Sunday, March 23, 2014

#TwitterbannedinTurkey creates an opportunity for Turks to create and broadcast more than a single story about their nation

The last time my free speech was censored in Turkey was right before a local election. The entire Google Blogspot domain was shut down. The reason cited for the shutdown of Google Blogspot was someone live-streaming football games over their blog. I was new to Turkey. The fact that this censorship of an entire domain (not just one person's site) happened right before a hotly-contested election struck me as interesting.

Freedom of tweet!
Last week, I was scheduled to give a workshop to Istanbul educators on how to use Twitter. As it happened, my workshop was scheduled for the heart of Taksim Square. That Twitter workshop had to be cancelled due to protests that were so huge they made the New York Times.

The protests were a reaction to the death of a young man named Berkan Elvan who had run to the store for bread in a neighborhood with ongoing protests. On his trip to the store, Berkan was shot in the head with a tear gas canister. Berkan had been 14 at the time he was shot, had lingered in a coma for 269 days, and finally passed away at the age of 15. His death has not been investigated, nor has anyone been held accountable.

Berkan is a member of a religious minority, the Alevis, as are many of the other victims of state violence this year.

How strongly did people in Turkey feel about his death? Take a look at his funeral.

No chirping allowed.
Amazingly, less than a week later, Berkan Elvan's death is no longer in the headlines. The conversation has been completely changed away from police brutality. This week's outrage is that Twitter has been censored. Why? So that stories that would be "insulting" to those in power can not be accessed. An election is less than one week away.



Excessive drama and outrageousness happens every week in Turkey. On the one hand, that's what makes it so fascinating to live here. Yet I don't want to be like one of those Jews in Nazi Germany who were in denial about how bad it could get. They didn't leave when all signs were screaming that they should.

Twitter had a bad night in Turkey!
Faster, little bird, faster!
Hoşgeldiniz! [Welcome]



I hope for his sake he doesn't miss!

The Sultan of Twitter

The Byrds! The Byrds!

The Twitter ban may not be as cinematic as it was in Nazi Germany, but there is no doubt about it, banning Twitter was the equivalent of a book burning. All of the tweets people send are just shorter books. Even the United States State Department agrees it was a book burning.

The first episode of Twitter censorship ended with Turkish citizens breaking all records of Twitter use. As you can see, the memes about it were delightfully creative. The second episode of Twitter was harder to surmount as the government had banned more spots.
The Turkish people were ready.
Power to the people!
The government of the
Turkish Nation
seemed to willingly
trash its "place brand"
as an up-and-coming
secular democracy.
It occurred to me watching Turkish creativity erupt due to Twitter being banned in Turkey, that it was the Turkish people's golden opportunity to create more than a single story about Turkey. "The Single Story" is an idea of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that we often get just one story in our heads about a place and it creates the entire identity of a people.
Oh, he won't fit!
Zipped shut!

Yes, the actions of  their government may have received all of the negative headlines, but the response has been fun [so far] and it continues to be beautiful. Why shouldn't the world hear and have many, many stories about Turkey!
 Sing, Turkish tweeters, sing!

You may be interested in these other posts about censorship in Turkey and elsewhere:






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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When the Olympics Come to Your Country, What Will the Athletes Wear?

The German Olympic Team exhibiting pride

The Olympics this year are in Russia, a country still trying to catch up from a disastrous century. Because of this legacy, Russia culture is not exactly leading the world in thought leadership. They are still catching up. For example, Russia is not so safe for a black or gay person to visit. Russians are famously bigoted.

The world wants to let Russia know they disapprove, and they have generally done so in a firm, obvious, yet loving way.

It made me wonder, what message will the world send to the next country that gets the Olympics? Is this the start of a new political tradition, where Olympic committees and corporate sponsors combine to poke fun at old ways of thinking? What will the athletes need to wear to send your people a message when they come to your country? What will Google and other corporations need to incorporate into their messaging? 

The Google Doodle exhibits Rainbow Pride

There are so many messages the world could send my country, America, they might have a hard time sticking to one! 

Would the athletes all dress up as dollar bills and ask America to stop endlessly adding to its debt since this is hurting emerging economies, not to mention, our own? 

Would the athletes all dress up like Lily Tomlin at the phone company to demand America stop spying on the world? After all, there's a STASI museum in Berlin decrying surveillance behaviors as evil. America once engaged in a Cold War against these behaviors; now the President of the United States defends them. Has America's NSA become just as ridiculous as Lily Tomlin's phone company operator? It kind of makes you wonder who actually *did* win the Cold War. Maybe the Russians are thought leaders, after all?

What if the world decided to poke fun at us for being so selfish that we as a nation are currently okay with 50 million people living without health insurance? That's the equivalent of five Czech Republics worth of people! Or ten Denmarks! Maybe it would take being teased by the world for America to finally step up and enact the public option so that all people have equal access to health care?

