Showing posts with label libraries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label libraries. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Jubilant American Summer, Part One

Loving Life in Chicago
Summer of 2014
This summer I spent two-and-a-half months back in America. It was the longest I'd been home since becoming an expat six years earlier. It was fantastic to spend quality time with my family.
We called this
"Take-Your-Mother-to-Work-Day."
Since my youngest daughter had an internship in Chicago for the summer, I decided to make the city of Chicago my base. Chicago is so spectacular, so joyfully sublime, so wonderfully world-class, I was just pinching myself every day there.
My new Brazilian friend,
Isabela, from Sao Paulo,
whom I met in Chicago.
We explored the Magritte show
at the Art Institute together.
I have been to Chicago many times. My daughter had to work most days, so my friend, Isabela, and I bought City Passes (a packet full of coupons to get into all the top museums at a discount - a great value that I highly recommend) and thus I started on a summer of experiencing every single main attraction as it if was new to me.
It was scary to stand
 in these glass boxes.
The attractions were new too! Every main attraction had added something new to bring people back. For example, the Sear's "Willis" Tower, now has those glass boxes where you go out and stand on glass 100 floors up (that's a lot harder to do than it looks without freaking out, especially given that one of them had developed cracks the week before).
Magritte says "this is not a pipe."
It is, after all,
just a picture of a pipe.
The Art Institute had an amazing Magritte show, his first comprehensive retrospective in 65 years. 

I went to the Field Museum to see the show on the World's Fair, but was blown away instead by the exhibit they had created on bio-mechanics, easily the finest science exhibition I have seen in five years.
I literally paused in reverence
in front of this fantastic
American art form,
the root beer float,
created at the Museum of Science and Industry's
old-fashioned ice cream parlor. 
And then I ate it!
video
 At the Shedd Aquarium
(the largest and oldest aquarium
in the Western Hemisphere)
there was an exhibit where you
could touch sting-rays.
How cool is that?!?
 The Adler Planetarium
had state-of-the-art
shows about the cosmos,
but I found myself responding
to the original fixtures,
including these fabulous
art deco iconic representations
original to the building.

I was fascinated by this
old-time, low-cost
mechanical way of teaching people
about the night sky in their own city
at the Planetarium.
A box car of visitors
goes into the sphere
with a guide
who points out the constellations
made by the pinpricks of light
that have been punched into
the sphere.
They show up perfectly in the dark.
This contraption is 100 years old!
It's still going strong.

Look, World!
This is the planet's largest
public library building.
I can't even fit it into one photo.
Who built it?
My people, Midwesterners!
The exquisite Winter Garden
on the top floor of
Chicago Public Library.
Boo-yah!
This is the greatness of my country.
We are a marketplace of ideas
where the people themselves
are entrusted to evaluate them.
I was grateful to see
Senator William Fulbright's
words on the walls
at Chicago Public Library.
I fear his wisdom is being forgotten
Before becoming an expat
I wouldn't have noticed
or understood how wonderful it is
that this spectacular Chicago synagogue
doesn't require 24/7 police protection.
That is not true
everywhere in the world.
May it ever be so in my country.
While in Chicago,
I watched a Palestinian protest
about Gaza
go through the streets
of Chicago.
I was struck by how the police
led and followed the demonstration
protecting the people demonstrating.
After watching Turkey's
best-educated youth
tear gassed all year
for wanting
to protect
Taksim Square's Gezi Park,
I was so grateful watching how this
Chicago protest was handled.
When I stepped up to
the police officer to say thanks,
he said,
"we are all about the first Amendment
and the exercise of free speech in Chicago."
I immediately teared up.
I was so damn grateful
for this attitude.


Being an expat makes
my gratitude
for America's
accomplishments even greater.
Rotary International started in Chicago.
I've been in four different Rotary Clubs
across America.
If you're a Rotarian,
I'd just like to say "thank you,"
for all that
you've done to help end polio.
If you're not familiar with Rotary,
let me tell you.
Each Rotarian, around the world,
doing their small part,
has collaborated to eliminate polio worldwide.
Rotarians are almost done,
 since there
are usually less than
5,000 cases a year globally.
Know a Rotarian? Thank them.
Don't know what polio is?
Thank them again!
This is Jenn and Alex,
my very first AirBnB hosts.
Jenn and Alex
were fantastic to stay with
while I was in Chicago.
This is the typical Chicago beach
two blocks from their house.
They taught me about Uber too
while I was there.
Plotting my explorations of Chicago
in Grant Park.

