Friday, December 28, 2012

A zest for good food and quality journalism

Steam rose from the two heavy pots perched on top of twin cooking-gas cylinders, the scent of orange peels and apples wafting through the crisp morning air at Istanbul’s first organic farmers market.

At that moment, the aromatic contents resembled soup, or even mulled wine, but as the hours passed, they would jell into a pudding called
aşure, a dish seen by some as the epitome of the Turkish “melting pot” ...

With my latest article, about the Turkish dessert aşure, I joined the contributors' team at Zester Daily, an award-winning online destination for food, wine, and travel journalism. I'll be writing for them at least once a month about culinary culture in Istanbul, Turkey, and wherever else I roam.

Founded three years ago by former L.A. Times writer Corie Brown, Zester seeks to "promote spirited, intelligent dialogue about what we eat and drink." Corie's commitment to an international focus, to professional writing, and to creating new models for funding journalism at a time when all three often seem to be in short supply have me excited to be on board.

Read the rest of my article, "A Pudding for All That Comes From Turkey’s Melting Pot," on Zester Daily.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tales of a TreeHugger

For the past four years, I've been writing for TreeHugger.com as the popular green website's Istanbul correspondent, blogging about environmental issues primarily in Turkey and the region, but also elsewhere in the world, following my interests in art, food, travel, urban planning, and other topics.

Blogging for TreeHugger provided an excuse to contact and meet all sorts of fascinating people; the opportunity to cover events such as the 5th World Water Forum and the London School of Economics' Urban Age conference; and the chance to raise the profile of places I care about -- Istanbul, of course, but also Beirut, which I fell in love with on a 2010 visit, and Lake Urmia in Iran, where my grandfather originated and where I hope to travel someday. (It also let me occasionally indulge my nostalgia for San Francisco and baseball.) One of my posts got picked up by the popular tech site Boing Boing, while another led to an assignment for BBC Wildlife magazine.

Now, 656 blog posts later, I'm moving on due to some changes at the site. I've already wrapped up a baker's dozen worth of my favorite posts related to Turkey for my personal blog, The Turkish Life. Here's an assortment of 10 more stories on other topics that I enjoyed writing for TreeHugger.com:
You can find my full archive of TreeHugger posts (for now, at least) on my contributor page.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Istanbul's sweet spots

From warm, gooey künefe to chocolate-slathered profiteroles to candied walnuts topped with cream, Istanbul's eateries offer plenty of ways to satisfy the biggest sweet tooth. For the latest issue of SHOP Istanbul's Style Edition, I profiled a top-notch selection of the city's sweet shops, both storied patisseries and gourmet up-and-comers introducing new flavors to the Turkish palate.

Read "Sweet Thing" online or download a pdf version of the article as it appeared in SHOP Istanbul's Autumn/Winter 2012 issue.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Working with art

No white walls surround the art at Istanbul's newest sculpture gallery. Instead, skyscrapers and tower blocks rise dramatically above its works of stone and steel, set atop the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art in the city's Maslak business district. Meanwhile, at Borusan Contemporary, weekend visitors stroll through the empty offices of one of Turkey’s biggest holding companies -- tidied up every Friday night so no paperclip is out of place -- to view selections from the firm's 600-piece art collection.

This is the latest trend to hit Istanbul: the office block as art gallery. Large private companies, especially banks, have been patrons of the arts in Turkey for decades, but as the country's economy booms, the line between the art and business worlds is becoming ever harder to distinguish...

Read the rest of my article "From the water cooler to the water colour" in the October 2012 issue of Gulf Life, the in-flight magazine of Gulf Air: jpg | pdf

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rights backlash in Turkey

Beating drums and blowing whistles, hundreds of women marched last month on Istanbul's central Taksim Square, in one of dozens of rallies that have been held around the country to protest a new threat to reproductive rights.
 
Abortion until the 10th week of pregnancy has been legal in Turkey since 1983, and little contested until Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan railed against the practice in May, calling it akin to "murder" ...

