• Photography,  Places

    Dystopian Wonderland

    THIS ATRIUM BELONGS IN A SCI-FI DYSTOPIA. If you ask me, Istanbul is inherently cinematic. I just left Switzerland which you could say is inherently picturesque — with its mountains, its lakes and its pristine architecture, it would make a good location for several of my cinematic fantasies. But could you do a dystopian epic with a nicely understated sci-fi twist? I think not. I regularly dream movies up in my head, like the other day when I decided to cut through this han to get to Karaköy Lokantasi, and for about two-three minutes I completely forgot my ravenous appetite.

  • Art / Design / Craft,  People

    Emel Kurhan’s Inspiration

    FORMER FASHION DESIGNER & NEW ARTISTIC VOICE EMEL KURHAN. Long before I had a chance to sit down and chat with the former fashion designer turned artist, I certainly noticed her stand-out presence. It’s not just for the obvious reasons, her cool clothes and her looks, but for her personal style—her manners and her ready laughter, her whimsy. Emel Kurhan always seemed to me like someone who knows how to make life enjoyable through the gift of an active imagination. Making life better through creativity is a theme this site is devoted to exploring, and one of the things that’s refreshing is that Emel takes her work — but not herself — seriously. Which is really important, as well as healthy, when your work comes from such a personal place.  MY PERSONAL FAVORITE FROM EMEL’S PREVIOUS EXHIBITION TRAVELING WITHOUT MOVING. Her previous exhibition, Traveling Without Moving used mixed media such as neon,…

  • Mind / Body,  Photography

    When the compass spins.

    SUPPOSE THIS IS A DOOR TO ANOTHER WORLD … WOULD YOU STEP THROUGH? Ever have that feeling that a passage to another world hovers just beneath your nose? Ever wonder if the image in the mirror might be the larger you, and that you might be nothing more than a thin reflection of limited dimension? In this city there are endless windows, ajar doors, stairways and passages that prompt my curiosity. Sometimes it seems that they might lead to some alternate reality, a world curled up inside our own. As early as childhood, stories like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles had a ring to them that drew in my young mind. There’s something about the notion of portals to other worlds that intrigues me, be they a wardrobe or a painting hung on wall.  A GOLDEN CITY? MAYBE … BUT THE ROAD BETWEEN HERE AND THERE IS OBSCURED. In the last…

  • Photography,  Places

    Balat I: life in the thrilling streets

    DERELICT BUILDINGS ABOUND. I’d been meaning to do a proper walk around Balat for a while, but it wasn’t until I recently visited Sema Topaloglu‘s Cibali Studio along the Golden Horn, that I remembered just how fascinating this neighborhood in the Fatih municipality of Istanbul is There’s a different atmosphere in this part of the city. The air in the narrow streets is redolent with coal smoke and memories of better times. It’s in a somewhat dilapidated state, but more importantly, like someone recently said, it has a certain “mystic” quality to it. This area has particular significance for the Sephardic Jewish community. After the Sephardim in medieval Spain were forced into exile and worse by the Edict of Alhambra, many relocated here at the invitation of Sultan Bayazid II who—unlike the villainous duo and friends of the Inquisition, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain—appreciated the great cultural and intellectual contribution…

  • Food & Drink,  Mind / Body

    The Elixir of Life?

    THE ELIXIR OF LIFE GRANTS IMMORTALITY TO ANYONE WHO DRINKS IT. The ultimate quest or Opus Magnum of the alchemist is the Lapis Philosophorum, more commonly known as the Philosopher’s Stone. With it she could transmute base metals into noble gold and even more importantly, mortality into immortality. Its recipe is the greatest secret of the Royal Art. Far more often than not, however, its pursuit shortened, rather than lengthened, the seeker’s life. In fact, poisonings, explosions and other misadventures were commonplace. But as long as man and woman have lived—and more importantly—died, the potential gains outweighed the dangers of failure. As far back as Gilgamesh we have accounts of people seeking to unlimit their existence. Frankly, who wouldn’t care for a taste of unlimited youth? THE  CHEMICAL WEDDING OF PHILOSOPHICAL SULFUR & MERCURY. Two notable figures—or legends, if you prefer—reputed to have achieved the Opus Magnum were Nicolas Flamel (September 28, 1330-1418) and later, the…

  • Photography,  Places

    The Wood Next Door.

