Day 3: Boating down the Bosphorus

Turkish women wait at a dock.

Turkish women wait at a dock.

Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia, with the Bosphorus Strait splitting the European side, which has most of the tourist attractions and commerce, from the Asian side, which is largely residential. We decided to devote a day to seeing more of this important strait, which offers the nations around the Black Sea their sole path of entry and exit to the Mediterranean via the Marmara and Aegean Seas—crucial for trade and navies.

We boarded the ferryboat that would take us on a 1.5 hour journey from the old city up the strait, past the bankside sprawl of Istanbul, to a fishing village called Anadolu Kavağı situated near the mouth of the Black Sea. After claiming seats on the topmost level where we could enjoy the warm sun and chilly wind, we peered down into the waters of the inlet, where cormorants plunged into the depths, and impassive, translucent jellyfish wobbled through the water, almost indistinguishable from the plastic debris that floated on the surface. Seagulls silently swooped above us.

I have way too many photos of seagulls!

I have way too many photos of seagulls…

The boat was docked near the bridge across the Golden Horn, over which the tram passes back and forth to the New District. Below the traffic on the lower, pedestrian level of the bridge, there is a row of seafood restaurants. At 10:00 AM their staff were just starting to clean and prepare for a day of customers, and we watched in amusement as they hauled up water from the strait below to swab the decks of their outdoor seating. In that act, I was reminded of how provident the sea and its estuaries are to coastal cities. Little wonder then that successive empires made this area the focus of their empires, surrounded as it is by a natural moat of generous and protective waters.

The bridge looks like it is buoyed by restaurants.

The bridge with its undergirding of restaurants.

After some time, the engine started purring and the boat pulled away from the dock. As we moved along, we followed the tour in our guidebook, spotting such sights as the European wannabe Dolmabahce Palace and its nearby mosque and clocktower, the Rumelian fortress dating from the 15th century, and several towering bridges across the strait, one for city traffic and one for “intercontinental transit.”

Eventually, the crowded urban area thinned out into areas of mansions with tall trees. In one such tree we saw a cormorant worshipping the sun, wings outstretched.

Sunbathing cormorant

Sunbathing cormorant on the bank of the Asian side.

When we would approach the shore to pick up more passengers, flocks of seagulls would attach as if magnetically to our boat and hover around. Perhaps the wake of the boat stirred up small creatures for their lunch, or maybe they hoped we would jettison our own food—in any case, Jasmine encouraged me to get some action shots of these birds. There were, in fact, several species of seagulls, ranging from a long-winged pterodactylesque breed with harsh eyes to a chubbier, smaller variety with the charm of a flying porpoise.

Magnetic seagulls that orbited our boat.

Magnetic seagulls that orbited our boat.

Now that I’ve started on seagulls, I must digress to another scene. Seagulls were not only present above the Bosphorus, but also all over the Sultanahmet. They careened past the eaves of our hotel as we ate breakfast on the enclosed terrace. More hauntingly, one night as we strolled around the park between the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, we observed scores of gulls weaving like ghosts above the domes—like moths tethered to lights.

It's hard to see, but the white specks above the dome of the Blue Mosque are seagulls.

The white specks above the dome of the Blue Mosque (which looks like a yellow mosque at night) are seagulls.

Back on the strait, we arrived at the village. As we approached, we noticed two things: the ruins of Yoros Castle, our destination, on the peak of a hill, and the black-and-white clad waiters standing in front of their seafood restaurants flagging us down. As none of us care for seafood, we skipped the daily catch in favor of the village’s other specialty, lokma, which are syrupy balls made of a light dough deep-fried to golden perfection and sprinkled with cinnamon.

Deep-fried deliciousness.

Sticky and sweet deliciousness.