Unlike in the United States, abortion hasn't generally been much of a political issue in Turkey, so the prime minister's recent statements came as a shock, bringing women and their supporters out into the streets to protest and generating news coverage around the world.

Reporting my latest piece for Women's eNews, I spoke with experts about how this renewed debate affects the general climate for women in Turkey, and how further restrictions on abortion could impact efforts to some of the country's most pressing domestic problems, including violence against women and a troubling gender gap.

Read my story for Women's eNews on their website: "Turkish Women Blow Whistle on Rights Crackdown"

Monday, July 2, 2012

Scavengers' stories

In the shadow of the Acropolis, they set off before dawn. Men and boys driving rusty trucks, pushing heavy hand-carts, towing wagons behind battered motorcycles. As the city slowly comes to life, they are already well into their day's work, scouring alleys and Dumpsters for old box-spring mattresses, appliances, car parts, anything they can salvage and sell at a scrap yard for a few dollars a day. 

Many Athens residents have been struggling to get by since economic and political crisis erupted in Greece, threatening to engulf much of Europe. But the estimated 80,000 Athenians who collect and process scrap in the city's informal economy were eking out their meager livings back when the rest of the city was still living large...

Back in April, I had the opportunity to watch the new documentary "Raw Material" and interview its director, Christos Karakepelis, as part of the 31st Istanbul Film Festival, which hosted a special series of screenings and talks related to current events in Turkey's tumult-wracked neighboring country, "What's Happenıng in Greece?"

This month, my interview with Karakepelis, a passionate and fascinating filmmaker, became the basis for my debut article for The Atlantic's CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities), one of my favorite publications addressing urban issues.

Read my piece on the CityLab website: "How the Garbage Pickers of Athens Predicted the Greek Economic Crisis"

Sunday, June 24, 2012

New light on human-wildlife conflict

A post I wrote for TreeHugger this spring about a Kenyan boy's creative method of keeping lions away from his family's farm attracted the attention of an editor from BBC Wildlife magazine, who commissioned me to look into the topic further.

I consulted with experts on the viability of the young inventor's idea and learned many more interesting things about human-wildlife conflict in Africa than I could fit into the final piece, a short article for the "Agenda" section of the magazine's July 2012 issue.

Read my article for BBC Wildlife, "Lions in the light": jpg | pdf

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The glamorous life of the guidebook updater

"You must have the best job in the world!" the couple at the next table gushed, having just learned that I was staying at their Assos hotel while updating part of the Fodor's Turkey guidebook.

While there are certainly some jealousy-inducing perks to guidebook work -- like getting the VIP treatment at that lovely establishment (including a divine breakfast featuring fresh-baked bread, local cheeses and olives, spicy pepper dip, and homemade pistachio and chili jams) -- most of what's involved is far less glamorous than fellow travelers might think.

My days on the North Aegean (one of my favorite parts of Turkey) last summer were largely spent getting up early, guzzling copious amounts of Nescafe, and then racing from one hotel, restaurant, or historic site to the next, checking opening hours, prices, menus, room features, and other nitty-gritty details, then collapsing in a sweaty mess (it was August, after all) on a bus that would take me to the next destination, where the process would start all over again.

Nearly a year later, the fruits of these labors have made it into the 8th edition of Fodor's Turkey, with "Chapter 3: The Sea of Marmara and the North Aegean" -- much of which is also available online -- bearing my mark as updater. Friend and colleague Vanessa Larson's imprimatur is on the "Istanbul" and "Cappadocia and Central Turkey" chapters. I hope our work helps point travelers in the right direction -- and that on my next trip to the North Aegean, I'll be packing my bikini and beach towel instead of my reporter's notebook and pen!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shopping, Istanbul style

The latest issue of SHOP Istanbul's Style Edition features two pieces I wrote, a cover story about Turkish and international brands making inroads into the city's venerable Grand Bazaar, and a news piece about Hiç Crafts, an appealingly eclectic design store in the up-and-coming Tophane neighborhood.

