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, January 18, 2014

Contemporary Istanbul 2013

Istanbul's oldest and largest art fair returned to the city for its 8th edition in November, and once again I was on hand to cover it for the Beirut-based lifestyle magazine Selections, which recently launched its own art-focused supplement, Art Paper.

My highlights feature on Contemporary Istanbul appeared over a two-page spread in the Winter 2013-14 issue of Art Paper, which also included a related "Collector Profile" of Turkish textile magnate Öner Kocabeyoğlu, who opened his private collection up to visitors during the art fair.

Read my Contemporary Istanbul wrap-up for Selections: "Home Colours Stay Strong at Turkey's Top Art Fair" (pdf)

Read my other piece for Selections: "Collector Profile: Öner Kocabeyoğlu" (pdf)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Istanbul's 'GOOD' side

Fascinating, frenetic, and often frustrating, Istanbul can sometimes seem like it’s defined by its unmet potential. With its young population and incredibly rich history, Istanbul should be a hotbed of innovation, but is unfortunately hampered by a lack of diversity, a vast wealth gap, and a political system that limits civic participation—as was plain to see during this past summer’s mass protests... 

The quarterly magazine GOOD reached out this past fall to get my take on Istanbul for its "GOOD City Index," a new feature highlighting "the cities that are emerging, the ones that are figuring out their growing pains or flourishing under the radar."

The final piece, published in GOOD's Winter 2013 issue under the headline "Celebrating Possibility," shines the spotlight on 20 up-and-coming cities, from Accra to Wellington. My writeup on Istanbul appears at number 7 on the index (n.b. I asked for the Bosphorus to be correctly identified as a strait, rather than a "river" but the error was not fixed as promised).

Download a pdf version of the entire "GOOD City Index" or a smaller pdf of the introduction and Istanbul section.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In the Migrant Kitchen

Sara moves around the large kitchen with laser-like focus, filling a tea glass of water to add to a heaping pot of saffron rice with one hand while sautéing a pan of tart, red dried berries, walnuts, raisins and slivered almonds with the other. The resulting dish, zereshk polow (barberry rice), is a
Zereshk polow in progress.
popular one in Sara’s home country of Iran, but not so easy to make in neighboring Turkey, where she is living as a refugee...

When the International Organization for Migration’s Turkey office and the food website Culinary Backstreets first organized their "Migrant Kitchen" events last year, the rare chance to eat authentic Ethiopian, Filipino, and other foreign cuisines in Istanbul brought variety-starved expat foodies (myself included) out in droves. This year, I got the chance to peek into the kitchen while Sara, an Iranian refugee, cooked up a traditional feast, and to talk to her about her family's struggles in Turkey and the role food plays in creating a little sense of home in a strange and not always welcoming land.

Read the rest of my article, "Refugees Speak In The Universal Language Of Food In Turkey," on Zester Daily.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Istanbul: an introduction

Earlier this year, Time Out headquarters in London asked the editors of all local editions to prepare an "ultra-useful" mini-guide to their city -- its art, nightlife, restaurants, and sights, along with hot tips and fascinating bits of trivia -- that could be used by any of the company's 60 offshoots around the world.

The project editor praised my guide to Istanbul as "fantastic. A gorgeous piece of writing – far and away the best one I've had back so far!"

Following my departure from the magazine, Time Out Istanbul published the piece this month as "Istanbul in short." Have a read and discover what has made Istanbul, despite its many faults, a conqueror of visitors' hearts for hundreds of years and counting.

UPDATE: Time Out Dubai published a shorter version of my city-guide in December under the title "Why you must go to Istanbul."

Monday, October 21, 2013

A journey down the Tigris

Fifty years ago, wooden rafts called keleks regularly plied the Tigris River, carrying people, livestock, and cargo – with loads up to 35 tons – from southern Turkey to northern Iraq. Built from logs lashed together and made buoyant by inflated goat skins, a fully loaded kelek could travel the 250-mile distance from Diyarbakır, Turkey, to Mosul, Iraq, in just six days.

Today, the rafts' long, heavy wooden oars push slowly through the brown, flat waters of the Tigris as they traverse northern Iraq. Sometimes their bottoms scrape the riverbed, the water levels low enough on a late September day for a tall man to stand waist-deep in the middle of the river. It takes a full day of hard effort to row eight miles.

Nice spot for note-taking.
Photo by Anna Bachmann.
When a last-minute invitation arrived last month to join the environmental group Nature Iraq as they paddled, floated, rowed, and (sometimes) towed a trio of traditional boats down the Tigris River from Hasankeyf to the marshes of southern Iraq, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

Rowing the kelek.
Photo by Anna Bachmann.
My stint with their Tigris River Flotilla in northern Iraq included both gritty gravel mines and glorious natural vistas, a night excursion to a Turkish-built amusement park in Duhok, a long night spent trying to cross the border, lunch with a cliff-dwelling hermit, camping (and posing for pictures) with the peshmerga, and some seriously sore muscles -- plenty of fodder for numerous stories. My first dispatch from the trip was published last week by the Christian Science Monitor, marking my debut with that publication.

Read the rest of my article, "Dammed, dirty, drained by war: can Iraq's Tigris River be restored?" on the Monitor website.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Art and the city

Every other autumn is eagerly awaited by art-lovers in Istanbul, as it brings (in the odd-numbered years) the return of the Istanbul Biennial. Now in its 13th edition, the biennial itself varies in the quality of its offerings, but reliably brings with it a host of other art exhibitions and events throughout the city -- as well as the opportunity to peek into some typically shuttered buildings, from historic Greek schools to crumbling hamams.

This year's biennial curator chose to focus on the public domain, a decision that both dovetailed with and was made problematic by the Gezi Park protests that broke out this summer, increasing both the anticipation and controversy around the international art event.

As editor at Time Out Istanbul, I spearheaded this year's coverage of the Istanbul Biennial, putting together a cover package that previewed the event, looked at parallel exhibitions being organized around town, and delved into some of the local artist residency programs that are helping develop the city's contemporary art scene. My own written contributions to Time Out's "Art Issue" included: