Archaeology

#FilmHerStory: Anicia Juliana

For women's history month,  #filmherstory, an addictive Twitter meme calls attention to female protagonists and their forgotten, ignored, or too-little-known stories we want to see on screen...there are so so many. As far as I can tell, it was started by  curator Shaula Evans, film producer Cat Cooper, Miriam Bale and film and TV creator Lexi Alexander. Read through the suggestions in that Twitter hashtag, and suggest your own.

I suggested a story I've been researching and developing for years, the story of a forgotten monumental woman builder who built the most decorated building in the world and spurred an emperor to best her.

Here's where you can see more about my Byzantine princess story in development, including images and research:

 Click on this mind map to get the scope of the story:ANICIA JULIANA & her church of PolyeuktosScreen Shot 2015-03-04 at 12.04.21 PM

I’ve been developing this story since, while creating an Istanbul walking tour for National Geographic Traveler, I literally tripped over the foundations of a social grudge between my superlative-but-forgotten 6th century princess and Justinian — which prompted the Holy Roman Emperor to build his world-beating Haghia Sophia Church a mile down the road. The man needed to best Anicia Juliana. See my Pinterest board about it.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 3.12.03 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-10 at 3.12.18 PM

Curated By Others

When lots of other people curate the stream of content you create, what image of you emerges?

When other people curate your content for their own specialized communities, what emerges might be a multidimensional snapshot...a picture of your background, your interests, your training, your current activities, and, maybe, where you're headed.

Here's what I saw recently with a variety of online newspapers curations based on what I share on Twitter:

  • My archaeology past
  • my life in women's travel, cultural communications and expat coaching
  • my experience with publishing options
  • my role as a continuing education instructor at Udemy
  • my media past-present-and-future
  • my present in a coworking situation (and I'd add, my interest in the future of work.)

The snapshot is a gift, and I'm pleased and proud to be included in the below and other curations by people like Jeremy Silver,  a digital media investor, entrepreneur, adviser I met at TEDGlobal.

Click on any of the paper.li links to visit the daily version of the paper each owner auto-curates from chosen sources for his or her unique and focused community.

Thanks to these newspaper creators and content curators for including me as a source in their custom paper.li.

My Interview With Asian Geographic Passport Magazine

This Singapore-based magazine with a worldwide distribution approached me for an interview about being an expat in Turkey for the February 2012 issue. Here are my answers:  

Where are you from? What's your job? Could you tell me a bit about your background?

I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, and have lived abroad for almost 15 years.

I was in Kuala Lumpur for five years in the ‘90s, where I learned some good lessons about what it takes to survive and thrive as an expat.

I drew on those realizations a lot during my time in Istanbul, and they inform much of the work I now do as the founder of GlobalNiche.net, a work-life initiative for cultural creatives, mobile progressives and other global souls.

When did you move to Turkey? What brought you to Turkey?

I moved with my Turkish-born husband in 2003 (and we relocated to San Francisco at the end of 2011.) But even before that, we chose an Ottoman palace in Istanbul as the site of our 2001 wedding. So maybe a stint living there was fated?

Could you speak a bit Turkish after living there for almost 10 years?

Yes. I took a month-long course at a language school when I first arrived, and then employed a private tutor a couple of years later to consolidate what I’d held on to and work on advancing my conversational skills.

I get along just fine with transport and shopping but since my work is English-language based and I’m not a linguist (I’ve studied 8 languages and am proficient in none!) my Turkish has never allowed me to express complex thoughts. I no longer agree to Turkish-only business meetings, and swore off Turkish language television appearances after it became clear that they didn’t work well for me.

I have been surrounded by only-Turkish conversation for untold hours, zoning in and out. Sometimes understanding perfectly, responding in English. Other times, lost!

It’s an agglutinative language -- meaning you keep adding endings and some words have 20 letters in them -- and the word order in a sentence is backwards to what I’m used to with English. You have to back into a sentence -- sometimes you never make it to the end. The funny thing is, people either say “Turkish is really easy, isn’t it?” or “Turkish is really hard, right?” and both groups are correct. Most Turks love to hear you try. There are conventional things to say which you can use a lot on a visit. Pick those up.

Which part of Turkey do you think remain pretty much untouched by mass tourism?

Anywhere off the beaten path.

You can even find this in Istanbul, where massive cruise ships dock and zillions of people get off and go to one or two spots.

I suggest you go down a back street, don’t stay in a tourist neighborhood if you can help it, don’t eat at restaurants with menus in English or other non-Turkish languages (or menus at all -- Turks don’t order from the menu, they ask what’s fresh, in season, special).

Try Beyoglu, or the Asian side of town. Try some walking tours to explore areas you might not find otherwise.

Head the opposite direction of crowds, you will find something. If you want to see a mosque choose one by master architect Mimar Sinan, not the one with the big line in front of it.