I'll share my very favorite thing
I was able to experience in Chicago
for the first time.

First and last photos
courtesy of Chicago photographer
Peter Yankala

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, 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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Thursday, February 14, 2013

I rise to break the chain as a part of Eve Ensler's #1billionrising!

Today is the big day!

Eve Ensler, the creator of the Vagina Monologues (which has raised $80 million for domestic violence charities globally) has organized what I believe to be the largest coordinated event in the history of the world. One billion women, and the men who love them, will be rising to change the worldwide paradigm about the acceptability of violence against women.

Here’s an example of how violence against women is often not taken seriously. When I was a branch manager of a public library branch in Colorado Springs, we were located in an upscale, gorgeous neighborhood full of expensive homes nestled under the mountains. It's the Rockrimmon neighborhood.  It was not the kind of place where you would expect violent daylight attacks against women. 


 That’s exactly what happened though. The lady in the dry cleaning business next door to our library branch was brutally raped, and had her skull bashed in. It was 3 in the afternoon, with grocery store shoppers and library users using the parking lot without a realization of what had happened. I had the responsibility for the 15-20 person female staff that day and believe me, I felt it!

A couple days later a man was arrested. What would have proved or disproved his guilt was a DNA rape kit. Colorado had passed laws by then requiring them, but the processing of them was not funded to keep up with the need and there was a six-month backlog of rape kits to be processed.

I never found out if that man was actually guilty or if he had been arrested to “calm the population down.” If he wasn’t the guilty party, how unfair it must have felt to him as he waited. How sad for the neighborhood too, if the real perpetrator was still on the loose.

It’s my guess that if you check, most American states also has a huge backlog of rape kits to be processed.  My friends in Colorado tell me nothing has changed - the backlog remains. This lackadaisical attitude about stopping violence against women must change. It's not just in that one place, it is global.
Here are a few things you can do to participate in this worldwide revolution:
1) Attend a rising. There will be flash mobs happening all over the world. There is a choreography video on the #1billionrising site. If you don't have time to learn the dance, your presence is enough. You can sway. Here's where to find an event. Global events will be livestreamed all day.
2) Share with your friends in person and on social media what #1billionrising is all about. Make sure your friends know that there are 100 million missing women from the planet. Of those that remain, 1 in 3 is touched by violence or violation, which adds up to 1 billion people around the world. Find a video on the #1billionrising website that is personally meaningful to you to share. Imagine for a moment, how the world would be different, if those women weren't violated and left dealing with shame and humiliation.
3) Make your FB cover photo reflect #1billionrising for the month of February. There are plenty of banner cover shots on the site. Help #1billionrising become a global trending topic on Twitter.
4) If you live in America, make sure you understand why the House of Representatives is voting against the Violence Against Women Act. It is not a budget buster, indeed, it is at a funding level 17% less than the last time it was renewed. Here is one video and another video that help explain why Republicans are against renewing it. Are those reasons not appalling? How is your Representative voting?
5) Feel the joy of your actions. You are personally making a difference for future generations to follow. Here's a video from San Francisco of a rising to help you feel your joy. Your actions don't end here. The work of the 21st century will be to achieve equality for women and girls. We will have more work in the future. Thanks for caring!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Why the Obama Presidential Library should be built in Springfield, Illinois

President Obama taking the oath of office
I notice the race is on for the Obama Presidential Library. The two cities mentioned as possible sites are Chicago and Honolulu. This astonishes me, as I find the obvious choice to be Springfield, Illinois.
Obama campaign poster
As a community, Springfield had an outsized influence on Obama as he spent his early legislative days there in the Illinois legislature. Why did it have such an influence? Because Springfield has excelled at passing on the message of the Lincoln Presidency to all humanity, even, as it turns out, to future Presidents.
The old
Illinois State Capitol
Obama deeply identifies with Lincoln and used several of Lincoln's signature moves prior to and in his first term: speaking on the steps of the Illinois State Capitol, a long slow train ride to Inauguration, and assembling a Team of Rivals. As Obama conducted his State legislative business in Springfield, Lincoln's words, example, and sites were everywhere in the city for him to identify with, learn from and absorb. Obama even used a term from the Gettysburg address as his first Inauguration theme: "a new birth of freedom."
The Obama family
Placing the library in Springfield would be a gigantic economic boost to Southern Illinois. Chicago is already thriving and doesn't need the Obama Presidential Library to continue thriving. I appreciate that the current Mayor there has some pull, but will the Chicago mayor 100 years from now care as much? Will promoting the Obama Presidential Library and Museum be on the top of that mayor's to-do list?

