Showing posts with label Atatürk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Atatürk. Show all posts

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
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?
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.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Fete for Fulbrights and Friends

 My Turkish Breakfast
If someone were to ask me what I did this last weekend, I could only reply "have breakfast." Besides the uplifting breakfast I had at Olga's on Sunday, I also held a small 'Fete for Fulbright Scholars and Friends' on Saturday.
Three incredibly dynamic young women
who inspire me:
Dr. Öykü Üluçay (she is Turkish),
Caitlin Nettleson, an American
about to finish her Fulbright year,
and Cassandra Puhls,
a Fulbrighter interested in
international education policy.
When I was young, it was always older people who inspired me. Lately, I've been finding it's the twenty-somethings (including my own children) who are touching my heart and filling me with hope for the future.

In Istanbul, I realized I knew several young Fulbright Scholars. I wanted to celebrate their excellence and give them an opportunity to meet or see those who are from a different year than theirs, plus introduce them to a few other dynamic young people who also inspire me. Not all of them could come. For example, one of them was getting married that day. 
"The Fulbright Program, including the Fulbright-Hays Program, is a program of highly competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchange for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists, founded by United States Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. Under the Fulbright program, competitively selected U.S. citizens may become eligible for scholarships to study, conduct research, or exercise their talents abroad; and citizens of other countries may qualify to do the same in the United States. 
The Fulbright Program is one of the most prestigious awards programs worldwide, operating in over 155 countries. Fifty-three Fulbright alumni have won Nobel Prizes; seventy-eight have won Pulitzer Prizes. More Nobel laureates are former Fulbright recipients than any other award program. 
The program was established to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills." ~ from Wikipedia, May 21, 2014 
I was grateful for a spectacular Spring Day
so we could enjoy the garden.
American Fulbrighter
Abigail Bowman,
and her Turkish friend
Mert Tuncer.
Fellow Iowan Abigail Bowman graduates this June with her M.A. in Ottoman History from Sabancı University here in Istanbul.

When Abby was in 7th grade, she had to write a paper on a revolutionary or a reformer. Her uncle suggested the founder of the Turkish Republic, Atatürk.

Abby's paper and presentation made it all the way to 8th place nationally in America's National History Day competition. The Atatürk Society of America was so thrilled that this young student honored their leader, they sent her to Turkey to experience the country when she was a 9th grader. A lifelong interest in Turkey began to grow.

Anybody who knows Turkey can imagine how Turkish people respond to Abby when she says she wrote a paper on Atatürk in 7th grade.
I was so happy Fulbrighter
Elizabeth Rocas could come.
She brought her visiting American
friend from the States, Jacqueline.
Fulbrighter Niko Dimitrioğlu
 and Elizabeth Rocas
discovering they both speak Greek.
What else does Niko speak?
English, French, Uyghur,
Afghan Persian (Dari),
and Manderin Chinese.
Visiting Texan Shane Largo
represented another
inspiring young American
living here in Istanbul
but unable to make it to breakfast:
her daughter
Katy Herrera.

These young Fulbrighters who are sent out into the world to contribute to, explore, research and develop expertise in different countries are such a wonderful investment in America's future. Frankly, it is such a strategic investment. What could save America more money on wrong moves internationally than subject experts who can advise policy makers on given countries and cultures?

You'd think that would be an easy sell in Washington D.C. You'd be wrong. America simply does not invest as much as other countries in its international experts, even much smaller countries like Russia! For example, the Russians have over 16 ambassadors with more than five years of experience, the Americans have none! (Political scientist Ian Bremmer, Twitter, May 2014).

Salon puts current funding for the Fulbright program at around $234.5 million a year. Next year, a $30 million cut is proposed.

There is no constituency to argue for increasing the funding, save the alumni. The Fulbright Program doesn't create any jobs at home. It doesn't result in hefty contracts for American corporations. 

So this blog post is a message in a bottle to my fellow Americans. When I read about how the Fulbright program funding is in trouble, and I know the quality of the people who go through the program, I want to share with my fellow Americans a wish to keep this program not just alive, but growing.

It seems like common sense to invest in folks who understand other countries and cultures deeply via a non-militarized way. Intercultural exchange is a way to promote a more peaceful and prosperous world. I ask Americans to support continued, and even increasing, funding of the Fulbright program from now until the future.

I invite you to follow the Empty Nest Expat blog on Facebook!

You might also be interested in reading:

Talking about "My People, Iowans," to the Travel Junkies

Why the Obama Presidential Library Should be Built in Springfield, Illinois

President Obama in Prague!

"We are here because enough people ignored the voices who told them the world could not change" 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

#EnSonNeOkudun What are you reading lately?

If one stays in a country long enough as an expat, it's easy to see places where one could contribute.

Turkey recently had its 90th anniversary and it got me to thinking about Turkish reading culture as Turkey approaches its centennial as a Republic. Reading culture here is still a flame in need of kindling, simply because of the incredibly interesting history of the Turkish language.

Turkey used to have an alphabet that looked like Arabic script. It was hard to read because it wasn't consistent, and it contained many loan words from Arabic, Persian, and French. Often court language and the language in the hinterlands wasn't the same.

