The Black Citadel of Opium

Afyon citadel

Afyon citadel

Afyonkarahisar (Turkey) is a cool name for a town.

To start, it’s seven syllables. How many towns can claim that? In the US, Philadelphia has five, Indianapolis has six. The full name for Llanfairpwllgwyngyll (Wales) has around 15 syllables, and there’s a town in Thailand with even more. However, among towns that people regularly say and name on signs, Afyonkarahisar must be in a select group.

Poppies (Papaver somniferum)

Poppies (Papaver somniferum)

The meaning of Afyonkarahisar is striking, too. “Hisar” means citadel or fortress, and refers to the stunning rock/castle in the center. It’s 570 steps up, which should convey a sense of its height.

“Kara” means black and “Afyon” means opium, which is widely grown in the area. So, Afyonkarahisar is the Black Citadel of Opium.

Ottoman era houses

Ottoman era houses

You can see poppy growing in many places around Afyonkarahisar. This is essential for one of the regional specialities, Kaymak, a creamy dairy product, made from the milk of water buffalos. The water buffalo are fed the residue of poppy seeds (haşhaş) after it has been pressed for oil. Kaymak is often traditionally eaten with honey as a supplement to breakfast.

Opium seed paste

Opium seed paste

Haşhaş (or opium seed paste) itself is sometimes served at breakfast. I learned that it is given to children to calm their stomachs and to help them sleep through the night (hush-hush?). Since my own stomach has been queasy lately, I’m hoping a generous serving will benefit me as well.

Down at the bottom of the citadel is an old town, with many houses from the Ottoman era. We stayed in one that’s been converted into a charming hotel: Şehitoğlu Konaği. Other than bumping my head, which seems to be a problem everywhere I go, I enjoyed the step into the past, with elaborate woodwork, long sofas, and many pots, pitchers, and plates made of copper or silver.

Tromboncini strombazzaree

The tromboncini have welcomed August with a fanfare. And now, they’re threatening to take over.

Invasion of the squash

Invasion of the squash

Thanks to starter plants from Daniel Dejean, we now have vines encroaching on our house.

Vines attacking house

Vines attacking house

But the fruits of the plant are delicious, tastier than zuchinni. They’re huge, enough to feed the army we’ll need to defend the house against the vines.

Squash love

Squash love

As Daniel says, and illustrates, it’s the “hit of the summer.”

Tromboncino and tomato

Tromboncino and tomato

The hit of the summer

The hit of the summer

Squash fashion, by Daniel Dejean

Squash fashion, by Daniel Dejean

Trombones become harps, by Daniel Dejean

Trombones become harps, by Daniel Dejean

Tromboncinerang

Tromboncinerang

Tromboncino forest

Tromboncino forest

Is resistance futile?

Is resistance futile?

An old English dinner

deer at birdbath

deer at birdbath

With all the snow, it’s felt like a storybook Christmas time.

The deer are regular visitors. They have to resort to holly leaves, which is not their favorite, because they’ve eaten everything else in the yard that is now, or ever was green.

home at Christmas time

home at Christmas time

We’ve been sledding and Emily and Stephen went caroling twice. They also cooked an old English dinner, in the traditional style. However, I should add, “traditional” here requires you to take Harry Potter as your source.

Harry Potter menu

click to see the full menu

The Harry Potter Restaurant’s December Feast started with Warm and Hearty Mulligatawny Soup, followed by Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Mashed Parsnips. The libation was Pumpkin Juice and we finished off with Blancmange. It was a delicious meal, perfectly appropriate for a snowy December evening.

You can see the menu below left.

Persian night in Göteborg

We just had an amazing evening in an Iranian restaurant.

Vida La Vida (formerly Coffee Dance) at Fjärde Långgatan 48 Linnaeus, Göteborg, is a small, but imaginatively decorated place that plays an important role in the local art scene. The eponymous Vida is the multitalented owner and for us this evening, a very charming host.

We were invited to enjoy music and dinner at Vida La Vida by Bernardo Borgeson, an Ecuadorian/Swedish filmmaker, who has directed many critically acclaimed documentaries and short films. He’s also worked with marginalized youth to tell their own stories through film. These are often quite powerful and disturbing films.

We shared a small table with Bernardo’s friend. The only other table was a large one with Vida’s Iranian family and their friends, several of whom were visiting from the U.S.

