The Kindness of Strangers

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As rough a day as I had on Friday – my Turkish completely failed me, my bank account got closed out, and my internet ceased to function (compounding the other two problems) – Saturday was the exact opposite.

There is a type of a mini-bus/taxi hybrid, that functions like a subway, in Turkey called a dolmuş. These buses always look extremely sketchy – small white vans, sliding side doors, tinted windows and clusters of people huddled in the back – and stop when someone waves them down on their route. As Danielle, Fabio and myself were on the way to the univerity’s main gate to ask whether any buses were going into the city center on Saturday’s, we saw a dolmuş and hailed it.

Yeni Camii
A cool mosque in the center of the city… It really has nothing to do with what I’m writing, it just looks nice.

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A Tale of Two Cabbies

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“Gülüm Sokak, Basīnevleri,” I tell the cabbie as I rush into the first cab I see. I’m running late, and I only have 15 minutes to get from one side of the city to the other to meet my old host family for dinner – a massive feat, Ankara sprawls in every direction for miles.

Ankara sprawl
Ankara seriously goes on forever in every direction.

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In The Clouds Above Ankara

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Ankara is a hilly city – seriously, you can’t go anywhere here without hiking up some hill or mountain. This was precisely why Ankara was chosen as the capital of Turkey during the War of Independence: the mountains it is built upon, and it’s overall remoteness, provided an ideal defensible position.

Today Ankara, luckily, does not face threat of attack so its hills have been put to a variety of uses. In the center of the city, on the highest hill, sits Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of the revered Attatürk, founder of modern Turkey. I went to the mausoleum when I was in Ankara last summer too, but this time the tour was in English and I gained a new appreciation for the building. Each segment of the structure was constructed and planned as a synthesis of all the cultures that have inhabited Turkey – from the Phrygians of ancient times up through the Byzantines, Ottomans, and Muslim influence. As I heard someone once say, “If you like the Lincoln Memorial, Anıtkabir will blow you away.”

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Feeling Like a Boss

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State DepartmentYesterday evening, after a long day of orientation, my fellow Fulbrighters and myself were invited to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corp in Turkey at a diplomat’s house. Honestly, nothing really puts you in the mind set of feeling like a boss – at least from my own limited experience – like attending an official State Department garden party, complete with the press chief for the embassy, whiskey and wine on the rocks following freely, bountiful appetizers, and a podium that actually had the U.S. seal on the front of it.

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A Weekend in the Poconos

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Procrastination has always been my weak point, especially now. Although I’m now in Turkey, attending my 10 day orientation in Ankara, I didn’t finish describing my weekend in the Poconos with Jen.

Random cool mushroom we saw
After spending Friday night at the best dive bar in the world, we spent Saturday kayaking down the Delaware. After kayaking in the East River for 20 minutes for my birthday, we assumed going for a 10 mile kayaking session down the Delaware would be no big thing….we sincerely misjudged.
Around the 2 hour mark, which was only halfway, both of our arms felt like they were on fire with no choice but to continue going on. Good thing we werent in a canoe, otherwise I would have felt like we were in deliverance, just without the red-neck rape, the rapids, or the danger. Still, the Delaware was absolutely beautiful and it was full of areas where you could pull your vessel out of the river and camp for the night. We’ve already decided to do a two day canoe trip once I return from turkey next summer.
On Sunday, the two of us went two hours further west into the poconos to hike along the Falls Trail in Ricket’s Glen on my dads advice. I’m incredibly grateful ge mentioned the area to us – it was one of the most amazing trails I’ve seen. First we had to drive up steep mountain roads to reach the state park. At the summit was a gigantic lake.
Parking, the two of us were raring for the waterfall hike until we saw the numerous warnings of people who had fallen off the trail due to being underprepared; we were both wearing skater shoes. After slowly gathering up our courage, we hiked along to the first fall where we again almost turned back, if not for one crazy lady.
She was hiking up along the falls trail with an infant strapped to the front of her. No way would we let ourselves be bested by an infant. Good thing that baby was there, too! Thanks to it, we got some amazing photos of the falls.
Check out Jen’s version of the hike for even greater photos.

Machine Men

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Instead of music today, this Friday Refrain is instead a refrain from all the talks of war – with Iran, Syria, Russia, etc – and religious based politics that seemed to define the RNC. It seems cosmically ironic that Charlie Chaplin made one of the greatest political speeches I’ve ever heard. Just remember, don’t follow the machine men with their machine hearts.

