• the new mobile office: lake zürich

    October 2nd, 2017

    Who doesn’t like a workspace with an inspiring view? Yet even the nicest corner suite is essentially the same scene, day-in, day-out. No matter how well appointed your office, it’s hard to change things up. My latest workspace is constantly changing. Thanks to Zürichsee, any day I need to sit down and get fired up,  keep my mind moving and not get stuck, I hop on one of their boats. Not only are they spotlessly maintained, the views are incredible. You can get fresh air any time you need it, and you never need to go hungry or thirsty either. Better yet, you’re not confined to the same office. It’s easier to keep the mind floating along when the body travels with it. You can even choose from a classic steamboat, or a more sleek modern contemporary design, the boat schedule is here. You can go first class or economy. Yet the same friendly service is on either deck.

    Once home after a gruelling day of contemplating such glorious scenery, you can also have the satisfaction to ask: what was the scene like at the office today, dear?

  • paradise street

    July 17th, 2017

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    In the pauses, a trill. Birdsong? A sound almost forgotten. The bus, the trams, always on time, and clean, but sometimes a meandering path home in late afternoon leads to new discoveries. There’s no hurry. A detour here and there makes life more interesting. Houses on hills. A church with a drinking fountain. Here and there are pastures, a scattering of chickens, even a cow idle on the slopes. Bees buzzing away in wildflowers. Only five minutes before, the high street. Where is this place? It is as if someone has wiped everything, even the pavements, clean. A sign that reads, Paradise Street. Crazy… it might just be right. In any case, it’s the road that leads home.

  • last look

    June 29th, 2017

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    Our story ends here. It once seemed your luminous gaze would never end, and I could have gleefully burned the rest of my days in its glare. But now, a last glimpse, over the shoulder, down the resounding hall. The marble steps a spiral. Through a window, the darkening street below stretches long in late afternoon shadow.

    Little more than an awestruck boy when we met, and you, brazen and carefree, but not young. I wish I could say I changed you. That I lit you up. You did me. My mistake to think you were something real, tangible, something I could always return to, a house or a refuge. You are not so much physical reality as an idea that alters all realities. There are no others such as you. There will be no others such as you.

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    The grit of you stays under my fingernails, your scent still fresh in my nostrils. The sun through the window, the drape of your hair. Still with me. Men fight in the street below. I pause on the stair. Your new lover’s footsteps ascend the staircase. I pass him often but always escape his notice. The tyrant, the bully. The two of you. A pair. I injure myself with the thought of it: your welcome, how you enfold him in your arms. He will drive you from your family and still you will keep him. I know this, but won’t say it, since I lacked the courage when it might have made a difference. He will offer cheap jewels and makeovers, but you will never be the same no matter how lavishly, how expensively he adorns you. He will pulverise your spirit, distance you from your admirers, grind the last facets of your truth to dust.

    The drive to the airport. Light flashes through the plane trees. Memory: the boulevard, the high walls. Once it was dawn and the taxi whipped us down your empty streets. Only the two of us. And now I don’t miss your voice so much as the pause. That look of yours that started it all. The subsequent sticky days we slept away or laboured. Evenings, your breath cool on my neck.

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    When I return neither of us will be quite the same. Might we be friends? Perhaps you’ll allow me to retrieve certain fragments left in the wake of my hasty departure … until then mutual friends and loved ones pass along news of you.

    A light that withers. Shadows that chill. Goodbye, Istanbul.

