Sister city Long Beach Izmir Community Garden LunchLast month I wrote a post about the upcoming Sister City Alliance between Santa Monica and Bodrum, and this weekend I drove south on the 405 to Long Beach to attend a Sister City event with their sister, Izmir.

I was invited because I’m the author of “The Bodrum Peninsula Travel Guide”, and the group consisted of people involved in the Long Beach/Izmir alliance, as well as local organizations looking to create stronger ties to chapters of the same organizations in Izmir.

Burcu Ünsal referred to the eclectic mix of attendees as a mix of  the “young and the young at heart”. Burcu, also known as “Miss Sunshine” has been involved in the Long Beach/Izmir alliance for a while, and is a Turkish transplant running her own NLP company in Los Angeles, where she helps to coach people to Shine and reach their full potential.

Sister city Long Beach Izmir Community Garden Lunch

We talked about our joint history in Marketing and Advertising, and we discovered that we had both worked at there of the same Advertising Agencies (McCann, Ogilvy and Saatchi) .. in different countries and at different times, but I’m sure if we’ve delved into degrees of separation, we would have found a co-worker we had in common.

There was just one expat transplant from Izmir, Atahan (aka Ethan), an eloquent young man, who spoke passionately about his love of cycling and then just as passionately about the current political climate in Turkey. The rules of etiquette to avoid Politics and Religion in social situations, were discarded by the wayside. I was glad I’d been following the unfurling events about the impending elections in Turkey, as well as the bribery allegations and subsequent resignation of some cabinet ministers.

On a lighter note, he clued me in about the Aegean town on Çeşme, less than 90km from Izmir, and also about his favourite place in Turkey, Butterfly Valley. But of which he recommended were worth a visit.

Pepper the Macau in Long Beach California

Two other random encounters added colour to this event.

The first was a brightly coloured macaw, called Pepper, who was being looked after by Julie Kohn. According to her business card, she’s a self-proclaimed writer, editor, visionary, muse; specializing in marketing, public relations, events and product planning. Oddly enough, there was no reference to a website on her card; can you support a successful business in today’s digital landscape without one anymore?

Pepper the Macau in Long Beach California

By the looks of things, Pepper has the leading role in this relationship (the picture below is Julia trying to retrieve Pepper for a nearby tree). Pepper is a very friendly 4 1/2 half year old, but already has her own Facebook page. Based on her Facebook Albums; she has a better social life than me!

Pepper the Macau in Long Beach California

Lunch was held in a community garden, with a long table seating about 30. The table reminded me of a scene in Sicily from the Godfather II, where Michael Corleone has Sunday lunch with the family of the girl he’s set his heart on.

The food was a delicious selection of salads and Turkish meze, including my favorite smoked eggplant. There was also borek made with fresh kale from the community garden.

Sister city Long Beach Izmir Community Garden Lunch

The garden’s clay oven, had been fired up for the event, and was being fired-up and stoked by the Long Beach resident who built it for this community garden.

Sister city Long Beach Izmir Community Garden Lunch

As we sat down for lunch, the coals were removed, and the pides and pizza filled with caramelized onion, garlic and white sheep’s cheese were cooked in the clay oven; they were done in no time.

Sister city Long Beach Izmir Community Garden Lunch

Each place setting had a small white box, and inside was the second splash of colour for the event … a red nose. These were a gift from expat Brit, Steve Thomason, who runs a company called “The Great Laughter Project“, which encourages groups and organizations, including schools clubs, community-based organizations, non-profits and churches, to raise funds for their own needs, by hosting their own Great Laughter Project.

During a speech about Rumi, we were encouraged to open small cube donation boxes, and read the individual quotations inside. Mine read:

“And Still, after all this time, the Sun has never said the Earth, “You owe me.”

Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.”

A nice touch, and a subtle way to introduce a new crowd to the works of this famous poet.

Most of the lunch time guest were unsure of what to do with the “red foam ball”; as they hadn’t heard of Red Nose Day, which is such a huge annual event in the UK, nor that they seen “Patch Adams“. But a few brave locals donned their red nose, and hammed it up for the camera.

The event lasted about three hours, and also in attendance was the Commercial Attache from the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles, Gürkan Süzer (on the right in the photo below, standing next to Dennis Aytekin who hosted the Sister City event)

Sister city Long Beach Izmir Community Garden Lunch

He was asked to give a speech at the beginning of the meal, and talked about the importance of trade to maintain global peace, with a wry smile he told us, “We like to say; don’t make war make….. trade”.

As the visiting dignitary, he added an element of credence to the event, and well as a selection of travel guides and maps of Izmir and Çeşme.

Sister city Long Beach Izmir Community Garden Lunch

Musical entertainment was provided by a local American guitarist and a Turkish bağlama musician, East and West in harmony.

Sister city Long Beach Izmir Community Garden Lunch

All told, an interesting mix of people, with with common goal of promoting a closer cultural alliance and understanding between these two towns on opposite sides of the globe.




More information about the Sister City Organization