Archive for February, 2012

  • Ghost City

    February 29th, 2012

    “GHOST CITY” PART OF LUK BERGHE’S UTOPIA COLLECTION.

    There’s something magnetic to me about art that explores architecture, especially when it’s concerned with abandoned architecture. Vacant seats and derelict buildings always leave me wondering about the dreamers who built and inhabited them, and have since moved on. Have they left us a gift? A window into time? Or a haunted trap, singing of someone else’s sorrow?

    Enough of my feeble poetry …  that’s why I’m looking forward to tomorrow evening’s opening at the Architectural Research Studio MARS in Istanbul, where Luk Berghe’s fascinating, apocalyptic looking watercolor on paper prints will be on display. As a special bonus, Berghe, also a performance artist, will be adding to the spectacle by opening the show with a piece appropriately entitled: “Occupy.”

    Hope to see you there.

    GHOST CITY: UTOPIA COLLECTION BY LUK BERGHE
    Opening: 19:00 Thursday, March 1, 2012
    Closing: April 28, 2012
    MARS Architectural Research Studio
    Firuzaga Mah. Bostanbasi Cad No 10.
    Galatasaray / Taksim / Istanbul

  • 24 golden hours on the Golden Horn.

    February 27th, 2012

    VOYAGE TO THE GOLDEN HORN.

    This weekend I had an amazing 24-hours escaping into my favorite neighborhood like a tourist. After dropping off our daughter at her grandmother’s we boarded a vapur for Karaköy. Start any adventure on a vapur and it’s bound to add flavor to the experience.

    FIND YOURSELF A GOOD NIGHTTIME NEST: KARAKÖY ROOMS.

    Next, we checked ourselves into a really elegantly appointed hotel. Sometimes you need to feel like you’re in a movie, not ordinary life. We stayed at Karaköy Rooms, owned by the same team that bring me gastronomic bliss on a regular basis, Karaköy Lonakantasi. I highly recommend renting the studio. It’s a beautiful space with high ceilings and even has a small kitchenette appointed. We were tempted to stay for more than 24 hours. Take a beer or a glass of wine up to the roof and take in the view of the old city and the crisscrossing traffic of ferries and ships.

    PERSEMBE PAZARI: FULL OF CURIOUS FINDS.

    One of my favorite places to explore these days is Persembe Pazari. These backstreets are full of atmosphere and shadowy beauty and the passages and the cracked and crumbling hans you can discover all manner of strange curiosities on display from businesses left over from the days when the Haliç (Golden Horn) was still a working port.

    FIND YOURSELF A SUNLIT PERCH ON THE HALIÇ.

    If it’s sunny and warm, relax on the shore and have a tea in the area just after the Karaköy fish market. If you’re a fan of great architecture, walk on from Persembe Pazari until the next bridge where you can visit one of Mimar Sinan’s famous mosques, situated just before the Haliç Tersanesi (Boat Yard). It’s definitely worth a look inside, and the late day light is truly amazing.

    INSIDE ONE OF MIMAR SINAN’S MOSQUES.

    THE HALIÇ TERSANESI (BOAT YARD)

    Before heading out for the evening, drop into Salt Galata. Originally built by a French Levantine architect, Alexandre Vallaury for the Ottoman Bank, and now owned by Garanti, it’s been extensively renovated and renewed to serve as a public archive and gallery space. There’s also a high end dining space by the Doors Group called CA’ D’ORO. Personally, I’d stay here for a drink at the sunset hour and enjoy the light and shadow slanting across the Golden Horn, but I’m not sure after tasting the food on two separate occasions that I’d stay for supper, as they don’t seem to have mastered their menu yet.

    For supper I’d check out Maya. Just remember to book at least a week in advance (I always leave it too late). If not, go to my personal favorite, Karaköy Lokantasi. For drinks afterward, head to Klup Kulah (directions here) or go back and enjoy the privacy of your suite. What happens next, is not for public consumption.

