Thursday, January 28, 2010

if at first you don't succeed

After two weeks of hand-cramping, eye-straining, joyous inking and gouaching, I've finally finished my entries for Operation Win Fluevog Creative Phase II. You may remember how last month, I lost my first attempt at winning the Fluevog Creative ad design competition for my shoe, the Mini Zaza. It was a close battle— I lost by a mere 1%— and well, if at first you don't succeed, keep on trying.

So here we go. These are my two entries for the Hope shoe, in various stages of completion so you can check out some of the detail and effort I've scrawled into these two pieces. Both were created with labour intensive lines of India ink and gouache colour, but the heart one has a digital touch added to the background rays and doves.

Let's hope we make it to the finals!

Now where's that simitçi drawing I was working on?

Monday, January 25, 2010

romance and reality

Istiklal Tram

I woke up this morning with my head full of romantic images of dark wool coats flecked with melting snowflakes, red cheeks, ornate buildings with white cake-like frosting, my hands and belly craving the sweet warmth of roasted chestnuts. I pulled on my warmest coat, thickest socks and wrapped myself up in my big turquoise scarf.

At first it was exactly as I dreamt, but I soon realised the poetry of walking down Istiklal in the snow is lost when a giant, heavy-footed man treads on your toe and you can't feel it. Even the chestnut roasters were too cold to offer shivering pedestrians their paper bags of warmth. I opted instead for a less healthy paper cone of frites— delicious, but nowhere near the magic of chestnuts. I could only make it as far as Robinson Crusoe 389 (my favourite Istanbul bookshop) to purchase a copy of Cannery Row, before I was ready to go home to a hot shower and some tea.

Istiklal CaddesiBoats on the BosphorusBüyükdere under snow

I am so grateful for hot water.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Istanbul Mosque with snow.
It's a common misconception that Turkey is in the Middle East, and that the Middle East is all a big hot desert, which could be why many people are surprised when I mention how cold Istanbul winters are. So I thought I'd share with you a few fun geographical facts on this fine January day.

The Republic of Turkey sits in between the Middle East and Europe, bordered by Greece in the west, Bulgaria in the northwest, Georgia in the northeast, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran in the east, and Iraq and Syria in the south. What isn't bordered by land is met with water. The mysterious Black Sea lies to our north, the turquoise Aegean in the west, Mediterranean in the south, and the little Marmara Sea and Bosphorus separate our European side from our Asian side, Anatolia. At 783,562 square kilometers, we are the world's 37th largest country, and have quite a wide variety of winters ranging from Mediterranean warmth to frigid arid plateaus, to snowy mountain ranges and wet northern sea coasts.

So does it snow in Istanbul?

Snow storm in Istanbul.Roof in Istanbul snow storm

Thursday, January 14, 2010

ottoman western

Dinner at a Turkish restaurant.
Tilly and I decided that Thursday was the night to watch Yahşi Batı, the Turkish cowboy comedy I've been dying to see. We decided to catch a quick bite before the movie, at one of the many Turkish restaurants around Istiklal— I won't tell you which one, because I don't want to upset anyone that might work there or frequent the place. I'll just tell you it's a small place behind Istiklal, and it's painted green.

I was excited about dinner when it was gently placed on the table— black-eyed peas in olive oil, dolmas stuffed with barley, spinach gözleme, and savoury leeks. My first bite of the peas was met with a delicious curry-like flavour and a loud and disturbing crunch. I immediately (and as discreetly and lady-like as possible) spat out my mouth's contents into a napkin to discover a small stone was lying amongst the peas, masquerading as something edible— and now my tooth hurt.

The rest of dinner was stone-free and tasty, but I was soon disturbed again. What should have been between 16 and 20 lira, was a shocking 31 lira! I had a suspicion upon entering the establishment that we might get treated like tourists, as we were speaking English and there weren't any prices listed anywhere, but I chose to have faith in the waiter and the guy behind the counter because, well, I like to think the best of people.

We handed over our cash with a couple of questions and frowns. The guys just smiled. It happens. Sometimes you just get taken advantage of, and there's nothing you can do about it.

