Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. 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, 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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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?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain" by Peter Sis

Yesterday I read a children's picture book that took me right back to the nine months I spent in Prague, Czech Republic.

Peter Sis, a Czechoslovak immigrant to America in the 1980s, wrote about what it was like to be born at the start of the Communist regime and grow up in a totalitarian system.

When I lived in Prague, I had listened with extraordinary intent to Czech friends who had gone through this history. I loved hearing their experiences, their wisdom from what they had been through, and learning from them how people and families cope with a dystopian reality.

Peter Sis has compressed his own history and his nations' history into this graphical history that can be read in less than an hour. He bore witness! He warned! It's as if he is handing the reader at home the conversations we expats got to have in Prague with our Czech friends about what it was like.

I can't recommend the book enough. It would make a wonderful book to read together as a family for an intergenerational discussion about freedom.

This book has been widely acclaimed both as a Caldecott Honor book for distinguished illustration (the author's wonderful drawings help tell the story), and as the winner of the Siebert award for the most distinguished informational title in America, for children, in the year it was published.

Here is a short interview with the author.

From "The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain"

“When my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion, and lies. I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it’s hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life— before America—for them.”                 —Peter Sis

You may be interested in these other reads:

The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia" by Milan Simecka

How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulic

In Prague, You Can Enjoy Reading "Café Europa" at the Café Europa

WWII was worse for Central Europe than even our histories and memories tell us

Heda Kovaly, Czech Who Wrote of Totalitarianism, Is Dead at 91  

Understanding Iran: The Power of One Graphic Novel named "Persepolis"


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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An Afternoon of Art and Beauty at the Borusan Contemporary, Part Three

After enjoying a beautiful meal in the Borusan Contemporary museum café, and going up to the 10th floor to see the beautiful view of the Bosphorus from the very top turret in Istanbul's haunted mansion, it was time to explore the art in Turkey's very first office art museum.
This was 1/4 of a Jim Dine painting
with four similar panels.
The color was fantastic.
Every office was full of the most spectacular
coffee table art books.
I could lose myself for hours
just in the books.
These binoculars were in the corner office
so I assume the office belonged to the chairman.
Below, his minimalistic desk.
Someone correct me, if I have this misidentified.

 Color of all hues
uplifted my spirit.
Do they do the same to you?
 
I thought the collection focus
of color repetition
was brilliant.
 The beautiful salon or living room
off of the corner office
had a whimsical, jazzy artwork on the ceiling.
An endearing personal touch.
How could kids resist
even the beauty of this elevator shaft?
What memories this place would create
in the minds of the staff's children.
 
One of the most fun videos in the collection
was in the stairwell.
It showed the furniture and dishes
of a home living room
sliding back and forth on the floor
as a house
was slowly rocked back and forth.
 
I could imagine a child
standing in front of it for hours
and giggling nonstop at the fun of it.
 
To access videos from the collection, click here.
"Eyeballs" inspired by George Orwell.
 Love it!
One of the few Istanbul-specific photography pieces.
The Hagia Sophia in snow.
The wishing tree
Staff and the public
left their wishes.
I didn't even notice the white "profile"
when I saw this neon art up close.
It was only when I got home and
saw this photo taken from across the room
that I saw it was more than abstract.
 "21 Books"
by a Korean artist
 The quality of building materials
was an unending delight.
I marveled at the precise heft of this door.
Love this blue.
How children must want to run their hands
continually over this piece
just to explore the symmetry, color, and sound of it.
All this art makes one feel like a child!
 We waved goodbye to the museum guides
through the "haunted" grillwork.
Perili Köşk at dusk.
"Goodbye Haunted Mansion!
You were an absolute delight."

Imagine opening up your work office to random people every weekend. I found this to be a very generous act by Borusan Holding Co.

Thank you for sharing your gorgeous art with the public. To the folks at Borusan Contemporary, I say, "your generosity is yet another example of why Turkish hospitality is the best in the world."

You might also enjoy:

An Afternoon of Art and Beauty at the Borusan Contemporary, Part One

An Afternoon of Art and Beauty at the Borusan Contemporary, Part Two

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"My Little Library in Anatolia" by Kaya Genç

Kaya Genç
I found this first-person narrative by Kaya Genç of his memories when he did his Turkish military service as a librarian to be absolutely delightful. I can't resist sharing it. Thanks to @carpetblogger for passing it along. You can read it here.


