Archive for April, 2012
Pink, there are times when you come off a little garish, or seem the feebler cousin of Red, lacking that vibrant color’s conviction. For some you can be a little hard to define, your hue being somewhere between Red and Magenta. But when you place yourself in partnership with Green, you truly know how to shine, perhaps even how to heal. You also know how to highlight magnificently the hours of dawn and dusk in between the contrast of slanting beams of light and long layers of shadow. You’re the color of love and the signal fire that says the equinox is here.
Pink, you definitely have your moments. The spectrum of the universe would not be the same without you. Keep shining.
Rumeli Feneri is built on one half of the legendary Sympleglades, Cynaean Rocks or Clashing Rocks that once came together to crush hapless ships at the Black Sea mouth of the Bosporus. Jason and the Argonauts defeated them by issuing a bird first in order to spring the Sympleglades prematurely. The bird lost its tail feathers between the rocks and the Argo sailed boldly through before they could clash together again fully. After this, the rocks ceased to move.
After a cursory look over the last couple of days at both Rumeli Kavagi and Rumeli Feneri, I don’t think there’s any danger of the rocks or much else springing to life. This landscape feels more tragic than epic, more crumbling than clashing. It’s a shame. This is legendary terrain, but you wouldn’t think so from looking at it. This place could use a loving touch, but it doesn’t seem to have seen one in years.
Sadly, the most charming view of Rumeli Feneri seems to be from the sea. My advice is stay aboard your vessel, and steer clear of these rocks. Dormant or not, your spirit might end up crushed.
One of these days I will be lucky enough to visit Japan during cherry blossom season. Until then, however, I’m lucky enough to have discovered this wonderful little gift from the city of Shimonoseki, Japan to Istanbul. Since 1972 the cities have been sister cities because of their similar landscapes and straits. This park was built about 10 years ago to commemorate the friendship in Baltalimani, not far from the Sakip Sabanci Hospital.
The three weeks I spent in Japan a few years ago were nothing less than incredible. Since then, I have a radar for anything reminiscent of Japan. This is the perfect place to take a book or a loved one (or both) and a flask of green tea, and relax and spend a few hours. Don’t know what it’s like on weekends but it is very quiet weekdays. It’s especially nice if you’re a parent because the grass is clean and with the exception of the pond there are limited dangers for the small ones. Sof and I made blossom boats to float on the pond.
Thank you, Shimonoseki.
It’s been an exciting couple of weeks, what with shooting the Easter rites of Turkey’s Greek community and jumping on and off Ciner Shipping’s freighter, the Trabzon, so lately my batteries have needed some recharging.
Fortunately my sister Maia provided me with two truly great reads. The first was Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table which recounts the experiences of an 11-year old boy on The Oronsay, a ship bound for England from Ceylon (Sri Lanka). As usual Mr. Ondaatje does a tremendous job of linking the past to the present, slowly unfurling the story of a how the three-week journey and the strange events aboard resounded throughout the lives of the passengers, jumping forward and backward through time. I savored this one.
The second is The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. I haven’t had the self-control to savor this one. I’ve been reading it in gulps. This book tells the wayward journey of two titular brothers and assassins on their way from Oregon City to gold rush Sacramento to complete their latest assignment. Every sentence crackles with black humor. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Joel and Ethan Coen have optioned this book. It’s so good, so well crafted that I can’t really concentrate on anything else right now, except finding the next cup of coffee, or glass of black tea. I’ll be back soon … I think. It’s nice to be reminded that despite the fun of the internet, the lure of a good film, that there’s nothing quite like the world of fiction to lose yourself in for an hour or two.
What are your favorite ways to recharge? How do you escape? Let me know. I’m listening.
There’s something in your eyes I hope you never lose. Curiosity. You’re brimming with it, and it’s a beautiful thing. For me the process of finding out is more interesting than the actually knowing, or being right. Even when you know a little something, you can build on it by asking the next question. Once you’ve figured out the how, go onto the why. Even if you never find out, you’ll be rewarded with all sorts of adventures which keep life interesting.
Develop your curiosity. Develop your sense of wonder — wonder, which is not the same thing as gullibility, any more than open-mindedness is the same as empty-headedness. Wonder leads to all sorts of things — creativity, invention, discovery, surprises, friendships, travel, and perhaps best of all, love.
