Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 Book Arts Coterie

So, what are you doing next summer? If you've been thinking about taking classes or exploring book arts in greater depth, I hope you'll consider my week long workshops at my studio in 2010.

Information for the 2010 sessions is now available; I'll start accepting applications from blog readers who want to attend on January 15. If you are interested, please send me an email ( and I'll reply with basic workshop information and a registration form by email attachment. You can snail mail the registration form at any time after you receive it, but it will be held until January 15 when all mail will be opened in the order received.

There will be two sessions, both in July, and attendance will be limited to 6-7 students per session. You'll have ample space to work in, plenty of personal attention, and loads of fun and memorable experiences! This is the third year for Book Arts Coterie, with many students returning year after year. We typically make between 12 to 18 books during the week, and create a stash of papers and fabrics for future book projects as well.

I'll be happy to answer any individual questions you might have; just send them along in your email request. Hope to see you here in the summer of 2010!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Studio

Lynne Perrella throws the best parties, many of them within the pages of her books. The latest addition to the growing Perella section in my resource library is Art Making & Studio Spaces, fresh off the press and finding its way to booksellers everywhere. This work is a celebration of the workplaces of 31 different artists, including the author's space and OMG, my studio is in there, too!

The book features luscious, full page color photos of spaces where artists work, accompanied by commentary on how and why it works for that particular artist. You can't help but pick up a lot of great ideas for arranging your own space, no matter what size it might be. One thing is certain; no matter what medium you explore in art, it is going to take stuff to make it. And everyone in this book has lots of stuff. You'll see something that you'll love. At the moment, I am coveting R. O. Blechman's ladder in his library (page 118), and find myself sketching ideas for a faux version for my own bookshelves.

I was thrilled to be invited to participate in this project. Lynne puts together a wonderful package with everything she does, so I knew it would be a first rate publication. I'm also quite passionate about my work space. When we moved here four years ago, we chose this house because it had the best studio space potential. This is studio number 5 for me over the past 15 years, so I've had lots of time to work out the arrangements in a variety of environments. It took about four months just to unpack and put away all the boxes, but the truth is, something here continues to change every few months .... furniture arrangements, additions and subtractions, supply storage, task lighting, seating. My studio is a living, breathing entity all on its own. And, I have to tell you how much fun it is for me when someone visits here for the first time; well worth the effort just to see the response.

All publications have limits, and there simply isn't room in the book to show all the nooks and crannies that are mentioned in the commentary. One of my summer workshop students, Andrew Borloz, did an excellent photo piece on my studio for his blog during the 2008 sessions; you can visit it here if you'd like to see more. If you'd like to see my studio in person, consider coming for one of the 2010 workshops. Information about dates and curriculum will be posted here by the end of the month.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Book Gift Idea

You remember the stick & band binding, don't you? You take a stack of text pages, put a cover sheet on the front, wrap a second cover sheet around the spine onto the front from the back, punch 2 holes in the spine, secure a rubber band around one end of a stick and insert through one hole, then pull the band through the other hole and secure it around the other end of the stick. You're done so fast, it takes much less time to make the book than to read the description.

I recently made this batch of stick & band journals for a local charity, and was reminded once again of how simple ideas can often be very exciting. This book structure is one that I learned in my first hour of study with Shereen LaPlantz, and I've taught it as part of my beginning bookbinding class, Five Easy Pieces, for more than 10 years. When I'm asked to do programs with large, non-bookbinding groups, this is one of my go-to favorites as I know everyone will be successful in making the project. There's just something magical about using a stack of paper, a stick, and a rubber band to make a book.

The simplicity of this binding also makes it a good candidate for those occasions when you need to create a number of gifts quickly and inexpensively. Whether you go to the effort of printing the inside pages first or use plain sheets for a blank journal, most people really appreciate a hand-crafted book, and you can be pretty sure it won't be regifted.