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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:
 
 
 
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Thursday, April 4, 2013

"The People Who Go"

A sample quote
from the public literature project
"Those Who Go"
 
My Danish friend Michael, who took me on my very first outing as an expat in the Czech Republic, introduced me to all of his fellow expat friends by saying "you know how there are people who stay and there are people who go? These are the people who go."

I was delighted to learn there is a wonderful contemplative public literature project with nearly the exact same name currently showing in the beautifully designed Denver International Airport. It is entitled simply "Those Who Go."

The artist honors "those who go" by assembling great quotes on travelers and traveling to inspire them as they move through the airport. Even better, an entire library of books devoted to traveling are available free through the project website and free airport wifi for downloading.

The creator of the exhibit says:

"As far as I know, there are four ways to travel:
  • in Space

  • in Time

  • in the Mind

  • and in one's own Self.
This small collection of books includes great travels and travelers from all four dimensions a human being can go. They are meant for you to share and explore. You can download them directly from the link at the airport or from this site, and may they inspire and delight you wherever you are."

What a creative way to share great books and to create a reading culture around and in celebration of one of humanity's greatest activities. What a wonderful reminder that being a 'person who stays' doesn't mean you can't be a person who goes...off in time...in the mind...or in one's own self. Which free book will you download?

Special thanks to friend Suzanne LaRue who told me about the exhibit.

You might enjoy some of my other posts on travel books and media:

Hello, Great Big Beautiful World!
(the very first post I wrote - it shows the power of a book to make one travel!)

Vagabonding

Armchair Traveling with Tony

Armchair Traveling with Rick

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Never Regret the Pain" by Sel Erder Yackley




 



















I love a good memoir. About the time, "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls (a memoir of really bad parenting) was on the bestseller list week-after-week, I began a memoir kick, and read about 10 in a row. They always seemed to be infused with wonderful and personal storytelling.

Around this time, a sophisticated lady with a slight accent was trying to give a reading of her book at a Chicago-area Barnes and Noble. She didn't have any interest from those seated in the cafe, and the polite book lover in me couldn't bear that. I had to make her feel welcome by sitting down and listening to what she shared. She was Turkish-American, an immigrant and now a citizen of America, and she was sharing her memories of living with a bipolar spouse.
 
The black and white book cover looked awfully grim, the title even grimmer, and the subject did nothing to make me say, "gee, I can't wait to read that." Yet the author, Sel Erder Yackley, was so nice and friendly and most importantly, smart and courageous in telling her story, that I just felt I had to buy her slim book. I was so glad I did!
 
Her book wasn't just about her life with a bipolar spouse; it included her incredible story of immigration to America. I would shake my head in admiration, as I read, at Ms. Yackley's gift for making the most of every single opportunity that ever presented itself to her as a new resident of America. 
 
She also brought her journalist's impartiality and detachment in describing the mental illness her husband suffered from in small town Illinois when she tells her story. I use the word detachment because she feels no shame and expresses no shame in sharing her husband's downward spiral and eventual suicide due to his bipolar condition. That's so important, I believe, because it frees others to not blame themselves and just deal with these situations as the medical conditions they are.
 
It couldn't have been easy being a Turkish Muslim lady living in small-town Illinois. But she made boatloads of friends, even receiving recognition from the  YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), which is kind of fun since she was neither a man or a Christian.
 
This was just a chance encounter in a bookstore with someone from a country I knew nothing about. Her book was on a topic unfamiliar to me. I had no idea at the time it would later help influence the direction of my life.  A few years later, I was discussing with my European friends what country I should try next. My Europeans friends suggested "You should move to Turkey! The energy of the Turkish people on the street is a-m-a-z-i-n-g." This lady is the one person who represented Turkey to me. I liked what I knew. 
 
You can click on my title to go to the Amazon link for the book.
 
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Sunday, August 19, 2012

A trip to Provence, accompanied by Julia Child


What is the greatest expat book of all time? So far, for me, it has to be "My Life in France" by Julia Child. These days it is easy for expats to get a book in an instant on Kindle. I still love the experience of paper copies though. I bought Julia Child's memoir of a life in France in Little Rock, Arkansas, hand carried it to Istanbul, and then to Provence, to read while when I went to visit my college girlfriend Robin and her family in July.