Some people get to an age or station in life when they think they’ve lived everything they can ever expect to live, and in an effort to defend themselves from disappointment, abandon their curiosity. Then they grow bitter and angry, and adopt an I’ve seen it all before attitude. They tell themselves the world has let them down. That’s tragic.
Anybody who wants you to believe that the world is certain, predictable or determined by your genes is somebody to be very wary of — seems to me they’ve chosen their reality from an out-of-date guidebook. If there’s not something new around the corner, find a new corner. The universe is vast and full of surprises.
Whether you’re exploring the microcosm or the macrocosm, curiosity is the beginning of all great discoveries. I hope your life is full of them.
Ashore, the Bosporus seems like a broad passage, deep and easily navigable. From the bridge of a 229-meter freighter, the scale and proportion of things changes — dramatically. You realize that there’s nothing straight about the world’s most romantic, if not most important, strait. The Bosporus is a twisty, mighty and highly dangerous waterway. And if not accorded the respect she deserves, could easily prove lethal to many.
That’s why on Sunday morning I shook off the previous night’s Easter celebrations and hastened in a taxi to Rumeli Kavagi, camera in hand, in order to to board Ciner Shipping’s 6-month old freighter, the “Trabzon.” I wanted to capture at least something of life aboard one of these incredible vessels which slip up and down the Bosporus on a daily basis. It was an awe-inspiring experience, and one that’s deepened my respect for those who live their life at the mercy of the mighty seas.
My Ciner Shipping contact and friend, Despina and I reach Rumeli Kavagi where the Gözcu 1 (the Watcher), the agent boat which will ferry us to the Trabzon in a hurry, waits. When the Captain of the Gözcü says we have to jump from dock to boat, I don’t realize, unlike Despina, that he’s joking. But it’s worth it to see the look on his face when I do.
Before today, I’d never been farther than Anadolu Kavagi aboard a boat. I’ve never ventured into the Black Sea. Today we have Lodos, the strong south westerly wind which can make life treacherous for mariners. “Lodos in the Black Sea,” the captain of the Gözcü tells us, “is not a problem.” I fail to understand the significance of what he says at this moment.
Even this short excursion aboard the Gözcü is worth it. There is intermittent rain and sunshine, and finally, as if to mark the last corner of Europe, a rainbow above Rumeli Feneri. If I see dolphins, the scene will require a soundtrack. Freighters suddenly loom large in our channel, preparing for their Bosporus passage.
We draw close to one, which looks a decent size, but this isn’t our vessel. There’s no Ciner logo. It’s the St. Valentina, registered in Monrova, carrying who knows what. Then, she appears. The Trabzon. As we sidle up to her 229-meter hull, I see that we will board her by climbing a rope ladder. The security chief is waving from above. Serious or not, Lodos or not, the winds are strong. It’s quite an experience clambering up the side of a vessel like this, the ladder swinging out and away from the hull, the wind licking the drool from your lip.
Once aboard everything changes. You no longer feel small and cowed. You feel small and protected, cradled in the hand of a friendly giant. Everything below seems puny, minuscule. We are given badges and escorted to the bridge where we see Captain Nailon overlooking the strait. He’s a quiet, confident Filipino, the apex of the 19-man crew. “Odessa,” he shakes his head. “Always problems.” A small yellow and orange colored boat ferries away a health and safety inspector, while an all orange boat marked “pilot” brings aboard the man who will be responsible for guiding us through the narrows to the Marmara.
On the bridge there is no wood panelling, no brass fixtures. Instead, small, efficient looking consoles, gleaming and new. Computer screens and GPS charts. There is a compact black handled control, like a race car wheel, rather than the many-spoked wood captain’s wheel of yesteryear. It’s almost a relief then, when I see Serdar Kaptan, a former sea captain and now a Ciner company man drawing on a chart with a fountain pen.
A stern faced Turk, Tuncer Bey, walks onto the bridge. He is one of 63 Bosporus pilots who oversee the passage of this strait. He shakes hands with Captain Nailon, and then quickly and confidently begins to call out headings. The Valentina passes below, quiet as a mouse, yet confident of her diminutive profile.
