Turkish

Successor to Expat Harem Launches: Expat Sofra

So thrilled to share this expat lit news! Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 4.07.53 PM

Katherine Belliel and Rose Margaret Deniz, (Expat Harem book and blog writers you'll recognize whom I've had the privilege and pleasure of working with for many years) are now calling for submissions to their new anthology for expat women writers who've lived in Turkey.

It's called Expat Sofra: A Gathering of Foreign Voices Around the Turkish Table.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 4.18.54 PM As they explain,

"Follow in the footsteps of Tales from the Expat Harem by going deep into personal, introspective experiences that have a love and respect for the local culture and traditions.

"Sofra invites you to a second course by taking a seat at the Turkish table.

"Just as the sofra is the heart of the Turkish hearth, we want stories that are steeped in the experience of being an expat in Turkey. The editors have a combined twenty-five years in Turkey and are editing this compilation of essays to give back to the culture that has nourished their lives abroad."

If you've lived in Turkey for at least a year, or know someone who has, take a look at the call for submissions, open to April 1, 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 4.18.40 PM

"At the heart of every story is a flavor. Expats pack their bags with spices from home to find that incorporating it into meals, and subsequently their life abroad, can require trial and error, a sense of humor, and even failure. Relationships flop. Meals get burnt. Life abroad does not taste the same. But it evolves. Becomes enriched. And can even become decadent."

Turkish Unrest Makes My Facebook Timeline A True Interest Graph

My Facebook timeline has in past 8 months become full of irrelevant sponsored posts and ads but before that was not an activated global neighborhood posting on interrelated topics.

What's happening in Istanbul and Turkey and the Turkish diaspora around the world this week has made my Facebook timeline suddenly a relevant, activated global neighborhood.

 

  • I am seeing posts this week from contacts whose posts I have never seen in my TL. (Turks were early and enthusiastic adopters of FB so many connected with me back in 2007 as I told Intel Free Press here.)
  • I am seeing posts from people who are saying they never have posted on this topic before.
  • I am seeing groups of people I know from different locations, settings and times actively share and comment on a related set of posts.
  • I am seeing people from my high school trying to parse a topic that other people in my feed (people I've met over more than 10 years, some I worked with, others I spoke to their class, others I know socially, etc) know about intimately and are reporting first hand.

This week has been what Facebook should and could be to make it a place I want to go in the age of Twitter, but so far never has been.

This phenomenon is due to the severity of the news, and the fact that my network is seeded with a majority of people who care about that type of news.

If Facebook has been making the shift from social graph to the more valuable (commercially, and for readers) interest graph, this week my TL made that shift on its own.

 

 

Requests That Get A Yes

I get a lot of requests related to my Expat Harem book and other productions that I wish I had the time to say yes to.

Sometimes I get requests that I would have said yes to if the requester had spent a little more time setting it up. Make it really easy!

 

I heard from a travel writer developing a story about her own cross-cultural family experiences who needed expert sources to flesh out her query to an unnamed publishing venue. She gave me four questions to answer.

Four questions is a lot to ask, but her email gave me even more things to wonder.

Which venues she was pitching and by when did she need my answers?

I wondered why she was seeking an expert quote for a personal story (expert quotes in a pitch usually point to experts you're going to interview if you get the assignment). That would be like using my material to land an assignment to write about her own life! If she were to be assigned the piece, was she planning to interview me in more depth? It would have been good to hear that she only needed a one sentence answer for  -- any of -- those questions.

An expert would want to see how she was going to be described in the query. This could be done by telling me why I am being approached. For instance, "because you wrote about your Turkish in-laws in the Expat Harem book and in Cornucopia magazine." Or, it would be nice to be asked to point to a description I prefer.

Assume people want to help.  Just cover your bases and keep the ask as small as you can, so they can.

P.S. Be gracious when someone says no. When I let this travel writer know I wouldn't be able to help her out and explained what questions her pitch brought up for me, she let me know how sorry I was going to be for not doing what she asked.

