Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Underneath the city of old Istanbul, there is a football-field-sized cavern supported by dozens of columns, some decoratively sculpted. This was the cistern of Istanbul, making it nearly impossible to hold the city siege: there never was a shortage of fresh water.

Hardly anyone veer really got a good look at the place, it being filled with water to varying degrees, which makes one scratch their head on several levels when deep inside the place, one comes across this:

It's a pedestal to one of the deeper columns, sculpted to look like Medusa. Apparently it came from somewhere one knows just where. But why is it laid on its side? And what about this one? Why is it upside down?:

Some think these were brought and laid for purposes of spiritual protection, but that doesn't explain why they are laid this way.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Holy Wisdom

After Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of his empire, he built a basilica, which proceeded to burn down. These pieces of stone are all that remain of the original-- whatever is still there is underneath the present building, and will stay that way.

In its place, his son Constantine II had the present Hagia Sophia built in a matter of just under six years, which is Really, Really Impressive. It's the classic of Byzantine architecture to boot, and those architects really knew what they were doing: It has stood firm for the past 1500+ years in a land strewn with earthquake induced rubble-- and Turkey gets some bad ones. On top of that (not to cause a pun) the dome is still a feat of engineering, as its weight has been unsupported by any free-standing pillars, only by the walls of the place. Once upon a time there was an opening at the top of the dome to let in sunlight, but that has been altered.

The inside of the place is a riot of gorgeous mosaics and decorative frescoes, always and continuously being maintained. When the Muslims re-took Istanbul and made the basilica into a mosque in the 1500's, they covered many of these over with plaster. In the 1930's the place was declared a museum, and restoration has been taking place.

If you are of English or French descent, be embarrassed. The culture from which you sprang deemed this place worthy only to be used as a stable in the first world war.

If you are of Scandinavian descent, be embarrassed.

My ancestors were thugs, too.

If you are of Middle Eastern descent, be embarrassed. It was a better-looking building before your ancestors got to it.

One last picture which I love: a fresco of the classic angel of Ezekiel:

There used to be a face where the gold shield is now. I can't decide whether that is good or bad. In any case, I find it ironic that humanity could erect such a place, name it for Holy Wisdom, and then proceed to trash it in various ways. I guess that's an apt summary of humanity, so perhaps the testimony of the museum is its own lesson to us.

Friday, November 24, 2006

In Which A Scot and a Turk Do Business.

We really didn't need another oriental rug. We already have four, and we hadn't planned on spending more money on another. We didn't even know where we'd put it when we got home. We had haggled and settled on some other items, and then Edip asked us, somewhat forlornly, if we really didn't want to buy a rug. "Let me show you what I have. I'll be honest: I am having a cash flow problem. I will work with you. You don't have to buy anything, but just let me show you what I have. What colors do you like?"

After about 25 minutes and a roomful of rugs scattered across the floor, we found ourselves in possession of another rug. It was Rich's fault. I didn't plan on another one, but I was willing if it made him happy. (I live to make him happy.) He chose the color and the price, haggled for it, and we agreed that it was indeed a very beautiful rug. Besides, Edip had made sure that we watched a young assistant demonstrate how the rugs were made so that we could better appreciate the item we were getting.

After the deal was settled and Mustapha set to work cleaning the place up, we enjoyed dinner together there in the shop and discussed Sufism and Calvinism, trying to see where they overlapped and explaining the intricacies of each to one another in the hopes of persuading the other to our point of view. Rich had more or less recovered from the rigor mortis of cold.. We rose to leave, and we discovered that we didn't have enough cash to pay for the rug, but that was all right-- Edip would take us to an ATM, and we could get cash there. Mustapha drove, and we obtained the cash. It was late. Rich's Scottish money-cautiousness bagan to kick in, and he asked Edip for a receipt. "Why?" asked Edip. "We have to have it for customs", responded Rich, whose tread-carefully-antennae were, I could see, quite fully extended in this foreign city at a late hour. Edip simply told us to show up at the shop the next day at around three, and he would have receipts for us. We drove on to the hotel, and parted on the most amicable terms, promising to pray for one another.

I slept quite well until about two in the morning, when I woke up. This wasn't unusual, since our body-clocks were still trying to acclimatise to the location. Before long I could tell that Rich was awake, so I told him I was too, and he confessed that he thought he had hardly slept at all. I asked why.

