OK, I admit it. I was a little skittish about Marina going off on a solo trip to Turkey.
Luckily, when I voiced my concern, she didn’t say, “Mom, get a life.” Instead, she said, “Mom, get a book.”
When she went to Belgium, I read everything I could on Belgium. When she went to grad school in London, guess where my armchair travels took me? I followed her adventures in Croatia and Slovenia on Google. But this trip to Turkey, well, I needed a library!
So off to Schlow Centre Region Library I went. The first book I found was Snow by Orhan Pamuk. This book won the Nobel Prize for literature but a wave of suicides, Islamic radicals, and a military coup staged during a snowstorm are not the gentle read a mother needs at a time like this.
The next book had to be my ticket to tranquility. The Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq is a series of letters written by Busbecq, a diplomat from western Flanders, about his travels to Constantinople in the 1500s, when Suleiman the Magnificent ruled the Ottoman Empire. Whoops, time warp. Constantinople, the only city that lies in both Europe and Asia, is now called Istanbul. To make this work, I needed a few props—namely, a map of present-day Turkey, so I could follow my couch-surfing, hostel-hopping daughter—and a map of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1500s. No sweat.
Busbecq is credited with introducing the lilac to Western Europe so I was excited to read about his plant discoveries. Surprisingly it was fauna, not flora, most often mentioned in his letters from Turkey. He was disappointed that he arrived in Constantinople just after the city’s prize “camelopard” died. The “camelopard,” with a head and neck like a camel and spots like a leopard, is now known as the giraffe. On his way back to Vienna, he brought a menagerie that included something called an ichneumon. The ichneumon (now known as a mongoose) apparently buried itself in mud to surprise and kill dragons, crocodiles, and venomous snakes.
So far, my reports from Marina have been giraffe-, ichneumon-, and dragon-free. But both travelers visited Hagia Sophia (Busbecq, when it was the Church of St. Sophia—then it became a mosque and now, when Marina visited, a museum). I’m guessing she ate plenty of yogurt. Busbecq wrote about “yoghoort”, describing it as sour milk to which cold water and breadcrumbs are added, and said it helps to quench thirst. After Constantinople/Istanbul, Busbecq took a northern route while Marina sought southern beaches. They both traveled in the heat of June and July, and their paths crossed again in Cappadocia—“Nothing but me, the birds, and the rocks,” she emailed. And the spirit of a Flemish traveler. Laurie Lynch
Homescapes: My friend Chris never met a plant she didn’t like. I, on the other hand, can be terribly opinionated when it comes to what goes in my salad, on my plate, or in my mixed border. Being “homeless” for the last several years has made me appreciate borrowed landscapes all the more.
Right now, for example, I’m brewing up a batch of elder blossom cordial. I didn’t grow the elderberry bush. A few years ago, I discovered it on a bike ride and stopped to ask the owner if I might have 20 flower heads. He agreed and I returned with a stash of cordial for him. Months later, the house was sold.
The bush was hacked down last fall. This summer, it came back with a vengeance and is covered with cream-colored clusters of flowers the size of Frisbees! Talk about blossom envy. The other morning, I went for a ride and saw a tall fellow washing windows at the elderberry house.
I pulled my bike in the driveway, hopped off, and walked over. “Would you mind if I picked a dozen of your elderberry blossoms?”
“Not my house. It is my daughter’s. She’s in the hospital. Just had twins. She won’t have time to worry about a few flowers. Help yourself.”
On the same ride, I call it Houserville Loop, I took a photo of a hillside planting of Yucca filamentosa that reminds me of an explosion of fireworks—and frankly, it’s the first mass planting of yucca I’ve ever seen.
Now there are a lot of good things to say about yucca. It is a native plant. It is deer resistant. It is tough as nails. It provides a dramatic accent. If you’re trying to create a Southwestern-style landscape to go with your stucco-and-red-tiled roof abode, it provides the look of Albuquerque while withstanding the bluster of an ice storm in Altoona.
I, on the second hand, have a long-time vindictive grudge against Yucca filamentosa. It has a rosette of sword-shaped leaves with spiny tips—one variety is actually called “Spanish bayonet”—and the name couldn’t be more apt, believe me. I first met Yucca filamentosa when I bought my first home. Situated in Mount Pleasant, SC, the house had a pool that was landscaped by a raving maniac! Right next to the pool deck was a glorious specimen of Yucca filamentosa. Its saber leaves never failed to stab me in the backside when I walked by wearing only a bathing suit. Wrong plant, wrong place.
Written on Slate: “For a well-rounded education you could try curling up with good books and bad librarians.” –Richard Needham