Sunday, October 2, 2011

Turkish Whistling Language

As I was reviewing videos from my time in Turkey, I found this little treasure. . . I remember in my introductory linguistics class learning about a unique dialect of Turkish centered around Kuşköy, Giresun where the sounds of Turkish are expressed in coded whistle sounds. As an avid whistler myself, I was excited to meet people who were actually familiar with this language, a family on vacation from Girseun to Batumi, Georgia. Here is a video of him welcoming me in whistled Turkish, followed by an English news story on Kuşköy and the whistling language.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Seating Raid

Today I read a good description of what is going on in Beyoğlu on the great blog Istanbul Eats. The municipality has confiscated all street-side seating without warning, something that surprised me upon returning from my travels. As I was sitting having a tea at my street's "Börekci" the Zabita, a kind of civil police, came in a big parade down the street with a few journalists trailing them to document the event. They looked at me and gruffly ordered me to stand up and then violently toppled the table where I had been sitting and threw it in the back of a truck in a manner more reminiscent of a dramatic child pornography warehouse raid than that subtable for a café. I was left, startled, clutching my tea standing on the street as confused as everyone else around me.

Later in the week I saw cafe owners clinging to the back of Zabita trucks refusing to abandon their tables. Istanbul's cafe culture is entirely outdoor and the raid has made a huge, and negative, impact on the city. I've heard several rumors about the reasoning behind it. The first is a secret religious agenda to block drinking from the streets during Ramadan. The second is that the prime minister was recently in Istanbul and made an offhand comment about a crowded street and that the municipality is subsequently reacting.

It's important to realize that although this is really hurting bar owners, like Bade who is mentioned in the article, it has a broader impact. There is a whole economy around Beyoğlu's sidewalk bars and many people depend on it for their income by selling snacks, souvenirs, napkins, or playing music for people drinking. 

Read the Istanbul Eats article about it here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Svaneti: The heart of the Caucasus

The final part of my trip to Georgia brought me to Svaneti, a remote area in the Caucasus and an important center of Georgian culture.  It is also widely declared as the most beautiful mountains in Georgia, a statement that I'd have to agree with and also one with a lot of weight since Georgia's landscape has nothing but beautiful mountains. The region is quite isolated, which is one major element that has preserved the pristine landscape there. 

The road to Svaneti has been in the process of being paved for nearly a year or two now, a topic of much discussion and also conflict in my mind. While Svaneti is becoming increasingly touristy every year since the government cracked down on banditry there, the people who make it to Svaneti are still quite a self-selected bunch who are willing to brave the incredibly long and uncomfortable process of getting there in order to appreciate what the region has to offer geographically and culturally. When the road is completed that will all change as Mestia will subsequently be accessible to busses and the tourists who frequent them. While tourism is the only major source of revenue to build Svaneti's economy and provide the financial support people there could really use through long winters,  I fear the road and what it will bring will significantly change Svaneti's cultural and geographical landscape.
(More Photos after the break...)

Panoramic Photography of the Caucasus

Near Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Hat Stand, Georgian Military Highway.

Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Above Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia.

Enguri River, Svaneti, Georgia

Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia

Outside Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi is a very nice little city, and above all else I was really astounded by how many areas looked exactly like the treelined streets where I grew up in Brooklyn. Unlike in Brooklyn, however, nearly every building in Tbilisi has a kind of passage leading to a courtyard. Much of the city has a very grand Central-European feel to it, especially in the vicinity of Rustaveli Boulevard, other areas, however, one example being Avlabari where I stayed,  as well as the backstreets of Rustaveli have a sprawling and endless village feel to them, with dirt roads, fenced houses, and vegetable  markets in the heart of the city. The "Dry Bridge" flea market was one highlight for me and reminded me much of the "Dolapdere Bit Pazarı" in Istanbul. At the market, old Babushkas set up blankets on the sidewalk and sell all sorts of things (the vast majority of which are useless) from broken cameras, overpriced old worthless ruble banknotes, accordions, electronic components, the usual old Soviet knicknacks, and more. 

Batumi, Georgia.

After visiting Turkey's Black sea region I traveled to Batumi, the first major city in The Republic of Georgia after the Turkish border. It is actually in an autonomous republic of Georgia called Adjara. The city is Georgia's resort capital and back in the heyday of the Soviet Union was a top destination. While the city is less popular than it once was, it's still a prime destination of local beachgoers from the region. Like much of the rest of Georgia's major cities, the city has a feeling of decaying grandeur. Without proper funding, the once-luxurious neoclassical architecture is now sagging in a way that might appeal to a visitor who finds beauty in urban\industrial decay. To a local resident, however, this ubiquitous sight may serve as a daily reminder of what has been lost with the fall of the Soviet Union. This is a sense that was even more present in Tbilisi, but also noticeable in Batumi. While many of the buildings are derelict and abandoned, every element of infrastructure in Batumi, and  in Georgia in general is under construction.

Batumi's boardwalk, which is the epicenter of activity in the city, is very much alive and reminded me of nicer version the Brighton Beach Boardwalk in Brooklyn. In fact, visiting Batumi and seeing its boardwalk culture gave me great perspective on Brighton Beach, home to many elderly Russians many of whom  surely spent their childhoods in Batumi. The highlight of my time in Batumi was seeing the city's botanical gardens, which are far grander impressive than any similar I've been. There is a huge collection of foreign plants from Japan to the Himalayas, and the complex had a lot of character and cool places to explore.   