These particular books have deckled interior pages (I used Rives paper) torn down from the parent sheets using one and a half sheets to make 24 pages. The hand torn deckle makes a wonderful soft edge, but you can also cut the pages straight on the paper cutter. Since I used heavier paper, each page is a single leaf, but I have also made this project in thinner weight text and folded the sheets at the fore-edge for a stronger page. You can use your funkiest gnarly papers for the covers, and then there is the thrill of the stick hunt. These came from my backyard, but you can also use chopsticks, pencils, bamboo shoots, hair pins .... you get the picture. Best of all, absolutely no glue, none at all.

If you decide to whip out a number of these beauties at one time, here are a couple of tools that will make the task go faster: a two-hole punch from the office supply store (Office Depot makes the best one), and a crochet hook. The punch will help you center the spine holes and will most likely be able to punch through the entire book at one time. The crochet hook will help you pull the loose end of the rubber band through the second hole if your connections are tight. European Papers, listed on the supply resources at right, has good quality black rubber bands.

These books retail at Chicago galleries/gift shops for about $25; they can be easily made with quality materials for well under $5. Perhaps they will become your go-to gift favorite this year as well!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Fairy Tale

Long ago, in a land far to the north, there lived a gentle and generous Queen. The Queen loved her people and showered them with many kindnesses, including the annual gathering and renewal of the artists. It so empowered the people that the Queen declared it would be called the Art Continuum, a powerful force that would always be there to sustain and inspire her subjects.

For many years, the artists celebrated their annual convergence for one week each year, and creativity fluorished and it was good. Art was made and altered, bought and sold, auctioned and traded; friendships were cemented, 'zines went forth, book deals were done, and everyone was happy.

Alas, the day arrived when the good Queen had to depart for new lands, to claim her King and apply her deft hand to remodeling yet another castle. The Art Continuum vanished overnight, and though the people cried and wrung their hands, and the artists withered, the Queen could not be persuaded to return to the north lands. Like the four winds, the artists dissipated and scattered over the world, some never to return, some lying in wait, hoping for the return of a better day.

Like so many twists of fate, while the Queen labored mightily in the west, the art gods were busy making other plans for her. The King retired from his subjects and heard a strange calling from the east: words like snow and golf and fishing filled his dreams, and he longed to live in a land where the sun did not shine every day. Together, they explored many great cities and the countryside, seeking the most perfect spot in the entire world to live. The exhaustive search continued until one day, when they realized they already knew where they should go, and returned speedily to the north land of the Queen.

The people in the land rejoiced, for surely this signaled the return of their beloved Art Continuum as well. They called and wrote and tweeted the Queen, but alas, time had taken its toll on her reclaimed kingdom. No suitable location could now be found to host the event, yet the Queen believed in her heart that it must be found so that the people could be restored and renewed once again.

And the day finally came when a location was found, although it was much less grand than the Queen would have liked, and certainly not able to accommodate all the artists at one time. But the Queen did not despair, instead, she had a flash of royal brilliance: why not spread the spirit of the Art Continuum throughout the year, and celebrate the arts each month instead of only during one week?

So this is how it came to pass that Ginny Carter Smallenburg will begin hosting her Small Studio Workshop series next year, and I am so honored to be a part of it. Details will be forthcoming in late January, but you already know you want to be there!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Making Your Mark

Do you sign the books that you make? My bookbinding teacher, the late Shereen LaPlantz, taught us how to compose a colophon at the end of our artist's books, giving the reader information about how the book was made, what materials were used in its construction, and other pertinent details such as the names of the typefaces or fonts used in the text. At the bottom of the statement, you'll typically find the number of books produced and the specific number of the book in hand, along with the date it was created and the artist's signature.

This is all well and good if you are making books with content, but what about your unreadable books? Those blank journals and class models into which you've poured many, many hours of labor, don't they deserve your signature as well? As a producer of mostly books without words, I like to think that all work deserves the final mark of the artist's hand. Of course, you can simply pick up your favorite pen or marker and sign your name, but here are a few ways you can add your signature without lifting a pen to give your books a spiffy, if not official-looking, finish.