Various individuals performed on the tar, daf, and other instruments, and sang songs such as Dele Divane and Soltane Ghalbha. The singing was beautiful, almost hypnotic. Many of the songs convey a sadness and sense of longing or loss, even if one doesn’t undertand the words.

There was also a lot of group singing, which we were invited to join, with song sheets showing the Farsi words in a Latin alphabet. All of this occurred as we enjoyed an excellent dinner of salmon, fresh vegetables, and good Persian bread.

The large group included a young couple about to be married. There was also a woman celebrating her birthday, so we sang happy birthday in Farsi (Tavalodet Mobarak), Swedish (Ja, må du leva), and English. They brought us into all parts of the evening, which went on for several hours, and included an excellent dinner plus birthday cake.

Need I add that this was not what we had expected in Göteborg? The evening was topped off by a walk home in which we saw ladybugs, witches, and skeletons. The intensity of the evening at Vida La Vida made us forget that it was Halloween here!

World Universities Congress, Çanakkale

Last week I attended the World Universities Congress in Çanakkale, Turkey, organized by Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. The theme was new aims and responsibilities of universities in the context of globalization.

It was a fascinating and worthwhile event. Conferences like this are intrinsically interesting because of the venue and the assemblage of attendees from around the world.

The sessions highlighted the special role that Turkey plays in the world today, as a bridge between East and West, Christianity and Islam, modern and traditional, Europe and Asia. When you consider Turkey’s neighbors (Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and just across the water, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Libya), it’s clear that Turkey’s success is essential for all of us.

But there were also a number of excellent sessions and discussions interesting in purely academic terms. For example, in a panel I was on, I learned about a community/university project led by Arzu Başaran Uysal (stage right in the photo) to build playgrounds in Çanakkale. Although the setting was quite different, the course of the project reminded me of many of ours in community informatics. I presented on Youth Community Informatics and co-presented on our GK-12 project.

Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, or ÇOMÜ, went all out, offering cultural events including music, dancing, tours to Troy and Gallipoli, just across the straits, and a dinner where we saw börek made.

Börek is a baked or fried filled pastry, made of thin flaky yufka dough and filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables. Originating in Central Asia, it’s become popular every place we went in Turkey.

We stayed at ÇOMÜ’s beautiful Dardanos guest house, situated on the shore of the Dardanelles, the straits that connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. We could watch the sun setting over Gallipoli every evening, as in the photo above.

[Thanks to Del Harnisch for the second and third photos here.]

Adatepe Olive Oil Museum

Heading north from Izmir towards Çanakkale, we came to the Adatepe Olive Oil Museum, in Küçükkuyu. Again, we were the sole visitors at a very interesting site.

The museum is a restored soap factory designed to display artifacts related to olive culture. It’s the only one in Turkey devoted to the history of olive oil production. The museum extracts oil by traditional cold-press methods in its factory and stores the oil for families in the area.

We saw huge granite mills for grinding olives, various tools for pruning and olive picking, baskets for carrying olives, and earthenware jars for olive oil storage.

There are also amphoras from sunken ships of early Mediterranean trade (which never made it to the Bodrum symposium). There are displays of various tools for making olive oil soap, charts of the annual cycle of olive production, maps showing the spread of olives from Syria westward, and writings in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sacred texts.

Fresh dolma

I’ve been fortunate to have encountered friendly people nearly everywhere I’ve traveled.

This includes people who have legitimate concerns with US foreign policy, see much of American culture as both boorish and hegemonic, and see Americans as naive but arrogant. Where did they get such impressions?! But even those who think that way recognize the difference between a nation and an individual.

This has been especially evident in Turkey. People everywhere have been extraordinarily friendly. For example, we discovered some excellent dolma (stuffed grape leaves) in a supermarket deli section in Yalikavak.

Yesterday, we went back to get some more. The young man behind the counter offered one for a taste. Again, they were delicious, so I asked for a full container of about 20. He prepared those and sent me off with a smile.

A few minutes later, he called me over. A fresh batch had just been prepared. He asked for the container back, and filled a new one with even fresher dolma. It was unnecessary, unrequested, but I very much appreciated both the gesture and the freshest possible selection. All this in spite of our rudimentary Turkish.

There are many other examples. At the moment, we’re using wifi/internet for free in a little café, Leleg Restaurant, in Gümüslük. It wasn’t advertised as an option, but the owner recognized our need and quickly endeavored to help us out.

PS: We ordered some çay (black tea) to drink while we used the internet. When I asked how much we owed the owner refused to take a single lira for çay or internet.