As we weaved down a crowded Istiklal, we marvelled at how many cinemas there were to choose from. We finally settled on Rüya Sineması, which had yellow paper signs advertising "Halk Günü 8TL". Lucky for us, Thursdays were "public days" for this little theatre, when ticket prices plunge to a mere eight lira. We bought our tickets from a very nice lady, and headed through the dark musty passage to the theatre. Tilly bought a coffee at the snack stand as I ran upstairs to use the tuvalet.

On occasion, it is not unusual to be asked by an old man or woman sitting at a table in front of the toilets, for anywhere from a few kuruş to one lira to use the toilet. This usually happens in the metro and bus stations, but you can come across it in some restaurants and as I now know, some cinemas too. It always helps to have some coins on hand.

Everything in the theatre was a different shade of brown, and there was something very 1970s about it— which I loved. Apart from us, there was only one other person there, which was very exciting to me, as I get some funny thrill out of being in an empty theatre. It feels like I can do whatever I want with no one there, but I never actually do anything except watch the movie. I guess I just like knowing that I can act like a maniac if I choose to.

Still shot of Turkish comedy Yahsi Bati.Still shot of Turkish comedy Yahsi Bati.
As I expected, lots of jokes and dialogue flew over my head, but the movie was hilarious! Loads of cultural jokes, slapsticky antics and quite a bit of hiding objects in a particular orifice humour— which was not expected. I really enjoyed it, but I definitely want to find a DVD with subtitles so I can figure out why a few things happened. I still don't get the whole sheriff/priest thing or how our heroes ended up in the Native American camp...

the line

Close up of ink drawing of a bread seller in Istanbul by Samantha Zaza.Close up of ink drawing of a bread seller in Istanbul by Samantha Zaza.Close up of ink drawing of a bread seller in Istanbul by Samantha Zaza.
Just a small section of an approximately 28 in x 40 in, or 70 cm x 100 cm drawing. I'm only on my second bottle of ink. I have a looong way to go.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

greedy artist

Cup of tea with a package of Darjeeling tea leaves on a kilim.
Lately I feel like I've been a greedy artist. Reluctant to let out the images in my head, reluctant to use my hands for anything except holding a book or knitting. Sometimes this happens, and it's not like artist's block— I have plenty of ideas and feel quite inspired— I just don't want to do anything about it. It's a stubbornness, a greed. I want to keep it all to myself.

So today, today is a work day. I've poured myself a delicious cup of Darjeeling tea and I've got my pen and bottle of India ink ready to go. Staring at all these inches of white paper, I am feeling a little discouraged, yet determined to get back to it. Sometimes I want a bit of instant gratification; to be done with a piece in a day or two, but that's just not possible with the kind of work I do. It often takes weeks, months— one piece even took me three years to complete. It was eight feet tall and composed of tiny words in ink.

Ink drawing in progress of a Turkish bread seller by Samantha Zaza.
Alright. Let's get to it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

breakfast to baklava

Organic farmer's market in Bomonti, Istanbul.
When Aurel told me there was an organic farmers' market in Istanbul, I felt a tiny palpitation of excitement. When my friend Tilly said, "Oh yeah! The organic market!" I thought, why the hell haven't I heard of this until now?

That's life in Istanbul. There's always something hidden around the corner for you to discover.

After meeting up with Tilly at the Osmanbey metro station, we weaved through a labyrinth of streets to an area called Bomonti. My navigation skills were thoroughly challenged— I'm still not quite sure how we got there, but I have a general sense of the direction we headed in— and it seemed that all of a sudden, I spied some yellow tarps in a car park that screamed "market."

As soon as we stepped into the market, I spied Aurel sitting at a table with his lovely lady. We sat down for a slow, chatty breakfast of menemen, which is kind of like saucy scrambled eggs, and a traditional kahvaltı, which consists of a boiled egg, cheese, olives, honey, butter, tomatoes and cucumbers, and bread. Everything we ate came from the market— fresh, organic, and bursting with flavour.

After our third or so çay we said our see-you-laters, and Tilly and I wandered around the stands, waiting for my dear friend Nuri, who was back in town. We figured enough time had passed between all the chatting and browsing to sit at another table and sample the whole wheat gözleme.