"I'm very worried about not having that receipt."
"But we'll get it tomorrow. What's the problem?"
"Look at it this way. We're in possession of a rug without a receipt. Edip knows our names, and he knows where we are staying. He could call the police and claim that the rug is stolen, and get us thrown into prison. I hear Turkish prisons aren't very nice," he concluded miserably.
"But the rug is wrapped up professionally. How could we steal carefully wrapped up rugs?"
Rich sighed. "I opened it up to make sure they gave us the rug we bought".
Ignoring this odd bit of information (we had watched the thing get wrapped, and it never left our presence after that), I said, "Well, we do have an ATM receipt for the money."
"There's no proof we used the money to buy a rug!"
"Rich, there were witnesses who saw us buy the rug. There's Mustapha. There's the tea guy from the shop next door. Everyone in town knows Edip; he couldn't have gotten us into half the places we saw otherwise. And we have pictures of Edip!"
"Perhaps they all work together on scams like this! They'd stick together!"

Uncharacteristically, I was not worried in the least about all this, but had begun thinking of ways to put Rich's mind to rest. "All right, here's what we'll do: in the morning, we'll go over to Edip's shop with the rug and just leave it there until we can pick it up along with the receipt. That will show him that we trust him with our purchase, and we won't be in possession of the rug."
"No....I don't think I want to do that...I think the only thing to do is to go over there when we're supposed to and see what happens." (Rich was not about to let an oriental rug out of his grip once he'd gotten it.)

So we simply prayed about the matter, committing it to God's hands and asking Him to watch over us and the whole affair. After that Rich was able to sleep. We got up the next morning and continued with our sightseeing. In the light of day, Rich began to think more rationally: he remembered that the last time he'd bought a rug in Istanbul, he hadn't gotten a receipt for that one either. So unless one asks for a receipt, the custom is that it is a simple exchange that does not require a receipt. That's the way Turks do business. When we went to the Grand Bazaar to buy a few small gifts, that's what occurred there as well. It's up to you to keep track of your costs and declare it on your customs form.

As for me, I observed Rich's behaviour with interest. People of Scots descent are often on the rather paranoid side, especially when it comes to money and security. They possess it in varying degrees, and in Rich's case, it only gets magnified when one is in unfamiliar surroundings. I do also thank God for it, because it makes him an excellent protector and provider. The only thing that upsets me about it is the torment that it sometimes causes him. Thanks be to God that He watches over us and calms our fears, allowing us to walk on when the going gets tough-- even if it's tough only inside our heads.

And yes, we did get the receipts, complete with the name of the shop. And so, I want you to know that if ever you are in old Istanbul, go to the Hippodrome. There is a shop right there called Nihan Carpet and Kilim. Buy your rugs there, and specially ask for Edip, and tell him that Rich and Eleanor sent you. One of the men there had told us, "You are lucky to find him". To this we can heartily agree, and may God truly bless Edip.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Meet Edip.

This is Edip, carpet merchant and former Istanbul U. professor (economics) extraordinaire, who stands out from all the other carpet merchants in old Istanbul (and believe me, that is saying something) for his sheer persistence, friendliness and general camaraderie. Rich and I had headed to the Hippodrome, between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, to look at the obelisks there. It was the first or second item on our itinerary of things we wanted to see just because it was the most convenient thing to see just then, and because Rich was still trying to figure out our map. The weather was pretty fine-- cool, but comfortable, so Rich was in just a polo shirt while I had on my trusty raincoat which doubles as an extra layer, and a pashmina scarf. (I'm always borderline cold). I paused to take a picture of just a street scene with minarets in the background and saw Edip emerging from a building. He had such a great face that I wanted to get him in the picture as he headed our way, but he saw me taking a picture and moved aside. As he passed us, he asked if we were from the States, and then said to Rich, "You must be a professor from the Midwest!" Our mouths dropped open and we asked him how he knew that. He replied that he had been to Illinois and that it was very cold there, so only a Midwesterner could manage shirtsleeves in the present weather. He himself was wearing a black wool overcoat. Besides, Rich's beard was, he said, a giveaway of profession.

