• Dear Advertisers

    May 9th, 2012

    Don’t know about you, but the sight of trees makes me happy. Beautiful, green, oxygen-producing trees. Perhaps some of you see them as raw materials, a good backdrop, or simply in the way?

    Once upon a time I worked full time in the advertising industry as a creative. I know and believe that good ads can make a difference. Not just for profit-motivated brands, either. Many cultural and charitable organizations can and do benefit from insightfully strategized, beautifully executed campaigns. I’m not an idealist. I live in the real world (mostly) and understand that commercial messages also make good editorial and entertainment possible. There is nothing inherently evil about advertising, it just needs to be placed in the right context. Otherwise it goes wrong for all parties involved.

    Now I must admit that I never worked in media placement, but I do know enough about the discipline to understand that no matter how great your creative is, it’s not only wasteful, but harmful to place it in the wrong context. Your media planner should be able to tell you the number of impressions you make with the following billboard, but can they measure which are positive or negative?

    I, for one, am vowing to never, ever buy Koroplast again and will also insist that no one in my household ever does either. It’s hard enough to get an unobstructed glimpse of nature in the raw these days, so perhaps, dear advertisers, you can explain to me why you would want to put your most precious commodity—your brand name—in the context of blighting a beautiful view?
    Thanks for your time.

  • A Pasaj in Time

    April 13th, 2012

    Ever want to time travel? I do. Not for sinister reasons like making myself insanely wealthy by choosing the right lottery numbers or even more noble ones like preventing some of history’s great tragedies. I’d be too afraid accidentally re-write my very existence out of time and space. I would simply like to travel back as an observer, gaze at the people, get a taste of the air, sample a glass of the wine, listen to the sounds, feel the textures of another era. Short of building a time machine, however, there are places you can go where you can gaze backward through time.

    One of them is the Suriye Pasaji at the Tünel end of Beyoglu. This place is magic. It has a cavernous atrium. Open walkways. The office of a daily Greek newspaper. A fur shop, and even a vast basement vintage shop to outfit you for your passage backward in time. There are some tenants that don’t really seem to fit, like the Sultanahmet Köftecisi — but if they help pay the rent and allow this building to remain in the here and now, then their presence is probably worth it. Upstairs are studios and creative suites, lawyers offices. And maybe even a seedy night spot.

    This is a building with a soul. How many lives have imprinted themselves in this space, even if only in echoes … countless, I’d imagine. Just think of the daily traffic beneath the grand atrium, the cigarettes smoked on the vertiginous walkways, the conversations, the whispered desires, the intrigues both personal and political.

    The stone above the entrance says 1908—the year the 3rd Army Corps of Salonica marched on Constantinople, the Young Turk Revolution, when the Ottoman Parliament’s 30 year suspension was put to an end and a new ruling elite was established. The beginning of the end of the Empire.

    The enchantment of this building is that it’s something of a self-contained world. Stepping in off Istiklal Caddesi or one of the side streets, there’s an abrupt change. Outside sound seems to disappear. You’re gulped back into the past. Perhaps it’s the effect of the atrium, which draws sound, air and your eye upward into the aether of diffused light.

    They don’t make buildings like this anymore. And that’s a shame, because this space is truly special. It’s just the sort of place I hoped to discover more of in Istanbul.

    Historic, atmospheric and more than passing strange, Suriye Pasaji is an Istanbul treasure that shouldn’t be lost to the world or converted into a crass shopping mall. There has been some movement to protect this tangible piece of history, and anybody interested in finding out more can visit the Facebook page set up by a group dedicated to its preservation.

    If you should happen to have any intelligence on this building, its history or past tenants, personal or otherwise, or know someone who does, please contact me. I would love to do some follow-up stories.

  • A New Spring

    April 9th, 2012

    I have a recurring dream:

    A hundred years work is accomplished in one brief night. Istanbul wakes to find the cars, the trucks, and the roads which convey them swallowed by an unstoppable force. A forest. The corridors and hills of broken asphalt are gone. While we all slumbered the parked cars and roads have been broken into their constituents by an inexorable patrol of ivy, to nourish the earth. And from their ruins have sprouted trees—the kind that take a hundred years to grow to their full splendor—who are now the city council, all interconnected and communicating through a network of roots. The forest is king and holds sway within the city confines. It has commissioned foxes to sweep the city of its rats and falcons to cleanse the sky of its pigeons. Every rooftop is an island rising above a swirling sea of green. From outside the city traffic grinds to a halt. The noise and blare of horns is replaced by birdsong and the soft wash of wind through the fragrant trees. Meanwhile, the human inhabitants have been given a second chance. We rise in wonder to find there is fruit aplenty, gardens to feed everyone …

    Then I wake up. That’s why I’ve been thinking a lot about this city and my dream recently. I’m not sure when it started. Perhaps when my father-in-law described Istanbul before the population explosion began in the 1970s. Perhaps it’s when a Kadirga resident kicked a still living rat into the air which nearly hit me. Perhaps there’s probably no single moment.

