Archive for September, 2012
Between thriving Beyoglu and the Golden Horn, Tarlabaşı could be the most cheerfully doomed neighborhood in the world. I’ve been meaning to pay this area a visit for some time, but have been deterred by the fact that some other people whose work I really respect have already delved into this dilapidated old Greek hood which is largely populated by Kurdish migrants from Eastern Turkey as well as Roma. Regardless, I felt I needed to see this area before the last vestiges of its current community are driven out in the ongoing gentrification or “urban revitalization” or “historic protection” — whatever you’d like to call it — process is complete. What I found truly surprised me. It’s the friendliest neighborhood I’ve encountered in Istanbul, and perhaps the poorest.
There are plenty of men on street corners who don’t want their photographs taken for reasons you can probably imagine, yet there was no hostility to such an obvious foreigner poking about. In fact, most people were positively playful, and the spirit wasn’t limited to the children. Women in headscarves are normally camera shy, but down here, I was able to engage more than a few in conversation who at first didn’t want their picture taken, said no, and then laughed and said words to the effect of “Oh, all right.”
You can see why the municipality of Beyoğlu wants to “regenerate” the neighborhood even if you don’t agree with the manner in which they’re doing it. This is not only a prime area given its location, but an area rich in the sort of architecture you can convert into guesthouses for tourists or funky little cafes as well as other profit-generating enterprises. It’s also a mess. There are hurdacı (scrap collectors) carts everywhere. And then there are the men hovering on street corners who don’t want their photos taken.
For me the question is what’s going to happen to the families living here. It’s easy when you live in a nice house to judge the conditions down here as squalid and unacceptable, but I’ve never seen such enthusiastic and happy children playing in the streets. That doesn’t mean the environment is good but I couldn’t help but feel conflicted about what will happen when the last families are moved out. When I crossed the boulevard which gives this neighborhood its name and sought out the more trodden bits of Beyoğlu I felt restless and didn’t want to stay. Somehow something didn’t feel real anymore. Nobody was smiling in quite the same way.
They’re as essential a part of the community as the fish monger or the green grocer, but they’re seldom greeted by residents with anything but disdain and sometimes hostility. Even the street dogs will sometimes let loose and kick up a fuss, bark at them and chase them in packs. Yet in a city like Istanbul these people provide an essential service, one of many that keeps this city moving They take our discarded papers, boxes, cans and beer bottles to recycle depots, saving taxpayers the feel-good service of a recycling service. They also unburden city sanitation workers of a great deal of waste, and somehow salvage a living, digging through smelly and possibly dangerous bins, combing society’s junk piles for today’s treasures.
I couldn’t help but notice the man above as he paused in his recovery efforts this morning and sat down with a perfectly folded intact copy of Hürriyet to read the headline page. So I decided to cross the street and ask him for a portrait. I was somewhat nervous that he might tell me where to go and how to get there in no uncertain terms, but he was very generous and didn’t seem slightly fazed. After thanking him, I crossed the street and resumed my morning coffee and email. Twenty minutes later, the man below showed up and started rummaging and found a whole new range of treasures, including plastic produce carts. He also gamely allowed me to take his portrait, though he seemed a little less confident. I particularly like the fact that the battered hat he’s wearing has a City of Istanbul logo on it.
I only have one regret. Usually when I take someone’s portrait, I remember to ask his or her name. This morning I didn’t do that and I’m not quite sure why, only that I’m sorry that I forgot.
In a country like Turkey there are plenty of conspiracy theories. Just about every person in the street has at least one they fervently believe. Today, however, I’d like to tell you that I have fallen victim to a 100% genuine conspiracy at the hands of some nefarious yet innocent looking people here in Istanbul. It didn’t happen to me on the proverbial “bridge between east and west” but on the very real bridge between Karaköy and Eminönü, a.k.a The new Galata Bridge. What happened? Well, I can only tell you that I was minding my own business, wondering about the future of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s republic when I fell prey to the twisted words of a white-shirted, black trousered man, saying, “Cold beer! Cold beer! 5TL! Yes, my friend?”
