Tuesday, January 18, 2011

SPIRITUAL ISTANBUL: THE TOP 5 SMALL MOSQUES

Heading to Istanbul for the first time? Then, you'll be pleasantly startled by the forest of minarets on the descent toward the city's Atatürk airport. And if you happen to be architecturally inclined like me and would like to take in as many of these Islamic sanctuaries as possible, then a quandary will present itself: which to slot on an already busy travel schedule. 


Based on a recent article published by Turkey's largest daily, Hürriyet, here's my list of what's worth tripping for -- and what's not: 


Sinan's seaside Şemsipaşha Mosque (late 16th C.)
Şemsipaşa Mosque
One of the oldest sanctuaries in town, this mosque was commissioned by Şemsi Paşa -- one of Süleyman the Magnificent's most powerful governors -- in 1580. But this petite mosque derives its importance not from its founder but from its architect, the great Mimar Sinan. It exemplifies this master craftman's decades of experience, as much as, say, his Süleymaniye mosque does from its perch high atop the Golden Horn. It is said that birds do not land on nor soil its minaret and dome out of respect for Sinan's spectacular design. It's perhaps why this building is nicknamed Kuşkonmaz (or birds do not land). 


Why go? Located in Üsküdar on Istanbul's Asian flank, this building's tour (along with its sprawling complex that includes a library) can fill about an hour. Lunch at the traditional Kanaat Lokantası, and a stroll through this center's renown antique bazaar will reward the intrepid traveler.


Ortaköy Mosque (late 19th C.)
Ortaköy Mosque (Link)
Gracing the eponymous, popular square, this mosque's finishing touches were performed in 1855 by Ottoman Imperial (or Celebrity, in these parts) Nigoğos (pronounced Neegohos) Balyan. This diminutive sanctuary was commissioned by the reformist and Western-friendly Abdülmecid Sultan. It was named Büyük Mecidiye Camii Grand Imperial Mosque), but its diminutive size trumps its name. But what it lacks in grandeur it makes up in the meticulous attention to detail and unique ornamentation that's synonymous with its drafter's last name; the Balyan's spawned four generations of imperial architects. Inside, a two-story pew built for the sultan himself occupies most of the building's left flank. The mosque's quay, a popular spot to gaze at the rippling currents of the Bosphorus and the old quarters over the sesame seed-encrusted tea ring known as simit, was designed to welcome the Ottoman emperor on his approach from the straits and provide him with a direct access to the royal pew.  


Why go? Ortaköy's a lively square on the weekend, particularly on Sunday when the weekly market's in full swing. Popular hangouts to people-watch, the restaurants, bars, and tea houses lining the cobblestone lanes in and around the square's are inanely hip.  
  


Valide Sultan Mosque (late 19th C.) 
Valide Sultan Mosque (Link)
Built by Sarkis Balyan and drawn by his , this mosque also goes by the name of Pertevniyal Sultan, the Wallachian mother of Sultan Abdülaziz. She commissioned it in 1871, and the building has been open for worship ever since. The square it towers over was once impressive, but the demands of the growing city that surrounds it have constricted the property between a web of thoroughfares.


Why go? Aside from its mosque, the district doesn't offer much touristic appeal. It does, however, serve as a destination for the Russian luggage trade. 






Rüstem Paşa Mosque (mid-16th C.)
Rüstempaşa Mosque (Link)
Located at the Mercan entrance that leads into Eminönü's Tahtakale vibrant shopping quarter, this smallish mosque is also attributed to Mimar Sinan. The great Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent commissioned this building for his son-in-law (Rüstem Paşa)  in 1561. The adjacent buildings house spice traders, whose heady wares lend tantalizing aromas as visitors check the uniquely bold İznik faïence decorating the sanctuary's inner walls. 


Why go? Rüstem Paşa's mosque is as intricate as Sultanahmet is grand. For its time, the level of mastery depicted in the tiles is striking; the hard-to-achieve red pigment found in Iznik tile-making was first introduced here. When done, the surrounding area is your oyster: check out Eminönü's Spice Bazaar, fun Tahtakale, or even the Galata Bridge and its restaurants lapped by the Golden Horn.   


