My show!

I can’t believe it, but I’m now doing a Turkish cooking/cocktail mixology show on Last Saturday morning, the producers asked me to create some new Turkish-themed cocktails and then make them on camera, speaking entirely in Turkish. The show’s called “Brian Karistiriyor” (a pun for “Brian mixes it up” / “Mixed-up Brian”).  In just 2 hours, I created the recipes and shot the episodes. (My Turkish is not very good, and I forgot how to say basic words like “strain” and “pour,” so at times I had to use gestures to explain what I was doing! I was nervous, but sipping my creations helped relax me.)

Here’s the recipe I did for the first episode – I made the drink with tahini and pekmez.

Hamam’in gulu: (“Rose of the Hamam”)

3 parts rum
1 part sherry (or brandy)
1 part tahini/pekmez mix (heavy on the pekmez)
1/2 egg white
Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Pekmez is grape molasses which goes wonderfully mixed with tahini and served on bread as an important part of a balanced Turkish breakfast. Normally, I prefer a 2:1 tahini-pekmez mix, but for this drink, you need considerably more pekmez for sweetening.

Turks Walking #2


Turkler geliyor ve Turkler gidiyor… Benim Türkler Yürüyor dizinin ilki!

Episode #2 of my latest artwork, a video project called TURKS WALKING, is up! 36 seconds. The woman with the headscarf is in a hurry, and the man in white turns.

Turks Walking #1


Turkler geliyor ve Turkler gidiyor… Benim Türkler Yürüyor dizinin ilki!

Today I’m delighted to announce the release of the first installment of my latest artwork, a video project called TURKS WALKING. All episodes will range from 30 to 60 seconds in length. Enjoy!

Alan Lomax’s archive of field recordings now is available for free online!

In 1995, I was running the Philadelphia Music Conference, one of the country’s largest music/business gatherings.  It was that year when I discovered world music – and I used to drive my staff crazy playing discs like “Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest” when they wanted to hear Pearl Jam.

So I called Smithsonian Folkways and offered them a deal: I would give them a grand sponsorship to the conference, and they would send me their catalog – every single CD in their world music collection, and hundreds of cassette tapes.  I treasured this music greatly, and it influenced my composing and changed my life.

To go beyond their catalog, I had to go scour through Goldmine, libraries, or NYC record stores to hear great music at the margins.  But today, I discovered that much of the work of the great folklorist Alan Lomax is now online to browse and listen, for free.

Now, you can watch videos of Appalachian folktales and hear shepherd’s tunes from Azerbaijan, all in one place – and see the cultural heritage of our species beautifully laid out.  It’s an embarrassment of riches – which you shouldn’t be too embarrassed to plunder.  Enjoy.


Petting the Hittite sites

One of the 13 sun disks found in tombs in Alac...
Image via Wikipedia

The next morning (Thursday the 27th), we saw Amasya, which had Ottoman houses like Safranbolu but fewer of them. There were incredibly large Pontiac rock tombs from two thousand years ago which – surprise – smelled like piss! We entered the Kileri Süleyman A?a Camii, wherein a cleaning lady gave me filthy looks because I was wearing shorts and said something nasty to me which I couldn’t catch. I told Dilek that the lady gave me an attitude, and Dilek had great fun telling her that “you don’t own the place,” and “We’re spiritually better Muslims than you are.” We saw the Sultan Beyazit II Camii, with two minarets, which isn’t enormous like the Dome of the Rock or any of the Istanbul mosques, but it’s so elegant that we stayed inside it forever, just staring. The Hoca inside, in one corner, was teaching little boys Arabic syllables, which they were mindlessly repeating, bah bah bay, and looking at us like “Those are the infidels.” In the opposite corner were the little girls, who were supposed to be taught the same, and were sitting at a single large desk, but were entirely unsupervised and receiving no visits from the Hoca, so they were just gossiping in Turkish about how it would be to get married, or which of their friends called them on the telephone and which ones haven’t called them. We went to a lovely archeological and ethnographic museum that had some Phrygian glassware that blew my mind – it was from 6-700 BC and yet looked more modern than Tiffanyware, with wild loops and dips and curves that were both non-functional and non-representational. The türbe in the museum grounds had a display of mummies, which pleased Elif very much, because, in her words, on this trip we’ve only gotten to see the past, now we’re getting to see our future.