How would you spend your weekend in Turkey?

Walking along the Bosphorus Strait, eating and drinking with friends at all the cafes and restaurants and bars and clubs along Istiklal, the pedestrian street in the European quarter of Beyoglu. Museums, film festivals, nargile establishments, tea houses. For glitzier occasions, events at a multitude of ancient and antique locations that are now nightclubs and restaurants, concert venues and other hangouts.

How about your food experience? Apart from the traditional dishes like kebab, baklava, what is your favourite and where to try it?

Neither of those are favorites of mine -- in fact, there’s so much more depth in traditional Turkish cuisine than kebab and baklava.

Turkish food is the cuisine of a vast empire, after all. Lots of taste and ingredient influences, and many dishes perfected for the sultan. Try the stewed homestyle dishes made with olive oil (called “zeytinyagli”), the roasted lamb on a bed of eggplant pureed with cheese (“hunkar beyendi”), or a tangy okra stew.

With four different seacoastlines (Black Sea, Sea of Marmara, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean), Turks do great fish and seafood dishes. A spicy shrimp sauteed in butter and red pepper flakes...grilled octopus. Dreamy! If you visit during the turbot season in winter it’s worth going to a place that specializes in this huge, flat and spiky Black Sea fish.

Desserts:

I’ve been partial to the chewy lokum (what you may know as “Turkish delight”) since I was a child in California, with my recent favorite being the pomegranate lokum studded with pistachios. Malatya Pazari is a national chain that sells it.

Try the different milky puddings at Saray or other traditional restaurants, one even has chicken breast in it.

Basically I could talk about Turkish food all day and not mention kebab or baklava.

If you’re staying in the old town, go to Beyoglu to eat. Greasy bland tourist food is an awful waste of your palate. If you’re after a spicy kebab though, ask for the ground lamb Adana kebab from the Southeast of the country.

What are your favourite nooks and crannies or hidden retreats in Turkey?

I like the private waterside setting of Assk Cafe in Kurucesme, the wild surf around red-roofed Amasra, the archaeology museum in the grounds of the Topkapi Palace and the overlooked mosaic museum under the Arasta Bazaar -- which is where you can see the decor of Emperor Constantine’s palace. He’s the Roman who founded the Eastern Roman empire, and why the city became known as Constantinople.

Hidden retreats are everywhere but most recently I enjoyed a hotel at the top of Assos on the Aegean. If you stay there you can visit the Temple of Athena at sunset, when it’s deserted and the Doric columns are bathed in an orange light. Great for portrait photography.

Do you know anything about the working culture in Turkey?

Yes. I worked fulltime as a cultural writer and producer which means I worked solo but in collaboration with many individuals and organizations. I pitched, sold, edited and published two books with a major Turkish publisher. That’s the anthology Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey, and its Turkish translation, both in 2005.

I also wrote for Cornucopia, a magazine for international connoisseurs of Turkish culture published in Istanbul, as well as web consulting for Turkish companies. The work culture differs from my own personal work culture -- closely tracking along cultural differences, as you can imagine.

I suggest you learn as much as you can about Turkish culture if you’re interested in working in Turkey or with a Turkish company. It affects what people expect around deadlines and goals and standards and other basics like that.

It’s good to know what people mean when they say “yes”. Turkey is a Eurasian culture so it’s got a bit of the west and a lot of the east in it.

Is there any particular myths you heard most about Turkey? How much of it you found to be true?

All the cliches.

Wolfish rug dealers. Men in mustaches and tweed suit jackets. Coffee shops with no women present.

That’s all there, but that’s not all there is.

In fact, the reason those things are cliche is because the details in between the lines are missing. Who those people are, why they behave that way, where the women really are.

There’s a huge spectrum of Turkish society from the most rural and conservative to the most urban and secular, and a very young, forward-looking population. There are also deep traditions, an interdependent culture, and a multiethnic population. It’s an ancient place and a modern republic, its contradictions and tensions spring from the ground itself.

Overall, what do you think about Turkey in terms of a place for expats to work and live?

I think there are opportunities -- the Turkish economy is strong and has been only minorly affected by the worldwide economic crisis -- and the lifestyle can be really good.

However, like any foreign country it’s best if you do your homework. Come visit a few times before you try living here.

Make some contacts in both the expat and Turkish communities, and preferably in communities that contain both expats and Turks.

You want to be able to live in a bridged way, not in a bubble.

You’ll also want to know what kind of work you want to do, and where in the country you want to live. Even what neighborhood. The more you know before you commit the better off you’re going to be. Try poking around at an active online forum like TurkeyTravelPlanner.com.

That’s where you’ll pick up some useful lessons of cultural awareness like how to walk through the Grand Bazaar area without being harrassed (hint: it’s things like body language, and appropriate dress).

