Archive for March, 2011

Perception

N train, Brooklyn to Manhattan, 7:32 a.m. Wednesday

I’m watching this guy across from me, slouched on the subway bench, slogging away with the rest of us through the morning commute, eyes closed. He’s dressed in black pleather off-brand sneakers, faded jeans that are faded neither for fashion’s sake or irony, and has a belly rivaling my dad’s hanging over his belt.

I guess at his story. He’s a union guy, probably some kind of contractor—the kind of guy who rolls into the deli ordering his egg sandwich on a hero and coffee light and sweet. He owns a house, deep in Bay Ridge. His wife’s name is Louise, but he calls her “Lou,” or, when he’s with the guys, “the old lady.” His accent is Brooklyn, through and through, and it is thick.

But he has a Moleskine journal open on his lap, a blue ballpoint pen in his hand. It’s a sketchbook. The spread he’s open to is as blank as can be. Not even rule lines guide his musings. But I can see through this page to the one behind, and there’s a drawing there. Two distinct vertical lines and some detailing to the side. Only the broad strokes bleed through the page, but this faint impression of his work is enough to totally alter mine of him.

His eyes have opened. He’s now watching me scribble frantically in my own Moleskine, considering him, as he considers his blank page. Two people, considering one another, creating, at 7:32 a.m. Here’s my stop; time to go. As I pack up my Moleskine, now all the richer for his story in it, I wonder if he’ll sketch me in his. I wonder where his stop is. I wonder how often he draws. I wonder if it’s his career, his passion or both.

Ceasing assumption and choosing instead to wonder, I set about my day, all the more creative, thanks to the man in the black pleather sneakers.

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Istanbul 2010: On Being American… and Blonde

Galata Bridge, March 8, 2010

I made one strategic error in preparing for my trip to Istanbul. I got my highlights done.

Istanbul’s a hard town for a white American girl to pretend to be a local. Even if I had kept my mouth shut, always hard for me to do, I stuck out like a sore American thumb. Or, as I learned with my hair freshly blonde, a Dutch, German or Australian thumb, all nationalities that restauranteurs shouted out at me as I passed them by.

One of the things I was really keen to do in Istanbul was stroll the Galata Bridge, which crosses the Golden Horn and is full of seafood restaurants. It looked so innocent… nice little stroll… the freshest of fresh fish…

Galata Bridge, March 8, 2010

But on the day that I visited, a rainy March afternoon, I was one of the few tourists on the bridge. And I was obviously from some exotic nation where the women speak English and their blonde locks wave in the breeze. Everyone but everyone wanted to have a chat with the American girl. I experienced this in Sultanahmet, the heart of the tourist district, as well, so had devised a new strategy. When the touts asked me if I was American and tried to get me to stop in for a çay (tea) and a chat, I replied, “¿Cómo? Soy española,” and smiled enigmatically, feigning confusion at these strange English words they were speaking. I figured I’d put that long lost Spanish major to use.

This strategy served me pretty well. My Spanish accent is convincing enough, and as anyone who’s visited Spain before knows, there are plenty of true españolas rubias. Though there are Turks in the tourism industry who speak Spanish, they are far outnumbered by those who speak English.  But, in a lovely turn of events, my language skills got put to the test. After dodging every man on the bridge and starting to feel a bit overwhelmed, a lovely young Turkish gentleman stepped up to me and handed me his card with a rare non-aggressive smile. “Listen, I know all those people are trying to get you to come spend your money. My family, we have a very good restaurant here. I will give you my card. If you come back another day, if you are hungry, you stop by. If you would like to come in now to get out of the cold, I will give you some çay. But no pressure. You are my guest.”

If it was just his routine, it worked. I happily settled into a table with my sweet (and free) cup of tea. When I confided to my new restauranteur friend how I had been pretending to be Spanish, I was treated to, “Estoy aprendido español. ¿Quizás practiquemos?” I prattled away happily in my rusty Spanish for nearly an hour to my new friend.

At this stage, you have probably assumed that the man I’m photographed with at the top of this post is my dear new Spanish-learning friend. Alas, no. This guy, like all the other touts on the bridge, was busy watching me inside his competitor’s restaurant while I sipped my tea. He just wanted a photo with the American girl who spoke Spanish. Normally, I would have looked away and picked up my pace. Warmed, though, by a cup of çay and some human kindness, I obliged.

Galata Bridge, March 8, 2010

It All Happens On the Street

I had no idea so many elements of New York City’s “je ne sais quoi” could be so elegantly woven together in a 90-minute documentary about an 83-year-old fashion photographer.

If you have any interest in fashion, New York City, photography, the arts, the changing face of the urban culture, real estate battles, bicycles or human nature, add Bill Cunningham: New York to your Netflix queue. (Or run down to the Film Forum if you’re lucky enough to be in New York, in which case you’ll love it even more.)

