• Places

    the wonder of the pinewood

    In Istanbul it’s increasingly difficult to remember that our world isn’t comprised entirely of concrete and glass. Luckily this city has a few surprises left in store. One of which is only a few hundred meters from Haci Osman Metro station. Rough and unkept, unlike Emirgan Park or Belgrad Forest, is a large, and largely unused, pine wood. Although it’s open to the public, it’s not open to cars — although, unfortunately, it did seem to be open to the  odd motorcycle. A few hundred meters from the entrance, you begin to lose sight of anything but the stands of pine. A blue sky looms overhead, and sunlight filters through the branches. Soon the city disappears, and aside from the wail of the occasional siren, you hear little more than the wind through the trees. Stray a little from the beaten paths and you’ll soon feel the soft springy carpet…

  • Places

    Cathar Country

    It’s often strange to think that this region of France we’re now in was once the site of one of Europe’s bloodiest persecutions. Hundreds of years ago this was the land of the Cathars, a religious group who believed that the material world was the creation of Satan and that worldly possessions were something that should be abandoned. It wasn’t long before the Catholic Church feared their growing sway over people’s hearts and sent in the Inquisition.

  • Places

    Büyükada Day

    Prinkipo or Büyükada, as the name in Turkish tells you, is a big island. It’s also a big tourist destination right now, much to the distress of Istanbul’s weekenders. That’s why you should never go on weekends this time of year without your own private pad to enjoy. My advice is visit between Sunday evening and Friday morning. There will still be some tourists, especially in the vicinity of the ferry port. However, if you grab a horse and carriage, walk or rent a bicycle—as I did at the staggering expense of 10TL/day—you can easily escape for some quiet seclusion in the hills and enjoy a vista worthy of Elysium.

  • Places

    A New Spring

    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…

  • Photography,  Places

    A Dream Named Thessaloniki

    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…

  • Mind / Body,  Photography

    The Mystic Emptiness

    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…

  • Photography,  Places

    The Wood Next Door.

    TRESPASSING IN AN OVERLOOKED PLACE. Beside my house there’s a vast wooded lot which both fascinates and haunts me. It has a voice. Looking outside our side windows, I see tall, ivy entwined trees and long weeds obscuring a darkening western sky. This overgrown, unkempt expanse feels both beautiful and malevolent. One of the pines—old, gnarled and unforgiving as Chronos himself—looms over the gully separating our balcony, and regularly dumps branches without warning or even a whisper of wind. He’s like a neighbor who never smiles or meets your eye but wears a constant sneer. Three weeks after we’d moved into our apartment one of our cats answered the nocturnal calls of this strange wood.  As soon as we took up residence, the cat itself started howling out in a new voice, as if answering some inaudible cry that stirred from without. Despite the baying of dogs, and the fact…

  • Mind / Body,  Photography

    Volumes of silence, Part II.

    ESCAPING THE MIDDAY CRUSH. FROM THE BOSPORUS TO THE SEA OF MARMARA. How and where do you find quiet, urban dwellers? Do you or don’t you? I love city life, but it’s so easy to get distracted, sucked into a vortex of sound, movement and confusion. Do you go to a library, do yoga, get a massage, or instead clamp on the headphones  and blast out all the other noise with your preferred brand of clamor? I’m interested. Do you find quiet? Is it enough?

  • Photography

    Volumes of silence, Part I.

    KARAKÖY QUAY, MID-MORNING. In a city of 15 Million, it’s not always easy to find space, let alone quiet to fill it. But Istanbul is full of surprises, whether you’re in ferry-crowded Karaköy, or Sirkeci Train Station. Can you feel the silence? Amazing.