    Posted in Places | | 5 Comments
  • glasgow’s west end

    January 18th, 2017

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    It always seems that wherever I travel there’s a quality of light unique to that place. Glasgow is no different. Though this time of year the days are quite short and the skies a cobalt grey, there’s a few moments every day where the light seems to escape the barrier of cloud and washes the stones of the tenements and architecture in an otherworldly glow. There’s a luminous quality to Glasgow’s denizens too, an antidote to the short days, a warmth and readiness to engage in a quick discussion about almost anything. Although my visit was brief and the weather mostly inhospitable, in the West End you can escape the rain and the cold into a lively cafe, the air thick with voices and lively people, good food and hospitality. Special mention goes to two places on the Crow Road in which I could have happily lost several more hours: Kothel, a coffee shop of sharply tailored gents serving up some great platters of food and freshly baked goods, and The Wee Lochan, where the service is prompt and the food imaginative and delicious without veering into silliness. For those in need of a free oxygen boost there’s also the warm welcome of the botanical gardens, where one can breathe deep of the fresh air and contemplate the important things in life, such as family, health and the beauty of a day. Thank you, Glasgow. I can hardly wait until I get another dose of your signature glow. Having had another little taste, I hunger for a feast.

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  • daytime at union pacific …

    October 18th, 2016

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    It was a long, long summer, as you know. The good news is, that, despite the stresses and strains, life is again returning to the city. It’s autumn and Istanbul is like that kid in the schoolyard that won’t submit to the bully. Sure it’s taken some hits. But it keeps on picking itself up. That attitude inspires us at Union Pacific. Our sign is properly mounted and lit up. We have a fantastic team led by the inimitable Chris James Maxwell, formerly of Cochine, who are plating up a great mix of flavours and experiences from the vast and varied shores of the Pacific. We have a fierce baker in-house whose skills with sweet or savoury are becoming legend. We have coffee from some of Istanbul’s artisan roasters. We have new items coming to the menu weekly (check up above). But most of all, what do we have? A great time.

    Like to travel? You don’t have to go far to begin the journey. Step on in. We’ve got places to take you.

    Union Pacific General Store & New World Eatery – Şah Değirmeni Sokak 6A, Şahkulu Mahallesi, Tünel, Beyoğlu,
    +90 212 252 7274.

  • last escape

    October 5th, 2016

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    Innes means ‘island’ in Gaelic. Perhaps it’s little wonder, then, that I find myself drawn to islands. I know of some people who feel trapped on an island, but I feel different. Like I have smuggled myself to a new reality. That’s even more true with Burgazada. Despite being within the jurisdiction of the Istanbul megacity in which we live, it’s something of a strange wrinkle in time and space. Plonked in the Marmara between Kınalıada and Heybeliada, Burgaz is nowhere nearly as touristic as its big brother, Büyükada. With no traffic noise other than the clop of hoofs and the clang of the coachman’s bells, the occasional whirr of electric scooters that the locals sometimes use, Burgaz is well removed from the city’s infernal traffic chaos. It’s quite amazing what removing automobiles does for stress levels.

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    Mornings are a real boon. An uphill walk from the harbour side of the island, dawn light warm on your back, lungs filling with a cool draught of pine-scrubbed air, western vistas tugging the mind towards the kind of calm with which it’s good to begin every day. You’ll meet few people early in the morning. A nod here. A softly uttered greeting elsewhere. There is space. Ocasionally you might encounter an untethered horse nosing around in the grass and weeds roadside. The watchful gaze of a crow. You’re not exactly alone, just temporarily untroubled. Back down in the harbour, an early morning coffee at Burgaz Cafe, or a tea at the patisserie, watching a handful of people hasten to the ferry or seabus is a gentle reminder to you that the fuming city is still there, and how fortunate you are that you don’t have to hustle, at least for today.

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    In fact, with the exception of Sedefadası, Burgaz must be the most overlooked of the Islands. Therein lies its charm. There is just enough to make this a functioning Island, but no more. There are no chain stores. No big brands visible. A couple of good local tavernas, one solid coffee shop and roastery, Four Letter Word. Faintly, in the distance, looms a large sky and the shadowy tones of newly erected skyscrapers on the Anatolian side, the memory of a city still traumatised by the summer’s events. You can forget you’re in Istanbul for a while. Something most, if not all of us, have needed for a while.

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    For the smaller ones among us, there are many simple delights. Swimming at the local beach club. The occasional ice cream. New friends made poolside. A tour around the island on a horse drawn carriage. Screen time diminished. Outdoor fun augmented. The echoes of old school summer bliss still seem to resonate here among the youth. I can only imagine and envy the euphoric days spent here by friends in previous decades when school let out and their families empty their city houses and decamp, refrigerators and all, to Burgaz for the span of a summer.

