• Art / Design / Craft

    Osman Usta: the Master beneath the mosque

    I don’t know about you, but I like a well made shoe. In fact, I prefer a pair. These days, however, it seems you have to go to Italy or Spain to find a good handcrafted shoemaker … or so I thought. Skeptical? I was too. Despite a tip from my friend, Metin — a man of substance and style —I learned about a fine shoemaker in my own backyard. Much to my amazement, beneath Yeni Camii (New Mosque) in Yeniköy, there is, in fact, an artisan shoemaker. He is also turning out some extremely stylish men’s boots in supple leather and silky soft suede, and has been doing so for no less than about 50 years. To my embarrassment, I walked by his shop for almost two-and-a-half years without a second glance. Perhaps it’s because it seems like a relatively modest storefront and workshop. Let this be a lesson…

  • Places

    A little Meander

    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…

  • Food & Drink,  Places

    The stairwell refuge

    In most business buildings, and many apartment blocks there’s an essential Turkish institution. Past the postboxes, across the scuffed, cracked tile floor, an illumined window, fogged with steam, behind which moves a shadowy indistinct figure. What’s brewing inside the uninitiated, non Turk might wonder? A magician in his lair? Almost. From that room, usually not much more than a metre or two square, a man or youth will emerge bearing a shiny silvery tray on which he carries an absolute Turkish necessity — piping hot, black tea accompanied by a tiny spoon and two little bricks of sugar. Outside pushed against the narrow corridor wall, a stool or two, maybe a chair with its vinyl cushion torn, exposing some yellow foam cushioning, and a table with an ashtray and stubbed out butt. This time of year, this is the cheapest refuge from Istanbul’s rain-spattered streets, where for less than 50 cents…

  • People

    The Epiphany

    Today was not a warm day for a stroll beside the Bosporus and no one with any sense was dressed in anything less than full headgear and warm winter clothes. Then again — for some there is a strong sense of faith in both community and tradition. Today is a special day for Turkey’s Orthodox Community, who marked the date of the Epiphany, or the revelation of God to the Gentiles through the form of the Christ. Into the Bosporus jumped four brave souls on the most blustery cold day of the season. We were expecting snow today, so you had to be brave to leap from the shelter of a boat to the warmth of a waiting terry cloth bathrobe. Nevertheless some young men from the Orthodox community did just that to mark this important date on the calendar. Once again, I’m grateful to have witnessed one of the…

  • Art / Design / Craft

    Nihat Usta

    At 79A Kumbaracı Yokuşu, the street that falls from Istiklal Caddesi to Tophane, exists a portal into a another world. This is the dükkan of master craftsman, Nihat Usta. Every day Nihat Usta boards the early morning motorboat to make his way from Anadolu Kavağı to his Pera workshop where he restores the most incredible furniture from another era. From his shop emanates a glow. Is it the materials like mother of pearl and wood that he works with? Or the aura of a man who can create something that much of us only dream of? In any case, there’s something vital as well as timeless (at least, I hope so) about this place. Let’s hope that businesses like Nihat’s thrive for years to come. They are something that keep the spirit of places like Beyoğlu from becoming artificial or feeling gentrified. Thanks for keeping it real, Nihat Usta.

  • Places

    Mussel man

    Everyday in some ways, extraordinary in others. That for me is what life is like in this city. This man is rinsing his catch of mussels with water from the Tarabya harbour. Some 25 metres away they’re driving huge underwater pylons/footings for the new floating pier system. It’s a little disturbing, thinking of what may be being unearthed, and what’s being poured into the water this man is using for his food source. Apparently this is one of the cleanest stretches of the Bosporus, and people (during warmer weather, at least) often swim around here. I’m certainly no marine biologist but the vast numbers of predators such as dolphins, often seem like an encouraging sign that this seaway is still a vital one. Let’s hope it stays that way for men like this as well as for the life within it. We need each other.

  • People

    Istanbullu III

    A few years ago my friend Selin was in Milano, Italy for the furniture fair, but took regular breaks to indulge her nicotine urge. An Italian man who observed her said, “You’re smoking like the Grande Turco!” To which she replied, with a laugh, “I am a Turk!” Do Turks smoke considerably more than many other cultures? I don’t know. While I don’t endorse smoking in any way, this is still very much a smoker’s city. Despite being pushed to the pavements, despite the ever increasing size of the warnings on their packets, Istanbullu are pretty resolute when it comes to puffing.

  • People

    Café girl

    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.

  • Places

    Kurban Bayram

    As Kurban Bayram or Eid al-Adha is one of the most important holidays in the year, I wanted to experience it up close. Yesterday I The festival, which marks the occasion and test of Abraham’s faith in God, when he was commanded to sacrifice his dearest, his one and only son Ishmael. When the obedient yet blindfolded Abraham raised the blade to slaughter Ishmael, the story goes God was merciful and replaced Abraham’s son with a ram, who was slaughtered in his place. The festival is observed on the 10, 11, 12 days of the twelfth month of the Muslim calendar, which means it comes roughly 11 days earlier for each Gregorian calendar year. It’s only relatively recently that the sacrifice of livestock stopped being done all across the city. The streets once ran red during the festival, which might not have been easy for those with delicate stomachs. While…