I have also written a lot about life in Turkey which you can find at my neoculture discussion site expat+HAREM  (www.expatharem.com).

Talking About Commitments To Work, World, & Myself

Excerpt of interview with Expat Harem editors and the women's website CommitmentNow.com, "for women committed to their work, their world, their soul mate, their children, their friends, themselves." 1. Tales from the Expat Harem is a collection of essays by Western women living in Turkey. Where did you get the idea for this book?

Anastasia Ashman: Jennifer and I met at an American women's social group in Istanbul, formed a writing workshop with some of the other members and soon realized we were all writing about our Turkish experiences. We thought they might begin to piece together the puzzle that is Turkey, so we brainstormed an anthology proposal that would encapsulate our work. We imagined the Expat Harem concept as foreign women in Turkey constricted not by physical walls of the harem, but virtual walls. For instance, a lack of language skills, undeveloped understanding of the culture, the ethnocentricities we cling to. The Expat Harem is not a negative thing, necessarily. Most expats will identify with its survival technique. The title also positively reclaims the concept of the Eastern harem. It's been a victim of erroneous Western stereotypes about subjugated women, sex slaves, orgies. In fact, the harem is a place of female power, wisdom and solidarity. Like the imported brides of the Ottoman sultans, we consider our writers inextricably wedded to Turkish culture, embedded in it, though forever foreign. We put out the call for submissions - to groups of women, writers, travelers, expatriates, Turkey expats, and Turkophiles. We heard from more than 100 women in 14 countries who felt their lives have been changed by Turkey. They came pursuing studies or work, a belief, a love, an adventure: an archaeologist, a Christian missionary, a Peace Corps volunteer, a journalist. Thirty stories spanning the entire nation and the past 40 years share how they assimilated into friendship, neighborhood, and sometimes wifehood and motherhood, and reveal an affinity for Turkey and its people. Not everyone is Western. We have one Pakistani contributor, along with writers from Ireland, the UK, Australia, Holland, Guatemala, and the US.

3. In "Water Under the Bridge," Catherine Salter Bayar laments that although she knows that she, an independent American businesswoman married to a Turkish man and now living in Turkey, would have to adjust to small town life in Western Turkey, she "didn't realize that adjusting to life in a house of fifteen would be a one-way street." Do you think many of the foreign women who have made Turkey their home have found that their adjustments are one-way?

Anastasia: No, I don't think so. It's certainly not the case in my life and for most foreign women I know. If anything we're in a constant state of negotiating which way the street is going at any given time to accommodate both our instincts and those of the people around us! Also, keep in mind Catherine's in-laws are from a rural village in the far east of Turkey with a low level of formal education and that background factors in to their world view and their ability to be flexible to new ways of thinking and doing things. There is a huge spectrum of society in Turkey, all with their own quotients of modernity and comfort with Western traditions. My Turkish family is secular, modern to the point of being trendy, and highly Europeanized. Everyone's mileage varies.

6. In your essays, you discuss your parents' reactions to your decision to marry and live in Turkey. How would you describe their feelings and have they changed over the years?

Anastasia: My mother worried she wouldn't be able to wear pants in Turkey and my father was hung up on news reports about the black market in kidneys, and the reverence in which Turks hold the military. In liberal Berkeley these things seemed suspect. Coming to Istanbul and meeting my Turkish family they were shocked to find a sophisticated, world class city and modern people wearing whatever they wanted. There's a lot to absorb about this complex nation and I think my parents are now better attuned to the limited information circulating about Turkey than they were before. One story, one view does not cover it!

7. Anastasia, it seems as if you acclimated easily to Turkish traditions and customs, perhaps as a result of the fairy tale wedding to your Turkish husband. What is it that you most love about Turkey?

Anastasia: I wouldn't credit my acclimation to a fairy tale wedding! The fact it went so smoothly was an indication of the depth of cultural sensitivity I strove for and my ability to collaborate with my husband. I continue to draw on many hard-earned lessons from my five years as an expat in Southeast Asia in the 1990s, from basic expatriatism techniques to melding with a Eurasian (Turkish) family. However I don't mean to say it's not a fairytale, because it is.

I love Turkey's heavy history overlaid with vivacious new layers of lives and dreams. Modern-day Turkey has more than its share of fabulous places, people and events -- using its breathtaking Roman amphitheatres, Byzantine basilicas, Crusader castles, Ottoman fortresses for cultural activities like concerts, exhibits, festivals. There is no mistaking that this is an important place of power and energy and ideas, and has been for centuries. Istanbul's historical significance as the center of the ancient civilized world is never far from my consciousness and I find that inspiring.