Honolulu might seem an obvious place since Obama's boyhood was there. However, if it is placed there it ensures that the people who will get to see it are upper-income, older Americans who can afford a Hawaiian vacation plus Japanese tourists on holiday. How would that change the world any? I can't help but think that the young person who could most use the inspiration of the Obama legacy, wouldn't get to see it.

That's why the Obama Presidential Library should be placed in Springfield, Illinois. Think of the savings to education budgets if school children can take in the Lincoln Presidential library and Museum and the Obama library in the same field trip.
The famous hug
after winning a second term
Foreign visitors who come to learn about one of our Presidents who worked to heal a divided nation,  would learn about two of our Presidents who worked to heal a divided nation. An Obama Presidential Library and Museum would probably be one of the most important economic drivers of Springfield as a city, even 100 years from now.

Springfield has a lower cost structure for a visit and its slow Southern pace makes for a more reflective experience, plus it places the Obama presidency in the context of wider American history. Tourists can afford to spend more days there so they can take in both the Obama library and museum. If Obama's library and museum are placed in Chicago, people will give one of those two new buildings an afternoon of their time and that's that. Back to business.
Obama in Prague
speaking on disarmament
I'm thinking about the experience created by this placement not only as a library professional, but as a consumer of the experience these destinations create. Between us, my family and I have visited the Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan Libraries. On my last trip back to America, my family and I made a special trip to Little Rock just to take in the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library. One of the things that made the Clinton Library experience work so well as an education about American history is that it was partnered with the experience and history of the Little Rock Nine.
 
Placing the Obama Presidential Library in context with Lincoln's presidency is a powerful history lesson in and of itself. But the most important reason the Obama Presidential Library should be in Springfield, Illinois is the message it sends to people yet unborn.

This is what makes the historical context in Springfield perfect for Obama's legacy. Springfield was the scene of a white riot in 1908 so horrible that the NAACP was formed out of the complete despair that resulted from the event. White Springfield has come to terms with this event and is not in denial. The Mayor officially apologized on behalf of the city. A walking tour has been created that explains what happened. It would not be to Springfield's shame if this story was more widely known around the world, it would be their success story.

Why? Because out of that despair, trying to pick up the pieces after a devastating hate crime, humanity organized. They worked to create a better future by organizing themselves into an association (the NAACP). These citizens had no idea what would result from that work. Out of that community organizing and the changes that resulted in society because of it, 100 years later, there was an almost unimaginable outcome: the citizens of the United States of America elected a black President.

Humanity: there is nothing you can't do if you're willing to come together and work for it. That's the astonishing, hopeful message an Obama Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois could send the citizens of the world.

To put it in President's Obama's words: "We are here because enough people ignored the voices who told them the world could not change."


You might be interested in reading more about my visit to Springfield, Illinois. Touring Springfield, Illinois was one of the things I most wanted to do before becoming an "Empty Nest Expat."

Entering the Land of Lincoln

What Inspires Stories?

The Springfield Race Riots of 1908

A living tribute to Abraham Lincoln

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

America's Finest Example of Prairie School Architecture

Route 66 Road Food

How broke is Illinois?

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

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

"American Gothic"
by Iowa artist Grant Wood 
If you live away from where you grew up, have you ever received an invitation to talk about "your people," those that raised you and the culture you grew up in? I can't say I had before. But one of the pleasures of living in Istanbul and having so many expat friends is that I interact with a variety of international people everyday.
My Internations travel group, the Travel Junkies (who I will write more about in future posts), began hosting evenings where individual members shared about the place they came from. The woman who spoke immediately before me spoke about her homeland of Iran. I joked it was just a little intimidating to follow an 8,000-year-old culture to tell about my home state of Iowa, which became a state a mere 166 years ago! 
 
 Repeat three times please: Iowa = corn!
The first things I wanted to teach my friends was to never mix up Iowa, Idaho, and Ohio ever again. Americans always confuse the three and ask Iowans about potatoes and Idahoans about corn.
The President of Iowa State University
at the National Archives in Washington D.C.
celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act.

The Morrill Act gave every state in America
that wanted to participate
30,000 acres of federal land to use for a university to
uplift the population.