Karadeniz | Black Sea Region

Trying the Tulum, a Turkish bagpipe
Around two weeks ago I went on a small trip to Turkey's Eastern Black Sea Region with my friend Sebastien to visit our mutual friend Sema and her family outside the village of Hemşin.
 As someone interested in carpentry, I was very impressed by the workmanship of the wooden architecture in the region, which I was told is made over the winter and then assembled in just a week on the property... a very impressive Turkish answer to prefab housing or Amish barn raising.
View from the house
 The region is lush and very hilly, and the landscape is full of homemade cable-cars that resemble rowboats that traverse the many valleys and deliver people or supplies to hilltop homes.
Sebastien and Sema's Mom
An abandoned house in the mountains above Hemşin
A wooden stilt-house

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Busking in Istanbul

Recently a band I'm in, Ivır Zıvır has shifted from playing in bars to performing on the street. Playing on İstanbul's famous "İstiklal Caddesi" pedestrian street is exhilarating: we play to an estimated audience of 4 million people who pass through the street daily. Playing there has given me a new sense of the street and especially an appreciation for the community of people whose professional livelihoods depend on it whether they be musicians, fortune tellers, beggars, street-kids, caricature  artists, and so on. One thing that I'm struck  by is the number of self-identified "photographers" who take our photo seemingly thinking they're invisible to us despite their less-than-subtle presence. While so many people photograph us without consent or any monetary donation (which I personally don't particularly mind), Istanbul is a surprisingly good city to busk in and if the weather is right we make more on the streets than we did in bars. Here's are 2 videos. . .

Many thanks to James Burliegh Morton for the videos.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Jeremy and Ciguli, both looking a bit crazy...
I few nights ago I went to a Ciguli concert... Ciguli, who was visiting from Germany, is  a Bulgarian Turkish-speaking Rom accordionist\singer who made it big in Turkey in the 90's with his one-hit wonder "Binnaz." I've translated the lyrics below along with a video I took of him playing the song in the concert (he played it 2 or 3 times much to the delight of the audience). Because of his rather maniacal personality, and the comic content of his songs, a lot of Turkish people don't take him very seriously. This being said, I actually think he is a remarkably talented musician, a versatile accordionist, and actually has an impressive control over his voice. After the jump is a second video from the movie "Nerdesin Firuze" in which Ciguli covers a Turkish pop song in a Roman style... his version is better than the original.

Binnaz, tonight at least,
were you furious, crazy or surprised?
Binnaz, Binnaz...

Binnaz the musicians mate
Binnaz the worker's date
Binnaz the gambler's mate

Binnaz, Binnaz...

Binnaz, they saw you're a brave woman
They saw, they saw
Everyone loved you!

Friday, May 6, 2011


Yesterday was Hıdırellez, a holiday celebrated throughout the Balkans and Turkish speaking places known by several different names according to nationality or religion. You may also know it as Đurđevdan or Ederlezi as the famous song goes. In İstanbul, it is pretty much known a Roma holiday that takes place in their neighborhoods. In recent years it has caught on a little and it was moved into a large park only to be "canceled" this year due to concerns of over-crowding. Luckily this cancelation  brought the festivities back to the streets as they had always been in the past, eliminated the attempt of institutionalizing the holiday as a commercial festival, and led to one hell of a party! The added benefit was that it wasn't overcrowded because there were only locals and people crazy enough to ignore the announcement of its cancelation (like me).

The party started in the back streets of Ahırkapı with a handful of local Zurna, Davul, and Clarinet players competing for the attention of the dancing public, taking tips. Meanwhile other people sold beer, sequined fedoras, and snacks to fuel the party in a very Turkish synthesis between New Years Eve in New York City, Carnivale, and a wedding.

Eventually after some time and without any warning or leadership, the party  transformed into an impromptu parade of sorts... The crowd danced from the streets of Ahırkapı, just a stones throw behind the touristic capital of Istanbul, Sultanahmet, to the shores of the Marmara. On the way we passed several budget hotels with confused tourists peering out their windows hopefully with the impression that every night in Istanbul is like this. Some appeared concerned, while a handful joined the party.

While the festivities resembled a mob of sorts, it was peaceful and celebratory and so when a power-hungry police man tried to silence the musicians everyone began to sing to him until he went away.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Solo Trecking through the Toros Mountains

For my spring break I decided to go on a small solo trek in the Toros mountains by Turkey's 4th largest lake, Eğirdir Gölü. The hike was a small portion of the St. Paul's Trail, Turkey's second long distance trail, set up after the "Lycian Way" by local British expat Kate Clow. The hike was spectacular and a great break from hectic Istanbul city life.
Huseyin the shepherd's house. 
While the spring\summer season hasn't quite started there yet, I still managed to meet quite a few shepherds in the mountains who offered me fresh cheese and bread. Other highlights included seeing wild horses, camping in empty seasonal shepherds encampments, and the spectacular views of the lake below.

Jeremy with Pilgrims
My second day took me through the village of Barla which is a religious destination for pilgrims following Said Nursî, who was exiled by Atatürk to the village. It was quite a shock to go from complete isolation in the wilderness to meeting some enthusiastic pilgrims from Konya eager to feed me full of gözleme and religious rhetoric.

Below are a few pictures that I attempted, with mixed success, to stick together from my crappy cellphone camera.

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