Sunday, February 24, 2013

Borusan Contemporary

Continuing with my let's-play-nice posts, about a month ago, Cagatay and I went to Borusan Contemporary to catch the last day of a neon exhibit, Austrian artist Brigitte Kowanz's Cut a Long Story Short.

As I mentioned in the last post, the Legacy Ottoman hotel building in Eminonu is one of my favorite buildings in Istanbul; as it happens, Borusan Contemporary is housed in Cagatay's favorite Istanbul building, the hard-to-miss Perili Köşk, a gorgeous, turreted nine-story brick building on the Bosporus. [Perili can be translated as either "haunted" or "with fairies."] We've been past many times -- Borusan Contemporary is in my favorite Istanbul neighborhood, Rumeli Hisari -- but I never realized that the building held a museum that you could go into.

Anyway, so we went over there for this little neon exhibit, and I just had no idea how amazing it would be inside. The building is home to Borusan Holding, and it's a regular office building during the week and a museum on the weekends. There's an exhibition space, cafe and gift shop downstairs, but a lot of the art is placed in and around the offices. Add to that its amazing views of the Bosporus and I think it would be a pretty amazing place to go to work.

The exhibition space was devoted to the Brigitte Kowanz exhibit, with an additional few pieces on another floor. While I liked her neon works, I thought the presentation was a little dry. [Having said that, my favorite piece of hers that I've seen is Everlasting Convolution, a roller-coaster-like neon work that I stumbled across on the Internet.]

The most powerful works in the Borusan exhibit were the neon-and-acrylic-glass Spatium and Volumen, in large part because each piece hung solo in its own room, demanding attention.

Brigitte Kowanz -- Spatium
Brigitte Kowanz -- Volumen

The second exhibit was called Segment #3 and was made up of modern works from the Borusan Contemporary Art Collection. It was mostly mind-blowing -- I just really dug the incorporation of the art into the workspace. It was just so odd and interesting to be walking past people's desks and through their offices, especially when they had personal photos and notes up. [Does that sound a little weird? Perhaps it's best kept between us.]

Morellet -- Lunatique Neonly - 16 Quarts de Cercle No 6
Francois Morellet -- drawing for Lunatique Neonly No 3

Segment #3 was made up of a number of neon pieces, mostly from Francois Morellet, but also photographs, videos and indescribable mixed-media works. Some of the pieces also had preliminary drawings to go with them.

The exhibit is up until May 26, so if you're reading this before then and you're in Istanbul, please do yourself the favor of going. (If you can't go, you can see some of the pieces online, but of course, it's not quite the same as experiencing them in person. This particular digital animation by Eelco Brand, seemingly featuring night flowers exploding into fireworks, was especially cool.)

Francois Morellet -- Ready Remake No 1
Francois Morellet Lamentable Ø 5 M Rouge

My favorite piece from Segment #3 was absolutely Francois Morellet's Lamentable Ø 5 M Rouge, sitting at the end of a hallway. A close second was Airan Kang's 21 Books, which changed colors.

Keith Sonnier -- Ballroom Chandelier Installation 
Airan Kang -- 21 Books

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Istanbul's Spice Market

Well, my last couple of posts have just been bitch, bitch, bitch, so I thought I'd say something nice about Istanbul for a change. While the neighborhoods all have their weekly street market where you can go buy fresh fruit and veg [I love that the verb "to bargain" in Turkish is pazarlık etmek, or, roughly, to "do the market"] Istanbul is known for two big markets -- the Grand Bazaar in Sultanahmet and the Spice Bazaar in Eminonu. While the Grand Bazaar has always struck me as a little touristy (though my gorgeous engagement ring and our wedding rings did come from there), I absolutely love the Spice Bazaar. Despite the fact that the  vendors are generally calling out to customers in English, it still feels like an authentic place; you can buy a lot in the grocery store, of course, but the Spice Bazaar seems to have every spice/tea/dried fruit you could ever want.