    BRUNCH AT BEJ: OVEREATING HERE IS A SERIOUS, BUT ENJOYABLE RISK.

    So let’s move to the next morning … after a late rise, I’d suggest a long, leisurely brunch at Bej Kahve. They brew a good cup of coffee and the yumurtali pide (kind of like a fried-egg-topped pizza) is delicious. So is the cevizli-bal-kaymak (walnut-honey-clotted) combination. Enjoy the warm morning light, a green tea or two to detox your liver from the previous night’s excesses, then a magazine or two and some mellow conversation before you head back to reality.

    Do you ever escape into your own city? What’s your perfect 24-hour excursion?

  • Sefahathane: thickening the Beyoglu atmosphere.

    February 24th, 2012

    YOU NEVER KNOW WHO’S BEEN HERE.

    A night out doesn’t have to be big, or glitzy to be fun. All you need is a good corner to perch, and the right company. In fact, it seems to me that big places, with lots of money splashed out on the decor often find themselves thin on that thing you just can’t generate artificially — atmosphere. It’s there, or it isn’t.

    In Beyoglu’s Atlas Pasaji — about 150 meters from the gate of Galatasary Lisessi, if you’re walking towards Taksim — is Sefahathane, one of my favorite night spots. In the columned space between Atlas Sinema‘s box office and the stair to its large theatre is one my favorite spots in the world. It’s one of those spaces that defy the need to be big on anything but atmosphere. Like Torino Express in Beirut, or the Manx Pub where I grew up, these narrow spaces contain a mood that’s never artificial. Perhaps it’s the fact that the servers and the management don’t expend a lot of effort trying to be ‘cool.’ They just are.

    THE BAR STAFF: LOTS OF ATTITUDE. ZERO PRETENSE.

    I’ve been visiting this spot on and off since I first came to the city, almost seven years, but it’s been here longer, some 20 years, long before Beyoglu’s revival as the city’s entertainment district. And now it’s got some new management. Selim Güsar, a regular patron of the establishment since its inception has just recently taken over the lease and is introducing some new ideas, involving live music and entertainment, such as percussionists and piano players who will work in step with the talent at the turntables. Güsar and partners are no strangers to the world of music, and unlike many ambitious new managers with big dreams, they seem to me more likely to thicken the bar’s atmosphere, rather than thin it out. After all, they’ve been part of the scene for 20 years.

    PIANO PLAYER AND SINGER STEAL PHOTOGRAPHER’S HAT, LOSE THEMSELVES IN THE MOMENT.

    SEFAHATHANE OPENED ON THE BEYOGLU BAR SCENE 20 YEARS AGO.

    No matter what, if you’re in the neighborhood, want a drink and a snug corner to wedge yourself in for the evening, I suggest you pop in. The night tends to start mellow and then suddenly, out of nowhere, it seems the place is jammed to the rafters. Perhaps that’s because it’s also got something else you can’t fake in the fickle world of nightlife. History.

    Maybe it’ll become part of yours.

    THE NEW MANAGEMENT, A PATRON WITH HISTORY: SELIM GÜSAR.

  • The sounds, colours and vibrations of the universe.

    February 22nd, 2012

    PROMOTING OPEN AIR WAVES AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION.

    I recently had a chance to take a peek inside the Harbiye studios from which Istanbul’s AÇIK (Open) Radyo 94.9 is broadcast. On the airwaves since 1995, the station will soon move to a new home in Tophane. It was Simon Johnson, editor-in-chief of That Magazine, and co-host of Saturday night’s 10 pm world music program, who suggested I take a look behind the scenes.

    COFFEE AND TEA AVAILABLE BASED ON THE HONOR SYSTEM.

    AÇIK’s studios are quite a contrast compared to those I’m used to. Its studio glass is yellowed and hazed with cigarette (ahem) smoke, empty beer bottles have been left atop consoles, there are torn walls, desks missing drawers, and just about every square inch of wall, glass or air duct is stuck with decals, making it feel more like the basement of a high school friend even five floors up. But then the studios I used to work with were simply about making themselves and other people money.

    And not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this Istanbul-based, privately held, non-profit cultural institution means something more—especially to people in the region—as it was formed with the ideals of democracy not just in mind but implemented in its structure, working methods and programming. Its goal is to protect the universality of fundamental human rights and freedoms. How?

    By capturing: “life as it is by being open to all the sounds, colours and vibrations of the universe.”

    Seems like a noble pursuit to me.

    THE MUSIC LIBRARY.

    RAS MEMO, HOST OF SATURDAY NIGHT’S “HIGH TIMES”

    TECHNOLOGY MAY CHANGE BUT RADIO IS HERE TO STAY: AÇIK RADYO 94.9 — Listen here.

  • Adaçayi: a sage choice of drink.

    February 20th, 2012

    COULD THIS TEA SHARPEN OUR SENSES? DIMINISH THE AGING PROCESS? MAYBE.

    A few years ago,  I started visiting Yeniköy, and in particular, Yeniköy Kahvesi, a tea garden/coffeehouse set above the village’s main boulevard, nestled beside one of the community’s Greek churches. Overhung with vines and interlacing tree branches this quiet spot is a popular weekend brunch option year-round with its mix of sun and shade, indoor fireplace and relaxed attitude.

    One day when a group of us gathered there in early spring with our books and Sudoku puzzles, my friend Despina ordered an adaçayi (sage tea). I’d like to think that my life has changed for the better since that day.

    THE LANE BEHIND YENIKÖY KAHVESI.

    Made simply by infusing hot water with sage leaves, this herb turns the water a vibrant fluorescent yellow-green. It’s a refreshing hot drink usually enjoyed with a slice or two of lemon.

    From that day on I decided that this was more than just an ordinary drink. It also makes a nice change from the caffeine jitters from drinking  black tea or coffee all day long. But does adaçayi also heighten neurological function? Quite possibly.

    FEELING A BIT BLURRY? LOOK FOR THE MEMORY ELIXIR HERE.

    According to the World’s Healthiest Foods (my favorite online resource for nutritional advice, which backs up all its assertions with medical findings):

    “Research published in the June 2003 issue ofPharmacological Biochemical Behavior confirms what herbalists have long known: sage is an outstanding memory enhancer. In this placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study, two trials were conducted using a total of 45 young adult volunteers. Participants were given either placebo or a standardized essential oil extract of sage in doses ranging from 50 to 150 microls. Cognitive tests were then conducted 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 hours afterwards. In both trials, even the 50 microl dose of sage significantly improved subjects’ immediate recall.” But wait, there’s more … it’s also a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant: “The leaves and stems of the sage plant also contain antioxidant enzymes, including SOD (superoxide dismutase) and peroxidase. When combined, these three components of sage—flavonoids, phenolic acids, and oxygen-handling enzymes—give it a unique capacity for stabilizing oxygen-related metabolism and preventing oxygen-based damage to the cells.”

    COULD WE ACHIEVE CAT-LIKE PERCEPTION …  I LIKE TO THINK SO.

    Since we need to drink water plenty of water daily, why not enhance the hydration process using a herb that civilizations as far back as the Greeks and the Romans have prized for its medicinal properties? 

    Perhaps it’s the placebo effect working in me — mind over matter — as I’ll be the first to admit that I like the idea of natural memory enhancers and anti-inflammatories. The prospect of cognitive decline and diminished mental capacity with age is not an appealing thought. Whatever the case I always feel a little “different” after drinking the decoction.

    THE CHURCH BESIDE YENIKÖY KAHVESI.

    Colors seem richer, the grain of surfaces seem sharper, the contrast between light and shadow deeper, and, overall I feel more alert. Usually around mid-afternoon, I find myself losing some of my edge, wanting to go into siesta mode.

    This afternoon though, I felt like something was different, even with the photos I took after drinking my adaçayi and exploring the old Greek lanes behind the tea garden.

    LINES SEEM MORE CLEARLY DRAWN. COLORS ARE ENRICHED, DEEPENED.

    Whatever the truth, a sage tea or two this spring at Yeniköy Kahvesi, sitting under the vine leaves, soft sea air wafting up off the Bosporus could hardly be harmful, could it?

    YENIKÖY KAHVESI. DRINK A FRESH ADAÇAYI HERE.

    Tell me, have you ever tried sage tea? What do you think? Can you recommend any natural memory-enhancers? I’d love to know.

  • Sofia’s Minibus Magic

    February 18th, 2012

    PROVING IT’S THE JOURNEY AND NOT THE DESTINATION LIKE NOTHING ELSE: THE MINIBUS.

    At the risk of sounding like some elitist, snobbish expat with delusions of grandeur, I have a confession to make: I don’t think Istanbul’s minibuses are the most stately mode of transport. No offense intended, this is just an observation. One of my earliest recollections involves veering in and out of traffic while the driver, mobile phone propped between shoulder and ear, cigarette clenched in teeth, drove and sorted change. Now that’s multitasking. On another trip, quite recently, the driver requested that all standing passengers crouch or squeeze three to a seat as the police were right behind him and he didn’t want to be fined for being overcapacity.

    THE FRONT SEAT: THE MOST COMFORTABLE, REMEMBERING THAT COMFORT IS RELATIVE.

    Not having a car (or wanting one) at my disposal, and being a firm believer in public transport in all its forms, I frequently use these nimble little buses that dart in and out of traffic without regard for what’s ahead, behind or below and seem to teeter precariously on upward bends in the road. Don’t get me wrong, they are efficient and cheap form of transport, just not especially comfortable—especially when you’re over 6 foot (190cm) tall and your crown makes repeated contact with the ceiling or the handlebars. The trip is unlikely to ever have the romance of say a train, and certainly not a vapur—despite the great skill of the drivers and their ability to multitask, it’s probably a little demanding of me to expect their one-man-crews to serve tea as well as navigate, sort change and carry out a conversation on their mobiles. Still, it’s good to dream.

    YOUR TOUR GUIDE AND NARRATOR: MISS SOFIA ELIF.

    Over the last year, however, the minibus experience has transformed itself into nothing less than great fun. And that’s entirely due to my traveling companion, and narrator daughter, Sofia Elif. Not only does Sof’s presence relinquish me of the gentlemanly need to abandon my seat once the bus becomes crowded, it enriches the experience of not just me, but I think the other passengers, who will hear squeals of delight when Sof sees a boy playing with a ball on the street, or better yet a scruffy mutt trotting along the roadside. Great shrieks of “Ohhh! Doggie!” or “Ball!” will erupt out of nowhere. Or she’ll start tugging on some woman’s headscarf, or flirt with a dour looking old uncle who looks like he hasn’t cracked a smile in a decade but suddenly does.

    Thanks, Sof.

  • Gothic beauty … in the eye of the beholder.

    February 16th, 2012

    YENIKÖY CHURCH.

    Perhaps it’s the constant threat of snow the last couple weeks, but I’ve started to notice the cracks in this city, through which both the icy wind and my imagination can howl. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of snow. Where I grew up the snow and dark could last for months. As a child it sometimes seemed my only refuge was the world of books and the fiery corners of my imagination.

    ABANDONED KONAK, YENIKÖY.

    More often than not the tales I disappeared into were of a dark, gothic nature. So, thanks to the snow, my imagination has started to shade the city a touch gothic lately. I mean this in the literary sense — and not the medieval architectural sense. I mean in the details, in the strange slanted light, the clacking shutters of empty casements, and the creaking of floorboards.

    Istanbul is full of abandoned shambling old konaklar. Once upon a time these were splendid, sometimes stately homes, but now because of land disputes, dispossession or bad debts have been left to moulder and rot until they collapse into wreckage. It always strikes me that they must have been difficult to live in even when brand new, as they seem proportioned with improbably high-ceilings and comparatively narrow floor spaces, such that you could almost imagine they were dreamed up and then fled from by some noble race of incredibly tall, slender beings. 

    Perhaps even the wood these konaklar are built from possesses a certain haunted aspect. Trees are marked by such longevity and resilience that there’s something ironic/tragic about their impermanence when used as a building material. Still, wood, growing or dead, more than any other static material seems to have a voice. It contracts like creaking bones in the cold, and pops, crackles and reveals its fiery spirit when exposed to dry heat.

    THE BARK OF A SYCAMORE.

    Which brings me to they city’s trees. Of all the city’s abundant species, it’s the sycamore/plane trees that speak the loudest to me with their incredible variegated, chipped bark. It’s easy to see patterns, and imagine a story or three buried in the cores of these majestic sentinels which line Istanbul’s grand boulevards. They are fantastic looking trees with big broad leaves which look like those of a maple. Wet, their bark produces incredible deep saturated hues from green to reddish brown and reveal all sorts of interesting patterns. Can you see the skull in the image immediately above?

    I love to glimpse things that may or not be there, that may or not exist. Whether it’s in the bark of a tree, through the broken casement of an old konak, or the distortion in a piece of colored glass. It’s entertaining to ask yourself whether what you see is real, or simply a trick of the light. In any case, a single glimpse can haunt you for days.

    A MYSTERIOUS WOMAN? OR A TRICK OF ISTANBUL LIGHT? WHAT DO YOU SEE?

  • The Romance of Rust

    February 13th, 2012

    I’m not an Orientalist. I’m not an Occidentalist. I’m an Oxidizalist. Okay, so there’s no such word, but right now, I’m having a certain romance with the processes of oxidation and crumbling (provided we’re not talking about my own), so I need a term to describe it.

    This city has so much beauty, even in its regions of decrepitude, that’s worthy of notice. Call me crazy, but I’m having  a kind of romance with rust.

    It’s interesting to take a stroll through the old industrial and shipping areas of town and feel the textures, particularly on a wet day when all the colors darken. Just look at the richness of hue, the patterns of wear, the textures in Industrianbul (yes another made up word)— Persembe Pazari, Haydarpasa and other dockside areas.

    WILL THE RUSTED RISE AGAIN? FREIGHT CRANES AT HAYDARPASA.

    What do you think? Are these things more romantic now that they’re crumbling? I wonder if they’d seem as noble and as striking if they were fresh and new.

  • Secret Societies: Oh no! or … Oh really?

    February 11th, 2012

    THE MASONS WERE HERE! THE MASONS WERE HERE! BUT WAIT … WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

    For as long as human civilization has existed, it appears that secret societies have existed. Sometimes they were mainstream society’s priesthoods and knowledge keepers and the secrets they kept from the mainstream were the basis of their power, as they told themselves that they were keeping “the meat for the men and the milk for babes.” Other times they were completely underground organizations unknown or only rumored because of the threat of persecution for what may or may not have been their radical thinking.

    Until recently I had absolutely no idea what most of these societies were supposed to have believed. Many a blockbuster movie would have us think that they were sacrificing virgins and offering them up as a tribute to Satan. The problem with finding out what secret societies like the masons believe is that there are/were blood oaths and all sorts of menacing reasons for them to keep their secrets secret. How else do you keep a secret, well, secret? Still, in an era where we (or some of us, at least) praise democracy and transparency is it necessary, or wise to keep such secrets? It’s certainly elitist. Read More…

  • Istanbul’s Smallest Church?

    February 8th, 2012

    NUMBER 19 TAHSIN HOCA SOKAGI.

    Despite not being religious, I have, nevertheless, a deep fascination which borders on reverence for places of worship. There’s something about them, an energy, a vibration — call it what you will — that’s special. That’s why I was intrigued when a good friend told me about a rooftop Russian Orthdox church in Karaköy. Read More…