Yes, I thought I was stronger and better than that, I thought I was prepared for the wiles of the most wily sales pitches. But no, my friends, I was bedazzled by the promise of golden nectar on the Golden Horn. Before I understood what was afoot, I drank not one, but two cold beers. Worse, to my abiding shame, I think I even enjoyed the experience. This is not uncommon. According to my source—whose identity I must obscure (pictured below in profile to protect his identity ) who will remain known only as, “cigarette smoking man”—it seems that in order to pay the 16,000 TL (approximately $9000 US) monthly lease on this restaurant space under the bridge, restaurant employees are willing to hurl themselves in your path and encourage you to consume draft beer at dangerously low prices. Fortunately, there are strong-willed people, both Turks and foreigners who can resist and fight their way to a growing number of muessesemiz alkolsüzdür (alcohol-free establishments) on the southwest corner of the bridge, where such distastefully tasty beverages are not served, let alone tolerated under the burning afternoon sun. Too bad these paragons of virtue weren’t able to intervene before the recent paint job on the bridge was completed. It looks like more than one member of the crew succumbed to the lure of 5TL beer.
If you’ve also been harmed by the beer conspiracy, please feel free to contact me in full confidence and share your story. I’m told that the moderately Islamic, highly progressive government currently in charge is actively encouraging more alcohol-free businesses in order to protect me from myself. I was truly relieved when they blocked beer sales at a recent Pulp festival concert where I might have had a tin or two of mediocre beer and injured somebody by singing off-key to Common People. After all it was on a university campus. It’s a relief to know that the next generation of adults are protected from actually exercising their personal judgment, thinking for themselves, or being trusted to behave like responsible adults.
Where I grew up jujubes were a confectionery made of corn starch and syrup, a cheap and rather poor substitute for a more refined sweet like Turkish delight. Lately, however, I’ve become acquainted with the real deal, an Asian fruit which is appearing all over the city in manavcı (green grocer) carts everywhere. I love harvest season. As usual, these tiny apple-like creatures which are native to Asia, called hünnap in Turkish, and sometimes referred to as red dates, are credited with a host of health benefits, including stress-reduction in Chinese and Korean medicine. They’re also anti just about anything bad—anti-inflammatory, anti fungal, anti bacterial, anti spastic, antioxidant, anti ulcer. They may also help improve memory functions. At 3TL for a half kilo, that’s a mighty fine deal if you ask me, regardless of whether or not they live up to all those claims. They’re also pretty flippin’ tasty with a glass of tea, which is how they’re traditionally consumed. Afiyet olsun.
A few weeks back I spent some time in front of the camera instead of behind it touring around the Sea of Marmara and up and down the Bosporus. It was quite an experience and a nice way to earn some money, especially when being on the water was a lot more comfortable than being immersed in the dense heat of the city streets. The Bosporus really is this city’s spiritual life source. It never gets tiring being on the sea, whatever type of vessel you’re on. However, I have to say, this particular one was the finest I’ve had the pleasure of being aboard, incredibly comfortable, and tastefully appointed. It had all the old school charm in its design that I’d want if I was fortunate enough to be able to afford such a craft. Despite being perfectly happy aboard a vapur on the Bosporus you can imagine how nice it felt to be at the other end of the spectrum. The only challenge was not drinking the nice cold drinks we kept on being handed for styling purposes. It wasn’t until sunset that we were actually able to indulge. Being blurry eyed and wobbly wouldn’t have enhanced the gleam of refinement the art directors and photographers were trying to capture.
Anyway, I was able to snap a few shots when the paid photographers didn’t need me, which I thought I’d tease you with—I’ve been really eager to see what Sina Demirel and his talented associates pulled off. Even though I firmly believe it’s the photographer and not the camera that makes all the difference, I experienced some serious envy once I saw their cameras. I want an upgrade now! I love my Nikon D40 and all we’ve been through together, but now I’ve really been bitten by the photography bug, particularly since I got to see pros at work as in the days when I was working in agency. In fact, that’s the best thing about such jobs, the range of talented, interested and interesting people you meet, the stories you share and the feeling, even if it’s only for a spot of make-believe for advertising purposes.
