Friday, July 18, 2014

A sweet but fading tradition

Inside a weathered storefront surrounded by hardware shops, colorful gems gleam in the dim light — large jars full of hard candies flavored with sesame, cinnamon, rose, orange, bergamot and lemon.

Candy-maker Hüseyin
Aksoy at work
Proprietor Hakan Altanoğlu and his forefathers have been making and selling the Turkish candy called akide şekeri at this shop in Istanbul’s Fatih district since 1865, but the bite-size treat’s history goes back to the glory days of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries...

The Altan Şekerleme candy shop was a frequent and favorite stop during my time as a tour guide for Istanbul Eats' culinary walks, but what happened in the candy-making operation upstairs was always a closely guarded secret. At a recent press event at the Istanbul Culinary Arts Center, however, I finally had the chance to see how those glistening hard candies were made, and to return for a chat with one of the master şekerci (confectioners) carrying on a tradition that dates back, with little change, to Ottoman times.
Read the rest of my article, "Turkish Candy Entices Through the Ages," on Zester Daily.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Turkish artist 'Through the Looking Glass'

Initially ignored and dismissed for her experimental approach, Füsun Onur has become recognised as one of Turkey’s most influential contemporary artists by steadfastly continuing to follow her own path. She has described her art as "musical work without sound," explaining, "I am taking everyday objects and using them as notes."

Born in 1938, Onur got her undergraduate degree at what is now the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts in Istanbul, where she studied with Ali Hadi Bara. The Iranian-born sculptor was influential in moving Turkish sculpture away from official monuments and into more abstract realms.

Onur made her own mark by pioneering installation art that pushes the boundaries of both sculpture and painting, incorporating everyday objects and aspects of daily life but taking them out of their normal context in a way that prompts the viewer to reassess the meanings typically attributed to them..

Read the rest of my preview of "Füsun Onur: Through the Looking Glass" in the Summer 2014 issue of Art Paper: "Making Meaning from the Mundane" (pdf)

This Emre Baykal-curated retrospective is being exhibited at Istanbul's ARTER until August 17. Don't miss the complementary video piece downstairs by artist Ali Kazma, who further illuminates Onur's artistic influences with his evocative footage shot in her Istanbul home.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The human cost of Turkey’s building boom

High above the street, construction workers scale rickety scaffolding without helmets or harnesses. Near the sidewalk, a man welds a piece of metal, his face bare as sparks shoot all around. These are common sights in Turkey, where worker safety often seems to be an afterthought.

The horrific death of at least 301 workers in the Soma coal mine disaster last month has put the spotlight on Turkey’s dangerous, under-regulated mining industry, but the construction industry that has fueled the country’s recent economic growth and boosted its global profile is rife with dangers too: One-third of all work accidents reported in Turkey come from the building sector, more than any other industry.

With the deaths in Soma still weighing heavily on my mind, I looked into the safety risks faced by construction workers in Turkey for the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), and filed this report: "Turkey's Building Boom Takes Toll on Worker Safety."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Creative guide to a GREAT city

The inaugural GREAT Festival of Creativity rolls into Istanbul next week (20-22 May at SEED), showcasing innovative ideas in a wide range of fields -- from fashion and design to technology and education to food and drink.

The festival, which travels next to Hong Kong and Shanghai, is part of the British Prime Ministry's GREAT campaign, an ongoing drive to promote Britain abroad as a place to visit and do business.

To further inspire the "cross-section of creative and commercial Britain" visiting Istanbul for the event, I contributed pithy write-ups of galleries, restaurants, shops and other spots across the city to the GREAT Festival Guide to Creative Istanbul, an online "directory of all that's creative and unusual in one of the world's GREAT cities."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Turkey's 'Garbage Ladies'

It's a warm July day in the small harbor town of Ayvalık, on Turkey's Aegean coast. A horse cart with wooden wheels clatters down a cobblestone street, past a bustling, sun-drenched workshop, its front door flung open. Inside, a half dozen women are hunkered down over long wooden tables, cutting, stitching and crafting. Using bits of thrown-away packaging and factory rejects -- leather scraps, swaths of felt, surplus canned-food labels -- they're transforming trash destined for the dump into colorful clutches, purses and wallets to be sold in trendy gift shops around Turkey. Even more remarkably, the women, most of whom have no more than a fifth-grade education, are also transforming their lives: For the first time ever, they're being paid for their work...

I met American expat Tara Hopkins not long after I moved to Istanbul, when she had recently founded Çöp(m)adam, a path-breaking social enterprise that combined women's empowerment with environmental responsibility in a way largely unknown in Turkey. I knew from the start that it was a great story -- one that finally found a worthy home this year in the U.S. women's magazine More. To write the profile of Hopkins and her talented team of "Garbage Ladies," I spent time at their workshop in the seaside town of Ayvalık, hearing heartbreaking and inspiring stories about the women, their families, and their new lives.

Read my article about Çöp(m)adam, "She Turns Trash Into Cash..." online, or see it as it appeared in More magazine's March issue (pdf).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Making soup for Syria

When faced with almost 1 million needy people, a bowl of soup -- even a large vat -- doesn't go a very long way.

But Barbara Massaad refuses to let the daunting scale of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon deter her from doing her small part to help -- one bowl of soup at a time...

I first heard of the "Soup for Syria" project on Twitter and contacted Beirut-based Slow Food member and author Barbara Massaad about her plans to use a soup cookbook as a fundraising tool to help fight the growing food insecurity among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Though her project can only affect the lives of a small number of the now 9 million people displaced (internally and externally) by the Syrian crisis, her determination to do something was inspiring to hear in the face of so much hopelessness about the situation.

With Lebanon overwhelmed by refugees and now seeking to limit their number, and a potential drought threatening to worsen the already disastrous state of food production in Syria itself, anything and everything that can be done to alleviate food insecurity for refugees and those who remain in Syria matters.

Read the rest of my article, "'Soup For Syria' Dips Into Refugees' Culinary Lore," on Zester Daily.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Picturing Turkey's urban growing pains

From empty rural schools to blighted inner-city neighborhoods, there have been many victims, along with beneficiaries, of Turkey's rapid urbanization and recent economic growth. Frustration with the pace and nature of the changes, especially in Istanbul, helped fuel last summer’s dramatic street protests. The ups and downs of the country's transformation also sparked the passions of many of the talented students featured in the American Turkish Society’s 2013 Young Photographers Award competition.

Photo credit: Osman Demir/
Young Photographers Award
“This year’s submissions were striking in their melancholy air, and the focus on abandoned spaces, overcrowded cities, and the everyday difficulties – particularly for children and young people – more conspicuous [than in years past],” competition jurors Karen Haas and Anne E. Havinga told me in an email.

The work of the competition winner and two recipients of honorable mentions, as well as that of other participants that I featured in a photo gallery for The Atlantic's CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities), puts an important -- if often forgotten -- human face on Turkey's ongoing urban transformation.

Read my article, "The Hidden Side of Turkey's Urban Transformation, Told in 10 Pictures," and see more of these powerful photos on CityLab.