While the quarterly magazine, published by tourism company Global Blue, focuses on new shopping opportunities for visitors to the city, I took the chance while working on the bazaar story to poke into some of the famous covered market's hidden corners and learn how shopkeepers really feel about their new neighbors -- and about other changes in store for this historic location. That story will (inşallah!) appear in a major travel magazine this coming fall.

Read my articles for SHOP Istanbul in the digital edition of the Spring/Summer 2012 issue: "Market Leader" begins on page 42 and "Eclectic Design Oasis" appears on page 40.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lost in the city

Sosin and her family moved from rural Turkey to Istanbul, the country's largest city, and for four years she did not leave the house, not even to buy food for her children.

"I was afraid to be lost. I never saw any place outside the house. We would be starving with the children until evening when my husband would come home," she told researchers...

The plight of poor women who have moved to Istanbul from rural Anatolia was among the many sad, fascinating, and empowering stories I encountered while covering the recent 12th Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) International Forum in Istanbul.

After attending an activist-led talk on "The impact on women's rights of economic underdevelopment and forced migration in the Kurdish region of Turkey," I delved into the topic of Turkey's female migrants, publishing a piece for Women's eNews that was also picked up by United Press International (UPI) and the Thomson Reuters Foundation legal news service TrustLaw.

Read my story for Women's eNews on their website: "Kurdish Female Migrants Meet Isolation in Istanbul"

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What's lost and left behind

Arriving late for a studio visit scheduled during the Contemporary Istanbul art fair last fall turned out to be a stroke of luck. The organized group of art lovers had already breezed in and out, leaving sculptor Sibel Horada free to give me a relaxed one-on-one interview over tea.

After a private screening of the old-fashioned slideshow that made up part of her recent installation work "Urban Knights," we lounged on the antique button-tufted sofa that also featured in the piece and chatted about Beyoğlu's mysteriously disappearing tables, the sacredness of street cats and old chairs, sculpting with marble, and learning to appreciate Impressionism in a rainy beech forest.

My profile of Horada and her work appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Selections, following three pieces I wrote on Contemporary Istanbul for the previous issue of the Beirut-based luxury lifestyle magazine.

Read my article, "Sibel Horada: What's lost and left behind": jpg | pdf

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Women and a new economy

Uprisings across the Arab world, financial crises in Europe, and the growing threat of environmental disasters have shaken confidence in the global economic system, calling into question its ability to generate long-term prosperity and stability.

Forum participants. Photo: AWID
Over the weekend, some 2,000 women from around the world -- former presidents and indigenous leaders, media executives and advocates for sex workers, academics and activists -- gathered in Istanbul to explore new ways to create a stronger, more equitable economy amid these societal upheavals.

I covered the 12th Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) International Forum for the Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency, writing one story about gender budgeting -- a wonky-sounding topic that has very real impact on women's lives -- and one wrap-up of the weekend's discussions and debates.

Over the coming weeks, I'll be following up on some of the wealth of story ideas generated by the forum, from the growing problem of time poverty to the threats facing women's rights defenders.

Read my AWID Forum coverage for IPS:

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Peace, tolerance, and künefe

Sweet-toothed Istanbul residents lined up recently in Taksim Square for a sticky, gooey bite from a 73-meter-long künefe – one meter for every year that the province of Hatay has been a part of Turkey.

A popular dessert made with different variations across the Middle East, künefe’s Turkish version – thin strands of shredded dough encasing a layer of soft cheese, baked and drenched in sugar syrup – reaches its greatest culinary heights in Hatay, a southern province famed for its distinctive regional cuisine. The künefe at the “Hatay Days in Istanbul” celebration was cooked in 43 large round pans, using 172 kilograms of layered pastry, 172 kilograms of syrup, and 85 kilograms of cheese, according to local news reports...

Read the rest of my guest post "A Monster-sized Dessert Strikes the Heart of Istanbul" on EurasiaNet's "Kebabistan" food blog.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Into the wilds of northeast Turkey

I can feel the small bird trembling as I hold it in my cupped hands and walk outside the weathered metal trailer to release it. Bits of feathers explode off its back as it hurriedly takes flight into the crisp, clean air of remote northeast Turkey.

