Archive for June, 2012

  • The two shores

    June 11th, 2012

    Nowhere is the contrast between Istanbul’s coexisting communities more apparent to me than on the Beykoz-Yeniköy ferry. Everyday these small, roughly 30-passenger capacity craft putter back and forth across the Bosporus, bringing Anatolia to Europe and vice-versa. Once upon a time there might have been a more upstairs-downstairs style transition as wealthy businessmen crossed one way to their factories and warehouses on the Anatolian shore, while wage-earners and house servants crossed to the other. In Ottoman times, Yeniköy was an affluent mix of Greek and Turk, and later on, Jewish settlers. Now that the Greek and Jewish communities have dwindled but still exist, it’s a mainly Turkish, primarily Republican group, with a strong sprinkling of foreigners. By contrast, Beykoz is a much more religious and conservative area, with no sycamore lined boulevards or fancy cafes. In Beykoz there might be a tekel or two selling Efes beer, but they aren’t readily apparent in the harbor crowded with small fishing boats. From what I understand, the Beykoz shore has become more “conservative” over the last 10-15 years.

    But what does “conservative” mean? What’s interesting are the new class of religious Turkish women, that aren’t poor, undereducated, or sequestered. Their brand of conservatism is certainly not the same as a Saudi Arabian woman’s. I’ll never forget the moment my cab to the airport was not so gently nudged out of the fast lane by a blazing white BMW 5-series piloted by an expensively attired 20-something woman with a headscarf, bobbing her head to the pulsing music within, hauling on a cigarette and chatting with her similarly attired friend. It’s with Turkey’s women that the most visible shift is taking place, a very real transition, from one shore to the next. How dramatic that shift will be, and what that really means still remains to be seen.

    Meanwhile on the Beykoz ferry, strangers maintain a wary distance. There are furtive looks, not hostile, but perhaps a little judgmental, as a certain amount of categorization and head-counting goes on.

  • Salt Galata

    June 7th, 2012

    Yesterday I decided I wanted to experience the audio exhibit Translated By, a series of 13 performed excerpts from books, and one original piece, by various writers about different cities and landscapes, some imagined, an exhibit sponsored by the British Council. For the most part, I’m glad I did, although I must admit I skipped over a few whose writing or narration style grated after a couple of minutes. As you tour about Salt Galata, you don your headphones and tune into a numbered channel, one for Istanbul, Tokyo, Baku, the Metaverse—you get the idea—and listen to a passage written about each of these places. I’d recommend it if you have some time.

    However, when I wasn’t absorbed in these orally rendered landscapes I found myself wondering about the physical space I was in. Ever feel that you really want to like a place but instead leave uncertain what to think? That’s how I feel about Salt Galata. When I first heard about the project, I was truly excited by the notion of such a space, but after several visits I’m still left a little cold. There’s something disjointed about it — there are many likable aspects, yet somehow they don’t seem to tie together. It’s to Garanti Bank’s credit that they financed this renovation of the old Ottoman Bank Building and turned it into a public space for research. It’s tastefully done, and I’m especially grateful that they didn’t over-brand it.

    At the end of my audio tour I decided to refresh myself at CA’D’ORO, the restaurant space. This is where the experience really falls apart for me. Cultural institutions need to make money, and a good way to do that is to offer a worthwhile dining/drinking experience to bring in revenue. The view is good, the tablecloths pressed, but there’s something about the attitude here, the pretense, that just doesn’t work. It was the middle of the day, but even so, there was a vibrancy lacking.

    Overall I think that’s the difficulty with Salt Galata. It’s a bit hard-edged. Whether you’re using the archives, or going to the cafe, my impression is there’s something not entirely welcoming about this space. Still, I really want to like it. What do you think?

