• Art / Design / Craft,  People

    City Sketcher

     © Samantha Zaza One of the things I wanted to do when I started this site was to provide sketches of city life. Before launching I worked furiously for a couple of hours every day, honing my skills. But I’m not there yet, and will continue to rely on my photographic skills in order to present the visual component of most of my stories for the time being. © Samantha Zaza That’s why I want to take the time to introduce you to a terrific artist we have working away right here in Istanbul already providing incredible glimpses into the beauty and mystery of this city and others. You may have noticed her site Harika (meaning wonderful, fantastic, incredible … in Turkish) listed on the blog roll to your right before today, but I really hope you’ll visit it — that’s why I’ve stopped myself at just three of her sketches. The thing I…

  • Art / Design / Craft,  People

    Istanbul’s new chanteuse

    A LUMINOUS NEW TALENT SINGING HER HEART OUT. Istanbul is a tough mistress. Even if she loves you, she doesn’t make life easy. Whether you’re Turkish or yabanci (foreigner) she doesn’t really mind. I often think of Istanbul as a wonderful muse with a mean right hook. But if you continue to love her, and treat her like the empress she is, she might just grant you her favor. Thanks to plenty of love the Empress is becoming an international city again, as she was in Ottoman times. She’s attracting talent from within and from without. That’s why last night I was fantastically pleased to see my friend Fleur and her group Odylle take the stage at Ghetto to celebrate the release of their debut album, Istanbul Bana Ne Yaptin? (what did you do to me?). DON’T LOOK BACK. YOU’VE JUST STARTED. Fleur O. Van Wijck came to Istanbul to do her masters…

  • Art / Design / Craft,  Photography

    Accidental Patterns

    PYTHAGOREAN PIPES. THE TETRACTYS. What is it that makes something beautiful? Is it when it suggests something to you which creates a pattern in your head? Is it about achieving symmetry, or is it asymmetrical? Is it an accident or something you can create? I wonder. I’m inclined to think the most beautiful things are discovered by an accident. Is beauty created, or discovered. No matter how genius an artist or scientist is, I’m of the belief that they stumble along to find the patterns in life and highlight them. How many accidents have found happy conclusions? I think it’s when we’re forced to look at something a different way that a beautiful new truth is discovered. SUNLIGHT THROUGH A DERELICT FACADE IMPOSES ITS PATTERN ON ANOTHER BUILDING. Pythagoras, the mathematician, mystic and ‘lover of wisdom’, believed there was a pattern to nature, and is often credited with discovering musical…

  • People,  Places

    The Magic of Turks

    One of the things I vowed never to do on this blog was a rant. While I believe in an open and democratic internet, despite some of the dangers and pitfalls attached, I also feel there is far too much anger and hatred being voiced. That’s why I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about something that’s really touches me powerfully and positively on a daily basis. I don’t have to live in Turkey. I choose to. A large part of the reason I stay is the magic of this place. Yes, there are many difficulties in this land, and life is incredibly hard for a considerable portion of the population. Still, I count myself lucky to be here. That’s largely because of the mix of people who surround me, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, Turkish, Turkish-Kurdish, Turkish-Armenian, Turkish-Greek …  I could go on, but you get the…

  • Photography,  Places

    In the belly of a beautiful beast: the Marmaray Project.

    Cities are incredible things to me, like monstrous organisms. They are composed of living and non-living materials. They have a vast network of interconnected internal organs hidden beneath layers of external tissues. They expand and contract, inhale and exhale, live and die … I could go on with the metaphors, but I won’t. Yesterday, I had a magnificent opportunity, one of the most awe-inspiring of my life, to enter the belly of the beast of Istanbul and explore the tunnels which will conduct the Marmaray rail system, a system which will plunge below the Marmara Sea and once completed, will connect Halkali on the European side to Gebze on the Asian side of the supercity of Istanbul. Like many people who live in metropolises, I take trains and the underground on an almost daily basis. Aside from some crowding, the occasional waft of bad breath or B.O., rail is a…