Cultural Style Memo With Rose Deniz

The artist and curator Rose Deniz posted on her blog about going to a wedding in Turkey and being the only one who seemed to have not gotten the style memo.

Being out of sync with one's surroundings is a typical experience for expats, multiculturalists, hybrids and global operators. So big news that this weekend I went to a Dutch-Turkish wedding this weekend in the Netherlands and was dressed like half the women there.

 

The Dutch women, not the Turks.

So, while the Turks tottered around on mossy and uneven patiobricks in their red-soled Louboutins, I was sensible and sporting in my motorcycle boots and wool wrap dress. Plus, walking around in Amsterdam the majority of the shops displayed outfits I'd wear and want to wear. That settles it.

As much as it's hard to keep the focus on a style that actually fits me when I'm surrounded by opposing cultural dress memos/messages, heeding what I truly want to wear is the only answer.

 

Finding it for sale locally is a different problem.

Passion plays: defending our identity and a future that looks like us

Passion fuels the lives we envision for ourselves better than discipline or elbow grease alone. However, a little bit of passion’s dark side -- anger -- may be the best defense of our identity, and a future that looks like us.

Dialogue2010 participant Elmira Bayraslı shared at her "Wonderment Woman" blog the anger that keeps her hybrid. Rather than assimilate or choose one social group to belong to, the daughter of Turkish immigrants in New York ferociously defends her hard-won ability to switch to independent American woman -- and back again.

As an expat I know this righteousness-to-be-hybrid. A defense mechanism not only kicks in but is kept in place by a low level anger about external pressures to live and be a certain way. It’s been a cornerstone of my survival, and for many people living between worlds.

I was reminded exactly how homegrown this righteousness is by a Facebook group of one-line jokes about Berkeley upbringings. How counterculture taboos affected childhood is dizzying:

  • boycotts of table grapes and iceberg lettuce make kids anxious when visiting un-PC families,
  • a sneaked McDonald’s meal draws punishment while smoking weed does not,
  • the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are off-limits (pseudo-military!),
  • while the whitebread Brady Bunch and misogynistic Barbie are what’s wrong with the world.

Free Speech protests witnessed from baby strollers make this group a veritable Red Diaper Baby playdate.

Also glimpsed: the realization that  much of what characterized a Berkeley childhood thirty or forty years ago -- that is, the lifestyle and belief system of an alternative community, the anger that separated it from the rest of the nation -- has now become mainstream in America.

So, my righteous sisters and brothers, what are you going to keep being angry about when it comes to who you are?

Presented In Istanbul: Tiptoeing Through The Taboos

I was going to marry a Turk. But first I would face a cultural gauntlet meeting his family in Istanbul. My fiancé Burç stressed gaining approval from his influential mother Ayten, a pretty woman in her late 50s. She would be tricky to charm since Ayten treasured the central position she commanded in the lives of her unmarried sons, and spoke little English.

“She won’t be able to follow your accent,” briefed Burç. Yet he insisted the language barrier wouldn't impede my proper acquaintance with his polished and instinctual mother.

“It’s not what you say, anyway. It’s how you behave.” Way to freak me out.

 

HIS MOTHER'S CHARACTER WAS COMPLEX. A modern European sophisticate, she possessed vintage morals, frozen in nineteen-sixties Istanbul when the family relocated to Belgium for two decades.

Over the Atlantic heading to Turkey, Burç lightened the mood, regaling me with festive stories of Turkish dinner parties and moonlit boat trips on the Bosphorus. All were punctuated with belly dancing by paid entertainers and guests alike, men shaking it, women clapping.

"Whenever the generals came over for dinner they'd end up belly dancing," Burç recounted, digging deeper into his memories to the days when his father Süleyman worked for N.A.T.O.’s military command.

Resettling in Istanbul, the dignified septuagenarian was famous for unrestrained shimmying after polishing off a few glasses of anise-flavored rakı, the national liqueur.

This I had to see.