“Mmmm!” was our unanimous reaction to lokma. Yet this treat soon met a tragic end: as we walked away from the bevy of restaurants and hawkers in pursuit of the castle, I flung out my arm to point at a sign saying “Yoros,” just as Sergey was proffering the container of lokma to me. In the ensuing collision, the lokma scattered over the street like sticky marbles. I felt quite crushed by my role in this accident—as crushed as the lokma were soon to become under the tires of passing cars—but luckily, we were still close to the stand and purchased a refill.

Yoros Castle in Andalu Kavagi

The remains of Yoros Castle.

Up the steep hill we hiked, passing by a military zone protected by a high fence, higher and higher until we reached the surprisingly commercialized ruins of the Byzantine castle. We had to pass by another bevy of restaurants to reach our destination. While the castle was admittedly dull since we could not enter (unless we defied the law and scaled its crumbling walls, which some boys did), the summit of the hill did afford a striking view toward the Black Sea.

“Can you see Moldova from here?” I asked Sergey.

We are posing in front of the mouth of the Black Sea. If you look super hard and use your imagination, you can even spot Sergey's hometown of Chisinau (Kishinev)!

We are posing in front of the mouth of the Black Sea. If you look hard and use your imagination even harder, you can spot Sergey’s hometown of Chisinau (Kishinev) behind us!

Soon enough, our time on the Asian side was over, and we re-boarded our boat, which felt tranquil after our return hike through the surprisingly traffic-congested lanes of the village. We chose indoor seats and spent most of the return voyage in a half-stupor.

Maiden's Tower seen on the right.

Maiden’s Tower seen on the right.

Towards the end, though, I decided I had to go to the top so I could finally photograph one of Istanbul’s well known sights, Maiden’s Tower, which sits upon a small island. As we neared the European side, the setting sun set the cityscape aglow, smears of saffron light upon the minarets of countless mosques…and neon light upon the signs of countless seafood eateries.

Cityscape centered on Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Cityscape centered on the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent.

Day 2: Time travel

Buskers on Istiklal Street playing percussion, something like a sitar, and of course a didgeridoo.

Dreadlocked buskers on Istiklal Street playing percussion, something like a sitar, and of course some didgeridoos

From the ancient buildings of the Sultanahmet area, we traveled across the inlet called the Golden Horn to the so-called New District. If you recall the protests that rocked Turkey a few years ago, you probably remember that Taksim Square was the site of demonstrations and police crackdowns. That square is at the end of Istiklal Street, where we took our tour of modern Istanbul.

Not actually taken on Istiklal Street, but this is a fair representation of its crowdedness.

Not actually taken on Istiklal Street, but this is a fair representation of its crowdedness.

Looking down Istiklal Street from the comparatively quiet square, we saw a river of people. This river only grew denser as the day progressed, reaching flooding point after dark. Occasionally, a trolley would part the crowd, but usually pedestrians packed the entire street. Clearly, Istiklal Street is the place to be on a Saturday. With the exception of a sartorial detour to a silk shop where I ended up with a green shawl, our walk primarily gravitated toward sweet shops, including Haci Bekir, which has apparently been in business for as long as the US has been a nation. There, we sampled pastries and stocked up on mini pizzas and, more importantly, Turkish delight.

Now, I haven’t always harbored much love for this cubic dessert, which has a chewy, gummy texture and traditionally features double-roasted pistachios. But there ain’t nothing like the real thing, and the stuff we get stateside is a mere shadow of actual Turkish Turkish delight, which the Turks call “lokum.”

Choosing lokum at the renowned Haci Bekir patisserie

Choosing lokum at the renowned Haci Bekir patisserie

After that, we tried Turkish ice cream, made with goat milk and some orchid product that is probably the same that goes into salep. Then we sampled almond paste and rose-flavored hard candy. Then we had to go to the dentist (kidding!).

Our healthy lunch completed, we finished Istiklal Street and walked further to see Galata Tower, which was constructed by Genoese merchants to assert their tower-building powers. Finally, we ended up beside the Golden Horn, where fishermen flicked their lines in and out of the dusky water.