STRICTLY SPEAKING 


PRAY = DUA ET (Pron. Dooah Eht) 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

COOL PROJECTS & PUBLICATIONS

Can't believe it's been almost two and a half months since I last wrote an entry on this blog. My, my, my...  How time flies...

Aside from being in the process of a massive home renovation, I had the opportunity of getting one of those projects which doesn't come along too often. Plus, the news that MI&TC's last chapter -- Cappadocia and the Interior -- will be issued in March 2011 as Moon Spotlight on Cappadocia.

So as the lurid, tiny, turquoise kitchen I had inherited was being demolished in the front of the house, I was hard at work, translating slides of a book that had actually been commissioned by Sultan Selim III in the late 18th century on my newly refurbished rear balcony/office.

Picturesque Journey through Constantinople
While the original tome has been housed in the Topkapı library for almost two centuries, a facsimile of the real deal that had initially appeared in "elephant folio" (23" by 28" prints folded the binding) format was created by premier Turkish photographer Ahmet Ertuğ in 2003. The latter version does include an English translation. But the Turkish government, however, hired me to retranslate the original French text into English.

Consisting of  51 engravings and about 140 pages of textual info, this antique literary work contains inane pictorials and descriptions of what Istanbul looked like more than 200 years ago. (I'll provide more details when the book is published.)


Dr. Ahmet Ağırakça's History of Islamic Medicine





Also, I was delighted to see one of the first copies of  Dr. Ahmet Ağırakça's History of Islamic Medicine. The author contacted me to edit this 400-page tome last summer. I had loads of fun cleaning up (infusing as much life into its stodgy textual content) for the better part of three months.

Ağırakça provides an encyclopedic rundown of Islamic medicine from its historic inception in Mesopotamia and gradual development in Egypt, India and Greece, all the way through the 13th century.

Since this was the first time I dealt with this kind of material, I learned all about Islam's key role in keeping medicine alive from Antiquity up until about the Age of Enlightenment.  Had it not been for the Arabs' pious reverence for conserving and developing natural sciences, the knowledge would not have reached Europeans in its entirety. Previously, I was of the notion that medicine had descended along its merry way from deep within Mesopotamia. But it is historically not so, since medical and medicinal practices of any kind were considered heretical and banned by the Church throughout the Middle Ages. In fact, the works of the Greek fathers of science probably would not have survived today had it not been for the conservation efforts prescribed by the Mohammedan decree.

Aside from this couple of cool projects, the news that Avalon Travel Publications had deemed the last chapter to Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast bankable enough to develop a separate title was just -- well -- the icing on the cake. (BTW, MI&TC's now available in Turkey)

I also joined the Authors Guild, hoping to boost my platform as a writer of all things Turkish (exciting projects in the works that wil be introduced here later).

So as I was slowly move the furniture I exiled to the rear of the house back to the front, await the arrival of custom kitchen cabinets, and toil on parenting two kids on different continents, I'll keep at pounding the keyboard in an ardent effort to make 2011 (Happy New Year) the best year so far.

STRICTLY SPEAKING 


MEDICINE = İLAÇ (pron. eelatch)


 

Monday, November 22, 2010

SACRIFICE HOLIDAY 2010

For the better part of the last week and a half I've been caught in the whirls of the Muslim observance of  Kurban Bayram (Sacrifice Holiday). This year was special one, however, no family dinners or family visits. Just a nice block of time away from home since the Turkish ministry of education closed schools for 10 days. So off we went!

Courtesy of Istanbul Daily Photo
Most took off for places near and far, resulting in the emptying of most Turkish metropolises and in particular Istanbul; driving south on the third day left me agog as we maneuvered our way from home to the car ferry that would take me across the Sea of Marmara in less than 20 minutes, 15 less than usual. (Planning your travels to Turkey during these long holidays will pay off in spades, just make sure you arrive on the second or third day of the observance when most of the touristic destinations reopen.)


