We went to Istanbul after we went to London during Peace Corps. It was basically just a 36 hour layover, and it was the best layover in my life! We got to the Stone Hotel in the snow after dark. I couldn’t believe our view of endless minarets – some modern and some ancient – and the Sea of Marmara.
The Harem in Topkapi Palace
The next morning we woke up to a blanket of snow that was still falling. I have to admit that whenever I pictured Istanbul or Turkey, I always saw fruit trees and sunshine. I think we were lucky to see Istanbul in a different light.
There is so much history in Istanbul. You can really sense the transition from West to East in the city. It was neat to be in London (west) one day, Istanbul (transition) the next and back in rural Azerbaijan (east) the next.
Aya Sofya is really evidence of this bridge. It was built as the largest church in Christianity, converted to a Mosque (by covering the Biblical mosaics and adding minarets) and is now a museum. It is huge and breathtaking.
Besides the Starbucks, we also bought a hookah and some hand painted tiles. I could have spent an eternity and a fortune in the Grand Bazaar. The shop keepers were always surprised and delighted when we would speak Azeri (which is somewhat close to Turkish) and say things like InshAllah.
Istanbul was a wonderfully beautiful city. I would love to spend more time there exploring the culture, history, architecture and food.
Christine was my first mentor teacher during grad school. She is a literature teacher at Eugene International High School (my alma mater). I was so lucky to be able to work with Christine. She has the best classroom management and relationship with her students. Her philosophy is to treat everyone as the lovely human beings that they are. I learned so much from her – so much that isn’t available in text books or articles. Whenever I used ‘eduspeak’ to ask her what her motivations were, she would just say, ‘I’m just treating them like human beings.’ There really isn’t better advice than that – for teaching and for life.
I was able to teach two sections of her 9th grade global literature class for about 4 weeks. The timing worked out so I got to teach the unit on the Holocaust and Night by Elie Wiesel. Christine was always very supportive of my ideas and knew just when to suggest additions or modifications. She was incredibly positive and motivating. I learned to be a better teacher – and a better human being – by having the wonderful opportunity to work with Christine.
When I was little Ed Ragozzino would produce a musical every summer. I remember listening to the cast recordings on cassettes in our car all summer to get ready for the production. They were quite amazing for a little town like Eugene to produce. One of my favorites was West Side Story. I remember asking my mom who the good guys were – the Sharks or the Jets. She said there were no good guys, or bad guys in West Side Story. This blew my little brain right out of the water. I knew that I loved Anita and her feistiness, but I think I figured Bernardo and the Sharks were bad guys since Tony (my hero) was a Jet. This was a story where the antagonist was a situation, not a person. That might just be what makes this story so beautiful and believable (I know that most of the credit goes to Shakespeare for this one…).
This year at the Oregon Bach Festival there was a concert of Bernstein’s musical works narrated by his daughter Jamie. Jamie told some lovely stories about her father and about how West Side Story came to be. The most interesting to me was that Bernstein had the idea some years before he actually wrote the musical. At the time there were intense gang wars between Jews and Catholics on the upper East side. When he got around to writing it, the East side gangs were gone but some Italian and Puerto Rican gangs were fighting on the upper West side. Not only did this change the title of the show, but it also gave Bernstein the fodder he needed to begin writing the music. Now he had direction for the two gang’s musical styles – upbeat jazz for the Jets, sultry mambo for the Sharks.
When I was in high school I got to see Bernstein’s Mass. This was a life changer for me. I remember sitting in the audience, very aware of how beautiful and genius the music was. I don’t recall any of the music or melodies, but I do recall the feeling I had. People say that Leonard Bernstein was one of – if not the most – influential composer of the 20th century. I couldn’t say whether or not that’s true, but I can say that he is one of my absolute favorites.
Dr. Armstrong is the conductor of the Oregon Bach Festival Youth Choral Academy. I was a charter member of the YCA. In 1998 I had the opportunity and privilege to sing with the YCA and with Dr. A. I have been in choirs my whole life, from school choirs, community choirs, church choirs… It wasn’t until I was in Dr. A’s choir that I really learned how to sing in a choir. What he does is magic. He gets 80 high school vocalists from around the US together and teaches them to sing.
