An Istanbul Christmas and the Call to Prayer

The Call to Prayer rang out frequently during our stay. We would hear it first from our hotel room at 6:00 a.m, but by our third day we took it so for granted as to find the sound barely noticeable even though there was a mosque close enough to our hotel that we felt we could reach out and almost touch the minaret from which the call rang.

As a rule business is so pressing in downtown Istanbul that even prayerful Muslims stop reverently for a moment at the call to prayer rather than rush to the nearest mosque, at least during an ordinary day.

Here is a food stand we passed as we heard the call to prayer and a pastry shop from which we heard it as well. The tasty food did not hinder our own moment of reverence.

Christmas in Istanbul, 2012: Geography

The historical importance of the geography of Istanbul cannot be overestimated. The city spans two continents, Europe and Asia, and the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, has always made Istanbul strategically important from both a military and economic point of view. Oil tankers may be seen making their way along the Bosphorus, and a suspension bridge across the Bosphorus now tightens the connection between East and West. The photo immediately below advertises the tour of the Bosphorus available to visitors. (More about that later.)

Islam is of course central to the culture of Istanbul and has been for centuries. I was impressed nevertheless by the comfort a Westerner feels, or at least did seven years ago, moving around the city. European restaurants abound, and it is natural for European Christians to recognize places familiar to them (Nicaea, Ephesus and Antioch) in smaller surrounding cities. In other words Istanbul, despite it differences, remains a city by no means wholly foreign to us.

Next up: European restaurants in Istanbul.

Christmas in Istanbul, 2012

Despite President Trump’s allowing Turkey a stretch of land in Syria, overall relations between Turkey and the United States have soured in the seven years since my wife, Mary, and I spent our Christmas holidays in Istanbul. During that more conciliatory time we could not help notice the sense of comic festivity, sympathetic to the West, on the streets of this thoroughly Islamic country. We Westerners hardly felt as much at home as we would have on New York’s Fifth Avenue at this holiday time, but we did feel welcome. No doubt that level of good humored comfort had partly to do with Turkey’s desire (and need) for retail sales, but Islam in Istanbul then appeared reasonably friendly to us and by no means our inveterate enemy. Since then President Erdogan’s authoritarianism and impatience with secularism in Turkey has cast doubt on the degree of that friendliness.

The Nutcrackers we saw here on the streets of Istanbul were a fitting symbol of the mixture of protective independence and good cheer we remained aware of all during our week long stay in Istanbul.

A Medley of Nutcrackers

Learning to Walk Again

When it comes to deciding where to spend my later years, I stated my preference in my last post for “aging in place,” as opposed to moving into a continuing care facility. I also promised to give you an example in this post of the advantages of this decision, assuming a person is presently healthy enough to do so.

You may wonder how much change there really is in deciding to age in place. The truth is that there can be monumental change if a person is willing to make it.

I am short, about 5’3”, to be precise. The result in my case has been that I now shuffle more than I walk. It was recommended by the good people who now oversee my aging in place (“Friends Life Care”) that I do some physical therapy to correct what is professionally called “gait dysfunction.”

What this means for someone like me, who is not only short but left-handed, is that years of walking primarily on my left leg has forced that leg to bear so much of my weight that walking itself has become painful. Through exercising I am now trying to transfer to my right leg some of the burden my left leg has instinctively been carrying for so many years As a result my right leg, which has always had way too little to do, is finally beginning to carry some share of my walking.

Physical therapy has taught me to become aware of this imbalance and try to correct it. The result so far is that I have lengthened my step somewhat. I have also learned to wheel both my left and right hands around by my sides as, if you notice, most people naturally do. So my gait is, slowly to be sure, stretching out. The trick is to exercise vigorously enough to overcome my shuffle but not so vigorously as to aggravate the pain that still resides in my left leg, which has been working too hard for so many years.

I would like to thank Kate Roberts of Friends Life Care in Plymouth Meeting, PA for suggesting Physical Therapy for me and Genworth Long Term Care Insurance Company for getting in touch with me through partnering with Friends Life Care. The physical therapy is not part of the “Home Health Care” provided by Genworth to beneficiaries whose health keeps them at home. It is paid for by medicare and my supplemental insurance. It is also typical of the benefits available when one chooses to “age in place.”

A Sensible Alternative for Seniors

Back in the day, individuals or couples who could afford it anticipataed their later years by purchasing Long Term Care insurance. This helps explain the fair number of Assisted Living Facilities already existing or springing up, usually in lush, country-like environments that offer banquet style meals, the latest in workout equipment, bus trips to concerts and art galleries, and super-comfortable apartments for which you pay a lot.

These days it is enormously costly for insurance companies to meet their payments on these policies, especially since their payees are living so long. So programs have begun that encourage seniors, if their health permits, to “age in place” without claiming the benefits of their policies. The elderly are urged to cope with the difficulties of aging, in other words, at home. But this is not the “home health care” still available under Long Term Care policies. For one thing, they cost their customers nothing. They do require continuing payment of their Long Term Care premiums, and the aging may begin enjoying the benefits of that expense anytime they choose.

Critics may be skeptical of this appearance of generosity. Naturally insurance companies would dance with glee at not having to pay for the luxurious accommodations or the home health care they promised their Long Term Care customers years ago (and still do) and offering them instead the far less expensive alternative of “aging in place”?