The plane set down on the outskirts of the sprawling, hilly city of Istanbul and we made our way across the Bosphorus Strait to Anadolu, the Asian side of town. Family introductions went smoothly in the leafy neighborhood of Şaşkınbakkal.

Süleyman supplied me lounging slippers, subtle acceptance.

When my father-in-law to-be donned the collared Banana Republic sweater I brought even though it was too small, his wife Ayten scoffed he was showing off his physique.

Ayten was  a tougher sell. She put away the Chanel bath products I gave her with a small nod of thanks.

 

SHE DOTED ON MY FIANCE, her hand on his shoulder as she set plates in front of him. I detected the shrewd instinct he had described. If she didn’t focus on me my importance would be minimized. We commenced with tea and meat pastry borek, in her mushroom-colored dining room dotted with crystal figurines and Lladro porcelains. Süleyman drew on his pipe while Ayten gossiped about the neighbors.

I sat looking pleasant. No hint of belly dancing on the horizon.

Two nights later we helped celebrate a local Turk’s 45th birthday party in the remains of a sixth century Byzantine cistern. Candles illuminated the rough-hewn bricks of the subterranean disco. An air of boredom permeated the affluent crowd in trendy sequined tops and business suits as they grazed from huge platters of nuts, cheese and grapes.

“After cake, we have belly dancers,” the pixie hostess revealed.

“Perfect for my husband,” she bopped to the music, glancing at her spouse who hadn’t moved a muscle all evening. Then with a shriek she ran to greet new arrivals.

A THRILL SHOT THROUGH ME, SECRET WISH GRANTED: to witness authentic belly dancing on the soil from which it sprang. Having a simmering fascination with the art since I was a young Californian peeking through the window of a Middle Eastern dance studio next to my Judo dojo, the mincing and shaking of the harem dance could be the ultimate seduction, something to learn. I had made it to the source, and belly dance’s dormant role in my life was about to change.

The DJ switched to a percussive track by Tarkan, a local pop star influenced by traditional music. Two scrawny, tanned Eastern European girls moved through the crowd, venally eyeing the men who would slip them tips.

There was nothing sensual about these performers, padded silver bra tops creating a semblance of cleavage on birdy chests, transparent pantaloons slung low on adolescent hips. Limber, their moves were more acrobatic than dancerly.

I’d seen better technique on a beach in Oregon, when my crafty cousin demonstrated her years of study, ample belly undulating like a stormy sea.

Good sports, the Turks clapped like robots.

“Excuse me, I will be sick,” announced one slender dark-haired guest as she pushed past.

“Kicked out of the gymnastics program in Belarus,” Burç whispered in my ear, our attention drifting. We leaned in for a kiss when a dancer whipped us with her blonde hair. Making clear it was no accident, she pivoted twice more at close range. We stopped kissing.

 

“THAT'S A NATAŞA FOR YOU,” Burç said, using the blanket term Turks have given female emigrants spilling into the country since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. They often fill jobs natives reject -- for instance, “No decent Turkish woman would put on a costume and dance,” Burç explained, sounding like the son of a decorous mother.

Point taken. Being 'Natasha' in Turkey was synonymous with foreign prostitute and possibly much, much worse -- trafficked woman. Major unfortunate. Mixed up with the mob.

The next night we were invited to dinner at a family's traditional wooden mansion overlooking the Bosphorus. Toward the end of a civilized evening, the jovial host, who I had met several times in New York, tried to draw me into a dance.

Süleyman did a few turns and retired to smoke his pipe. No other takers.

I stood there, the same extroverted woman the host had enjoyed in the States now watching him twitch his right hip, arms raised shoulder height, fingers snapping. It wasn’t much of a belly dancing move, easy to master. If I did it, my host would be delighted.

Yet, if behavior spoke more than words, appearing eager to belly dance might be deadly for a prospective foreign daughter-in-law with a Russian-sounding name.

 

I HAD ONE OPTION, PURE THEATRE. So I shook my head, bashful and refusing to imitate my host’s moves. A smiling Ayten patted the spot next to her on the sofa, where I joined her in respectable solidarity.