From there we went to Alacahöyük, a Hattian settlement from 4000 BC which later became a Hittite settlement around 2000 BC. It was a small site with some tombs, sphinx and double-headed eagle reliefs, but the latter were copies of originals which are in the Ankara museum. It was rubble and little else, although the museum had Hittite art, which I adore whenever I see it – elks, eagles, with horns, and lots of metal work – bronze that looked like skeleton keys to haunted houses, and swastikas, pottery with beak-necks. Next we went to Hattu?a?, which was the capital of the Hittite empire from about 1375 BC until the end, about 1200 BC. This site was massive, larger than Efes and Ani combined, but totally ruined. You would drive from the site of one temple – rubble – to another settlement which looked like – rubble. The best thing was the Sphinx gate, which, although the relief was a replica, had a 200-foot tunnel which was original, and when you walked through it, you realized that the whole thing was really going through the bottom of what startlingly looked like a Ziggurat. Nowhere could I find any information about it, but it seemed to me to look more like the bottom steps of a pyramid you’d find in Mexico than Turkey.

Then we drove two miles to Yaz?l?kaya, which was a Hittite temple with, finally, completely-intact reliefs. Again, these were not what you would expect, and I swear it looked like Osirus and Nut, images of people making offerings and kings being held like children in the arms of goddesses, with Egyptian-like processions – who were these Hittites anyway? I was very grateful to see the site, but I actually wished they had removed the reliefs to Ankara. A tour group arrived with about eight Turkish businessmen wearing ties, and the guard was explaining the reliefs to them, and they were all petting the reliefs with their hands as if the reliefs were domesticated cats. Dilek, right on cue, lectured them that the reliefs had only been uncovered 50 years ago and it would be a shame if the carvings lasted 3200 years only to be abraded by some Turks wanting to feel the bumps as if the reliefs were written in Braille or something. Co? stayed in the car the whole time.

When we got back to the car, Co? announced that he wanted to go home and not see Gordion or Ankara; he’d had enough. So we headed home, and I was driving about 140km/hour when the Ankara-Istanbul highway just ended and dumped us by Lake Bolu. There, at 10PM, we were stuck in a 2-hour traffic jam, and there was so much fog by the lake, I could only see the truck in front of me, which said “Dolu,” (“full” – of explosive and flammable material). We changed drivers, I fell asleep, and I woke up in Istanbul, here at Dilek’s house, at 3 AM. I immediately started writing, and now it’s almost noon. Terminat hora diem, terminat author opus.

The best little whorehouse in Savsat

On Sunday the 23rd, Co? decided he wanted to go to Ardanuç, a small town of five thousand people where a friend of his once knew the mayor. Elif refused to have any of it, and when we passed by the turnoff, Co? kept looking back like a petulant child.

We drove down into the Tortum Valley and saw the massive, domeless Georgian church of Dörtkilise near the village of Tekkale. It had delightful frescos, but the road there was basically made out of boulders, which was ruining Co?’s car. We went to Ösk Vank – a more-intact Georgian church in the village center. It was pinkish, with great carvings on portals and on the columns. There, we picked up a 50-ish man with a skullcap and a thick eastern accent (more guttural sounds in his speech) and gave him a ride down toward Tortum. We found a delightful shortcut highway before Tortum running east to north of Narman, the part of which running from Narman to Oltu being the most beautiful road I’ve been on, although I ran out of film in my camera to take pictures of it. The rocks and mountains were rainbow-colored, with lots of red, even in parts like the American southwest.

At Oltu, we went to the 7th-century Georgian castle. Since it was a Sunday, we had to beg for a key from the local Zab?ta (the health/safety inspector). A boy in his late teens showed us around the castle; the sign there said it was 8th century BC Genoese; the boy said it was Armenian; the Rough Guide says 8th Century AD Georgian. The boy told a story of a Selçuk Turk who fought there with his head cut off, and that he’s the one buried in the castle graveyard; two women reportedly turned to stone when they laughed at the man being headless. The boy said that we should cover ourselves and even wash before visiting the graveyard, so we didn’t bother going in to it – he said that the dead guy wouldn’t like it otherwise. Dilek answered that the dead guy would like it better if we didn’t wash first. The boy asked if I had converted to Islam yet (the thought of Elif converting from Islam wasn’t even considered as an option).