    Cities aren’t going away. If you believe the projections — and there’s no reason not to — they’re only going to get bigger. In the 70s nobody could easily see where Istanbul was going. Now we have an idea. This particular city is at a critical juncture in its history. Its latest conqueror, in a long line of conquerors, isn’t human though.

    It’s the automobile, a beast that isn’t content to steal every square inch of walking space, but also our breathing space. And so great is the automobile’s tyranny that just about everyone needs to get into one to be granted a breath of fresh air. How bitter an irony is that?

    Before my daughter was born we made a conscious decision to leave the city center for the hills above the Bosporus. Not everybody has that luxury, which is why it’s probably time to start thinking about how this metropolis will work. I’m excited about the Marmaray Project which will convey humans and commerce through our city and lessen our dependency on the automobile. It’s not enough, though.

    When I first came to Istanbul, it use to stagger me that people would picnic on the narrow grassed-in triangles between highways and on-ramps. But when you think about it, where else are they supposed to go?

    I don’t want to diminish the hard work that’s going into this city. Often, in fact, I want to congratulate those in charge with how well it functions considering the enormous forces exerted upon it from within and without. It’s a magnificent place. But what would Istanbul’s heroes like Fatih Sultan Mehmet, or in more modern times, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk say?

    Would they marvel at its size and progress, or pause to ask what happened to the blessed trees? The decision to tear out the last slender trunks from Istiklal Caddesi some 5-6 years ago seemed to me to be a tragic indicator of the value of trees in this city’s plan.

    What do you think? Are green spaces, wider sidewalks and the opportunity to be safe from the constant assault of traffic a human right. Should they be?

  • Analog Beauty

    April 7th, 2012

    What is it about the analog world that now seems so beautiful? Is it simply nostalgia? Or are these great work machines and tools truly beautiful? There’s certainly something to be said for space-saving in this increasingly cramped world. But I can’t help but wonder if the fact that everything is now so tiny, so compact, so microscopic that we aren’t in danger of feeling a great distance from the workings of our world and maybe the ability to change them for the better at times.

    And there are other things we’ve lost, and they’re not simply aesthetic — for instance, the ability to pop up the hood of our car, and take a peak and correct a slight imbalance or funny whir. My grandfather kept himself busy well into his 90s tinkering with and restoring old VW Beetles and it often seems to me that he was the better for knowing how. That’s not something you could do with Volkswagens any longer. They’re so micro-digital engineered that you can’t replace a light bulb on your own without voiding a warranty. Which makes me wonder: are they the “people’s car” any longer?

    Some things perhaps, have improved. Right now I’m writing this piece on an envelope thin computer and am able to transmit my words across the globe with a couple clicks. No envelope required. No permissions required. Never mind the ponderous clack-clack of a typewriter, the frustration of an incorrectly hit key. These are all behind me. I never even had to learn to type properly.

    But is that convenience necessarily good? There are some who would say, that that’s exactly why the level of writing is so poor these days. Too many people can sit down and convey their thoughts across the globe without pause or review, let alone editing. Is that good, or is that bad? In some ways it’s less elitist and more democratic.

    So why, when I see a typewriter like the one above, do I feel such a surge of emotion?

    The fact is I’m certain I would write, regardless of the tools I needed. And in fact, whenever I get blocked, I leave behind all digital devices and pick up a pen and paper, and start to organize my thoughts, write lines of dialog, actions, stray passages, the way I always did. Some of my best ideas come out of this process.

    But would I shoot? To me that’s a more interesting question. I love film. The quality, the vagaries of the end result can be indescribably beautiful. However had I started out in film I might have given up. Personally I don’t want to spend hours in a dark room. I know what I want and I usually get to see whether I’ve got it instantly. But is that a good thing?

    To me a great photo is a great photo. You can tweak a shot in Photoshop, but if the composition isn’t there, it isn’t there. It’s not something you can make up for later. And yet, I greatly admire photographers like Ara Güler and Henri Cartier-Bresson who shot long before anybody even thought of plumping up pixels. Are they more noble for sticking with their craft, with all its uncertainties, for producing such great works under more trying conditions? Perhaps.