Last year, I delighted in documenting the pleasures of the Provence in ten different posts about my visit to Robin's house. This year was as wonderful and we did much the same things. First, there were the market pleasures in Loumartin to experience:
Perfect cherry tomatoes
Beautiful berries
more exquisite
by the small size of their boxes
French rabbits who gave their lives
in service to their country's cuisine
There were also the pleasures of food and conversation at the table. My friend Robin is a wonderful cook who knows how to make her family and guests feel loved by the smell, taste, and look of her exquisite home-cooked food.

Knowing I was coming from Istanbul, where access to pork in daily cuisine is practically non-existent, she indulged my cravings for all things pig while I was there. I think we had eight pork meals in a row!
My first breakfast in Provence.
Scrambled eggs and bacon!
Like manna from heaven.
A leek and bacon tart
Steak, mashed potatos and gravy,
grilled mushrooms and roasted fennel
Roast chicken, potatoes, and carrots.
Notice the French market preference
for keeping almost the entirety
of the chicken's feet on the chicken.
Warm leek and bacon soup
Fresh melon and prosciutto
Fresh berry tart
An English summer pudding
Oh, so delicious!
Serena, Robin and Jim's daughter, was visiting from Australia where she is working on her Masters degree in philosophy. It was so wonderful for me to see and listen to her. I had last seen Serena when she was in eighth grade. I enjoyed hearing her discuss her intellectual interests. Experiencing the children of our friends can be so delightful, don't you agree? It's a chance to appreciate our friend's life work in parenting.
Serena has grown up
to be as fine a cook
as both of her parents
Serena's apricot upside-down cake
inspired by famous food blogger
 David Lebovitz
Last year, I had told Robin and Jim about my favorite soup, Russian Cabbage Borscht, out of Mollie Katzen's "Moosewood Cookbook." Neither of them had tried borscht, so I promised to make it this year. I must need new glasses though, because in buying the tomato puree for the soup, I failed to notice two bright red chilies on the French-language label.

My soup may look like it is supposed to look, but borscht is not supposed to burn your tongue with chili heat! Oh well...our memories are always enhanced by the things that go wrong in a humorous way. I hope Robin, Jim, and Serena will give borscht a second chance after my Russian cabbage soup got a cross-cultural Latin American dose of extra heat! It's not supposed to taste like that.
Beet, cabbage, carrot, and potato goodness
Russian Cabbage Borscht
topped with yogurt and dill -
normally, healthy and satisfying comfort food.
I relished reading Julia Child's memoir of cooking and cookbook creation at the exact same time I was experiencing such interesting French food markets and food. Julia's joy in discovering the best in a culture new to her, and personalizing that knowledge with the creation of a cookbook celebrating France's cuisine was such rich reading. Provencal surroundings of French landscape and cuisine and dear friends who celebrated both enhanced my reading pleasure.

It was fascinating to me that Julia Child saw America in the polarized way of red and blue that we know today, even if she didn't use those familiar descriptive terms that were invented long after her book was published. She expressed such wonder in cross-cultural discovery and couldn't understand why her own family did not want to experience that same wonder.

Julia Child hit the sweet spot of publishing with her book when American women were cooking for themselves and wanted to make their meals as gracious and as beautiful as possible. I personally have tried cooking out of her cookbook and always find it too laborious and complicated. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate her achievement though.

I could not help but weep at the end of the memoir, such was Julia Child's fervor for the act of living and discovery and creation. What an incredibly well-lived life. Were she still alive, she would have turned 100 years old this week.

Robin and I traded books, and I started the book she was reading: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Author Gretchen Rubin fretted that time was short and she asked herself, "am I focusing on the things that really made me happy?"
The book was an account of one woman's drive to do all the things that could contribute to a net increase in her happiness over the course of the year.

How fun it was to read two books in one week and discuss the ideas in each title with my friend. I haven't read two books in one week in years! In the afternoon, Robin and I would have a late afternoon swim and discuss what we had read. The week was a retreat in every sense of the word.

I love this woman!

Thank you Robin,
for a wonderful week with you and your family.
 
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