My hometown of Ames, Iowa, was the first
place in the nation to accept this land grant.
The result today: Iowa State University,
one of the world's most successful
agriculture and technical research universities
in the world supported by a mere 3,000,000 Iowans!
I then was deeply proud to share about Iowa's educational legacy. One of the best things I've ever read on just how good Iowa public education was in Tom Wolfe's book "Hooking Up," a series of essays about American culture. In it he wrote an inspiring essay detailing the impact Iowa public education had on Robert Noyce, a founding chairman of Intel, and a man frequently described as "the father of Silicon Valley."
 Besides describing Noyce's educational experiences growing up in Iowa and at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa specifically, Tom Wolfe made the case that the business casual dress popularized the IT industry was just Noyce's Midwestern lack of fashion pretense institutionalized into Silicon Valley culture.
I love that story, as one would never imagine Iowans having an impact on fashion. We are not a fashion forward people. But we are a deeply democratic people. There is no "us and them" in Iowa, when I grew up there, we viewed ourselves as "us."
Iowa has the highest per capita number of high school graduates of any state in the nation (as well it should since it was the first state in the nation to insitutionalize high school), the highest literacy rate of any state in the nation, we have two cities out of the top three with the most number of PhDs per capita (Ames, Iowa and Iowa City, Iowa share that distinction with Boulder, Colorado).
The beautiful law library
at the Iowa State Capitol building -
frequently used as a television backdrop
for Iowa caucus reporting by national news organizations
Indeed, literacy is so darn important in Iowa, that our recent first lady, Christie Vilsack, visited every single public library in the State because she considered public libraries the most important provider of culture in each town. Some of those libraries were probably one room! She still visited them because those libraries brought their citizens the greater outside world.

Iowa's appreciation of reading and literature is so profound it's even been recognized by UNESCO. Iowa City, Iowa was named a "City of Literature" by UNESCO along with Dublin, Reykjavik, Melbourne, and Edinburgh.
After all, the University of Iowa (where I received my M.A. in Library and Information Science) is home to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, the very first creative writing program in the nation. It draws not only nationally-famous writers, but internationally-known writers. For example, Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's Nobel laureate for literature, has spent time at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. UNESCO speculated Iowa City may be the most literary spot in the world for its size.  It has a mere 67,000 people and was recognized with those large world-famous cities!
"Spring in Town"
painted by Iowa artist
Grant Wood, 1941
In addition to our educational values, I thought our next most important deeply-held value was in feeding the world. Iowa is first in the nation in corn production, first in the nation in soybean production, 1st in the nation in hog production (the most searched for recipe on the Internet in America is for pork chops) 1st in the nation in egg production, and 2nd in the nation in beef production. Indeed, 90% of all Iowa's land is used in farming which resulted in Iowa contributing $4.5 billion in exports to help America's balance of trade in 2005.
Notice the precise geometry
of Iowa farming.
It's a sublter beauty than mountains and oceans,
but it is beauty, nonetheless.
My friends were fascinated by the combination of a highly agricultural state combined with a high level of education in the general population. Most Iowans live in cities. It's hard for folks who come from countries where agriculture is all about peasant traditions to imagine a place where high education levels and ag can be combined.
Dr. Borlaug
Iowans care about feeding the world so much there is now a prize coming out of Iowa started by one of our own, Dr. Norman Borlaug, the ag scientist who is credited with saving more human life than anyone else who has ever lived in the history of the world. Coming from a small farm in Cresco, Iowa, born of Norwegian heritage, Dr. Borlag helped farmers globally increase their yields. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
The Iowa-generated World Food Prize is a mere 22 years old, but hopes to be recognized as the "Nobel Prize of Food," honoring those innovators in politics and science who find new ways to feed humanity. The Secretary of State announces the winner every year and the Secretary General of the United Nations comes to the awards ceremony each year. I hope, gentle reader, that you will care as much about who wins this award, as any other. I think it is that important, don't you?
A talk about Iowa wouldn't be complete without an explanation of the whole Iowa presidential primary caucus system. I think Iowa maintains its first in the nation status for selecting the president through a primary caucus for a very important reason. The first place to get a crack at judging future presidents should not only be highly educated but small enough for retail politics. Iowa is both. Candidates have to interact personally with Iowans, instead of selling themselves in paid media campaigns.
There is even a joke about it. A presidential candidate asks an Iowan for his vote in the upcoming caucus and the Iowan says, "I can't vote for you yet. I've only interacted with you three times." When I was a county chair for Bob Dole when he was running for President, it was fun to host Elizabeth Dole in my mom's living room where she preceded to tell us why Bob would make a great President.
Iowa (97% white), literally made Obama a star, when in 2008, chose him above everyone else as the winner of the Democratic caucus. He finished his 2012 campaign in Iowa too, combining sentimentality and swing-state saavy.
I described three Iowa companies I thought would impact the entire world culturally: Pioneer Hybrid for genetically-modified foods, Pinterest, a social media company for sharing visual media, and Dwolla, a brand new financial services company that makes money transfers inexpensive between people and companies.
The Iowa butter cow,
and her current sculptor, Sarah Pratt
Since my friends were travel junkies, I wanted to make sure they knew the four most important tourist things to do in Iowa. First is riding on RAGBRAI, the 10,000-strong annual bike ride across Iowa that occurs every July. The second is driving the Iowa River Road along the Mississippi, what National Geographic Magazine calls as on of the "500 Drives for a lifetime," third is spending a day at the Iowa State Fair with a special look at the sculpted "butter cow," and my last suggestion was renting a houseboat to float down the Mississippi.
You don't have to be in Istanbul, or even an expat, to carry out this idea of rotating travelogues from natives to friends. I've loved attending each one (usually presented with a meal that matches the country) and so far I have learned about Trinidad and Tobago, Lebanon, Sudan, and Iran.
Just gather a bunch of international friends and put on evenings for each other. I felt deeply honored that my friends cared enough about me to learn about "my people." I had great fun and renewed passion for my birthplace putting my presentation together. Yea Iowa! That's where the tall corn grows.