    TRESPASSING IN AN OVERLOOKED PLACE. Beside my house there’s a vast wooded lot which both fascinates and haunts me. It has a voice. Looking outside our side windows, I see tall, ivy entwined trees and long weeds obscuring a darkening western sky. This overgrown, unkempt expanse feels both beautiful and malevolent. One of the pines—old, gnarled and unforgiving as Chronos himself—looms over the gully separating our balcony, and regularly dumps branches without warning or even a whisper of wind. He’s like a neighbor who never smiles or meets your eye but wears a constant sneer. Three weeks after we’d moved into our apartment one of our cats answered the nocturnal calls of this strange wood.  As soon as we took up residence, the cat itself started howling out in a new voice, as if answering some inaudible cry that stirred from without. Despite the baying of dogs, and the fact…

  • Art / Design / Craft,  People

    Sema Topaloglu: creating the artifacts of tomorrow?

    THE SIGNATURE MOTIF OF A FANTASTIC TALENT. Dear Mayor of Istanbul, I’d like to sincerely thank you and the city for the ongoing work you’re doing upgrading public transportation. I’ve lived here just over six years now, and I’ve seen a vast improvement and many positive changes. Automobile traffic its resulting pollution is a huge problem, and the more you do to unclog the streets and clean up the air, the better. In addition, you’ve made it possible for me to go from Taksim Square to my home in Yeniköy in under 40 minutes, mostly thanks to the underground. This means that rather than sitting in traffic with horns blaring and inching along at a snail’s pace, I can instead be home and spend valuable time with my daughter. This makes a huge difference to my quality of life, and I trust, hers. That’s why I don’t want to sound…

  • Photography,  Places

    Steam Punk Dreaming: Haydarpasa & Santral

    PRESSURE GAUGES IN THE DORMANT SANTRAL POWER STATION. In Istanbul the question, “when am I?” sounds in my head frequently. Its passages and corridors, its city streets and vistas that could belong to any number of eras. But then someone yanks out a cellphone and my dreamlike sense of dislocation is shattered. Once again it’s an old city pocked with wear. There are two places where I get a particular kind of steam punk feeling though, the kind of mood that China Mieville’s gritty nightmare fantasy Perdido Street Station elicited in me. Both are vast and filled with quiet, but evoke volumes of wonder. Both belong to the dwindling days of the Ottoman Empire, where history and tradition began to be steamrolled into the modern era. HISTORIES COLLIDE AT HAYDARPASA STATION. The first is Haydarpasa Train Station. Imagine the awe it must have inspired  … you’ve lived in central Anatolia all…

  • Food & Drink,  Photography

    Vapur II: blue sea, black tea.

    WILL SHE BE ABOARD? SHE HAS TO BE. On every voyage, no matter how small, you need a traveling companion to keep you warm. I fell in love with mine on my first vapur crossing in Istanbul. Her name is Camellia, Camellia Sinensis. You may also know her as tea. Don’t get me wrong, a piping hot cup of coffee is a beautiful experience, but when I board a vapur, she pales by comparison. I’ll drop my cup of coffee in a second. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD … WILL SHE BE THE SAME? I read recently that tea only became the drink of choice in the twilight hours of the Ottoman Empire, and that, not surprisingly, Turkish Coffee was favored until the Yemeni province of the Empire got uppity, or simply out of reach because of World War I … but don’t quote me on this because I can’t recall the…

  • Books & Lit,  Food & Drink

    Steering the stomach straight.

    THE ENGLISH EDITION OF ISTANBUL EATS. There are three things in life that really burn my butt. Number one is when somebody comes up with a great idea that I wish I’d had. Number two is when I couldn’t have done a better job myself. Number three is a fire about 1 meter high. Anyway, I guess I’m about to put an evil eye on Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer because their guide book Istanbul Eats — Exploring The Culinary Backstreets has achieved number one and two and managed to light a fire under my behind.