We pass Rumeli Kavagi, Sariyer, Tarabya, and then Yeniköy where they graciously blast the ship’s horn in greeting to Sevin and Sofia on our balcony in the hills above. I can see the house, but not my beautiful wife and daughter. Then you really begin to comprehend the scale of things as we approach the narrowest point of the Bosporus, traversed not far above us by Fatih Sultan Mehemet bridge, the second of Istanbul’s mighty intercontinental bridges. There are moments where you think the ship is on a collision course with the shore. There’s no stopping a ship of this size. Constant minute course corrections are required. Serdar Kaptan tells us that when there’s an accident, people always claim it’s an instrument glitch. It’s never an instrument glitch.
Bye-bye Bebek, I mutter.
Tuncer Bey, the pilot, is not concerned, but concentrated. Pilots work two days on, three days off.
Once the first of the two bridges is behind us we go below to take a look at the engine room. Again, there’s nobody shoveling coal into a boiler or anything like the good old days of shipping. Just more clean, shimmering panels. It’s not as noisy as I’d expect, but it’s almost sauna warm. Despina and I ask daft questions, like what happens if we press this red button, and what does this do? The Chief Engineer appears, a handsome smiling man in brilliant orange coveralls. Down here among the crewmen the atmosphere is much more relaxed. They don’t seem too worried about the dangers of obliterating a seaside village. Still, these men are incredibly hard-working. Despite such a massive ship, automation means a small crew who have plenty to do. Yet they are always smiling.
Back on the bridge we pass Ciner’s Shipping HQ and then Kiz Kulesi (the Maiden’s Tower). It’s here that another orange boat marked “pilot” sidles up to the Trabzon and we bid farewell to Tuncer Bey who has seen us through the Bosporus safely and efficiently. We continue on into the Marmara, which now resembles a parking lot full of freighters, tankers and other commercial vessels. Here the engines work only to maintain our position in an churning sea.
The crane operator climbs to his perch. A rusted old agent boat approaches loaded with supplies. Two stout, cheerful agents clamber up the rope ladder. It’s time to restock the ships larder and sign off on quantities. 750 kilos of rice. Check. 5000 eggs. Check. Cornflakes. Check. Nobody is idle. Three months worth of supplies need to come aboard. The Chief Engineer and crewmen form a convoy. The crane operator hauls skids of supplies: brooms, paint, onions, tomatoes, new coveralls … you name it.
Restocked it’s time for us to leave the same way the supplies came. Now something the Captain of the Gözcu said, returns to my mind. “Lodos. Not a problem on the Black Sea.”
But we’re not on the Black Sea. We’re on the Marmara. The rusted old supply boat is crashing up and down against the hull of the Trabzon. Spray surges up the ladder. The first supply agent is clambering up then down the ladder, then up again in order to avoid the bow of the agent boat which is rocks up with the waves. He’s broad as gorilla but agile as a monkey. This is where it really gets dangerous. Finally the man below catches him and they help Serdar Kaptan, who despite his experience at sea doesn’t do this daily.
Now it’s my turn. “I’m going to Charleston,” says Despina. It’s where the ship’s pig iron payload is destined. She’s not entirely joking. Charleston’s not an option for me. I’ve got nothing more than a Turkish driver’s license on me. Climbing down the ladder is a wholly different enterprise. The men below are calling out “Now! Now!” and I have to let go of the ladder at the right moment and let the men below grab me. Letting go of the ladder is counterintuitive. I have rope burns in my palms. Better yet, I still have my legs, shaky as they are. Despina tells me that nowhere else, except maybe India, do the supply agents work like this.
We circle the mighty Trabzon so I can take some final shots of one magnificent ship, while one of the agents grips me tight to prevent me from going overboard. Then our mighty host begins to retreat. Captain Nailon stands on the bridge deck waving goodbye. I was only aboard for a few short hours, but it was a magnificent experience, and a new perspective of the incredible shipping lane I now watch with renewed awe and wonder on a daily basis.