It is very, very difficult to avoid the carpet salesmen in Istanbul. There are more carpet shops there than places to drink coffee or buy food. By the time we were talking to Edip, we were already jaded about this, and we had been there only two hours since our plane had landed. The shop owners don't wait for you; they come out to find you, befriend you, share a story about how they have relatives in Chicago or LA or lived in the US themselves. ("Hello, excuse me, are you from the States? How are you?") They get you into pleasant conversation about what you hope to see in Turkey, take a picture of you and your companion and then invite you to come for a cup of tea while looking their rugs. "No pressure to buy", they all say. But very few people come away from Turkey untouched by carpet fever. It's impossible to resist. The danged things are truly beautiful, and while they are not cheap, they are not out of just about anyone's price range, either. Can't afford much? If nothing else, you can buy a remnant of an old kilim made into a cushion cover for about ten bucks. By the time you step into their shop and begin to admire the rugs, they've plied you with wonderful tea-- regular, apple, sage or rosehip, all delicious, and you get to a point where it would seem downright impolite to not buy something. Americans are so accomodating! These folks are very good at what they do, and they do it with great interest and goodwill. You have to play along with it. The only way to ward them off is to say that you've already bought a rug and are not interested-- but that doesn't work with all the other things for sale, like ceramic, leather and gold.

Well, Edip went the extra ten miles for us. We got so engaged in talking-- he was really knowledgeable and interesting-- that he took us to a friend's shop where we drank tea (of course) and he smoked about twenty cigarettes one after the other. Of course he wanted us to see his carpets, but we hadn't planned on buying until the next day. A licensed tour guide, he actually took us to places to see things we would not have been able to see otherwise. He took us to rooftops for a view of the Bosphorus. He took us to Topkapi (pronounced toep-COPpuh) Palace, and argued in the usual and time-honored Middle Eastern manner with the Army guard at the gate, who flatly refused to let us in (it was closed that day).
After tossing some Turkish epithets at the poor harrassed soul, Edip then took us into the Blue Mosque (the prayers were over with) where we removed our shoes and toured the inside. By this time we were old friends and had started talking religion, and we found that Edip was a Sufi Muslim. We discussed comparative theology with him for some time, which was extremely interesting and a refreshing change from American cowardliness on the subject.

The sun had by now gone down, and Rich was so cold that he was finding it difficult to interact (I had taken over the theological discussion on Rich's frozen behalf), so we went to Edip's shop and looked at his rugs. Bought one, of course, after much humble haggling and more tea. At one point the entire floor was littered with rugs, and his poor assistant, a handsome, cheerful young man named Mustapha, had to fold them all up again after we were done. Edip was so pleased that he invited us to stay for shish kebap, which we did. Six more cups of tea later, we had to leave for reasons of...comfort...and Edip had Mustapha drive us back to the hotel.

But Rich did not sleep well that night. Part two of the story tomorrow.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

I've just returned from an awesome trip to Turkey. We got back last night at around 9:30, pretty much cross-eyed from having been up for 25 hours. Now after a good night's sleep, I have baggage to unpack, stories to tell, emails to catch up on, mail to go through and deal with, and a Thanksgiving dinner to cook (the kids already made pies and cranberry sauce!). The problem is that there is so much to do, and I don't want to do anything at all, except veg out and reminisce. Oh well, I have three days to catch up. Happy Thanksgiving! More later.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Magnificence of Serious Science

My husband is an amazing man, in case I have never said it before. Ever since he was 15 years old, he has 'known' that he was going to get his PhD and be a scientist who does, as Meg vaguely puts it, "magnificent things". And he does, too. He is widely regarded as a leader in his discipline and an authority on the subject of how UV radiation interacts with organisms, as well as other arcane things. At present he is co-primary investigator for an EPA project related to the whole greenhouse gas flap, which is endeavoring to take a measure of just how much greenhouse gases are emitted by farms. Some of this gas comes from machinery and animals but a good deal of it also comes from waste lagoons and manure. Rich is in charge of the job of measuring the gasses from the latter. He's had to design a system of special instruments to do this, and the sites measured will be all over the country and postioned on all types of animal farm operations: pork, poultry, beef and dairy.

One of the most crucial of the instruments is something called an odameter. It's for measuring hydrogen sulfide which is what makes the human petard so enchanting. His technicians and postdocs have been busy making sure this instrument is properly calibrated and tested at all times. Their testing methods involve going out to Mexican restaurants for bean dishes and seeing who can max out the meter most gloriously.

This is not exactly a glamorous job, but Al Gore certainly isn't about to do it.

And what does my dedicated husband say about this practise?

