Burj Al Babas: The Love Child of Cinderella’s Castle and Kudzu

The castle-like homes are interesting. I’ll give them that.

So, I was fiddle-farting around on YouTube, as one does, with no particular destination in mind, when I stumbled across a music video entitled, MEDUZA, Becky Hill, Goodboys – Lose Control (Official Video). I’d never heard of them. (Her?) So I figured, what the heck. Give it a listen. If I didn’t like what I heard, I could always move on to something else.

That, that right there, is how one winds up spending a half day on YouTube. Just sayin’. But I digress…

Anyway, the song isn’t in my preferred genre, but it was a catchy tune. It would make a great ring tone, or something to be danced to at some club when you’re 20. (Do people go to clubs anymore?)

But what really left me glued to my monitor was the video itself. It was filmed in this strange place that looked, in my opinion, like the love child of Cinderella’s Castle and kudzu.

This place is so ugly that it’s beautiful. And it didn’t look computer generated. I had to find out where it was, if it actually exists.

With hardly any sleuthing whatsoever, I discovered that the video had been filmed in a housing development called Burj Al Babas, which is located in Turkey, half way between Istanbul and Ankara, the nation’s capital. That wouldn’t have been my first guess. But wait, it gets even better.

The castle-like homes are interesting. I’ll give them that. They do have turrets, and I’ve always wanted a turret. If I saw one such home, I’d find it delightful albeit quirky. It’s kind of an ill-advised mishmash of styles. Gothic meets Disney meets French Chateau, with a little Turkish, British and American architectural influence thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately, the builders decided to erect 587 of these, er, unique villas, and they are all lined up like little soldiers on a hillside in the middle of nowhere. Burj Al Babas is now a ghost town, with nothing but stray dogs and cats and curious tourists roaming the streets. I bet it’s creepy at night.

It could have been worse, though. The original plan was to build 732 of them. The desperately hopeful catalog for this development explains that there was to be a central complex full of pools, Turkish baths, saunas, steam rooms, a shopping mall, health and beauty centers, cinemas, restaurants, sports facilities, gardens, a mosque, conference halls, and meeting rooms, as well as a car wash and nursery services free of charge for all residents. There would also be free internet.

I have to say that the images (unfortunately just mock-ups for the catalog) make the interiors look luxurious. A dwelling fit for a sheik. And indeed, the target audience for these homes was to be rich investors from the Middle East who wanted a vacation home in a Mediterranean climate.

And you could have one of these homes for $370,000 to $530,000 depending on location. Not bad. For a time, it looked like the developers would actually pull it off. They did sell 350 of them.

The developer broke ground on the site in 2014. Then, in 2016, there was a failed coup attempt in Turkey, which resulted in a great deal of unrest in that country. But the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was able to quash the coup.

Unfortunately, Erdoğan’s Turkey is rife with corruption, inflation, and military overreach. He himself now has the power to intervene in the country’s legal system. After the coup attempt, there have been purges of state institutions, and there is no tolerance of dissent. More than 50,000 people have been detained, including soldiers, journalists, lawyers, police officers, academics and politicians.

Recently, Erdoğan has attempted to criminalize adultery and introduce “alcohol-free zones.” He stands firm against equal rights for women, and disapproves of birth control and family planning.

Such was the atmosphere in which Burj Al Babas was being built. Needless to say, this was making investors nervous. And when oil prices plunged in 2018, many buyers backed out or stopped making payments.

The developers, who had spent 200 million dollars on the project to date, filed bankruptcy in 2018, and all construction came to an abrupt halt. The company was 27 million dollars in debt. They had tentatively resumed construction of the contracted houses in 2019, and then COVID-19 rushed across the planet in March of that year, leaving economic destruction, among many other things, in its wake.

The developer made one last desperate effort to keep their heads above water. In 2020 they stated that if they could just sell 100 chateaus, they would be out of debt and could start working on the projects currently non-existent infrastructure. Alas, it was not to be.