For the uninitiated, Cunningham has worked for the New York Times for decades as a fashion chronicler of sorts. His weekly “column” is a page full of photographs focused on a particular trend. When I worked for Saks Fifth Avenue, little unfashionable Iowa fish-out-of-water that I was, his Sunday Styles page was open on everyone’s desk come Monday morning. I remember the clamor around the office when my already very glamorous and well-known boss was included on his page. If Bill took your photo, so they said, you’d made it. But to put it all in perspective, Anna Wintour, perhaps the most fashionable woman in the world, is the one who utters these words in the film. The mere fact she was willing to appear in the film (smiling, at that) speaks to the influence Cunningham, who cycles around town in a reflective orange vest, wields.

Even if you have no interest in fashion, this is a brilliant film about generations worth of life in New York City. Until recently, Cunningham lived in legendary artist studios above Carnegie Hall that evicted their tenants when they were converted into office space. It’s a fascinating look at gentrification and the changing landscape for creative types.

Personally, I loved watching a film so rich with personal memories. I studied Bill’s trends as a young, reluctant fashionista to have something to talk about ’round the water cooler. Years later, I harassed my media relations agency daily to get Cunningham to photograph charity events for the university where I worked. One of my best friends worked at Carnegie Hall when he lived upstairs; she said her colleagues all used to wonder if they were wearing anything worthy of “On the Street” as they came to work.

New York’s one great big small town. I’m so glad Bill Cunningham is one of my neighbors.

If You Thought Football Was Rough in England…

kapali

Absolutely brilliant article in last week’s New Yorker about the Turkish obsession with soccer, aka “football” if you’re anything but American. Sadly, you can’t get the full text on their site, but this blog post gives a few great excerpts, and if you’re at all interested in soccer and/or Turkey, I think it’s worth it to get your hands on a back issue.

To give you a little sneak peek: one of the leaders of the supporter club is shot in the opening section of the article, which is nothing out of the ordinary. Stabbings and gunshot wounds are all part of the pre-game for die-hard Turkish soccer fans.

I rode by the stadium of the team the article features, Besiktas, nearly every day on the bus from Uskudar to Taksim. Little did I know what I was missing…

Istanbul 2010: Markets

Acibadem Market, March 4, 2010

I love markets, both in New York and abroad. I once told a male friend, a European, how much I love strolling through local markets in whatever city I visit, and he couldn’t even begin to comprehend why. He actually though it was completely laughable. He’d never heard or thought of such a thing. I’m not sure if my penchant for markets is feminine, American, or both, but I find it an entirely creative experience. Farmers markets are among my favorite, whether the food is familiar and fresh or exotic and esoteric. I like to look, smell, grab what’s best, and scheme to cleverly craft something delicious—a whole that’s even greater than so many lovely parts.

Acibadem Market, March 4, 2010

Beyond food, the color, the people, the sights, and the sounds of a market are enough to inspire any artist. There are infinite songs, books, poems, and paintings waiting to be discovered among the stalls and wares. Istanbul’s bazaars on the European side are plenty famous, and have inflated prices and tourist hordes to prove it. These photos are more my speed, off the beaten path, taken in local markets I wandered through, with great joy, on the Asian side.

Kadiköy Markets, March 12, 2010

 

Kadiköy Markets, March 12, 2010

 

Istanbul 2010: En Route to Kiz Kulesi

March 4, 2010

 

I shot this on the coast of Istanbul’s Üsküdar neighborhood, on the Asian side, waiting to board a ferry boat for Kiz Kulesi, the Maiden’s Tower. We had just missed a boat, so had a good half-hour to sit in the fog and soak in the scene. Our destination, Kiz Kulesi, is draped in a variety of highly romantic legends of the Medieval variety. In one tale, a la Rapunzel with shades of Sleeping Beauty, the Sultan hid his daughter in the tower to protect her from a curse, only to watch her die in his arms after a snake snuck in with a basket of fruit, striking her with its fatal poison. Another more popular legend holds that a young woman lived in the tower, lighting its lamp to guide her lover Leander as he swam across the strait each night to see her. When, one night, her light went out, he perished en route.

All of these so-called romantic legends seemed a million miles removed as we sat on rocks in the cold, watching fisherman cast their rods and a lonely tourist shopkeeper gaze across the Strait. I remember and cherish this moment far more than the tour of the tower itself. Istanbul’s people, living their lives and gazing at their city in the light of today, hold far more allure for me than the epic tales of old.

Why We (and I) Travel

As I’m in the “I was in such and such foreign country a year ago” mode, and am posting quick photos with quick back stories, I wanted to share this lovely site on the New York Times that does the same thing. I love hearing people’s stories, being inspired by their journeys, and reading their perspectives.


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