• Art / Design / Craft,  Places

    wollishofen wandering

    Wandering Wollishofen it’s hypnotic: the tick, tick, tick of its looming church clocks. Then, abruptly, it’s a jolt: the clang, bang, bong of the of the bells … awakened, it’s not: where am I? it’s, when am I? Wollishofen, a fragment, a drop, afloat in the municipality of Zürich, somehow maintains a serene, separate vibe. An echo of another place and existence. Viewed from the Eggpromenade while watched by its clock towers it is like time itself has stilled. Rolling pastures, barns, schools, playgrounds. Beautiful and eerie. Quiet, broken by a child’s delighted laugh, the bark of a loping retriever, the cluck of a hen. Afternoon sun streaking through rolling clouds and my fingers numb. What is it about this place?

    Perhaps, in part, it is the sense that I have been here before. Not just in the last year. Despite the lines on the clock I increasingly wonder if time is a lot less linear than it seems. How about you? Do you frequently experience deja vu? Remember the first time you looked into a mirror that was reflected in a mirror behind you?

    Commencing this week I want to start sharing some links and articles by some very articulate and entertaining people that make a deep impression on me and help me through the everyday anxiety of existence.

    One person I have been listening too a great deal recently, especially as I feel the absence of beloved ones and beloved places, is the philosopher Alan Watts. If you haven’t listened to Watts, I highly recommend you do so. First off, he has a wonderful voice, and delights in words yet also helps us to understand the limitations, even futility, of such symbols when we try to construct our reality using them. His  playful approach to the topic many of us (myself included) take far too seriously — that of what our lives mean. Here he talks about the delusion of spiritual attainment. It’s good for a bus ride, a taxi journey or any other moment you find yourself a bit adrift. I hope it leads you to listen to more and appreciate the quotidian wonder of just being.

    I’m currently reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. A big shout out to the bookseller at Orell Füslli who recommended it, and a reminder to me of why it’s great to go into a real bricks and mortar store and talk a living breathing person who gets your taste. There’s one of those annoying stickers slapped on the cover that says:  Now A Major Motion Picture, but the illustrations and text make it a very worthwhile print experience.

    Music-wise I’m really enjoying the works of Johnny Jewel and The Chromatics who I discovered thanks to David Lynch and his haunting third season of Twin Peaks.

    Lastly, a humble request: If you like this post, please share. It makes all the difference. Hope to see you and hear from you before next week.

  • Mind / Body,  Places

    fall into winter

    Light. Texture. Pattern. The way it plays out through the seasons. The way it morphs. I think I failed to properly acknowledge the transitioning from autumn to winter this year. A process that should not go unobserved, outwardly or inwardly. The way the warm soft golden green hues give way to blue grey tones and cycle once more back into the world, and, ultimately, into you.

    Wander into wonder. The mystery, is ever present. Spring approaches, and with it, a another shade of the same beauty. Revel in the shift.

  • Places

    memories of chios

    This time of year it’s hard not to reminisce on summers passed. The clouds start to lift. A reminder of a different kind of light grows, another world, rocky and spare, washed in bands of blueness unlike elsewhere. Chios now calls like the echo of waves. A tide swirling, tugging at my ankles as if to prompt my feet. It is not much like other islands. The Aegean. A sea flecked by the dust and rubble of ancient civilizations. Fragments. Faded postcards, from which Chios stands apart. It almost seems disinterested in being known, or iconic in the manner of the other islands with which it shares its sea. Make no mistake, though, there is history, both personal and grand, carved deep into the land, memory jagged as its coast. A haven for families seeking refuge from the daily weirdness of life. There is much memory, but it can also be a place to forget, temporarily, the tumult menacing Anatolia.

    This island serves true Aegeans, Greek families and in-the-know Turks. An unfussy place. There are no sprawling resorts or multi-storey beachside hotels. There is a small airport some islanders believe inadequate, others, self-interested, do not want expanded. Its tallest building is probably the Chandris Hotel, on the southern edge of the port town. Here we rested in the aftermath of Turkey’s last failed coup, the fate of a country, friends and family uncertain. Sharing an all too small pool with a Dutch navy crew billeted at the hotel. Sofia and I already missing the friendly welcome of beachside Karavela at Komi and its orange loungers. Still there are worse places to be stranded, and many less fortunate in one of this world’s many waiting rooms.

    Kampos. Estates with high walls cup lush citrus orchards in the centre of the island. In its midst, the Argentikon Hotel, opposite the islands’s Citrus museum, behind sandstone walls, the branches of its citrus varietals swell with softball-sized fruit. Old statues and esoteric symbols stare out wordlessly over fountains and paths worthy of storybook passages. A period piece in three dimensions. A window into the disappeared life of the island’s former Genoese gentry, their opulent lives overshadowed by a turbulent history with Ottoman Turkey.