Fishing on the New District side of the Golden Horn

Fishing on the New District side of the Golden Horn

The next day, we were able to get to know these waters even better.

Day 1: Hagia Sofia, Hippodrome, Cistern, and Grand Bazaar

Check out that apse!

Check out that apse!


The Hagia Sofia (pronounced “Eye-Ah Sofia”) exemplifies how excellent architecture and sturdy materials can last scores of generations beyond their builders—it has stood tall and proud for nearly 1,500 years. One sign of its age are its enormous front doors through which the emperor would have entered: today, they are frozen in open paralysis, their bottoms locked in place beneath ground level by the buildup of renovations. After the Byzantines fell to the Ottomans in 1453, Hagia Sofia switched over from basilica to mosque, and today it features a pastiche of Christian mosaics and seraphim and huge Islamic calligraphy medallions. All three are visible in the photo above. For many centuries, the Christian art was covered under whitewash due to the Islamic prohibition of figurative depictions in mosques. In some cases, the whitewash actually preserved the artwork underneath.

Exterior view

Exterior view

In the Hippodrome, the former stadium where Roman chariots raced and plebeians occasionally rioted, we once again saw the layers of history that characterize the Sultanahmet district. Several obelisks of various origins, including one taken from Egypt eons ago covered with beautifully clear hieroglyphics, were partially sunken into the ground a number of feet. After its glory days, the Hippodrome was demoted to a quarry/dumpsite. The accumulation of dirt raised its level many feet.

A brief side trip to Egypt. Now, who speaks hieroglyph?

A brief side trip to Egypt. Now, who speaks hieroglyph?

Speaking of glory days, I found the story of the so-called Basilica Cistern rather amusing. The great Byzantine emperor Justinian, who sponsored the construction of Hagia Sofia, also built a huge cistern under the city, supported by hundreds of columns. In later years, the Ottomans somehow forgot that this giant reservoir was there, and concluded that they were simply specially blessed because their wells were mysteriously always full. Today, the cistern is a drippy tourist trap. Just imagine a gigantic flooded basement and you’ll get the general picture!

Basilica Cistern

Or you can look at the specific picture.

Next we headed over to the Grand Bazaar. I felt a peculiar draw toward the place, because it’s half-dream, half-nightmare. Sometimes I’ll awake from wonderful dreams where I’m shopping in a splendid chocolate shop or picking out beautiful clothes from a heavenly Macy’s. Yet, in real life, malls cause me anxiety, and shopping tends to be a chore. In the Grand Bazaar, the tantalizing possibility of finding something rare and exotic meets the stressful reality of pushy merchants and thronging crowds. We found it nearly impossible to navigate so we definitely left some routes unexplored, but we did find a coffeeshop where we tried Turkish coffee (i.e. hot coffee sludge) and also salep, which we received more favorably. This hearty drink combines flour made from starchy orchid tubers with sugar and milk or water and comes dusted with cinnamon. As a winter beverage, it’s a good alternative to hot chocolate for warding off the cold.

I don't have a photo of Turkish coffee, but I think Medusa is a decent substitute.

I don’t have a photo of Turkish coffee–but here’s Medusa! She looks like she could use some salep…

Well, I’ll see you in day 2!

Gettin’ hitched, part 3

One of the classic flying machines that frequents the Leonardo da Vinci airport, I assume.

After a day of travels and a stop in the da Vinci airport in Rome, where we breakfasted on the finest pizza and cappuccinos of Italy, Sergey and I arrived in America.

It was remarkable to see the Wisconsin countryside veined with creeks and rivers stretching out beneath our plane in undulating hills of green–so much green after the scrubbiness of Israel!  How was this luxuriance possible?  For Sergey, the landscape reminded him of Moldova.  For me, the amount of space and the cleanliness took some getting used to.  It wasn’t quite reverse culture shock, more like terrain shock.  Why weren’t there any strays using these wide streets as litter boxes?  And there are birds besides sparrows, crows, and pigeons?  Was Target always so super huge?

