Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas at our House

This is what Christmas looks like around our house this year:

We had one of these when I was a child, and it was watching the angels fly around ringing the bells was one of my favorite Christmas traditions. My mother brought us each our own as a souvenir of her trip to Austria. She could not have given us a better gift.

You've seen our tree before, but here it is from a distance with presents. We went the "brown paper packages tied up with string" route this year. Actually, we used paper bags from the grocery store and some baker's twine. I kind of love the old fashioned feel of it.

Tonight we went to the Carols by Candlelight service at the National Cathedral. At one point we as we sang Silent Night the lights dimmed until the small candles we each held seemed to be the only light in the cathedral. It was pretty magical, to be honest.
This year's Christmas Village is brought to you by Rice-a-Roni. I started saving cardboard in September for this, just to be sure I would have enough to make a good village. Then I wimped out after three houses. Mr. Awesome gets full credit for the clock tower there (which he made from a random Oreo cookie box).
These ornaments are the best thing I brought home with me from India. I can't look at them hanging like this without think about Whoville.

Welcome Christmas, while we stand heart to heart and hand in hand.
Christmastime will always be, just as long as we have we.

Merry Christmas, friends.

In Dulci Jubilio

The solstice marks the shortest day and darkest night of the year. The sun has been deserting us for months now, slowly edging south to skip along South American beaches and drink mate with the Argentines. I miss the sun and the Argentinos at this time of year, no matter how cheerful the twinkle lights.

I only spent one Christmas south of the equator, and I spent it mostly wishing away the heat and humidity. The giant Christmas tree outside the only Mall in Rosario seemed ludicrous to me as I walked by in drenched in sweat, nut brown from the glaring sun. But even so, it was a good Christmas. My tree was a paper cutout, taped to the wall next to my bed and decorated with drawings sent by primary children from my home ward with notes like "Merry Christmas, and if your birthday is around Christmas, Happy Birthday too!" We ate juicy grilled meat and fresh crusty bread for dinner on Christmas eve, with members who were missing their own missionary that year. I cannot think of a less appropriate time to sing "Silent Night" than the Noche Buena. The revelry lasted all through the short night and into the dawn. At one point the booming fireworks drove my companion and I out onto the roof where we watched the small rockets shooting perilously close to us and lighting the sky with color in short, giddy spurts. We tried to spend the night sleeping, as behooves hard working missionaries, but the revelry outside our little shed seeped under the doors and through the thin walls and into our failed attempts at slumber.

That year, like this, Christmas fell on a Sunday. We saw no other people as we walked the streets that early sabbath morning amid the bright remains of a hundred Christmas parties. The streets were generally strewn with trash but today it was brighter, festive trash that spoke of streamers and fireworks and dancing all night long. It could not have been a more different scene than the snow laced Christmas mornings I was used to spending where medieval carols and twinkling candles stood in for the raucous cheering and midnight fireworks here. I had spent the last six months in that ward, and knew somehow that this would be my last among the members I had come to love so dearly. I will always remember that day as a bittersweet time of parting and goodbyes, amid the joy of Christmas.

Now, several years later, the night-long revelry and dizzying explosions of Noche Buena mean just as much to me as the quieter vigils here on the night when the darkness halts and turns back, banished by the light of the sun on it's return, for we are celebrating the same thing:


Good Christian men rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Give ye heed to what we say
News! News!
Jesus Christ is born today! 
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today! 


Monday, December 19, 2011

My life without a television

So, let's get this right out in the open: I do not own a television. This means, of course, that I am better than you. I look down upon you, judging your television watching-ness with lofty self righteousness. I have risen above this world, my friends, and thrown off the shackles of a soulless consumer driven culture. I'm basically Buddha.

Sometimes people ask me "So, is this a decision you've made or...?" And I have to wonder what that "or..." is supposed to mean. Or...what, darling? Or...was the TV stolen? Or...have you not yet heard about TV? Or...did you forget to get yourself a TV and thank heavens I'm here to help straighten your crap out?

