Saturday, April 5, 2014

sacred fish

Empires, religion, and massacres seem to go hand-in-hand. Şanlıurfa (often referred to as Urfa) has a long and complex history; it is the alleged birthplace of the Armenian language and the biblically tormented Job, the site where King Nimrod threw the prophet Abraham into a pit of fire, the city where Zengi slaughtered nearly every Syriac Christian inhabitant during his takeover in 1145— and so much more. As Urfa is tied to many Christian and Muslim prophets, it is considered a major holy site in Turkey.

According to legend, as Abraham was burning, the flames were turned into water and the coals into fish. The fish that you see today in Balıklıgöl are believed to be those coals, and it is forbidden to catch or eat these fish. By the side of the pool, you can buy little dishes of fish food from vendors, and incite a feeding frenzy in the green water.

Deep purple and lilac headscarves, embroidered with dainty white flowers and patterns, are wrapped around the heads of many of the women and men who promenade the park around Balıklıgöl. I've asked several people in Urfa about the meaning behind this unusual style of scarf, but I've never been given a clear answer other than "tradition". The checked keffiyeh however, was often explained as belonging to Kurds if they are black and white, and Arabs if they are red and white— though I met a Kurdish man who wore the red and white keffiyeh, and a Kurdish woman who wore a lilac scarf.

Balıklıgöl's park is a wonderfully peaceful place, the shade of its trees offering much-needed sanctuary from the sharpness of an intense sun. Thoughts bubble up and drift away in its quiet.

forced migration

The elections came and went with some isolated violence and as expected, allegations of fraud and corruption. The Twitter ban has been lifted, and there are rumours that YouTube will be accessible soon. White and Black Storks, as well as thousands of raptors (and one Egyptian Vulture I was lucky to spy yesterday at Keskin Viraj!) continue to cross the Bosphorus into Europe, as the third bridge construction drones on.

I returned from a three-day trip to southeastern Turkey yesterday morning, which was a strange mix of excitement and sadness. It was wonderful to be back in Urfa, but the reality of the war in Syria was much more apparent than it was last May. The one millionth refugee registered in Lebanon the other day (though there are many more who remain unregistered), and there are hundreds of thousands who have crossed into Turkey. I came across many Syrians in Urfa, as well as prejudice against them— for instance, a polite gentleman I had met warned me to stay away from the Syrians, as "they" were not to be trusted and hinted that "they" were dangerous.

I refuse to believe that the opinions of one man reflect the overall attitude of people in Urfa, or other cities inundated with refugees— and I met so many kind people during both trips, that there must be plenty of compassion.

His comments left me both sad and frustrated.

Friday, March 28, 2014

no twitter, no youtube

This is what you get when you try and access YouTube in Turkey now, and forget about Twitter— the page will never load. I don't know what to say anymore. I'm not surprised, but things are getting so depressing. Local elections will take place on Sunday, and I admit that I have little hope that anything will change.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

a sky full of wings

Today we crossed greater Istanbul and made it all the way to Sarıyer in one hour— a fantastic feat, as driving anywhere near the city can be a hellish journey through traffic of the worst kind. Spring has officially arrived, and with it, the humming of bees and thousands of birds on their way back from their wintering grounds. As Sarıyer is located on one of the narrowest stretches of the Bosphorus, it is a major bottleneck for soaring birds on the Mediterranean/Black Sea Flyway.

We were prepared. Atilla the Krill Mobile (our noble, yet still slightly smelly car) was packed tightly with binoculars, folding stools, extra layers of clothes, sunscreen, bird guides, sketchbooks, and a telescope. The Dorjee thermos was full of mint tea, and our picnic basket held chocolate, oranges, cookies, and tuna sandwiches (which have become a bit of a birding tradition).

A group of three Turkish birders and a lone Englishman were scanning the sky with binoculars when we arrived at Sarıyer Keskin Viraj, a sharp curve in the road near Koç Universitesi which has some of the best views of the migratory crossing point. Pedro set up the telescope in a little clearing and I poured a cup of tea.

See all those dots in the sky?

In three hours, we saw over five hundred Lesser Spotted Eagles, 51 Short-toed Eagles, 86 Common Buzzards (including one Long-legged Buzzard), thirty Sparrowhawks, one Marsh Harrier, two Black Kites, two Booted Eagles, 116 White Storks, and the highlights: a Black Stork and one massive Imperial Eagle. How amazing is that?