Rubber stamps. Some of you are accomplished eraser carvers, so you'll have no trouble creating your own design, and you'll have the finished product to work with as soon as you're done carving! If this isn't your cup of tea, go ahead and splurge on your own custom rubber stamp. Every small print shop and office supply store makes these; just create your art in the size you wish and take it in for an estimate, or choose from their stock template designs. If you decide to have a stamp made, it usually takes just a few days. Order it as a stand alone stamp, as opposed to a self-inker, so you can play with lots of different stamp pad colors when you stamp your books.

A company called Expressionary offers a fabulous line of pre-inked round or square rubber stamps with cool designs and type faces. I recently had several of these made, not only for my "signature" stamp but in address stamps for the studio and my summer workshop logo. The service was fast (about a week) and the stamps produce very clean, sharp images.

A friend of mine visited China a few years back, and brought home chops (Chinese signature blocks) for several of us. They are carved into stone, with amazing handles ... little works of art on their own. I love to use these on my Asian-inspired binding projects. If your city has a Chinatown, poke around the shops and you'll probably find a supplier who can make a chop for you.

You can also consider having an embossed image created with your logo. These look great pressed onto the first or last page of a book (I like to use them on gift journals), and you can also use them in conjunction with metallic seals to create fabulous packaging for your books, or to seal wrapping paper around journals given as gifts. Williams-Sonoma, the kitchen shop/catalog, offers a nice range of embossers that you can personalize with one of their graphic elements as well as a good color selection of seals.

If you make fabric books or other cloth creations, why not have some cloth signature labels made to complete these works? Of course, you could make your own with a personal labeling machine that takes iron-on tape, or you can custom design your label with companies that offer lots of sizes and design options for tags and labels. You can find ads for label suppliers in the back of any good quilting magazine; Sterling Label made the labels shown here. Delivery takes a little longer for these products, but it is a very exciting moment when your personal label shows up in the mail.

Enjoy branding your books with your personal marker!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stalking the Elusive Cigar Box

About six months ago, my friend Jan gave me a cigar box that was an often seen brand, but in an unusual size: the lid was only 3 1/2 x 5, roughly the same as a standard index card. Many of you know that I have taught classes using cigar box lids as book covers, requiring 2 identically sized book covers for the project. I was so thrilled with this petite gift that I immediately set off in quest of a second identical box.

Apparently I live in a heavy smoking area, for there are no less than a dozen cigar & smoke shops within a ten minute drive from my home. A year or so after moving here, I made two field trips just making the rounds of all the possible sources, noting which shops had the cooler brands, which ones had the most gorgeous wood boxes, and what they charged for them. (Why is it that the shops with the highest priced boxes put the money directly in their pockets instead of the cash register? Hmmm..... ) This helped narrow the list to about 5 or 6 shops that are now my regular haunts when I need to build stash.

After scoping out the usual suspects, I found only one carried the cigar brand and size I was seeking and, alas, they did not have any more empty boxes. They had a full box, but it was securely shelved in the walk-in humidor, and I was assured it wasn't going anywhere until all the cigars in it were sold. So, yes, I did the math -- 10 cigars at more than $10. a pop -- and decided not to make the book with the hundred dollar covers at this time. Thus began my new adventures in stalking.

This is a slow moving cigar, folks. I popped in every two weeks in the beginning, and never found more than one cigar gone from my target box. After a few months, when there were five left in the box, I stepped up my visits to weekly. No trouble to visit often. This particular store always has a wonderful collection of the all-wood boxes, which they price at a dollar or two each, so my supply shelves are currently filled to capacity with beautiful all-wood boxes. When we got down to two cigars, I started going in every other day. The day arrived when only one cigar remained. I could not stand the drama any longer and purchased it along with the box. Success at last, after five months of stalking! Now, does anyone out there want a nice cigar?