Or nothing, people. Of course it is a decision; we do not "accidentally" not have a TV. Although, I will always be a little tempted to say "oh no, it wasn't a decision exactly but there was this squirrel..." and let them try to figure out those ambiguous ellipses. Suckas.

What people are really asking, though, is "Are you taking a moral stance on this issue about the TVs and the watching thereof?" I so want to say yes to that one. I'm judging you, folks. Judgeity, judge, judge! But moral stances take so much effort, and to be honest I mostly just don't want to rearrange the furniture to fit in a television.

Obviously, not having a TV brings specific benefits to those of us who are brave enough to try it. For starters, rather than waste our time watching TV, we find other ways to...waste our time. Mr. Awesome, for example, is a world-class Bloons player (It's a flash game, there are monkeys, he is forbidden to play it with sound. Don't ask any further questions, please.) And I find myself enjoying the written word more often. That's right, I read! I read a lot! Yet another reason to look down upon you, judging your non-reading-ness. And I would too, but I've got one more chapter in this poorly written 99cent ebook to finish so....

Also, without a TV we never see movie trailers, so we never know what's coming to theaters, so we never go to movies. And after reading that my movie-buff family will probably disown me. Sorry mother. I tried to make you proud, honest! I just... (The ellipses are a theme here, folks. Get it?) This is highly beneficial in social situations when everyone else has seen or wants to see a certain movie and we are not able to contribute to the conversation at all. I'd rank it right up there with mentioning our lack of TV when it comes to handy conversational topics.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Istanbul dört: Would you like to buy a carpet?

First of all, this:
Let me introduce you to the blue mosque. Now, I'll be honest, she's kind of a narcissist. I mean, she totally photobombed us nearly every time we tried to get a picture in the main square.

Some random guy offered to take this photo for us. He later tried to sell us a carpet. Such was to become a dominant theme on this trip: helpful friendly people always want to sell you a carpet.
It's like you just can't get rid of her, that gorgeous building. It's even worse at prayer times when the speakers on her six minarets begin a swirling call and response to each other that fills the air almost forces you to stop what you are doing and realize just how big the world is and just how small you are within it. It is a beautiful and daunting feeling.

And, as we all know, when the world becomes too big and you become too small there is only one cure: lunch. All around the main square are winding side streets filled with carpet shops and restaurants. Nearly every roof overlooking the square has been made over into a restaurant terrace. The choice in food is nothing short of dizzying. On this day, though, having survived Haggia Sophia, the Basillica Cistern, and a photo-shoot with the Blue Mosque all before lunch, we were a little too tired to give our restaurant selection much thought. We simply wandered a short way down a winding alley, avoiding the dozens of carpet salesmen offering us "A look, just have a look! No pressure to buy!" until yellow umbrellas and linen table cloths surrounded us on both sides, muffling the roar of Istanbul traffic and blocking out the bustle of busy tourists and the ubiquitous carpet vendors. Again, it felt like stepping through time somehow, only this time not nearly so far into the past, maybe to the 1920's. And we were alone with the sway of the luminaries and the sound of a record player inside somewhere, while a solidary gentleman with a hat sat sipping wine and puffing a cigar. Then they brought us our food.

Lightly roasted chicken in a creamy apricot sauce with fresh vegetables and warm, flaky bread. And Istanbul's signature cup of freshly squeezed orange juice on the side. They sell it everywhere, that orange juice. In street carts and restaurants, they squeeze it right there as you watch. It tastes like a palace in summer. Everything we ate in that city was fresh, though, and that's Istanbul's secret to success. Even the breakfast we had each day at small B&B we stayed in was delicious because it was fresh. Fresh cucumber slices, fresh tomato slices, and fresh bread with a drizzle of honey or some dark, exotic olives. Oatmeal will never quite satisfy me again, I'm afraid.

