Saturday, February 23, 2013

27. Phaistos Disc

We're just back from a six-day trip to Greece. It's winter, so we obviously weren't sunbathing in the islands! We were staying with a friend in Athens, then the three of us headed to the mountains to stay with four other friends in Arahova. A few of them went skiing at Mount Parnassus — the hubster and I explored the village and then drove the few kilometers around to Delphi!

After our weekend in Arahova, we headed back to Athens for a day of exploring — which is when I learned about the Phaistos Disc.

The Phaistos Disc is an enigma, a circular clay disc covered with inscribed symbols on both sides that are unlike any signs in any writing system. It was discovered in a palace in the ancient city of Phaistos in southern Crete in 1908. It's thought to date to around 1700 BC.

This object has been the subject of many studies. Someone has claimed to have deciphered it, and that it was a document in an archaic form of Greek. Others say it is a poem or a song. Because no other similar artifacts have ever been found anywhere in Crete, it's thought that the object was foreign and brought in from another place. The place of its origin is extremely speculative. A sign depicts a helmet with crest, which was used later by Philistines. Another sign depict a structure similar to sarcophagus used by the Lycians of Asia Minor.

Because there is essentially no variation between different copies of the same symbol, it is very likely that stamps were used to create these highly detailed signs. While not really a printed work, some have labeled the Phaistos Disc the earliest typewritten work.

Even though the disc is generally accepted as authentic by archaeologists — the assumption of authenticity is based on the excavation records by Luigi Pernier — this assumption is supported by the later discovery of the Arkalochori Axe with similar (but not identical) glyphs.

The possibility that the disc is a 1908 forgery or hoax has been raised by two or three scholars. According to one report, the date of manufacture has never been established by thermoluminescence. In a 2008 review, it's argued that "a thermoluminescence test for the Phaistos Disc is imperative. It will either confirm that new finds are worth hunting for, or it will stop scholars from wasting their effort." Fair enough!

OK, the end of the story is that I had to buy these:

Earrings: from George at Aphrodite Jewelers
in the Monastiraki neighborhood, Athens.

Ya know, as one of my trip souvenirs! Pretty stinkin' cool if you ask me. Thankful that the hubster encouraged me to make the purchase! xx

Saturday, January 5, 2013

26. Angora = Ankara.

The hubster had some business to attend to in the capital this past week, so I tagged along as I so like to do! Ankara is the capital of Turkey and, with a population of ~4.5M, it's the country's second largest city after İstanbul. The highway between İstanbul on the European continent and Ankara on the Asian continent was long, quiet, and more mountainous than anticipated. (Yet, surprisingly, not up-the-mountain down-the-mountain.) The countryside was dotted with small villages with maybe 20 houses surrounding a mosque, and not a single parked car in sight.

Ankara lies in the center of Anatolia on the eastern edge of the Anatolian Plateau at an altitude of 2,800 feet (850 meters). The weather felt colder for sure. The province is mostly fertile wheat steppe land—with forest in the northeast. It's the center of the Turkish government and houses all foreign embassies. It is an important crossroads of trade, strategically located at the center of Turkey's highway and railway networks, and serves as the marketing center for the surrounding agricultural area.

The city was famous for its long-haired Angora goat with its prized mohair wool, a unique breed of Angora cat, white rabbits with their prized Angora wool (the cruelty of that trade is best left for another entire post), pears, honey, and the region's muscat grapes. Um, easy to see why it was, at one point, known as Angora!

Under the Greeks, the history of Ankara thrived. It became a new trading center for goods traveling between the Black Sea and the major cities of the region in every direction. During this Hellenistic/ Byzantine era, the Greeks gave the city its modern name, Ánkyra, which means 'anchor'. The city was an important cultural, trading, and arts center in Roman times as well, and an important trading center on the caravan route to the east in Ottoman times. It had declined in importance by the nineteenth century, but it again became an important center when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk chose it as the base from which to direct the War of Liberation. Because of its role in the war and its strategic position, it was declared the capital of the new Republic of Turkey in 1923.

What we found was a city more modern than our gritty and chaotic Istanbul. A noticeable amount of green space and considerably less traffic made Ankara seem more laid back and livable than Istanbul—yet we wouldn't choose to live someplace that feels so isolated. Truth be told, he big draw for me was the availability of a U.S. commissary. Hurray for American junk food and bacon! Both of which are hard to find in our city where East meets West.  xx

25. Whirling Dervishes!

On Christmas Eve, the hubster and I met up with our friends (who were in town from Austria) for a lovely Turkish dinner—followed by my first experience watching whirling dervishes.

Honestly, I thought these shows were true performances but, in fact, they are religious rituals. No clapping allowed. It's interesting and mesmerizing to watch the Sufis move through the ceremony with deliberation and concentration. The group we watched had a young member who really was captivating in his dance movements. It's one "touristy" event I won't mind seeing more than once.

The show was performed by members of the Mevlevi Order, a Sufi order founded in Turkey. Let's begin with understanding that a Sufi practices the mystical dimensions of Islam which they call Ihsan (perfection of worship). According to Wiki, classical Sufi scholars define Sufism as "a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God."

Some history: The Mevlevi Order was founded in 1273 by the followers of Rumi—who was a 13th-century Persian, Muslim poet, theologian, and mystic. They believe in performing their devotion in the form of dance and musical ceremony (sema). The sema represents a mystical journey and spiritual ascent through the mind. Turning (whirling) toward the truth, the follower grows through love and deserts his ego.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī | Rumi

Dervishes wear tall, conical felt hats, white robes with full skirts and voluminous black cloaks above it. The hats symbolize the tombstones of their egos, white robes signify the shrouds of their egos, and the black cloaks represent their worldly tombs. At the beginning of the ceremony, the black robe is discarded to signify their liberation from the attachments of this world. A comforting and freeing thought, indeed!

The sema is very specifically practiced and performed in a ritual hall. It begins with a chanted prayer, then kettledrums, and a reed flute. There is the occasional bowing throughout, which signifies salutation from soul to soul. I like the sounds of that—kind of a namaste!

Watch and listen to a small clip.

They complete three circles, then drop their black cloaks and each approach the master with their arms folded across their chest. After bowing and kissing his hand, they spin out on the floor. During the whirling, they keep their right hand palm up (to receive the blessings) and their left hand palm down (to transfer blessings to the earth). This goes on for some time, then they kneel, pray, and start again—times four. Then the sema concludes with them praying for peace for the soul.

UNESCO has proclaimed the "Mevlevi Sema Ceremony" of Turkey as being amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. You can read more about that honor here:

True Masterpieces of Humanity!


Sunday, December 9, 2012

24. Asthma. And Stats.

I had a cough for several weeks. Just a dry, persistent cough with no other symptoms. So, the Consulate nurse sent me to our swanky hospital to see a pulmonologist who prescribed Sudafed and Aferin. However, a girl cannot take those indefinitely. Back to see the Consulate doctor who has upgraded my condition from an allergy to coal dust in the air (and general big city smog) to a mild environmental asthma that I'll now be treating with Singulair to see if that helps. Welcome to Istanbul!

This turn of events, along with hearing that our cleaning person doesn't have heat in his house (what?!), prompted me to dig deeper into the state of life in Turkey. Here are some basic facts and figures I found interesting while studying the Internet and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) site--which brings together most of the world’s developed economies and a number of emerging economies, plus Brazil and Russia.

Population 74.8M
Renewable energy 10.57%

Population 304.2M 

Renewable energy 5.65%

If Turkey was your home instead of the United States you would:

1.  Have 4x higher chance of dying in infancy
2.  Consume 87% less oil
3.  Use 80% less electricity
4.  Make 76% less money
5.  Have 56% more chance of being unemployed
6.  Spend 91% less money on health care

7.  Have 32% more babies
8.  Die 6 years sooner

9.  Experience 9% less of a class divide
10. Be 83% less likely to have HIV/AIDS


Turkey: PM10--tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung--is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In Turkey, PM10 levels are 37.1 micrograms per cubic meter, much higher than the OECD average of 22 micrograms per cubic meter.

United States:
In the U.S., PM10 levels are 19.4 micrograms per cubic meter, lower than the OECD average of 22 micrograms per cubic meter. On the whole, air quality has improved since the mid-1990s.

Turkey: The obesity rate among adults--based on self-reported height and weight--was 15.2% in 2008. This is much lower than for the United States.

United States:
The obesity rate among adults is of 33.8%. This is the highest rate among the 21 OECD countries with self-reported data, with an average of 14.9% in 2008. Three out of four people in the U.S. are projected by the OECD to be overweight or obese within 10 years. 40% of American children are currently overweight. Of these, half are obese.


Turkey: 26% of women have jobs. This is much less than the OECD average of 59% and the 67% employment rate of men in Turkey. This 41% gender difference is much higher than the OECD average of 13% and the highest amongst OECD countries. This suggests employment opportunities for women could be improved. (Um, ya think!?) Young Turkish people aged 15-24 also face difficulties with an unemployment rate of 21.7%.

The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality.
Despite a general increase in living standards across OECD countries over the past fifteen years, not all people have benefited from this to the same extent. In Turkey, the income of the top 20% of the population is $25,894 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on $3,179 USD a year.

United States:
62% of women have jobs. This is more than the OECD average of 59% but less than the 71% employment rate of men in the U.S. 

In the United States, people earn $52,607 per year on average (much higher than the OECD average $34,033). Not everyone earns that amount however. Whereas the top 20% of the population earn $109,508 per year, the bottom 20% live on $16,682 per year.

