked to pass as quietly as possible and he will get his money upfront, as to thank him for doing so.
Tonight’s choice is as complicated as well as simple: mountain-biking through this amazing landscape of fairy chimneys or letting myself being lured by the fairytale-like performance of the Whirling Dervishes , real mystics who pray their prayers dancing, inviting the Universe to impregnate the earth with its energy, accompanied by this really traditional and well-known sounds of Sufi music: Flutes, drums and snare instruments and wonderful nasal singing.
For me it will be the latter, the men will choose the exercise tonight, although my sixteen year old son will accompany me some days later, when I can not stay away from this meditative dance ceremony on our last night in this amazing country.