• 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.

  • the fish auction

    April 28th, 2013

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    alacati fish dip

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    Alactai Dip3

    Saturday morning. The sun burns white above, bleaches the earth below white. A man with a resplendent white moustache and an immaculately pressed shirt weighs and sorts piles of fresh catch under a covered structure. On the long glistening marble table hundreds of fish of numerous shapes and hues, lobsters, prawns, shimmer in numbered lots. Craggy faced men, and sunglass-wearing women crowd around the table and ready themselves for the first bid. Mustafa Kemal’s steely blue eyes overlook the gathering from a large wall hanging. It’s 11:00 AM. The man in the striped shirt, the auctioneer, now holds a metre stick with which taps the table immediately below his nose. The first bid is for over 100 TL for a pile of fish. It being the weekend, a woman who runs one of the local restaurants or hotels motions and no one challenges. The fish are immediately bagged and the sale recorded. Apparently the local men seldom, if ever, challenge a woman’s bid. During the next hour over a hundred lots will be auctioned off, the first, best lots going to the restaurant and hotel owners and local gentry, then gradually decreasing in price and quality for the less well healed among the crowd. A day before, before the weekend population surge, towards the end of the proceedings, a man storms off after a vociferous outburst which seemed to end and then abruptly resume at 10-metre intervals. “Yeter, Agabey!” (Enough, brother!) is shouted back at him several times. He doesn’t quiet so much as allow his increasing distance to swallow his uncontainable surges of annoyance. There is some laughter. Today there are no disputes, but there is plenty of excitement, some mild confusion, as the fish is snapped up. After about an hour and a half the lots that will sell have been sold. The morning’s excitement is over. Village life, the large bazaar, and the beach all beckon.

  • street colour, street art

    February 24th, 2013

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  • A little Meander

    January 22nd, 2013

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    I’m taking the next couple of days to explore Turkey’s fertile textile basin. Sheltered by the mountains, along the river Meander (Menderes in Turkish) I’m looking into the craft of cotton weaving. For thousands of years this place has been a rich land and the site of numerous civilizations as well the highway of marching armies. Today it’s the heartland of Turkey’s export textile industry, a magic place, warmed by geothermal waters, wreathed in fog and shot through with dazzling slanted beams of light — which can afford you a glimpse of the calm and warmth through which people navigate life here. If you’re interested in the history and the feel of this place, I highly recommend Jeremy Seal’s excellent book Meander, which charts his journey from the river’s headwaters to the Aegean — it’s equal parts entertaining travel story and compelling history. For now, here’s a glimpse of the texture and the mood in these parts:

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  • The cure for dislocation

    November 23rd, 2012

    Despite the chaos surrounding me it’s nice to be home and welcomed by some special people with open arms. There’s no going backwards in time, but for now that’s okay. Home is not really a place is it, Sof? That’s why I hope wherever I am, you’ll always be nearby. Then, even if I’m not home, at least I’ll know I’m close.

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  • Café girl

    October 30th, 2012

    Someone said to me at the café where I’m writing this right now: “I know you, you’re famous!” While I was somewhat taken aback, I smiled, and replied, “Oh, really … am I?” Then she responded, “Yes, you’re Sofia’s father.” I laughed because it made sense. Every time we stroll into a café, you turn heads. Every time we sit down, you charm a laugh out of me or someone else. If my only claim to fame is you, that’s just fine with me. I couldn’t be prouder.

  • Delicate flowers

    August 8th, 2012

    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.

  • Istanbul rules

    July 20th, 2012

    If you expect the open arms of sanctuary, be prepared to embrace barbed wire. Those who exercise self-restraint must first flex their muscles in your face. One door invites you in so that the second can slam in your face. Your personal business will be auctioned off by someone else as common property. Your neighbor erects a locked gate to protect his fence-less perimeter. The man whose home is constructed entirely of salvaged scrap doesn’t want anyone to throw litter on his garden of weeds. To find beauty look for the trail of decay. Unintentional irony or absolute ambiguity? You’re free to decide whatever we tell you. Istanbul rules: engraved in the crystal clear medium of mud.

  • 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.

  • 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.