We had all been in choirs, good ones, in fact. But, nothing compares to the sound that we could make together under Dr. A’s direction. I remember each summer I did the YCA coming out of the experience a much better singer and musician.
My strongest memories of Dr. A and the YCA are the times that we were either singing beautifully or terribly. It was awful when he said we were singing “mugly” – mucho ugly. It was heartbreaking when he was disappointed with us. On the other hand, when we were all hitting the notes and singing with feeling Dr. A gave us the most amazing praise. I remember one time he held his hand to his heart after a soaring tenor line. He is one of those people you really want to please, and will work your hardest to make sure that he’s happy with your performance.
I will never forget the 3 years I was involved with the YCA. Those were some of the bet times in my life and I learned so much from Dr. Armstrong.
This is my favorite literary guilty pleasure. I think I’ve read it at least a half dozen times. It’s a great summer book and a great winter mini-series. It is the unlikely love story of Father Ralph Dd Bricassarte, a Catholic priest who is sent to a small town surrounded by sheep stations in Australia, and young Meggie Cleary. Father Ralph quickly becomes entangled with the Cleary family who live on Drogheda. This is an epic story that spans three generations of Cleary women – all trying to find their path and their love. It’s very dramatic.
I think I was in middle school when I saw the mini-series for the first time. I remember sitting in our green rocking chair watching the show during one summer break. I was enthralled. I have always wanted to go visit the Australian outback and all the other Australian locales that are in the book. Oh, to walk where Meggie walked…
I know it’s silly.
I know this is kind of a silly post, but it really is one of the most amazing things that the internets have given me ever. I love pandora.com so much.
If you live under a rock (or have been in the Peace Corps for 3 years) it is high time you learn about Pandora. What you do is you tell it a song or an artist that you love and it comes up with other songs that it thinks you will like. It is quite genius. We have so many ‘stations,’ that are edited to pretty much only play the music we love, that we never have to get bored of our old CDs and mp3s ever again. The only downside is that there’s a limit for how much you can listen to in a month, but it only costs $0.99 a month to keep the music coming. The only other downside is Pandora’s crazy affinity to Jack Johnson. Seriously. He shows up on all our stations – Decemberists, Audra McDonald, Glee Cast, Deb Talan, Emiliana Torrini. Everything. No matter how many thumbs down we give him. Oh well.
Activities at a Sumqayıt Hub Day
The Hub Night tradition in Mingəçevir (that I think is still alive and well!) came out of the random Hub Days during Pre-Service Training. Every so often all the volunteers got together for all day training and bonding. There were 55 Trainees in our group and for the first 3 months, we lived in small communities around Sumqayıt and only got everyone together for these Hub Days.
On our way to Mike's for a Hub Night
When we got to our site, Mingəçevir, we wanted to keep up the Hub tradition. We had the most wonderful site mates in Azerbaijan, so it was a lot of fun to meet up once a week or so for dinner. It was great to have the support from other volunteers, get ideas from them and most of all, eat wonderfully (almost) American food.
Nate playing with Mike's computer at a Hub Night
For the first few months, Mike was the only volunteer in Mingəçevir with his own place, so most Hub Nights happened at his apartment. After a while, we all moved out to our own houses and apartments, so we rotated it a bit.
Another common Hub Night activity... crowding around a computer to watch a movie or YouTube
I miss getting together with Nate, Mike, Cindy, Kate, Mariko and whoever else happened to be in Ming at the time. They were great nights with great friends!
Trying to fix laptops with head lamps and vodka... always a good idea...
While I was at OSU, I took quite a few creative writing classes. My very favorite was taught by Tracy Daugherty. It was a small, upper level short story workshop class. I have to admit I was far from the most talented writer in the class, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere and Tracy’s instruction. He created a very professional, respectful environment for young writers. I have always loved being surrounded by talented people, so Tracy’s class was a wonderful bastion of creativity in my undergraduate education.