    Now a new type of agriculture dominates, though no less historic, in sheds and gardens in the south. Among the hillside slopes, Mastichoria, villages founded to harvest the sticky jewel-like tears of gum trees, mastic, once embargoed to all except the Sultan’s harem, yet often smuggled to the courtesans of Venice. Pistacia Lentiscus, a squat tree or a tall shrub, depending on your perspective, perhaps the island’s most valued residents today. Pyrgi, the painted village, its distinctive geometrically patterned buildings once considered the seat of this unique agricultural trade, is a sleepy place daytime.

    For evening spirit there is Mesta, a labyrinthine nest of a medieval streets, a defense against pirates and raiders, at its heart a square which fills each evening with hungry families. Outer walls frothing with flowery sprays. Traditional food and chatter, no one concerned with corsairs or pillage anymore. Feasting conducted by a peaceful horde. Şevin is told she looks like Irene Papas by a woman chef of one of the taverns we favour in the square. The resemblance is, indeed, striking.

    Many evenings, we opt for Nenita. Its square alive with local children on bicycles, tricycles and scooters. Games of tag. Preteen girls choreographing the latest routine. Playful argument over soccer matches. Sometimes a TV, teetering on a chair, power cord stretched taut along the line of an extension cord, broadcasting a game. Hercules, a majestic tabby looks on from a deserted bench with typical feline disdain. Off the square, the island’s best fare at Artemis. Rooster in tomato sauce, a faint whiff of cloves, drowning golden chips cut earlier in the day. Vegetable dishes from the owner’s garden. The paper tablecloths clipped to edges, soon splashed in olive oil and red sauce.

    Sometimes it’s Emporios Bay that calls. A French couple, arrive on a zodiac, a Jack Russel springing ashore before them. She is quiet, poised, white linens encircling an elegant figure. He sits puffing Gitanes, words delivered in a voice deep and resonant as a TV narrator. The words almost unimportant. You cannot help but nod to them in admiration, they posses the aura of the heroic and legendary. They are the people you want to be when you grow up. On another night, sunlight behind us in the street, a young waiter, again at Neptune, our preferred haunt stops in the street. His mouth hangs a little open. He thinks I am Kivanç Tatlıtuğ, the Turkish TV and movie star, despite repeated demurrals. He asks for a picture for his Facebook page. It quickly becomes his most popular post to date. Days later they still believe even under the glare of a fluorescent bulb. Rumours float about our hotel that a famous actor is staying with them. On our last evening at Neptune, a man, the owner, I think tells me he enjoyed my last movie very much and also praises Şevin’s performance. I tell him we look forward to our next visit to his fine establishment. Denials only deepen belief.


    Morning. The blessed quiet of the otherworldly Mavra Vollia, sea glinting off dark waves. Volcanic pebbles mark out a distinct shore unlike any other on the island or elsewhere. A location fit for a sci-fi opera crash landing. You needn’t ghost in the graphics of two moons. Chios, reputed to be the birthplace of Homer. When do we turn to the next page in our Odyssey?

  • Books & Lit,  Places

    beer hiking switzerland: a test walk

    Lately Zürich, though not especially cold, has been relentlessly grey. Some days the impenetrable, overcast sky seems to descend on your head, which makes it all the more unappealing to move yet all the more important to do so. However, thanks to Monika Saxer, and her book, BEER HIKING SWITZERLAND: The Most Refreshing Way To Discover Switzerland, there’s plenty of motivation to go outdoors. So weather notwithstanding, I decided to test it out over the last week or so. Full disclosure: the book was given to me by its publisher, Hadi Barkat of Helvetiq, but it had already caught my eye at Orell Füssli. Either way, I was inclined to like the title as it’s the kind of idea I wish I had conceived. The book is also attractively designed with superb typography and easy to use, allowing you to choose your journey based on the location or the beer. For my initial hike, I chose one where the end point is about a 20-minute walk from home at Rote Fabrik (the Red Factory). At some point I will have to devote an entire post to Rote Fabrik, a cultural institution which delivers a lot of value to the community it serves. But now to Leimbach Station and our walk ….

    All the walks/hikes seem to commence at a train station, or major public transit hub, which makes life simple. Though I didn’t employ any of the maps, I found the written descriptions pretty clear and easy to follow. This walk was pretty gentle at roughly an hour and a half. If you’re going to tackle some of the longer ones, you’ll definitely want waterproof, comfortable footwear and perhaps a companion, if you are not with someone who values solitude, or perhaps watched an excess of Twin Peaks recently.

    It was a uniformly grey day with regular smatterings of rain. The sun did not even make a cameo. It was, however, interesting to see how suddenly the landscape morphs between wood to suburban then agricultural space. After a walk up through the hills and the woods, suddenly you’re in the middle of a development and back in so-called civilisation. There were parts of this route which were not especially beautiful, but still interesting as I find the canton foreign enough still that I can enjoy the difference. It still astonishes me how orderly and tidy the Swiss are, and I particularly like deconstructing sign names and words to see if I can translate them. Yes, I am a word-nerd.