"Whatever keeps up morale" he philosophises.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

And a Tip 'O the Hat

to my two brothers, of whom I am very proud, on this Veteran's Day. Our country isn't perfect, but it's worth fighting for. If I were a man, I woulda done it too. Thanks be to God for men willing to put it on the line for freedom, and may America be worthy of you.

It Drives Us Nutz.

This week in Science News (, was a report that scientists have discovered that certain spider venoms fire off the same nerves that respond to capsaicin, which is the active chemical in hot peppers. The article said:
"Different organisms have figured out how to tap this site as a way of telling predators, 'You won't be comfortable if you mess with me,'" he says.

This makes me, and my scientifically-educated husband, crazy. A more accurate manner of describing this phenomenon would be to say, "Different organisms have the ability to defend themselves by utilising this chemical means of self-defense..." Organisms do not and never have been able to "figure out" how to do anything to alter themselves in "evolutionary" terms. They are given certain abilities. That's all there is to it, and anything to the contrary simply cannot be proven. Can we stop talking about evolution as if it were a workable fact? It isn't.

And if you don't agree, I'll have my Yale-educated Ph.D. husband beat you up. So there. Make his day.

And by the way, have I mentioned that I do not like spiders? Nasty things! What will they be like in the New Heaven and New Earth? What were they like before the Fall? Were they the sort of thing that Eve went all soft over? "Awwwww, Adam looook! A widdle cute spider! So cuddly! C'mere you cutey pie!"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I Had a Dream.

I had a dream that I went back to my hometown and saw the first childhood home I can remember. It was nice, and I missed it. I still miss it. Then, in the dream, I went to the downtown area. It was horrid-- all built up with malls and boutiques thick as barnacles on the skin of what had once been sort of a sleepy little antique town. The entire town green and its buildings were encased in a mall building. You had to go into the mall and poke around for the original buildings, like an archaeologist. It was depressing, to say the least. At some point I stood up and loudly told everyone there that they were idiots for doing this to what had once been a great town-- but I could tell by their shopping-and-yacht-club-glazed eyes that they didn't understand a word I was saying. They were all thinking, Well, things do change...what else is supposed to happen? What's her problem?

Here's a picture of the salt marshes of Guilford, CT, the town in question where I did the majority of my growing up:

And here is a bird's eye view of the town green. At least they haven't enclosed it in a mall. Yet.

As much as I miss 'ol Guilford, the people in my dream had one thing right: places do change. I'd never be able to live there today, not after having lived in the Midwest-- even if I could afford it. And people change too. They wouldn't have much use for me, either, I suspect.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Cloak of Invisibility

I happen to be a fan of Harry Potter books. I think they are imaginative, incredibly creative, and insightful in many ways.

One of my favorite objects in the Potter books is Harry's Cloak of Invisibility. This cloak had belonged to his late father James while his father had been at Hogwarts School years ago. James had used it for all sorts of typical schoolboy mischief. Harry had been given it by someone who had known James well (Harry's parents died violently when Harry was an infant). In any case, Harry follows in James' footsteps like the true wizard he is, using it cleverly to achieve his own goals. Even other wizards can't see Harry when he uses the thing. Who can't think of a time when such a gift would come in handy? Have you ever wished you could drift in and out of a place invisibly, or disappear at will, or go somewhere you weren't supposed to with impunity? I certainly have, mostly for nefarious reasons!

When Harry uses the Cloak,though, he needs to make sure that every last part of him is completely covered, or the game is up. Wizards are extremely observant and sensitive. Harry may be invisible, but even then he has to be careful not to give away his presence by knocking something over, or making noises. Not so much as a toe can be peeking out of that cloak!

This is a great picture of what it is to be "in Christ". I always used to wonder about that phrase; it occurs regularly throughout the Epistles. In Christ? How does one get in Christ? If you read the Scripture correctly, this isn't the same thing as being in a club or something. One must be in a Person.

Not too many people think about why Christ had to come to Earth as a baby. I mean to say, why didn't He just appear the way He did to Abraham, as a full-grown man? Why go to all the trouble of getting born, growing up, being in a family, having to learn a trade, eating, getting colds (well, He was a human, after all) and bonking His finger, stubbing His toes in the night on the way to the loo (and by the way, it isn't a sin to say ow. Just try not to say anything stronger) get the idea. Yeah, Jesus did experience all that kind of stuff. Why?