In Turkish, the Spice Bazaar is known as Mısır Çarşısı, or Egyptian Bazaar, because the bazaar was once known for selling goods from Egypt. It's been around since the 1660s -- according to Lonely Planet, it was built as part of the Yeni Camii mosque complex and intended to help support the mosque's upkeep.

We go over to Eminonu every once in awhile -- you can buy almost anything over there, from fancy dogs and tulip bulbs to wedding dresses and copper pots, and I am especially fond of the yarn market. Eminonu also has one of my favorite buildings in Istanbul -- the Legacy Ottoman hotel, a building known as 4. Vakıf Han, built between 1911 and 1926 in the neoclassical Turkish style. You can't see it very well in the photo, but there is gorgeous blue tilework above the highest windows.

I actually haven't ever been inside the hotel -- it's the grand exterior that I love. But on our last trip to Eminonu, we made it halfway in -- we had coffee in the attached coffee shop, Brew Coffeeworks, and sat in the back, next to the window separating the two. The interior of the hotel is, of course, very opulent -- chandeliers and rich fabrics -- while the coffee shop is bright and modern. How cute are the bowler hat lights? The coffee wasn't so bad, either. :)

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Very Controversial Turkish Airlines

Flying Turkish Airlines is generally a good thing -- it's been named the best airline in Europe two years running, you still get free food, and the check-in agents never seem to care if your baggage is a few pounds over the limit. You can also fly directly from Istanbul to New York and Houston (among other places), lessening the jet lag on trips to the US -- when I fly American from here to Dallas, I usually have to go through London, and with the schedule and time differences, it makes for a hard adjustment. Over the last decade, Turkish Airlines has been expanding at a rapid pace, adding new destinations all the time, and it seems to be doing well -- it's a nice airline with good customer service. But lately, politicians have been interfering with airline decisions, and it's stirring up loads of controversy here in Turkey.

The problem stems from the fact that the government owns approximately 49 percent of Turkish Airlines, while the majority 51 percent is public. The current government, headed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), is pretty powerful -- they're also pretty conservative, and their efforts to make the airline more conservative is not going over well.

Before I get into the details, let me say that one of the things I've noticed about Turkey, especially from my time working at a conservative newspaper here, is that there seems to be a big misunderstanding about what "democracy" means. One reason that the current government is so powerful is that Turkey has just emerged from a coup-filled period -- about every ten years, starting in 1960 and ending in 1997, there was a coup, and each time, it totally shook up society. I've heard this cited as a reason why for Turks personal relationships are more important than rules or contracts. The AKP came into power in 2002, and things in Turkey have been stable since then -- more importantly, the economy has improved. One of the AKP's big promises is that they're going to bring democracy to Turkey, in the form of bringing the coup perpetrators to trial, writing a new constitution, etc. For a long time, for example, women were not allowed to attend university wearing a headscarf -- under the AKP, this has been lifted, and it's a good thing. Democracy means everyone gets to wear what they like...or drink what they like...or say what they like...or practice whatever religion they like in whatever way they choose.  But it turns out that the AKP's democracy often only means tolerance for their more conservative way of life. There's a real effort right now to make the population more conservative through legislation, lawsuits and pressure -- and this is where THY comes in.

[Now, don't get me wrong -- I think we see the same warped idea of democracy in the U.S. with the various attempts to legislate morality. However, I think it's more evident here in Turkey as the new conservative powers and the old secular regime battle it out, and it's going to determine the kind of country Turkey is to become.]

In December, the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, began criticizing the popular Turkish soap opera, Muhtesem Yuzyil (Magnificent Century), a Tudors-like show about Suleiman the Magnificent and palace intrigue. (It's apparently broadcast in 43 countries, and I know it's really popular in Middle Eastern countries, drawing loads of Arab tourists to Istanbul -- but of course, in Turkey, it's broadcast in Turkish, so unfortunately, I can't understand it.)  It's a soap opera so it's very dramatic (I hear), but Erdogan believes the show humiliates Suleiman (and Turkish values) by showing him as debauched. An AKP deputy has submitted a parliamentary petition to get the show banned, and as a result of Erdogan's comments, Turkish Airlines dropped the show from its planned in-flight entertainment. According to the Daily Hurriyet, a THY official said, "We were about to start screening the show, but we changed our minds following the prime minister's negative opinions."

