• People

    the blessing

    Open a newspaper or turn on the television and you’ll probably get a pretty troubling picture of things in Turkey these days. Sometimes it’s enough to make an outsider want to switch off entirely. Fortunately, peppered in amongst the drama, life still presents many moments of genuine hope here on a daily basis. One such was a couple of weekends ago in Yeniköy. Over the last couple of years I’ve been truly fortunate to attend and enjoy the welcome of the local Rum (Byzantine Greek) community at various events and ceremonies. It’s something that grounds you. And witnessing the baptism of one small but treasured member of their community was a highpoint in my nine years in Turkey, moreover since it was something my family was welcomed in to share. Until a couple of Sundays ago, I had never been fortunate enough to attend such a ceremony. It was truly interesting to watch. Religion gets a…

  • 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…

  • 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…

  • 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…

  • Places

    Delicate flowers

    Yesterday as I was walking through my neighborhood, I decided to stop and appreciate the flowers you see above. Right now the area is bursting with them, and has been for over a month. I was thinking to myself, what a paradise Turkey can be with its abundance of flowering trees, fruit and fresh produce. I continued to walk in a large circuit around my neighborhood before going home. The slanting evening light was nice and there’s a sloping street I  like with lots of vines like those above spilling over the high stone walls on either side of the road. You have to be a bit careful on these roads because there are plenty of Range Rovers and Mercedes tearing through the lanes at high speed, usually with drivers nattering away at equally high speed on mobile phones. Mindful of this, I proceeded to take some pictures of the…

  • Food & Drink

    The boat yard sandwich

    I’ve noticed lately that Turkish men are frighteningly adept with knives. Fortunately they seem to put their dexterity with razor sharp implements to good use. The man above is filleting bonito, a type of mackerel used for my favorite sandwich in the whole world — balik ekmek. In Istanbul, you can find these fish sandwiches in just about any seaside spot, especially by high traffic ferry ports. However, my favorite balik ekmek spot just happens to be close to home in the tersane (boat yard).

  • People,  Places

    The two shores

    Nowhere is the contrast between Istanbul’s coexisting communities more apparent to me than on the Beykoz-Yeniköy ferry. Everyday these small, roughly 30-passenger capacity craft putter back and forth across the Bosporus, bringing Anatolia to Europe and vice-versa. Once upon a time there might have been a more upstairs-downstairs style transition as wealthy businessmen crossed one way to their factories and warehouses on the Anatolian shore, while wage-earners and house servants crossed to the other. In Ottoman times, Yeniköy was an affluent mix of Greek and Turk, and later on, Jewish settlers. Now that the Greek and Jewish communities have dwindled but still exist, it’s a mainly Turkish, primarily Republican group, with a strong sprinkling of foreigners. By contrast, Beykoz is a much more religious and conservative area, with no sycamore lined boulevards or fancy cafes. In Beykoz there might be a tekel or two selling Efes beer, but they aren’t readily…

  • Photography,  Places

    Neighborhood watch: Tarabya

    In a few months we’ll probably be leaving our beloved Yeniköy for Tarabya, one village farther up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea. Like Yeniköy it’s originally a Greek village (Therapia). However, it differs from Yeniköy significantly in that it has a large natural harbor dominated by the architecture of the Tarabya Hotel which is currently under renovation. This building is unique to the Bosporus in both its architecture and its size and under normal circumstances would be an illegal building for the Bosporus, exceeding its building height restrictions, yet somehow this one snuck through. While I wouldn’t want more hotels like this crowding the shores of the Bosporus, I’m actually quite fond of it and its placement at one of the last points before the strait curls towards the Black Sea. Tarabya is a very mixed neighborhood. Waterside there are pricey properties and perhaps one too many a fish…

  • Food & Drink,  Places

    Cold tea time

    It’s not always easy to get a beer in this city. Sometimes, it has to be done on the sly. Recently I was in a nice little eatery a bit too close to a mosque to have an alcohol license, which used the code name soğuk çay (cold tea) for beer. There are times when I enjoy these little rituals and games and  then there are times when I just want a beer without any secret handshakes or fuss. Yes, there are days when it seems that there are a few too many fences between me and the swinging Sultan style of life I believe I desire. Some days I’m half tempted to just knock at the gate of someones’s yalı and find out what’s going on for those fortunate enough to live within toe-dipping distance of the Bosporus. Fortunately there are a few places where you can almost pretend you’re an Ottoman…

  • Places

    Yeniköy’s Friendliest Resident

    One of my favorite Yeniköy friends isn’t human, but is one sweet being nevertheless. This morning I finally captured the beauty in those bright orange eyes, sometimes hidden beneath her dusty brows. I try to feed the street dogs when I can, but I’ve never been in the right place at the right time to give my favorite a treat. Still, she recognizes me everyday, and when not deep in the realm of doggie dreams, affectionately smashes her tail against the pavement in welcome. Despite objecting to certain marks of cars like Toyotas—she demonstrates surprisingly good taste for a street hound—or anyone pushing a cart, she really has the kindest disposition of any creature I’ve met. I feel like I should have a name for her. She has soul. Any thoughts?