Or what if all the countries we keep invading organized the world into asking America to stop the imperialism? I don't know how that would translate into Olympic fashion. I'm sure some creative mind could make it happen. 

It seems to me, the list of what the world could 'poke fun' at America for is long. The question is, which issue would they pick?

The Olympics may turn into a tradition of sport supplemented with a world contest of public comedy on the side. It will be interesting to watch this develop. What would the athletes and corporations tease your country about? 

You may be interested in these other Olympic-related posts: 

Bravo David Černý! You Have Europe Giggling Again. This time with your Red London Double Decker Bus doing pushups!



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Thursday, December 5, 2013

#EnSonNeOkuyorsun 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 a Turkish librarian suggested #ensonneokuyorsun?

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 ? 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: #EnSonNeOkuyorsun? 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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Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Gift to the Future

The Sidewalk Along
Barbaros Boulevard in Istanbul
 
One of the pleasures of my daily life in Istanbul is this sidewalk. Every time I walk on it, I am filled with gratitude for the thoughtful planner and builders who created it. The width of it seems extraordinarily luxurious in a crowded city.
 
Trees were planted long ago by people who would never get to experience them grown the way I do everyday when I walk under them. These people created a gift to the future.
 
I always ask myself when I am walking here, "did I plant a gift to the future today?"
 
 
 
 
 
You might also enjoy these other posts with amazing walks:
 
 
 
 
 
 


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Looking back at Cihangir in Gratitude Not to Be There

A very loud construction site
home to a new hotel
Too loud for me!
Last year, I moved to the neighborhood of Cihangir from the western part of Istanbul. I was very excited to live in a culturally vibrant neighborhood known for its cafes and hipsters. I made it all of a month-and-a-half before moving out of there.
 
It was so loud and dusty! I used to live down the street from that minaret, which seemed like a great location at the time, because it was so close to public transportation and the Bosphorus. Maybe someday it will be. For now, it has this gigantic multi-year construction project going on in the neighborhood. Plus, additional noise coming from Erasmus students coming home from a night of revelry at all hours of the night. Gosh, I'm glad I don't live there anymore. My new place has been a source of constant peace and joy.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Afternoon tea and pastry with Guest Chef Yann Duytsche in the Gazebo Lounge at Cırağan Palace Kempinski

When Istanbullis want a sweet treat, they frequently head to the Gazebo Lounge at the Cırağan Palace Kempinski. The lounge has that see-and-be-seen stir of elegant people discussing engaging things while enjoying exceptional edibles. Were the food not so outstanding, it would be easy to take one's eyes off the edibles to appreciate all of the assembled aficionados of delectable desserts.

But it is actually impossible to stop looking at the food. The Gazebo Lounge features the pastry of Master Chocolatier and Philadelphian, Executive Pastry Chef William McCarrick, who was recognized by the entire Kempinski hotel chain when his dessert was selected 2013 Dessert of the Year in a blind taste test.  His creation is a sweet called the Bosphorale, combining bergamot-scented Earl Grey tea from the Black Sea region, and Turkish apricots from Kayseri with the finest Swiss Valrhona chocolate under a shiny glaze.

Talent greets talent:
Chef William McCarrick on the right
host to Chef Yann Duytsche, on the left
This year the Gazebo Lounge is celebrating its dessert destination status by inviting three world-class guest chefs to share their creativity with the Istanbul food-obsessed community. Pastry Chef William McCarrick suggested Frenchman Yann Duytsche as the very first guest chef for the Gazebo Lounge at Cırağan Palace Kempinski. Yann Duytsche is from northern France in Lille but finds himself drawn to the food cultures of the Mediterranean. He owns his own pastry shop in Barcelona, Spain named 'dolç par yann duytsche.'
 
Chef Yann suggests anyone visitng his shop in Barcelona try his signature breakfast sweet, the Karre Mango Croissant, and then take home his bestselling dark chocolate and passion fruit cake plus two or three kinds of cookies.
 
When Chef Yann asked where I was from, I shared that I was American. He said "America has delicious dessert creations - maybe not so sophisticated -but we all make them: cheesecake, cookies, brownies, and carrot cake."

 The chocolate club sandwich features
a crisp caramelized puff pastry. 
Chef Yann begins to assemble his
chocolate club sandwich
with help from Zeynep.
 
Notice the luscious green pesto
made of roka (arugula) and pine nuts.
It's a trend new to me to feature vegetables
in pastry.
 