8. How did you decide to make Turkey your home?

Anastasia: My husband and I were living in New York, in what became Ground Zero after September 11th. Transport, basic shopping, air quality, employment: they were all affected badly by the attacks, the dotcom bust and the bottom dropping out of the New York media market. Meanwhile he'd been running the tech side of his brother's Turkish company for years, and when the cellphone work ramped up we decided to give Istanbul a try. The mobile scene here was so much more advanced than in the USA., it gave him more cutting edge opportunity. He was born in Istanbul but moved to Belgium as a toddler when his father took a job at N.A.T.O., so it promised to be a similar adventure for each of us. With my portable writing career and a degree in archaeology it wasn't hard to say yes to a stint in ancient and fabulous Istanbul! We came with the intention to evaluate our options in two years and recommit or make a change. So far nowhere and nothing has been able to top our experience in terms of quality of life: Spacious apartment with an unobstructed view of the Bosphorus and the hills of Istinye which look like Switzerland, organic groceries delivered weekly from the farm to our door plus the secretly-stupendous Turkish cuisine, all kinds of family and community support, holidays on the Aegean and around Europe, a more leisurely pace of life. It's kind of hard to beat.

9. Many of the women in your anthology write about the way women are treated in Turkey - from the role of a daughter-in-law to the rules regarding dating. Do you think being a woman in Turkey is more difficult than being a man?

Anastasia: We might ask that same question about any country in the world. Turkish men have gender and cultural expectations placed on them as well - and expat men here certainly labor under their own set of macho constraints. Although we do enjoy some leeway for being foreign, Western women in a liminal East-West place like Turkey have special confusions - what becomes of our homegrown gender markers of a modern woman like sensible shoes and unadorned faces, doing our own home repairs, not being a docile servant girl? The biggest culture clash we face may be the definition of femininity and the levels of our particular embrace of those definitions. In general I find Turkey full of pro-woman surprises. For instance, the positive attitude about motherhood and breastfeeding here puts America to shame. Cabbie driving too fast? Tell him you're pregnant and presto, he's a model citizen of the road. Several of the country's biggest business titans are women - groomed and promoted by their dynastic families, while female executives abound and women make up the majority of university professors. Turkey's had a female head of state, and awarded women's suffrage fifteen years before France. Is being a woman in Turkey more difficult than being a man? Probably. How much more difficult will depend on your socio-economic background, your family makeup, and your educational opportunities.

Expat Personal Branding For Career Success Abroad

In a two-part interview with Career by Choice, a blog run by expat career coach Megan Fitzgerald in Rome, this week I talk about the lessons of Expat Harem in forging my expat writing life. Answering questions about personal branding and career success abroad, I explain how writing about my life overseas and editing Expat Harem connected me to a worldwide band of peers, and gave my career and conflicted expat mindset a new cultural context. Part one Part two

My 2nd Foreign Correspondence Interview For Knight Ridder

Excerpts from my Foreign Correspondence interview with John Bordsen of The Charlotte Observer. It was syndicated in numerous Knight Ridder newspapers across America.  

Istanbul is a fabled place - but what are the most amazing places to visit outside the city? * * It depends on your interests. If you like ARCHAEOLOGICAL adventure, it would probably be Ephesus - one of the best-preserved ancient ROMAN cities in the world. It was the capital of Asia Minor. Ephesus is like Pompeii, IN ITALY, only on a MUCH grander scale. IT WAS FOUNDED BY THE AMAZONS, AND LATER RENOVATED BY THE ULTRARICH KING CROESUS. * Ephesus was the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis. IT’S about AN HOUR FLIGHT from Istanbul. YOU CAN ALSO MAKE A PILGRIMAGE TO THE VIRGIN MARY’S LAST HOME WHICH IS NEARBY, OR VISIT A VAST GLADIATOR GRAVEYARD.

* * * When Americans think of visiting the Aegean, Greece comes to mind. Is the Turkish side of the sea different? * * It's all the same BEAUTIFUL WATER, AND land. PERHAPS LESS DEVELOPED. You'll see TYPICALLY Greek villages from the days when the coast was inhabited by Greeks. Whitewashed buildings that are pristine and simple. You'll find them in the AEGEAN TOWN of Bodrum, SURROUNDING ITS CRUSADER CASTLE IN THE HARBOR.

