• the wonder of the pinewood

    January 19th, 2014

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    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.

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    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 of pine needles underfoot. It’s then that you can occupy yourself with the important things in life — such as locating the perfect pine cone.

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  • duke istanbul

    October 1st, 2013

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    Last week I was invited to lunch by Duke, Istanbul as I have been producing the words and photography for Marie Claire Türkiye’s Deluxe Mekan section for several months now. I must admit I was a little unsure of what to suspect. Duke is in Trump Towers in Mecidiyeköy — a region of the city which does not rank high on my list of preferred destinations. As many people now know, we’ve had a few issues in Istanbul regarding urban space, retail spaces and which direction one of the world’s most historically significant cities is headed. Mecidiyeköy “functions” as a business, transport and shopping hub. To say it does so gracefully would be something of a stretch. So I wasn’t necessarily prepared to like what I saw. To reach Duke you must enter Trump Towers and pass through the usual security inspection. You’re immediately doused with the usual hubbub of mall noise. About 15 metres from security you take an elevator to a separate floor on which the massive new restaurant unfolds. This experience of separate spaces within larger malls reminds me somewhat of Tokyo and its high rises, where you might enter an office building in order to reach an upmarket hotel like the Conrad or Park Hyatt. However, once inside you’re in a different place altogether.

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    Duke is a co-venture between Borsa, Doğus and lastly, D&D London, the English capital’s largest restaurant management company. However, Duke Istanbul, despite an upmarket appearance and old school, professional-looking servers is actually designed to give the current players in the mid-market dining experience —The House Café, Kitchenette and Big Chefs a run for their money with their take on contemporary English cuisine and quality versus quantity. This is quite possibly Istanbul’s largest restaurant, with a huge kitchen and sprawling terrace where the planters are bursting with herbs and garnishes which are dressed into the food.

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    And the verdict on the food? High marks. As you can see in the photos, I focussed on the seafood side of the menu. The house-smoked salmon is excellent. The grilled octopus with lentil, fennel and potato salad, equally excellent. The fish (seabass) and chips, good, but not as strong as the appetizers. The desserts, in particular the sticky toffee pudding and home-made ice cream, I tried were exactly the kind of sweet you want at the end of an indulgent meal. If being sent to Mecidiyeköy means an opportunity to dine at Duke, I’ll be less reluctant.

  • five years fresh … den

    September 20th, 2013

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    Years ago (almost five to be exact) I had a favourite morning hangout. I used to huddle over my laptop on cold winter mornings by the misted window, deeply embroiled in a novel I was working on at the time. After a while I finished the novel and moved to Yeniköy in anticipation of the beautiful daughter that came into our lives. At first Yenikoy was missing something, though I couldn’t quite say what. I established my mobile writer’s outpost at Caffé Nero which had all the mod-cons I needed. Personality, I guess you’d call it, was lacking. The staff were nice, but they came and went regularly. It wasn’t the same experience as saying hello to the owners at Den.

    In the last year, perhaps a little more, I started meeting my friend — and all around man of good taste — Maxime, for lunches at my haunt of old, Den. He liked good food but had tired of another nearby establishment’s snooty attitude. Was I ever in for a nice surprise. While the food at Den had always been decent during my novel-writing days, it was not something I craved. There were only a couple of go-to options on the menu. Over a couple of years they changed quite a bit. Today I’m spoiled for choice. Den’s partners and chef haven’t taken in the last half decade. In addition to some interior design changes, they overhauled the menu, adding ingenuity and innovation to some classics. Dishes like the Spicy Eggplant and Buffalo Mozzarella Penne, are the perfect comfort food with that little bit extra you’re looking for when you choose to dine out. They’ve also added thin crust pizzas and a range of appetite-whetting delights, including a damn fine Mille-Feuille. Here’ a glimpse of their labours. I can only wait to see what they’ll cook up over next five years. If the first five are an indication, it will be tasty.

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    Den-Nisantasi

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    Mim Kemal Öke Caddesi No 12 , Nisantasi, Istanbul / Telephone: 0212 224 2470

  • what’s next, turkey?