Whenever I get to see Azize Tan, I get inspired. It’s not simply that she has one of the most interesting jobs I can imagine, or that she can talk for hours about one of my favorite subjects, cinema — it’s her infectious enthusiasm for her work. This year is her sixth as director, and her 20th working with the Istanbul Film Festival which just closed its 31st year. Something of a marathon event, it ran from March 31-April 15, with Ms. Tan dealing with everything from sponsorships to going to hospital with fainting jury members, all while attending as many screenings as possible. Azize graciously took some time out last week to have a coffee with me and tell me about the life and trials of a festival director, which is not just the fun of watching films, but a struggle, for resources, venues and the recognition that film and the arts are important agents of change.
When our all too brief discussion ended, I left feeling recharged, enthusiastic and slightly sad that I haven’t seen nearly as many films as I’d have liked this year. Perhaps that’s why she’s so good at her job. It’s not simply her love of film, it’s her ability to remind us of the beauty and magic of cinema.
My Philosofia: You’re originally a simultaneous translator, aren’t you? How did you get into this kind of work?
Azize Tan: No, not a simultaneous translator, but a translator. From my second year in university I started doing film subtitles. It was great, getting paid to watch movies.
So how many years have you been working with the festival?
AT: Twenty years, fifteen years of full time work for IKSV (Istanbul Culture and Art Foundation) and now six years as Festival Director. I also coordinated three biennials curated by Rosa Martinez, Paolo Colombo and Yuko Hasegawa. I actually started with Film Ekimi (October), which is a smaller event but which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary, and we took it on the road to Izmir, Bursa, Trabzon, Diyarbakir, and Konya. Diyarbakir in particular was a highlight.
What would you like to see most in the coming years?
AT: A festival center.
The loss of Emek Cinema was difficult wasn’t it?
AT: I feel horrible about it. In other countries they have festival palaces. We had Emek which was the venue for 28 years. It had a 900-seat capacity and reminded us of the glory days of cinema. It was an important symbol.
What went wrong?
AT: The process was not transparent from the start. We thought the cinema was going to be remodeled. Then we thought it was going to be turned into a multiplex, then moved. For three years people protested. It’s a symbol of the war of gentrification. The building belonged to the state. I can understand it not being profitable for a private company, but the state needs to protect the arts and culture. This is a first grade historical building, and Istiklal Caddesi is the entertainment and film center for the city, but all the large capacity, old cinema venues are being closed. There are so many things we could have done to make the building sustainable, but the they think the only way to create sustainability is to commercialize and put up shopping malls and stores. We should change our perspective. I can think of no other such protests that went on for three years.
Still you wouldn’t do anything else, would you?
AT: Not yet. I’ve been doing this job for six years and there’s still a lot of important work to accomplish. We’ve started to change things and I’m not ready to leave just yet. With the people, the facilities and the budget we have we’re pulling off miracles. I dream of having a festival center.
What makes the Istanbul Film Festival important?
AT: Many things … this year our theme was revolution. Inspired in part by the Arab Spring, the Orange revolution and others we’re celebrating film’s ability to create change. Today we’re having a public panel discussion at the Pera Museum on what revolution means. Master classes, like the one hosted by Terence Davies. This year we have a special section highlighting the importance of Chinese film. Every year we restore a classic Turkish film that would otherwise be lost to the world. Eight of the Turkish movies in this year’s festival are making their world premieres.
Other than the films, what keeps you inspired?
AT: We’re not saving the world, but we’re not living in an easy world either. Art and cinema makes it a little more livable. It’s about communication. With film you can allow people to be exposed to and understand an enemy’s feelings. This is how we can express and help each other understand and empathize. This is the problem with the mentality that arts and culture can be cut.
I couldn’t live without films.
This weekend I was granted a fascinating glimpse into Greek Orthodox Easter at the Church of St. Nicolas in Yeniköy, Istanbul. Turkey’s Rum (Greek/Byzantine) community is the nation’s smallest minority, with a community of perhaps no more than 2000 people. Here the Rum Ortodoks church serves not only as an important spiritual adviser in life, but as a way of keeping community alive and strong.
As an outsider it was a true pleasure, to feel so welcome. The Turkish-Greek community have been granting me and my family a special welcome to such events, and seem happy to receive all whether they’re Orthodox or Catholic, Muslim, Jewish or any other denomination. Since my daughter, Sofia’s birth, however, I’ve felt a real desire to share the experiences of other minorities as much as possible here in Turkey, since she too is a minority citizen. I must admit, though, I feel a special closeness with the Rum community, perhaps in part because of Sofia’s name, and its Greek origin. For me the giving of a name has a special significance, and once a person is named, that meaning begins to shape that person’s existence.