It's because He had to do all those things, yet without sin. He had brothers and sisters, and He probably spent a fair amount of time as the head of the family, as it appears that Joseph was not in the picture in His adulthood. He had to settle arguments, no doubt, and make some decisions that were unpopular. He had to obey silly rules set by the government and the rulers of the synagogue.

OK, so He lived like us. So what?

He did all those things, and lived like us, because He was our substitute. He had to live life sinlessly for you. He had to live a life that was absolutely sinless in every respect, being tempted in every way, so that He would have a spotless life to trade with you.

And this is where Harry's Cloak comes in. Christ wants to dress you up in His life. The reason is that unless you are dressed up and completely covered in His sinless life-- in Him-- then your game is up. If a person would enter the place where the Father is, they must understand that no one will be able to survive the blast furnace of the Father's purity. The Father will not tolerate sin in Heaven, and all that is less than pure will be burned up, and only that which is pure can last. If so much as a square centimeter of your toe or nose is showing, it will be blown away with the rest of you. The Bomb has nothing on the effectiveness of the anger of God against sin.

Are you proud of anything in your life? Don't even think about counting on that as coin to grant you admittance into Heaven. God sees your life as a whole. Would you put on a sewer-soaked suit to wear to your wedding because the cuff was pretty clean? How about if "only" the cuff had been used as toilet paper, and the rest of it was spotless?

No, your life for His. You must cover yourself completely in Christ, like Harry's Cloak. That is what it is to be in Christ. Harry was never able to leave the grounds of Hogwarts without permission unless he was hidden in that cloak so that no one could tell who he really was or see any part of him. So must we be so hidden in Christ that no part of us, not even the parts we think are "good", are visible. The only thing that counts is Christ's life and works.

And that is why sinners like Ted Bundy, Ted Haggard, and me, can enter Heaven. Our lives are miserable failures, but they have made a trade with Christ: His life for theirs. Christ bore the punishment for their life. You get the reward for His.

What do you think? Is that Good News?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Paper Art

My former professor DW sent me the website for a Danish artist, Peter Callesen, who specialises in paper art. I think the guy is a genius. This is real Art, folks: It is lovely to look upon, it stimulates the mind, and causes one to think on wonderful matters that transcend the object at hand.

When I see this piece, I can't help but think of the Resurrection. It's a picture of that intial transformation that takes place when God takes us and makes us into something more than we were when He created us. He changes our dimension. We no longer belong to the world into which we came, but we are different from it in a way that world cannot fathom. In this art piece, what is the next step? Like the story of Pinocchio, the bird now desires movement, life, color..reality! And when that happens, the transformation will be complete...but the bird will no longer be a part of the landscape from which it came.

The paper is what we have In The Beginning. A Hand reaches into that paper, and draws a design. Yet the drawing is without movement or depth. The Hand reaches down again, choosing some of those drawings to be cut apart from its moorings, and made three-dimensional. Now the Artist bends its parts and fashions it into a New Creation. Behold, the old has gone, the New has come!...and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.. Indeed it is not of ourselves, because we could not have imagined such a thing. ....children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

And yet there is more to come...Reality. It is still in the future. But look at what has begun to happen-- surely this is a promise of what is to come!

The rest of Callesen's works can be seen at this website:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


This is Bob Barker?? There is something so eerie about this....creepy...disturbing...I know what it is! He looks like a Halloween costume!

Elegant Things, Continued


I've taken a break from needlepoint to try crewelwork, but it doesn't look like this. I adapted a Florentine intial "G" for a pillow for my mother-in-law, which I am doing on natural colored linen in one strand of needlepoint wool. It's coming out pretty well, but I need to stop reading books and get cracking on it a little faster. Then I have to finish the needlepoint I left, which is almost done. Then I think I will get some proper crewelwork yarn. What I'd really like to do is curtains, but I don't think I'd finish such a large project between now and age 80. I'm pretty squirrelly, attention-wise. I just really love Jacobean designs. Hm. Maybe a purse or something.

I like to embroider, but I intensely dislike cross-stitch because of the projects I had to do for Girl Scouts, which were booooring. What I really enjoy is designing my own, and carrying them out. Here are two embroideries I designed and worked when I was in college, and gave to my parents. They now hang in our bedroom. The first one is a design of roses, and the second is a design of purple and yellow violets. I got inspired by the craftsmanship of tapestries I'd seen in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.: