• what’s next, turkey?

    June 3rd, 2013

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    Yesterday people of all sorts gathered to continue the celebration of a victory in Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Left-wing, right-wing, liberal, conservative, nationalist, socialist … you name them. There was a constant flow of Turkish citizens of every age, ethnicity and subculture. There are banners with socialist slogans, nationalist slogans flying next to the rainbow GLBT flags everywhere. People pose to have their pictures taken on burned-out police cars and buses, while some diligent protestors sweep up the rubble and debris nearby. Some of it is theirs, some of it the police’s. However, this feels like a major victory for peaceful protestors who were violently abused by their police force and government (see previous post). It’s a strange victory, though, because it’s not being acknowledged as a defeat by the man and he government they took on. What started as a minor protest for a small park has rolled across the city and now the Republic. The defeated, however, aren’t acknowledging their first major blow in years. Why? Is it a case of denial? Or a strange case of not needing to? Perhaps it’s both.

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    Despite popular uprisings and protests all across Turkey, you could be forgiven if you thought it was business as usual if you were limited to watching Turkish language, local television. On CNN International, the lead stories include the protests all across Turkey. Turn to CNN Türk, for a more local perspective, and you can watch a documentary on penguins. To some extent this media silence is understandable, if unforgivable. Not only are most of the major media outlets owned by big business, who may or may not have their hands in the government’s pockets, but right now Turkey also has the distinction of having jailed more journalists in recent years than just about any other so-called “democratic” country in the region, if not the world. In fact, even more than China and Iran. Although many newspaper columnists lambasted the ruling AKP and its leader, Mr Erdogan, yesterday, broadcast TV has been mostly silent, except to air the Prime Minister’s statements of condemnation. Those have been some pretty incredible statements too.

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    In addition to referring to peaceful protestors as marauders, The Prime Minister — in what has to be one of the strangest interpretations of democracy I’ve heard in years — has stated that the dissent is anti-democratic because he was elected. Apparently a peaceful protest about the total lack of public consultation regarding a public space is unacceptable to Mr Erdogan. What people are protesting is not just the destruction of the last green spaces in the city, but a bizarre project involving an Ottoman Barracks/shopping mall, which would likely be built by a contractor friendly to the government. The Guardian/Observer ran a piece on this issue yesterday.

    What’s been more frightening, though, are statements like this, published in the online edition of the WSJ: ‘“Don’t compete with us…. If you gather 200,000 people, I can gather a million…. This event has been escalated beyond the park and become ideological,” Mr. Erdogan said of the protests, which intensified dramatically on Friday. “The police were there yesterday, they are there today, and will be there tomorrow…because Taksim cannot be a square where extremists run wild.”‘

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    I can tell you, firsthand, that there wasn’t a policeman in sight in Gezi Park or Taksim Square yesterday. It’s hard for me to remain dispassionate or clear-eyed even now that I’ve fully flushed the tear gas from my eyes with milk provided to me by a protestor on Saturday morning. This country is the birthplace of my wife, and the city of Istanbul the birthplace of my daughter. I’ve always admired the great physical courage of Turks, male or female, but what I admire most right now is the fact for the first time in eight years I’ve actually seen people from all different persuasions and ideologies, people who would not normally talk to one another, stand up to a man who appears to think democracy is a popularity contest he only has to win every five years while he divvies up public property in whatever manner he sees fit. He’s now claiming that there was no clear plan for a shopping mall, and that a mosque and possible opera house are in the works, and that he will do what he likes. You can read this in Hurriyet Daily.

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    This might be a canny move. Opposing a mosque, needed or not, will be far more divisive than opposing a shopping mall. The struggle is far from over. The question is: Can Mr Erdogan be stopped? He seems pretty confident that his opposition doesn’t have the votes to issue a real challenge. For now, he might be right. For an extremely well written, dispassionate analysis of the situation as it stands, I’d recommend Alexander Christie-Miller’s piece posted in the Bulent Journal. Last night protest continued to rage in Beşiktaş and across the nation. While Turkish TV, with the exception of Halk TV, remained largely quiet on the troubles. Meanwhile people honked their horns, banged on pots and shouted out their dissatisfaction. Tonight will likely be no different.

  • briken aliu’s guitars

    May 11th, 2013

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    I’ve always admired people who can make music. There’s something about them, as if their minds existed  in two or more universes simultaneously. Which makes me think that the people who craft musical instruments for professionals must be  attuned to some truly special wavelengths. On Friday I happened to meet such an exceptional guy, someone who has been creating instruments since his mid-teens. While he’s now approaching 30, he has the keen gleam in his eye of someone who is making a living doing exactly what he loves. A self-described “gypsy” originally from Albania, Briken Aliu came to Istanbul with no friends and no Turkish as a teenager and has since set himself up as a preeminent musical instrument artisan, first apprenticing with Murat Sezen. While the economy has had an impact on his trade, at any one time he’s working on at least 6-7 projects, including a remake of a guitar that Django Reinhardt favoured. His expertise isn’t restricted to any particular style, either. He’s adept at fashioning Balkan instruments, electric guitars, jazz, classical, bass — you name it.  Mr Aliu  loves music, which is probably how he infuses such spirit into his work. His custom projects usually take about 3 months to complete. To see more from this gifted craftsman, please visit Briken Guitars. He’s making the music of our sphere more beautiful one note at a time.

  • workshop wonderland

    May 9th, 2013

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    Yesterday I had an all too brief glimpse into the mind of one of the most fascinating creatives in Istanbul — someone who successfully blurs the line between art, architecture, design and craft — in what might well be the most distinctive style I’ve seen anywhere in years. At some point I will have to do a full exploration and profile of Sema Topaloglu’s Cibali workshop and showroom. Her work environment is a veritable wonderland of organic shapes and materials, prototypes and projects. You’d almost think you were standing in a special effects workshop for a motion picture, except that the materials are not made of foam and cardboard, and she’s not creating illusions, so much as fabricating a new physical reality in media such as Black Sea hardwood, raw iron, glass and marble. There are huge mushroom lamp models, wood blocks representing a neighbourhood planning project she’s working on, multi-level tables … glass and iron objects all coated in a layer of sawdust fresh from her usta‘s saw table. There are so many compelling things to look at that it’s hard to isolate your focus to one spot. Furniture swings open to reveal elaborate tool bits that look like a chest of ninja throwing stars. Although I’ve written about Sema before, she hasn’t been standing still for more than a nanosecond since I last saw her. She’s too busy blurring the lines between what creativity and professionalism, art and architecture, design and craft can be. Take a look at some of Sema’s projects here.

  • some press

    May 6th, 2013

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    Elle Turkey did a 2-page story on my office style for May, which was generous of them on two fronts. First because I don’t really have an office. Second because they believe a scruffy looking fellow in a beaten-up hat has style. The title of the piece is “I don’t believe in rules.” This probably explains how the sole heir to my grand empire, a young lady possessing superior style, managed to charm both the Elle editor and photographer and steal the spotlight. Nice work, Sof.

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    Posted in People | | 2 Comments
  • three friends

    May 5th, 2013

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    One minute you’re crying because they’re pulling your hair. The next minute you’re crying with laughter. And last of all you cry because they’re leaving. Friendship, like childhood, should be endless, don’t you think?

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  • konstandinos p. kavafis

    April 14th, 2013

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    Ιδανικές φωνές κι αγαπημένες

    εκείνων που πεθάναν, ή εκείνων που είναι

    για μας χαμένοι σαν τους πεθαμένους.

    Κάποτε μες στα όνειρά μας ομιλούνε·

    κάποτε μες στην σκέψι τες ακούει το μυαλό.

    Και με τον ήχο των για μια στιγμή επιστρέφουν

    ήχοι από την πρώτη ποίησι της ζωής μας —

    σα μουσική, την νύχτα, μακρυνή, που σβύνει.

    (Από τα Ποιήματα 1897-1933, Ίκαρος 1984)

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    Voices, loved and idealized,

    of those who have died, or of those

    lost for us like the dead.

    Sometimes they speak to us in dreams;

    sometimes deep in thought the mind hears them.

    And with their sound for a moment return

    sounds from our life’s first poetry—

    like music at night, distant, fading away.

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    Yesterday was one of many special days in Yeniköy when the Neo Hellenic poet C.P. Cavafy was commemorated by a huge crowd. Rather than write at length about the experience, I thought I’d post the poem Voices (translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard) from the official website of the  poet’s estate.

    Posted in Books & Lit, People | | No Comments
  • luminous days

    April 7th, 2013

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    April. The days deluged in light. The people, the city, everything is suspended on it. They are floating. The air, the smell it carries have changed him back. Seeing the young gather at the ferry ports in Kadikoy and Besiktas on a Friday evening while he waits, he remembers the days when the world was so swollen with the promise of tomorrow and it was all destined to fall into his lap like ripe fruit. Not a shadow touched him. The air, the light, rang with so many victories. How could such a beautiful universe disappoint him? It simply wasn’t possible. Luminous days. Why do they now feel like hours?

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  • odyssey

    March 31st, 2013

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    Seeing you on the ferry for the first time. The thrill of the sea up close and the wind washing through your hair. Your love of the experience amplifies mine tenfold. Your bliss makes me want to patch together a raft, an eternal platform of these fragments. Will you even have a vague sense of this, five, 10, or 3o years from now? Why is it that this moment which is one of the most meaningful of my life must only be a vague notion buried deep in yours? Will you remember any of this? This is the odyssey of fatherhood, my daughter. A voyage that should never end.

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  • beyoglu anonymous

    March 28th, 2013

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    The most talented people in any profession don’t need to advertise. In fact, advertising or drawing undue attention often does more harm than good. If you not only know your trade, but have mastered it, your reputation will be more than enough. Last night I checked out a bar in Beyoglu that doesn’t even have a name. It doesn’t need one. Most people will probably end up calling it Alex’s Bar, as its proprietor, and his personality, are the driving force behind the experience. Not only is Alex a man who knows his drinks, he’s a man unafraid to refuse an order if he feels he can’t prepare it to his professional satisfaction. He’s not about to make a mojito out of season, especially if he doesn’t have the proper mint to create it. He will also mix single malt whisky as he puts it to, “Simultaneously defy ridiculous convention as well as perfect a fine drink.”

    I won’t use euphemisms like cozy or intimate to describe the bar. It’s small. It’s tucked away in a little alley down at the Tünel end of Istiklal Caddesi. That, it seems to me, is part of the recipe. A good drink isn’t something to be quaffed in a corner with booming music and a vast crowd, but something to be enjoyed and shared. And part of the enjoyment is conversing with the no-bullshit artisan behind it. In fact, that’s key to the alchemy. If you’re in Beyoglu and you want a proper after work cocktail or aperitif, look for the place with the covered windows and dapperly dressed, likely bearded gentlemen behind the bar at number 7b Gonül Sokak from Tuesday to Saturday sometime after 5pm.

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  • girls not brides

    March 6th, 2013

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    Last month I was lucky enough to photograph a group of truly exceptional people committed to ending an age-old practice that causes great harm to girls. This crisis is occurs all across the globe, even in such countries as the United States of America where freedom and self-determination are prized above all other rights. Child brides are not limited to any continent, country or ethnicity. It’s estimated that 14 million girls are married off before the age of 18 every year, expected to bear children, denied the right to education, proper healthcare, and many subject to horrible violence and abuse. Thankfully, there is a group of women and men passionately committed to ending this practice everywhere, taking very real measures to work with governments, religious bodies, police forces and other local organizations to end forced marriage. I encourage everyone to learn more about this very important issue at GIRLS NOT BRIDES. It’s one that concerns all humanity.

    Posted in People | | 1 Comment