Inside the trailer, Sedat blows gently on the underside of a penduline tit, ruffling the bird’s feathers back from its belly to reveal a tiny round bulge beneath the skin. “It’s going to be a mother,” he says with a smile.


The area around Kars has a bleak reputation, in part due to Orhan Pamuk’s dark portrayal in his acclaimed novel Snow. And while winters are indeed harsh, with up to four months of snow and temperatures plummeting as low as -40˚C, the vast landscape of high plateaus and green lowlands comes to life vividly in the spring....

Read the rest of my article about exploring Kars's wild side in the March 2012 issue of Time Out Istanbul: jpg | pdf

UPDATE: Time Out Istanbul has finally put this story up on their website: "Into the Wild"

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Covering Contemporary Istanbul

Do Middle Eastern aesthetic values hinder the development of contemporary art? Is the art collector an artist in her own right? Is China set to dominate the world art market? Those are just a few of the provocative questions posed by speakers at Contemporary Istanbul, a high-profile art fair held most recently in November.

The 6th edition of the annual event drew 62,000 art lovers and 2,100 collectors to view works exhibited by 90 contemporary art galleries from 20 countries. Also featured were a series of dialogues between artists, collectors, curators, and other art-world figures, discussions I covered for Selections, a Beirut-based luxury lifestyle magazine. Three of my articles appeared in the "Art Scene" section of the magazine's Winter 2011/2012 issue:
  • "The Culture of Criticism"* - jpg | pdf
  • "Redrawing the Map of the Art World" - jpg | pdf
  • "The Art of Collecting" - jpg | pdf
* Unfortunately, the last paragraph of this article was not included in the published version, leaving the reader to wonder how two panelists could differ on the critic's role when only one was quoted. The end of this piece should read as follows:
Polat and Kahraman also differed on the role the critic should play in society.

“A critic is not a person who says ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like that.’ A critic should be working on a philosophical basis, trying to read the work and interpret it. Criticism shouldn’t be directed at the general public,” Kahraman said.

“Criticism is about giving opinions. You should be providing judgment on works of art – this is what criticism is,” Polat argued. “The critic should see himself as part of the audience.”

Friday, February 3, 2012

Istanbul's lindy hop 'dance tribe'

In the minds of most tourists, the words "dance" and "Istanbul" probably conjure up not-terribly-authentic images of belly dancers, or perhaps, for the more culturally astute, the whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi order. Few would likely suspect that they could find a roomful of young Turks enthusiastically doing the lindy hop, a style of swing dance that originated in the Harlem ballrooms of the 1920s and 1930s.

I discovered the Swing Istanbul studio after being approached by the editor of Dance Gazette, the magazine of the Royal Academy of Dance in the U.K., with an assignment to identify and profile an interesting "dance tribe" in the city. My piece about the Istanbul lindy-hoppers appears as part of the cover story for the magazine's February 2012 issue, along with dispatches from a male hula class in New York, a zumba class in Sydney, an experimental-art mecca in Shanghai, and a group of London zombies who just love Michael Jackson.

Read my lindy-hop piece for Dance Gazette: jpg | pdf

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A little link love

Reporting on environmental issues in Turkey can be a lonely pursuit (and can sometimes feel like a lost cause), so it's always gratifying to have my work for TreeHugger.com cited by people I respect.

Writing about the resignation-under-pressure of a longtime Turkish columnist who had "railed against the Prime Minister and other government officials for their plan to build a series of controversial dams in a scenic part of northeastern Turkey," journalist Yigal Schleifer linked to one of my TreeHugger posts as context for the story:
On a related note, Jennifer Hattam of the TreeHugger blog has a great post up about just what is happening with the dam project that [columnist Oktay] Ekşi wrote about and why people are getting so fired up about the government's actions on the issue.
More recently, acclaimed Turkish environmentalist Çağan Şekercioğlu linked to my reports on his latest research in his own write-up for National Geographic NewsWatch.