Now, in the last week or so, some awful, conservative designs for the new THY flight attendants' uniforms were leaked, and reports emerged that THY intends to stop serving alcohol on domestic flights. Photos of the uniforms, designed by Dilek Hanif, were leaked on Twitter last week -- two of the women are wearing robe-coats, which in my opinion look kind of religious, and generally the cloth looks heavy and uncomfortable. After the uproar, THY rushed to say that they were still working on the designs and released other photos, and in those, the women are co, vered from neck to foot. Many people see these proposed uniforms as an effort to expand conservatism, even if it makes working on an airplane more difficult.

The alleged new alcohol policy is a little more confusing. According to the Daily Hurriyet, THY has 36 domestic routes, and supposedly, on domestic flights, THY was only serving alcohol to business class passengers. But 20 of these routes aren't separated into classes, so they were really only serving alcohol on 16 routes, and now, because of lack of demand, they will only serve alcohol on five or six routes. (One story included Izmir, the other didn't.) The five definite routes are either to big cities (Istanbul and Ankara) or vacation destinations (Antalya, Bodrum, and Dalaman). Frankly, low demand strikes me an odd reason. Food, I would understand -- it spoils and goes to waste. But that isn't the case with alcohol. Why couldn't THY just use it on another flight?

THY also doesn't serve alcohol on international routes to certain destinations (Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc) and reportedly, passengers have asked for alcoholic drinks on flights and not been served, with the crew saying someone had forgotten to load it. But the confusing part came today -- a Daily Hurriyet article said that THY confirmed they only provide alcoholic beverages on certain routes due to "fewer business class passengers and lack of demand on other routes," while a Today's Zaman story seems to say this isn't true.

But who are we kidding, it's probably true. And I say that because there have been definite efforts in Turkey to get people to stop drinking. They keep jacking up the taxes on cigarettes and alcohol -- there's a great blog post on "the war against alcohol in Turkey" here -- they banned outdoor seating in Beyoglu (which many saw as an attempt to kill the nightlife) and banned sports teams from using alcohol in their names, and a citizens group tried to shut down a music festival last summer because it was sponsored by a beer company...  Some of these things might be for the best, but all taken together, I think it's hard to deny that something is happening. And this is where the democracy thing comes in again -- maybe alcohol is bad for you, maybe drinking it makes you a bad Christian/Muslim/whatever, but in a democracy, everyone gets to choose for themselves. And in a democracy, the government shouldn't be outright banning or "persuading" its citizens through taxes to follow its predetermined path. Pin It

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Amazing Turkey

As we've discussed, Turkey hasn't fared well lately in the media, and it's unfortunate that recent events will define the country in the minds of a lot of people. And let's be honest -- if you read my blog on a regular basis, you'll know that I'm not overly fond of living in Istanbul -- on the one hand, its 15 million inhabitants means there's always something interesting to do, but unfortunately, you'll have to fight your way through aggressive crowds to get to it. It frustrates me to no end. But I do love Turkey. Because it's almost 1,000 miles across (and, I suppose, located on or near the edges of three continents), the landscape varies, with mountains in the northeast, a Middle Eastern vibe in the southeast, rock-cut houses and flower fields and travertines in the middle, and Mediterranean cliffs and beaches in the south.

On top of that, this land, what we call modern-day Turkey, has such an amazing, lengthy history -- because of its geographical position, it has seen so many world-shaping historical events, and so many different cultures and civilizations have left their mark here. I am particularly fascinated with ancient times, and it's kind of amazing to live on such historic stomping grounds, where all of this history took place that seemed so distant and exotic when we learned about it in middle school.

