Saturday, March 28, 2009

GB Keeps an Eye on Things

Yesterday my bipedal attendants & I moved into our very first Turkish flat - and since this is a Turkish flat (we are in Turkey after all), I decided that we should do as the Romans (or Turks) do and protect ourselves from any & all forms of negativity. Not surprisingly, as a freelance Goodwill Ambassador, I strongly advocate Good rather than Evil. So while they were unpacking their suitcases and unwrapping glasses stolen from every bar and bodega in Spain, I spent the afternoon making sure that our home would be safe against any evil thoughts.

(Not that too many people ever envy my bipedal attendants but sometimes, I get some very odd fan mail from my international fashion modelling d
ays. Thank goodness I don't have any enemies - as for my my bipedal attendants ...)

Anyway, the unofficial symbol of Turkey is the nazar boncuğu, or evil eye amulet. The amulet is usually made from blue glass and has concentric circles or droplets of blue (or black), white and light blue (or sometimes yellow). At the risk of sounding vain, they set off my grey flannel quite nicely.

I am not exaggerating (bears never exaggerate) when I say that in Turkey
, there are evil eye symbols everywhere. Adults and babies wear evil eye amulets; you can find nazar boncuğu's on the sides of airplanes, boats, horses, donkeys & mules, cell phones, cash registers, and shopping bags. Amulets are affixed to the outside door lintels of apartments and tucked into the corners of thresholds.

The symbol has its origins in ancient mythology and spans many different periods and cultures, from ancient Egypt to Rome to Bangladesh. That's a lot of negative energy! You don't see bears needing evil eye amulets. Depending on who you ask or where you are, people will tell you that the amulet is used to bounce the malevolent gaze of cursing evil wishers back to the evil wisher, while others believe that the envy of others can unintentionally direct evil to the person (or donkey) envied. In both cases, the amulet diverts the negativity - whether it's deliberate or not - away from anyone wearing a nazar boncuğu.

So how did I make our home more Turkish as well as more safe? I started with the door to our apartment (above right). I was relieved to see that the people who own our flat already had protected the door knocker on the front door with a tiny nazar boncuğu. One less amulet for me to buy!

We already had one amulet. Miss K, one of my bipedal attendants' friends (yes they have friends), had brought them one from a trip to Turkey a few years ago, so I was quick to hang that one up (top left). The flat is so big though (apartments tend to be bear-size) that I felt it needed a bit more - or should I say that my bipedals needed more protection? - so I stuck up an adhesive version of the evil eye on the window of our balcony door.

Lastly, just to ensure that the day gets off on the right foot (or paw), I found these nazar boncuğu coffee mugs at a neighbourhood store, and although the coffee inside the mugs isn't typically Turkish, at least what was on the outside was! After all, the best part of waking up should be knowing that no one is going to cast the evil eye on you and ruin your day!

Hopefully, the amulets I hung around the house yesterday will keep everyone safe. When we were in Morocco, we hung a khamsa-hand (the hand representing the hand of Fatima, the Prophet Mohammed's daughter) - which is supposed to keep evil away - on our apartment door. Unfortunately, someone stole our amulet! How brazen is that? I don't know if Fatima stopped protecting us or not, but I bet the khamsa-hand thief earned a whole lot of bad karma. Don't you humans ever think of the consequences of what you do??

Sunday, March 8, 2009

At a Boy! Atatürk! At-a-Bear!

It's been a while since I last posted but I've been cooped up indoors because it's rained almost every day since we arrived in Turkey. I know that I'm sweet and all, but I don't melt like sugar in the rain, but nooooooo, my bipedal attendants wouldn't take me anywhere. Now that they're working again, they're going to be impossible to live with!

Anyway, today the clouds held off - just barely (!) - and they took me into work with them, so I finally got m
y first peek at Izmit, our new adopted home.

Izmit is about 45 minutes south of Istanbul (not Constantinople) and is the capital of Kocaeli Province. It was in the spotlight 10 years ago when a horrible earthquake devastated the city, killing 20,000 people. I don't k
now if any bears were killed. I hope not.

The city
was founded in 712 b.c. but was later destroyed. In 264 b.c, it was rebuilt by Nicomedes I of Bithynia and took the highly original name of Nicomedia. It became a hugely important city in northwestern Asia - even Hannibal (the guy with the elephants) visited, although he would later commit suicide in a nearby town. You could hardly blame Izmit for that.

From 286 until 324, Nicomedia was the eastern and most senior capital city of the Roman Empire and was even Constantine the Great's capital until Byzantium (or Constantinople or Istanbul) stole the crown. In fact, it is said that there are more ancient Roman and Greek ruins in Turkey than in all of Italy and Greece. I haven't se
en anything very ancient in Izmit (there are supposed to be a few ruins) although the earthquake of '99 may have had something to do with that.

Turkey's most famous son is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) and although I'm only using my bear intuition here (yes, we bears have intuition too), I bet every town in Turkey has a monument to him. He's like the George Washington of Turkey. He was an officer in the army, a statesman, founder of the Republic of Turkey as well as its first president. He was the modernizing force behind the country (in 1935 Turkey had 18 female members of Parliament!) and introduced, among other things, surnames (like 'Bear' for me) and he replaced the Arabic script (which Turkish had been written in) with the Roman alphabet but with lots of little dots and squiggles.

Constitutionally, Turkey is not an Islamic country - say the way Morocco is - and it was Atatürk who ensured that it remain secular. So rather than being a Muslim country, it's a country with a lot of Muslims - about 99% of the population. I guess I won't be seeing too many churches for a long time (although I think Italy cured me of that) but the mosques here sort of look like Italian duomos - except they have a minaret - and sometimes several - attached to them.

Unfortunately, because my bipedal attendants were "tired" and the weather wasn't looking too good, we didn't have a chance to see very much in downtown Izmit. We did manage to pop into a café for a Turkish coffee though, and while we were there, we all had a plate of baklava - maybe Turkey's greatest gift to the world - after the waterpipe.

I always thought that baklava (phyllo pastry stuffed with chopped nuts and honey or syrup) was a Greek confection but according to every Turk my bipedal attendants have spoken with, the Greeks definitely stole the recipe from the Turks. Although many groups claim the title, it does seem that it was created during the Ottoman (Ottoman! - that's the clue from my last post!) period (1299–1923). Baklava, as we know it today, was certainly a product of the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul.

Did you notice the "i" in Topkapı? That's one of Atatürk's funny new letters and is pronounced like the "e" in the.

Anyway, the baklava was amazing! Like I've said before, I thank the Bear Gods that we bears don't have to watch our waistlines because each serving had four humongous slices of pastry. My male bipedal attendant ate all of his and half of my female's while I managed to eat all of mine. I was a little disappointed with the coffee though. My first coffee in Turkey and all they had was Nescafé. That's not as bad as my bipedal attendants though - they come all the way to Turkey and what's the first cup of coffee they have? - a coffee from Starbucks! Some people! Philistines!