Showing posts with label Turkish Republic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Turkish Republic. 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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Monday, January 5, 2015

Alina Gallo's Memorializations in Miniature:Berkin Elvan & 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 know 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."

Berkin 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

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Back in print from 100 years ago - Turkish and American women reflecting on their cross-cultural experience


I came across this marvelous book series "Cultures in Dialogue" the other day, and wished I could park myself down immediately to see what had changed for American female expats living and writing in Turkey 100 years ago, and what was the same.

Here's how the series publishers describe it:
Cultures in Dialogue returns to print sources by women writers from the East and West. Series One considers the exchanges between Ottoman, British, and American women from the 1880s to the 1940s. Their varied responses to dilemmas such as nationalism, female emancipation, race relations and modernization in the context of the stereotypes characteristic of Western harem literature reframe the historical tensions between Eastern and Western cultures, offering a nuanced understanding of their current manifestations.
Obviously, the Ottoman Empire is no more, so it would be impossible to see the Sultan at Yıldız Palace as Anna Bowman Dodd did.

Anna Bowman Dodd, the author pictured above, traveled throughout Istanbul and shared her impressions of household management, education, slavery, marriage, women's rights from a female travel writer's point-of-view.

The eternal conversation on cross-cultural female emancipation will still be occurring in some form 100 years from now. How interesting it would be to see the progress from 100 years back.

Even today, only 12% of Turkish women have been out of their country. How fun it would be to read Zeyneb Hanoum's impressions of Europe as she visited it at the turn of the last century or to read the memoirs of the famous feminist from the early Turkish Republic, Halide Edib.

So many books, so little time! Kudos to the publishers for bringing these historical voices back to the conversation.



You may also be interested in these posts:

#EnSonNeOkuyorsun What are you reading lately?

"My Little Library in Anatolia" by Kaya Genç

"The People Who Go"

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meeting Chuck Hunter, a visit to the home of the U.S. Consul General in Istanbul

Consul General
Charles (Chuck) F. Hunter and me.
Note the spectacular suzani
in the background.
This year, we have a new Consul General in Istanbul, as Consul General Scott Kilner has retired from the foreign service and his three-year mission to Istanbul was finished.

Our new Consul General is named Chuck Hunter. He was born in Wisconsin, and attended Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, like his father and grandfather. Raised in California, he attended Stanford University for his M.A. and PhD. He speaks French, Arabic, and Turkish in addition to English. 

Chuck is an openly gay foreign service officer. This *is* history. After all, it was just a few years ago, that the policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was ended in the American military. That policy required gay people to be inauthentic if they wanted to serve their country. Those days are over.

My country is actively expanding the spectrum of Americans who represent it, and I find that to be fantastic. The American economic dream may be in trouble for the lower and middle classes, but gosh darn it, our democracy is becoming more diversified. Indeed, I read just the other day that a Native American woman, a member of the Hopi Tribe, was appointed to be a federal judge. If that isn't exciting, I don't know what is.
I love being represented
by a State Department diplomat
who is a young mother
of a 15-month-old child.
Go America Go!
Pictured above, me with
Deputy Principal Officer
Deborah R. Munnuti
Me and Zlatana Jovanovic-Dicker from Kosovo.
Zlatana is an architect and
married to American
Craig Dicker,
General Public Affairs Officer
of the American mission.
and me giggling at the fun
of being two Americans enjoying
exotic Turkish divans
and Middle Eastern tables
inlaid with mother-of-pearl
at the Consul General's home.
A pinch me, "We're living in Istanbul!" moment.
Celebrating a shared moment together
as Americans in Istanbul:
and our Consul General Chuck Hunter.
A wonderfully uplifting morning!

You may also enjoy these posts:






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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?
 
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