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

Friday, November 2, 2012

20. Malta, Part Deux

What to say about Malta? Well, it's very quiet there. Very. That meant forced R&R for me which is a good thing. For the hubster, it meant a little bit of boredom. Mr. Ants-in-his-pants definitely has trouble with couch potatoeing. (Yes, I made that up, but I'm sure it should be a phrase!) It's also peacefully quaint, slightly underdeveloped, and very yellow from the natural limestone quarried and used for all the buildings. It's a blend of shoreline, boating, beaches, agriculture, teeny tiny towns, and a lot of history.

Sailboats off Valletta.
Typical streetscape in Valletta.
Yep, this is what most of Malta looks like!
We loved the stone walls and garden gates.
There are several marinas around the island.
Steppes of farmland leading to the sea.

The lows: Never believe that 5-stars anywhere ever meets your American expectations. There may be situations where you are pleasantly surprised, but in my experience that is not the rule! The Phoenicia is definitely 1940s pretty with cheerful, good service but everything is just a bit tattered around the edges. And because it's old construction, there's little to buffer the city noise even in a sleepy, little country.

Oh, but we did have a beautiful view
from the back gardens of the hotel.
And a big, beautiful fountain out front in the roundabout.

Also, no one had told us that Valletta rolls up their sidewalks at 7 PM. Nor that this Roman Catholic country slows down to a crawl on Sundays. Luckily, we had already purchased our two half-day, open-air bus tours so we had sights to see outside the city!

I'm a sucker for a tour bus!
The highs: The Falconry Centre. We both love birds of prey. Especially the owls--but we really enjoy them all. Even the vultures have a certain charm. I held an owl, and Mike ran across the field with a fake rabbit to help teach a rehabilitating falcon how to hunt for himself in the wild. It was a happy highlight and a hands-on, sweet visit on our last afternoon in Malta.

Henry the barn owl. Light as a feather.
There were vultures, eagles, falcons ...
but owls are definitely our favorite!
Another high was the Lascaris War Rooms. We found it astounding that the refurbishing, running, and upkeep are all strictly dependent on public contributions and volunteers. It was a strange and eerie walk just trying to find this hidden space, but well worth the effort. And the hubster was in his WWII history-buff glory as we went room to room admiring the enormous maps and "futuristic" nature of the setup.

And we now know that the humble outside of St. John's Co-Cathedral hides a gorgeously appointed inside. We also learned that the "Co" in Co-Cathedral has to do with the Bishop having more than one chair in his diocese. Silly church rules or something like that!

All this gold makes me want to melt the church
for money to feed the poor!

The weather can't be beat. Even though it was at or near 80F most days, the Mediterranean breeze kept things cool during the daytime and wrap-worthy in the evening. This meant easy walking to various points of interest, picturesque bus tours, and lovely evenings spent on our balcony with a rotating and varied assortment of champagne, wine, beer, and cheese plates.

The children learn three languages in school: Maltese, English, and Italian. The people were warm and friendly. I wasn't sad at an overabundance of strays, instead I was happy to see just a random handful of marmalade kitties languishing in the sunshine. And the food was above average.

Our takeaway: we should stick with our usual big-city stays. We have never been a beach or resort kind of couple. We need pavement, lots of cafes and restaurant choices, museums, hustle and bustle, skyscrapers even! Having said that, we're delighted that we went. Not many have the geographic ease or WWII interest to be bothered with a little, far-off country like Malta. Now we can cross it off the bucket list! xx

Sunday, October 21, 2012

19. Malta Here We Come!

Vacation's coming up. Leaving midweek for Valletta! That's the capital of Malta. I cannot wait. Although, it's kinda sorta hard to leave now that our sea shipment has FINALLY arrived.

I don't know a ding-dang thing about Malta other than all the pictures look gorgeous. And, we might never pass this way again, so we should take advantage of the travel while we're in the general vicinity.

Where's Malta?
Right there! Below Sicily.
What I have learned is that the Republic of Malta is a small island nation in the middle of the Mediterranean. It sits between Tunisia (North Africa) and Italy. The islands measure a mere 122 square miles (316 square kilometers) in total, with a population of ~415,000 people. It consists of seven islands, and it has a unique history stretching back to the Ggantija Temples on the Island of Gozo--built by an advanced civilization that crossed from Sicily on a land bridge that no longer exists. These temples are the oldest structures in the world, and were built 1,400 years before the Pyramids! So cool, right!?

The Maltese islands have been coveted for their highly strategic position at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and Africa and, therefore, they've been controlled by a string of dominions over the centuries. In more "recent" history, Charles V of Spain--as King of Sicily--ceded the islands to the Order of the Knights of St. John in 1530. This was an assembly of English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Bavarian Knights who became the biggest influence in the eventual development of the islands. As a refuge for soldiers returning from the Crusades, Valletta is now the capital of Malta and a piece of living history. From what I've read, the city has an outstanding collection of original Baroque architecture, fortified city walls overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and the spectacular Co-Cathedral of St. John. And this smallest of European capital cities is a world heritage site. Amazing. Wiki UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Knights of St. John's reign lasted until Napoleon Bonaparte seized the islands in 1798 at a time when the Knighthood had basically run its course. Napoleon was then defeated by Admiral Nelson's navy, beginning a lengthy period of English rule. This ended with the granting of independence in 1964, when Malta became a sovereign state within the British Commonwealth.

The Capital : Valletta.
Apparently well known for all
the balconies jutting out over the streets.

We should have enough time to see all that Valletta has to offer. The Grand Masters Palace which currently houses parliament and the office of the president. The Upper Barrakka Gardens, the Valletta waterfront, and the War Museum--which houses the Lascaris War Rooms that are still intact and exactly as they were on the last day of the war. The hubster has a big interest in WWII history, so he should totally dig that!

We've booked at The Phoenicia, billed as Malta's "imposing Grande Dame" situated at the entrance to Valletta in seven acres of gardens. It's all Art Deco-y and looks pretty fab. The travel agent recommended--so, here's hoping he knows what he's talking about! xx

The Phoenicia.
Pool area at the Phoenicia.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

18. The Feast of the Sacrifice.

It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him. Quran 22:37

There's an upcoming, big holiday in Turkey: Eid al-Adha. The Feast of the Sacrifice. The Arabic word "Eid" means festival and the word "Adha" means sacrifice. That's when we're heading to Malta (more on that in an upcoming blog). Anyway, here are the particulars on this important national holiday, and insight into why we'll be going on vacation!

Although Ramazan is probably the best known Islamic celebration, it's only a small part of a wider period of festivities taking place every year in places as diverse as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Mauritius. Dubbed the "Islamic Christmas," Eid al-Adha is celebrated throughout the Muslim world as a commemoration of Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice everything for God, including the life of his son Ishmael. Because God spared Ishmael, substituting a sheep in his place, Muslims observe this occasion by slaughtering an animal.

Muslim boy in India with a festive goat for the holiday.
Note the quote at the beginning--the sacrifice itself is not related to atoning for sins or using the blood to wash themselves from sin, but rather as a way to reach God. The meat is divided into three equal parts. The family retains one third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends, and neighbors; and the other third is given to the poor and needy. Because of this tradition, many poor Muslims are able to enjoy the unusual luxury of eating meat during the days of the festival.

A Muslim boy attends a prayer session in celebration
of the Eid al-Adha festival. Manila, Philippines. (Reuters)

Everyone is expected to dress in their finest clothing and to perform Eid prayer in a large congregation in an open field or mosque. It's traditional that parents buy new outfits for their children and give the old clothes to the poor. Then the children usually wear their new clothes throughout the festival.

A Yemeni girl wearing a new dress as she stands in an alley
of the old city, on the first day of Eid al-Adha.
Sanaa, Yemen. Muhammed Muheisen/AP

The Feast takes place roughly 70 days after the end of Ramazan, and the festival lasts four and a half days. The festival's eve is the half day to prepare for the four days of festivities. This holiday is about charity and community. During these four+ days, people are constantly on the move visiting family and friends; family ties get strengthened and children are given an opportunity to bond with the older generations. I hear it's a lot like our Christmas from the standpoint of family time and traveling to and fro to visit everyone, eat, drink, and be merry.

Indonesian mother and daughter celebrating the holiday.
But, back to the animals. In the not so distant past, a butcher or the head of the family would perform the sacrifice in the garden or street. That practice is now prohibited by law. Today, special mobile slaughter houses are installed throughout the city where trained butchers will kill, clean, and package the meat at the request of the families. Right! Well, I've heard tell of non-natives making an unexpected turn down a street where sacrifices were being performed. While I can respect the tradition and meaning, no thanks on sticking around Turkey for this holiday! We'll be soaking up some history in Malta instead. xx