Here are four other Iowa-related posts I wrote you might enjoy:

You're My Al Bell!

Enjoying Hometown Friends in Istanbul

Dvorak Embraced Spillville, Iowa; Spillville, Iowa Embraced Dvorak

UNESCO Names Iowa City, Iowa a "City of Literature"

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Discussing Books with the Istanbul Global Minds Book Club

I was proud to moderate
George Orwell's brilliant book
"Animal Farm"
at Global Minds Book Club
One of the Istanbul-based groups advertised on the Internations expatriate social network that attracted my attention was the fairly new “Global Minds Book Club.” I love reading and discussing books and have belonged to several book clubs over the years. The organizing mission of this group was to read books from all around the world and discuss them with people from all around the world who were currently residing in Istanbul.
Sinan, second from left,
moderated our discussion
of Harper Lee's
"To Kill A Mockingbird"
Global minds discussing global books: what an exciting idea! That was different than most book clubs organized in our home countries which feature friends of similar demographics discussing titles that are often targeted at that demographic. Those can often be a “great minds think alike” club.

I knew it would be a different type of book club when the first meeting I went to started with shots of melon liquor. While we may not have educational diversity (many members have graduate degrees) we do have national, religious, racial, ethnic, tribal and sect diversity.
Stalwart members
Matt and Işil
For the Turkish people who come to the meetings, it is often their first book club experience as there is no tradition of book club discussions in Turkey. There are many reasons for that. Widespread literacy is less than 100 years old in Turkey due to the change in alphabet. Stories in this part of the world are often shared orally rather than on the written page. The idea of discussing art, culture, politics, and life in a good-natured way with all kinds of different people that one doesn’t know very well is often considered a new and very foreign idea, especially when the premise is that the discussion takes place over a book. I tip my hat in appreciation to people of all nationalities who come to the club to discuss a book in English, frequently their second or third language.
Clarence Nartey, Founder
Global Minds Book Club
leading our discussion of
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's
"Half of a Yellow Sun"
Clarence Nartey, the man from Ghana who started the “Global Minds Book Club” is uniquely suited for the role.  As a marketing manager for a multinational corporation he has traveled all over the globe in his professional roles with visits to 20 countries (Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Togo, South Africa, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia,Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Turkey, UAE, France, UK , Spain and Israel), sometimes living in a country for a month at a time, and other times living there for a couple years. I remember when I got my first emails from him detailing how the group was organized, what we were reading, and when. I thought “this is MBA-level organization for a mere book club.”  Joyfully, our book club is both relaxed - often meeting poolside or in a picnic venue, and organized within an inch of its life!
We met under the gazebo
at my place
last summer to discuss
Haruki Murakami's
"After Dark"
We frequently meet in our different homes. This has prompted our members to travel all over Istanbul and gets us into neighborhoods we would not have a reason to visit otherwise. The club has become so successful that Clarence has considered dividing us into two groups, with a meeting simultaneously held on each continent. There are over 240 people on the email list, with around 15 responding positively that they will come, and a usual 8-10 actually making it. Not bad considering that coming to a discussion can involve up to a two-hour trip each way as people cross continents!
We were supposed to go swimming
after this meeting
but the discussion was so good
we never got in the pool
Clarence says, “what thrills me about reading now is not the act of reading a book, but now reading a book, organizing friends to share it and using the book as a springboard to elicit multiple and diverse perspectives from fellow readers.”  He has done that so beautifully and created such a lively community of book lovers here in Istanbul . Wanting to extract every bit of value from the experience, he has also asked the members to donate the books after the discussion to interested libraries or groups to help them broaden their reading horizons too.