Burj Al Babas has since been snapped up by an American corporation, and they have yet to say if they’ll turn it into a tourist trap ghost town, complete the construction as originally designed, or soften the design so it looks less kitschy, and demolish the excess, unsold units.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of Burj Al Babas. If the political climate were more like it was when I visited Turkey in 2000, I think I’d make a beeline to this place, if only for the creepy photographs it would yield. Instead, I can only imagine it.

If you’d like to see some drone footage of the entire (un)development, check it out here, on YouTube.

The scene I can’t seem to get out of my head is an endless row of turrets, lit up by a full moon, with a stray dog wandering down the unpaved road out front. The only sound would be the wind kicking up dust in the un-landscaped yards. That would be something to see.

Additional Sources:

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How Great Ideas Grow

It all started with one book and one garbage collector.

I bet it started when a garbage collector saw a book that was in great shape and was destined for the landfill. “I’ll just take this home and read it,” he probably thought. And just like that, something that was designated as garbage was rescued from that undignified fate.

It could have ended there, but it didn’t. A few garbage collectors, in Ankara, Turkey, decided they’d make a little library of their rescued books, for use by employees and their families. This little library would double as a break room. A simple, yet elegant solution for book lovers, as well as for books not ready to die.

But then word got out, and people started donating their unwanted books. The garbage collectors now house the library/break room in a former brick factory. It has 25,000 books. And now it’s open to the public.

It could have ended there, too, but it didn’t. According to this article, “Workers have converted a garbage truck into a small mobile library to bring books they collected to nearby schools and other district libraries.”

Now, isn’t that brilliant? Literacy takes flight. Tons of books are rescued from the landfill. The community has another resource. And it all started with one book and one garbage collector.

It may just be a little free library that got out of control, but its impact is immeasurable to the people of that community. This makes me very, very happy.

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Money Trumps Morals

It sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke.

It sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke. “Jamal Khashoggi walks into the Saudi Arabian Consulate…” But the punch line isn’t very funny. He never walks out again.

The Saudis tried to claim that he did leave, but there is no evidence of this happening on any of the cameras in the area. And Khashoggi’s fiancé was waiting outside for him. It’s not like he’d wander off and leave her. Not willingly. I mean, come on.

Khashoggi entered the consulate in Istanbul simply to get the proper paperwork to marry his Turkish bride to be. But he had also been in self-imposed exile in America, because he was a reporter that had been critical of the Saudi government. He had been working for the Washington Post.

Apparently that same day he went to the consulate, 15 Saudi operatives flew into town and wound up there. Their cohort included one autopsy expert, who was, according to NPR, complete with (shudder) a bone saw. Then these 15 men flew away again, with several new suitcases in tow. Khashoggi has not been seen or heard from since. I hope that in this case one plus one doesn’t equal two, but I have my suspicions.

In light of all this, Trump says we’ll be looking into it, but that he thinks stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia is a bad idea, because it would hurt a lot of American jobs. Maybe we can do some other type of sanctions. We’ll see. But not arms.

What does it take, exactly, for morals to trump money? I mean, it was Saudi citizens who where the main players in 9/11, and yet they remained our allies. Now they can play a very sketchy role in the disappearance of a reporter who currently works for an American newspaper, but hey, let’s not stop selling them arms. Oh, no. We can’t do that. Perhaps a slap on the wrist is what’s needed.

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

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A Mental Walkabout

Once upon a time, I’d visit a different foreign country every two years. Those were the days. Now, 60 percent of my income goes toward mortgage and utilities, and I don’t see myself ever being able to leave the country again. That breaks my heart, because travel is my reason for being.

Because of this, I’ve become really adept at doing mental walkabouts. If I close my eyes, I can remember exactly what it was like to walk amongst the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. I can also explore the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey. I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells of all the amazing places I’ve been. I can transport myself back to the Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato, Mexico, and sample, once again, the Hungarian Goulash in Budapest.

The one percent may make it financially impossible for me to explore the world anymore, but they can’t take away my memories. Only dementia or death can do that. I’m terrified of dementia. Death, from my perspective, is simply another way to travel. (Not that I’m in any hurry to hop on that plane.)