Interesting stuff. And now I have to add R. & J. to the list of things to contemplate--winter is cold here, no one should live without heat. xx


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

23. Out of My Comfort Zone.

Just tying up one last loose string from my previous blog about the BBC. Our home away from home ... away from home ... British brew pub here in Istanbul!

The hubster mentioned to the owner's son (who then mentioned to his dad), that I have learned calligraphy in the past. Oh boy! Well, that doesn't translate to chalk—but the hubster would not take "no" for an answer when said pub owner asked me to draw up their current beer selection. He went off on an adventure to find chalk in this ding-dang city, we spent a couple of afternoons at the pub, and voila! My first attempt at chalk writing is complete. Good enough for now—but I have seriously considered getting a chalkboard so I can practice fancier writing in my free time.

Always the over-achiever! xx

Not as fancy as I'd like—
but it's a start.

Dipping sauce = a puree of garlic,
roasted red peppers, olive oil. Delish!

I love Yorkshire pudding!

Imperial stout.
My favorite offered at this pub.

My barley strikes me as being
a bit Roman!

Monday, November 19, 2012

22. Good Beer. Finally!

Turkey is not a beer culture. This is very sad news for Americans with a definite preference for good craft brews. The national brand, Efes, puts one in mind of Budweiser. And, adding insult to injury, their idea of dark is not dark at all. Sigh.

This is what dark should look like!
Instead, the famous local anis drink "Rakı" is widely consumed. The Rakı culture involves sitting for long hours at the dinner table, eating mezes, and chatting away the evening. While many people prefer Rakı, wine is also famous in Turkey. The local wine production in northwest and mid Anatolia is worth mentioning.

meze [ˈmɛzɛ]
(Cookery) a type of hors d'oeuvre eaten esp with an apéritif or other drink in Greece and the Near East
[from Turkish meze snack, appetizer]

These things do not help beer lovers! While we were told about a couple of other breweries in the city, they fell far short of the amazing local beers we had come to love in the greater D.C. area. Until now! This past week, The Bosphorous Brewing Co. became fully operational--boasting an opening with 400 people rotating in and out of the pub.

While we weren't there for the grand unveiling, we did tuck in both Friday and Saturday nights for taste testing (hubster) and a glass or eight of imperial stout (me). So delicious! Owned and operated by a proper Brit, his business partners, and family: The BBC is our new "local," and we couldn't be happier!

Stay tuned for more of our adventures in the neighborhood of Gayrettepe! xx

Sunday, November 11, 2012

21. Happy 237th Birthday, USMC!

New earrings bought in Malta,
a sparkly headband for the shorty-short 'do,
and Mike's new tie from M&S.
My first Marine Corps Ball : Istanbul, Turkey 2012.

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date, many thousands have borne the name Marine. In memory of them, it's fitting that the Marines commemorate the birthday of the corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The Marine Corps has a long history of cooperation with the Dept. of State, going back to the early days of the United States. Marines have served many times on special missions as couriers, guards for embassies and legations, and to protect American citizens in unsettled areas.

The formal and permanent use of Marines as security guards began with the Foreign Service Act of 1946, which authorized the Secretary of the Navy to, upon request of the Secretary of State, assign Marines to serve as security guards under the supervision of the senior diplomatic officer at a diplomatic post. The Marine Security Guards (MSGs) number approximately 1,000 Marines at 51 posts (also known as "detachments"), organized into 9 regional MSG commands, and located in over 133 countries in 18 time zones--as well as its HQ at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Guest of Honor: Consul General Scott Kilner
Guest Speaker: Major Tanya Murnock
Staff Sergeant: Adam Peerey
Fallen Soldier Table.
Remembering them honors their sacrifice
and that of their families—underscoring the importance
of the commitment to duty made by the living.
Each element on the table symbolizes something specific.
Formal ballroom decor. Pretty!
Our Marine Security Guard Detachment!
Bringing in the traditional cake.
Colors ceremony.
My friend Jelena sent a gnome with me on my travels.
Here he is with the evening's itinerary!
The first formal ball was celebrated in 1925, though no records exist that indicate the proceedings of that event. Birthday celebrations take varied forms and fall on different dates; most include dances, though some accounts from years past include mock battles, musical performances, pageants, and sporting events.

Our Ball was at Movenpark Hotel in the Levent area of Istanbul. It included speeches and video, dinner, dancing, drinking. It really was a good time, and a great chance for all the girls to get dressed up in their formal dresses, hair styles, makeup, etc.

Here we are!
Fabulous fabrics.
Stuart Weitzman sling-back heels. Wow!
Working up a sweat on the dance floor.
Our downstairs neighbors and consulate friends, Traci and Scott. 
Me and my girls: Katherine and Christy. xx