* BODRUM’S a rocky coast. THE Turks make IT ENJOYABLE BY BUILDING wooden decks along the rocks, so you can sunbathe, dine or dance over the water, with the backdrop of HILLS behind you. It's visually spectacular. * * Who visits the Turkish Aegean? * * Bodrum is on a peninsula. THE MAIN TOWN ATTRACTS A LOT OF Europeans, BOATERS. On the OTHER side, it's mostly Turks IN A PLACE considered the TURKISH RIVIERA. MANY LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL CELEBRITIES FREQUENT THE CLUBS AND HOTELS THERE. If you go to Bodrum, DEFINITELY take a day trip to TURKBUKU, or get a hotel there. THE BEACH CLUBS ARE very chic. * * Turkey has shoreline on the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Sea OF Marmara that links them. There's also its Mediterranean coast to the south. How do they differ? * I'm biased toward the Aegean and its very charming coastline OF COVES. The Mediterranean is GORGEOUS but MORE HUMID, AND you can be at the beach and feel like you're looking out into nothingness because the Mediterranean is such a vast expanse. The Sea of Marmara is like marble - which is A SIMILAR WORD in Turkish. It's very flat. There are vacation spots there, QUAINT ISLANDS TO GET AWAY FROM THE CITY, WHERE THE ISTANBUL SULTANS USED TO EXILE THEIR RELATIVES. NOT SO BAD! It's also where HUGE CARGO ships wait for permission to go through the Bosphorus to enter the Black Sea. The BOSPHORUS is one of the world's MAJOR shipping lanes, AND NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE. LOTS OF TWISTS AND TURNS, AND CHANGING CURRENTS. JASON AND HIS ARGONAUTS ALSO FOUND IT DIFFICULT WHEN THEY SAILED UP IT LOOKING FOR THE GOLDEN FLEECE.

The Black Sea isn't called "black" because of what the water looks like. In ANCIENT TIMES DIRECTIONS WERE INDICATED IN COLORS. BLACK MEANT NORTH, WHITE WAS SOUTH. THE TURKS STILL CALL THE MEDITERRANEAN THE WHITE SEA.

The Black Sea was thought to have been created by an earthquake; THE SEA OF MARMARA rushed through A NEW CREVICE THAT BECAME THE BOSPHORUS into a much smaller FRESHWATER lake. SCIENTISTS ARE finding whole submerged villages in the center of the Black Sea, where the original coastline was. FOLK stories about A GREAT flood began WITH PEOPLE in the Black Sea area and worked their way south, into the Middle East. And Mount Ararat, where MANY BELIEVE Noah's Ark STILL RESTS, is in northeast Turkey. HERE IN TURKEY IT's EERIE how these OLD STORIES KEEP adding up!

Interviewed By Istanbullum Magazine

When did you move to Istanbul? What is the first memory you have about Istanbul? AA: My husband and I moved in 2003 and stayed in Ulus with my brother-in-law for a few months, so my impressions from those days are of the sun setting over the Topkapi Palace far in the distance as the family ate barbequed lamb chops on the balcony, an assembly line of kuzu izgara. Sprinkling dried marjoram and oregano on the chops. But my first memories started when I visited in 2000 ( I felt ages of winter chill emanating from AyaSofya’s old stones as I gazed up at the Byzantine mosaics). Then when I married in Istanbul the balmy summer of 2001, at Esma Sultan in Ortakoy, the memories punctuated by the flashbulbs of a glitzy Turkish wedding. The overall memory of Istanbul? A lot of kisses, for everyone, coming and going, every day, every night.

What does Istanbul mean to you? 

AA: Since I have a degree in Classical Greek, Roman and Near Eastern Archaeology,  Istanbul’s historical significance as the center of the ancient civilized world is never far from my consciousness. It’s a place of power and energy and ideas, and has been for centuries. There is no mistaking that this is an important place on the globe.  But as a New World woman from cutting edge California, I also love that with its heavy history it’s not musty and dead like a forgotten museum. I can appreciate its new layers of lives and dreams, and find modern day Istanbul to have more than its share of fabulous places, people and events.

Which part of the city do you live in? How do you like it?

AA: I lived in bohemian Cihangir for four years and loved my scenic view of the Bosphorus overlooking Kabatas ferry terminal. Perched on the cliff the view had all the energy of a transportation hub but at the same time was completely serene – and quiet, if you don’t count the taxicabs honking at all hours of the night! The proximity to Taksim and Istiklal was wonderful, and with the new tramway and metro extension, it really felt like the center of the world! My husband couldn’t take the commute to his Maslak office though so we just moved to Istinye, where we have a much more intimate view of the bay with its teal-colored water. I’m liking all the hillsides covered in wildflowers. But I’ll miss the cafes of Cihangir, like Miss Pizza, and Savoy Pastanesi for simit toast on Sundays and of course in a neighborhood so full of feisty street cats, the great veterinarians. I adopted my cat Bunny from Kazanci Sokagi, so where ever I go I’ll always have a bit of Cihangir in my heart, and in my home.

How does Istanbul look like from U.S.? Are there any misconceptions about the city?

AA: Physically I think the general image of Istanbul does not include so much water, waterways, vistas of water. The hills are also a surprise to many people.  It’s hard to conceive of a metropolis made of so many small villages, how Istanbul can go on for miles and still be Istanbul, even if each kilometer is like a new world.

