Showing posts from 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, rat…

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 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 se…

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."

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.

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&#…

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…

A little time at the helm of Time Out

I've just wrapped up a seven-month stint editing Time Out Istanbul, the local edition of the popular international line of arts and entertainment magazines. I spent nine years in the United States as an editor at Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club, and this brief return to my roots reminded me of how much I enjoy working with writers and conceptualizing packages -- or entire issue's worth -- of stories that will work together to provide a rich experience for the reader.

As the head of a very small team, I also did my fair share of writing at Time Out Istanbul. In addition to our Gezi Park protest coverage in the July issue, and our Istanbul Biennial preview in the forthcoming September issue, these are some of the stories I most enjoyed researching and writing:

Hidden History
A stroll through Istanbul’s Byzantine past with Context Travel

Resisting Nostalgia
An interview with Turkish artist Ali Kazma on his fascination with transformation

Literature as Travel Guide

Amid strife, Turks break fast together for Ramadan

On the first night of Ramadan last month, thousands of people gathered on İstiklal Caddesi in central Istanbul. They laid down newspapers and tablecloths in a long line stretching nearly half a kilometer — then sat down on the ground to break their fast in the middle of the city’s busiest pedestrian

Passing food and drinks from hand to hand, participants called out to people walking by, “Is anyone hungry? Is anyone thirsty?” and leaped up to distribute water, dates, baklava and other traditional fast-breaking items. As the meal wrapped up, young men toting large garbage bags chanted, “Trash! Trash! Trash!” as they worked their way through the crowd collecting refuse.

Ramadan, the month when observant Muslims traditionally fast from dawn till dusk, ended this year on August 7, but not before coming against a backdrop of weeks of street protests in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey. The very iftar meal that breaks the day’s fast became a forum for Turkish people to express t…

Grim future for historical gardens?

Walking the 6.5-kilometer length of the city's ancient land walls my first year in Istanbul, I was delighted to discover lush green vegetable gardens (photo, right) growing in the shadow of these 1,600-year-old fortifications. Later, I learned from a historian specializing in Ottoman gardens that these small market plots -- known in Turkish as bostan -- were established on very fertile soil and had been handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years.

As with so many other things at that time, it seemed perfectly reasonable to assume that tradition would continue on for many more generations to come. But this summer, with the dust from the Gezi Park turmoil not yet settled down, I received an urgent message alerting local press that bulldozers had moved in to raze some of these gardens near the Yedikule fortress.

With tensions high in the city, a fellow foreign journalist and I who arrived on the scene to report on the story became embroiled in a heated conflict …

Orchids and ice cream

Clad in a red vest with gold embroidery and matching fez, the ice cream vendor rings a bell hanging above his booth on Istanbul’s busiest pedestrian thoroughfare, then grabs a long stick and plunges it into a vat in front of him, churning its contents with great effort. Triumphantly, he raises what looks like a football-sized mass of taffy into the air, spins it around, and then drops the ice cream back into its container as the first customer of the day steps up.

What gives Turkish ice cream (maraş dondurması in Turkish, after the Kahramanmaraş region in the southeast of the country where it is believed to have originated) the unique firm, chewy consistency that allows it to be slung around or cut with a knife has traditionally been salep — a powder made from tuberous orchids....

Read the rest of this article, "Orchids Under Threat, From Turkish Ice Cream," on Zester Daily.

Gezi on my mind

During the last week of May, I found myself walking through Gezi Park at some point most evenings, drawn to the scruffy, neglected green space near Istanbul's Taksim Square to see how the crowds had multiplied since a few dozen protesters trying to block the
bulldozing of trees there as part of a controversial construction plan were teargassed by police.

Each night, there were more and more people in the once largely disused and ignored park, talking, singing, painting signs, picnicking, and pitching tents. And each morning, those who remained at dawn were teargassed once again. After waking up to this news one too many times, I sent off a story pitch about the protests to The Atlantic's CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities), which commissioned an article for the next day.

As I reported and wrote, the story changed rapidly; by the time my article about the Gezi Park protests was published, much of Istanbul (and then other cities around Turkey) had erupted into mass demonstr…

Editors' picks from Art Basel

As the international art crowd prepared to descend on Hong Kong for the city's edition of Art Basel, Time Out Hong Kong solicited editors' picks of participating galleries from Time Out's international team. My brief writeup of Istanbul gallery CDA-Projects appears in the May issue of Time Out Hong Kong under the title "Art Basel: Time Out international editors' picks":
6.CDA-Projects Gallery (1C23)
Focusing on emerging artists from Turkey, CDA-Projects doesn't shy away from challenging, multimedia work that questions gender and cultural norms. Featured artist Zeren Göktan's interactive installation Counter blends technology and tradition to confront viewers with uncomfortable realities about violence against women.
Jennifer Hattam, editor-in-chief, Time Out Istanbul

Envisioning Istanbul

Sometime in the not-so-distant future, visitors to Istanbul will be able to soar above the Bosphorus, crossing the famous strait on an intercontinental aerial tramway, the city’s mayor, Kadir Topbaş, announced last month.

