Showing posts with label Global Minds Book Club. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Global Minds Book Club. 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
"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:




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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Getting Ready for Global Minds Book Club

 
A perfect day on my patio
 Yesterday was a spectacular sunny day in Istanbul. Not a cloud in the sky with total Chamber-of-Commerce weather. What a fun day of friends, food, and shopping we had! In the afternoon, my friend Barb and I just chilled out. There's nothing like the start of a three-day weekend and a new book to read. This month: Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart."
 Life's a bowl of cherries sometimes.
Sometimes you just have to slow down and enjoy it!
 
You may enjoy my other posts about Istanbul's Global Minds Book Club:
 
 
 
Why yes, Empty Nest Expat is on Facebook. Meet me there and "like" my page so you don't miss an update.
 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Five Most Popular Posts From 2012 for the 'Empty Nest Expat' Blog

I didn't get to blog as much as I wanted last year because I devoted many hours of my time to learning Turkish. Still, I increased my number of posts from the year before. Here are the top five most popular posts written in 2013:
"Hürrem," the leading character
 of the show 
 
1. Ready to Try Some Turkish TV? Watch one episode of "The Magnificent Century"
This soap opera is must-watch TV in Turkey and surrounding countries. The Turkish Prime Minister has threatened to ban it for focusing too much on the Sultan's bedroom, and not enough on the Sultan's time on the battlefield. The Prime Minister's threats of censorship, of course, just increase popular interest.
Maiden's Tower on the Bosphorus
 
2. Time Out for Turkish
This post shares my Turkish language journey and some of the internet resources I have used along the way in my early days of learning. The irony is, now that I've finally paid to attend a traditional classroom, my learning is exponentially faster! It turns out you can't beat a real teacher walking you through the grammar.
 
3. Breaking the Silence on Street Harassment in Istanbul
Single women travellers are one of the largest growth segments in travel. I tried to point out the cost to countries and local businesses when women don't feel safe on their streets.
Here we are discussing Murakami
 
4. Discussing Books with the Global Minds Book Club
When I explain the idea behind the Global Minds Book Club as people from around the world discussing books from around the world, everywhere I go, people get excited. They love that idea! And once you've discussed a book with an international group, it can seem a bit tame to only discuss a title with only people from your own country. Challenge your thinking!
Global activist Eve Ensler
She doesn't look away
from the world's worst situations
 
5. VDay 2013: One Billion Women Rising Globally & .... Dancing!
In 2012, I acted in my first play "The Vagina Monologues" to support Eve Ensler and her amazing, amazing work on behalf of ending violence against women. I loved the experience, the time I spent with the women in the cast, and I look forward to doing my part in Eve Ensler's next big project: #1billionrising which happens next month. I hope you'll participate too.

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You might enjoy:

Most popular posts for the 'Empty Nest Expat' blog for 2009

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Curious Souls" Gather in Istanbul for Discussion

The extraordinary painting of Setenay Özbek
at Art 350 Art Gallery in Istanbul
Breathtaking Color
 
Isil Musluer
One of the wonderful friends I have made through Istanbul Internations and my Global Minds Book Club is my Turkish friend Isil. Isil is an attractive, fun, positive and intelligent woman who is always uplifting to be around. 
Me with Curious Souls who were new to me
Mehmet and Tayfun
Isil recently organized a wonderful monthly discussion group through Internations called "Curious Souls." I couldn't help but think that Gertrude Stein, famous for her literary salons in Paris in the 1930s, would have been proud of Isil -- such was the delightful company of this group.
The audience primed for discussion
'Curious Souls' combined many of Isil's friends from Internations, and her friends from Istanbul Toastmasters. Toastmasters as an organization is new to Turkey. It was so fun to see my friend's ability to gather interesting people and create a wonderful atmosphere for discussion. Frankly, I was a a bit in awe of it! 
Petek in deep discussion
 We gathered at Art 350, an art gallery on the Anatolian (Asian) side of Istanbul, right on the main shopping street at 350 Bagdat Caddesi (Bagdad Street). We were surrounded by the inspiring painting of Setenay Özbek.
A discussion in full swing