Do you have any favorite spots in the city?

AA: My favorites are the ones I haven’t been to yet! They exist in my dream of Istanbul. There are so many places I yearn to go. Like the Ilhamur Kosku in Muradiye, the Beykoz pavilion, and Beylerbeyi Palace. The Horhor market in Eyup with its Levantine antiques. A strange restaurant in Gunesli specializing in huge platters of chicken wings.  Things you hear about, things you see from a distance, things you have to find a special time to do. The problem is more time I live in Istanbul, the longer my list grows.

Some of the stories take place in Istanbul in the book “Tales from the Expat Harem”. Is Istanbul a good setting for works of literature?

AA: I think so, (and for film too! Why aren’t there more films set in Istanbul?)  The Expat Harem tales set in Istanbul show that the city offers a colorful and diverse backdrop for personal histories, and adds true depth to the narrator’s every day life. When a young Guatemalan woman recognizes two hatun speaking Ladino on a Mecediyekoy bus, she feels pride in her Spanish linguistic connection -- and at the same time she acknowledges the chain of history that brought this medieval language to Istanbul.  What echoes in that moment is that the Guatemalan came to Istanbul through her own chain of history…

 What does Istanbul need? How would it be better?

AA: A more extensive Metro network, servicing coastal spots like Beskitas, Ortakoy and Bebek. Imagine how that would alleviate street traffic!

 What are your future writing projects? Is Istanbul somehow in them?

AA: Istanbul absolutely will play a role in many of my upcoming cultural essays, in fact the title of my travel memoir in progress is “Berkeley to Byzantium: The Reorientation of a West Coast Adventuress”. It’s about the physical (and metaphysical!) journey from my utopian hometown in California, around the world through classical Italy and the media worlds of New York and Hollywood, to the plantations and palaces of South East Asia, finally ending up in Istanbul. The challenge is to fully explain how my life has culminated in this incredibly meaningful place. Another challenge is to stay home and write when Istanbul beckons!

 What do you think about Istanbul being the “European Culture Capital for 2010”?

AA: It’s about time! It seems to me that Istanbul makes good use of its breathtaking monuments and historic settings for cultural activities (like concerts at Rumeli Hisari and the Aya Irini, and exhibits at the Darphane and Tophane-i Amire, and receptions at Feriye and Dolmabahce), and the yearlong festival will be a perfect opportunity to show off  to the world the city’s priceless heritage, and the life that the people of Istanbul inject into these wondrous spots.

How is the expat life in Istanbul? Is Istanbul an easy city for expat living? 

AA: There are tons of options for expatriates in Istanbul, social and business clubs and general communities, and lots of support networks and foreign language media. I’ve been an expat in Rome and Kuala Lumpur where I learned some expat survival techniques and put them into practice as soon as I arrived here.  I think Jennifer Gokmen would agree that making the anthology helped make sense of our own lives in Turkey as foreigners -- the Expat Harem is an apt metaphor for us.  The title positively reclaims the concept of the Eastern harem just as we consider ourselves and our writers inextricably wedded to Turkish culture, embedded in it, though forever foreign. The virtual walls are there: our initial lack of language skills, undeveloped understanding of the culture, and even some of the ethnocentricities that we cling to.  Luckily for us, Istanbul has a long history of welcoming foreigners, and being able to accomodate many different cultures and mindsets.

My 1st Knight Ridder Foreign Correspondence Interview is ESL Training For Taiwanese Businesspeople

Anastasia Ashman Knight-Ridder interview used for ESL training

My foreign correspondence interview with Knight Ridder newspapers becomes an English as Second Language training for biz people in Taiwan.

Those poor people, what a work out!

Knight-Ridder Foreign Correspondence article is ESL curriculum for business people in Taiwan

Going On Record As A Travel Writer With Rolf Potts' Interview Series

Excerpt from a travel writers interview by Rolf Potts at his Vagabonding site, 2006. View the full interview here. How did you get started traveling?

My fascination with a wider world cropped up early.

As a toddler in countercultural Berkeley, CA my favorite pastime was "French Lady", a tea party with Continental accents.

I began traveling even further when I learned to read -- comic books.

Instead of poring over Archie & Veronica, perky storylines that revolved around characters who never graduated from high school nor breached the border of their staid hometown, I was entranced by the global expanse of history and people and culture revealed in the Belgian-made graphic adventures of Tintin.

Tracking a drug-smuggling ring in Egypt, discovering a meteorite with a Polar research vessel, surviving a plane wreck on an Indonesian island -- this was life!

Tintin's travel tales, and many others after them, remain reference points. Last fall at a museum in Nazca, Peru one long-haired, head-banded Incan mummy stirred a pleasant flashback to "The Seven Crystal Balls", as well as the awe of my twelve-year old self. It's no wonder I pursued a degree in archaeology.

