K is for Keyif: A Turkish Alphabet

I collect alphabet books because I think they are a charming way to organize little parts of the world. Since arriving in Turkey, I have been on the hunt and I have found two delightful additions for my collection which are unique as the Turkish alphabet has a few letters not found in English and does not use our J, Q or X. My first score was the above 1935 edition with a rather menacing-looking Ataturk inside the front cover discovered in the stalls at the 7th Antiquarian Beyoglu Book Fair in Istanbul.

My second find from the Istanbul Modern museum shop is illustrated with the colorful art of Turkish avant-garde artist Fikret Mualla (1904-1967).

While traveling, I have a habit of making my own alphabets to organize and commemorate a trip in my brain. Below is my Turkish Alphabet for this trip:

A is for Anatolia, the vast Turkish countryside of Asia Minor and a word that conjures up pastoral pleasures. A is also for the old town and harbor of Antalya where we are spending our last days in Turkey. A is for Ayran, the refreshing salty yogurt-water drink that goes so well with kebab. A is for Ataturk, known as the Father of the Turks. And A is for Arabesque, the islamic art motif of tendrils and curling vines.

B is for Byzantium and Yeats's poem "Sailing to Byzantium." B is for Bayram, or holiday, which we celebrated for Republic Day on the 29th of October in the coastal town of Kas. B is for the beautiful Blue Mosque, the Bosphorus that divides Europe and Asia, and the Istanbul Art Bienale. And B is for the Buyukonat Family - Tuncer, Hulya, Meltem and Gizem - my Turkish Family.

Bayram in Kas - speeches started at 9 am and the party continued all day and night

C is for Constantine who renamed Byzantium Constantinople after himself in 324. C is for Cukurcuma, the newly hip neighborhood full of bars and antique shops where we took an apartment for our week in Istanbul. C is for Canim, a term of endearment which means dear or darling. C is for Cay, the strong black tea we drink out of tulip shaped glasses and always sweeten with one sugar cube.  C is for the Chora Church full of Byzantium mosaics. And C is for Calligraphy, considered the highest of all Islamic arts because it writes the words of Allah.

Mosaics in the Chora Church

D is for Dolmabace Palace on the shores of the Bosphorus and home of the world's largest chandelier. D is for Divan, an excellent place for lounging. And D is for Durum sandwiches, our favorite Turkish street food.

Dolmabace Palace Gate

E is for the ancient library of Ephesus, which we didn't get to this trip, but I visited when I was a student here. E is for Ezan, the call to prayer which the meuzzins sing five times each day from the minarets. E is also for Efes Beer, Ebru marbled painting and black Eunuchs who held the highest administrative position in the Harem and often wielded great power.

F is for our feast at the Fetiye Fish Market, where we bought calamari, anchovies and sea bream then sat down in a restaurant where they cooked it for us for 6 TL ($3) with salad, bread, mezes, raki and wine. F is also for Ferries on which we criss-cross the Bosphorus drinking cay.

G is for Gozleme, the pancake snack found at markets and cafes filled with a variety of fillings such as meat, cheese, spinach, fruit, honey or tahini. G is also for Gulet, the wooden yachts plying the Mediterranean Sea along the Turquoise Coast on which I sailed 20 years ago and will again someday soon when Xavier can swim.

H is for Harem which means "forbidden" and evokes the romanticism, intrigue, luxury and boredom inside the inner world of Topkapi Palace. H is also for the Haiga Sophia, one of the most important Byzantine monuments. H is for Hamsi (Black Sea anchovies) which are in season now and amazingly delicious served grilled or fried. H is for Hamams, where we bathed as a family. And H is for the poet Nazim Hikmet.

I is for Istanbul Modern Museum where we got a slant of Turkish life through modern art. I is for the famous Iznik Tiles made for mosques and palaces. I is for Iskendar Kebab, another favorite food. And I is for the rural town of Islamlar where we breathed the mountain air.

Xavi and I taking a rest in front of some Iznik Tiles in Topkapi Palace

J does not exist in the Turkish alphabet (the letter "C"sounds like "J"). However J is for Justinian who ruled Byzantium from 527-565. J is also for Jannisarries, the elite guard of the Sultans.