    Once back in Wollishofen, I crossed over into more familiar territory and resisted the pull of the Shamrock Pub, where I am usually able to find a good chat with either the landlord, Ian, or one of the regulars, and proceeded through the pastures and farmland on down the slope toward the graffiti soaked walls of lakeside Rote Fabrik. This hillside neighbourhood is a really charming area where city lifestyle and pastoral village living converge.

    So would I recommend the book? Absolutely. A brisk walk and the quest for a single craft beer beyond the convenience of the refrigerator seem like a pretty salubrious combination to me, especially when it gets me acquainted with the varied landscape of our new home. The Amboss Beer was one I hadn’t previously sampled and it lived up to its promise, as did the benefit of exceeding 10,000 daily steps. Cheers to Monika Saxer, for pairing two of life’s great pleasures in such an original fashion.

    Once I have a better pair of hiking boots, I’d like to embark on some of the longer expeditions outside of Zurich Canton. In January, however, with the weather unpredictable in many other parts of the country, including serious avalanche warnings, I’ll content myself with the smaller forays, where the city is still within easy sight.

    The only question I am left with is: which beer, I mean, trail, next?

  • Art / Design / Craft,  Places

    what’s ahead 2018?

    The last couple of years have been strange for just about every soul I know in this world. All the things we face: the pressures of time, the rapidity of change, the demands of work and looming above it with an oppressive shadow the threat to our very existence, which, thanks to some bizarre decisions made by electorates around the world, can sometimes seem greater than ever.

    Yet strangely, I’m still optimistic, even grateful. Why? Because you’re reading this right now. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your time. Just know that it’s a lot. Which is why I will do my best to update this page weekly, so that you can count on some fresh content. Please share your thoughts with me, on the stories you like and why you like them. Also feel free to send me some ideas. I’ve had a busy couple of years. Buying and selling a restaurant, moving from Istanbul and starting a new life in Zürich.  I plan to continue telling stories as long as I walk this Earth. And despite what some people might try and tell you, this is a beautiful planet full of amazing and inspiring people and places. So if there’s someone, or some place, out there with a story that deserves to be told, please tell me. I’m looking and listening.

    Also I have a new photography portfolio which is a beta site, so please head on over and take a look. I’d welcome a critical look with your thoughts, impressions anything that you like or dislike. I look forward to hearing from you and hope we can make 2018 a much brighter year than those that have recently preceded it. I also hope that if you like what you see here, you’ll share this page. Your help is appreciated.

  • Places

    goldnau nature park

    Until we find a way to restore this planet to its former glory, the ethics of animals in confinement will remain contentious. However, an appreciation of nature in all its many forms is something I’m completely behind. As a species inhabiting so many artificial environments which seem to cater to our needs we humans seem to forget that we are not separate from this Earth but of it. Contact with living, breathing animals other than ourselves might help us to appreciate all that we could gain by caring for our world rather than simply exploiting it as a stockpile of resources. At Goldnau, amid the rubble of he 1806 landslide tragedy, has risen a wildlife centre where you can take an up-close look at a variety of wildlife, from fierce and formidable predators including bears, wolves and lynxes and much more docile and approachable fauna such as deer and mountain sheep. Breathing in the fresh filtered air from the tree-clad slopes on a crisp winter day alone is a gift one should not miss.

  • Places

    wintery wonder in poschiavo

    Southeast of St. Moritz is a remarkable little town called Poschiavo in the Graubünden canton. Accessible on the Bernina Express, which begins in Chur and terminates in Tirano, Italy is well worth the effort, especially if you kick your legs out on the train and watch the incredible landscape wash by your window. Craving a little change after the festivities of Christmas and New Year, we took a little journey to this Italian-speaking locale and soon saw ourselves in the grip of a snow heavy spell while Zürich became quite balmy as of New Year’s Eve.

    Surrounded by mountains, intersected by the Poschiavino River, there seems to be a disproportionate number of excellent eateries and organic labels – 87% of the Valposchiavo farmland products are certified by Bio-Suisse. During the heavy snowfall we were content to hunker down and be catered to by the staff of the Hotel Albrici, a palace dating back to 1682, and its neighbouring bodega, Hostaria del Borgo both in terms of local charm and delectables. The previous four photographs above were all taken at their unfussy but magnificently stocked delicatessen and cellar.

    My only complaint: we didn’t stay quite long enough. A few more days snowed in and forced to work our way through the cellars and storerooms of the local shops and take some more photographs, would have been most welcome. So for now, arrivederci, Poschiavo. I look forward to our next meeting, perhaps when your pastel coloured buildings and ornate doors are encroached upon by the vibrant green of spring and I can wander a little farther and work off more of the digestible insulation padding my belly.

