Archive for August, 2012
Whatever happened to the arc (or arch) in architecture? Did it simply become unnecessary with modern building materials and methods? I have to say I like a nice curve. Yesterday I spent a lot of time again looking for iconic Istanbul scenes for a project I’m working on for two fantastic Dutch clients of mine, but the icon I got stuck on was the arc. This post is in praise of parabolas. We certainly spent enough time calculating them in high school.
The last watermelons have ripened. The sun burns less hot. Evening comes sooner. Beaches ring with fewer childish shrieks. Sails furl. Tables empty. Floorboards creak like textbook spines—wait, that’s my memory playing tricks. Living in Turkey, the approach of the ninth month of the Roman calendar awakens dreams, not dread. I’m savoring the final days of summer … see you soon.
One of the great things about taking pictures in Turkey is you don’t always have to look for subjects. Sometimes your subjects find you. Yesterday as I was taking a walk around with my friend, Ahmet, a proper professional photographer, he had the idea of going to the top of a parking garage to get a different, unobstructed view of Galata Tower. As he was shooting four kids sprang upon me wanting their photos taken. It’s always a gift when something like this happens. When you have willing subjects there’s an interesting energy at play.
Life takes you on some unexpected turns sometimes, but today when I rounded a different corner in my effort to complete a mental map of Sultanahmet’s hans, I discovered a nargile (hookah/water pipe) manufacturing operation. That’s the thing I love about this area. There’s the tourist attractions, and then there’s the real neighborhood, a crumbling, cracked but still moving area of enterprise and trade.
Though it can be a little intimidating at times peering down dark corridors, there always seems to be a reward waiting at the end. As I was exploring another dark tunnel today, a voice cried out and invited me in. That voice was Mustafa’s. He and his good friend, Yusuf, were hard at work hand-crafting the tubing and pipe section of the water pipes for the factory. Mustafa, 30, (pictured below) has been doing this for over 15 years, and has taken over the business from his father who has had this same dükkan for 40 years.
Though hard at work — he hand makes over 100 pipes a day — I was invited in and offered a glass of water, and was later offered a cigarette too, which I thought was rather amusing considering we were in the midst of a water pipe factory. Mustafa and Yusuf were relentless. Painting leather strips with glue, rolling piping, cutting fabric, they were like two human machines working at twice the tempo of the music blasting from the radio.
Business is of course, tough, and just about everything made in Turkey these days is always under threat from China, even it appears, something as specialized as nargile. I have to say that I really enjoyed the half an hour I spent chatting with these two. Their hospitality was great, and I was invited to drop back in any time.
There’s the Sultanahmet of the Grand Bazaar, Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and then there’s Sultanahmet — backstreets, strange alleyways, crumbling archways, workshops pulsing with odd music. These days there’s an odder feeling then ever, what with the intense heat and Ramazan it’s important to find shaded spots whether you’re fasting or not. I was somewhat surprised just how many people weren’t fasting when I plunged inside the off-street maze the other day, as I always think of the old city as a place where life is lived a bit more traditionally. There are plenty of fasters, don’t get me wrong, most snoozing on rugs in corners to escape the long and trying day. I can only imagine what it must be like to fast this Ramazan when the days are so long. However I also saw plenty of tea drinkers and cigarette smokers puffing away as well, who were looking significantly more animated.
What also impressed me was just how cool it was in these shaded corridors. These old buildings, cracked and deteriorating, nevertheless have thick walls and arcades deep in a shade that the heat doesn’t seem to penetrate. It’s still hot, just not unbearably so. The other thing that struck me is just how friendly people are in this part of the city. After my recent experience trying to photograph flowers on a public street in my own neighborhood went so awry (see Delicate flowers), it’s nice to feel welcome in this very different part of the city. Despite feeling much more like an interloper wandering in this party of the city, I’m not treated as one. This country never ceases to amaze me. And I mean that in every sense.
Yesterday as I was walking through my neighborhood, I decided to stop and appreciate the flowers you see above. Right now the area is bursting with them, and has been for over a month. I was thinking to myself, what a paradise Turkey can be with its abundance of flowering trees, fruit and fresh produce. I continued to walk in a large circuit around my neighborhood before going home. The slanting evening light was nice and there’s a sloping street I like with lots of vines like those above spilling over the high stone walls on either side of the road. You have to be a bit careful on these roads because there are plenty of Range Rovers and Mercedes tearing through the lanes at high speed, usually with drivers nattering away at equally high speed on mobile phones.
Mindful of this, I proceeded to take some pictures of the vines spilling over the high stone wall, but couldn’t get the exposure quite right. As I was adjusting my shutter speed, I heard the electronic whirr of a gate swing open behind me and moved out of the road. But it wasn’t a Range Rover or a Mercedes that issued from the gate. It was a security guard. I was promptly and quite rudely told that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of this street. My response to the security man was that I was taking pictures of flowers, which I offered to show him. He told me to get off the street — a public street. My Turkish isn’t quite good enough to retort with anything that wouldn’t have simply been vulgar and escalate the situation, so I retreated, burning not from the summer heat, but from indignation. I live five minutes walk from the spot.
I was in a public street taking photos of flowers. Then I realized what stops this place from being paradise. Fear. Despite high walls, expensive security, razor wire, and plenty of wealth for those who dwell behind the high walls, the fruit that swells from the abundance of flowers is fear. What a bitter fruit.
Wandering through Eminönü I discovered another interesting han. The light spilling through the atrium was magnificent. It’s too bad such buildings aren’t put to better use, seeing as no one seems to build them anymore. I’m sure the quick answer why no one builds structures like this is economics — but still … couldn’t we make more inspiring architecture for people to work in like this?
Such spaces never fail to spark my sense of wonder — it’s interesting to think of all the different tenants in times past, who climbed the stairs, said good morning to one another, shared a conversation over a glass of tea, a cigarette. In my opinion these hans are every bit as interesting as the more famous monuments in Istanbul, mostly because they are mementos of everyday life that has changed so drastically over the years, the minor events, the details that history books overlook. Read More…
Yesterday just as I was prepared to admit defeat, I was hauled back from the verge of failure by Lola. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find suitable summertime entertainment for Sof that didn’t involve retreating from the heat to a shopping mall. Fortunately, Lola—which stands for Lots Of Lovely Art—provided me with a new way to entertain my small one. This open, airy environment created by Alara Hindle in a storefront location up above Emirgan Park in Reşitpaşa, is focused on providing children with an entertaining, involving approach to art. Read More…
We went to the Park again today, and I somehow feel I should apologize. It’s not the sort of park that I grew up with, it’s another kind altogether. First of all it’s an indoor space and there are plenty of stores inside. Second it’s enormous. There are a couple of free things, like the concourses and the spaces in between the stores, and the fountain you love, and most of all, the air conditioning. The “Park” is a euphemism really. This is what people normally call a shopping mall. Now it’s probably called a retail and entertainment experience. That’s marketing speak. Read More…