How did you get started writing? AA: In the early  '70s I kept a journal on childhood road trips where I recorded preferences for the wildness of Baja's bumpy sand roads and discovering the mother-lode of sand-dollar graveyards in San Felipe to a sedate spin around British Columbia's Lake Victoria and a fur-seal keychain from the gift shop.

Later I was a correspondent, trying to explain my own culture to teen pen pals in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Malaysia, while I searched for clues about theirs hidden in precise penmanship, tarty vocabulary, and postage stamps with monarchs -- some butterflies, some queens.

During a slew of 20-something media and entertainment jobs I wrote and edited for years, whenever the opportunity presented itself, for a book packager and literary agency in New York, and for television, theatre and film producers in Los Angeles.

What do you consider your first "break" as a writer?

AA: Reviewing Pico Iyer's essay collection Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions for the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1997. The newsweekly magazine based in Hong Kong was equivalent to TIME in Asia. I was living in Malaysia and devoting more attention to my writing career, so it was a breakthrough to write for a major publication and huge audience about subjects which mesmerized me.

What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?

AA: Calling up facts. Seeing the larger story. Sitting down and doing the writing!

What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint? Editors? Finances? Promotion?

AA: Publishers and acquisition editors and publicists seem to have narrow expectations for travel literature so for my next book I plan to devote a lot of energy to a detailed marketing plan which will accompany the manuscript in its rounds to publishers. Jennifer and I learned quite a bit about marketing to publishers with Tales from the Expat Harem, which was initially turned down by 10 New York houses who liked it but couldn't fathom its market (Turkey's too limited a subject, they said).

We've since determined that it addresses a multitude of distinct groups beyond the basic cells of travelers, expatriates, women writers and travel writers. In fact, we found enough specific target markets we were able to fill a hundred pages of our marketing plan with actual contacts of potentially interested people and organizations, like Turkish American associations, women's and Middle Eastern studies programs at hundreds of North American universities, and specific Turkophile populations like the alumni of the Peace Corps who served in Turkey.

And the beauty of a marketing plan which breaks down readerships is that a writer (or if you're lucky, a publisher) can contact all of these people.

Jennifer and I also compiled more practical subsidiary audiences for the anthology, like multinational corporations with operations in Turkey, and embassies and tourism organizations which might use the book as a cross-cultural training tool or a promotional vehicle. We were successful enough in our initial efforts in academic marketing that the book is currently used in at least three university courses and is stocked by more than 100 academic and public libraries worldwide.

Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?

AA: Always. Often my most satisfying work has been poorly compensated. I do believe that will change, eventually! Until then I continue to be a proponent of pursuing the work you love rather than the work which pays best.

An essay about a transformational subway ride which I wrote for an obscure website in 2002 not only led me to be quoted in the New York Times and brought me my literary agent, but it also now appears in The Subway Chronicles book published by the site's creator, alongside venerated New York writers like Calvin Trillin, Colson Whitehead and Jonathan Lethem.

What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?

AA: Recently I enjoyed Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz for its mix of historical research, personal experience, and contemporary journalism.

Historical travel writing also connects me to the lands I find myself in, and points to the parallels which still exist.

My steamy days in Kuala Lumpur were enriched by reading Somerset Maugham, whose Malayan fiction was entirely believable. A series of historical Asian travelogues and contemporary scholarship released by Oxford-in-Asia jogged my imagination and similarly, now that I am based in Turkey, I'll be turning to the Cultures in Dialogue series at Gorgias Press, which resurrects antique writings about Turkish life by British and American women travelers and refreshes them with contemporary academic analysis.

What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?

AA: Advice: Read the bulletin boards at Travelwriters.com. A lot of very fundamental wisdom there about the life and business of travel writing. Warning: Don't post a word at Travelwriters until you've read the boards for a week or two and have a good understanding of what topics have already been covered, and how best to introduce yours.

What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?

AA: Sharing my view of the world with others. Adding to the conversation. Having every excuse to adventure.

Digging Up Conflict: Archaeologist & Murder In The Holy Land

My review of SACRED GEOGRAPHY: A Tale of Murder and Archeology in the Holy Land by Edward Fox  In a land as old as murder itself, American archaeologist Dr. Albert Glock lay assassinated on the West Bank doorstep of his favorite Palestinian assistant.  Israeli authorities stationed nearby inexplicably took three hours to arrive at the scene, and now ten years later, have yet to solve the real-life crime.