The two big rivers that formed Mesopotamia, the "cradle of civilization," are the Tigris and Euphrates, and they both start in southeastern Turkey. The world's first city might be the 9,000-year-old Neolithic site of Catalhoyuk, southeast of Konya. The world's first temple might have been built 11,000 years ago at Gobekli Tepe, just outside of the modern-day city of Urfa.

Of the seven wonders of the ancient world, two are found within the boundaries of modern-day Turkey. The Temple of Artemis, a massive columned temple dedicated to the goddess, stood at Ephesus, near present-day Izmir -- today, just one single column remains. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was built in the 4th century as the final resting place for King Mausolus, and today it's just a pile of stones in the resort town of Bodrum.

Temple of Artemis
Mausoleum of Mausolus

Both of the ancient wonders are located in western Turkey, on (or formerly on) the Aegean, and each were built by their local civilizations of the time. But that area had also been settled by the Greeks; I'm not sure exactly who was where when, but the Greek historian Herodotus, the world's first guidebook writer, was born in Halicarnassus (Bodrum) in the fifth century BC. Not surprisingly, there are Greek ruins all over the place in western Turkey (along with the ruins of all the other civs).

The Tetrapylon at Afrodisias

Turkish locations also pop up in some of the Greek myths that we all learned about in school. Remember Io? Zeus fell in love with her, but when Hera found out, he transformed poor Io into a cow to save her -- but Hera wasn't fooled and sent a gadfly to torment Io-the-cow, who wandered all over the world trying to escape, including across the "ox passage," otherwise known as the Bosporus. This is, incidentally, also thought to be the site of the crashing rocks that Jason (of the Argonauts fame) had to use his wits to sail through. My favorite, though, is the Bellerophon myth that features in the Iliad and is set in southwestern Turkey. To atone for his sins, Bellerophon is sent to kill the Chimera, a fire-breathing monster terrorizing the locals. He successfully completes the task with his trusty steed Pegasus, and today, in the foothills of Mt. Olympos, you can see the "remains" of the Chimera -- around 20 small flames that start spontaneously out of the rocks. According to Lonely Planet, they were once so bright that sailors could use them for coastal navigation. Bellerophon's tomb is said to be at Tlos, near Kas.

Bellerophon's tomb at Tlos
The Chimera in Olympos, Turkey

Of course, the area's biggest contribution to Greek myth (or history, if you prefer) comes in the Iliad and the Odyssey, those high-school classics. Those stories were always thought to be myths, but archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann was convinced Troy was a real place, and in the late 1800s, he found it, not too far from the modern-day city of Canakkale. Not everyone is convinced that the Troy archaeological site is actually the site of ancient Troy, but at the moment, it's the only claimant.

Wow, this got really long, so I think I'll stop here. Even though I haven't talked about the Roman Empire, Alexander the Great, the Byzantine Empire or the Ottoman Empire. Or talked about Turkey's numerous Biblical links -- St. Paul was born in Tarsus, Abraham was maybe born in Urfa and lived in Harran, Iznik used to be known as Nicaea (think Nicene Creed and the early Christian councils), St. Nicholas was born in Patara and preached at Myra, St. Philip was martyred at Hierapolis, Mary maybe ascended to heaven at Ephesus...

The Red Basilica in Bergama, one of the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation. All seven churches are in modern-day Turkey -- this was the church that needed to repent.

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Will Anyone Come to Istanbul Now?

After the events of the last four days -- the U.S. Embassy was bombed and American tourist Sarai Sierra was found dead -- Turkey's reputation as a safe and moderate country has taken quite a hit in the eyes of the world. Sigh. It really makes me sad because for all that, despite its faults, Turkey remains a safe and moderate country. But I'm guessing none of my friends will come to visit now. :(  I was going to write more, but frankly, I find the whole thing kind of depressing.

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