    June 3rd, 2013

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    Yesterday people of all sorts gathered to continue the celebration of a victory in Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Left-wing, right-wing, liberal, conservative, nationalist, socialist … you name them. There was a constant flow of Turkish citizens of every age, ethnicity and subculture. There are banners with socialist slogans, nationalist slogans flying next to the rainbow GLBT flags everywhere. People pose to have their pictures taken on burned-out police cars and buses, while some diligent protestors sweep up the rubble and debris nearby. Some of it is theirs, some of it the police’s. However, this feels like a major victory for peaceful protestors who were violently abused by their police force and government (see previous post). It’s a strange victory, though, because it’s not being acknowledged as a defeat by the man and he government they took on. What started as a minor protest for a small park has rolled across the city and now the Republic. The defeated, however, aren’t acknowledging their first major blow in years. Why? Is it a case of denial? Or a strange case of not needing to? Perhaps it’s both.

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    Despite popular uprisings and protests all across Turkey, you could be forgiven if you thought it was business as usual if you were limited to watching Turkish language, local television. On CNN International, the lead stories include the protests all across Turkey. Turn to CNN Türk, for a more local perspective, and you can watch a documentary on penguins. To some extent this media silence is understandable, if unforgivable. Not only are most of the major media outlets owned by big business, who may or may not have their hands in the government’s pockets, but right now Turkey also has the distinction of having jailed more journalists in recent years than just about any other so-called “democratic” country in the region, if not the world. In fact, even more than China and Iran. Although many newspaper columnists lambasted the ruling AKP and its leader, Mr Erdogan, yesterday, broadcast TV has been mostly silent, except to air the Prime Minister’s statements of condemnation. Those have been some pretty incredible statements too.

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    In addition to referring to peaceful protestors as marauders, The Prime Minister — in what has to be one of the strangest interpretations of democracy I’ve heard in years — has stated that the dissent is anti-democratic because he was elected. Apparently a peaceful protest about the total lack of public consultation regarding a public space is unacceptable to Mr Erdogan. What people are protesting is not just the destruction of the last green spaces in the city, but a bizarre project involving an Ottoman Barracks/shopping mall, which would likely be built by a contractor friendly to the government. The Guardian/Observer ran a piece on this issue yesterday.

    What’s been more frightening, though, are statements like this, published in the online edition of the WSJ: ‘“Don’t compete with us…. If you gather 200,000 people, I can gather a million…. This event has been escalated beyond the park and become ideological,” Mr. Erdogan said of the protests, which intensified dramatically on Friday. “The police were there yesterday, they are there today, and will be there tomorrow…because Taksim cannot be a square where extremists run wild.”‘

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    I can tell you, firsthand, that there wasn’t a policeman in sight in Gezi Park or Taksim Square yesterday. It’s hard for me to remain dispassionate or clear-eyed even now that I’ve fully flushed the tear gas from my eyes with milk provided to me by a protestor on Saturday morning. This country is the birthplace of my wife, and the city of Istanbul the birthplace of my daughter. I’ve always admired the great physical courage of Turks, male or female, but what I admire most right now is the fact for the first time in eight years I’ve actually seen people from all different persuasions and ideologies, people who would not normally talk to one another, stand up to a man who appears to think democracy is a popularity contest he only has to win every five years while he divvies up public property in whatever manner he sees fit. He’s now claiming that there was no clear plan for a shopping mall, and that a mosque and possible opera house are in the works, and that he will do what he likes. You can read this in Hurriyet Daily.

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    This might be a canny move. Opposing a mosque, needed or not, will be far more divisive than opposing a shopping mall. The struggle is far from over. The question is: Can Mr Erdogan be stopped? He seems pretty confident that his opposition doesn’t have the votes to issue a real challenge. For now, he might be right. For an extremely well written, dispassionate analysis of the situation as it stands, I’d recommend Alexander Christie-Miller’s piece posted in the Bulent Journal. Last night protest continued to rage in Beşiktaş and across the nation. While Turkish TV, with the exception of Halk TV, remained largely quiet on the troubles. Meanwhile people honked their horns, banged on pots and shouted out their dissatisfaction. Tonight will likely be no different.