 Isil invited people with these words:
 Are you fascinated with new ideas and new ways of looking at life? Do you have an insatiable desire to learn more? Do you get immense pleasure in listening to inspirational stories of great minds, and are you filled with appreciation for great talents? In short, are you a "Curious Soul"?  If you are, then, we are getting together once in a month, to watch two or three very interesting, mind-stretching and entertaining TED conferences. After each video conference, we carry a guided discussion and express our own points of view. If you are ready to experience the flourishing of diverse ideas, if you would like to express yourself, expand your horizons and grow together, and while doing these, if you would like to pass an enjoyable time together, then I invite you to come and join us.
Listening to each other
We discussed these videos:

Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success.
Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story
Neil Harbisson: I listen to color (so appropriate given our surroundings)
Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.
 What is the single story told about your country?
 
I volunteered to moderate the discussion generated by Chimamanda Adichie's "The danger of a single story" since I had read her book "Half of a Yellow Sun" in our Global Minds Book Club. 
 
That video is the gift that keeps on giving, as a discussion could be had for hours on what is the single story about your country, or your race, or your class, or your religion, or your family, or you. We only had time to discuss what is the single story about your country.
 
I explained that before I came to Turkey, I didn't even have one single story about Turkey -- I had no stories. I knew nothing about Turkey as a nation, probably because our national histories don't bump up against each other.
 
I gave as an example the Bosphorus Bridge, a bridge every bit as beautiful as the Golden Gate Bridge, yet I had never seen a photo of it before coming to Turkey. Turkey has a long way to go until the other side of the world has even a single story, let alone multiple stories about it.
 
The insight I gained from the discussion is that if Turks tell a single story about each other, it's based on where they are from. They ask each other, "what city are you from?" and some decide immediately what someone's values and ethnicity are based on their image of the town.
 
I've seen that happen quite a bit actually; I've even had friends asked "what city is your husband from?" in job interviews. I could completely identify with this problem coming from Iowa, which generates the single story of "flyover country" if it generates a story at all.

 I felt trusted

It felt great to lead the discussion there; I felt trusted. Here we were discussing something so close to Turkish hearts in a language foreign to them. Out of the 30+ people there, only two of us were from another country. Could you find 30 of your friends able to discuss a topic all in the same foreign language in your home country? I could not.
Not a single person brought up the Turkish "single story" that used to drive Turks crazy for years as recently as five years ago: the story told in the movie "Midnight Express" about an American imprisoned for drug charges. I asked a woman about it later and she said "I thought about it though!"  That old single story about Turkey, while new to me, has been left behind, which I am sure, cheers the Turks. Their story is much, much bigger now.
Another great discussion
led by Alper Rozanes
generated by Alain de Botton's video
"A kinder, gentler philosophy of success"
 You know the discussions are good when you almost hate to see the next video start up.

Another insight I had from the combination of videos watched that day is how there seems to be a dominate "single story" about what constitutes success around the world: career success and wealth. How useful for the world's corporations.

Yet, there are many other ways to be successful, each an expression of human excellence. Think of success in marriage, or as a caregiver, or as a parent, or as a creative. We too often care too much about that dominant single story of success, rather than listen to our own drummer.

Isil's idea of a 'Curious Souls' discussion group would be an inexpensive idea to replicate anywhere in the world, wouldn't it? It's exciting the range of content available on the Internet.  It's no longer necessary to settle for what's on TV. We can skip the violence and go straight to intellectually uplifting.
 
 One last glorious painting by Setenay Ozbek

Friday, March 23, 2012

Africa Day @ the Global Minds Book Club

On the first stunning weekend of Spring
we met to discuss an amazing book
in a beautiful home
overlooking the Bosphorus.
Knowing that my Ghanian friend Clarence wouldn't be in Istanbul forever, I asked him if we could read an African book and have him moderate our discussion at our Global Minds Book Club, which he founded.