In between basketball and private lessons, we were left with a total of five days of utter peace and hopefully swimming and lots of wining and dining.  So we decided once again to head south to our house along the Aegean Coast, smack in the geographical playground of Greek mythology.

Courtesy of Zipkinci

Swimming, that we did; the water was warmer than during the summer months, as it typically is between the Fall and Spring seasons. We watched in awe Ayvalık's giant jellyfish gracefully inch toward the water line less than a couple of meters from the pitter patter of our feet. Fished for squid, gild-headed and zebra sea bream. And, just rummaged along the amassed algae along the coast to find whole sea shells to add to our growing collection.




At the exception of the first, evenings were spent sampling ever so slowly meze platters and seasonal finned creatures at three different eateries. We were lucky as the season is ripe for fresh herbs and succulent fish.

Ayvalık Şehir Kulübü Yörük Mehmet'in Yeri  

On the last night, we opted for Ayvalık Şehir Kulübü Yörük Mehmet'in Yeri -- my favorite waterside restaurant in Ayvalık or almost anywhere along Turkey's western coast. This place almost feels like home despite the fact that it's always crowded and a Who's Who of Turkey's élites. Owner Mehmet was away visiting his own family in Balıkesir, so his son Murat greeted us and led us to the meze-filled showcase.




Grilled octopus on a bed of dill


Each appetizer so fresh it begged to be tasted, but I knew most on offer and chose instead a couple which I was unfamiliar with along with a trio of others I make the half-hour trip from my house for. The grilled octopus is one of my all-time favorites, and Mehmet's staff never fails to impress by serving the freshest and tenderest tentacles. So is the Eggplant Börek -- a concoction of pine nuts, kashar cheese and dill  laid on a thin slice of eggplant that is rolled in bread crumbs and lightly fired. Both, as always, were spot on.




Black-eyed peas seared in olive oil 


One dish I wanted to try was the black-eyed peas seared in olive oil, and served at room temperature with minced onions and pickles, and a tad of dill (again). The four dish to precede our grilled Sargos (white sea bream main course) was a sauteed, floured mushroom, accompanied by a garlicky yogurt dipping sauce. Both novelties had us swooning and begging for more.







Truck drivers having tea on the side of the freeway 
Our four-day stint proved to be a much-appreciated relief to life's daily doldrums. On the return, however, traffic was about as horrendous as I've ever seen it. Our usual five-hour drive, was almost doubled in duration. All boat services catering to vehicular traffic crossing the Sea of Marmara were filled to the gills and experiencing two- to three-hour delays. Motorists made the best of the situation, pitstopping at gas stations and freeway embankments from the monotonous bumper-to-bumper traffic. At least, we enjoyed a long drive around the sea's gulf, passing through areas I hadn't seen in a while and ogling at the sheer madness of Turkish drivers -- country bumpkins who maneuver donkeys most of the year.

Allow me an aside here, I blogged about about a month ago of an impending frigid winter being predicted for the remainder of 2010 and beginning of 2011. Months so cold it'd have the Europeans playing in the hands of the Russians for cheaper gas, according to the latter's news agencies. Well, so much for theories of the rapidly depleting Gulf Stream and its inability to temper the wrath of Arctic winds because the thermometer's been stuck in Indian summer temps since mid-September. In fact, if daily life didn't require me to stay in Istanbul I'd be prancing around Turkey's water-lapped coast.

STRICTLY SPEAKING 


Drive = Araba gezisi (pron. ahrahbah gehzeesee)





Friday, November 05, 2010

CHECK OUT WHY ISTANBUL'S SO COOL


Check out what Moon staffers are mulling over in  The Moon Water Cooler Blog; it's got my five reasons why I think Istanbul's so cool....
Happy reading






STRICTLY SPEAKING
Unforgettable  = Unutulmaz 
(pron. oohnoohTOOHLmahz)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

PHOTOSEEK: A SITE FOR PHOTOFICIONADOS

About three years ago, I requested a couple of dozen pics from Tom Dempsey, a lively globetrotter who's traveled to the earth's four corners and back to shoot some of the most amazing nature photography I've seen in a while.