One of the most special moments, in fact, was taking the portrait above. I was drawn to her luminous face immediately on Friday night’s reenactment of the funeral of Christ. She was the very first person I photographed. It was only later when my friend, Rea, properly introduced us that I learned her name was Sofia. Saturday morning I brought my own Sofia to meet her for the throwing of the daphne leaves. Young Sofia was at first intimidated by the deep bass voice of the priest and his hymns, but was later coaxed inside by some kindly women with breadsticks. Hugely entertaining too for her was the throwing of the daphne leaves.
Midnight Saturday events culminated with the lighting of candles. This was truly spectacular, and church numbers were swollen by attendees visiting from Greece. Whether you’re religious or not there’s something special on a nights like these. You can’t help but feel moved, connected, illuminated. It’s not simply the hymns and the rites, the faces of the faithful, the candles. It’s the sense of goodwill and the lightness which is almost tangible.
My hope is that this won’t be my last Easter with Turkey’s Greek community. The events of the last weekend are one more reason I feel so fortunate to be with my family in the here and now in Turkey. Happy Easter.
Ever want to time travel? I do. Not for sinister reasons like making myself insanely wealthy by choosing the right lottery numbers or even more noble ones like preventing some of history’s great tragedies. I’d be too afraid accidentally re-write my very existence out of time and space. I would simply like to travel back as an observer, gaze at the people, get a taste of the air, sample a glass of the wine, listen to the sounds, feel the textures of another era. Short of building a time machine, however, there are places you can go where you can gaze backward through time.
One of them is the Suriye Pasaji at the Tünel end of Beyoglu. This place is magic. It has a cavernous atrium. Open walkways. The office of a daily Greek newspaper. A fur shop, and even a vast basement vintage shop to outfit you for your passage backward in time. There are some tenants that don’t really seem to fit, like the Sultanahmet Köftecisi — but if they help pay the rent and allow this building to remain in the here and now, then their presence is probably worth it. Upstairs are studios and creative suites, lawyers offices. And maybe even a seedy night spot.
This is a building with a soul. How many lives have imprinted themselves in this space, even if only in echoes … countless, I’d imagine. Just think of the daily traffic beneath the grand atrium, the cigarettes smoked on the vertiginous walkways, the conversations, the whispered desires, the intrigues both personal and political.
The stone above the entrance says 1908—the year the 3rd Army Corps of Salonica marched on Constantinople, the Young Turk Revolution, when the Ottoman Parliament’s 30 year suspension was put to an end and a new ruling elite was established. The beginning of the end of the Empire.
The enchantment of this building is that it’s something of a self-contained world. Stepping in off Istiklal Caddesi or one of the side streets, there’s an abrupt change. Outside sound seems to disappear. You’re gulped back into the past. Perhaps it’s the effect of the atrium, which draws sound, air and your eye upward into the aether of diffused light.
They don’t make buildings like this anymore. And that’s a shame, because this space is truly special. It’s just the sort of place I hoped to discover more of in Istanbul.
Historic, atmospheric and more than passing strange, Suriye Pasaji is an Istanbul treasure that shouldn’t be lost to the world or converted into a crass shopping mall. There has been some movement to protect this tangible piece of history, and anybody interested in finding out more can visit the Facebook page set up by a group dedicated to its preservation.
If you should happen to have any intelligence on this building, its history or past tenants, personal or otherwise, or know someone who does, please contact me. I would love to do some follow-up stories.
Sometimes it comes shouting over a wall. Sometimes it’s whispered in my ear. Sometimes it’s the faintest smile. Inspiration. It’s a great gift.
Right now a new season is just beginning, and it really seems at time like a whole new world is opening up. Color is slowing seeping back into the world in various shades, hues and intensities, from the subtle to the extreme. I hope this inspires you, and continues to do the same for me. So if you see something that moves you, or you have some memory or place you want covered, please let me know. The idea behind blogs — at least for me — is to create a dialogue. So if you feel like sharing, don’t hesitate. Drop me a line at anytime at: email@example.com
I’m working away on several ideas right now but none are quite ready to share. More later …