If you want to see some beautiful images by the talented Sina Demirel visit the Armada Gezi Teknesi site.
It’s a great time of year to be in this part of the world. Pomegranates or nar as they’re referred to in Turkey are native to this region. Whether they’re squeezed on a citrus press into a refreshing juice, sprinkled on a salad in aril form (the little juice-encased seeds you can see above) or simply popped one at a time into your mouth, you’ll never encounter anything quite like a pomegranate. These amazing fruits have been cultivated for thousands of years, and are mentioned in Greek, Judaic, Christian and Islamic texts, associated with both paradise and the underworld. Some Hebrew scholars even believe that it may have been the original forbidden fruit. Interesting then that it’s been associated with so many disease-fighting and longevity-promoting benefits. Taking pictures of them yesterday evening in the late day light I was thinking how an uncut pomegranate looks a bit like a whirling dervish who has spun so fast that he’s transformed into a fireball of ecstasy.
Last night I was happy to attend a book party for the kind of book I normally don’t like: a guide! But this was no boring old Fodor’s or Lonely Planet. Instead these books were prepared by an artist and a true insider of two cities. Published by Jotun and entitled Emel loves Istanbul and Emel love Paris, I’m more than a little envious. Why? Because Emel Kurhan has proven again that no genre or idea is bad or irrelevant if approached with inspiration and style, something she has in an unlimited supply. These guides are really clever, and beautifully executed. Using her own snap shots and immaculately hand-written post-it notes, Emel has re-invented the guidebook for people like me who don’t want use guidebooks and would normally much prefer to just stumble around or find someone who looks much smarter than themselves to show them around in order to avoid being stuck on some generic tour.
If you’re in Istanbul, Emel’s doing a book signing tomorrow night, September 13, beginning at around 7 pm at Midnight Express in Nişantaşı as part of Istanbul’s Fashion’s Night Out. Don’t miss it. Istanbul loves Emel.
Today when I was taking pictures for a Cihangir guesthouse I was fortunate enough to stop in at Datlı Maya, a delicious stone oven bakery. I don’t know about the carbon footprint implications of a wood burning oven these days, but when it comes to pizza, or in this case, pide a boat-shaped Turkish flatbread equivalent (pictured immediately below), it makes a great difference in terms of taste. This cosy wee spot tucked in behind Firuzağa Mosque is big on both taste and personality. The staff are friendly and boisterous, and the woman running the shop can greet you in Turkish, English or Greek with equal exuberance.
From what I understand Datlı Maya sources its ingredients directly from quality farm producers. While they make no claims of being an ‘organic’ bakery, the food is fresh and remarkably economic, probably a benefit of cutting out the middle-man. There’s self-serve tea and glass-bottled water upstairs in the dining area above the oven stone which greets you as you walk in. Thanks to the oven, this will be a fine place to drop in for a bite once the thermometer outside begins to drop. In addition to pides, there are lahmacun, super-thin crusted minced meat pizzas without cheese, as well as güveç, clay pot casseroles. With the exception of the lahmacuns, there are plenty of options suitable for vegetarians, all of them, really delicious. I highly recommend a visit.
Datlı Maya Firuzağa Mahallesi Türkgücü Caddesi No.59/A Cihangir
www.datlimaya.com (0212) 292 90 56
To be honest, the man above is not a nut man at all. He’s a fig man. The title of this short piece should really be Turkish nuts and fruits, but it’s not as catchy. Even more sadly the nut lady beside him wouldn’t let me take her picture. There are far fewer photos of the sweet teyze (aunt) street vendors on this blog than I’d like, but traditional women with headscarves are a bit camera shy, especially when the person holding the camera is a great big male yabancı (foreigner/stranger). However, if I were her, I’d be proud of my nuts. Just look at them. They’re worth a Maşallah or two, don’t you think?
Anyway, I love the fact that you never know what fresh produce—whether it’s figs, hazelnuts or walnuts—is going to show up on your street corner, farm fresh and pretty much irresistible. Turkey is one fertile country. Have you ever tasted a freshly picked fig? The taste of paradise, my friends. Enjoy.