• Food & Drink,  Places

    The real conspiracy

    In a country like Turkey there are plenty of conspiracy theories. Just about every person in the street has at least one they fervently believe. Today, however, I’d like to tell you that I have fallen victim to a 100% genuine conspiracy at the hands of some nefarious yet innocent looking people here in Istanbul. It didn’t happen to me on the proverbial “bridge between east and west” but on the very real bridge between Karaköy and Eminönü, a.k.a The new Galata Bridge. What happened?  Well, I can only tell you that I was minding my own business, wondering about the future of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s republic when I fell prey to the twisted words of a white-shirted, black trousered man, saying, “Cold beer! Cold beer! 5TL! Yes, my friend?” Yes, I thought I was stronger and better than that, I thought I was prepared for the wiles of the…

  • Food & Drink

    Jujubes

    Where I grew up jujubes were a confectionery made of corn starch and syrup, a cheap and rather poor substitute for a more refined sweet like Turkish delight. Lately, however, I’ve become acquainted with the real deal, an Asian fruit which is appearing all over the city in manavcı (green grocer) carts everywhere. I love harvest season.  As usual, these tiny apple-like creatures which are native to Asia, called hünnap in Turkish, and sometimes referred to as red dates, are credited with a host of health benefits, including stress-reduction in Chinese and Korean medicine. They’re also anti just about anything bad—anti-inflammatory, anti fungal, anti bacterial, anti spastic, antioxidant, anti ulcer. They may also help improve memory functions. At 3TL for a half kilo, that’s a mighty fine deal if you ask me, regardless of whether or not they live up to all those claims. They’re also pretty flippin’ tasty with a…

  • Food & Drink,  Places

    Bosporus deluxe

    A few weeks back I spent some time in front of the camera instead of behind it touring around the Sea of Marmara and up and down the Bosporus. It was quite an experience and a nice way to earn some money, especially when being on the water was a lot more comfortable than being immersed in the dense heat of the city streets. The Bosporus really is this city’s spiritual life source. It never gets tiring being on the sea, whatever type of vessel you’re on. However, I have to say, this particular one was the finest I’ve had the pleasure of being aboard, incredibly comfortable, and tastefully appointed. It had all the old school charm in its design that I’d want if I was fortunate enough to be able to afford such a craft. Despite being perfectly happy aboard a vapur on the Bosporus you can imagine how…

  • Food & Drink

    The mystic fruit

    It’s a great time of year to be in this part of the world. Pomegranates or nar as they’re referred to in Turkey are native to this region. Whether they’re squeezed on a citrus press into a refreshing juice, sprinkled on a salad in aril form (the little juice-encased seeds you can see above) or simply popped one at a time into your mouth, you’ll never encounter anything quite like a pomegranate. These amazing fruits have been cultivated for thousands of years, and are mentioned in Greek, Judaic, Christian and Islamic texts, associated with both paradise and the underworld. Some Hebrew scholars even believe that it may have been the original forbidden fruit. Interesting then that it’s been associated with so many disease-fighting and longevity-promoting benefits. Taking pictures of them  yesterday evening in the late day light I was thinking how an uncut pomegranate looks a bit like a whirling dervish…

  • Food & Drink,  Places

    Turkish nuts

    To be honest, the man above is not a nut man at all. He’s a fig man. The title of this short piece should really be Turkish nuts and fruits, but it’s not as catchy. Even more sadly the nut lady beside him wouldn’t let me take her picture. There are far fewer photos of the sweet teyze (aunt) street vendors on this blog than I’d like, but traditional women with headscarves are a bit camera shy, especially when the person holding the camera is a great big male yabancı (foreigner/stranger). However, if I were her, I’d be proud of my nuts. Just look at them. They’re worth a Maşallah or two, don’t you think? Anyway, I love the fact that you never know what fresh produce—whether it’s figs, hazelnuts or walnuts—is going to show up on your street corner, farm fresh and pretty much irresistible. Turkey is one fertile country. Have…

  • Art / Design / Craft

    The arc

    Whatever happened to the arc (or arch) in architecture? Did it simply become unnecessary with modern building materials and methods?  I have to say I like a nice curve. Yesterday I spent a lot of time again looking for iconic Istanbul scenes for a project I’m working on for two fantastic Dutch clients of mine, but the icon I got stuck on was the arc. This post is in praise of parabolas. We certainly spent enough time calculating them in high school.

  • Places

    A postcard to summer’s end

    The last watermelons have ripened. The sun burns less hot. Evening comes sooner. Beaches ring with fewer childish shrieks. Sails furl. Tables empty. Floorboards creak like textbook spines—wait, that’s my memory playing tricks. Living in Turkey, the approach of the ninth month of the Roman calendar awakens dreams, not dread. I’m savoring the final days of summer … see you soon.

  • Places

    The nargile fabrikası

    Life takes you on some unexpected turns sometimes, but today when I rounded a different corner in my effort to complete a mental map of Sultanahmet’s hans, I discovered a nargile (hookah/water pipe) manufacturing operation. That’s the thing I love about this area. There’s the tourist attractions, and then there’s the real neighborhood, a crumbling, cracked but still moving area of enterprise and trade. Though it can be a little intimidating at times peering down dark corridors, there always seems to be a reward waiting at the end. As I was exploring another dark tunnel today, a voice cried out and invited me in. That voice was Mustafa’s. He and his good friend, Yusuf, were hard at work hand-crafting the tubing and pipe section of the water pipes for the factory. Mustafa, 30, (pictured below) has been doing this for over 15 years, and has taken over the business from his father who has…

  • Places

    Sultanahmet: a welcoming world of arcaded alleyways

    There’s the Sultanahmet of the Grand Bazaar, Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and then there’s Sultanahmet — backstreets, strange alleyways, crumbling archways, workshops pulsing with odd music. These days there’s an odder feeling then ever, what with the intense heat and Ramazan it’s important to find shaded spots whether you’re fasting or not. I was somewhat surprised just how many people weren’t fasting when I plunged inside the off-street maze the other day, as I always think of the old city as a place where life is lived a bit more traditionally. There are plenty of fasters, don’t get me wrong, most snoozing on rugs in corners to escape the long and trying day. I can only imagine what it must be like to fast this Ramazan when the days are so long. However I also saw plenty of tea drinkers and cigarette smokers puffing away as well, who were looking…