K is Keyif, the art of pleasure and taking one's time. K is for Kalkan, our beach town on the Mediterranean Coast and Kaputas Beach, our favorite swimming beach nearby. K is for Kadikoy, the neighborhood I lived in on the Asian side of the city 20 years ago. K is for kedi, the Turkish cats Xavier loves to chase. And K is for Kahve which came to Europe by way of Turkey's coffeehouses.

L is for the ancient Lycian Federation and now the Lycian Way, a 400 km hiking trail from Fetiye to Antalya. We walked a section of the trail along the aqueducts from Kalkan to Patara with Alicia and Solihin. And L is for Lokum, also known as Turkish Delight.

M is for Merhaba, how Turks say hello. M is for Mezes, the many cold starters people enjoy with raki.  M is for the Maxx Royale Hotel where we stayed with my host sister Berna and her family. M is for the few crumbling yet beautiful Mosaics left from Christian Byzantine days. M is for the Minarets of Mosques piercing the Turkish sky. M is also for the Greek Island of Meis, where we popped over for an afternoon lunch.

The Harbor of Meis

View from the top of Meis (Christian hiked up, I didn't)

N is for Nar Suyu, the pomegranate juice we drink every day. N is for and Nazar Boncugu, or the blue eye amulet. N is also for St. Nicholas, the bishop from Demre, Turkey who is now known around the world as Father Christmas.

Baskets of Nar ready to be juiced

O is for Oludeniz (called the "dead sea" because it is so calm), the beautiful swimming cove where we spent a lazy day. Twenty years ago I swam here with my older brother Patrick and his now-wife Paula when they came traveling through Turkey to visit me. And O is for the Oszoy Family - Uran, Cansever, Zeynep, Aylin and Berna - my other Turkish Family.

P is for Patara, another ancient city and it's long and inviting beach. P is for Pestamal, the pretty Turkish cotton towels traditionally used in the hamam and now used on the beach.

Q does not exist in the Turkish Alphabet, but I will make Q for my Quest for the best baklava and Turkish Delight I could find in Turkey.

R is for Rumi, the great mystic-poet of Konya, Turkey. Rumi's full name was Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi which means "Love and ecstatic flight into the infinite" and the Islamic Brotherhood he founded takes its name, Mevlana Sufi, from him. R is also for Raki the national drink flavored with aniseed, sometimes called Lion's Milk because it turns a milky color when one adds water and ice.

S is for Serefe! the Turkish toast. S is for the great architect Sinan who built countless mosques and monuments. S is for the Seljuks, who swept across Turkey and founded a Turkish dynasty in 1037. S is also for Suleimon the Magnificent, the longest ruling Ottoman sultan from 1520-1566.

T is for the Topkapi Palace where we walked in the footsteps of sultans. T is for the ancient cities of Termessos and Tlos.  T is for Istanbul's Tunel, the shortest funicular in the world and the oldest subway after London. T is for Tugra, the sultan's signature. And T is for Tulip, originally cultivated from the Anatolian steppe and introduced to Holland by a ship from Constantinople in 1593 which set off the European craze.

Amphitheater at Termessos

U is for Uskudor Amerikan Lisesi where I attended high school in Istanbul. U is also for the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List which celebrates Turkey's Blue Eye, Noah's Pudding, Shadow Dancers, Meddah Public Storytellers, Asik troubadors and the Mevlani Sema Ceremony.

V is for Villa Huzur, our home for two weeks (huge thanks again to Alicia and Solihin!) V is also for Vienna, the city that twice pushed back the Ottomans in 1529 and in 1683 and whose bakers made the crescent moon-shaped pastry we all know today as the croissant to commemorate the victory.

W is for Whirling Dervish, the meditative, spinning prayer of the Mevlana Sufis. They "whirl" to music with one hand reaching up to touch heaven and one hand reaching down to touch the earth. We watched them one evening in Istanbul and visited their Mevlana Lodge in Istanbul.

Whirling Dervish

X does not exist in the Turkish Alphabet, but X is for Xanthos, the biggest city in the Lycian Federation, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and where we saw a tortoise making his way through crumbling columns.

Tortoise at Xanthos

Y is for Yali, the waterfront mansions along the Bosphorus. Someday perhaps I will live in one.

Z is for Zeytin, the olive which grows on ancient trees across Anatolia. We eat olives every day for breakfast and there is a wonderful dish called Imam Biyaldi which means "the priest fainted" which is either from delight at the flavor of the dish or from shock at the price of the enormous amount of olive oil used in the dish.