Hello from the land of grey skies and green grass. That’s right, England again! This time I’m in Bristol, a place I haven’t seen in more than a couple of decades. England’s not the only one that’s getting a bit grey. Must say, I’m loving the vibe of this place. Lovely people, real ales, great food, shops, all in a walkable city package that’s bursting with art, culture, music and really good coffee too. And did I mention the towering trees? This city might just be the paragon of urban virtue. I barely even noticed the rain occasionally fogging my lens. Above is a small glimpse of the area around Clifton Suspension Bridge, the world’s very first suspension bridge, which spans the Avon River Gorge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel — an engineering feat which no doubt helped pave the way for our much more recent intercontinental bridges back in Istanbul.
Well what do we have here? Thanks to Chef Maxwell and Co, some rather tasty new Vietnamese-inspired morsels debuted recently at Cochine (one of my favourite Istanbul haunts) so I was asked to come by and document the colourful array for marketing and social media purposes. Don’t know about you, but I’m suddenly rather hungry and looking forward to my next meal. Look at that mouthwatering Pak Choy below! Kind of makes me want to shout out loud. Yeah, baby.
I like the way mist isolates objects, and shrouds the city in an atmosphere of mystery — it becomes kind of minimalist, like a Danish mystery. I’m suddenly imagining a co-production: From the North Sea to the Black Sea … a body floats past a Turkish socialite’s tea party, still clutching a diplomatic pouch in her pulse-free fingers. Murder most foul. One victim, two passports. A diplomat or a spy? Chief Inspector Sigurd Ericcson and Kaptan Mehmet-Ali Osman are on the case. How will the differing investigative styles of this unlikely duo lead to an arrest? A cross cultural clash is inevitable as a pan-continental pursuit leads the two from the water’s edge to the razor’s edge. From steam-soaked hamams to sweltering saunas, from Taksim Square’s wig-wearing, gender-bending transvestites to a sado-masochistic European Parliamentarian, a bizarre array of locations, witnesses and suspects will lead our Nordic-Turkic crime-fighting heroes on a harrowing journey to uncover not only a body — but a body of lies involving an international conspiracy of drugs, human trafficking, espionage and neo-liberalistic fascism, taking all concerned to the brink of professional and personal destruction and beyond.
All I need now is some development money … any takers?
Last weekend in Urfa, at the Gümrük Han, I experienced a new type of hot drink that is far tastier — and probably far healthier — than many a high street chain store latté, known as menengiç kahvesi. Made from the dried and roasted wild fruit of Pistacia Terebinthus or the Turpentine Tree, I’d like to dub it the Turpentine Latté in English! Sounds appetizing, no? Okay, maybe not. In any case, the first sip was something quite unexpected and quite delicious, and I felt compelled to sample a second, which was not as enjoyable because it was overly sweet. However, since trying it at home, unsweetened, as I normally take my black coffee, I’ve discovered this is a welcome alternative to an evening coffee, when you have no desire to go to bed with caffeine-induced heart palpitations, or stay up all night pondering the meaning of the universe. Despite my desire to homemake it from the peppercorn-like dried fruit, I ended up buying a jar of the Sekeroglu brand syrup (100% menengiç — no additives or preservatives) which you simply need to mix with milk and heat. The man in the Urfa spice shop assured us we couldn’t home roast or grind the dried fruit. He said, however, that the dried fruit was very healthy to eat. It seems from a preliminary look that it does in fact bestow all sorts of anti-inflammatory benefits and is being researched for possible anti-cancer effects. So if you’re in this part of the world, be sure to try a Turpentine Latté or two. Afiyet olsun.
Şanlıurfa, El Ruha, Edessa, Riha or perhaps just plain old Urfa (as it’s most commonly referred to) is a welcome surprise. The drive in from the airport, however, is not encouraging.. An imposing and ugly housing boom has left much of the outer fringe of modern Urfa looking like a victim of its own success. Then, however, you penetrate that encircling ugliness and find an ancient land associated with the prophet Abraham/Ibrahim and the local traditions of its Kurdish population as well as a very large Arabic minority and you begin to sense that you’re in for something different and possibly wonderful. Make no mistake: this is the East of Turkey, close to the Syrian border. Yet despite its proximity to that troubled land, it did not seem at my first, and very cursory glance, especially affected by the troubles on the other side of the border, nor too interested in the political strife in Istanbul or Ankara. There were certainly no protest regarding Internet censorship this weekend. Perhaps that’s because Urfa is one of the most prosperous cities in the area. It is something of a closed world. The older generation of men are often attired in headscarves and salwar trousers. If you look foreign, expect to be stared at. It might be somewhat unnerving, but it is unlikely to be unfriendly. In fact — if my limited experience is any indication — you’re likely to be welcomed most hospitably.
Among its many charms Urfa possesses a host of archaeological riches, including the recent discovery of one the world’s oldest neolithic settlements, dating back over 12,000 years. However, as I mentioned above, it is most commonly associated with the prophet Abraham/Ibrahim, being both his birthplace and the legendary site at which he was thrown into the fire by Nimrod, whereupon God turned fire into lake and coals into fish. Balıklıgöl, the pool, is beside the mosque of Halil-ur-Rahman, erected in 1211 and surrounded by the Gölbaşı-gardens. If you are lucky enough to spot a white fish in among the slate grey carp, it’s said that the heavens will open up for you. And while we neither glimpsed the white fish or nirvana, we still had a fine time strolling through this part of town before plunging into the smoke2y delights of the bazaar.