“Crazy, that one,” she said to me, shaking her coiffed head.

I’d have other chances to dance, ones that would cost me less.

 

Back in New York, the trip was judged a success. Everyone had found me presentable, including the primly modern Ayten.

She'd covered a lot of territory to reach a positive conclusion about me, I found out. Burç admitted when she first heard of me months before, Ayten thought my name was Natasha.

[This essay first appeared in Cornucopia magazine, 3/03]

Read what happens next, when we get married in a glitzy Istanbul ceremony.

+++++ What high-stakes cultural gauntlet have you faced and how did you maneuver your way through it?

The Accidental Anthologist: Creating A Literary Harem

All the editions of Expat Harem bookTurkey often makes the news for suppressing its authors. Ironically, as an American expatriate in Istanbul I found my voice -- by creating a literary harem of my expat peers. My third month in Istanbul I found my way to an American women's social club. Milling among the crowd at the consul general's residence, I introduced myself by describing my writing project.

"At 40? You're too young to write a memoir," snorted a white haired librarian as she arranged second-hand books on a card table.

"Istanbul's such chaos, I'd be surprised if you can concentrate," thought a freckled socialite in tasseled loafers.

My memoir was going to happen. It had to. It was the cornerstone of my survival plan.

 

MY BRILLIANT CAREER WAS PORTABLE. I moved to Istanbul in 2003 so my Turkish husband could take a job in mobile telecommunications. Even though I lacked a formal proposal for my high-concept travel memoir charting the peaks and valleys of what I was calling “an adventurous life,” I already had a literary agent waiting to champion it. I was thrilled my spouse would be developing the kind of advanced cell phone software that excites him and that emerging economies demand. Yet my international move required a defense strategy.

"I'm not going to waste a minute sitting in language classes, diminishing my facility with English," I informed him.

"Whatever makes you happy," he replied.

In my mind I'd be on an extended writer's retreat, free from the daily distractions of our “real life” in New York City, where we had met.

I'd be an asocial expatriate writer who would one day emerge at the border clutching my passport and a masterpiece.

This exotic vision had been percolating since I'd last been an expat—in Malaysia. I’d spent five years rotting away in the tropics like a less-prolific—and more sober—Somerset Maugham.

Foremost to decay in the equatorial heat was my personality—the core of my writing voice.

In steamy Southeast Asia, my first long-term stint overseas, language and cultural barriers prevented me from expressing even the simplest aspects of my identity. When I told people I was a writer they'd reply, "Horses?"

 

I WAS DECOMPOSING at time-lapse speed. Vintage handbags and L.A. sandals sprouted green fungus overnight, while silvery bugs infested my college texts and a decade of diaries. I was also mistaken for a very different kind of Western woman in Asia, like when a crew of Indonesian laborers working at my house wondered when I was going to drink a beer and take off my shirt.

Three years later, in cosmopolitan Istanbul, I was a resurrected ambitious American prepared for my future. I imagined a successful literary life abroad—supported by a defensive version of expatriatism. "This move won't turn my world upside down," I cockily assured worried friends and relatives, who recalled my anguished Kuala Lumpur days.

Now I was all about the work. My plan to avoid alienation in Turkey was foolproof.

Istanbul, a hilly metropolis of 12 million, made Kuala Lumpur look like the sleepy river town it is. I couldn't envision navigating a car on its traffic-logged streets or squeezing into public minibuses or straying too far alone without a translator. I couldn't wait to hole up at home with my computer, DSL connection and a view of the Bosphorus.

Upon my arrival I joined an expat social club for some English speaking company. There I met the scolding librarian and the socialite. I also ran into an upbeat Michigan writer named Jennifer Gökmen, a 10-year émigré also married to a Turk. She had no doubt I would write my memoir. We both needed some writing support so we created a workshop with a handful of other American women.

Within weeks, the memoir stalled as I struggled to map my entire existence... dear god, what's the arc of my life? Maybe that caustic librarian was right! My resistance to Turkey started to wear down.