This criticism assumes that luxurious living in fancy facilities or the comforts of aging at home under a Long Term Policy are far more valuable than free programs helping seniors cope with the onset of old age. But are assisted living and the home health care long available under Long Term Care policies necessarily the best means of aging just because they are more expensive? The answer to this question of course depends on the medical situations of the individual seniors in question.

Free programs allowing the elderly to take advantage of “aging in place” initiatives outside of their Long Term Care benefits are sponsored by the same insurance companies that provide them with those benefits. The companies partner with groups dedicated to helping people age at home for as long as they can, and only then benefit from their their Long Term Care policies either in a facility or at home, depending on their circumstances. These outside groups provide trained personnel who can be phoned at any time, who make helpful home visits, and who assess health problems before they become serious–for example, increased chances of falling, early signs of stroke and/or cognitive impairment–meanwhile recommending practical solutions. They also run social events acquainting participants with other seniors struggling with problems similar to theirs. And all this at no cost whatsoever.

I will be highlighting in a future post the benefits my wife and I have already experienced from such a program.

How We Got Here: Ignoring Evidence and Confusing Cultural With Political Differences

I took issue in my previous post with those who live by some fixed truths they are unwilling to have questioned. The idea of climate change has certainly not simply been invented but, so far as I know, neither has it been 100 percent proven. To claim one or the other is an example of what I mean by a fixed truth, or a dogma. Similarly, a liberal education is not about spreading around fixed truths like these two. It doesn’t matter if the so-called truth in question is considered politically liberal or politically conservative because being politically liberal is a lot different from being liberally educated. Liberally educated people do not go around asserting either that climate change is 100 percent proven or that it is a hoax, that the nation’s borders ought to be entirely open or entirely closed. These are dogmas that might go viral for a day or two but finally get us nowhere. The only sensible question is what the bulk of the evidence has suggested and for that we need to listen to what the best informed people have concluded. That is the basis on which we make up our minds with due regard for, and fairness to, such opposition as they may have encountered. The liberally educated do not look for truth in shouting matches. It exists not inside but outside ourselves–that is, in the evidence, and must be patiently discovered there.

The liberally educated also attend to the difference between our political and our cultural differences. I was recently told about a church-going Alabama woman who, when she heard some animal invade her cherished bird’s nest, said that she headed straight to her closet to fetch her thirty-eight. Alabama’s gun laws are among the least restrictive in the nation and yet, if this woman were asked to support legislation limiting the access of Alabama children to firearms, I imagine she might do so. In other words, she could think with the culture of her state in rejecting gun control overall, but make an exception in this particular political case. Similarly, hunting is a much loved hobby for several of my neighbors in upstate Pennsylvania. But I’m pretty sure some of them agree with the recent Pennsylvania law that requires those convicted of domestic violence to hand over their guns within 24 hours instead of keeping them for 60 days as used to be the case. The gun culture is one thing, gun control politics is another, and the two don’t necessarily coincide.

Birmingham, Alabama

Like so many other colleges these days, the one I taught at until my retirement several years ago emphasizes its commitment to inclusion and diversity. I agreed with that commitment. I also agree that proven student behavior like scratching anti-Semitic phrases on blackboards or shouting out the N-word should be punished with penalties like suspension. But the terms “inclusion and diversity” have become so exhaustively repeated on campuses, and often preached rather than explained, that they strike some students still ignorant of history as lacking in enforceable meaning. That may be one reason why blatant cases of discrimination persist on campuses.

I remember admiring a former student of mine from Texas. Basing a paper she wrote on the practical experience of her and her family, she had the nerve to question the universal and automatic correctness of “inclusion and diversity.” She had been brought up in a San Antonio school district where social service taxes, which included school taxes, had risen so high that her family, already burdened with huge college expenses, had seriously to consider moving elsewhere. Their politically liberal neighbors insisted that the hidden cause of the family’s discontent was not financial distress, but objection to the nearby overflow of Mexican immigrants, many illegal, for whom newer and larger schools had to be built.

San Antonio, Texas

My student had clearly been troubled by this accusation of prejudice, which was repeated by her classmates in our discussion of her paper. The evidence she gave for her argument, however, had to do not with the local increase in Mexican immigrants, whom she described with unfailing respect, but with the notably excessive tax increase on hard pressed neighborhood families. Her paper far outclassed those of the many other students who relied on tiring invocations of the words “inclusion and diversity,” presumably on the assumption that my grade would indicate how profoundly I would bow before them.

Mexico to San Antonio

In short, my Texas student demonstrated her regard for discovered evidence as opposed to righteous insult, and her good grade reflected that. The students in our class who, along with some of her family’s San Antonio neighbors immediately accused her of prejudice, were preachers of liberal dogma, perhaps more accurately described as liberal cruelty. Ignoring local culture and particular circumstances, these dogmatic, “fixed truth” liberals are the opposites of the extreme political conservatives whose ahistorical dream of restored American greatness hints strongly of white supremacy. Whether the shouting matches between these two groups will remain the norm of American discourse, and the symptom of a divided culture that it now is, remains to be seen. Meanwhile its fury demonstrates the value of the quieter, more reasoned approach to our problems characteristic of a “liberal” education, the kind that now seems pretty close to defunct.