After we finished that decadent food we just sat there for a while, pretending to be Europeans lingering over lunch rather than confused American tourists who had overeaten, until the waiter stopped by again, and offered to sell us a carpet.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Beginner's Guide to Holiday Films

I make no pretenses about the fact that when it comes to Christmastime Merriment, I'm pretty much a blackbelt. I know a few of you lesser mortals are probably wondering how I do it. But, let's be honest, it isn't a teachable skill.

However, I can and will impart some of my merry-making wisdom to you in the form of a guide, of sorts, of Christmas Films* (which some of you will realize are a key part of the annual festivities as they can and should be watched while decorating trees, baking, cyber-shopping, etc.) So let me break it down for you into some simple do's and don'ts. Ready? Let's begin.

"Smoky Mountain Christmas" starring Dolly Parton and her hair. When it comes to kitschy, corny, twang infused holiday delight, nothing tops Dolly's 1986 classic. This tender, rollicking classic includes such holiday staples as a witch woman, a mountain man, a cottage full of orphans, and John Ritter. But why are you still reading? You should have been sold at "Dolly Parton".
Memorable Quote: "You shouldn't ought to not like people, but if you're going to, he's the one not to like!"-Lorna Davis (Dolly)

"It's a Wonderful Life" starring Jimmy Stewart. I won't beat around the bush here, this movie is aweful. It's about attempted suicide, people. There's your first clue right there. It's about feeling really depressed and deciding to off yourself rather than go on talking with that weird accent that just drives me up a wall. I'll admit that when it comes to Jimmy Stewart and his vocal choices I am nowhere near the bandwagon. Every time he opens his mouth all I really want is for him to stop saying words! However, my antipathy toward the great Mr. Stewart aside (well, not quite aside. Have you seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? Yes? My condolences.), the movie itself is just annoying.
Memorable Quote: "What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary." (Or you could just stop talking, dude. Either way.)

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss, narrated by Boris Karloff. Here we have all that is good about holiday films. A green suessian creature plotting grand-theft Christmas. The songs are fantastic, the lyrics profound, and Boris Karloff's narration is creamy, dreamy and devilish good. Also, I defy you not to get a little choked up when the Grinch hears the whos singing after he's taken their toys.
Memorable Quote: (The whole movie is one long memorable quote, people, but for brevity's sake) "Then he got an idea. An awful idea. The Grinch got a wonderful, *awful* idea!"

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" starring Jim Carrey. Some movies are bad, some movies are aweful, and some movies should be burned over a ceremonial fire. This thing, this twisted, horrible, mangled reproduction of a Christmas classic is a sin against nature and must be stopped!
Memorable Quote: Nope. Not doing it. I refuse to memorialize a single line from this sick, sick travesty.

"The Muppet Christmas Carol" with Michael Caine. I realize that I lost most of you when I dared insult the oh-so-glorious "It's a Wonderful Life" and you know, that's fine. Those of you that did stick around are now scratching your heads about this one. It isn't classic Muppets, after all. And if you've got a problem with odd accents well....Michael Caine? And I'll tell you, when it comes to this choice even I'm a little confused. But I love this movie. I once watched it on repeat for three days straight while writing 10 final papers for various anthropology courses in college. And still I love it. Still I laugh at the chickens and the rats. Still I love to hate the scenes with Miss Piggy. And still I crack up everytime Michael Caine tries to sing along with the final chorus. Accents aside, Dude cannot sing.
Memorable Quote: "You will love is the AMERICAN WAY! (whispering from Gonzo) is the BRITTISH WAY!" -Sam Eagle

Pretty much any other version of the Christmas Carol, particularly ones starring Jim Carrey (because, after Grinch-Gate, I'm boycotting any and all of his holiday films for now until the end of time. Amen)

"Polar Express" starring Tom Hanks. First of all, kudos to the people who were able to convince Tom Hanks to step into a dimentional realignment machine in order to trap him in a two-dimensional animated movie. The result is just how I like this sort of thing: two parts unnecessary and one part creepy. I like this movie, folks. I just do. I like how it makes me want to drink hot chocolate and ask for a single sleigh bell for Christmas. I like how Josh Groban makes me want to "Believe in what your hear is saying, hear the melody it's playing". I like how Tom Hanks manages to play at least three totally different characters exactly the same way.
Memorable Quote: "The thing about trains... it doesn't matter where they're going. What matters is deciding to get on." -The Conductor (aka Tom Hanks trapped in virtual form)

