Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Exploring Üsküdar's Historic Fish Market

Üsküdar's Historic Fish Market;
Fishmongers shout to the customers
what is on offer.
It adds to the fun.
There were so many kinds of fish,
yet I wanted to use the kind
I was most familiar with.
Where were the salmon fillets?
I saw just one lonely salmon fillet
on display.
When I said what I wanted,
the fishmonger urged me
to go behind the counter.
I did as told, not understanding.
The other fishmonger opened up
the deep freeze and went in.
Will this do?
I almost screamed
it was so fun
to see that giant fish.
A memory of watching
Martha Stewart videos
with my oldest child
came rushing back to me.
It was before Martha
became really big.
We marveled that Martha
would buy and handle
a gigantic salmon
in her kitchen.
She bought the entire fish??
We admired Martha
risking all that money
preparing one gigantic salmon. 
What if it didn't turn out right
when she cooked it?
Martha was thinking big,
obviously.
The fishmonger thought
I was German.
In my imperfect Turkish,
I tried to say,
"I'm not German, I'm American."
But like all language learners everywhere,
it wasn't exactly right.
Apparently, I said:
"The German doesn't exist!"
Custom-cut fillets.
I felt so lucky,
and so full of anticipation
to enjoy my own cooking.
I wanted to take advantage
of Turkey's incredible
nut crop
and make
pistachio-encrusted salmon.
Later, after I had my wrapped salmon fillets from the fish market, I went to the nut shop to buy fresh pistachio meats. I was asking questions in slow Turkish about the various kinds of pistachios.

A Turkish man barged into the shop, shouted out his order, oblivious to the fact that I was ordering. The shopkeeper switched to the new, louder patron. "Men get waited on before women in Turkey, even if the woman was first?" I asked, after the man left.

"Maalesef (unfortunately)," the shopkeeper replied. I said 'no thank you' to placing my order with him and took my small request (1/4 kilo) to the shopkeeper's competitor across the street.

"Roasted pistachio nuts please," I ordered in Turkish. The man reached inside a heated drawer and scooped up the warm nuts into a paper bag for me. It was so satisfying to take my business there. I swear the pistachios tasted better for the lack of sexism!
My meal turned out so well!
Martha would be proud, I think.
My finished dinner
of pistachio-encrusted salmon
and Mediterranean bakla,
pine-nuts & herbs
(Bakla is Turkey's version
of green beans).

Shopping the Üsküdar fish market
was a fun experience.
And delicious too!



Interested in other posts about homemade food in Istanbul?
Take a look at these:







Yes, 'Empty Nest Expat' is on Facebook. You can follow me there, or sign up at the right for an RSS feed of my blog. 

Enjoyed this post? Share it! Thank you.

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Midnight at the Pera Palace" with the Istanbul Global Minds Book Club

If ever there was a book that was a perfect match for my Istanbul "Global Minds Book Club" it is this one: "Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul" by Georgetown International Relations and Government professor Charles King.

We selected it for our January read this month, because a reporter and photographer from Ankara, Turkey, were flying into Istanbul to do a photo shoot and cover story on our book club for Tempo Magazine.

We wanted to pick a book that Turkish readers of the magazine would also find interesting, so that we as a book club had done everything we could to help promote reading culture in Turkey.
Red carpet? Of course.
The dapper staff
immediately greets everyone
who walks in the door,
happy to help you make the most
of your visit
"Welcome,
to the Pera Palace
of Istanbul"
To make our day and the photo shoot extra special, we decided to meet at the glorious, historic Pera Palace itself. The Pera Palace is the hotel that was built by the creator of the luxury train line, the Orient Express, which used to transport glamorous passengers in style from Paris to Istanbul. Upon arriving in Istanbul, passengers would be hand-carried to the hotel from the Sirkeci train station, in a Turkish tahtırevan, or palanquin, as it is known in English.
Imagine seeing Istanbul
for the first time
through the windows of a
Turkish tahtırevan
The Pera Palace Hotel
boasts of the second-oldest elevator
in all of Europe,
installed in 1892,
only three years
after the elevator
in the Eiffel Tower.
It's still operational.
One special little nook
in the hotel
is the Patisserie de Pera
We didn't meet here,
but the little patisserie
is such a happy room
I can't resist
sharing photos of it.
 The colors!