Until then, I’ll travel in my mind. I’ll ride bicycles along the canals in Utrecht, Holland, and swim in the crystal blue Adriatic Sea. I’ll snack on fresh bread and local cheese in the Swiss Alps. No matter how dire my financial straits become, as the saying goes, I’ll always have Paris.

Me, in Venice, with some feathered friends.

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Rick Steves Makes an Impact

It was years of watching Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS that gave me the courage to go to some of my most exciting travel destinations. Turkey. Hungary. Croatia. Slovenia. I doubt I’d have ever gone to those countries were it not for his suggestions. I also rely heavily on his guidebooks whenever I travel.

Suffice it to say that I’ve been a fan of Rick Steves for a long time. But in recent years, I’ve also come to know his politics, and that has made me admire him even more. So imagine my joy in finding out that now that I’ve moved to the Seattle area, he lives just down the road from me.

I have this fantasy of running into him and being able to actually tell him what an impact he’s made on my life. I’m sure he gets that a lot, but it’s true. I live to travel. I wrote about that just the other day. It has formed my worldview. It has made me more compassionate. It has educated me in so many ways. It has made me who I am. And Rick Steves has been a big part of that.

As if he weren’t already a personal hero of mine, I read today that he donated a 4 million dollar apartment complex to the YWCA so that they can house homeless women and children. It’s in Lynnwood, Washington. I’m sure I’ve passed it quite a few times, not realizing what a wonderful place it is. As someone who is struggling to find affordable housing myself, it thrills me to think that he’s paying it forward for so many people. (Read more about this, in his own words, here.)

That is the very definition of a life well lived. He’s inspired millions and directly improved the lives of hundreds. How many of us can say that? Thanks, Rick Steves! It’s a pleasure to be your neighbor!

Rick Steves

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Ruins Before They Were Ruins

Many years ago I had the good fortune to travel through Turkey. That country was a crossroads of waves upon waves of various cultures, and because of that it has an incredible amount of ancient ruins. There are so many Roman pillars, Lycian tombs, gateways of Hittites, Persian and Seleucid cities, Ottoman palaces, Greek theaters, and Byzantine churches and caves that the locals can hardly be blamed for taking them for granted. Many’s the time that I saw people indifferently stepping over toppled pillars or swerving their cars around tombs without giving them a second glance. I found this fascinating.

Ruins, in general, enthrall me. I can often imagine when they were shiny and new. Every edifice that is erected is a point of pride for its people. They anticipate decades, even centuries of use. At their opening ceremonies, the citizenry certainly isn’t imagining that these creations will someday crumble to dust and be coldly trodden upon by passersby.

I wonder about that moment in time when something stops being a modern and useful building and becomes a ruin. Is it identifiable? When the last person to leave it snuffed out its candles, what was he or she thinking? Was their one last backward glance? Does one even bother to lock the door?

Look at the buildings around you. Can you imagine them as ruins someday? Do you think they will last forever? Will they be bulldozed and built over, or will they be abandoned as the sea levels rise? Which cities will become uninhabitable or abandoned, and why?

Time passes. History has its impact. Unless humanity disappears entirely, someday people will wander amongst our refuse and wonder who we were. Or maybe they’ll walk right by without giving it any thought at all.

The Roman theater of Aspendos in Turkey. Still used occasionally today, most notably for the International Opera and Ballet Festival

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Photo Closure

Recently, this haunting picture made the rounds of Facebook. And now I can’t get it out of my head.


I’ve tried to track this photo down through Google image search, and it directs me to what appears to be a Turkish blog, but I don’t actually see the photo there. It also pops up in Pinterest, under Istanbul and everyday life. But I still can’t determine its source. Please know that I don’t take credit for the photo in any way, and do not intend to profit from it. If the owner reveals him or herself and wants me to take it down, I will do so. But I hope that that person will consider this a high form of flattery.

In the meantime, in order to emotionally move on from this amazing photo, I have decided to create a story based upon it. So here it is.