On the Fence:
"Elf" staring Will Ferrel. I'm conflicted on this one. At first blush it should be pretty cut and dry. Watching Will Ferrel caricature a developmentally disabled person shouldn't be on anyone's holiday to-do list. I still don't see how growing up with what appear to be decently mature elves has somehow stunted his cognitive progress. His elf-dad seems to be a fairly normal guy, after all. And yet, still I watch it with my husband. Still I laugh a bit when he launches himself at the tree to hang the star. I cringe at the many humor attempts that fall flat, true. And Ms. Deschanel looks far better as a brunette (Why the blond here, folks? Why? She can't be the most beautiful person Buddy has ever seen if her hair isn't the color of rancid mayonnaise?). So I don't know. I just don't.
Memorable Quote: "Wow, you're fast. I'm glad I caught up to you. I waited 5 hours for you. Why is your coat so big? So, good news - I saw a dog today. Have you seen a dog? You probably have." -Buddy

"Mr. Krueger's Christmas" -Starring Jimmy Stewart. Because the only way to truly appreciate the creepiness that is Jimmy Stewart is to watch him in this vaguely horrific short film wherein he plays an almost, but not quite, child molester. Done and done.
Memorable Quote:
Clarissa's Mother: Did Clarissa leave her mittens here ?
Mr. Krueger: Oh, yes, yes they're right here.
Clarissa: You hung them on the Christmas tree ?
Mr. Krueger: Well, you remind me of everything good about Christmas so I just couldn't think of a better place. Here... there you are.  

*This is by no means a comprehensive list. So when I fail to mention your favorite holiday film, don't go thinking it's a personal insult. (It probably is, but there's no need to dwell on it) 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Istanbul Thrice: Sultana

It's the afternoon of our first full day in Istanbul. Outside the air is hot and dusty, filled with the sounds and smells of merchants and tourists plying their respective trades. The sun can be dazzling, and the traffic is terrifying. We've just left Haggia Sophia and I realize that I basically have no idea what to do next. I'm such a good planner, usually, but somehow on this trip I didn't get much further than booking a hotel and glancing at a map. When we decided to visit something called the Basilica Cistern, I was mostly hoping for a place to sit down. But when we followed the lines down below the ground, we found this:

 It felt suspiciously like stepping back in time as we descended the stairs to this place. The electric lights seemed to flicker like candles, or torches set just above the water line. Something about it seemed at once menacing and alluring. I had spent all that energy waiting for a time-warp thing in Scotland, and now boom, here it was. Only, I didn't order a trip back to Byzantium darlings.

 At least I got to take this guy with me. Doesn't he look good cerca 500 AD?

Also, this is totally the wrong outfit for a spot of time-travelling. Had I known the itinerary involved stepping back several hundred years, I would have worn less sensible shoes.

 Then Medusa showed up and was all "Girl, those shoes are ridiculous. Get yourself some strappy sandals, stat."

And then they made us their king.

Yes, I know. This blog is weak-sauce compared to the Scotland stuff. The thing is, while Istanbul was amazing, it just wasn't very....funny I guess. Also I haven't yet talked about the food, and as we all know, that's where my best writing material generally comes from. Not to worry, we had some seriously good eats later on.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Black Friday Conversation

Him: "That kid looks like Harry Potter."

Me: "That's a middle-aged woman."

Him: "That woman looks like Harry Potter."

Well, another mad shopping day has come and gone. Mr. Awesome and I were such dedicated Christmas shoppers that we dared brave the lines at...Wendy's drive through. Those lines, I'm telling you! And the attitude of the other shoppers as they just, serenely drove away sucking frosty through a straw. It was intense.