A smudge of pesto
and a splash of carrots & apricot
nest a sandwich of thin luxe dark chocolate
with lighter chocolate inside.
"I like to play with a dessert that
one almost wants to pick up with one's hands."
The Chocolate Club Sandwich 
Having a guest chef come to Istanbul for a weekend is very much like having a top musician come in and give a master class, only in this case, it is a master class in pastry. "Yann is one of the top pastry chefs in the world," said Chef William. "I worked with him in 1989 in France for a week. We have kept in touch since then. Yann and I have had conversations through the months before he came about what he would make when he was here. His style has a sense of humor - you can see it in what he calls his chocolate club sandwich."
Cırağan chefs come out of the kitchen
to commemorate the moment
The energy in the Gazebo Lounge was sky-high as Yann and Zeynep, who was assisting him, began to assemble desserts for tasting. "The entire team is really excited to have him here," said Chef William. "I told my team to rest up on their day off and don't go shopping or be on their feet. The would need all of their energy for this moment."  I realized what sound advice this was later when Chef William showed me an app on his phone that showed he had walked 17 kilometers the day before just in the course of his work at the hotel.
The Valrhona chocolate ingots
created an inspiring foundation
for creation.
These desserts
have achieved global appreciation
and not just because of the gold leaf
on top.
 
Chef Duytsche led a team of Spanish
pastry chefs to first place
 at the Club de la Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie
(World Pastry Cup Club) in Lyon, France,
the premier world event for the pastry-making elite.

Chef Yann's creations will be featured at three afternoon teas from 3-5 p.m. Friday (yesterday), Saturday and Sunday. His creations will also be the showpiece of the Sunday brunch.

"Chef Yann is interested in the newest trends. The creative brief I gave him was to push the boundaries even farther." When Chef William McCarrick explained some of what the two of them had planned for Sunday brunch it sounded delicious, and frankly, gravity-defying. Also, on Sunday they will feature a festive cake at brunch enjoyed by Lionel Massi, a sportsman well known to Europeans.
 Another pairing well-matched for Istanbul:
a crunchy chocolate base supporting eggplant.
It was delicious.
 
Surely, the addition of vegetables
means all of this pastry is good for us.
 
Chef Yann has created desserts with
asparagus, tarragon, even potatoes.
He said it is easy to bring sweet vegetables
to pastry, and each element has sense in context.
And what is Chef Yann most excited to learn during his stay in Istanbul? "He's most interested to learn about baklava, because the hotel has our very own baklava chef. We made him a savory mushroom baklava to sample," said Chef William.

Chef Yann also added that "he enjoyed eating at Tuğra, the Ottoman-inspired restaurant in the Cırağan Palace Kempinski that overlooks the Bosphorus. I want to see the markets too, to see how Oriental meets Occidental."

What he most enjoyed sharing with the staff in the Gazebo Lounge is his combinations of ingredients, the sophistication of presentation, and his specific aesthetic. "It's like creating a garden. Pastry doesn't need decoration. The decoration comes by how it is all arranged."
Many of the city's writing foodies
enthusiastically watched the preparations.
Large newspapers and
food website representatives
 were present
plus solo bloggers like me.
A Japanese inspired dessert:
Doraiaki
My selection of treats
served alongside a very elegant
presentation of
Earl Gray English tea.
One of the most fun parts about participating in this
was meeting other writers,
especially Turkish ones.
Two young culinary students
who write for http://iyiyemek.com/:
Burak Özbay on the left and Gizem Dinçbaş on the right.
Burak said this about his studies,
"You don't pick gastronomy to study.
Gastronomy picks you."
Chef McCarrick and his mentee, Ayşe
Chef McCarrick wanted to make sure I met one of his team members, Ayşe. Having cooked all over the world in Switzerland, Austria, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Phillipines, Malasia, Bali in Indonesia, Dubai, London, and Istanbul he felt particularly strong that his legacy at Cırağan Palace Kempinski must be more than "putting cakes on the counter."

He said, "Ayşe is like a flower that just needs to be watered. She has tremendous potential as a chef. I want to help women succeed in this role because she will need thick skin to rise in this industry. Turkey doesn't have a tradition of women moving past helpers or assistants. When I was just starting out as a chef in Delaware, a chef helped me move to Switzerland to learn from another great chef. Part of bringing a guest chef to Istanbul, is to make opportunities happen for up-and-coming chefs to learn all around the world. When someone has personally met you it makes it easier for them to take a risk on you being on their staff for a few months." As I watched Ayşe's face beam under Chef McCarrick's words, I had to turn away less the catch in my throat and the tears in my eyes peaked out.
Thank you, gentlemen,
for an exquisite afternoon tea
and an inspiring day
watching your excellence in action.
I could see why the Gazebo Lounge is the "heaven of desserts" where people in Istanbul go when they feel like having a sweet. It is an avenue to all of the sweet things in life.

 
 
 
Part Two of My First Istanbul Hammam Adventure at Çirağan Palace Kempinski Hotel

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