We had a week and a half to spend with my family in Hometown U.S.A. before heading down to the Chicago area.  While we had a few allocated “fun periods,” much of our time was consumed with final preparations for the wedding.  There were so many important decisions to be made.  For example, after our contact person for our reception location revealed that they had only black tablecloths to offer, which would have been great for a funeral-themed wedding, we had to add that to our Party City list.  It took a surprising amount of effort to settle on the purple tablecloths, probably because Mommy and Sergey spent half the time convincing me that sparkly confetti was an unnecessary addition to our decor.  But…but…sparkles?

Thankfully, the key aspect of our decor, the centerpieces, was decided on before we returned.  I recall back in May feverishly considering various centerpiece options as I scanned records in the office.  Birdcages or feathers to go with the bird theme?  How about feather-coated birdcages holding live singing doves?

Luckily we decided on a more classy alternative: three-tiered stands covered with colorful cupcakes and topped with a spray of flowers, which my uncle generously arranged.  After finding a cute Wilmette bakery called Lawrence Deans online during my initial investigations, I spent the next few months contemplating which flavors of their selection I wanted at the wedding (all of them).  Especially the rose-pistachio ones.  In the end, we ordered a mere 132 cupcakes in 11 flavors, chosen both for their deliciousness and their colors.  You can see the results below.

A dream realized.

A dream realized.

Season’s greetings

Dearly beloved, we are gathered today to mourn the loss of my 52-month old MacBook Pro, upon whose recent demise I shall blame my prolonged absence from the blogosphere.

But guys, the craziest thing happened.  The season changed, seemingly overnight, from summer to winter.  I suppose there were a few brief weeks of “fall,” when I could look super cool in my pleather jacket.  Then suddenly the rains came and soaked us for a fortnight, dropping the temperatures outside and, more noticeably, indoors.

Yes, this is the season of chocolate, I’ve decided.  For evolutionary reasons, once the damp cold seeps into my bones, I begin to crave cocoa in all its forms.  This has happened before, during my sojourn in the Chilean winter. Similar to Israel, the winter there is short but vicious, turning everything damp and gloomy.  The buildings, designed for a summery clime, lack insulation and central heating.

Speaking of which, did I ever tell you about the time I almost killed my host mother?  No?  Well, mi’ija, in Chile, estufas are the space heaters of choice.  These clunky heaters run on big natural gas canisters.  To light one, you turn on the gas and hold a match to the grate.

One day, I came down to eat an early lunch before heading to the university.  I turned on the estufa in the dining room.  Nothing happened when I tried to light it.  Late for work, I scarfed down my meal and headed out.  Once I arrived in the English pedagogy building, I realized my error.  A sick feeling sunk through me–I remember gazing helplessly at the dark paneled walls of the corridor as I foresaw my sad future, the headline scrolling across CNN–“American intern murders elderly Chilean host mother with gas poisoning/explosion.”  Would I be extradited?  Would Mount Holyoke disown me?

Desperately, I dialed Isabel’s number, and said something along the lines of, “ARE YOU ALIVE?  I left the gas on!  Please don’t light any matches or turn on any lights!”  Except in mangled, breathless Spanish.

She was alive, and told me the gas canister had been empty–therefore the lack of flame.  And that is how I nearly killed my Chilean host mother.

Anyways, chocolate.  In Chile, Isabel would buy me giant milk chocolate bars, and I also spent many of my own pesos on them.  I would carry around these embarrassingly huge bars in my purse, constantly nibbling.  It turns out that chocolate is a great accompaniment to anything, be it a cup of thick Nespresso, flank steak, or a lesson on Henrik Ibsen.  (Although macaroons suit the latter best.)

