Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year in review: freelance highlights for 2017

With all the juggling involved in a freelancer's life -- pitching, writing, invoicing, researching, editing, fact-checking, drumming up new work, updating websites and social media, following up on emails, and on and on -- it's easy to lose track of the big picture while constantly chasing after the next assignment and rushing to meet the next deadline. So it was good to take a moment to look back at the year and acknowledge that I'd published some pieces I was really proud of. Here's my personal top five stories from 2017:

1) Science, Interrupted
War and strife have uprooted many researchers. Can their life’s work be saved?
Discover, September 2017
This feature on displaced scientists and researchers struggling to resume their careers as refugees was one of the most rewarding projects I worked on this year.  It's always a pleasure to work with Discover and my stellar editor at the magazine, who believed in me and this story enough to encourage me to take my kernel of an idea for a short news article and make it blossom into a long feature.


2) Contested Spaces
New political urbanism in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
Disegno, Autumn 2017
Taking this deep dive into issues of public space, urban design and the politics of urbanism in Istanbul was another highlight of the year. I'm grateful to Disegno and the editors there for giving me so much room and freedom to explore issues I've been thinking, reading, talking and writing about for years in such an in-depth way. I learned so much from the architects and planners I interviewed, and even took away some bits of hope where I'd expected to find none.


3) Turkey ploughs on with controversial €1.2 billion dam project
Equal Times, 20 November 2017
The endangered town of Hasankeyf is a special place in Turkey; I first visited it in 2011 and wrote a travel piece for Time Out Istanbul, followed in 2013 by an article on a cross-border river journey that aimed to raise awareness about the dam threatening Hasankeyf and downstream parts of the Tigris River in Iraq. This year, as the pace of preparations for Hasankeyf's flooding accelerated, I wrote two news pieces about the looming destruction of its communities, heritage and environment, this one for Equal Times, and one earlier in the year for Thomson Reuters Foundation's land-rights portal Place.

4) The Secrets Beneath a Suburb
Experts are uncovering millennia of history under a Turkish megacity’s outskirts.
Discover, November 2017
Plentiful chances to ramble around ruins are one of the things I love about living in Turkey, and the more hidden-away and neglected, the better. So when one of my regular hiking excursions in Istanbul took our group hacking through thick and thorny brush to reach the largely forgotten remains of a bustling Byzantine trading port, I knew I wanted to learn more -- and write -- about this fascinating place. Following on my previous features for Discover about urban archaeology and the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük, the magazine published this short piece I wrote highlighting some of archaeologists' key finds at Bathonea.

5) Beyond Baklava
Fare, Issue 1
Over the years I've lived in Istanbul, I've often been disappointed to see travel and food writers cover the same well-trodden ground about Turkey over and over, even in publications I respected. So I was happy to get an email from the editor of Fare, a new magazine promising a more eclectic, imaginative approach, asking me if I had a fresh story about food in Istanbul to tell. My short piece about some lesser-known treats with bittersweet histories appeared in Fare's inaugural edition, a beautifully designed publication devoted to all things Istanbul.

Another big highlight of the year has been developing an ongoing relationship with the wonderful team at Lonely Planet, with whom my work has included helping update their online coverage of Istanbul; putting together neighborhood guides and other fun "insider" looks at the city; writing short travel news items and longer travel narratives about Turkey; contributing social media content to their channels; and editing parts of their global content on places from Argentina to Tallinn.

The year wasn't all about work, of course: hiking, traveling, running, art, books, food and friends kept me busy and inspired, both professionally and personally. (You can read more about my personal highlights for 2017 over on my blog The Turkish Life.)

Onward to 2018!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The forgotten ruins of Bathonea

On a warm day in June 2016, I was part of a hearty band of hikers who hacked through the thick and thorny brush surrounding Istanbul's Küçükçekmece Lake to reach the largely forgotten remains of a bustling Byzantine trading port.

The ruins of Bathonea, located on the outskirts of the city far from its historic center, came as a magical surprise to me, but archaeologists have been working for a decade to uncover their secrets.

I highlighted a few of their finds in a short piece for Discover magazine's November 2017 issue: "The Secrets Beneath a Suburb."