    I often wish that I’d started to take my own photographic ambitions seriously in the era of film, to know whether or not I’d have stuck with it. But the truth of it is, most professional photographers I know and have worked with have now given up on film, something which seemed almost unthinkable a decade ago.

    Then there’s music. Have the CD and subsequent mp3 improved music, or destroyed it? They certainly seem to have all but destroyed the concept of the LP. It used to be that we would listen through an entire album. I don’t know about you, but one of the joys of sitting through albums was that each one had immediate hits, and then smaller more subtle songs that would grow on you over time. Also the arrangement of tracks and the tempo of each made an album. When CDs emerged I stopped listening through an entire album. If a song didn’t grab me immediately. I’d click the remote.

    Albums no longer seem relevant, and most ‘artists’ don’t seem to bother the way they used to. My biggest problem with mp3s, though, is the quality. They are quite simply not as dynamic as CDs. I’m told that a good stylus on vinyl is still superior to a CD, but in that case, however, I’m not sure I have an ear that can discern. It wouldn’t surprise me, though.

    What do you think? Has convenience killed beauty? Are we spoiled by our disconnection from the objects that serve us? Are invisible beams superior to the tangible, tactile world of analog? And what about mix tapes? Remember mix tapes? Does the gift of a mixed CD have the same romance for you?

    I’m listening.

  • A Dream Named Thessaloniki II

    April 3rd, 2012

     

    I’m still wandering down the corridors of memory. Stumbling perhaps. It’s a dreamy place I’m in and I’m not yet ready to relinquish it. Thessaloniki, Salonika … what was its magic? Was it the right amount of decay versus newness? Old visions merging into the new? The people? Perhaps it was the space in which to walk, empty but not vacant.

    Modiano Market. A vast roof above, still functioning stalls. Vegetables. Eggs. Meat. Cheese. A burst of voices, laughter. A flash of a smile. Then a beautiful silhouette. Her heels clatter on the stone. Her shadowed figure merges with the light at the end of the corridor. Cafes, tavernas, mini ouzeri clustered beneath the decrepit canopy.

    More signs I can’t read. This is intriguing. I want to come back. But it is shuttered at night when I return though, drowned in shadow, and locked. Next time, stay for lunch.

    The architecture of dreams. The crumbling and the cracked. The smooth walled and restored. Soaring ceilings. Fresh paint. Just the right amount of quirk.

    A wine bar named after Hermes, the first craftsman, the first intelligencer, the first alchemist. Didn’t sample the food, but the beer works. The dining locals seem pleased. A crowd worthy of more than a glance. Animated faces. Families. Couples. Cigarette smoke shot through with late afternoon sun. This too is a place worth returning to.

    An interesting couple. He’s black clad, alternative, she’s pretty, flashing eyes and a crinkling burn scar on her arm she makes no attempt  to hide. They are backlit, spotlit almost, in the window. They are having too intense a conversation for me to interrupt. I’d like to take their photo, but the mood between them isn’t right, it seems. There’s a debate, maybe about trivial matters, maybe something serious. Best to leave them in their bubble.

    Thessaloniki light. It penetrates the windows, the buildings, the cracks. It has space to illuminate and bring alive anything it washes down on. The air  moves too. It is not thick or heavy, but fragrant with the sea and the perfume of trees. Perhaps it’s not so strange that the cigarette smoke never chokes or cloys.

    The photography museum. A well curated collection by Greek talent shooting the vastly different places across the Middle East, from Dubai to Cairo in a converted warehouse building. Just the right amount of despots and the downtrodden. A suitably stark cafe with a terrific view of the passenger terminal quay. More parents and children. A toddler kicks the table, shattering the peace with his father’s coffee cup. Nobody minds.

    Back to The Met. An international crowd. Greek. Turkish. Arab and African. Japanese. All dressed in expensive, well fitting clothes. Late afternoon drinks. I’m always greeted in Greek. I like this. English has infiltrated too much of the world, stolen too much of its mystery. I like hearing other languages, like codes waiting to be broken.

    The sun is falling. Time to put the camera down. Another dream awaits me in the room.

    This one I won’t photograph.

  • A Dream Named Thessaloniki

    April 2nd, 2012

    It has excited my imagination for some time, but I know very little about it. I know it’s Mustafa Kemal’s birthplace, but ironically not part of the great modern state he created. It’s often compared to Izmir. Its history, rich, significant … Greek, Roman, Ottoman, 20th century, Jewish. It’s a port city, Aegean, named after the princess born on the day of a great Macedonian victory.