  • Ice cream memories

    June 6th, 2012

    Do you remember your very first taste of ice cream? A hot day, asphalt smoking, air buzzing with cicadas? Chocolate-coated fingers? Delighted licks? A smear across your t-shirt? I don’t. Not exactly. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere, tied into the reward-happiness-endorphin wiring of my neurons. Fortunately, I’ve seen Sofia enjoy her first few bites. The concentration, to the total exclusion of everything else, is such a wonderful thing to witness. How often do we escape so fully anymore as adults? You can almost see the sparks as new neural connections are being made. Her quizzical face. What is this? How is this possible? her expression says. Can you frown with delight? I’m beginning to think so. Anyway, I’m not sure which one of is more delighted. Sofia, for enjoying a brand new experience. Or me, for being reminded of what a fantastic thing it is to be wrapped up in such a simple sensation as a taste.

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  • Neighborhood watch: Tarabya

    June 5th, 2012

    In a few months we’ll probably be leaving our beloved Yeniköy for Tarabya, one village farther up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea. Like Yeniköy it’s originally a Greek village (Therapia). However, it differs from Yeniköy significantly in that it has a large natural harbor dominated by the architecture of the Tarabya Hotel which is currently under renovation. This building is unique to the Bosporus in both its architecture and its size and under normal circumstances would be an illegal building for the Bosporus, exceeding its building height restrictions, yet somehow this one snuck through. While I wouldn’t want more hotels like this crowding the shores of the Bosporus, I’m actually quite fond of it and its placement at one of the last points before the strait curls towards the Black Sea.

    Tarabya is a very mixed neighborhood. Waterside there are pricey properties and perhaps one too many a fish restaurant. Cresting the hills above, there are mansions and gated houses. In between, tumbling down the hills—sometimes literally—the buildings tend to be a bit more of a shambling affair, some from neglect, others because they were probably hastily assembled by flashlight. Regardless, there’s a friendly feel, and as I was exploring the backstreets this morning, I was hailed by three men having tea who invited me to join them. Originally from Rize in the Northeast/Black Sea region they were taking a break from working on a building behind the mosque. They were curious what a funny-looking foreigner was doing roaming the streets. For a glass of tea they got me to surrender some of my story. While I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about moving to Tarabya, it’s good to know there’s a friendly neighborhood watch.

  • Something sweet

    June 4th, 2012

    In Turkey it’s not a lack of choice but an abundance of choice that’s the problem when it comes to sweets. I don’t think I know of a place with more varieties of dessert. Want something crispy, crusty and sweet like baklava? Or something cool and sweet like muhallebi? What’s your favorite? It all goes so well with tea.

  • The Book Bazaar: Sahaflar Çarşısı

    June 1st, 2012

    On rainy days there’s nothing better than taking refuge in a book. Yesterday I escaped a flash downpour in the Old City  under the awnings at the Sahaflar Çarşısı, a book bazaar located right next to the Covered Bazaar’s Beayzıt door.  While the slate sky above lit up and roiled with thunder, I discovered that there’s everything here from university textbooks to religious scripture, out of date travel guides, pulpy pocketbooks, massive coffee table tomes—and even a book claiming it had the inside scoop on the steamy life of Ottoman harems. Most of the stores don’t have a great selection for English readers but there are a few with a decent stock, including Gözen Kitap ve Yayın Evi, which has some splendid art books. As usual if you have cash, you can talk down the price of discovering all those sordid Ottoman Harem secrets. Definitely worth a peruse — the book bazaar, I mean.

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  • Reading List: That Magazine #6

    June 1st, 2012

    I’m pleased to announce that another issue of THAT MAGAZINE is hot off the press. Okay, perhaps I’m more than pleased, perhaps I’m a little self-satisfied because my Marmaray photography also landed the cover, and it’s always a nice ego boost to see your work in print. In addition to that there are essays, more of Zeynep Aksoy’s compelling India Emails, some fantastic art spreads and writing from the late Refik Halid Karay (1888-1965) eloquently translated from Turkish by Alexander Dawe. So if you’re here in Istanbul, keep your eyes open. THAT will be appearing again in your favorite swanky little watering holes and eateries.