Let’s face it, I lack personal insulation, and my body wants me to pack on some blubber to get through the chilly months.  So I find myself bending over the oven on a Saturday night, the heater cranked to 30 degrees Celsius (I think the average high on Mercury), making the chocolatiest double chocolate zucchini bread ever (Betty Crocker does it again), or dreaming of a steaming mug of hot chocolate paired with a toasty s’more.  I should go have dinner…

My body’s scheme is working.  I think I have a tummy!  If I keep chowing down on the sweet stuff, maybe I’ll even be able to feel my fingers again.

Dust in the wind

Now that I’ve concluded my day-trips for the season, I’m back to quotidian life–the office, some volunteering, study groups, laundry, cooking, cleaning, collecting houseplants, the regular.  But even the routine is not quite routine here.

Part of it is just that living adultly is still new to me.  I’m doing all sorts of things on my own, hey!  And so what if mopping sometimes results in breaking the shower, or dusting in a sore hamstring.  This week, I cooked rice for a study group.  It didn’t turn out as fluffy as I wanted, yet for the first time my tadik was unscorched.  “Hm,” I thought.  “Well, tadik’s not very good as leftovers.  And I’m the only one around.”  Standing by the kitchen sink looking up the mountain toward the Dan Carmel, eating a bowl full of fresh tadik, I realized the joy of independence.

But a lot of it is my environment.  The air is different, for one.  Hamseen has arrived.  While it’s not as if I can see motes floating in front of me, looking out to sea, the horizon is obscured by a thick haze.  Apparently this dust has traveled up to Israel from the Egyptian desert in a climatological Exodus.  Maybe the hovering dust is the Middle Eastern equivalent of Midwestern leaves falling in autumn?

Even the simple act of walking is different here.  You know, being on a mountain, everything is steep.  Plus, in the Bahá’í gardens, most of the paths are gravel.  I have two pairs of shoes that I wear to the office: my flats and my heels.  They are both practical shoes, unobtrusive black leather with plenteous arch support.  Even so, walking in heels on gravel poses a challenge–I mean, walking in heels is a challenge, period.  So I do an ungraceful slow march.  It’s rather like trying to walk on snow with a veneer of ice–I need to dig in my heels but also keep moving.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job until the other day when not one but two people, after watching me, commented sympathetically on the difficulty of walking with heels here.  “It’s such a challenge!  Your poor heels!”  And then someone pointed out to me that one heel is actually broken, causing a distinctive “clip-clop” whenever I walk on hard floors.  She recommended a cobbler.  My experience with cobblers is limited to the shoemaker and the elves.

Fruit.  Let’s talk about fruit.  The Persian coworkers at my office are wonderful people for all sorts of reasons, and one reason is that they always bring fresh fruit to break time.  (I, on the other hand, contribute the occasional sugary, buttery baked good.)  Mango, pomegranate, oranges, grapes, apple, pear, peach, nectarines… and recently, we’ve entered fruit territory that is foreign to me.  There’s lychee–inside the bumpy red skin is white flesh with a subtle fragrant taste.  Figs are delicious in dried, jam, or Newton form.  In natural form, however, they are just weird, mushy and seedy.  And guava.  I tried it because I thought it was a strange seedy pear.  No–with its overripe scent and nearly salty flavor, it is definitely not to be compared with pears.  There is pomelo, a huge citrus (actually, citrus grandis) with a super thick rind that needs to be practically sawed off and a bitter membrane around the flesh that also needs to be peeled off.  It’s not for the lazy fructarian!   It tastes like a tentative grapefruit and looks like it belongs among the many balls from gym class that always threatened me, maybe a yellow medicine ball or the enlarged tennis ball that smacked me in the face.  “Ok, guys, today we’re going to play pomelo.”

Recipe: Birthday pudding with rainbow frosting

Sometimes I like to put my apron on and make a mess of the kitchen, or as some people call it, “bake.”  (Please note that I have not yet broken the oven in my second flat.)  Today I would like to share with you a favorite recipe.