Zehra put the water on for tea, just as she had done every day since she was old enough to reach the stove top. She was content with her routine. Her beloved husband had passed away years ago, yet she still talked to him. Her children had grown up and moved out and now had children and grandchildren of their own. She had only her faithful cat, Mirnav, to keep her company. Aside from Mirnav’s purrs, the only other sound in the house was the ticking of the clock.

While waiting for her teapot to sing its familiar song, she gazed out the window. It was a cold day, and snow was beginning to fall. Zehra hoped that her arthritic hands would not ache too badly. Perhaps she should start a fire in the oven. There would be plenty of time for that. Nothing but time.

The snow was not slowing down her neighbors, who were rushing off to work and school. Some of them waved hello as they passed by. If they had not seen Zehra there, gazing out the window as she did every day at this time, they would have become concerned. She was a fixture in their neighborhood.

Her life was not an exciting one, and she liked it that way. In all her years she had watched as her city grew and changed, had seen wars come and go, and watched as modernity usurped tradition. She had loved and lost and laughed and prayed. She had her cozy little house. Her family sometimes stopped by to visit. And of course, she had Mirnav, her loyal companion.

“As lives, go,” she thought, “mine has not been bad.”

And then the teapot began to whistle, abruptly shattering her reverie.

Even though the cat had already taken this as a signal, Zehra felt obliged to say, “Come along, Mirnav. Time to eat.”

No sense in breaking with ritual at this late date.


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Kittens: Not Just for Youtube Anymore

In this world of increasing insanity, I find it strangely comforting that cults aren’t just a phenomenon of the English speaking world. Exhibit A: Turkey’s Adnan Oktar. I find this man fascinating in the same way car accidents cause me to slow down.

His main goal in life appears to be to debunk evolution. He has published dozens of fancy-looking, elaborately illustrated books, using the pen name Harun Yahya, that promote creationism. Based on my perusal of his website, these books contain a lot of rambling pseudo-science that require a great deal of suspension of disbelief to digest. They also seem to feature wildly falsified images of fossils.

In addition, he has a mansion that overlooks the Bosphorus, and it’s so gaudy it puts Donald Trump’s apartment to shame. Apparently the yard is teeming with rabbits and is surrounded by an electrified fence.

He is also as litigious as Trump. I’m fairly certain he will never read this criticism of him, because according to several articles, he apparently managed to get WordPress banned from Turkey after several bloggers wrote less than flattering posts about him. (I find this hard to believe, because I know I’ve had Turkish readers in the past, but given the number of lawsuits he’s brought to the courts, it wouldn’t surprise me if he hadn’t at least tried.)

But by far the most fascinating thing about this man is that he surrounds himself with women whom he calls kittens. These women are young, from rich families, and their hair is quite often bleached that color of blonde that can only come from a bottle. Their lips are pumped up with collagen, and they wear so much make up it looks like it’s been applied by a putty knife. They also wear skin tight clothes, stiletto heels, and emphasize their cleavage. Needless to say, this is quite a departure in the Islamic world.

For a really eye-opening look into  Adnan Oktar’s world, check out this documentary.  (It’s only subtitled for a tiny bit. Mostly it’s in English.)

This is Adnan Oktar’s idea of feminism. He says he believes all women are kittens. (Gag.) And he claims they are superior in every way. If that’s true, then why the need for all those creepy alterations? Shouldn’t they be perfect just as they are? And why are these women expected to regularly gyrate on camera? (Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention he has his own television station.)

In every video I’ve seen of these kittens, they all have a guarded look in their eyes. A vacant look, actually. There are complaints by family members that they are never allowed to see them alone. I found myself feeling sorry for them, and more than a little disturbed. I wonder what will happen to them as their beauty fades.

I’ll never get over humanity’s desperate need to give away its power, to fit in, to feel loved. It’s heartbreaking. And apparently it’s universal.

Adnan Oktar


The Fellowship’s the Thing

I had a very unique Thanksgiving this year. It wasn’t about turkey or relatives. No family tension.