Jennifer and I began playing with a proposal of our own: an anthology incorporating essays about our Turkish lives.

I was bursting with that kind of material. The cultural gauntlet I faced on my first trip to meet the family. My glitzy Istanbul wedding. Inspired by the original harem of the 15th century Ottoman sultans, where foreign-born women shared their cultural wisdoms, new arrivals comparing notes with old hands, we figured we formed a modern version: the Expat Harem.

And that’s when the harem walls closed in.

 

SILENCED BY WHOOPING COUGH: I contracted a mysterious and ancient ailment of the pharynx. Local doctors unfamiliar with the diagnosis prescribed medications for asthma and antibiotics to treat a lung infection, neither of which I had. I passed the cough to Jennifer. For the next six months we were both homebound, hacking to the point of incontinence, succumbing to every little flu. I avoided anything that might incite a new round of spasms, like conversation and laughter, the coal smoke emanating from rural shanties, chills from the ancient city's stone walls, gusts of autumn blowing down from the Black Sea. The only thing Jennifer and I were suited for was speechlessly working, and we only wanted to think about the anthology.

"Embedded here, we're destined to be alien."

I brainstormed in an email to Jennifer, pointing out the dilemma of life abroad—even for those who want to blend in to local culture, it’s near impossible. Our cultural instincts will forever lead us to different choices— from simple aesthetics like lipstick color to complicated interpersonal communications.

Topkapi Palace harem door by A.Ashman

"The Expat Harem is a place of female power," she shot back, linking us to an Eastern feminist continuum little known in the Western world.

Harem communities offered women the possibility of power—in the imperial harem, they offered the greatest power available to women in this region. These women had the sultan's ear, they were the mothers of sultans. Several harem women shadow-ran the Ottoman empire, while others co-ruled.

Giddy with our anachronistic metaphor, I replied.

"Ethnocentric prison or refuge of peers—sometimes it's hard to tell which way the door is swinging!"

Like a secret password, news spread as we called for submissions from writers, travelers and Turkophiles. Fascinating women from fourteen nations poured their stories into our in-boxes. They shared how their lives had been transformed by this Mediterranean country in the past 50 years, moments that challenged their values and their destinies as nurses and scientists, Peace Corps volunteers and artists.

These women's tales were not universally known.

Many had never before been published and all were minority voices in a Muslim country with a reputation for censorship.

 

ALTERNATE REALITIES flooded over me: eerie Sufi pilgrimages to Konya, the intimacies of anthropological fieldwork on the Black Sea, glimpses of '70s civic unrest in Ankara, a wistful gardener's search for the perfect Ottoman rose in Afyon. Many represented a depth of involvement with the country I couldn't imagine: harvesting dusty hazelnuts on a brambly hillside, trying to follow the 9/8 rhythms of a clapping Gypsy, sharing space on a city bus with a dancing bear in the Technicolor 1950s.

I whispered to Jennifer, "Compared to these women, I'm a cultural wimp!"

Their struggles to assimilate nudged me to forgive my own resistance, and inspired me to discover the country, the culture and the Turkish people.

Now I could use the editing skills I had been suppressing since I was an infuriating child who returned people's letters corrected with red pen. From the comfort of my home office-with-a-foreign-zipcode, I was able to shape other writers’ stories. The anthology rewarded me for postponing the memoir, by laying the foundations for a more insightful next book. The joys of collaborating with writers from my home office clarified confusing aspects of my character—like how I am a prickly introvert who nevertheless craves connection with people.

One late winter day Jennifer and I stopped coughing and sold Tales from the Expat Harem to Doğan Kitap, a prominent Turkish publisher.

"That's more like it," snapped the librarian when I next saw her at a club meeting, my reputation somewhat rehabilitated in her eyes.

Four decades’ worth of expatriate self-discoveries earned its shelf space, more than my own 40-year life story would have.

"It's a love-letter to the country. I put it on my house guests' pillows!" shared the smiling socialite.