Eventually, even the expatriates we rely on the most, like Clarence, must leave. That’s the nature of the expatriate experience – a short time together of meaningful intensity.

He has told the Global Minds Book Club that within a month or two he will be transferred to the continent of Africa. He is excited about returning to his home continent, but oh, will we miss him! In keeping with his tradition of stellar management, Clarence already has his replacement “Global Minds Book Club” organizer lined up. 

Our reading list to date:
Global Citizens - Mark Gerzon ( non-fiction)
Little Bee / The Other Hand - Chris Cleave (fiction)
Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell ( non-fiction) I joined here
Life of Pi - Yann Martel (fiction)
To Kill a Mocking Bird - Harper Lee (fiction)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan S. Foer (fiction)
After Dark - Haruki Murakami ( fiction)
The Gambler - Fyodor Dostoevsky( fiction)
Animal Farm - George Orwell (fiction)

The White Tiger -Aravind Adiga (fiction)
Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger (fiction)
Shah of Shahs- Ryszard Kapuscinski (non-fiction)
Half of a Yellow Sun -  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (fiction)

 This book is easily my favorite discovery through the club!
Future Titles:
New York Trilogy - Paul Auster (fiction)
Cairo Modern - Naguib Mahfouz (fiction)
Sammarkand - Amin Maalouf  (fiction)
Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell (non-fiction)
Do you have an expat book club? Or a book club devoted to reading international titles? What has made it fun? Do you have a book recommendation for our club that your group enjoyed?

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Making Expat Friends Through Internations

Africa Day @ Global Minds Book Club

All my posts on books

 


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hanging out the with Expat Harem at the Istanbul Simulcast of the TEDGlobal 2011 Conference

 Me with fellow expats
Catherine Bayar and Anastasia Ashman

This week I attended the Istanbul simulcast of the TEDGlobal conference live from Edinburgh, Scotland. If you're not familiar with TED, I can't recommend it enough. The original organizational idea behind TED was to bring together innovative thinkers to share ideas worth spreading from three worlds: technology, entertainment, and design. There is a yearly TEDGlobal conference, offshoots like TED Women, and local versions organized by locals held globally called TEDx. Every year, one exceptional individual is chosen and awarded $100,000 to make happen "one wish to change the world."

Our simulcast was held in a beautiful facility, complete with a gigantic screen, provided by Turkcel, a local Turkish telecom. The day's events were a wonderful opportunity to meet up with American expats living in Istanbul whose work I have long admired: Anastasia Ashman, internationally bestselling author of The Expat Harem, and Catherine Bayar, a former product line designer for Nike and Adidas, who is currently deeply involved in Turkish handicrafts, especially those made by Turkish women.

Anastasia was profiled just this week in the Istanbul Daily Newspaper, Today's Zaman. She always has some project going.  During our short break for lunch, we headed down the street to the Istanbul Culinary Institute where the students of the Institute test out their cooking creations on the public. While dining over grilled octopus, she told us about the current book she's writing, a forensic memoir.  Sounds intriguing. You can watch her blog for details.

I was especially interested in comparing notes with Catherine about her old blog, Tales from Turkey, on the Google blogspot domain.  I say, old blog, because like mine, her blog was censored by the Republic of Turkey. Since the censorship went on for what seemed like months, Catherine moved her blog to Wordpress, named it Bazaar Bayar, and she is presenting some of the most exquisite photography of Turkish handwork on her site for you to enjoy. The work featured really is breathtaking and it helps local women.

I could tell you all about the talks I heard and how intellectually stimulating it was but I can't do that better than another fabulous blogger whose work I love: Bulgarian Maria Popova. Maria has built a mammoth following with her Brainpickings Blog, and here is her rundown of Day #2 of TED Global, the day of talks I heard through the simulcast.

If I had one criticism of the conference, each presenter could have enhanced their talk by deciding what it is they wanted us to do with the information. What is their "call to action" for the listener? Even if a scientist is sharing her exciting news that she has been able to double the life of an organism, why not tell us who the funding body is and ask us to support continued scientific research? I bet people would be able to see the value of increasing taxes if they knew it helped support research that could double the length of life of living organisms!

