Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 in review

From fine dining and dance subcultures in Istanbul to camel wrestling on the Aegean and hiking through 10,000 years of history in Southeast Turkey, I covered a lot of ground with my writing this year.

Updating part of the Fodor's Turkey guidebook took me from Roman ruins to World War II battlefields, with days chock-full of chatting up hoteliers, restaurant workers, and tour guides in between.

Stories about my adventures watching camel wrestling, a traditional sport on Turkey's Aegean coast, and exploring Hasankeyf, an ancient city slated for submersion by a dam, found a home in the pages of Time Out Istanbul.

In Istanbul, I wrote about garden tours on the Princes' Islands for Time Out Istanbul, lavish Bosphorus weddings for J Magazine, local lindy-hoppers for Dance Gazette, and the Contemporary Istanbul art fair for Selections (the last two to be published soon). I also updated Istanbul restaurant listings for the Zagat guide and penned a guest review of one of my favorite dining establishments for Istanbul Eats.

On the environmental front, I continued chasing down green developments in Turkey and elsewhere for TreeHugger, worked as a local fixer for CNN's "Road to Durban: A Green City Journey" climate-change program, investigated corporate social responsibility in Turkey for Ethical Corporation, and contributed a chapter to the book "Barefoot Bloggers: Write to Save the Planet."

It wasn't all work, work, work this year, of course -- I also spent five days touring Europe with a friend's rock band, ran a 10k race on the beautiful island of Bozcaada and a 15k here in Istanbul, ate (and cooked) lots of good food, further explored Turkey's Lycian coast, and poked my head into some new corners of the ever-fascinating city I call home. Here's to more of the same in 2012.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Green blogging made easy

Blogging seemed like a slightly suspicious activity in the mid-2000s, at least to some of the higher-ups at the large environmental nonprofit where I used to work. They recoiled in horror at the thought of a few writers publishing unvetted words that the cantankerous masses could comment on with abandon. Resistance proved futile, though, and today there's nary an NGO (nor company, university, or knitting group) without at least one blog.

The challenge now is one of standing out in a sea of bloggers. For those with an environmental bent, the newly released ebook "Barefoot Bloggers: Write to Save the Planet" offers a primer on engaging, effective blogging, from basics such as how to register a domain and find news to tips on generating revenue and search-engine optimization to questions of ethics and safety.

Lead author Karin Kloosterman, the editor of the Mideast environmental news site Green Prophet, tapped me to write a chapter on blogging for NGOs. Other contributors talk about building a popular mainstream green blog, making the transition from print journalism to blogging, green tech blogging, and writing for religious audiences of various faiths.

Sound intriguing? Purchase a copy online and be on your way to better blogging.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hiking amidst history in the Southeast

“Here, taste this,” our guide Hüseyin said, plucking a handful of green stems from the ground and offering them to us. The scent and flavor were sharp and unmistakable – garlic, growing wild in the rugged hills behind the town of Hasankeyf in Southeast Turkey.


We had set out on a hike as the sun rose, climbing past old cave dwellings and into the canyons. Delicate flowers shook off the morning dew and opened to the sky, leaving the green slopes studded with red blossoms in our wake. Birds circled overhead, spiraling down to round holes in the limestone cliffs where they’d built their mud-dark nests alongside vertiginous staircases and primitive drainpipes carved into the stone....

Read the rest of my article about exploring Hasankeyf in the October 2011 issue of Time Out Istanbul: jpg | pdf.

To learn more about this amazing and threatened place, visit the blog Hasankeyf Matters and the website of the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive. For more photos, see my Flickr site.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Seeking sustainability in Turkey

Istanbul's bustling İstiklal Caddesi is chock-a-block with free art galleries sponsored by Turkey's biggest banks. The country's wealthiest families all have charitable foundations to go along with their gigantic, multi-industry holding companies. But is there such a thing as true corporate social responsibility in Turkey?

That's the question the sustainability consultancy One Stone set out to answer for a special country briefing on Turkey in the September 2011 issue of Ethical Corporation, recruiting me to contribute my local insight as an Istanbul-based correspondent. While other articles in the package looked at the need to move beyond philanthropy, the challenges facing leading companies, and the role of NGOs, I examined how the government and current legislation affect corporate responsibility. My conclusion? Turkish authorities, while making some promising steps, are missing the big picture.

Read my contribution to Ethical Corporation's Turkey briefing: jpg | pdf

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bosphorus bliss

When the time came to cut the wedding cake, all eyes were drawn to the ceiling of the ballroom as the tiered white pastry descended from its hiding place. A dancer followed, dangling upside down to pour drinks into the guests’ outstretched flutes.

Brides and grooms marrying at one of the magnificent 18th- and 19th-century palaces and mansions lining Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait can choose to celebrate in ballrooms where Ottoman royalty once got married. But the modern festivities can even outdo those of the sultans, who dispatched turtles with candles on their backs to light outdoor parties, paraded giraffes down the street, and set off fireworks for days on end to herald a palace member’s wedded bliss...


As a journalist, I've had the opportunity to be exposed to many different worlds, those of homesteaders in Alaska, miners' families in West Virginia, and conservation biologists in eastern Turkey among them. But perhaps the most foreign experience to date was having Istanbul hoteliers regale me with stories of the lavish waterfront weddings they had hosted – champagne-serving acrobats and all.

