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Showing posts from July, 2013

Grim future for historical gardens?

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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

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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

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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…