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Year in review: freelance highlights for 2017

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With all the juggling involved in a freelancer's life -- pitching, writing, invoicing, researching, editing, fact-checking, drumming up new work, updating websites and social media, following up on emails, and on and on -- it's easy to lose track of the big picture while constantly chasing after the next assignment and rushing to meet the next deadline. So it was good to take a moment to look back at the year and acknowledge that I'd published some pieces I was really proud of. Here's my personal top five stories from 2017:

1) Science, Interrupted
War and strife have uprooted many researchers. Can their life’s work be saved?
Discover, September 2017
This feature on displaced scientists and researchers struggling to resume their careers as refugees was one of the most rewarding projects I worked on this year.  It's always a pleasure to work with Discover and my stellar editor at the magazine, who believed in me and this story enough to encourage me to take my kernel o…

The forgotten ruins of Bathonea

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On a warm day in June 2016, I was part of a hearty band of hikers who hacked through the thick and thorny brush surrounding Istanbul's Küçükçekmece Lake to reach the largely forgotten remains of a bustling Byzantine trading port.

The ruins of Bathonea, located on the outskirts of the city far from its historic center, came as a magical surprise to me, but archaeologists have been working for a decade to uncover their secrets.

I highlighted a few of their finds in a short piece for Discover magazine's November 2017 issue: "The Secrets Beneath a Suburb."

Istanbul art madness

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Art-lovers in Istanbul were spoiled for choice this fall, with the annual art fair Contemporary Istanbul changing its usual place in the calendar to coincide with the Istanbul Biennial, and dozens upon dozens of museums, galleries and artist-run spaces opening new shows at the same time.

Trying to catch them all made for an exhausting but invigorating few weeks of exhibition-hopping, during which I wrote four pieces of arts coverage, for Lonely Planet and Selections magazine:
"Istanbul's Biggest Art Festival Branches Out to Greece," on the Istanbul Biennial and its "neighboring event" on the Greek island of Lesvos
"New Date, Director and Galleries Reinvigorate Contemporary Istanbul in Art Fair’s 12th Year," on the latest edition of Contemporary Istanbul
"This Stunning Ottoman Villa in Istanbul is Open to Visitors for the First Time with Contemporary Art Exhibition," on the Ömer M. Koç Collection exhibit at the Abdülmecid Efendi Köşkü
"Beau…

Paint's dance with water

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“Your hand must be like a machine, with a nice, steady rhythm — not dropping the paint with too much or too little force,” says Bahar Kocabaş. “You have to be patient, but when the colors open up, it’s beautiful.”

That's how Kocabaş, an artist and teacher in Istanbul, described the art of paper marbling to me. Known in Turkish as ebru, the process has been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity -- a list that Morning Calm, the inflight magazine for Korean Air, is featuring in a series of cover stories. I was asked to write the magazine's feature on ebru, which appeared on the cover of Morning Calm's July 2017 edition, and delved into controversies about the art's origins and the way both tradition and innovation are playing a role in keeping it alive.

You read my piece, "Water Colors," accompanied by lovely photos by John Wreford, in the online version of Morning Calm (requires a Flash-enabled browser).


A city and its food

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The new magazine Fare, devoted to "exploring city culture through food, history, and community," chose Istanbul as the feature city for its inaugural issue, which was published this week. It's full of beautiful photography and design, and an eclectic selection of articles, including a piece by me on some of Istanbul's lesser-known sweet treats, such as the beyaz tatlı once beloved by the city's Greek, Jewish and Armenian communities and now, like the people who once ate it, largely swept away in a tide of cultural and culinary homogenization.

My piece, "Beyond Baklava," and a wealth of other stories, are available in FareIssue 1: Istanbul, on sale at independent book and magazine stores and other locations in Turkey and Europe -- and available for shipping worldwide.


Labor unions under pressure in Turkey

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Six days a week for nine long months, Turkish road transport workers picketed outside three UPS transfer centres in Istanbul and İzmir, demanding the right to organise their workplaces. As more union members were dismissed from their jobs, the picket lines grew, holding firm even when riot police aggressively tried to break them up.

When UPS finally agreed to reinstate most of the fired workers, and eventually signed a collective bargaining agreement in late 2011, it was a shot in the arm for Turkey’s beleaguered labour unions.

“A lot of other unions visited us to find out how we did it,” says Kenan Özturk, the president of the All Transport Workers’ Union (TÜMTİS), which followed its success with UPS by signing an even stronger bargaining agreement with DHL.

But as political strife roils Turkey following a failed coup attempt last summer and ahead of a controversial referendum this Sunday 16 April, the union that provided a model for labour organising in tough times is enmeshed in a dec…