Woman making gözleme

Needless to say it was incredible, and when Nuri arrived, we stayed for more çay and conversation. As it can happen, the topic of baklava was brought up. The three of us hopped on the metro to Taksim, then trekked down to bustling Karaköy, to Karaköy Güllüoğlu Baklava Café, rumoured to have the best baklava in Istanbul. The Güllüoğlu family has been dishing out the most sumptuous syrupy treats since 1871, and Istanbullus have been enjoying them at this charming location since 1949.

Glass cases with shelves of glistening diamonds, coils, squares and rolls pull you to ogle in every direction, as sweet-toothed Turks familiar with the system push past you. Green crumbled pistachios and golden toasted phyllo dazzle, as the scent of nuts, rose water and sweetness tease. What do you choose? Where do you go? Suddenly, you hear a "hoşgeldiniz" from a man behind one of the cases, and he gruffly asks you what you'd like. Overwhelmed, you point to a few pretty pieces, and are soon handed a small white plate of delicious treasure. He tells you a number— the price— and you make your way over to the impatient cashier, pronouncing the same vowels and syllables you've just been told. Finding a seat is not easy, and you might have to share with other people. No matter, you've got a plateful of baklava.

So how was it? Dee-vine.

Friday, January 8, 2010

meeting chagall at the pera

Down Istiklal Caddesi, past the Galatasaray Lisesi, you'll find a passage called Odakule on your left. If you walk through it to the other side and take another left, you'll run right into the beautiful Pera Museum, which this month, is home to a most marvellous collection of Marc Chagall etchings, drawings and paintings.

I find so much joy in staring at and absorbing the work of a favourite artist— wondering why this line, this colour, what he or she thought, felt, how their eyes saw. Chagall is one of my top three; the colour, movement and life in his work bring tears to my eyes. There's only one artist who managed to get them rolling down my cheek, and that was Vincent Van Gogh— specifically it was his Wheatfield with Crows. Ever since I stood in front of those waves of cadmium and ochre, that bluest blue, I have struggled to find words to describe the experience. I was fifteen years old, and I felt the world and my world, sway and soar in wheat and wings.

The Chagall exhibit at the Pera consisted mainly of his etchings and drawings, which naturally thrilled me, as I love a good line. There were so many India ink drawings I wanted to get photos of, but with super-reflective glass protecting them and the guard eyeing my camera, I only managed to get these close-ups. Which are pretty fantastic.

I must say I enjoy the Pera's permanent collection quite a bit— there are some lovely oil and watercolour paintings of Ottoman daily life, and a wonderful exhibit of Anatolian weights and compasses. I highly recommend finding and wandering through this little museum, then having lunch at one of the many nearby restaurants in the Tünel area.

Here are some favourite parts of my favourite paintings:

good company and a good read

Yesterday I met the very hip, very cool Aurél de Saint André— winner of the first Fluevog Creative competition, who just happens to live in Istanbul. Aurél is himself a nomad, having lived in places like Afghanistan and Thailand, and is a talented designer— his site is full of yummy logos and posters I recommend checking out. We spent the early afternoon wandering around the backstreets of Beyoğlu, hopping in and out of the many, many hidden antique shops.

We parted ways after a kebap and some çay, and I headed off to a café to start reading my first book of 2010— Fatelessness by Imre Kertész. Throughout my adventure in Budapest, I had been searching for a book by a great Hungarian writer to take home with me, and Mirco had suggested I find something by Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertész. At some point in the trip, I had run out of money, and decided to put his books on my holiday wishlist. Lucky lucky me, my mother gave me not one, but three of his books: Fatelessness, Kaddish for an Unborn Child, and Liquidation.

I could not put it down. By the time I reached the hundredth page, my coffee was ice-cold and the sun was nowhere to be found. Fatelessness is about a fourteen year old Hungarian boy who is unexpectedly picked up and sent off to Auschwitz. I felt as though I was seeing, feeling and thinking through this boy— as this boy. I've been walking around all day with the sensation of being trapped in the book, and I can't wait to get back to it.