African Artist El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum

Born in Ghana, El Anatsui now works and teaches in Nigeria. From scavenged liquor bottle caps, tin cans, and other found objects, he makes shimmering monumental masterpieces, which exceed in beauty the finest fabrics or jewel-encrusted royal treasures. My friends and I–indeed everyone at the museum yesterday–marveled at his works. Gravity and Grace–Monumental Works by El Anatsui, at the Brooklyn Museum through August 4, 2013.

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Diane, Willie, Catherine, and Michael

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Diane takes a closer look

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Willie, Michael, and Catherine--Beauty in every direction

Willie, Michael, and Catherine–Beauty in every direction

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Diane behind an El Anatsui veil

Diane behind an El Anatsui veil

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Michael always gets the last word

Michael always gets the best shot (and the last word).

Tour de Farm: Idyllic Idling in Erdek

With a population of over 13 million and one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul has all the thrills, diversions, and energy of a huge cosmopolitan city. But all that can sometimes leave one wishing for a respite. We were treated to just that by our friend George. As a transplanted Texan who has lived in Turkey for the past 20 years, George combines the patented charm of the Turkish men with good old-fashioned Texas hospitality. Not really knowing any of the four of us, he nevertheless graciously invited us to be his guests on his farm outside of Erdek, a lovely small town a 2-hour ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul.

George’s farm is flush with flowers, vegetables, fruit and nut trees. We were treated to apples, peaches, pears, pomegranates, plums, olives, and almonds all grown on his farm, as well as his own honey and fruit preserves. All were incredibly fresh and delicious. The almonds were small and crisp and tasted like they were infused with almond-oil compared to the ones we can buy in the States. To this feast, he added fresh, locally made borek (a Turkish pastry), baclava, and of course, tea.

We revelled in 2 days of lolling on his deck with spectacular views of the sea, strolling around the farm, and enjoying George’s good company. We watched the full moon rise and indulged in a delicious dinner seaside at Yesilim Camping and Restaurant–unassuming-looking and informal with fabulous seafood and vegetables.

The second day, after a stroll through Erdek with stops for lunch and ice cream, it was time to catch the ferry back to the bustle of Istanbul.

I swear that’s a fly rod he is carrying off the ferry.

A Visit to “the World’s First Temple” as Turkey-Syria Border Tensions Erupt

An errant Syrian mortar on October 3, 2012, brought death to a Turkish mother and her 4 children and focused world attention on the Turkish town of Akçakale, nestled up against the Syrian border. Turkey quickly retaliated by shelling military targets just across the border in Syria, killing several soldiers who were there defending the swaying Assad regime.

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“War Crosses the Line,” reads the headline in a Turkish daily after the deadly Syrian shelling.

Only the week before and 20 miles away from Akçakale, we had bumped over gravel roads to a site that receives much less of the world’s fractured attention. Known as Göbekli Tepe, “Potbelly Hill,” this active archeological dig features circular arrays of massive standing stones with finely carved animal and human-like figures that have been dated to more than 11,000 years old, some 8,000 years older than England’s Stonehenge and 7,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Both Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic have dubbed Göbekli Tepe “the world’s first temple.”  National Geographic goes on to say,”Indeed, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.”

German archeologist Karl Schmidt began exploring and excavating the area in the 1990s, after other archeologists had given it short shrift.  The discoveries there have set many a hoary archeological theory on its ear.

We were lucky to visit during the two-month period of the year when the area is an anthill of careful continuing excavation.  We were moved and humbled to stand so close to such ancient and finely rendered artifacts and hope that the tensions and retaliations along the Turkey-Syria border do not damage this incredible site.

Archeologist Karl Schmidt supervises the meticulous work of the Turkish and German archeology teams.

Schmidt and team members inspect a new discovery unearthed during our visit.

Strangers in Good Company

An iPhoneography workshop in the rolling Palouse Hills of Eastern Washington with Teri Lou Dantzler and Harry Sandler offered up incredible photo ops and 4 days of learning about taking and processing photos with the iPhone and iPad. But the trip gave the added wonderful bonus of the people in the class. We braved 4 a.m. wake-ups for sunrise shoots, scorching heat in the high 90s, and dust everywhere. No whiners here–only a bunch of photo and iPhone fanatics who made the time an unforgettably fun experience.

And when they hunkered down in a patch of posies seeking the perfect shot, they looked like a bunch of lovely flowers themselves.

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Cuba: Russians and the Tropicana

A trip to Havana would not be complete without an evening at the fabled Tropicana. Opened in 1939, it survived the Mob and the Revolution to continue offering up voluptuous showgirls and muscled showboys in sequins and feathers, accompanied by the hot beat of Cuban music.

Diane and I were squired by two handsome guys from our group who managed to land us stage-side seats for the extravaganza. Just before the house lights dimmed, a minor commotion attracted our notice: Two house staff members were escorting a couple to join our table.

Our new companions were clearly completely blind, as signaled by their white canes and dark glasses. We said hello and soon learned that our neighbors were André and Tatania from Russia. Sharing our limited common words in English and Spanish, we managed to exchange a few pleasantries. Then the show began, and thinking we had done our bit for Glasnost, we turned our attention back to the stage.

But then I heard André’s deep, guttural voice saying, “Debora, Debora.”  “Yes, André?”  “Debora–you must dance with me.”  Of course, the aisle by our table was completely dark, but André didn’t know that. Not another soul was dancing, but André didn’t know that. And, well, how do you refuse an invitation like that from a blind Russian? So, we danced for a bit, then returned to our seats.

We were not, however, yet finished with our Russian encounter. Apparently, André had brought along some good Russian vodka and was well along into consuming it. He began talking to his vodka bottle in a very loud voice, seemingly providing an emotional non-stop account of something–sort of like a Tourette’s onslaught in Russian.

We nevertheless managed to enjoy the sights and the sounds of the dancers and music, accompanied by André’s constant commentary.

Then, another commotion at our table.  Two staff members arrived to lift André’s head from the table where it had fallen and carry him from the room.  They said something to Tatania  (who had yet to say a word, break a smile, or tap a foot)–perhaps asking if she wanted to go with André. Whatever they asked, her answer was a definitive “Nyet.”

A bit later, the staff members returned and poured Andre back into his seat, where he spent the rest of the evening with his head and white cane resting on the table.

Tatania never smiled.

And that was our evening at the Tropicana.

In honor of Andre and Tatania, a new cocktail called Two Blind Russians. It’s a variation of the classic Three Miller (aka Between the Sheets), substituting vodka for the rum and lime juice for the lemon juice:

  • 1 oz. vodka
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. cognac

Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with two maraschino cherries. After a couple of these, you’ll be as blind as the Russians.