From there we went to Bana to try to see a Georgian church there, but we missed the unmarked dirt-road turnoff. We asked directions from an old man with one eye wearing a woman’s sweatshirt. The old guy was selling cucumbers by the side of the road, and he insisted that we take him too, and he’d show us. Instead, though, he took us up a treacherous boulder road to see a pile of rubble that was not Bana. He said that villagers stole the church pieces to make houses hundreds of years ago and then abandoned it after an earthquake, and that the church graveyard’s skulls came up having bigger jawbones than we now have today. Although the trip was annoying and destructive to Co?’s car, we returned the one-eyed Turkish cross-dresser to his roadside cucumber supermarket and bought a few cucumbers off him for his troubles.

Then Co? decided that he really had to go to Ardanuç after all, which was now 210 km out of the way. Dilek was coddling him, after he had the grave misfortune of being forced to spend the day with us seeing Turkey’s best landscape and monuments in the world’s largest open-air archeological museum. So back to Ardanuç we went, just so Co? could be well-treated by a mayor of a village of five thousand. (Being impressed by authority seems to be a Turkish trait; there’s an Aziz Nesin short story about townspeople going all-out to impress a minor authority who’s coming to visit, training each other to stand up straight and walk in line and even erecting a statue for him – and then the guy never shows up.)

On the way back to Aradnuç, we passed through Ardadhan, which was fascinating – a military and industrial town with Russian architecture, but completely random: instead of a village growing into a city, the once-Russian city was now amusingly overrun by shepherds herding sheep right down the main street, with geese following in tow! (I have to mention this: right now on TRT – Turkish Radio Television – as I’m writing this – there’s a TV program as part of the GAP project [southeast development] educating villagers not to fuck their siblings or marry your cousins. The show is talking about genetics and showing retarded children and such. Very exciting stuff. The program ended just now with a boy and his girlfriend/cousin standing at a crossroads; the boy looks in his hand to see a pair of dice there; the dice then turn into the face of a retarded child; then the boy throws the dice away onto the ground (thus littering, which is something that Turks excel at), and the couple finally walk away from each other going in opposite directions from the crossroads as the music swells.)

It was getting late, and our Rough Guide said that the hotels at Ardahan were overrun by natashas, so we decided to push on to ?av?at, where the book said you could spend the night in the Sahara hotel. But the Sahara looked really seedy, as did every other hotel in town, and now it was 10PM. We inquired at the gas station, and we were informed that the Sahara was too dangerous for us to stay at, and that the Iviera hotel would be a far better bet.

We drove to the Iviera, and its lobby was straight out of a Hollywood movie. The guy behind the front desk played the pimp, who was wearing a satin black shirt with the top two buttons undone and a very loose tie; the actor was complete with greasy black hair and smoking a cigarette. Splayed across the torn-up couch was the fat madam with a mustache. Downstairs strutted a rather large whore in a white dress, appearing as if she had just finished doing something important and looking around to see if there was anything new. The reservations clerk asked us for our ID’s, and Elif said we were married. He smiled a little and said that of course we were, but wouldn’t it be much nicer if we just filled out the reservations book with me staying with Co? and Elif with Dilek, and then later we could do what we wanted.

I said, Elif, let’s leave, now. Elif turned to me and said, “Stop being such a problem, I hate you when you get like this” and added that we’d get killed if Co? drove any further this tired, this late, on mountain roads. I said that the odds of us getting killed if we drove on were only about 30 percent, whereas if we stayed here they were closer to 90, so she began to ignore me. I asked her, loudly and slowly so her mother would understand, how much the hotel’s hourly rate per room was, but Dilek and Co? had no idea that we were in a whorehouse – they just thought it was a regular disgusting hotel. Now, it’s delightful to be able to walk around a low-rent Turkish bordello, it looked too disgusting and dangerous for me to want to spend the night.