In other news, it is quite possible that, for the first time ever, team J&J may send out Christmas cards this year. I cannot make any promises, but if you want to get in on what could possibly be the most fantabulous postal festivity since flat-rate shipping, please do send me your mailing address.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Trees of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

The Awesome One and I have been married just over a year, but we already have a solid Christmastime tradition. Partially because we like to be crafty but mostly because I do not like storing "things", we make our own tree ornaments each year--disposable ones that do not require being boxed up and saved come February..erm, I mean...January. ehem.

So, here's a peek at our first three Christmas trees, in chronological order.

Tree #1: Affectionately Titled "The Ugly Tree"
The tree is a gloriously preserved fiber-optic number passed down from a sibling who was hard pressed to part with it. The fibers no longer opt, as it were, but isn't it just... I don't know.
A close-ups of the stained-glass cookies we made, to go with the lindor truffles and candy-canes. We felt they were suitably tacky for such a tree.
Tree #2: Which, for today's purposes, we're calling "The Newlywed Tree"
We splurged and purchased our very own, brand new piece of plastic pine. I'll admit, while it has a bit less character than the last, it is at least symmetrical.
We used left-over wedding invitations and the customized "Jennifer & Jeremy, September 25, 2010" ribbon for some of the decorations.
We made better stained glass cookies this year. We used a blue ring-pop for the "glass" to match the more restrained color theme, and blue-raspberry candy-canes.

Tree #3: As yet unnamed, but maybe "Au Natural" or "The Smelly Tree"

Mr. Awesome was such a champ about stringing those cranberries. And after he finished his strand and picked it up to hang on the tree, he was such a champ about chasing them all over the floor as they fell right off the string.
We dried these orange slices in the oven, and only burned a handful so well done us. To the left there you can see some cinnamon sticks and star anise which we bought at the spice market in Istanbul for this precise purpose. They smell lovely.

The stockings you can see in the background are a pair we purchased in Edinburgh, at a lovely little Christmas shop that seemed made entirely for me.

We do store the tree, which is annoying for me. I realize that buying a real tree each year would eliminate that problem, but I think I'm just being cheap. And I hadn't seen the selection of real trees Whole Foods sells when we purchased this one. I love making the ornaments each year, though. It means we never have the same decorations twice, and we get to be all creative about it each year. I have plenty of other ideas up my sleeve for future trees: Origami, for example, or lolli-pops. And just imagine how many things you can do with pine-cones.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ambrosia, and other matters.

Him: So do you think we're like...the cool aunt and uncle now?

Me: Darling, you just taught your nieces how to suck hot-chocolate and ice cream through a cookie. You're set until your brother buys them a pony.


Him: I was sitting out there on the couch listening to you talk on the phone, and I realized I like to hear Jenni talk on the phone. So I brought my computer in here where I can hear you better.

Me: That' odd thing to enjoy.

Him: Well, you sound so excited about stuff.

Me: I'm excited when I talk to you, though.

Him: Yeah, but you talk to me all the time.

Me: So, it's more special for you when I'm saying it over the phone to someone else?

Him: Yep.


Me: Isn't it weird how the inflection in your voice can make anything sound like an innuendo?

Him: I'll inyourendo.

Me: Nope, not what I meant.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Really Bad Eggs

You know how on Halloween there are those trunk-or-treats and some of the people go all out and it's kind of weird but also pretty awesome? So anyway, this happened:

Those swords? Totally real, me 'earties.
The gold is not real, but that Jolly Roger? Legit.

We did not spend a cent on our costumes this year. Which, if you think about it, makes us kind of weird. I mean, what else do we have randomly hanging in our closet? (Saris and turbans, couple of leather masks, a kilt. You know, the basics.)

Notice the rum here. I spent a good fifteen minutes getting the right proportion of red, blue and yellow food coloring to achieve that amber color. And, having never actually seen rum in real life, I'm thinking I nailed it.