The anthology became a #1 English-language bestseller in Turkey and was recommended as a social and cultural guide by National Geographic Traveler and Lonely Planet.

My literary career and conflicted mindset about life abroad now had a promising new cultural context in the expat harem.

 

I FOUND MY THEORETICAL HOME. I arrived an insular writer afraid of losing my voice. In a temporary silence, Turkey suggested an empowering metaphor. It seems the country not only connected me to a worldwide band of my global nomad and expat writing peers, it provided a place to flourish out of restriction -- and raised my voice in the cultural conversation.

[This essay first appeared in JANERA: The Voice of Global Nomads, January 2008]

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What surprise context has your location provided you?

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[18 months, 2 expat writers, one feminist travel anthology with three editions. Our first book! A bestseller. How'd we do it? Read the story of making Tales from the Expat Harem]

When & How Political And Nationalistic Issues Become Personal

There’s a few things about living in Turkey that I don’t like; the habit of ‘turkifying’ names being one of them," writes Catherine Yigit at her blog The Skaian Gates. She's one of the expat women writers featured in the Expat Harem anthology, and a contributor to the expat+HAREM blog. "So Catherine is sometimes changed to Kadriye, a completely different name. I don’t understand why anyone would want to change a perfectly good name to another one, isn’t changing countries/cultures/languages enough?" she asks.

My response to her post:

That's poignant, Catherine, and a good example of how political and nationalistic issues become personal.

When my father-in-law Suleyman went to London to work, they insisted on calling him "Sully", which he thought was amusing. Like many immigrant American families, our name was changed at Ellis Island. Names come to us in so many ways -- from the people before us, the land around us, the language on our tongues.

However, the fact of the matter is that what you're called is not inconsequential to who you think you are -- and being designated a new name by a group for their own convenience is often a power play.

My Forgotten Footnote To The Haghia Sophia

The Byzantine world claimed another devotee when I discovered the architectural gauntlet thrown down by a scorned princess.

My Near Eastern archaeology baccalaureate program ended with Constantine founding New Rome at Byzantium.  I left the Byzantine world undiscovered when I forgot my college diploma in a rental car and professionally drifted toward pop-culture...tv, music, film. Later when I married a Turk and moved to Istanbul it was natural to neglect Constantinople’s first millennium since Ottoman civilization felt much closer to home.  Then in the summer of 2007 near the aqueduct of Valens, I stumbled over a patch of lumpy turf and found a forgotten footnote to the world’s most famous Byzantine landmark.

Opposite the glass Istanbul Municipality building, a triangular plot of land on Atatürk Bulvarı was inexplicably not developed. Perhaps I could use it.  I needed another attraction to round out the Süleymaniye-area walking tour I was creating for National Geographic Traveler. Travel historian Saffet Emre Tonguç confirmed the overgrown archaeological site above the Haşim Işcan underpass was indeed notable if not much to look at. The sixth century remains of Anicia Juliana’s palace church, Haghios Polyeuktos. I needed more detail. Not for me of course, for National Geographic.

A sensational, gossipy twist:

My friend Edda Renker Weissenbacher, author of books on the Chora church and Iznik tiles, added that the massive ruin, mostly unexcavated, represented a social grudge of royal proportion. A little research showed that the obscure-sounding princess Juliana of the Anicii (462-529) was the wealthiest and most aristocratic resident of Constantinople. She could trace her roots to Constantine the Great and counted other Western and Eastern Roman emperors in her lineage. But the glory was coming to an unbearable end. Offered the throne when a revolt seemed likely her husband, a general, ran off in fear. Her only son had married into the ruling emperor’s family yet the commoners Justin and his nephew Justinian ascended to the throne instead.

Juliana struck back with the most patrician of socio-political weapons: faith-based art and architecture patronage.  By 527 she had enlarged her ancestral church, making it the capital city’s vastest and richest. Carved with pomegranate flowers, cherubim, palmette -- and peacocks, the symbol of empresses –  in pointed ways it proclaimed her fitness for the throne.  At the 2006 Byzantine Studies Congress art historian Matthew Canepa described Juliana’s use of Oriental motifs as the kind of “cross-cultural political savvy” that could only spring from an imperial background, someone familiar with diplomatic gifts and spoils of war from the East.