  • Art / Design / Craft,  Books & Lit,  People

    basel creators: hadi barkat

    One of the things that is always satisfying about the season ahead, and the memories I have of those behind, are some of the amazing books I have read and the joy of relaxing and playing a raucous game or two together with family and friends. Recently I sat down with a man who has made the pursuit of a good read and an entertaining challenge his business. While working in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a successful CEO coach in the field of venture vapital, Hadi Barkat was also studying to take his Swiss citizenship test. Already responsible for his company’s gatherings and offsite entertainment, he employed the services of a game designer, and decided to brainstorm a way to turn his study into a form of entertainment.

    Out of this was born Helvetiq, initially a trivia game based on Swiss knowledge, and two years on, a fully fledged Swiss publishing house, committed to the world of French, German, Italian and English games and books, when its inventor decided to turn his side project into a full-time business.

    Helvetiq is very much a print publishing house: “The death of print is very much overstated,” Mr Barkat tells me, shuffling a deck of ordinary playing cards as we chat in the coffee corner of their their loft studio located in the annex of the Stellwerk building in Basel.

    Helvetiq, like its CEO and owner, seems very fond of turning learning or effort into play or entertainment. While about 60% of its output is in the form of games, Helvetiq also has many great books too. Yet even its titles often seem caught up in a sense of playful travel in how they approach their subjects, as with Monika Saxer’s Beer Hiking, which pairs the challenge of hiking and walking trails with the goal of drinking a unique Swiss craft brew at the end of one’s journey. Diccon Bewes’ Around Switzerland In 80 Maps is another example of what Mr Barkat considers a timeless idea.

    Another thing that stands out with Helvetiq is its craft. There is sense of agency here, both in the design and execution of its titles. No one is waiting around for the next big manuscript to plop through the door and land on the slush pile.

    “Two things we don’t do here: a lot of market research, or money-grab. You won’t see a colouring book from Helvetiq,” says the CEO, who believes copycatting is more work and a lot less fun. “Publishing is an art of starting a concept and seeing it fly.” Creativity itself is a path of discovery for Mr Barkat: “You have to be humble. I like to see where things lead. Some people plan every detail, and that works for them, but we can’t control too many things … to see where an idea leads can create more authenticity.”

    At any moment Helvetiq has approximately 20 new games and book titles in development and appears to thrive on seeking out and sharing experiences. Simple-to-grasp concepts are key. Yet simplicity is no hindrance to a rich experience in a roster of books and games that require a high level of finesse in their execution. Everything however, does seem to start with a persuasive, easily stated idea. Their books and games also seem to have a consistent illustration accented aesthetic, which also helps many of their titles pop out on the shelves.

    Helvetiq is another example of how print and paper remain not only highly relevant, but profitable in a world saturated with often over-hyped digital experiences. It also demonstrates how creativity is all about exploring unexpected paths to find rewarding destinations. So this Christmas if you’re looking to escape screen time and reconnect with a real life, three-dimensional experience for you or your family, take a moment to peruse Helvetiq’s catalogue. They put in the work so that we can play.

  • Art / Design / Craft,  Places

    swissmas at bellevue

    If you are one of the bah humbug set and in Zürich, avoid Bellevue’s Zürcher Wienachtsdorf at all costs. There is so much Christmas cheer it could quite possibly kill you. We experienced it for the first time last year before we moved and were duly impressed by the show put on by Zürich in general, but with special mention going to the organizers responsible for Bellevue. So at the risk of imperilling anyone who loves to cringe at Christmas, here are some shots of all the mania from this year and last year. And anyone who needs gift ideas for me can also check out the cool stands by Lekka, Circle Sustainable store and Freitag among the many stalls with some pretty good swag. Just saying. So perhaps I’ll see you around for some mulled wine and some hot smoked salmon … thinking perhaps this Christmas thing might just catch on.

  • Mind / Body,  Places

    masaola regenwald – another zürich hotspot

    Winter, when it arrives, can knock me sideways. This year, with the change in city, being farther north was a doozy. So for a dose of wellness and a mental escape from pervasive greyness, I sometimes like to visit Masaola Regenwald, a simulation of a Madagascar Rainforest at the Zürich zoo. This 11,000 m2 lush, oxygen-infused dome teems with life. Flora and fauna abound. Razor-edged ferns and soaring bamboo, trees and countless other species of plant provide a home to low swooping fruit bats and colourful birds to tiny geckos and multi-hued chameleons, tortoises and even tree-clambering lemurs. It’s more economic than a plane ticket, and yet still a transporting, mind-bending experience. The Treetop Walkway is particularly elevating, like a path to endless summer. And who doesn’t dream of that?