At some point, while following an eagle through the trees, I noticed something that had not been there last year. Across the violet smog, something ominous was taking shape: the third Bosphorus Bridge. I understand the desperate need to alleviate the traffic situation, I do— but what will this bridge ultimately cost?

I remember Istanbul so much greener.

A third bridge, a third airport— there will be nothing left but concrete and thick air. Around two million soaring birds (pelicans, storks, raptors) pass through this point twice a year, every year. Where will they go when airplanes start claiming the sky and there's nowhere safe left to land?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

making time

So here's where I'm at with the ink portrait I begun nearly a year ago of an older gentleman who I met in Kathmandu's Durbar Square some time ago. I have taken long breaks in between sessions of maddening stippling, but I hope that I can finish it shortly and move on to another drawing. Still, I must say that I have loved the process of this piece, and I'm not sure if I am ready to complete it.

I expected the artwork to just pour out of me when I moved away from the city and shortened my commute, but things just don't happen that way do they? Time gets filled with some other often meaningless activity (mainly wandering around the internet), and I find myself complaining about not having enough time.

In two weeks I'll be returning to Urfa and Göbeklitepe with my sketchbook and camera.
Let's see if I can make the time for some drawing then.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

the fixers of broken things

I have a tremendous respect for people who fix things. In an age where nearly everything is made to be cheap, instant, and disposable, I am discovering that it has gotten harder and harder to find the fixers of broken things.

I don't have much to say about the current events in Turkey. I am highly disturbed by the violence which continues to be committed against its citizens, and some of the nonsensical vitriol spouted by certain politicians and their ministers is simply astounding. Actually, I have a lot to say, but I just don't know how to put it all into words.

Fifteen year-olds should be allowed to grow up.

Friday, March 7, 2014

stories in blue

Lately my life has been something of a bee's life; buzzing to work and buzzing home, getting up with dawn and rushing off to work again. Life in Büyükçekmece is peaceful, and there isn't much to write about or photograph, so I've been stretching the Zagreb trip to its limits as far as posts are concerned. Elections in Turkey are just around the corner, which is likely to disrupt things, but being far away from the city centre, I'm not sure what to expect. Buildings are plastered with massive campaign posters and obnoxious lines of flags are twisted and draped between and around street lamps, signs, and just about everything. Everywhere I go I feel a politician's eyes on me...

I was in Lisbon at the end of February, and it was so good to be back. Though my Portuguese is still quite limited at this point, and navigating the city is just now becoming a little less confusing, I felt like I was going home.

This beautiful aging pavilion is named after Carlos Lopes, Portugal's first ever Olympic Gold medalist. The details in the azulejos are simply stunning... Lisbon makes me want to draw.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

one plus one

Zagreb is home to one of the most fascinating and unique museums I have ever been to: the Museum of Broken Relationships. Here, the donated remains of failed and lost loves from around the world are put on display, often with a word or two about the incident or dragged out, soul-crushing turmoil that separated two people from a happiness together. Some of the artefacts and accompanying stories are blunt and matter-of-fact, some manage to pull out a laugh, and others knot the stomach.

I was amused when I first entered the museum, but soon grew quite emotional after reading each of the stories. It was humbling and familiar; our hearts have all been broken at some point in our lives, and hopefully, we mend.

It has been nearly three years since that May day when I first saw Pedro through the Gülhane park gate— I sometimes want to pinch myself to make sure I haven't dreamt it all. How lucky that he and his friends decided to take a trip to Istanbul and look up a fellow Urban Sketcher. How lucky that I met them for a sketch. How lucky that the martins were flying over Karaköy that evening, and that the New Year's lights were still hanging over Istiklal in the shape of glittery moustaches. How lucky!

If you have someone in your life who makes every molecule of your being hum with joy, squeeze them tightly, and let them know that your life is so much more colourful with them in it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

fish market

Zagreb's Dolac Market has a great little fish section with friendly fishmongers and a decent variety of goodies. I'm not sure why I'm drawn to fish markets—perhaps it's the colours, patterns, and shapes of the fish, or the boisterousness of the fishmongers (which seems to be pretty much universal)— it's certainly not the smell.