So now I’m practically yelling let’s go go go go go go go, and finally Elif said, let’s look at the room. We went upstairs, and it was an adorable little operation they had up there. Everyone was working, and the whores were waiting in the green room with couches and floor mattresses and phones. Finally, the owner, upstairs running the whole show, saw that we really were a family and said “You really shouldn’t stay here, the Johns (Mehmet’s?) would certainly take a liking to you, and the doors don’t lock, and they may not take no for an answer…” (I tried to imagine our story in the country’s newspapers’ typically lurid headlines had we run into a problem there: “Married judge in tryst with attorney ‘friend’ found in whorehouse with her daughter and son-in-law.”) One prostitute felt as if she had to apologize to Dilek, saying, “We’re just trying to make a living,” and Dilek hugged her and said that she firmly supports them.

So we drove off into the night. In the car, Dilek and Co? insisted that the women were yabanç?s – “foreigners,” (Georgians), but Elif said that they know better Turkish than Dilek does, and I pointed out that they were quite Turkish in appearance, not Russian. (If they had looked like the natasha I saw at the Besst hotel near Trabzon, who knows, I might have stayed.) I tried to keep Co? awake by teaching him the game “Ghost”, but it doesn’t really work in Turkish – they just kept adding suffixes to get huge one-word constructions which translate into something like “Wouldn’t you really not be the one who would call himself an American worker.”

Again we arrived back at the turnoff to Ardanuç and Artvin, and instead of going to Artvin where there are hotels, Co? takes the road to Ardanuç, where there are more whorehouses. He decides that now, with his impeccable wisdom, that Sunday night at 11 is the perfect time to pay his mayor friend-of-a-friend an unannounced visit so that he could really show off to us three what his influence as a judge can bring. We arrived, and he left the car in the middle of the street in front of the Forest Works building – and, just like he did in Samsun, he doesn’t come out for over an hour. We have no idea what’s happening, and we shout out, “Where are you?” and a man comes out to say Co? is drinking tea inside while they’re still looking for the mayor. He also suggests that we move the car. So I get behind the wheel and park it, and Dilek asked me why I didn’t drive if I could operate a stick-shift, since he had been driving on the left side of the road the whole time. I said I didn’t know I could and I didn’t want to strip the gears or kill the clutch on a new car.

So Dilek, Elif and I move to a schoolyard and sit in a playground for another half hour. It’s well after midnight, I haven’t eaten all day except a candy bar, and I’m pissed off. I gave Co? the latitude that although he has no intellectual interest in archeology or anything else other than football, we were driving his car, he was paying for well more than half of everything, and there were cultural differences I needed to take into account in his wanting to impress the mayor of a tiny whorehouse town (the main cultural difference being that he is a schmuck and I’m not). But at least I wanted not to be randomly abandoned in various places I suddenly found myself in merely because he was behind the wheel (and not doing a very good job of driving at that). Elif is using every trick she knows to make her mother hate her boyfriend; I start saying that at least Co? can provide for her and he doesn’t beat her – in my exhaustion, I’m really thinking that I want anyone, anything, to provide for her so I don’t have to be around any other person than my wife – and I offer the opinion that Co?, like any man, both will do whatever he can get away with and will treat her how she teaches him to treat her.

Finally, Co? comes out. The mayor, of course named Hasan Bey, has been located but can’t be told by his handlers that Co? is here illegally with a woman who’s not his wife. Hasan Bey offers him a room in his house, and to us three he offers two rooms in the Teacher’s House – a ubiquitous boarding home in Turkey for traveling teachers. All he has to do now at 12:30 in the morning is to kick a man out of his room, which he’s actually anxious to do in order to display to us his extreme hospitality.

Elif refuses and says she’ll sleep in the car if he tries to kick anyone out, so Elif, Dilek and I will cram into the one vacant room at the Teachers’ House. We all get into the car, and Co? is following Hasan Bey’s deputy’s car down the road, and we pass a bakkal (grocery store) that has a light on. I yell, “Stop the car, NOW!” and Co? doesn’t, saying we shouldn’t disturb the mayor’s deputy by making him wait. I am furious and open the door while the car is moving, which forces him to stop, and I hop out leaving the door open. I buy a can of tuna fish and crackers, which I devour. Co? dumps us at the Teacher’s House and leaves for the comfort of Hasan Bey’s house. Our room is hot as hell and stinks of the public toilet that’s right outside our door. The sheets and pillowcases haven’t been changed, merely hastily turned inside out, and are filthy. I now wish the mayor had kicked out the other guy, who turns out to be a drunk who keeps leering at my wife. I put a T-shirt around the pillow and sleep.