5 Questions with Joy E. Stocke and Angie Brenner, authors of Anatolian Days and Nights

The title of Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey: Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints, says it all. In the book, Stocke and Brenner write about their many experiences that they had over the course of their 10-year journey in modern-day Turkey. Here are some of the things that they had to say about the beautiful and often mysterious country that many Americans wrongly think of as dangerous.

1) Why Turkey? What drew you to the country?

JOY: When I was in my early twenties, a friend and I (Wendy in the book) decided to take leaves of absences from our jobs and backpack through Europe.  We decided to fly into Greece and work our way through Europe to London.  When we got to the Athens Airport we picked the first flight we could find leaving for the Greek Islands and landed on the island of Kos, part of the Dodecanese or Twelve Islands, which tuck into the Turkish Coast.  Each morning, when I woke up, I could see the beautiful mountains of Turkey and learned that a number of people in the small town were I was staying had family who came from Turkey in the 1920s. Greece and Turkey share thousands of years of history. To learn more, I needed to jump across the Aegean and see what was on the other side.  I’m still unraveling all the layers.

ANGIE: I knew little about Turkey prior to going there for the first time, and as (at the time) the owner of a travel bookstore was curious about this exotic area called the Near East. When travel operator, friend – Wendy in the book  – planned to expand her Greek tours to the coast of Turkey and asked if I wanted to join a cruise along the Mediterranean coast, I was in. My feverish planning led me to decide on taking an additional three weeks of solo travel. People would audibly gasp when they learned of my upcoming trip, alone, to such a dangerous place. The fear in their voices was like a red flag to a bull for me, I couldn’t wait to go!

2) What was your favorite thing about Turkey (food, architecture, anything)?

JOY: There are so many favorites.  Absolutely the architecture, which is mind-boggling and which you could spend a lifetime visiting and still not absorb all that you are seeing.  There are ruins dating back to the dawn of time, so in the Southeast you can see houses in the shape of beehives, a packed mud version of a teepee. And in Istanbul, no matter how many times I’ve been there, I am mesmerized by the great domed Agia Sophia and Blue Mosque. Those domes are based on the very first freestanding dome of that size and proportion, the Pantheon in Rome.

And then there’s the food, one of the finest cuisines in the world and also one of the healthiest. Angie and I have had many, many meals in the homes of our Turkish friends. The entire process from gathering ingredients (we once went caper berry-picking with our friend Bekir in the mountains above the Mediterranean town of Kalkan.) to preparing and eating a meal is meant to be savored with friends.  And the ingredients are so vibrant: greens, seafood, chickpeas, garlic, yogurt, dill, cucumber, olive oil, sunflower oil, polenta, nuts, cherries, oranges and lemons, to name a few of my favorites.

ANGIE: Undoubtedly the people. I spent very little time in Istanbul that first trip, so the passion for the architecture, history, and sophistication of the food would come later. As an American woman traveling alone across the country by bus I couldn’t have been more welcomed and looked after. I remember losing my prescription sunglasses on a small boat at the Dalyan River and having them show up at my hotel several days (and a few hundred miles) later. The culture of carefully looking after guests has always been a draw.

The authors of Anatolian Days and Nights

3) What’s your favorite Turkish meal?

JOY: That’s a tough question. I would start with mezes and a glass of Turkish Raki – an aperitif like ouzo, but less sweet. For the mezes I would start with Beyaz Penir – soft white cheese topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs, olives, of course; Patlican, smoked eggplant puree; and lightly battered and fried calamari.

For the main course, I would share a whole grilled fish whose cavity has been filled with lemon and dill, fried potatoes, Cacik – cucumber and yogurt sauce; and a traditional peasant salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, Kos lettuce, topped with black olives, a slice of feta and dressed with olive oil and lemon. For dessert, I’d have a piece of pistachio baklava and a cup of medium sweet Turkish Coffee.

ANGIE: There have been so many, where to start? But two come to mind immediately:

One was during a trip with my then Turkish boyfriend, Tunc, when we’d rented a jeep for the day and drove into the mountain hills above the Mediterranean Sea. We stopped at a village home where there was a woman baking gozleme, sheets of dough much like a flour tortilla, on a stone. They had erected a small platform covered with carpets and pillows and a low table. The woman served the hot gozelme bundled with crumbled white cheese and parsley, a plate of spiced olives and a salad of mild green peppers, onions, tomatoes with lemon and olive oil. After stuffing ourselves like the gozelme, we took a nap.

A second most memorable meal was when Joy and I were invited to stay at Istanbul’s famous Ciragan Palace Hotel when we dined at their restaurant, Tura, where the palace chefs had recreated many of the old Ottoman recipes. We sat on an outside balcony table overlooking the Bosphorus and full moon while a half-dozen wait staff brought us one course after the other, served under silver domes with a seventeenth century flourish. From succulent lamb braised with plums and apricots, to the rose milk pudding, it was beyond wonderful.

4) What surprised you the most about the country?

JOY: I was a teenager when the movie Midnight Express came out, so I, like many people of my generation, imagined Turkey to be a very dangerous place where you risked getting arrested or worse. What Angie and I found, instead, was a country where hospitality infuses every strata of society, where people welcome you into their homes and shower you with affection. I often find myself missing the warmth of my Turkish friends and acquaintances when I return home.

ANGIE: The layers of history and religions that encompass all that is within the borders of Turkey. You read about all this in books, but to be in places crossed by Lycians, Greeks, Romans, Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, Saint Paul, Jelalladin Rumi, and experience the merging of myth and reality, still moves me.

5) What knowledge do you hope that people come away with after reading the book?

JOY: First and foremost, Anatolian Days & Nights is a story of friendship, of what women can accomplish when we share a vision, how women traveling together will venture where we might not go alone. But the book is also about a country that many people know little about, and sometimes fear. Angie and I wanted to show how our own history and culture are connected to the land called Anatolia by Turks and Greeks, the land of the great mother Anat.

ANGIE: When people hear and read our stories and say, “wow, I never knew that,” or tell us that they had never thought to travel to Turkey before reading the book and now want to go, I’m happy. We wanted introduce Turkey to people as you would introduce a new friend. To show the subtleties and quirks which bind us all together as humans, and dispel fear of “the other.”

Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey: Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints is available now at booksellers everywhere and Amazon.com. For more information on the authors, or to attend one of their book signings, please go to their website: Anatolian Days and Nights.

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