  • Places

    Kuzguncuk Mahallesi

    THIS NEIGHBORHOOD BELONGS TO ANOTHER ERA OF ISTANBUL. Don’t know about you, but there are times I want to live an urban life without all the latté and fast food chains, which seem to be claiming more and more prime real estate and more and more of our everyday lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above using them, it’s just they get a little tiring, manufacturing the same experience over and over. That’s why I felt so refreshed the other day when I heeded historian Selin Barlas‘ advice and headed to Kuzguncuk. There wasn’t one branded paper coffee cup rolling around the streets, or simit chain store in sight. Instead there was relaxed local scene, where people clearly knew one another and weren’t in any hurry to be somewhere else. Kuzguncuk is a self-contained, functioning neighborhood with its own post office, a butcher’s, several bakeries and a host of…

  • Mind / Body,  Photography

    The Mystic Emptiness

    Ever have those moments when the light strikes the surface you’re looking at in a certain way and suddenly there’s a change, an almost mystic feel in the air and you want suddenly to say, “Yeah, baby!” I do all the time. Then I realize I’m alone, or in a church, a mosque or some sacred site where such an expression would be highly inappropriate. The world really is an incredible place at times, particularly when you get to see the most mundane things all over again, but in a new way. Perhaps that’s why I’m so relieved to have my camera and this blog. Being a writer or a creative person is very solitary at times. You’re always trying to capture a moment, hold it, freeze it in glass. Now it’s not so lonely. I could say more, but somebody else has already said it far better: “The most…

  • People

    Profile: Selin Barlas, Historian and TV Host.

    History is a subject important to us all, whether it’s personal or national. For Selin Barlas it’s both. In addition to her scholarly work she voices Bemaddy children’s stories for iPad, and every Saturday night with Murat Bardakçi and Erhan Afyoncu, c0-hosts Haber Türk’s Tarihin Arka Odasi (History’s Back Room). Like Istanbul, Selin is a woman with a Western and Eastern sides, her father is Turkish and her mother is American. When it comes to Istanbul, Turkey and history in general, there’s no other place to be. I got a chance to sit down with her recently and discuss her work, and understand why history is so personal and so passionate a subject for her. How did you come to be a co-host of Tarihin Arka Odasi? SELIN BARLAS: My predecessor and friend, Pelin Batu, decided to leave the show and suggested me to Murat Bardakçi. Like her I also went to Bogaziçi which…

  • Books & Lit

    Reading list: THAT MAGAZINE.

    Crack the champagne! Another of my favorite quarterly magazines has just celebrated its first year with its fifth issue. Though its distribution is limited to Istanbul (for the moment, as my sources tell me a special issue is headed to Art Dubai) THAT MAGAZINE  is well worth looking for and holding onto. I have to hand it to Editor-In-Chief, Mr Johnson, each issue gets better and better. Highlights from the latest include a photo essay in one of Istanbul’s recycling plants, as well as an excerpt from Brendan and John Freely’s upcoming book. The article is entitled Your Guide to the Best Pubs & Clubs of Galata circa 1900-1930. I loved the excerpt and I’m now really looking forward to the release of the book. I’ve often imagined all the wild characters and intrigue circulating through that era of Istanbul, and from the details in this piece, I have to say…

  • Photography,  Places

    Istanbul’s otherworldly inhabitants.

    I sometimes wish it was possible to interview cats. What things they must have seen — and if they could talk, I’m sure they’d have a rich oral history. Unless they adapt their claws to dip in an inkwell … they’d probably be talented calligraphers. Okay, so I’m letting my imagination run away with me here. Regardless, whether you like or dislike cats, Istanbul neighborhoods would not be what they are without their feline inhabitants. The street dogs are something special too, but in my opinion they exist solely based on the good nature of the city’s gentle inhabitants. Cats are subtle creatures and I’m told that this city’s felines have flourished since Ottoman times thanks to the Prophet’s particular love of the animal. It’s said that he loved animals in general, but that once he cut off his own sleeve rather than disrupt a feline friend’s sleep. In more…