Atatürk reformed the Turkish language by adopting the Latin alphabet. Think about what a gigantic change that was for Turkish people to absorb! And that was just one of the reforms he was undertaking at the time. When the Republic was formed, only 10% of the population was literate (it was an empire, after all).

I often tell my friends Atatürk and his generation changed the language so people could learn to read, the next generation did exactly that, and now the third generation's job is to learn to love to read.

I meet Turkish "reading role models" everywhere. As a librarian, I nurture, support, and help create reading communities. I thought that Turkey and the Turkish language needed a Twitter hash tag like the English-language one that celebrates reading culture called #Fridayreads. To use a Turkish hash tag that suggested #Fridayreads had religious connotations, so after another false start I finally settled on #EnSonNeOkudun.

I know people will be enthusiastic about something they just read and share it with this hashtag 24/7. But, because Friday is one of the heaviest volume days on Twitter, our beginning community of readers will concentrate their reading celebration all on one day, Friday, every week. Someone looking for a good read for the weekend is sure to find one. Weekly rituals become just that, rituals!

I hope to create conversations about books, blogs, magazine and newspaper articles and help readers discover reading culture and just plain help people find great things to read. People tweeting using this hashtag won't be only using Turkish because there's a sizeable population of Turks reading in multiple languages. Plus, there's a whole expat community in Turkey who also wants to get in on the fun. They'll be tweeting in their native languages.

One of my very favorite things about the idea is that it brings people together, rather than polarizes them. Turkish folks could use some of that right now.

I have messaged friends and my tweeps I've never even met "Can you help me launch dun? Let's celebrate Turkish reading culture - tweet your read each Friday in Turkish or English. Thank you."

The response has been so touching. People say things like, "What can I do to help? Thanks for asking me to participate. I will ask my friends to do it too." Truly, it makes me tear up. I think the phrase "what can I do to help?" maybe even more of a set of magic words than please and thank you.  It's fun to build something together with people.

So I ask you, Turks and the Turkophile community: #EnSonNeOkudun? What are you reading lately?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Who Was Atatürk?

If an expatriate is going to live in Turkey, this book is almost required reading because it is about the person most beloved throughout the nation: Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.  I enjoyed this book because it was interesting to see how one person with vision saw enormous opportunity in the decline of the Ottoman Empire and created something completely new.

The average leader could get get bogged down in mourning the loss of territory, wealth, and power the Ottoman Empire was experiencing.  Atatürk shrewdly knew what was defensible and what was not.  He literally "rebranded" an entire nation, calling it "Turkey" and defended it against the Allied Powers.  Today, the Turks are proud to be the only Islamic country that has never been colonized.

Coming from America, which now celebrates multi-culturalism, this book helped me understand why Turkish people find multi-culturalism so threatening.  At the time of the War of Independence, Turkey was threatened with being "nibbled away" by various ethnic groups claiming "Turkish" land for "their people." With Atatürk's leadership, the land mass known as "Turkey" is one piece and one nation.  The Turks have begun updating their dated thinking on multiculturalism with the beginnings of a more liberalized attitude toward the Kurds, but there is a long way to go yet. Turkish attitudes towards ethnically-diverse groups within Turkey are similar to where mainstream white America was on the subject in the 1950s: "Aren't we all Americans? Aren't we all Turks? Minorities should conform to the culture of the majority." Turks are coming around very, very slowly, like we did, to the idea of "Yes, but....there is nothing wrong with celebrating our varied heritages." 

There are a couple things that totally impressed me about Atatürk. He excelled at all martial and diplomatic strategic activity. He had the forgiveness and detachment one sees within great leaders like Mandela toward his former foes.  For example, when given the opportunity to walk on a Greek Flag to celebrate a Turkish victory, he refused. His neighboring examples of how to run a country were Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, and Mussolini's Italy, yet when other party members wanted him to put his party above the nation, he refused.

Atatürk was superb at cutting losses at what wasn't working, such as the Turkish Arabic-style alphabet and Ottoman-era Turkish language infused with many foreign words, simplifying the whole language with a Latin alphabet. The librarian in me was fascinated by this decision. The agony of cutting off all heritage literature from current and future readers is so momentous! Mango points out though that only 10% of the population was literate at the time of the change so it was less of a risk than first imagined. The hard part remains that only the select few who understand the old script can read it for themselves.  Everyone else has to rely on what "experts" say the old writing says. 

Atatürk wanted women to be liberated to be their best. Turkish women were granted the right to vote in 1930 - compare that with Swiss women who didn't achieve it until 1971!

Atatürk made government secular within a land that was almost 100% Muslim. Rather than be cowed by worries of offending religious sensibilities, he pursued Western-style education and knowledge for his people. He constantly communicated to them his belief that they could make their own destiny. To this day, Turks carry that feeling within them.

Mango's book is considered the definitive source for English-language speakers.  It's a little scary how completely Mango dominates the reading list for English-language readers on all things Turkish.  He have been enormously productive and his output is extensive.
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