Since Thanksgiving has forever been my favorite holiday, I always kind of feel a spike in anxiety just before the day. Will I be spending it alone? I can think of nothing worse. When I came to this city in August of 2014 I didn’t know a soul. It was kind of daunting, really. It’s not easy to start over again in your 50’s.

But my first Seattle Thanksgiving was a delightful one. The cousin of a dear friend kind of took me in, and I met a lot of really nice people in a beautiful house in Ballard. On year two I had to work, but a friend brought me a plate on the job, and hung out with me while I ate it. That was unbelievably kind.

This year I was invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving. I met her daughter and her daughter’s partner for the first time, and got to know another one of her friends a little better. Vegetarians all, but willing to occasionally eat fish, they had no turkey or gravy on their table. We had salmon, and the most amazing stuffed squash and salads and mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs, and pumpkin pie for dessert. And then I had to rush out the door and go to work. But I left encased in a warm glow.

Then at work I got a text from another friend. “Look for hippies in hats,” she said. Huh? And then there they were, walking up the bridge! I had a nice visit with them while I ate my second Thanksgiving of the day. (Calories don’t count on this one day a year, don’t ya know.) They made this pilgrimage in the rain just to spend some time with me. And that meant so much to me that it brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it.

Yes, the meaning of Thanksgiving is rather troublesome. I would be thrilled if it were replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day. (But I can see how that would be a difficult shift to make for some people, after the momentum of generations of tradition.) But for me, the Thanksgiving story, with all its falsehoods and inequities, is not the thing. The thing is the fellowship. It’s breaking bread with people. It’s gratitude for making it through another year. It’s the coming together, without the pressure of gift giving or elaborate decorations. Good food, good people. Good times.

This was a most excellent way to spend the holiday. Salmon may fly in the face of what we consider to be tradition, but it felt like the perfect Pacific Northwest way to celebrate a year of abundance. And sitting in the dark on a drawbridge and watching the rain fall may not be a horn of plenty, candles, and the good silver, but it was such a relief to be around people who weren’t at political loggerheads, and had no reason to rehash old wounds, as there were none. It was the best of that day—fellowship with people who accept you as you are.

With the right people, you could serve me a TV dinner fresh out of the microwave. It would still seem like a feast. When all is said and done, that is definitely something to be thankful for.


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Tears for Turkey

The thing about having been to 22 countries is that it has caused me to have a more global perspective. I seem to take international news much more personally than a lot of people I know. In a time when there is so much violence in the world, this can be a bit overwhelming.

While I recommend travel highly, sometimes I truly wish I could “only” be morally outraged when things occur in my homeland. It would be so much easier if places like Turkey were abstract concepts to me, so that their tragedies would not feel like they were my own. But I genuinely don’t find the death of someone on the other side of the world to be any less horrendous than the death of someone right down the street. Every person on the planet has value, in my opinion.

When I heard about the coup attempt in Turkey, I was instantly transported back to 2009 when I had wandered some of the same streets where much of the violence has occurred. I remember standing on that very bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul, the one that links Europe with Asia. I was awed by the history, the beauty, the pivotal location. I felt so lucky to be standing there. Little old me! It hurts my heart to see the pictures of tanks on that very spot.

I also recall walking through Taksim Square, listening to the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer while peacefully taking pictures. I can’t imagine what I would have done if jets started buzzing overhead and shots had rung out. I’m sure I would have been terrified and confused and outraged.

I can’t speak to the politics of the coup attempt in Turkey. I don’t know who should be in power or how. It does seem as though the people have spoken rather definitively, but the situation is no doubt much more complex than I can understand from such a remove. All I know is that I long for the kind of peace in that amazing land that I had the good fortune to experience, and I shed tears for the many lives that have been lost by the lack thereof.

Update 7/29/16–I said above that the people seem to have spoken, but after what I’ve been reading in the aftermath of this tragedy, I’m no longer sure. I am very disturbed by the human rights violations that are now going on. Innocent people are being taken into custody, and institutions, including schools, are being shut down. Peaceful protesters are now afraid to speak out. While I still cannot speak to the politics of this situation, I am concerned, and am beginning to think there is even more reason to cry now for this wonderful country and its people.