Today, I thought I'd share them with the world in the hope of broadening his renown.

Tom Dempsey and his wife, Carol. 
Dempsey has shot indelible locations throughout the world, including Antartica and Australia. Penguins and Anatolians, as well as the pristine Alps and Chile's breathtaking Serrano Glacier.

He also published his own book recently. A manual to advance both  leisure and advanced photographers, Light Travel: Photography on the Go delivers 210 pages packed full of insights and more than 200 color photos on how to improve your moment-capturing abilities.    


You'll also find five of Dempsey's photos in Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast. These include Dalyan's rock-hewn Lycian Tombs; Ephesus' opulent 1800-year-old Celsus Library and it grand theater, one of the largest of ancient Asia Minor; the traditional spoondancers of Anatolia; and, one of Cappadocia's millenium-old Santa Barbara Chapel, which is entirely crafted of the indigenous volcanic rock and gorgeously frescoed in the traditional early Christian style.

Here's hoping that you enjoy your desktop or armchair travels!

STRICTLY SPEAKING


Photographer = Fotografcı (pron. photoGRAPHjuh)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

REASONS WHY MOON ISTANBUL & THE TURKISH COAST STANDS A HEAD ABOVE ITS COMPETITION

Yesterday, I attended Istanbul's Book Fair in the hope of making additional, regional contacts in the publishing industry. One of the distributors I met yesterday while strolling through the giant maze of over a thousand publishers at the 29th Annual Istanbul Book Fair asked me how Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast's differs from other guidebooks covering the region. 

Unprepared for the inquiry, my resourceful little self met her inquisitor head-on, tooting that the book is the only travel guide to focus so intensively on the cultural aspect of each region covered. Regional delicacies? Yep, you'll find them in there! Historical info? Covered in depth. Politics? Yep, yep, yep! (Unfortunately). 

All in all, the book doesn't just point the reader in this or that direction; it tells you why the particular site has met my rigorous requirements for inclusion. You'll know what to do, where to go, what and where to dine, and most importantly you'll gain a ton of background info on each region. Can't get that anywhere else!!!! 

OK, enough horn-tooting here! The point of this diatribe is simply this: when I took on this colossal project I knew exactly what I wished the book to be; three tomes rolled into one resourceful handbook that would cover Turkey's protracted past, its foodie havens and culinary traditions, and a true depiction of the essence of the multi-cultural landscape I've called my own for more than a decade! 

Here's to hoping that my efforts will strike a cord in both armchair and on-the-go readership!

STRICTLY SPEAKING

To Read = Okumak (pron. ohKOOmahk)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

ADDITIONAL RESTRICTIONS ON US TRAVEL

Cartoon courtesy of Pushing Back the Frontiers of Ignorance 
As of November 1, the Transportation Security Administration in cohorts with the Department of Homeland Security will require passengers traveling to and from the United States to provide personal information at least 72 hours prior to departure.

This, we're told, is the next step in a sweeping security scheme, called Secure Flight Program, launched in 2009.

Each traveler is required to fill a Security Flight Passenger Data (SFPD) at the time of reservation or, at the very least, three full days prior to take-off. The obligatory "data" to provide includes the passenger's ful name, date of birth and gender as they appear on travel documents, as well as a redress number (if applicable). The agency warns that those who don't file won't fly!

Thankfully, commercial air carriers -- like American Airlines -- have streamlined the process by allowing their customers to fill out the mandatory details on their account profile, and will automatically forward the SFPD when reservations for international travel are effected through them in the future.

Needless to say, travelers are miffed. And they're not alone. British Airlines Chairman Martin Broughton blasted the TSA this week for enforcing measures he called "completely redundant". He even went on to ask his countrymen to stop "kowtowing to the Americans every time they want something done".

I'm wondering if flight staff are also required to file SFPD's. And what about those who must travel within the 72-hour time frame for emergency reasons?

STRICTLY SPEAKING 

Airlines = Hava Yolları (pron. hahVah YOLLahruh)