• Photography,  Places

    The Romance of Rust

    I’m not an Orientalist. I’m not an Occidentalist. I’m an Oxidizalist. Okay, so there’s no such word, but right now, I’m having a certain romance with the processes of oxidation and crumbling (provided we’re not talking about my own), so I need a term to describe it. This city has so much beauty, even in its regions of decrepitude, that’s worthy of notice. Call me crazy, but I’m having  a kind of romance with rust. It’s interesting to take a stroll through the old industrial and shipping areas of town and feel the textures, particularly on a wet day when all the colors darken. Just look at the richness of hue, the patterns of wear, the textures in Industrianbul (yes another made up word)— Persembe Pazari, Haydarpasa and other dockside areas. WILL THE RUSTED RISE AGAIN? FREIGHT CRANES AT HAYDARPASA. What do you think? Are these things more romantic now that they’re…

  • Photography,  Places

    Feel the Istan Blues?

    GALATA BRIDGE. It’s not easy to be blue in Istanbul. Once you were a celebrated color of the Empire, shimmering under the sun or glinting in candlelight. Now you’re neglected and marginalized. Everyone’s seeing red. Maybe I’m getting a little melancholy here, but that which was once boldly blue now looks a little cracked, a little withered and is turning a bit grey or green (maybe with envy?).  Which begs the question: is it safer to pretend you’re something different, a shade other than true blue? Whatever the truth, I’d like to celebrate the virtue, the beauty, of being blue. Doesn’t matter if you’re cracked, or peeling a bit, today is the day to stand up and declare yourself turquoise and proud! Right?

  • Photography,  Places

    Dystopian Wonderland

    THIS ATRIUM BELONGS IN A SCI-FI DYSTOPIA. If you ask me, Istanbul is inherently cinematic. I just left Switzerland which you could say is inherently picturesque — with its mountains, its lakes and its pristine architecture, it would make a good location for several of my cinematic fantasies. But could you do a dystopian epic with a nicely understated sci-fi twist? I think not. I regularly dream movies up in my head, like the other day when I decided to cut through this han to get to Karaköy Lokantasi, and for about two-three minutes I completely forgot my ravenous appetite.

  • Mind / Body,  Photography

    When the compass spins.

    SUPPOSE THIS IS A DOOR TO ANOTHER WORLD … WOULD YOU STEP THROUGH? Ever have that feeling that a passage to another world hovers just beneath your nose? Ever wonder if the image in the mirror might be the larger you, and that you might be nothing more than a thin reflection of limited dimension? In this city there are endless windows, ajar doors, stairways and passages that prompt my curiosity. Sometimes it seems that they might lead to some alternate reality, a world curled up inside our own. As early as childhood, stories like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles had a ring to them that drew in my young mind. There’s something about the notion of portals to other worlds that intrigues me, be they a wardrobe or a painting hung on wall.  A GOLDEN CITY? MAYBE … BUT THE ROAD BETWEEN HERE AND THERE IS OBSCURED. In the last…

  • Photography,  Places

    Balat I: life in the thrilling streets

    DERELICT BUILDINGS ABOUND. I’d been meaning to do a proper walk around Balat for a while, but it wasn’t until I recently visited Sema Topaloglu‘s Cibali Studio along the Golden Horn, that I remembered just how fascinating this neighborhood in the Fatih municipality of Istanbul is There’s a different atmosphere in this part of the city. The air in the narrow streets is redolent with coal smoke and memories of better times. It’s in a somewhat dilapidated state, but more importantly, like someone recently said, it has a certain “mystic” quality to it. This area has particular significance for the Sephardic Jewish community. After the Sephardim in medieval Spain were forced into exile and worse by the Edict of Alhambra, many relocated here at the invitation of Sultan Bayazid II who—unlike the villainous duo and friends of the Inquisition, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain—appreciated the great cultural and intellectual contribution…

  • 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…

  • Photography,  Places

    Steam Punk Dreaming: Haydarpasa & Santral

    PRESSURE GAUGES IN THE DORMANT SANTRAL POWER STATION. In Istanbul the question, “when am I?” sounds in my head frequently. Its passages and corridors, its city streets and vistas that could belong to any number of eras. But then someone yanks out a cellphone and my dreamlike sense of dislocation is shattered. Once again it’s an old city pocked with wear. There are two places where I get a particular kind of steam punk feeling though, the kind of mood that China Mieville’s gritty nightmare fantasy Perdido Street Station elicited in me. Both are vast and filled with quiet, but evoke volumes of wonder. Both belong to the dwindling days of the Ottoman Empire, where history and tradition began to be steamrolled into the modern era. HISTORIES COLLIDE AT HAYDARPASA STATION. The first is Haydarpasa Train Station. Imagine the awe it must have inspired  … you’ve lived in central Anatolia all…

  • Food & Drink,  Photography

    Vapur II: blue sea, black tea.

    WILL SHE BE ABOARD? SHE HAS TO BE. On every voyage, no matter how small, you need a traveling companion to keep you warm. I fell in love with mine on my first vapur crossing in Istanbul. Her name is Camellia, Camellia Sinensis. You may also know her as tea. Don’t get me wrong, a piping hot cup of coffee is a beautiful experience, but when I board a vapur, she pales by comparison. I’ll drop my cup of coffee in a second. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD … WILL SHE BE THE SAME? I read recently that tea only became the drink of choice in the twilight hours of the Ottoman Empire, and that, not surprisingly, Turkish Coffee was favored until the Yemeni province of the Empire got uppity, or simply out of reach because of World War I … but don’t quote me on this because I can’t recall the…

  • Photography,  Places

    Vapur I: timeless travel.

    AN ISTANBUL VAPUR. THE MOST CIVILIZED FORM OF PUBLIC TRANSIT IN THE WORLD? What would Istanbul be without the Bosporus? The Golden Horn? The Black Sea? The Marmara? To be honest, I don’t want to know. One of the great pleasures of this city is the ability to travel by water. Not only can it be a lot more efficient than using the automobile-clogged intercontinental bridges, it feels refreshingly unhurried—moreover there’s something about being onboard that alters your mindset. Sure there are people chattering on mobiles, plugged into iPods, but the overriding experience—stewards carrying trays full of  piping hot tea glasses clattering on porcelain saucers, massive Russian freighters blotting out the mosques, yalis and seaside palaces that fill the landscape, and the quiet indifference of the passengers reading, talking, sleeping as it all slides by—that somehow alters my perception of time and space. The sense of wonder onboard overrides any form of creative…