Tracy’s wife Marjorie Sandor was also one of my professors at OSU. I was so lucky to have such wonderful professors, especially since OSU’s English department isn’t very big.
Tahir is a wonderful, amazing, loving, giving, caring, generous Azeri man. He was our host father in Mingechevir during Peace Corps. I suppose I should back up a little bit. Our first host family during training in Sumgayit was pretty much terrible. We lived with an old woman, her two grown sons, her daughter and various grand children. The two sons were terrible, horrible, awful men. They would drink all day (while their wives were working in a chicken factory) and come home and torment and abuse their wives (who were now doing all the cooking, cleaning and caretaking) and children. It was a horrible experience and I had come to the conclusion that all Azeri men were abusive pigs. I am so grateful that I met Tahir and that he was able to change my opinion of Azeri men.
Tahir and Bibi making pizza for us
Tahir was exactly what a host father should be. He was very patient with our Azeri and our crazy American ways. He went so far as to go through the bazaar and tell everyone, “Don’t give the Americans a hard time, treat them fairly, don’t lay a hand on them. They are my children and you will answer to me if you bother them.” He would light the fire in the hamam every morning so we were able to have a hot shower everyday (this is basically unthinkable in Peace Corps, we were spoiled). He would help his wife with the cooking and cleaning (!) and was a loving husband and father. He often called me mənim balam – my baby. He had 3 sons and always said that he was happy to finally have a daughter. I always told him I already had 3 fathers, but that I was so happy that he was the 4th (he would reply that he was, in fact, the second in importance). On Christmas he spelled out “Have a happy holiday” phonetically in Cyrillic and he called my 1st dad so he could wish him a happy holiday. That was a highlight of my Peace Corps service – I really felt the bridge between the two cultures and families grow a little shorter in that moment.
We were all very sad when we had to leave early because of this. We had a wonderful group of people seeing us off at 7am. I went around and hugged everyone and pretty much held it together. Until I got to Tahir. When I saw tears in his eyes, I totally lost it. He had done so much for me. He had protected me, supported me, taught me that Azeri men could be loving. I miss him a lot, and truly hope to visit him again someday.
Filed under Family, People
I. Love. Books. I have always loved reading. I think this is what happens when your mother is a librarian… I remember going to bed with a stack of books every night when I was a kid. I loved looking at the pictures, remembering the stories, turning the pages… Reading a book is a very beautiful thing (which is why I don’t think I could ever get a Kindle or something like that…). I love the feeling of turning the pages, the smell of books, the way the print looks on the pages, the texture of the pages.
I have a very specific system for how I store and display books. The above photo (I love the built in bookcases! These basically sold the house for me…) is of a few different kinds of books. In the top left are old books and smell divine and have wonderful cloth covers. Beneath them are all my Azerbaijani books and magazines. Some favorites are the monster Azeri-English dictionary, the 6th and 10th form English text books – seriously funny and scary lessons in those books! Under the Azer-shelf are my absolute favorite books of all time… more on those later. Then we have too many scrapbooks for one shelf… still don’t know where those are going. On the top right are spiritual books – the Bible, Dali Lama, Book of Common Prayer, Bhagavad Gita, and I need to get a Koran and Torah sometime… Under the “shrine” is Harry Potter. Gotta love it. Then on the bottom within reach for small hands are some children’s books.
These are my favorite books. I’m sure I’m missing some here, but for the most part here they are. You can see that my tastes vary from Tom Robbins to Lois Lowry to Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Kraus. From plays to young adult novels. From civil rights to World War Two. You might even notice a well-worn-falling-apart-often-read copy of The Thorn Birds (a guilty please that is often read in the summertime). I love these books and read them over and over and over and loan them out and give them away and buy new copies again and again. Love.
On another wall in my living room I keep some of the others. The top shelf are books I love, but not enough to be on my favorite shelf. These books are all organized by topic or some other system that probably only makes sense to me. Old English text books and anthologies anchor everything on the bottom.
My mom brought home a stack of middle school books for me to read this summer, so I am off to read now… I’m just starting Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier which takes place in Istanbul, so I’m already really into it…