More than half the fun of a Turkish bazaar isn’t in the buying, but in the gathering … of stories, experiences and verbal exchanges. Urfa’s bazaar is no exception, and something else to behold. Unlike Istanbul’s more famous covered market, Urfa’s provides the charm of seeing the industry smack dab beside the retail. We were particularly interested in the metal work for which Urfa is renowned. Opposite stalls selling ornate teapots, ayran jugs and cups, platters and turkish coffee sets, you will witness the spectacle of three generations of men banging out their collections. These range from the glittery and cheap to the more pricey and valuable. Regardless of the quality you desire, for the price of a single Turkish coffee cup in Istanbul’s Kapalıçarşı (Covered Market) you can easily acquire an entire set.
After a prolonged period of mercantile negotiation, you’ll probably be ready to eat. We were particularly charmed by the humble outfit, Ciğerci Siyaset, which translates, roughly, to mean, “Liver-maker Politics” referring to a piece of the owner’s family history involving competitive swimming and community which I’m not sure I can do justice to in the re-telling. Suffice it to say that you’ll be treated to a spicy wrap of chicken, liver or meat here which you can garnish yourself with hot peppers, parsley, or eye-watering slices of onion. If it’s not spicy enough for you, there’s plenty of isot on hand for you to sprinkle on. It’s a particularly good bet for lunch.
For accommodation, I’d only suggest one place. While there are a few charming (in an idiosyncratic kind of way) places to stay within easy walking distance of Balıklıgöl and the bazaar, only one is licensed to serve alcohol. Manici is both comfortable and clean, and allows you the pleasure of staying somewhere a little more colourful than the generic hospitality of a Hilton. The food was good too and the service friendly.
A word or two of caution, however. The Manici hotel hosts social nights referred to as sıra gecesi. These are certainly worth experiencing. However, if you take a room too close to the URHAY on the third floor, you’d better want to take part in the party. Otherwise you’ll be subjected to a lot of raucous spillover. So if you happen to have small children, or an early start the next day, avoid this part of the hotel. Otherwise, start swinging, Urfa-style. I know we’ll go back for that unique mix of fire and water.
If Dirty Harry Callahan were turned into flower, he’d be an artichoke. No doubt. Tough and weathered on the outside but on the whole a force for good. He’d be a thistle in the side — I know, the expression is ‘thorn’ but artichokes are a type of thistle not rose — of any bad-ass interlopers who thought they could muscle in on his vegetable patch. Feeling lucky, punk? Eat an artichoke.
Picked these branches up after a visit to Cup of Joy in Bebek today. My taxi driver asked if they were for him — Hadi Canim! Anyway these branches are kind of reminiscent of calligraphy to me, rather like a floral love note from a Geisha, or at the very least a dog-eared postcard from a long lost girlfriend in Japan in spring when the streets are carpeted with petals. Ahh … spring. Wish I could take you all there. In any case, think of this as an early Valentine to all of MYPHILOSOFIA’s faithful followers. Thank you for sticking with me over the last two years. You’re every bit as beautiful to me.
Ever get the feeling that nature speaks in codes? This won’t come as a surprise to those who know me, but … I do. Especially when it comes to foods. That’s why I think our dietary needs are colour coded to tell us in which season they’d be most useful. Take yellow for instance. During flu season, I think of nature’s golden gifts. Whether it’s a lush, saturated orange-yellow as in Turmeric (both the dry, powdered form or fresh root) lemon, honey, ginger, all of which have powerful healing and health-preserving properties. It’s almost as if these naturally occurring colours provide the kind of stored-up sunshine we miss during the wan winter months when the light turns pale and washed out. Notice how the turmeric roots stain the wood? Call me crazy but the alchemist in me thinks of that as edible sunshine, my friends. Eat it up.
Don’t know about you, but I like a good door. This one was particularly appealing as I passed it by in a Sultanahmet han today. I like the patina of rust over the chipped green paint. I like the way it’s ramshackle and yet still locked up. I like the fact it’s all gone slightly off kilter with age (I can relate). And I really like the way the cats seemed to keep a lookout from it, slipping through the narrow gap at the bottom with their semi-liquid bodies. This unpretentious entrance is kind of grand.
In Istanbul it’s increasingly difficult to remember that our world isn’t comprised entirely of concrete and glass. Luckily this city has a few surprises left in store. One of which is only a few hundred meters from Haci Osman Metro station. Rough and unkept, unlike Emirgan Park or Belgrad Forest, is a large, and largely unused, pine wood. Although it’s open to the public, it’s not open to cars — although, unfortunately, it did seem to be open to the odd motorcycle.
A few hundred meters from the entrance, you begin to lose sight of anything but the stands of pine. A blue sky looms overhead, and sunlight filters through the branches. Soon the city disappears, and aside from the wail of the occasional siren, you hear little more than the wind through the trees. Stray a little from the beaten paths and you’ll soon feel the soft springy carpet of pine needles underfoot. It’s then that you can occupy yourself with the important things in life — such as locating the perfect pine cone.