My view of Africa from Istanbul was completely different than the view I had back home. In America, the only thing one reads about Africa in the media is generally aid, AIDS, drought, and other negative stories. Think of the most recent American media firestorm about Africa: the KONY video. It's a simplified African story told by non-native white people with motives that are hotly debated. 

In Istanbul, however, I see TV commercials aimed at African consumers. These commercials  made me realize there is a large middle class there. Clarence says there are over 50 million middle-class consumers in Africa right now.

Clarence, who founded the popular Istanbul "Global Minds" book club over a year ago, usually runs the group as a complete democracy with a 'majority rules' vote on each title, but in this case, there might have been a bit of enlighted and beneavolent leadership. 

Clarence suggested Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel "Half of a Yellow Sun" based on this wonderful TED video of her warning all of us as people to beware the "single story" we have in our heads about other nationalities, races, and classes of people. It's really worth 18:49 minutes of your time.
I picked up a copy of her book and noticed the cover had a sticker denoting it as the 2007 Orange Prize for fiction winner. I was intrigued to learn the Orange Prize for Fiction is a fairly new prize started in 1996 (which you can "like" on Facebook for more information) that honors the best book published by a female in a given year in Britain. The announcement of the long list of candidate titles for the prize coincides with International Woman's Day.

It stunned me to realize that this was the first book I had ever read by a black African author EVER in my life. I found that sobering. I've read books about Africa, such as "Out of Africa" by Isak Dinesen (a European expat living in Kenya), but here I am, in my 50s, and this is the first time I've ever heard a black African voice in novel form. Even though I'm a librarian, a life-long avid reader, and a life-long book club attender, I hadn't even gotten to the point where I had the limiting "single story" about a people, I realized, I had NO story from their point-of-view. That means every single thing I've ever read or heard about black Africans to date was not through their eyes, but someone else's.

I do think that's changing now in America as many high schools are having their students read "Things Fall Apart" by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. I want to read that as my next African title.  Of course, like many American women, the most recent stories I've had about Africa have all come through Oprah's eyes.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote her book about middle-class Igbo people struggling to survive in the Biafran war when she was just 29 years old (note to self - my only previous knowledge of Biafra - again from an outsider - a George Harrison album cover devoted to starving children in Biafra). It was such a riveting story. I want to read everything she writes!

I absolutely loved this book. An introduction to a new author, a new place, a new people are what makes book clubs such a powerful tool for sharing ideas and life-long learning. It was my book club that got me to pick this book up.

After I finished the book, I read more about the Nigerian Civil War on Wikipedia and was frankly astounded and reminded of the evils of colonialism. 
Norah is from Kenya and was our gracious hostess.
 She said "feel free like a housefly,"
a Kenyan aphorism of welcome telling us to be comfortable.

I told her we call it "refrigerator rights"
in America.
Good friends have "refrigerator rights,"
they can just walk in your house and open the refrigerator.
Clarence and a new member from America.

True to form, Clarence used the title
 as a launching pad to discuss all things African:
 politics, gender relationships, tribal customs,
 superstitions, economics.
It was a fantastic, frank, fearless exchange of views.
Nationalities represented for this book:
 Kenya (2), Ghana, Canada, America (3),
 Ireland (2), New Zealand.

 We all wondered where our Turkish voices were that day -
we were dying to know what they thought of the book. 
Norah's ambience included both beautiful African art,
this piece represented the Masai tribe,
and tribal music playing softly in the background.
I loved hearing Norah's perspective!
Ana, a Kiwi, me, a Yank, and Jackie, an Irish lass
We had planned to watch a Ghanian movie afterwards
but we had a four-hour book discussion,
our longest ever!
It was delightful watching twilight
descend over the bridge as we talked.
Pausing to watch the ship go under the bridge,
from Norah's balcony,
I felt so blessed.
It was a magnificent way to spend the day.

I can promise author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I will not stop at this "single story."
I want to read more African fiction and stories.
Her outstanding book made me care about people
I never heard of before.
It also made me want to know more.

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