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Istanbul art madness

A cheeky piece by artist Daniele Sigalot at CI
Art-lovers in Istanbul were spoiled for choice this fall, with the annual art fair Contemporary Istanbul changing its usual place in the calendar to coincide with the Istanbul Biennial, and dozens upon dozens of museums, galleries and artist-run spaces opening new shows at the same time.

Trying to catch them all made for an exhausting but invigorating few weeks of exhibition-hopping, during which I wrote four pieces of arts coverage, for Lonely Planet and Selections magazine:
[This post has been updated with the link to the Ai Weiwei piece, published in the 43rd print edition of Selections.]

Monday, July 3, 2017

Paint's dance with water

“Your hand must be like a machine, with a nice, steady rhythm — not dropping the paint with too much or too little force,” says Bahar Kocabaş. “You have to be patient, but when the colors open up, it’s beautiful.”

That's how Kocabaş, an artist and teacher in Istanbul, described the art of paper marbling to me. Known in Turkish as ebru, the process has been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity -- a list that Morning Calm, the inflight magazine for Korean Air, is featuring in a series of cover stories. I was asked to write the magazine's feature on ebru, which appeared on the cover of Morning Calm's July 2017 edition, and delved into controversies about the art's origins and the way both tradition and innovation are playing a role in keeping it alive.

You read my piece, "Water Colors," accompanied by lovely photos by John Wreford, in the online version of Morning Calm (requires a Flash-enabled browser).


Monday, May 29, 2017

A city and its food

Photo via Fare Magazine
The new magazine Fare, devoted to "exploring city culture through food, history, and community," chose Istanbul as the feature city for its inaugural issue, which was published this week. It's full of beautiful photography and design, and an eclectic selection of articles, including a piece by me on some of Istanbul's lesser-known sweet treats, such as the beyaz tatlı once beloved by the city's Greek, Jewish and Armenian communities and now, like the people who once ate it, largely swept away in a tide of cultural and culinary homogenization.

My piece, "Beyond Baklava," and a wealth of other stories, are available in Fare Issue 1: Istanbul, on sale at independent book and magazine stores and other locations in Turkey and Europe -- and available for shipping worldwide.

My story, "Beyond Baklava"

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Labor unions under pressure in Turkey

Six days a week for nine long months, Turkish road transport workers picketed outside three UPS transfer centres in Istanbul and İzmir, demanding the right to organise their workplaces. As more union members were dismissed from their jobs, the picket lines grew, holding firm even when riot police aggressively tried to break them up.

When UPS finally agreed to reinstate most of the fired workers, and eventually signed a collective bargaining agreement in late 2011, it was a shot in the arm for Turkey’s beleaguered labour unions.

“A lot of other unions visited us to find out how we did it,” says Kenan Özturk, the president of the All Transport Workers’ Union (TÜMTİS), which followed its success with UPS by signing an even stronger bargaining agreement with DHL.

But as political strife roils Turkey following a failed coup attempt last summer and ahead of a controversial referendum this Sunday 16 April, the union that provided a model for labour organising in tough times is enmeshed in a decade-long legal case that threatens to further erode the rights of all unions in the country.

Read the rest of my article, "TÜMTİS and the Case That 'Threatens All Trade Unions in Turkey'," on the website of Brussels-based news site Equal Times. (Also published in Spanish and French.)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Public workers protest job purges in Turkey

Selma Atabey had been working as a nurse in Turkey’s south-eastern province of Diyarbakır for 22 years when she was summarily dismissed from her job by government decree in late October. “I’ve had to sell my house and my car, I’ve lost my SGK [social security],” she says. “My son is getting ready for the high-school entrance exam and I’m afraid he won’t do well because of the stress we’re under.”


Atabey is just one of tens of thousands of public-sector employees removed from their posts in Turkey following a failed military coup in July, a series of on-going purges that the government says are necessary for the country’s security.

Many of the dismissed civil servants believe that they have instead been targeted for their union activity....

Since the failed 15 July coup attempt in Turkey, approximately 125,000 people employed by the government -- including teachers, healthcare workers, police officers, and lawyers -- have been dismissed from their posts. I interviewed some of these workers for Equal Times, a Brussels-based news site that also published the story in Spanish and and French.

Read the rest of my article, "'We Want Our Jobs Back': Turkish Workers Protest Post-Coup Purges," on Equal Times.