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!


Snowflake said...

GB, sounds like she's up to her same old Bratislavan tricks. You poor poor bear.....

Anonymous said...

Mr. Grey Bear
The Turks gave us Baklavas? Wow.And to think the Greeks always claimed it as their own.
I hope you get some nice sunny weather so your bipedals will be able to take you out more often.
Any festivals in your area?

Grey Bear said...

I asked my female bipedal attendant about festivals in Izmit & she used a bad word that I don't want to repeat. Then I checked online for festivals in Izmit and couldn't find anything: not even an Earthquake Festival.

Oh well.