The project also conveniently sunk her fortune into her own legacy. New peasant dynasts planned to expand the empire but they wouldn’t be doing it on her dime! Kateryna Kovalchuk, a Byzantine doctoral student in Belgium I stalked online, directed me to a 6th century story told by Gregory of Tours which describes Juliana receiving the young Justinian on a fund-raising mission. The princess pointed upwards.  Her gold was pounded into tiles and affixed to the church roof.

Recalling that the adjective ‘byzantine’ characterizes elaborate scheming to gain political power, I checked the date of Juliana’s architectural ultimatum. Polyeuktos, described by scholars as perhaps the most decorated building in history, predated the world-changing Haghia Sophia by ten years. Justinian’s response, and response it was indeed, had a much sparer design and was fifty percent bigger. Other irresistible facts: The emperor’s wife and co-ruler Theodora was the daughter of a bearkeeper and a scandalous carny if ancient historian Procopius was to be believed. He sniped in his Secret History that she raised her skirts “to show off her feminine secrets”.  My scorned princess -- yes Juliana was now mine -- built a pious hot-seat for a low-born ruler and his checkered-past queen!

Why hadn’t the pivotal Juliana and her provocative church lived on in the general imagination? A special-permission visit to the library at verdant Robert College in Arnavutköy showed it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I was now officially losing money on the National Geographic assignment as I pored over dig reports in A Temple for Byzantium by Martin Harrison, head of Harvard University’s Center for Byzantine Studies.  Mysterious relics are often uncovered in Istanbul but when foundations were dug at the civic center in 1960 the marble arches found were unusually explicit. Greek inscriptions identified a ruin known through literature to historians since at least the 10th century. (The grandiose verses, from the Palatine Anthology’s collection of classical and Byzantine poetry, recounted the construction and dynasty of its patroness.)

Houseguests came to town.

I spirited them to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, whose Turkish archaeologists also took part in six seasons of excavations at the site. The small H. Polyeuktos section was crowded by a marble column inlaid with amethyst and green and gold glass that once held a canopy over the altar, as well as epigrammed arches decorated with acanthus vines and feathery tails of peacocks. Preeminent Byzantine historian Steven Runciman detected immense meaning in these few Juliana commissions. He thought they display the elusive origin of Byzantine style: the first combination of Roman craftsmanship, Greek balance and Oriental ornamentation, for the purpose of Christian ritual.

If the technique of Polyeuktos was mid-6th century zeitgeist, Juliana upped the ante with its decidedly nostalgic form. Laid out in the Biblical measurement of royal cubit, the floor plan matched a Holy Writ account of King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem – a legendary structure intended to house the Ark of the Covenant and itself modeled after Moses’s moveable Tabernacle. A supremely tough act to follow, even for an emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  It’s no wonder when Justinian dedicated his Haghia Sophia he exclaimed ‘Solomon, I have surpassed you!’  He meant to best the Queen of Kings down the road.

Anicia Juliana has never really been lost to history, or to us.

Along with the throngs, I’ve unwittingly admired her pioneering handiwork scattered in the gardens of the Haghia Sophia and the Topkapı Palace, as well as in the Piazza San Marco in Venice.  Three deeply carved basket weave capitals from the Polyeuktos adorn the western façade of the Venetian basilica, while a majestic duo of pomegranate-flowered piers guard its south door across from the Doges Palace – all plundered during the Fourth Crusade.  Those knights failed to reach Jerusalem to wrest the Temple of Solomon from the Muslims, but returning with Juliana’s inspired replicas I imagine them rationalizing a mission complete.

My own mission has just begun. Juliana awaits underfoot.  Who wants to sign my petition to have the municipality building relocated to a new site?

 

See my Byzantine princess board at Pinterest, and my Ottoman & Byzantine board.