You can access all of these talks through the TEDGlobal website as they are loaded. I thought the presenter who did the best job of sharing an idea (and frankly, scaring the heck out of me) was a young scientist from Tasmania named Elizabeth Murchison who is working to prevent the Tasmanian Devil from being the first species on the planet to become extinct through contagious cancer.

The moment that touched me the deepest was Cambodian anti-torture activist Karen Tse, who broke down why torture happens in over 90 countries.  It's not just what we all assume (the presence of evil), and when you hear her talk, torture all of a sudden seems very solvable.

The moment that made me most proud was when the Chinese founder of the "China Lab" and the "India Lab" at MIT, Yasheng Huang, was explaining why China was the Michael Jordan of economic development and India, as a nation, was not quite to superstar quality like China and Michael Jordan.  India, as a nation, was still amazing in terms of economic development, though, because they were still able to "make the NBA" (metaphorically speaking).

"It comes down to literacy. Literacy in China is defined as being able to read 1500 Chinese characters.  Literacy in India is defined as being able to write your own name in whatever language you speak." If you compare the literacy rates of China and India (mid 60s% vs mid 30s%), especially of Chinese women compared to Indian women, it makes the difference."

Literacy rates helped bring about twenty years of double digit growth for a billion people. I am so, so, SO proud of being a librarian. Here then, is my call to action.  Wherever you may live, I'd like to ask you  if your nation is helping school and public librarians help citizens achieve literacy and economic growth? Please support the work of your local libraries and librarians with enthusiasm.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Checking Out the History of Dissidents: New Vaclav Havel Library to Open in 2013

A Force for Good
Vaclav Havel

Modeled after the American Presidential Libraries, the new Vaclav Havel Library will be a repository for Vaclav Havel's published works and unpublished papers. Unlike Presidential Libraries, this Library will carry the samizdat of years of repression and the official papers of years of expression.  The unique gathering of that collection makes for an interesting juxtaposition and the final triumph of Prague dissident voices from repression - to rule  - to Presidential level archives. It's a fairy tale, really.  A political fairy tale.

Click on my title to read more about the project.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Visiting Sweden: If This is Socialism, Sign Me Up!

Sweden wowed me when I visited for one week last November.  I was stunned by the general prosperıty of the population, and to be honest, I didn't quite understand it.  For example, I spent time in Örebro, the 7th largest city in Sweden.  It's the same size as a city I lived in America whose downtown had been hollowed out and decimated by the move of manufacturing from America to China. Why hasn't Sweden had the same trouble competing?

In Örebro, every downtown shop was rented and many were selling magnificent fashion. There was one fashion boutique after another.  Imagine the best brands: Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, etc. all being on offer in the downtown of an American manufacturing town.  I can't. I could only assume the wealth hadn't 'trickled up' enough to move out-of-town.
 Surely I would find poverty in the public library.
Where are the homeless people
trying to stay warm?
 They weren't sitting in the cafe
all day either
Wait...nope just a sculpture.
I went into the public library of Örebro to count how many homeless people I could see.  If it matched a downtown library of an American manufacturing city on an equally frosty day, I would estimate in advance, that there would be about 20 homeless people.  I couldn't find one. NOT ONE! I went through every nook and cranny of that library too from the top floor to the basement.

I couldn't take my eyes off of Swedish old people over the age of 70.  I wish I had thought to take pictures.  Swedish old people are aging beautifully.  I saw person after person looking 10 to 15 years younger than their actual age. The Swedish universal health care system meant that the entire population was better cared for their whole life and they must have had the faces and bodies and teeth and health they deserved.  Not only did the old folks look great they were dressed fashionably in stylish clothes.  As I was chatting up one older gentleman in Sweden who told me he was seventy, he said with a mischievous twinkle "yes, but if I start speaking French, I'm a mere 60!"

Human beings aren't the only part of Sweden that looks great.  So does the land.  In Turkey, every ounce of topsoil and all the trees are gone from my neck of the woods - quite understandable given 8,000 years of continuous civilization.  In Sweden, the forests went on for miles and miles and the air and water were very clean.  Swedes say they are very lucky because they didn't pay the price other European countries did during WWII, but they aren't giving themselves enough credit for being incredible stewards of the environment.

When I would compliment Swedes on their nation, I would hear "oh, but we have terrible problems with income inequality [the link shows they really don't, at least compared to everyone else, Swedes must be comparing internally]. Plus, it gets dark too early in the day and it is cold." Now would a statement like that about income inequality come out of an American's mouth? I don't think we would even think such a thought.  Yet, our nation has more income equality than at any time since 1928.