Writing a story for J Magazine, the inflight magazine of Jazeera Airways, about Bosphorus weddings in Istanbul gave me a peek into the exotic world of helipads and honeymoon suites bigger than my apartment -- and the creativity and effortless hospitality required for the staff at the city's top luxury hotels to make the wildest matrimonial dreams come true.

Read the rest of "Bosphorus Bliss" in the August 2011 issue of J Magazine: pdf

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Eating (and reviewing) in Istanbul

Jokes about the 'two kinds of cheese' in Turkey – white and yellow – are common among the Roquefort-loving expat crowd, but after experiencing what Turkish cheese can taste like when served warm with almond chunks and caramelized onions, I may never complain about beyaz peynir again...

Read the rest of my review of Istanbul restaurant Lokanta Maya on the city's best website for foodies, Istanbul Eats.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hidden gardens reveal secrets of Istanbul's islands

Green spaces are now hard to come by amid the grey concrete in the metropolis that once inspired 17th-century traveller Robert Withers to write: “Nor indeed doth a Turk at any time show himself to be so truly pleased, and satisfied in his senses as he doth in the summer time, when he is in a pleasant garden.”

But though such opportunities are few and far between – for Turks and foreigners alike – in today’s Istanbul, there is still one place where the senses can be so satisfied, a place where, it was said in Ottoman times, the scent of the blossoms could make a person dizzy...

Read the rest of my article about garden tours on the Princes' Islands in the May 2011 issue of Time Out Istanbul: jpg | pdf.

UPDATE: Time Out Istanbul has finally put this story up on their website: "Hidden Gardens Reveal Secrets of Istanbul's Islands"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Talking shop with Green Prophet

The Middle East environmental news site Green Prophet recently interviewed me about my "experiences as an expat environmentalist," including what challenges I've encountered in trying to maintain a "green" lifestyle abroad, the most serious environmental problems facing Turkey, and if there's any good news here on the eco front.

You can read it here: "INTERVIEW: Treehugger Blogger Jennifer Hattam Talks To Green Prophet About Turkey"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy birthday, Daily News

The Associated Press called up the Hürriyet Daily News in a panic earlier today, frantically trying to locate the "reports by the Associated Press that 20 Turks were killed in Kirkuk" that the paper had quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Selim Sarper as saying were unfounded. The person who answered the phone had to gently explain that Sarper had died in 1968 and that the "news" was actually from the date written on the front page: March, 15, 1961, the day the English-language Turkish newspaper was first published 50 years ago.

For the paper's anniversary, I was charged with reimagining that very first front page, slotting the stories into today's layout and news priorities, and rewriting (and often expanding) each article in our modern style. This package of articles, "The Daily News' First Day, Fifty Years Later," formed what we referred to as our "fake front page" today; the real one with 2011 news appeared on page 3. The online version has a nice juxtaposition of the 1961 and 2011 designs.

I also wrote an essay for today's op-ed page, "Fifty Years of Fighting Typos," about the observations I made during this process and the continuing challenges of editing an English-language newspaper in a foreign country.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Close encounters with the wrestling-camel kind

As soon as I got off the bus and saw the strange parade, I knew I was in the right place: A stray dog trotted down the street after three boys leading a small horse behind a pickup truck filled with musicians, one beating a large, flat drum nestled between his legs. In front of them all strode two lumbering camels frothing at the mouth, the bells lashed to their saddles clanking like particularly tuneless wind chimes.
People are believed to have been pitting camels against each other in wrestling matches since the days of nomadic caravans. Today, the tradition lives on in winter bouts along Turkey’s Aegean coast...

Read the rest of my article about
camel wrestling in the March 2011 issue of Time Out Istanbul: jpg | pdf.

UPDATE: Time Out Istanbul has finally put this story up on their website: "Close Encounters With the Wrestling-Camel-Kind."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A new guide to Istanbul

A new travel website, Simonseeks, had its official launch last month, featuring community-written and expert guides to almost 50 locations, mostly in Europe, but also around the world, from Hong Kong to Cape Town to New York.

I spent a couple of months last fall researching and writing the expert guide to Istanbul, selecting 40 top hotels, 40 restaurants worth visiting, and 20 can't-miss sights, as well as making extensive recommendations on shopping, nightlife, and getting around, and offering my own "insider tips" and personal favorites in the city I've now called home for three years -- keeping a few special places to myself, of course.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Remembering an environmental hero

In the summer of 2003, I flew into Charleston, West Virginia, rented a car and drove deep into the state's mountain "hollows," deep green valleys where the land -- and the people who lived on it -- were badly scarred by mountaintop removal mining. I met people who had been barred from visiting their family cemeteries -- now on mining company land; people with cracks in their walls and coal dust blanketing their homes due to nearby mining operations; and disabled former miners who said they would rather risk their lives underground each day than let their families and homes be subjected to the dangers of mountaintop removal.

My guide through this then-unfamiliar world was Judy Bonds, a former Pizza Hut waitress turned environmental activist who was one of the leaders of the grassroots opposition in the area to mountaintop removal mining, a campaign that was at the time largely a regional one, but today has become a national cause. I profiled her and her work for Sierra magazine, and have remained moved by my experience in West Virginia ever since.

This morning, I woke up to learn that Judy had lost her battle with cancer. A memorial will be held for her Jan. 15 at a location yet to be determined, but the online tributes are already pouring in. Rest in peace, Judy. May your fight continue.

Read my profile of Judy Bonds, "Dethroning King Coal," in the November/December 2003 issue of Sierra magazine.