So, now I am working on this book and it is nearly ready to be prepped for sewing. I added some collage elements to the covers on both sides, and decided to use a multitude of checkerboard and stripe papers as signature wraps because I love the way they create patterns on the exposed spne binding. Stay tuned for the finished product!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Make Your Own Soft Weights

Don't you need something new in your tool box? Here's a little project that will keep you busy this weekend, and it includes a field trip.

We covered the virtues of using brick weights for book projects in earlier posts, but there are some projects that just don't lend themselves to being bricked. Box construction falls in this category; if the box is small, a brick is just not going to fit inside. So, whip up a few of these soft weights, and you'll be all ready to press the next time that odd shaped project appears.

You'll need 2 pieces of sturdy cotton fabric, 5" wide x 6" high. Use solid colors or fun fabric prints. Place the right sides of the fabric together and hand or machine stitch on 3 sides, using 1/2" seam allowance. Trim the seams to 1/4" and zig zag, serge or overcast the seams to finish. Turn right side out. Here's an option: blanket stitch around the three sewn edges on the outside, leaving extra thread to stitch the final edge when it is closed.

Fill a small (3" x 5" or thereabouts) plastic zip lock bag with copper coated premium BB's, about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds. Close the zip lock and slide it inside the fabric bag. Fold the remaining open seam edges to the inside, finger press, then slip stitch the edges closed. Complete the blanket stitch around the last edge if you chose this option.

Ta Dah! You've made your very own soft weights! Now, where does one buy BB's? Why, at a Man Store, of course. I went to Cabela's because we have a giant one nearby. As soon as I walked in the door, I could sense the testosterone rising, and felt strangely compelled to start scratchin', belchin' and droppin' my g's .... Just go to the gun department, get a nice big bottle of BB's and then get the heck out of there before you find yourself looking at the fish lures and wondering if they would make nice earrings or book embellishments. Enjoy your field trip and your new tool!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Marbling 101

After several months of collecting beautiful hand marbled papers from my travels, I decided to take the plunge and try making my own. Learning to marble has been on my wish list for some time now, so I set aside a couple of days in August.

First of all, you have to do a little planning and procuring in advance. You'll need to round up the tools and trays needed, in addition to the paints, paper, marbling gall, and other materials, and massive amounts of paper towels and newspapers. I've always admired the marbling done by Galen Berry; last spring I purchased his instruction book for marbling at Hollanders, and I liked his approach, so I chose to buy most of what was needed from Galen. I used some plastic drawer units from Target for my marbling trays, as I wanted to work small for this first batch of sheets.

The day before you plan to marble, you need to prepare the size and the paper. I used carrageenan for size; it comes in powder form and is mixed with water in a blender, then poured into a larger container with more water added. (I made a gallon for my session, in a recycled plastic iced tea container.) The paper was sponged with an alum mixture on one side, then dried for several hours. To prevent wrinkling, I pressed the dry sheets in my book press overnight. I made my brushes by banding plastic broom sticks together, making one for each paint color.

The next day, I mixed up some paint colors and began my adventure. The first sheet I pulled was exciting for me but technically not wonderful; some air spots between the paper and the paint didn't yield the even results I would have liked. However, by my third sheet, I had found that using a small plastic squeegee on the back side of the paper while it rested on the size would remove the air bubbles. My sheets became progressively better.

I grew more adventuresome with using the combs and rakes, trying to master the basic gel-get and non-pareil patterns so I could move on to peacock feathers and other exotic designs. Creating these patterns was the most fun, as you can achieve surprisingly sophisticated results with relatively simple, layered moves using the tools. The small tray and paper I was working with began to feel limiting as the session progressed, so I made a note to find a larger tray for the next session.

What fun I had in the morning! I pulled about 10-12 sheets, and was quite pleased with them. Then, in the afternoon, the chemistry began to change as the August humidity found its way into the studio. I tried a new batch of size, and began adding more marbling gall to the paints, but alas, the colors began to sink to the bottom faster than I could pull them from the surface. All of these observations were carefully recorded in a notebook that I kept nearby; sometimes in these sessions, we need to be as much scientist as artist. When you're embarking on a new venture, it's good to document the process.

So, here are a few of those first sheets. All in all, a fine first day! Stay tuned for more as I continue to explore this exciting media.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Flying Carpet, Landed

I didn't want to leave you wondering about the Turkish carpet we purchased in Istanbul. It arrived about two weeks ago, not by post but by personal delivery from the salesman in the store! He was visiting the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for a carpet show, and thought he would just stop by Munster on the way and drop it off.

After the initial shock of getting that phone call, I had a huge wave of guilt for not believing the story about his brother who lived in Chicago, and how that translated into a special price on the carpet, just for us. My bad.

So the rug was, indeed, delivered in person, AND it was the same carpet we chose. Amazing! Don't you just love it when everything works ?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Of Sighs and Good-byes

The Doge's Palace in Venice is undergoing some renovation; in place of the usual boring scaffolding, the Venetians have chosen to wrap the entire area in a bright blue vinyl covering, featuring the sky and some figures. It definitely stood out among the other buildings of Venice; we could see it during our approach on the ship, and experienced it first hand when we walked across the footbridge that overlooks the famous Bridge of Sighs.

The Bridge of Sighs is entered through the Doge's Palace. If you were one of the unfortunates whose name had turned up on an anonymous note as described earlier, you were tried in the court rooms of the Palace and then went directly to jail, via the Bridge. The Bridge was your last look at lovely Venice (hence the name, Bridge of Sighs) as you headed to the hoosgow, never to return. I took a surreptitious photo of the view from the tiny window as we were crossing over; I wonder how many other last views also consisted of a gondola and a jeering crowd?

So this, dear readers, is the end of my travels in the Mediterranean. While you've been vicariously enjoying the tour, I've been busy learning some new book making skills, firming up plans for classes in 2010, and setting the calendar for the Book Arts Coterie, the summer week long workshops held in my studio. I'll be posting more details in the days to come.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Venetian Blind

Our brief afternoon in Venice included a gondola ride because, well, we were there and that's what people do. A few hundred years ago there were literally thousands of gondolas operating in Venice, today there are only several hundred, with just a handful privately owned. Operating a gondola requires a permit that is granted after years of training, apprenticeship programs, and formal testing, and is often passed down from one generation to the next within a family .

Before we arrived, I thought each gondola would be an artistic visual delight, perhaps reflecting the personality of the gondolier or the owner but, no, they are all remarkably the same. All are painted black, both a tradition and a law, and share the same design built from 280 pieces of wood of seven different types. It is propelled by an oar, not by a pole as you might have seen in every Venetian gondola parody ever written. The waters of the Venice canals are so deep, there isn't a pole long enough to do the job. The goldolier stands on the very back of the boat, steering with the magic strokes of the oar that keep it gliding along, and he never forgets to duck when he goes under the footbridges. (OK, maybe SOME of them forgot once, but never again.) They banter back and forth with the other gondoliers in rapid Italian, because you are never more than a few yards away from another gondola, discussing the weather, the soccer match, and the fashion mistakes of the passengers.

The gondoliers are also oblivious to your fears about tipping over. There were 5 people in our little boat, and every time someone shifted to take a photo or get into a more comfortable position, the rest of us held on for dear life, certain that we or our cameras, glasses, hats and totes were goners for sure. Once we got our gondola legs, however, we relaxed and began to have tourist fun, waving and calling to the pedestrians going over the bridges we were passing under, and hurling the traditional "eh, paison!" to the second gondola holding the rest of our group as we took turns passing each other. We saw all sorts of intriguing passageways, back doors of buildings whose fronts we would never know on this visit. Shown here are a few photos taken along the way.

