Saturday, September 10, 2016

Farewell to a favorite Istanbul restaurant

Influenced by the organic, locally grown California cuisine of Alice Waters, young chef Didem Şenol brought a fresh approach to Turkish cooking when she opened Lokanta Maya in 2010, eschewing rigid food combinations and letting high-quality ingredients shine.

Since writing up my first meal at Lokanta Maya in a restaurant review for Istanbul Eats, I'd enjoyed many delicious evenings there with friends, celebrating birthdays, entertaining out-of-town guests, or simply treating ourselves to top-notch food and good Turkish wine in a pleasing setting.

Sadly, the troubles that have enveloped Turkey this year have not been good for business, and at the end of July, Maya joined the growing list of places in Istanbul closing their doors. A small silver lining was the chance to speak with the ever-gracious and thoughtful Şenol about her decision to close the restaurant, her culinary philosophy, and the changing urban fabric around us.

Read my interview with Didem Şenol, "Farewell Lokanta Maya: Istanbul and Local Culinary Pioneer Hit Hard Times," on Culinary Backstreets (the successor site to Istanbul Eats).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A view from Istanbul during the #TurkeyCoupAttempt

Glancing at the to-do list on my desk that I’d scribbled just hours before, the scrap of paper seemed to have appeared from some alternate universe too banal to be believed.

Set alarm for 6 a.m. Take out the trash when I go out for an early-morning run. Bring some money to buy fruit for breakfast on the way home.

Cowering on the entryway floor at 3 a.m. as jets roared past, their sonic booms shaking the building and threatening to break the windows, hadn’t been part of the plan....

As shots rang out outside my window and concerned messages pinged in from friends and family around the world, my editor at CityLab, The Atlantic's website on urban issues, asked me if I'd like to write something about my personal experience of being in Istanbul during what turned out to be a failed military coup.

Read the rest of that essay, "Istanbul, the Day After," on CityLab.

For more on the politics of the coup attempt, its aftermath, and its possible ramifications, here are some news, analysis, and commentary pieces I think are worth a read:

Friday, July 15, 2016

A photographic journey to Turkey

It was a provocative idea for Istanbul-based curator Özge Ersoy to pose to a group of young photographers. “We’re not saying people should stop producing images,” she explained, “but that how and why they produce images should be questioned.”

Encountering new ideas and challenging their own preconceptions was exactly what had brought the six image-makers to Turkey as part of the latest Jameel Journey. This series of collaborative initiatives aims to broaden the horizons of young artists from the Gulf region through work and travel in other countries...

In May, I joined these six young artists as they met with Ersoy and her colleague Bikem Ekberzade at Istanbul gallery Collectorspace, an early stop on their 11-day journey exploring issues of migration and identity through photography. I also interviewed Imogen Ware, managing director of the U.K.-based charity Crossway Foundation, which organised the trip in partnership with Art Jameel.

My piece on this innovative artistic exchange appears in the July/August issue of Selections, a Beirut-based magazine focused on art, culture, design, and style.

Read the rest of my article, "Migration and Identity in Focus," on Selections' website.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

New exhibit seeks to start filling some of Anatolian history's 'Empty Fields'

More than a century ago, botanist John Manissadjian roamed the countryside of what is now northern Turkey, collecting — and sometimes identifying for the first time — thousands of species of flowers and other plants, as well as butterflies and moths. These finds formed the core of the natural science museum he established at Anatolia College, a school for Greek and Armenian students in the Ottoman Empire.

“Manissadjian’s labour of love was such a sophisticated collection, started in the last decade of the 19th century,” says Vasif Kortun, director of research and programmes at Istanbul-based cultural institution SALT.

Sadly, within just a few decades, the museum and its collection were doomed to disappear, dispersed, along with Anatolia College’s students and professors, following the mass expulsion of Armenians from Ottoman lands in 1915.

Now, curator Marianna Hovhannisyan is working with SALT to bring some of Manissadjian’s scholarship back into focus in a new exhibition...

The challenging, deeply researched exhibitions at Istanbul cultural institution SALT are nearly always worth seeing. I previewed SALT's latest show, "Empty Fields," on view at SALT Galata in Karaköy until 5 June, for the March/April issue of Selections magazine, speaking to the exhibition curator as well as the institution's research director.

Read the rest of my exhibit preview, "Filling the Empty Fields," on Selections' website.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Uncertain future for one of world's oldest urban farms

Driving into Istanbul from Atatürk Airport, the crumbling fortifications along the Marmara Sea demarcate where the historic, pre-sprawl city begins. But though they may evoke oohs and ahhs out the window, few visitors venture back to explore the 1,500-year-old city walls on foot.

My first time walking the 6.5-kilometer length of the walls was full of surprises: homing pigeons for sale in a parking lot, spectacular (if precarious) views, a livestock market for Kurban Bayramı (Eid al-Adha) sacrifice animals. Most striking of all were the gardens: lush plots of fruits and vegetables squeezed between the walls and the modern highway that now loops outside it. Years later, urban redevelopment has transformed or rendered inaccessible many areas along the walls, but some of the market gardens (called bostan in Turkish) remain, a last vestige of an ancient urban agricultural tradition.

I've written previously about the Yedikule bostan by the city walls for The Atlantic's City Lab, and about other examples of urban agriculture in Istanbul for Culinary Backstreets and Zester Daily. A new threat to the Yedikule bostan early this year prompted me to take a deeper look at the gardens' past, present, and future.

Read my new article, "In Istanbul's Ancient Gardens, A Battle for Future Harvests," in Yale Environment 360

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Turkey's 'hidden' coast: The Black Sea

My first hints that there was something different going on in Turkey's Black Sea region came in Istanbul -- watching environmental films that depicted the rugged beauty of its remote mountains and their hardy, sometimes eccentric inhabitants, and reveling in a wealth of unfamiliar flavors at the (sadly now shuttered) "Laz meyhane" Mohti, where hamsi popped up in everything from corn bread to omelets served in the raucous music- and smoke-filled restaurant.

Visiting the region for the first time last spring, I spent a week reporting on environmental threats from dams, mines, and other development, meanwhile picking up intriguing tidbits -- the distinctive regional architecture, the melting pot of languages and cultures -- that left me wanting to return.

The two travel lists I wrote for Matador Network this month offer just a taste of what the region has to offer -- if its natural beauty and rich cultural diversity can be preserved:

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Solidarity amid strife in Turkey

It wasn’t long after the blasts tore through the crowd that the urgent cries began going out on Twitter and Facebook: “O-, O+ and A- blood needed at Numune, Hacettepe and İbni Sina hospitals!”

Next came the photographs of papers tacked to walls: lists of the names of the injured, shared online to get the word out to their family and friends.

As night fell after Turkey’s deadliest-ever terrorist attack, a dual suicide bombing targeting a peace rally organised by trade unions in the capital city of Ankara, the calls for help continued...

The killing of 103 people in the Ankara bombings of 10 October sent many in Turkey, myself included, into deep mourning. One of the few things bringing some comfort was seeing the solidarity and resilience of people coming together to protest the deaths and help those wounded in the attack and the families of those who perished.

This is a difficult moment, however, for Turkey's grassroots, which while revitalized in some ways by the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and subsequent civic organizing, is also under an increasing amount of pressure from the country's government and security forces. I wrote about some of these tensions for Equal Times, a Brussels-based news site that also published the story in Spanish and French.

Read the rest of my article, "The Renewal and Repression of Turkey's Civil Society Grassroots," on Equal Times.