The nuance here, sea-dogs! It's obvious these are legitimate world-traveling marauders. I mean, the box is from India as are the Sari and the golden Ganesha, that jade ball in the center is from China, the burgundy fabric with gold details is from Turkey, and those plates, if you can believe it, come all the way from the magical land of Target.

I drew that treasure map with an actual quil and ink.
And then I LIT IT ON FIRE!

This not real.  Well, I mean I am a real person and all, but the blood is fake. I think. Unless the Riteaid is selling real blood. That'd be weird. And disgusting. And illegal.

We're beggars and blighters and ne'er do-well cads,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho. 

Aye, but we're loved by our mommies and dads,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
Happy Halloween, ye scalawags!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Birthday Week

Twenty nine years ago on a dark, stormy October night a tiny Baby Awesome was born into this world. Exactly three-hundred and sixty two days later another child, this time a girl with a flare for melodrama, joined the mortal realms herself. It would be several years, decades even, before the twain would meet. But when they did, the world was never the same again.

And so it is, my spectral friends, that once a year when the leaves change color and the stores fill with fun-sized candy bars, a special festival is held to commemorate these two souls. I give you, Birthday Week!

This year's week-long festival began on a Saturday, when Mr. Awesome agreed to dress in a kilt and spend all day with me at the Renaissance Festival for a second time this season. Actually, this is notable since a) we've never before gone more than once in the same season, and b) we've never spent more than a couple of hours there. Surprisingly, it was easily the most fun we've ever had at the renfaire.
Rico and Bald Guy, throwing knives. Also they juggle. Also it freaked me out and I never want to see someone throw a knife into a balloon when someone else's head is INSIDE IT ever again. (Shudder)

Volgemut, the medieval German band. This I would watch again...and again and again and again. Mom, you would have absolutely loved them and I insist that you visit me next October and see for yourself! (This is not a request, it's a demand.)

Awwww, so tender. Actually, I'm pretty sure a couple got married in the chapel behind us a few minutes before this picture was taken. And you thought we were a weird couple.
Apparently I'm attracted to a bad boy after all...although, for a sloth, this is a very animated face, no? I mean, he looks more....angry? Constipated? I dunno.

I'm obviously innocent here. Look at that face.
And then Mr. Awesome taught me how to shoot an arrow.
He's much better at it himself though. Please notice the action shot here, I snapped this just as the arrow left his hand. Be amazed, be truly amazed.

I took like twenty photos like this. And honestly, can you blame me?

Not pictured here are the authentic foods we consumed (including that most quintessential of medieval snacks: the turkey club sandwich), and two versions of Hamlet we watched, one of which was performed by two mimes. It was one of the best productions I've seen, honestly. Especially the scene when Ophelia walked out in goggles and flippers to drown herself, glaring passive-aggressively at Hamlet the whole time. The layers! I'm telling you. We also tried knife throwing, star throwing, and ax throwing. Mr. Awesome may have me beat at archery, but when it comes to ax throwing? I killed it, folks. My third ax not only hit the target, it hit dead center. Watch yourselves, that's all I'm saying.

Unfortunately, Scotland lost the joust to England (again). This time one of our knights was from Spain, too. It's the old guy who always rides for England; that dude is amazing. Last time we went one of our knights was a girl, so that pretty much rocked. Dame Brunhilde of Germany was one tough cookie. We still lost to the old guy. Jerk.

My actual birthday was the following day, and when Mr. Awesome expressed disappointment that he hadn't been able to think of anything to get me for my birthday, I reminded him that he got me the best present I could ask for:

A man in a kilt shooting arrows at stuff. And Georgetown Cupcakes, of course.

A few days later I got up at ridiculous o'clock in the morning to sneek outside and decorate the car with mini kitkats and reeses. I'll be honest, there was a moment when I was convinced I would be murdered while hanging candy bars from the ceiling of my car. That parking lot was dark, deserted, and creepy. It all turned out okay and Mr. Awesome was nicely surprised when he went left for work on his birthday. That night, as per his request, I made him cake balls. For those of you not in the know, cake balls are basically a way to take regular cake and make it ten times more sugary and disgusting. He loved it.
Did I really fit 29 candles into a single cupcake? Dudes, of course I did.
I am rocking these actions shots lately, check out that smoke.