    To hell with guidebooks. Wander. Get a vague sense of direction and then to let all five, or is it six, senses lead me. I don’t want anybody else to discover for me. Why not relinquish the burdensome anxiety that something will be missed without Fodor’s or Lonely Planet?

    Yes, I have expectations, but seeing how close one’s imagination stands up to reality is another pleasure. Thessaloniki … Salonika … Selanik? doesn’t disappoint. There are echoes of other port cities, Izmir, Beirut, common architectural details like shuttered windows, but this is a city with its very own feel. Perhaps it’s the imprint of that vast and important aforementioned history.

    The Greeks are a far more resilient people than the images on the nightly news would suggest of late. Despite their recent economic woes, the locals here seem very much up to the task of appreciating the kind of wealth that only their geography can provide. Everyone is concerned but overall, I sense resigned calm, not panic, not depression. Why waste sunlight and spring?

    Other things I notice … the choice of a single species of tree for each of the central streets. Sunlight spilling down on the wide sidewalks, filling the cracks in the cobblestone malls. Corners and alleys alive with a kind of decrepit charm. But mostly space … space without excess emptiness. Spaces creeping with interest and imagination. It’s not a big city, not especially crowded, but there a lot of places where the inhabitants can go out and enjoy themselves. And they’re full to capacity. Metal jugs of wine. Grilled sardines. Grilled cheeses. Clinking plates. Cigarette smoke spiraling up into the air. Greek voices suddenly penetrated by clamorous Turkish ones. The streets, the city continue to replenish themselves.

    Atriums. Passages. Shafts of blue colored light and then Hermes Bar. High ceilings, tall windows, long late afternoon light. More cigarette smoke. I need to find this place again. Is it fate that I’m brought to a bar named after the God of all alchemists? And no, I can’t tell you where it is, the card is in Greek. But its location is no longer a mystery withheld from me. It will not dissolve like a dream.

    The vastness of the Aegean washes in empty except for a handful of freighters. Olive trees toss in a salt-tinged breeze. Orange trees hang heavy with fruit. Children play at their parent’s feet. Teenagers gather to greet and gawk at each other across Aristotelous Square.

    Time to find another glass of wine. The economy is not thriving. Life is.

  • Accidental Patterns

    March 27th, 2012

    PYTHAGOREAN PIPES. THE TETRACTYS.

    What is it that makes something beautiful? Is it when it suggests something to you which creates a pattern in your head? Is it about achieving symmetry, or is it asymmetrical? Is it an accident or something you can create? I wonder. I’m inclined to think the most beautiful things are discovered by an accident. Is beauty created, or discovered. No matter how genius an artist or scientist is, I’m of the belief that they stumble along to find the patterns in life and highlight them. How many accidents have found happy conclusions? I think it’s when we’re forced to look at something a different way that a beautiful new truth is discovered.

    SUNLIGHT THROUGH A DERELICT FACADE IMPOSES ITS PATTERN ON ANOTHER BUILDING.

    Pythagoras, the mathematician, mystic and ‘lover of wisdom’, believed there was a pattern to nature, and is often credited with discovering musical scale. Little is truly known about the man, but still he was one of the first people in recorded history to try to demonstrate an intelligent (or perhaps intelligible?) design in nature.

    For me, beauty is something to seek, but it requires some quirk to it in order to make it interesting. The paradox for me is that symmetrical perfection isn’t perfect. But maybe that’s because the notion of symmetry and beauty are often overlapped. Perhaps this is the work of mathematicians and musicians. Nature seems mathematical, and yet is that simply us trying to impose a code we — or the mathematically inclined at least — can understand upon nature?

    THESE RUSTED OLD PIPES REMIND ME OF BROKEN PENCILS.

    I’m not sure human beings can handle perfection. Being such imperfect, immature creatures, there’s nothing for us to do with perfection but destroy it. I don’t mean that in a bleak way, I just mean that I think we’re designed to improve what we have. Perhaps it’s not even in us yet to recognize perfection.

    NOTICE HOW ‘DEMIR’ (IRON) IS FLECKED WITH RUST ON THIS SIGN. TRUTH IN ADVERTISING.

    Nobody builds something to decay, and yet the way something oxidizes often creates a new beauty. Does nature have a pattern? She certainly seems to like to eat away at anything we try to impose upon her planet. Our attempt to impose order and a pattern is invariably undone by her.

    WOULD THESE EXTINGUISHERS SAVE US FROM A FIRE? OR DO THEY NEED SAVING?