  • briken aliu’s guitars

    May 11th, 2013

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    I’ve always admired people who can make music. There’s something about them, as if their minds existed  in two or more universes simultaneously. Which makes me think that the people who craft musical instruments for professionals must be  attuned to some truly special wavelengths. On Friday I happened to meet such an exceptional guy, someone who has been creating instruments since his mid-teens. While he’s now approaching 30, he has the keen gleam in his eye of someone who is making a living doing exactly what he loves. A self-described “gypsy” originally from Albania, Briken Aliu came to Istanbul with no friends and no Turkish as a teenager and has since set himself up as a preeminent musical instrument artisan, first apprenticing with Murat Sezen. While the economy has had an impact on his trade, at any one time he’s working on at least 6-7 projects, including a remake of a guitar that Django Reinhardt favoured. His expertise isn’t restricted to any particular style, either. He’s adept at fashioning Balkan instruments, electric guitars, jazz, classical, bass — you name it.  Mr Aliu  loves music, which is probably how he infuses such spirit into his work. His custom projects usually take about 3 months to complete. To see more from this gifted craftsman, please visit Briken Guitars. He’s making the music of our sphere more beautiful one note at a time.

  • serdar-ı ekrem sokak

    March 26th, 2013

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    When I first moved to Istanbul I rented a flat in the Galata neighbourhood which was scruffy but interesting area on the city map. Later, like a lot of Beyoglu, it became a bit disillusioning. As we all know, economic progress doesn’t necessarily benefit a neighbourhood’s character or hospitality. Especially when the new businesses and residents decide to do a sad or cynical interpretation of someone else’s culture for the benefit of non-residents. So it became easy to give the Galata neighbourhood a miss without missing anything at all. However Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak seems to have undergone a mostly positive transformation, comfortably mixing old and new and featuring design businesses and small boutiques which draw on the local culture and architecture as much for the benefit of Turks — at least so it seems from the people sitting in the street-side cafés and coffee joints — as for outsiders. Change is an inevitable consequence of urban life just like human life. Fortunately it’s not all for the worst with businesses like Georges Galata, which in my opinion has the ultimate night time supper terrace, summer or winter, as well as Sntrl Dükkan and Mavra, which provide good street-side perches to people watch in the company of your friends and neighbours while sipping a glass of wine. On this Sokak, at least, it feels good to be back in Galata again.

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    Georges Galata

    Sara Tabrizi _Executive Chef, Georges Galata

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  • street colour, street art

    February 24th, 2013

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  • Dilapidated doorways and detailing in decay

    February 18th, 2013

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    How’s that for an alliterative title? I really wanted to call this piece: a diminutive demonstration of dilapidated doorways and decadent details in decay … but it wouldn’t fit in the headline space my template allots. Still, I probably managed to go purple enough with my prose style to describe the beauty of these passageways and halls which have lost none of their magic despite the neglect. Or has the neglect only enhanced it? The hallways and doors of Beyoglu, may go unnoticed in terms of restoration, but they still turn my head.

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  • The stairwell refuge

    January 12th, 2013

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    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 you can buy yourself a quick infusion of warmth and escape the bone-clinging chill that the wet season brings. The hallway tea room. A Turkish institution that earns its rent in 75 kuruş increments.

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  • What a year

    December 19th, 2012

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    At first it’s hard for me to believe. It’s been only 1 year! So much has happened since I first launched this site December 19, 2011. I’ve been introduced to so many incredible people, I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have these experiences and share them. I’ve learned so much about so many different people thanks to starting this site. It’s helped me find a vehicle for my natural curiosity, and voice my constant state of wonder. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life —  launching  this site isn’t one of them. It’s allowed me to record my small keyhole view of local history and share it with people all around the world. Being an immigrant, you never lose your roots, but it makes the dislocation a little easier when you  can simultaneously share your new home as you explore it with people you miss and the people you’re just getting to know. It’s also allowed me to make as much sense as I might out of this crazy yet wonderful city — which I’m not sure if I chose or if it chose me. There is no way I can sufficiently thank all the people who have helped this site. I owe a lot to people like Paul Cavanaugh who designed and directed many of the details, as well as Erol Işık, who programmed it. I also owe every one of you who follows it. Thank you for sticking with me and listening to my stories. I only hope you’re seeing a continual improvement in what’s written and in the photography presented, and that you’ll feel free to express your ideas to me, and comment about how it all makes you feel, as well as suggest what you’d like to see in the future. I’d also like to thank my daughter who continues to remind of the importance of experiencing something new every day. Nothing slows time like adopting a child-like curiosity. I urge everyone to try it.

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