He would later throw up after consuming too much sugar. I still don't think he regrets it.
That weekend we celebrated with a ghost-tour of Old Town Alexandria, which was just as awesome as it sounds. More so, because we went with Mr. Awesome's fabulous brother and sis-in-law. And then we went to Cox Farms where Mr. Awesome enjoyed several slides, a funnel cake, and a hot chocolate. He was then banned from eating sweets for two solid days. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Istanbul II: Sacred Wisdom

I've wanted to see that building since the day I found out she existed. Somehow, though, I felt certain I never would. What with all the Sistene Chapels and Notre Dames and Westminster Abbeys yet to be seen, surely this one church, so far off the usual track, would be beyond my reach. Besides, even though she was once the greatest Christian church in the world, she's hardly as famous now. She isn't a church anymore, and even her time as a mosque ended years ago.

But when we saw those discounted tickets to Istanbul online, Hagia Sophia was the reason I bought them. And when we woke up for the first time in that ancient, fascinating city, she was the only thing I cared about seeing.

We went early to the gates, determined to miss the crowds. I was anxious somehow, as though if we were not fast enough somehow something would prevent me from seeing her. I'd come all this way and I just knew it couldn't be that easy. The gates must be barred to us. There would be a password we did not know, a gesture or look that would mark us as outsiders, not ready to see her now. And if not now, when? Hurry, we have to hurry.

But the gates were not barred. No password required, and outsiders or no, the ticket price guaranteed us admission. And so, we walked through the old walls to stand next to her. Solid, stable, and plain in comparison to the delicate white mosques that surround her. From the outside, in fact, she is just a red-brown giant, dowdy even, next to the frilly, glittery Blue Mosque opposite. But that's outside.

This is inside.
This is the passageway to the upper levels. There was something truly creepy and wonderful about this bare stone passage. Or maybe I've read too much Udolpho.
This doesn't even give you an adequate sense of how massive it is, but it's the best I can do. Look at those puny little homo sapiens down there. So insignificant

Hagia Sophia has been many things to many people in her sixteen-hundred year lifetime, but she started out as a christian church. Her walls and domes were covered in gold-leafed mosaics. Pictures of the Virgin, Christ enthroned with various empirical personages, John the Baptist, angels, seraphim, and crosses glittered on nearly every surface. But all of that changed when Mehmet the conqueror had her turned into a mosque. The massive building with its incredible dome would remain, but the human figures, the crosses, the intricate and masterful mosaics, would have to go. And so they did. Rail at him if you must, but give him this one credit: rather than scrape them entirely from the walls, Mehmet chose to cover the mosaics with plaster. Saving them, partially at least, from total destruction.

And now, centuries later, they are peaking through again. A face here, a wing there. Some glittery pattern above a pillar. The work of restoring her walls to their original grandeur will take time, and she will never be what she once was. Even so, with just these few glimpses into her byzantine self, one can understand Justinian, the emperor who commissioned her, when he said at first entering

"Oh Solomon! I have outdone you!"

I wish I could have taken a better photo of His face here and they way the artist used hints of pink in the tiles to give Christ's face a human warmth.

Plaster next to mosaic. Doesn't the paint look silly next to the original?

I don't have any photos of me here, but that's probably better anyway. I'm sure I looked kind of nuts with my mouth hanging open and tears in my eyes. Mr. Awesome, of course, can be counted on for sanity and calm in any situation.

Looking out toward the blue mosque from an upper window, you can see its minarets in the distance. That's a sultan's tomb seen through an upper window.
Looking back at that same window. Warning: Objects in photo are much more amazing than they appear.
So listen, I won't bore you with anymore drooling over mosaics and such like. Suffice it to say that Hagia Sophia blew my mind, and since I can't adequately describe it for you, you'll just have to go see her for yourself.