    Where I live there’s a lot of unintentional beauty. It seems to pop up in spite of what some people do, not just because of it. What do you think? What patterns do you see? Are they beautiful, mathematical, harmonious? Is there a Golden Mean? Are we observers? Are we inadvertent creators? Are we seeing what we want to see? And am I talking too much?

    Let me know. I’m listening.

  • The Mystic Emptiness

    March 19th, 2012

    Ever have those moments when the light strikes the surface you’re looking at in a certain way and suddenly there’s a change, an almost mystic feel in the air and you want suddenly to say, “Yeah, baby!”

    I do all the time. Then I realize I’m alone, or in a church, a mosque or some sacred site where such an expression would be highly inappropriate. The world really is an incredible place at times, particularly when you get to see the most mundane things all over again, but in a new way.

    Perhaps that’s why I’m so relieved to have my camera and this blog. Being a writer or a creative person is very solitary at times. You’re always trying to capture a moment, hold it, freeze it in glass. Now it’s not so lonely.

    I could say more, but somebody else has already said it far better:

    “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious—the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a god who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with the awareness of—and glimpse into—the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive.”

    I don’t generally like to use other people’s words, but Albert Einstein’s, above, hold as much truth for me as any religious text.

    Perhaps that’s why I’m here … this city is full of these moments. There are times in fact when I’m almost paralyzed by the beauty of this place and its almost indescribable quality. You can’t quite fathom it, only goggle at it for a moment or two before you trip over your own two feet. It gets a bit addictive.

    I can be so impatient for this city’s revelations, that I have to remind myself that it’s a state of mind. You’re either open to it, or you’re trapped in a hole of your own digging.

    Do you ever feel that way? Ever want to get lost with someone else in the mystic emptiness? If so, feel free to join me here.

  • Churches: glimpses into different times.

    March 9th, 2012

    VIEW OF THE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH. TAKSIM.

    You’ll seldom get much more than a glimpse of a church in Istanbul. Perhaps it’s the landscape we’re in. Space is definitely at a premium and many old things are not respected, let alone valued the way they once were.

    I’m not religious, but I refuse to leap aboard the anti-religion bandwagon. Religion has played such an inextricable role in the thought and development of just about every culture you can name that to try and excise it completely, or refuse to look at its place in our social development seems to me a little strange, perhaps even unwise.

    GREEK CHURCH SUNKEN BENEATH A SIDEWALK. YENIKÖY.

    This doesn’t mean we should discount or ignore the bloody atrocities that religious institutions and their “faithful” flocks have committed throughout history, it just seems to me that as in all of us, there is both good and bad, and we should explore this history without either credulity or outright hostility.

    That’s why I’m so drawn to religious sites, especially the minority ones. They are living fragments it seems, sunken beneath sidewalks, hidden behind high walls, obscured by bakkal (grocery stores) or büfe selling döner.

    A GLIMPSE THROUGH A HALF OPENED GATE. YENIKÖY.

    Personally I’m fascinated by the role that faithful men such as Avicenna and Roger Bacon played in the development of science and philosophy. Greek science was largely preserved thanks to the work of medieval Muslim clerics — if you’re interested in this subject as I am, check out John Freely’s excellent book, Aladdin’s Lamp. Imagine what would have been lost to the world if these scholars hadn’t chosen to transcribe and preserve many of the works of Plato, Aristotle and other fascinating players in the history of ideas.

    Perhaps if we’re going to understand where we’ve gone wrong, both recently and in the past, we need to take another look at history. Let’s make it a look at the whole, though, and not obscure the parts that don’t serve us.

    FRAGMENTED STONE. ORTHDOX CHURCHYARD, TAKSIM.

    What do you think? Is an honest dialogue on religion’s role worthwhile? Is it even possible, or are we too biased to look at the subject any longer? Have you read Alain De Botton’s Religion for Atheists

    I’d love to know your thoughts.

  • Dystopian Wonderland

    January 30th, 2012

    THIS ATRIUM BELONGS IN A SCI-FI DYSTOPIA.

    If you ask me, Istanbul is inherently cinematic. I just left Switzerland which you could say is inherently picturesque — with its mountains, its lakes and its pristine architecture, it would make a good location for several of my cinematic fantasies. But could you do a dystopian epic with a nicely understated sci-fi twist? I think not. I regularly dream movies up in my head, like the other day when I decided to cut through this han to get to Karaköy Lokantasi, and for about two-three minutes I completely forgot my ravenous appetite. Read More…