After the gondola, we were off to see the Doge's Palace, the quintessential Venetian structure where nearly every surface is embellished but in a lovely, highly decorative way. We were not allowed to photograph inside the building, although I did sneak in a photo while crossing the famous Bridge of Sighs from the inside view. Housed inside the palace are some of the largest paintings you will ever see, all magnificent, very ornate, laden with symbolism and religious meaning, looking just as they did in the slides from your Art History class. The Doge and his posse had a system for routing out the sinners or thieves in their midst: a mail drop where any citizen could write out the complaint and post it anonymously to them, and they would take it from there. The stone face above is the repository for these deadly missives. Gee, do you think someone might have ever used this great system for evil?

We went to a glass blowing demonstration held at one of the hundreds of blown glass galleries and shops located in Venice; the shop owners invited us to stroll around after the demo and then discreetly kept turning off the lights behind us as we walked to the next room. It was nearly 6 pm on Sunday and they were so ready to be done with us. So, no glass purchases here; in fact, no glass purchases this day anywhere, because the shops really DO close at 6. Time to say good-bye.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Allow me to set the stage for one of the most beautiful Sunday mornings I've ever experienced. We are sailing into the port of Venice, last stop on our tour. It is about 9 am in the morning; the sky and weather are perfect, there is a light breeze. The sound of church bells can be heard from a distance; just a few at first, then many bells from dozens of different towers. The city is just coming into our view and we are on the top deck taking it all in, spellbound.

Suddenly the air fills with the voice of Andrea Bocelli, singing Time to Say Goodbye; the ship is playing his music over the sound system at full throttle, and coming into sight are the rooftops, houses, and foot bridges over the canals. We're actually here! Our ship is so tall, and the city is so dwarfed by comparison, I am reminded of the Thorne miniature rooms at the Art Institute in Chicago, and feel I am a curious bystander watching a tiny Venice start its day.

As we sailed on, the streets became increasingly more populated near Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Square. The lagoon began to fill with water taxis and other boats going about the business of getting around in a water town. We continued our approach and ultimately docked around 10 am. We were all anxious to leave the ship and get out into the streets with the rest of the tourists, as we had a tour of the Palace and a gondola ride scheduled. Alas, it is Italy, and the schedule has become a suggestion, not an actual timetable.

A half dozen or so passengers had become ill earlier in the voyage (not swine flu), and had been isolated from the rest of the ship, but the Italian health officials were not satisfied. Thus, before anyone could leave the ship, we had to complete a questionnaire and have our temperature taken ... all three thousand of us. This doesn't happen quickly in Italy (or, I suspect, anywhere else.) Several hours after our scheduled departure, we finally disembarked and set off on our tour. We took our gondola ride, saw the Doge's Palace (more about these in the next post), went to a glass blowing demonstration and then finally, finally, it was free time to walk and shop.

Armed with my list of a dozen paper stores which my spouse had carefully mapped out in a plan of attack, we quickly discovered that retail stores close at 6 pm on Sunday in Venice. As we were leaving for the airport at 7 am the next morning, there would be no paper shopping in Venice on this visit. One should always have a reason to return!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


After Kusadasi, our travels took us back to Greece to visit Athens, where they know a thing or two about temples and pleasing tempermental gods. Temples, and parts of temples, are all over the city, so in our short given time we had to pick just a few to visit. Our first choice was the Temple of Poseidon, high atop a hill well outside of Athens, giving us a chance to explore the Greek coastline as we traveled by bus to our destination. This spot was a favorite of Lord Byron, who carved his name onto a section of one of the columns, and it is, indeed, a lovely sight. There is a wonderful breeze that flows through the area, almost making you think you are at sea instead of on land. Best of all, because of the location, there are far fewer tourists than you will find in the city, giving a little extra time to drink in all this beauty at your own pace. This is how we began our day.