The friendly workforce
know how to make
every visit fun,
and who doesn't fancy a
festive fascinator?
Spring flowers
abound in the lobby.
 What could be more dazzling
to a book club
than a spectacular library
between the lobby and the bar?
 Our group was meeting in
the Orient Bar
Who else has enjoyed
the Orient Bar
before we arrived
for our special day?
Atatürk,
the founder of the Turkish Republic,
Ernest Hemingway,
adventurer and famous macho man,
plus Agatha Christie,
bestselling mystery writer
 Giggling with friends
before everyone else arrives
Our second generation
club organizers,
Matt Howell
and Nilüfer Tufanoğlu
Our club member
Filiz Kavak,
made the day a delight
by arranging press coverage
and booking our spectacular setting
With triple our normal turnout
it was nice that the bar
had been set up
in small discussion groups
Bookish brain food!
The Global Minds Book Club
prides itself on being
 people from around the world,
discussing books
from around the world.
On this day,
with thirty people present,
we had five continents represented
and fourteen different countries.
It helped to have at least
one Turk at every table.
We had such a
riveting, spirited discussion.
Nationalities represented
in my group:
Turkish, Russian, Polish,
Netherlands, Venezuelan,
American, and Chinese.
What made "Midnight at the Pera Palace: the Modern History of Istanbul" such a fun read is that it was written by a yabancı (a foreigner to Turkey). All of the angst that would go into the description of one's own history wasn't there; it was the fantastic storytelling that remained.

I describe 'Midnight' as an expat history of expat and refugee Istanbul. The book felt so alive and relevant when I was reading about White Russians refugees in Istanbul during the 1920s while the ruble was crashing this month. The club loved reading about the musicians, diplomats, spies, feminists, and future statesmen who contributed in their way to the city Napoleon described as the capital of the world, if the world had one.

I found the central metaphor of why the book was called "Midnight at the Pera Palace" stunning. I won't spoil it by sharing it. Some of our members wanted more Pera Palace stories in the book, and one of our Turkish members said she was surprised that there were no historical surprises. The history in 'Midnight' of 20th-century Istanbul and Turkey was more-or-less as she had been taught. 

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Istanbul and Turkey. One of our members said "sequel, please!" Personally, I think this author needs a movie contract. The cinematography of this setting, this time, and this history would be irresistible.

Would you like to learn more about the Global Minds Book Club? I am so proud of our book club founder and inspiration, Clarence Lomot Nartey, of Ghana. It isn't easy to create a lasting legacy as an expat. Clarence did. Global Minds Book Club is now starting its fourth year. Clarence, you would have been deeply pleased with yesterday's success.

Here are some posts about past discussions:



Want to find out how you can help promote reading culture in Turkey? Read this post:


Want to learn more about the Pera Palace Hotel, now owned by the Sheikh of Dubai? Check out the web site. Their memorable video actually does a great job of capturing what our day was like.

Want to know where 'Midnight' author, Charles King, goes to eat first when he comes to Istanbul? Culinary Backstreets blog has the lowdown.

Looking for another great book from this side of the world?
Here's three I recommend:




Why not follow this blog, Empty Nest Expat? You can do so by signing up for RSS feed, to the right, or 'liking' the Empty Nest Expat page on Facebook. Your choice.

Like this blog post? Share it! Thank you.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

One of the street foods Istanbul is famous for is roasted chestnuts. I lived here for four years before I learned it wasn't just a street food, but a cherished Turkish wintertime tradition for home too. Roasted chestnuts must have been a tradition for America as well. That fabulous Christmas carol had to come from somewhere, didn't it?

Recently, I moved into a new apartment, with a young Turkish woman. The first time she made homemade roasted chestnuts, she said, "now, I feel like it is really winter." Then she taught me how to make them at home. It's so easy, and so satisfying!
First, cut a cross into the hull,
so the hull will steam open later.
Then soak the chestnuts
so they will steam
themselves over heat.

If you skip this step,
or don't soak them long enough,
(at least 10 minutes)
the nuts become
hard and bitter to eat.

I discovered
you can throw them back
into the water,
to try and get them right
a second time.
Ooohh,
don't they just look wonderful?
They cook so beautifully
in a cast iron skillet.
Grateful for a real fire
on a cold winter night
Last week, I was invited to a party at a Turkish film maker's
place on Büyükada Island in the Marmara Sea. "There will be a fireplace!" my friend Burcu said, on an especially cold day. I wondered if it would be possible to roast chestnuts over it, just like the song, so I brought a kilo of large Bursa chestnuts as a gift.
A fire is so
comforting on a
cold, Winter evening
Our host,
Turkish film maker
 Erdal Rahmi Hanay
It was possible
to roast them
over an open fire!
Roasted chestnuts
were such a fun treat
to cook and share!
Former American
chestnut range
I became curious why there aren't chestnuts for sale in America anymore. I was sad to discover that at one time, chestnut forests were plentiful in the eastern United States with stands adding up to three billion trees. At one time, chestnut forests accounted for 25-30% of all of Appalachia's forests. Unable to fight off disease from imported Asian chestnuts, the American chestnuts developed blight and died off.

There is a group trying to bring back the original American chestnut, and a group trying to bring back a disease-resistant hybrid. I wish them well. Roasting chestnuts is a beautiful wintertime tradition. We don't want that gorgeous song, to be the equivalent of an audio fossil hearkening back to an earlier time whose reality we have forgotten. Let's make it real!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Alina Gallo's Memorializations in Miniature: Gezi Park

Alina Gallo, artist
One of the beautiful things about my PAWI (Professional Women of Istanbul) group is that I meet interesting American expats who are interacting with the region in their own unique way.

This year, I met a young painter who was memorializing key events that have occurred in the Middle East and North Africa through her art. Her name is Alina Gallo. She hails from Long Island, New York. When I met Alina, she was living here in Istanbul, inspired by the events of the region.
Berkin Elvan was
14 years old when he
went out of the house
to fetch bread for his family's dinner.
Struck by a tear gas canister
to the head,
as protests were occurring
in his neighborhood,
Berkin lingered
in a coma for 269 days,
and then died.
In learning about Alina's art, one of the first things that struck me was the humility with which she approached her work. When I first saw her studies for the miniature commemorating the funeral of Berkin Elvan, I was moved to tears. "this is a masterpiece," I told her.

Alina demurred. She thought of herself as one artist in a long line of miniature painters who documented moments of history and cultural importance. She drew attention away from her own contribution. 

"It is through me, not of me. That is the power of the miniature form. It becomes an expression of shared experience and collective consciousness. This is the beauty of creative energy." she said.

Alina's medium is egg tempura, a paint made with egg yolks, ground pigments and water. One of her paint brushes has just three hairs, another has just two. She works with a magnifying glass and illustrator's glasses. 
Berkin Elvan's Funeral March, 2014
Text with painting: What happens if you and your family live near a place in Istanbul where all of the protests are happening? Fourteen-year-old Berkin Elvan, ran to the store for bread as his family was settling down for dinner. Berkin's family were Kurdish Alevis, so minorities both ethically and religiously in Turkey. Berkin was shot squarely in the head with a tear-gas container by an Istanbul policeman. 15-year-old Berkin Elvan's funeral march took place on March 12, 2014. Elvan died after 296 days in a coma after being struck on the head by a government tear gas canister while going out to get bread for his family during the Gezi protests in June 2013. After his death, thousands proceeded with his coffin to the funeral ceremony and cemetery. As a symbolic gesture many bakeries closed that day and citizens tied loaves of bread to doors and windows with black ribbons. As soon as he was buried, mourners and protesters were immediately met with police crack-downs all over the city of Istanbul and in other cities across Turkey. 

Alina's work reminded me of another artist, Walt Whitman, who documented through poetry and prose, youth spent and lost working toward noble visions during the American Civil War.

Back then, Walt Whitman would sit next to the bedside of a young person who gave his all in pursuit of a better future for his nation and was destined to pass on. 

It mattered to Whitman that his reader knew the person behind the sacrifice for a noble cause: what the young person cared about, who he was sweet on, how he wanted to be remembered to his mother. 