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    Of course not every day is perfect. There’s a heaviness on the last day. Waiting to cram oneself on the ferry and sail off back to reality, you wonder when, or if, you will return to the same place. Will it remain as untouched and charmed as it is? A place that seems serenely outside the current circumstances that surround us? You hope so. Long live Burgazada.

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    Posted in Places | | No Comments
  • Mastic

    September 27th, 2015

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    Early every morning in the village of Vouno, Elisabeth (pictured above) rises and sorts through what looks, at a distance, like a pile of rocks and twigs. Working in a shed beside her village home, her deft hands, gnarled like the trunks of the trees from which she harvests her treasure, meticulously plucking the sticky resin that drips like angels’ tears from the other detritus that carpets the ground of Chios. Reputed to be the birthplace of Homer, Chios is largely overlooked by the hordes of tourists from continental Europe who descend upon Greece each year. But despite the island’s literary pedigree it is the Pistacia lentiscus variety of gum tree unique to Chios that makes the island famous.

    After scraping and scoring the bark, the tree releases resin which subsequently falls to the levelled ground around the tree trunks and is collected by people such as Elisabeth. This local industry is an important part of Chios’ cultural heritage and helps supplement and support earnings. I was told that one kilo of the pure resin can fetch up to 80 Euros. Mastic is used in everything from Mastica liquor, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics as well as instrument and furniture manufacture.

    Mastic smuggling also features in Amin Maalouf’s entertaining and erudite novel, Balthasar’s Odyssey in which the “… Turkish authorities only allow it to be used in the Sultan’s harem, where it’s fashionable for the noble ladies to chew it from morn till night to whiten their teeth and perfume their breath. The farmers on the island who grow the precious tree (Pistachio lentiscus), which is very like the pistachio tree we have in Aleppo, have to hand the mastic over for a fixed price, but those who produce a surplus try to sell it on their own account, though if they’re found out they may spend a long time in prison or in the galleys or even be put to death.”

    Thankfully for kind and generous Chians like Elisabeth, such penalties no longer exist and mastic can now be enjoyed by a much wider audience than the Sultan’s harem.

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  • aegean summer

    July 24th, 2015

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    As much as I love the Mediterranean coast, it’s hard to beat the Aegean in July and August. Here’s a handful of highlights from the sun-drenched, salt-splashed days of a summer I won’t soon forget. Endless blue. Endless beauty. Endless days would have been nice too. I think I’ve found my favourite escape. Thank you. Oh … did I mention the wine?

  • istanbul’s ultimate play area

    May 14th, 2015

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    It’s well known Istanbul doesn’t lack for shopping malls. What it does lack for, however, are good, free, publicly available leisure spaces for children. Yet every once in a while something really surprising occurs and you find much more than you expected. Such is the case with the children’s park outside Zorlu Shopping Mall. Other parents had extolled its virtues for some time but I didn’t realise I was in for as much a surprise as my favourite small person. I could go on and on about the clever design by CARVE and WATG LAND ARCHITECTS (but you can read about it here instead) and that it has several different thoughtfully prepared play structures, or that no smoking is allowed on the grass or around the play structures. The possibilities for climbing, crawling, jumping, sliding, exploring, are nearly endless — and more than one adult was unable to resist the gravity of the slide. But the most important case for the park is evidenced in the expressions you see above. And that the person pictured above also slept straight through the night thereafter until 07:10 AM. Just remember to bring at least one change of clothes. The water play zone is particularly irresistible for the little people. The squeals of pure delight still ring in my ears.

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  • the lost lagoon

    February 17th, 2015

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    Steel and glass swallowed by wood. Trees thick as rooms. Rain soft as seltzer.  A bridge. I can’t help but wonder … have I stumbled into Elysium? Difficult to tell. But before the last ship sails into the western light, I trust this will be my port of call.