Here’s how to start.  Plan to host a few friends for dinner.  Find out a few hours before the event that one of these friends has his birthday and “you should really bake a cake.”  Try not to panic.  Luckily, of course you have a stock of the staples dark chocolate and raspberries, so decide to make raspberry brownies.  Google “raspberry brownies” and go with the first hit, because time is running out.  The recipe description is:  “Squidgy and super moreish, these gorgeous foolproof fruity chocolate bakes will be snapped up in seconds.”

Try to get over the way the words “squidgy” and “moreish” make you think of squids and Othello, the Moor of Venice.  In fact, try to get over that whole sentence with its bubbly British English.

Nickelodeon vs. Shakespeare

Shakespeare and Nickelodeon. I get them confused sometimes.

(Also, foolproof?  Just saying, have you ever met this fool?)

Follow the recipe.  It’s pretty simple, really, except that simultaneously you should also be trying to use a rice maker for the first time ever and chopping veggies for the stir fry.

Check the brownies after the allotted 30 minutes.  Discover that they’re still molten.  Replace in oven.  10 minutes later, they are a bit more magma than lava.  Take them out and let cool.

Now, “let cool” to you means “let cool for five minutes.”  And you’re impatient to get those birthday candles affixed, so stick ’em in.  Then realize they are melting into the brownies.  Remove.

Once actually cooled, reinsert the candles and light.  There are 26 candles; the friend is turning 27.  26 is still a lot of candles even if it is a lie.  Use approximately 10 matches and nearly burn your hands trying to light them all.  The candles are mere fluorescent stubs by the time you sing the birthday song and the wish is made.  When extinguished, the candles make a lot of smoke.  Luckily, you don’t have to worry about setting off smoke detectors, because you don’t have any.  And the birthday candles will provide a colorful layer of frosting.

After the fire.

Now wait for all the wax to be picked out, leaving the surface of the brownies pockmarked.  When it comes time to serve the brownies, they are, well, squidgy, which you now know means “floppy and pudding-like, refusing to maintain any shape.”  One of the friends inquires politely, “Are these fully cooked?”  They are.  They’re simply mislabeled, because you billed them as “raspberry brownies” when in reality it’s chocolate pudding with paraffin enhancements.

Thank you for joining me for another baking lesson.  There will be more to come as I pursue a truly “foolproof” (Layli-proof) brownie recipe.

I heard it’s your birthday

My boss returned from leave a few weeks ago.  It’s good to have him back.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world, spanning everything from international relations to how to make the perfect cup of hot chocolate.  His mind works in surprising ways–he concluded a conversation on space exploration and extraterrestrial colonization with,  “I wonder how Bahá’ís living on Mars will know where the Qiblih is to face when they pray?” And of course he knows all about archival matters as well.

I arrived on Sunday to find a note on my keyboard in the handwriting of one of my officemates: “Sunday is Ted’s birthday.”  My immediate reaction was concern.  As his assistant, am I the birthday planner?  Should I have baked a cake?  Made a card?  I proceeded to put his birthday on my Outlook calendar so that at least next year I’ll be prepared.

It turned out I needn’t have worried.  One colleague, at our office devotions, wished him a happy birthday, leading to the group singing to him, leading to his reaction:  “Thank you.  Everyone needs to turn twenty-five at some point….and I’ll let you know when that happens to me.”  And then she went home for lunch and baked him a cake.  And then another colleague sent an email inviting everyone to the break room at 3:30 for a surprise party.  So that’s how it’s done, I thought.  But I noticed a problem.  How would we ensure he came at that time without directly inviting him?  I asked her, and she recommended that I take care of that.

Now, I’ve coordinated surprise parties before, but never on such short notice.  And never for my boss.  So I found myself getting a stress tummy ache trying to figure out how to get him in the break room without letting the proverbial cat out of the bag.  Finally, utilizing yet another of Outlook’s many wonderful functions, I sent him a meeting invitation to “work on correspondence” at 3:30.  But he didn’t reply.  And didn’t reply.  He was away from his office.  Finally, slightly panicked, I bumped into him in the hallway and we agreed on the meeting time.  But the hardest part was yet to come.  Once we met, how would I get him to the break room?  “Um, can we maybe discuss the space allocation of the break room cupboards?  Can we go do some fieldwork there?”–or, stagger into his office, pallid and weak–“I’m actually super hungry now, can we go take break first?”

The fateful hour arrived.  I heard his footsteps go into his office, then out–wait, what…and then from the break room, a collective shout of “Surprise!”  It turns out Ted, probably in innocent pursuit of a drink of water, surprised his surprise party.  He kindly came to fetch me, inquiring, “Well, are you ready for our ‘meeting’?”

The best laid schemes of mice and men, eh?

Taking candy.

After lunch, I bump into two of my friends, Isabelle and Diana.  I love these eighteen-year-olds, who exude energy even when they’re clearly exhausted.  One of them, Isabelle, who is from Eastern Europe, offers me a hard candy.  I don’t really like hard candy–while my sweet tooth is tusk-sized, it prefers dark chocolate and homemade baked goods (preferably involving chocolate)–but I accept.  It’s a Mentos, one of those fruity flavors that tastes nothing like fruit.

Isabelle watches me chew on the candy.  “What do you think of the–” she pauses, contemplates, then mimes sucking on a candy by pushing her tongue into her cheek.

“Mm, it’s nice,” I say.

She doesn’t seem satisfied, and turns to my other friend.  “How do you say–” Then she points to her tooth.

Great.   I must have some embarrassingly giant herb wedged between my teeth.  I need to start carrying floss.

“Um, is there something in my teeth?”

“No no no!”  She says something to Diana, who is attempting to translate.

“An ulcer?” Diana offers.

No.  Please no.  I arrived in Israel with two open cold sores on my lips, which didn’t help with my natural self-consciousness.  I felt like I should have worn leper bells.  Had they recurred already?

“I have an ulcer on my face???” I ask.

“No no no!”  After another moment of consultation, she arrives at the word: flavor.

“Do you like the flavor?”  she asks.

“Mm, it’s nice,” I say.  Then I head out to check my teeth/cold sore situation.

Baklava & Coffee


If I were to make a soundtrack for Haifa, it would include the Muslim call to prayer and the Jewish songs that spill through the windows of the apartment. There is a synagogue that I can see from the living room. Adherents in long black robes and big furry black caps come in and out. Yesterday it broadcast a soulful choral song, presumably during the Shabbat service. While I cannot understand the words to either the call to prayer or the Jewish music, it’s pretty special that people here observe their religion so audibly. Although the Bahá’ís don’t sing prayers over loudspeakers, I think the Shrine and gardens play a comparable role as a visible, artistic manifestation of our faith.

My orientation group took a walking tour of Haifa yesterday. We walked from the Bahá’í property down to the German colony, the old pilgrim houses, the resting place of Ruhiyyih Khanum, the House of the Master, and then to Wadi Nisnas, the Hadar, and Carmel Center. These districts offer distinct shopping experiences, with the Hadar and Carmel Center offering a more typically Western experience with stores resembling Forever 21 and restaurants like McDonalds, whereas Wadi Nisnas boasts the limestone architecture and colorful marketplace of Old Haifa. This is where the Arab Christian community lives.


I enjoyed walking down the narrow streets of Wadi Nisnas, looking at the rainbow of fresh produce. There is a bakery that sells mountains of baklava in every imaginable shape. I couldn’t resist buying a box—anyone want to help me eat it? I also invested in some Arabic coffee, which is brewed on the stovetop. It smells delicious, with bits of cardamom sprinkled around the fine powder.


True to form, I must write a little about the wildlife of the city. Yesterday I made a new friend: a teeny yet burly yellow jumping spider who sat politely on my laptop for half an hour. I swear he was watching my screen, reading an online article along with me. Or maybe he mistook my cursor for a yummy ant.