Next stop was the Acropolis. This one takes some effort to reach; the bus can only take you so far, and then you must climb to the top of the hill on your own. Another hot day, another path paved with slippery slabs of marble that someone thought was a good idea back in the day. Not the best surface to walk on; many people spent most of the hike up cursing their shoes and other wardrobe choices for this adventure. I have to put in a shameless plug here: I did this climb, and every other walk in the Mediterranean I've written about, in a pair of flip flops. Happy feet every day.

Once at the top, a huge surprise .... how can this be? The Parthenon has been here for thousands of years and it is still under construction! Scaffolding around the structure, piles of broken pieces of statues and columns, and no landscaping to speak of. The view of Athens from here, however, is spectacular, and well worth the hike. Although we did not visit the adjoining museum, we were told that most of the actual structure is now housed there to protect it from the elements.

Back down the hill again, we made our way to a small tavern where I had the best Greek lunch ever, with all the classics: spanokopita, moussaka, salad with tiny tomatoes that were as bright red inside as their outside skins, spicy beef, and many other dishes. Waiters would rush by and, seeing a vacant space on your plate, immediately toss on more of yet another yummy dish. The entrees ended with a round of Greek spaghetti, and for a brief moment I was back at Skyline chili in Cincinnati again.

After lunch, we strolled over the the Plaka to see what the shops had to offer. Alas, no paper to be found. Enroute we passed this colorful street art and, as I don't know any Greek, I apologize in advance if it says something naughty. We were delighted to find a shop that sold beautiful decorative glass trays, plates and bowls that we have purchased in Chicago -- the artist is Greek, and we had by accident found the source of her beautiful work.

Our trip is drawing to a close; we have only one more city to visit in the next post!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


If you love a good crumbling column or two, then you would enjoy a visit to Ephesus in Turkey, the ancient Greek city where the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was located. All that is left of the Temple now is a nice teetering column, but the rest of the town still provides plenty of visual wonders to enjoy.

I confess, I was not a student of history in my formative years, and somehow Ephesus just slipped right under my radar. (However, I did pay attention during Pompei, as you know from the earlier post.) Ephesus is reached from the port of Kusadasi--just rolls off the tongue, yes? It's a pleasant drive through the Turkish countryside once you leave the port; along the road I saw potentilla bushes growing wild and beautiful .... why don't they look like that in my backyard at home? This was another very hot day, well over 100 degrees, and there were no shade trees in sight. I was sorry not to have brought an umbrella for heat and sun protection, as the usual sunglasses and hat weren't doing a very good job.

We walked the ancient streets lined with slabs of marble that once graced the sides of buildings. Ephesus was a sizable city at one time; makes Pompei look like Munster compared to Chicago, and it had everything ... theatre, library, shops, dozens of temples and, as a consequence, lots of crumbling columns. Our only respite from the heat was a tour of the hillside excavation where a massive home is being reconstructed; it was under cover and provided a much needed break from direct sun. Some of the interior rooms are shown in the photo above; it is remarkable to see firsthand.

After spending several hours exploring Ephesus, we dragged our wilted bodies back to the bus, but not before stopping at the tourist shopping area where I saw this wonderful sign, and where I successfully bargained in the parking lot for 20 bookmarks that are woven miniature Turkish carpets. The book club will love these!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Flying Carpets

First, let me set the stage for the seduction. You're traveling in Istanbul and you've had a long, hot day of palaces, mosques, and the Grand Bazaar. The temperature is over 100 degrees and you've done a week's worth of walking in one day. Your water bottle was emptied an hour ago, the back of your neck is soggy from the humidity, and your feet are begging for a break. That's when the silver tongued Turkish devil invites you in for a glass of cold apple tea or a beer, and offers you a seat in an air conditioned room several floors above the crowds.

Welcome to the Turkish rug salesroom. We were drawn in by the warm hospitality, promise of education about the weaving process and, well, because we just wanted to sit down for a bit. As you are well on your way of enjoying your tasty beverage served on a silver tray, the story begins. First, you marvel at the silkworm cocoons and how the cool, broom-like tool pictured above is used to find the beginning thread of each cocoon. Next, the rug weaver, usually a young woman, arrives with her loom and shows you how deftly she ties the double knots to secure the fiber. Working from a drawing, she creates the pattern one row at a time.