In humanizing the individuals behind a great movement, it was as if he said to his audience, "take in the magnificence and the ordinariness of this human being. Feel this loss with me."

Berkan Elvan may not have been of the Gezi protests, but he was one of the causalities of casually-used excessive force.

Alina documented the loss of a sweet boy, that many Turks, and others who were watching, felt deeply. Today would have been Berkin Elvan's 16th birthday.
Educated Gezi youth
literally couldn't wait
to contribute
to their country.
Their enthusiasm
was not welcomed.
I was grateful that Alina was in Istanbul to honor the struggles of Gezi Park youth with her attention and work. Like me, she observed the events, but wasn't of the events, She painted it one step removed. I felt like she was capturing what I was watching. The Turks, themselves, they were the ones actually living it.

The Gezi Youth Generation, members of a secular movement to save an urban park in a city where parks are in short supply, brought an idealism and spirituality to their quest that was deeply moving to experience first-hand. There was purity and sweetness and goodness in that park. You could feel it. It was an incredible privilege to visit it. 

The Gezi youth generation is deeply cognizant of all the sacrifices made by the founding generation of Turkish citizens. Their deep awareness of this can only be called reverence. Watching them gather, sing, camp, help each other, celebrate their democratic wishes with a sense of community that is as rare as it was special made me contemplate the sacrifices of the Turkish people at the beginning of their nation. Now the new nation was bearing fruit. Those sacrifices had found artistic, intellectual, and spiritual flowering with this generation ninety years later. 

The new youth movement was expressed with a collective wish, not for more of the new-found prosperity Turkey has achieved, but a desire to save a beloved spot from over-development, a traditional tea garden, and the trees and park that surrounded it in the center of downtown Istanbul.

A highly rational (not emotional) Turkish mathematician said to me that, at that moment, if the Turkish prime minister had held out a hand, and said, "I too was once young. I too have known what it was to dream," he would have emerged larger than before. But that isn't what happened. His heart wasn't in that place. Instead, he responded with cold action, deriding all of the young protesters as çapulcu, or 'thugs' in Turkish.
Istiklal Riots
"Everywhere is Taksim!"
Kadikoy Riots
I loved the painting of "Berkin Elvan's Funeral March" and bought it. I then commissioned Alina to do a painting of what happened in my neighborhood during Gezi using my experience as a resident and this iconic image by photographer Daniel Etter as inspiration. Below is the sketch in progress.
Gezi Park Movement: June 1st
Alina wrote: "Sketch in progress for a piece depicting a night during the Gezi Park movement in 2013 in Beşiktaş, Istanbul. I have been reconnecting to the Gezi movement with this work- seeing and reading again so many stories of the community coming together for each other and their country. In the foreground waves break up against the pier along sea. Nature in this context reminds me of what holds us all, what cleans the air and refreshes energies amid turmoil. The flag bearer stands amid teargas during the riots ... in Beşiktaş on the night of June 1. A Guy Fawkes mask lies on the ground and a broken television in the pile of barricades to reflect the media situation in turkey as well as an evolution towards a social media landscape. In the apartment above families bang pots on the balcony in support and through the trees is Gezi on the hill with a backhoe truck looming." 
Sleepers in Gezi
Text with painting: “To contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Turkey began on 28 May, 2013. Subsequently, supporting protests and strikes took place across Turkey protesting a wide range of concerns, at the core of which were issues of freedom of the press, of expression, assembly, and the government’s encroachment on Turkey’s secularism. Now, having been spared destruction, Gezi Park and its famous sycamore trees have also become a sanctuary for many Syrian refugee families. In Turkey, alone the total number of registered Syrian refugees (Istanbul’s refugees are mianly unregistered) has reached over 800,000 since the onset of the Syrian civil war. Here, those displaced by war sleep, roll their cigarettes and quietly congregate in the morning hours. Şişli Camii lies in the distance and through the trees cranes cross the sky. The Bosphorus forms a migration bottleneck for thousands of birds as they travel from Europe into the Middle East and Africa, a parallel and ancient narrative of mass movement between continents.” ~ Alina Gallo
Alina is applying for a Fulbright Scholar fellowship for the United Arab Emirates. I’m pleased the idea was sparked when she visited my “Fete for Fulbrights” this summer. Her goal is to teach young Emirati women at Zayid University cross-cultural miniature arts and the technique of egg tempera painting.

Alina’s miniature themes extend beyond Gezi. That’s the sorrowful part of the Middle East. It keeps supplying iconic moments. I was deeply touched to see freelance journalist Marie Colvin’s work memorialized. Ms. Colvin, a dashing international foreign correspondent, who covered the Syrian civil war zone in an eye patch due to previous moments of daring-do, lost her life in her quest to share the conflict with a world struggling to understand.

I urge you, gentle reader, to contemplate the other beautiful miniatures on Alina’s new website. Our mutual friend, Catherine Bayar, has written an appreciation of Alina’s work that appeared in Hand/Eye Magazine.

Additional press on Alina’s work:

Time Out Dubai: Tales of War, JamJar artist Alina Gallo Explains her Artistic Expression 




About Alina Gallo - the JamJar Residence

You may be interested in these other posts I wrote:

Gezi Park Turkish Protests: Where is a Range of Opinion?

A Fete for Fulbrights

The perfect tribute to Vaclav Havel: The Vaclav Havel Award for Creative Dissent

Listening to Dissidents

The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia

Yes, Empty Nest Expat is on Facebook, you can follow me there! To make sure you don't miss a post though, I recommend having the latest post emailed to you so it waiting for you in your inbox. Check my sidebar on the right to sign up. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Mom & Sister: Two 'Sisters on the Fly'

My little sister Karla
Morning Breakfast with my Mom
I'm not the only one in my family with a yen to travel. My mom and sister have become "Sisters on the Fly," members of America's largest outdoor women's group. 
All decked out for a weekend
of "Sisters on the Fly."
"Sisters on the Fly" offers empowerment and sisterhood through exceptional outdoor adventures. The Sisters like to say that "as a group of women, we challenge ourselves in all that we set our mind to. There is no age, color, religion or political group. All women who want to share in the adventures of "sisterhood" are welcome."
My Mom and sister's
"Rick Rack Shack"
 In a rick-rack
holiday mood!
 Camper transportation:
the prettiest little bicycle
 Holiday spirit!
 This is the first time
I've seen a pink chandelier
for an outdoor camper,
I'll admit
 These photos are from
 a recent holiday open house,
not an actual "Sisters on the Fly" event
 Interiors
Setting a beautiful table
for an outdoor adventure
is a tradition in our family.

My mom once came back
to her campsite in Aspen
and the neighboring campers
left her a note
to say how fascinated they were
to watch her set
a beautiful table
just for herself
on the picnic table.
 They loved her example.
Sisters meeting in 'Sisters on the Fly' get together, often via camper caravans, find a great outdoor spot to meet, and enjoy a weekend of laughter and good times. The campers that women have purchased to do this are often adorable vintage trailers that the ladies have customized and made uniquely their own.

Here are some of their adventures: fly-fishing camp, horseback riding, and sightseeing and exploring beautiful natural parks.  

 SOTF says, "We encourage you to join us on one of our adventures and let yourself be spoiled rotten, learn to fish, to be a real Western Cowgirl, run rivers, and enjoy pure highway traveling fun. The best part is meeting all those new sisters you didn't even know you had.
 just "Remember the rules:
No men, no pets, no kids 
...and be nice."
In 2015, Sisters on the Fly is going to caravan the entire Route 66! Won't that be a sight with all those vintage trailers rolling down America's vintage highway?

Men are banned from events, although my Mom says many women often have their husbands help them get their camper set up for the weekend and then bid hubby adieu.

All kinds of women participate from hard-charging career women to single moms just eeking by. It's a range of ladies who kick back to appreciate the great outdoors and enjoy fun fellowship.
"We were going to
change the world today
but then something sparkly
caught our eye."

Would you like to learn more about Sisters on the Fly?
Check out their website here.

You might enjoy
some other fun posts
from Colorado
in the American West:









Why not follow my blog via Facebook?
 See my sidebar to 'like my page.
 
Travel Sites Catalog All Traveling Sites Expat Women—Helping Women Living Overseas International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory expat Czech Republic website counter blog abroadWho links to me? Greenty blog