With Istanbul in the throes of a building boom, it’s not the only seemingly fanciful idea that’s been floated recently by a public official. During the 2011 election season, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unveiled his self-described "crazy project" to build a second, man-made strait parallel to the Bosphorus.

Neither idea has yet reached the actual planning stage, but there's at least one reason not to doubt them: Both Topbaş’s cable car and Erdoğan’s canal were first envisioned by architects and engineers in Ottoman times, along with other equally ambitious building projects­ -- some of which have actually been carried out....

Amid rapid "urban transformation" in Istanbul, it was fascinating to come across a book rele…

A monumental figure

It’s hard to believe now that Istanbul has become a world-famous tourist destination, but when the Turkish architect Ali Saim Ülgen first visited the city’s historic center as a youth in 1930, its many monuments were neglected, and little-known...
Inspired by the awe he felt on this first visit, Ülgen later became the first architectural restoration expert of the Turkish Republic and wrote one of the era's first books on architectural preservation. But though his influence was widespread during his lifetime, Ülgen today is almost as forgotten as Istanbul’s grand monuments might have been without his intervention.

The Istanbul-based cultural institution SALT aims to bring Ülgen's work back to prominence with the exhibit "Modern Turkey’s Discovery of the Ottoman Heritage: The Ali Saim Ülgen Archive." I interviewed associate director of research and programs Lorans Tanatar Baruh for two articles on this fascinating exhibit, one for Beirut-based lifestyle magazine Sele…

A designer's Istanbul

The two great cities fashion designer Serra Türker has called home are reflected in her past-meets-present style, which combines the knowledge and workmanship of Istanbul’s longtime leatherworkers, metalsmiths, and other craftsmen with her sleek, thoroughly modern geometric designs...
When Beirut-based lifestyle magazine Selections asked me to do a Q&A with a Turkish fashion designer for the Spring 2013 issue, I followed a tip from fellow Istanbul journalist Vanessa Larson to check out the work of Serra Türker. The Istanbul-born, U.S.-educated handbag designer had recently moved back home from New York to open her first boutique. She cheerfully chatted by email about Istanbul's best and worst qualities, the city's best-kept secret, and her favorite way to spend a day.

Read "My City with Serra Türker" in the Spring 2013 issue of Selections or view the article as a jpg by clicking on the image below.

Women, work and motherhood

A government proposal to lengthen the duration of paid maternity leave from four months to six months is generating apprehension rather than applause from women in Turkey.

"It is a positive development in principle, but may become an obstacle for women to return to work," Gulden Turktan, the Istanbul-based president of the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGIDER), told Women's eNews.

Women already start facing barriers in working life once they get pregnant, added Nur Ger, the founder and CEO of the Istanbul-based SUTEKS Textiles and the chair of the Turkish Industry and Business Association's gender equality working group.

"There is a tendency among employers to avoid hiring pregnant women since they will need to take their [maternity] leave soon," she said.

The maternity leave discussion currently underway in the Turkish cabinet comes amid increasing pressure on Turkish women to have more children. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been c…

Art and violence

The girl's wide eyes gaze out expectantly from beneath her blue-and-gold turban-style headdress, a single teardrop pearl glimmering in her ear. The photograph is a near-match for Johannes Vermeer's famous painting, "The Girl With a Pearl Earring," except for one thing; cuts and bruises mar the subject's eyes, cheeks and chin.

Turkish artist Derya Kilic's recent photography exhibition "To Know, To See . . . ," which closed in mid-January after a month at the Macka Sanat Galerisi in Istanbul, confronted viewers with a series of well-known figures -- women painted by the likes of Salvador Dali, Edvard Munch, Leonardo Da Vinci and Gustav Klimt, each bearing the marks of violence on their faces and bodies....

Read the rest of my article for Women's eNews about female artists in Turkey grappling with issues of gender-based violence in their work: "Turkish Artist Paints Cuts, Bruises on Old Masters"

48 hours in Istanbul

From hot young designers to fine cuisine, artistic treasures to awe-inspiring views, Istanbul’s winding streets are as full of contemporary culture as they are of ancient history. Here’s a perfect weekend on both sides of the beautiful Bosphorus...

The Kuwait-based luxury lifestyle magazine B Journal recently asked me to whip up on short notice a weekend itinerary for Istanbul that avoids tourist traps, takes visitors to the lesser-known Asian side of the city, and ties into the magazine's "Style Issue" with a bit of a fashion focus.
Download a pdf version of my "48 Hours in Istanbul" itinerary.