But then it is show time. A team of young studs arrive and start pulling carpets from the inventory at the far end of the room. Whoop! the rug rolls out on the bare floor area in front of you, followed by a another on top of that one, and another still .... carpets in colors you're seeing for the first time, beautiful lush silks and wools, simple patterns, complex florals, whoop! whoop! one rug after another until there is a great teaming pile of overlapping rugs. The guys especially love to roll out the long hall runners, timing their release so the fringe ends just at your toes, a red carpet just for you! They save the little ones for last, because they've perfected a tossing technique that spins the carpet around two or three times like a pizza thrower before it lands on top of the pile. Real theatre!

If you find yourself in this situation, you must not let your curiosity get the best of you. I made the error of asking the price of one I saw fly by, and that was all it took to engage the salesman. We moved onto his radar screen and couldn't shake him for anything. The original price quoted was dropping by the minute "just for you, because you are from Chicago where my brother lives!" We hadn't even thought about buying a carpet on this trip, so it was easy to appear uninterested. After 10 minutes or so, the salesman followed us down the three flights of stairs to the door and we walked.

We strolled around the Grand Bazaar for about an hour and I completely forgot about the carpet. Not so, my spouse. Just out of the blue, he bet that he could get the carpet for 40% of the tagged price. We were approaching the meeting place for our tour which, not uncoincidentally, was just outside the carpet store. I told him to go for it; that I would stay outside to remove any emotional involvement with the purchase.

Thirty minutes later, he emerged from the store with a receipt and a triumphant look .. he had done exactly what he set out to do. Too large to bring home on the plane, the carpet is being shipped to us, but apparently it doesn't fly, it comes by very slow boat in about 10 weeks. Every night I pray to the carpet gods for these things: one, that it will actually arrive, and two, that it will be the same one I saw go flying past. I will post a photo when it arrives!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

As you pull into the port of Istanbul, you know you're not in Kansas anymore. The skyline is distinctively different, with mosques and towers spread all over the city, and it just looks more, well, exotic, than most of the other cities in Europe. Istanbul is quite large (over 12 million people) and the traffic is tremendous, so it took a while to get to our first destination on the tour, the Blue Mosque.

You must be appropriately dressed to go into a mosque--no shorts above the knees or bare arms, and no shoes, but that works out just fine because the floor is lushly carpeted inside even though the area is massive. The guy with the vacuum cleaner must have to start very early in the morning just to finish up by dinnertime. I spent most of my time inside the mosque looking up at the beautiful tiles and wonderful, larger than life letterforms on the walls, pillars and ceilings.

Historically speaking, the Turks have been there and done that for just about every major culture -- Romans, Greeks, Ottomans, and more. This makes for some interesting architecture as a result. Great cathedrals which later became mosques, then reconverted to churches, and then to museums. Hagia Sophia is one of these structures, and it was the next stop on our visit.

From Sophia, we went to Topkapi Palace, home of the sultans and their families during the Ottoman empire. The compound on which the Palace sits is almost as large as my little town here; once you've entered the gates, you stroll down a wide promenade through beautifully landscraped grounds, past a row of shops including a post office, and then finally you reach the Palace gates. The group of buildings that make up the Palace appear simple in contrast to what goes on visually inside. Colorful tiles are everywhere, pattern upon pattern, in every room and space available. We were able to tour the harem quarters; one of the photos here shows a bedroom. Incredible!

There is also a museum within the compound that displays swords and jewels and ancient artifacts, including books. From Topkapi, we went to the original mother of all shopping malls, the Grand Bazaar, with over 4,000 booths or stalls selling everything under the sun, with heavy concentration on jewelry, scarves, handbags, textiles and cheap souvenirs . We decided to save our money for a more interesting purchase, which I'll tell you about in the next post.