The Best Dive Bar In the World

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There is something about dive bars that just seems so friendly and inviting and warm – a sense of camaraderie, almost. As opposed to clubs or more swanky drinking establishments, dive bars – and the people inside them – seem especially honest about their intentions. Most often the people frequenting a dive bar are just looking to relax with friends or forget, however briefly, about whatever weight they have hanging around their shoulders. In short, I love dive bars and I am always on the lookout for a new favorite. This was how, by complete chance, I found the best dive bar in the world with Jen last weekend in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Flood's Beers
Heaven…and just a small sample of it too.

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The Vibrations of Music

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I was watching a movie in a seminar about Rumi last Fall semester, struggling to stay awake as always when in a three hour long class at night with the lights off, when something caught my ear. The film was a documentary about the role of music in Sufi practice and a particular Turkish sheikh – whose name I unfortunately forgot – was being interviewed about the vibrations of music. Although I can’t remember exactly what he said, the general impression was something like:

[quote style=”1″]All things in this world vibrate. Drums vibrate when you beat on them just as your voice box vibrates as you sing. Even atoms vibrate and spin, creating inaudible music as they take part in creation.[/quote]

The general idea of this message really caught me off guard. It suddenly made all the music I loved seem like much more than music; instead they became gateways to my soul. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that sometimes, in the exact right conditions, certain songs have extreme power over us. For instance, when I saw mewithoutyou last Friday the opening band – Buried Beds – closed their set with every member of the band playing a simple beat on a drum. The rhythm became so strong it simple washed over me and I felt very open, in some way, as if the music was freeing me. Continue reading The Vibrations of Music

Wolf Am I! (And Shadow)

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Tonight I’m finally seeing one of my favorite bands, mewithoutyou, live in NYC. So, to honor that, here is one of my favorite songs by them – Wolf Am I! (And Shadow).

mewithoutyou never ceases to amaze me with their amazingly complex lyrics. Generally blending a mixture of Biblical themes and stories, Sufi philosophy, and a sense of isolation, the songs strike me more as poetry set to music than simply lyrics – which makes sense, given how the band lists Rumi as a major influence upon themselves.

The Ten Best Literary Series

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Encouraged by how much fun I had making a list of the most entertaining film trilogies, here is a humble list of the ten best literary series I can think of. Did I miss any? Let me know!

10) Discworld, by Terry Pratchett

The Discworld Series is massive – seriously massive. There must be over 25 books taking place in the Discworld universe by this point, and although I haven’t read all of them, I know they are all entertaining. Set on a planet in the shape of the disk riding through space on the back of four elephants standing on top of a giant turtle, each book is generally a satire ranging from jingoistic foreign policy (Jingo!) to a critique of the banking system (Making Money). Wonderfully, the books never sacrifice characters for message; and trust me, there is a plethora of characters ranging from caricatures of German Barons in Uberwald to the all knowing Patrician of Ankh-Morpork to the Death of Mice (who only ever says SQUEAK.). Really, with so many books in this series, it would be extremely difficult to find a book you didn’t enjoy.

9) Abhorsen, by Garth Nix

Ten Best Literary Series

This series take place in an amazing parallel universe which is divided in half by an ancient wall. On one side of the wall is a universe completely akin to our own, while across the wall is a savage world of magic, necromancy, and old forgotten gods. The series, although not fabulously written and intended for a younger audience, is amazingly innovative. The general story arc follows the Abhorsens, a family of benevolent necromancers dedicated to ensuring that the dead do not rise again. Although the plot does not seem original, the overall style – necromancers using bells to command the dead, the image of death being a river that has a stronger and stronger current the further in you progress, etc – is riveting and unique. For anyone interested in fantasy, this is a must read.

8) Narnia, by CS Lewis

Ten Best Literary Series

Out of the seven Narnia books that CS Lewis wrote, I only truly enjoyed three of them – The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. These three books, though, are epic in scope and truly capture the imagination: who doesn’t want to believe, at least at some point, that a wardrobe or a painting can act as a passage to another world, to adventure. The Magician’s Nephew is particularly impressive both in terms of chronology – it was the last book written, yet was a prequel explaining everything – and the vastness of the worlds explored, from dead and forgotten Charn to turn of the 20th century England, to the origins of Narnia. Some may be put off by the sometimes heavy handed Christian themes in the books, but that is really no reason to not enjoy an otherwise great series.

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I never said this was worthwhile

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