Reopening the 1992 investigation, London-based journalist Edward Fox pries into a neglected but central theme in the Near East: the role of archaeology in the political, cultural and religious hotbed that is Palestine.  A kaleidoscope of bias awaits and offers us a stark looking-glass, the sum of its shattered parts.  The very phenomenon dogging the archaeology of Palestine and that set Dr. Glock in the crosshairs of an unknown assailant, Fox alleges in SACRED GEOGRAPHY: A Tale of Murder and Archeology in the Holy Land, is what catalyzes and paralyzes the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In this smart and gripping thriller, the author does an admirable job of digging up both the psycho-political terrain, as well as the dirt on the professor from the West Bank’s P.L.O.-funded Birzeit University.

Admittedly not a specialist in politics or archaeology but armed with a graduate degree in Arab language and culture and more than ten years’ interest in Palestine, Fox pored over Dr. Glock’s papers, interviewed his associates, and enrolled at the university where the slain man directed the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology.

In a tale that crisscrosses itself in time, the journalist literally becomes an archaeologist sifting through the artifacts of the case, and putting them into context. Arrogant and undiplomatic 67-year old Glock, an ordained Lutheran minister on the payroll of a missionary group, had cultivated many enemies in his two decades in Palestine, where espoused a controversial form of archaeology emphasizing the tenacity of Arab villagers. Suspects start to pile up faster than Fox can catalog them, from rival archaeologists, Jewish settlers and Israeli hit squads, to neighborhood intifada vigilantes and the military arm of Hamas.

To build context for the case, Fox delves into the history of biblical archaeology, an opportunistic sub discipline founded on the idea that the Bible is a true chronicle of history, its finds shrouded in religious mysticism and light on science. A field replete with religious charlatans and swashbuckling adventurers, its power has been recognized and exploited by generals and statesmen who mined Palestine for biblical wonders to advance their own causes.

It started in 325 A.D. when the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine institutionalized the faith by creating a tradition of relics and pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The resulting tourism industry in Palestine may now be one of the oldest in the world, but its sacred geography consists of layer upon layer of myth, tradition and pious fantasy, reports Fox. The facts have been obscured by centuries of rewriting history for the benefit of whomever was at the top of its heap.  A particularly dense chapter illustrates the dizzying spiral of zealotry affecting Jerusalem, where holy spots were enshrined, demolished, replaced, wrested from rulers with differing beliefs, and given new histories and new futures.

By the end of the 19th century, most of the world’s powers were drawn to establish national archaeological societies to explore the Holy Land despite the fact that Palestine’s archaeological remains were among the most meager in the Near East.

“This was negative cosmopolitanism in action,” declares Fox, a phrase he coined to mean the identification of many people with one place.  Palestine was left edgy and exhausted by the cultural, theological and political plundering of Americans, French, British, Russians, Armenians, Ethiopians, Germans, Christians, Jews, and Muslims.  The modern state of Israel has been well-served by biblical archaeology’s predilection for making the landscape fit the map, Fox goes on, with archaeological finds legitimizing its right to the land, while the Islamic stake in the Holy Land “has been taken up and developed in recent years by the Palestinian Islamist movement.”

Yet it was Glock's keen interest in history and geography that led him to see that the land did not fit the map. His evolving skepticism in the Bible as history took him from biblical scholar to biblical archaeologist, to an archaeology of Palestine “of interest not to biblical scholars in the United States but to the Palestinian people themselves,” records Fox.  In particular, he was attracted to the long and hidden history of the Ottoman period, a relative golden age for the common man in terms of peace, prosperity and political autonomy.

Knowledge of such a past might invigorate the surly and downtrodden population, Glock mused. He had witnessed their disenfranchisement by the practice of Israel- and Bible-biased archaeology and the way it overlooked Arab and Islamic contributions to history and culture, and in some cases bulldozed it into oblivion.

But restoring a connection to the land would not be easy in an environment where archaeology and the military were inextricably entwined, and where pro-Palestinian archaeology had been literally outlawed.  Since the 1967 Israeli occupation, Fox relates,  Israeli censors stamped out anything that “contained a Palestinian version of the history of the country, and [ruled] that recording the Palestinian past was considered an act of sedition.”  Furthermore, Glock’s determination to dig was met with resistance and hostility from suspicious villagers, and his own students who wanted to provide a more glorious myth of Palestinian statehood.

In this cobwebby tale of bias, the journalist fails to escape its tacky tendency to skew results.  Fox’s prejudices, underscored by a middle-of-the-book admission that  “Like Albert Glock, I took to rooting for the Palestinian underdog,” sometimes make him blind to irony. Regarding the 1954 Hague Convention’s prohibition of excavation in occupied territories, the author gleefully reports the professor’s wily machinations to circumvent the agreement, yet reminds us “all respectable archaeologists” refrained from excavating in deference to the Convention,  “(except the Israelis).”

Even so, Fox the investigator is balanced enough to leave the case unsolved.

As in archaeology, the final answer is delayed by the prospect of a new find changing everything.