• Places

    Istanbul rules

    If you expect the open arms of sanctuary, be prepared to embrace barbed wire. Those who exercise self-restraint must first flex their muscles in your face. One door invites you in so that the second can slam in your face. Your personal business will be auctioned off by someone else as common property. Your neighbor erects a locked gate to protect his fence-less perimeter. The man whose home is constructed entirely of salvaged scrap doesn’t want anyone to throw litter on his garden of weeds. To find beauty look for the trail of decay. Unintentional irony or absolute ambiguity? You’re free to decide whatever we tell you. Istanbul rules: engraved in the crystal clear medium of mud.

  • Food & Drink

    Şişhane lunch

    Every time I visit Şişhane there seems to be something new and worth checking out. Yesterday it was Gram, a swanky little bakery/eatery that’s been around for about two months, just opposite Da Vittorio, my favorite Italian restaurant in Istanbul. The design and the atmosphere of Gram make it a really appealing space — hats off to the architect and owners for creating such a reaxed yet intimate environment, with common tables, and the natural feel of wood, stone and brick. In particular, I liked the ceiling and lighting display featuring old scale weights as decoration.

  • Food & Drink,  Places

    The organic market & gözleme

    This morning we returned to the Saturday Şişli Organik Pazarı in Bomonti for the first time in a while, and I was pleased to see that it was bustling with life. Turkey is fortunate to have such a great climate for produce, and the colors of the fruit and vegetables here were like something from a Cézanne painting. Perhaps it’s been a long while since I was last here, but it seems to me that there are more producers than before. The atmosphere was great, lots of people, families, and friends we hadn’t seen in a while. There’s wasn’t only food, either, there was everything from cosmetics, to children’s toys and textiles, all 100% certified organic. There was even some homegrown talent providing live music, though I’m not sure whether or not you can certify that organic or not. But let’s be honest, we were there for the food, which I’m…

  • Places

    Yasemin

    There was a time when I’d only read of the scent of Jasmine. Now I’m familiar with its deep, candy sweetness. There was a time I didn’t know its white, five-bladed blossom. I knew it twined about fences and gates, and overhung stone walls, dousing the air with a scent favored by Persian poets. But I never knew about the thick coils of razor wire it concealed beneath. Istanbul, you’re a mistress of many secrets, aren’t you?

  • 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…

  • Art / Design / Craft,  Books & Lit,  Places

    Salt Galata

    Yesterday I decided I wanted to experience the audio exhibit Translated By, a series of 13 performed excerpts from books, and one original piece, by various writers about different cities and landscapes, some imagined, an exhibit sponsored by the British Council. For the most part, I’m glad I did, although I must admit I skipped over a few whose writing or narration style grated after a couple of minutes. As you tour about Salt Galata, you don your headphones and tune into a numbered channel, one for Istanbul, Tokyo, Baku, the Metaverse—you get the idea—and listen to a passage written about each of these places. I’d recommend it if you have some time. However, when I wasn’t absorbed in these orally rendered landscapes I found myself wondering about the physical space I was in. Ever feel that you really want to like a place but instead leave uncertain what to think? That’s how…

  • 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?

  • Mind / Body,  Photography,  Places

    Seeing roses

    Everywhere I go lately I’m seeing roses — and I don’t mean this in the proverbial sense. In Yeniköy, Tarabya and all sorts of other places there seems to be an explosion of these flowers. Red ones firing off over fences.  Pink ones blasting through slatted rails. Yellow ones bursting through every imaginable crevice. It’s an assault of color like none I’ve ever seen before. Last year I didn’t notice nearly so many. What happened? Perhaps I simply wasn’t paying attention, or perhaps they were simply planning their attack.  I’m trying not to fight it. We can co-exist, right? Though to a lot of people they may seem like a cheesy symbol of romance and bad poetry, I have to say I’m beginning to respect them a little bit more, un-plucked and on the vine. Perhaps it’s all the reading I’ve done on alchemy and Rosicrucianism. Perhaps it’s what natural healer Jayda…