I didn't actually get to see this but a friend in Stockholm told me there was an extensive series of tunnels underneath the City of Stockholm so that no neighborhood had to have a multi-lane highway going through it.  Just the idea of being willing to spend tax money on underground highways so as to not impose that on anyone (in America, above-ground multi-lane highways would get imposed on poor neighborhoods) stunned me.

Visiting Sweden I couldn't help but think of American intellectual Cornell West. He has a phrase for our current American experience: "we have become well-adjusted to injustice." If Sweden represents the socialism that is so often derided back home in America, sign me up!

Related posts:

A Week in Sweden

There is No Need to Save Face in Sweden

Daydreaming at Stockholm City Hall

Visiting the Nobel Museum

The Swedish Tourist Attraction that Didn't Attract Me

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Celebrating 90 Years of Artist Zenděk Sýkora

On a tip from a sophisticated, handsome young Czech at the opening of the Pod Ball: Malí Urvi II exhibit now showing at DOX Contemporary Art Museum in Prague, I went to visit an art show at the Municipal Library Gallery in Prague to discover an artist new to me.

My friend said, "Zenděk Sýkora is probably the most important Czech painter alive right now, go see his show!" So off I went. Mr. Sýkora is 90 years old and the works assembled represented a retrospective of his life's work. When someone is 90 years old and this productive and vital, it gets my respect automatically, even before I saw his work. Then I also imagined what it's like being an artist during regimes when being an artist was suspect.

Mr. Sýkora was deeply inspired by nature as an artist.  One of the most intriguing first paintings in the exhibition is a very geometric gray work of art that is his representation of still, shimmering water.  It made me think about my own visual image of still, shimmering water.  I loved the idea of someone focusing that deeply on beauty we all know and producing something that challenges one§s own images.

His work from the 1960s and 1970s seems emblematic of those decades.  I can't put my finger on why, but it does.  It's very structured and geometric.  Throughout his career, Mr. Sýkora used mathematics and geometry to express the systems and randomness of nature. If you are at all drawn to those two things, I know you'd love his work.

From those structured works, he moved onto lineal paintings. He was among the first in the world to use a computer to help him develop the random numbers necessary for much of his work. The program notes (printed in English, thank you) said, "he was captured by the expressional power of a line rising on a boundary of the connection of two original elements." I didn't relate to the mathematical components of his work, yet I still found that all of his work uplifted my spirit.

Then I came across work of his that I already know and love.  My friend Pavel had introduced me to the beauty of these murals at the Cafe Emporio (now called the Cafe Elite) last year.  I love this tile mosaic!  Apparently, it was installed in a metro station at this spot on Jindřišská Street.  Now it is a cafe.  Why there is no longer a metro station there, I don't know. But the gorgeous tile mosaics remain.  Sýkora's art looks sublime on such a large scale!  In the show there was also two other pieces I would love to see in place: a linear installation at the air traffic control facility in Prague and geometric structured pieces covering Letná ventilation shafts.

The exhibit space is magnificent, and as a librarian, I envy the Municipal Library's space.  It's fantastic and world class.  Libraries in America usually don't have that amount of square footage available to mount shows of this scope.  It not only says something about the Library, it says something about the Czech people of the 1920s for their willing investment in their own art and culture.  One small suggestion I have for future shows is to include English subtitles on the video where the artist discusses his work.  Then the whole world can discover him! For beautiful photographs of the rooms filled with art, click on my title.

So... after looking at that gorgeous art do you need a little refreshment?  If so, then come with me! I'm heading over to the Grand Orient Cafe housed in the famous House of the Black Madonna designed by the master of Czech cubist architecture.  I want to enjoy the outdoor balcony.  Spring is bursting out of every windowbox.

My friend Pavel, a former demi-soloist for the National Ballet introduced me to this cafe too.

Fresh mint tea and the wonderful, totally-worth-the-calories Czech pastry věneček.  Ooh-la-la! Did you know you could make mint tea with just the leaves of fresh mint? I didn't know it was that simple.  Now I know.  My waiter is so divine it's like a joint celebration of the city, the view, the cuppa, and the pastry. It also helps that we are united in the knowledge that on this exact day we are both in the momentary center of the known universe: Prague, where the President of the United States of America and the President of Russia are meeting. My waiter most definitely could serve the King of England, cause that's what waiters, at least fictional waiters, do in the Czech Republic.

Hope you enjoyed the break.
 
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