Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Brother Can You Spare a Dime (or perhaps this kilim)?

We must commend Dena for planning such gorgeous weather. Apparently sunny, cloudless, high-80 degree days are not common for Washington in mid-May. In fact, the three of us were working up quite a sweat walking around the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, dropping by shops to pass out EH postcards and welcome people to that evening’s event.

Egyptian Jehan Strouse at Bee Well Vitamin Shoppe saw our nazar boncuğu jewelry and immediately began chatting with us about her days in her homeland, taking us up on an offer to check out Dena’s bellydancing classes, an interest they share... Jehan also shares a name with Dena’s son (spelled Ceyhan in Turkish). Kathy Riley, owner of Bonnie River, a fair trade and world friendly store, swapped retail ideas and stories with Dena, while Jennifer clamored over Kathy’s unique and affordable fare, finally settling on a cat-shaped flaxseed-filled eye pillow (thus ending her nationwide search for “just the right one”). We stopped by Istanbul Cafe on 45th St., surprised to find new Indian proprietors rather than Istanbulites. In any case, they make quite a decent cup of Türk kahvesi.

Strolling on, we met John at Open Books: A Poem Emporium and though Jennifer had no intentions of purchasing a book (we are over our airline luggage weight limit as it is!), she was nevertheless beguiled by Naveed Alam’s A Queen of No Ordinary Realms. This is the stanza from a poem called Bewitched that quickly hooked her:

She grabs a sea breeze by the hair, hisses
in its ear: dulled your knives on the leaves, missy?
Let me show you how to skin the autumn.

Upon reading the remainder of the book later, she realized that the overt homo-erotic imagery in many of the other poems-- though stunning and powerful-- didn’t quite speak to her as personally as Bewitched had. And, Naveed recycled too many of his more distinctive adjectives... but the book is the winner of the 2003 Spokane Prize for Poetry, so what does Jennifer know?

As Naveed teaches creative writing at City University of New York, we might run into him at our book tour finale: the May 25th Moon & Stars Project Mayfest event at 6:30pm at 34th and 5th Avenue (free and open to the public).

Eventually we found ourselves in Mehak Indian Cuisine for lunch, where we were served a mouth-watering meal by the strikingly blue-eyed Gurmeet Kaur and her husband Jagtam Singh. It was the best dal we’ve had in a long time, and their salty lassi would give any respectable Turkish ayran a run for its money! Gurmeet, just learning English, was effusive in her hospitality and we’re sure Dena and family will be going back there.

When we ambled into Wide World Books & Maps, we were pleased to hear that owners Simone Andrus and Stanley Toops will soon be in Turkey with a Fulbright Scholarship group, and that several other employees of this independent seller of travel books consider Turkey a favorite destination. As we lounged outside on the bookstore’s bench, we met Bertan Akın, his sister Aslı, and his American wife Jill, the three of whom were very excited to join our event, particularly Jill, who was eager to learn more about her husband’s culture.

Though the day was spotlessly sunny from dawn to dusk, a crowd of 32 packed into Wide World to listen to Dena, Wendy Fox, and us, including: Izumi Pınar Sekine Fairbanks, a 1984 graduate of Istanbul International Community School where Jennifer worked and Dena’s children attended school; Stefanie Durbin, content editor for the travel website Expedia; filmmaker Carol Geertsema; local realtor and Turk Fest organizer Yasemin San, a Turk who has lived in Seattle for 25 years; Laura Finkelstein; Zeynep Angın Shorter and her mother visiting from Turkey; Margaret and Rick, who are soon off to Ankara for business (with perhaps a stop in Cappadocia); and Andreas Wanka and Mayumi Tsuru, among many others.

The energized crowd shared Turkish stories of their own, like one gentleman who, while short of cash on two separate trips through Turkey, found vendors and service providers willing to give him goods like hand-made carpets –and even a 9 night hotel stay when his debit card was eaten by an ATM—fully confident that he would clear his debt once back home.

It was an excellent night, and though no donuts played a part in the late evening festivities, we enjoyed stargazing on Dena’s deck in the dark, listening to the gentle sound of small waves breaking on the lakeshore.

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