“Provoke Your Own Illumination…”

While walking towards Tunel Square on Istikal, Megan and I came across an art display in a building. There was no flashy sign outside, and the music wasn’t loud enough to forcefully pull us in. But whatever reason, we decided to go inside and take a look. Unknowingly (but not unwillingly), we stumbled upon “Revolution Revelation,” Mercan Dede and Carlito Delceggio’s (or the “Romantic Rebels”) art exhibit

The six floors (yes, six) capture the work Dede’s and Dalceggio’s have done over the past ten years. Among other things, were was a ten-foot Buddha, multiple “houses” that came alive when you put on 3-D glasses and photo gallery on the top floor that services as a chronicle of their process. Different inspirational messages are intwined with the artwork, such as “Provoke Your Own Illumination Set Yourself On Fire.”

What’s interesting to me is the strong tone the art carries. They aren’t criticizing one leader or government style in particular, but I guess you could classify the pieces as “anti-establishment.” But more accurately, as Megan put it later: “It was a message of religious unification and peace.” A message, I think, that every country needs.

History is alive in Antakya

Antakya -more commonly known as Antioch to most Christians- is an outstanding place. Obviously, it has religious significance, but people tend to forget that many of history’s  ‘A-listers’ had a personal connection to the area.

According to local tourist brochures, Cleopatra and Antony were married here; St. Luke and St. Peter preached here; Alexander the Great fought here; the Greek goddess Daphne died here. The list could go on.

History shrouds the city of Antakya- the churches, the museums and the people.

Walking around the main bazaar, you’ll find craftsmen keeping history alive through their work- many of them learned their craft from their fathers, who learned from their fathers, who learned from their fathers, and so on. Consequently, trades that were almost entirely driven out of Western cultures years ago often thrive in this historic city.

One such business is the shoe repair, these shops pepper even the most touristy of areas. The shoe repair men (and they are always men) are not relics from the past, but skilled workers that the whole community employs.

“Westerners are shocked. They are always stopping and taking pictures of me. You all throw shoes away like they’re nothing so you aren’t used to the idea,” said Muhammad, a local shoe repairman who opened his shop 13 years ago. He began learning the business from his father at age 15.

A variety of tools are scattered across his very cluttered work station which reeks of fresh leather and noxious glue. Using an old, giant sewing machine, a couple of “shoe stretchers” and a variety of large shears, he can remedy most shoe problems -too tight, too big, too tall, too short.

“It depends on the shoe, but it can be fixed maybe three or four times,” he said.He noted that the most common problem he fixes is “shoes that are worn away on the bottom.”

The bin of shoes next to his table are broken and dirty; they look entirely unfix-able, but he’ll give all of these old, dilapidated shoes a new life.


Dört cheap: lessons in haggling

Eyes wide and camera ready, I walk around one of Istanbul’s most magnificent tourist meccas: the Grand Bazaar. I haven’t taken twenty steps before a young, eager merchant springs out of his chair and into my face.

“Where are you from? Paradise? It must be; you are angel,” he coos, “Come, I give you good price!”


Let me translate that for you. It’s easy, really- just substitute “paradise” with ‘”America”, “angel” with “tourist” and “good” with “extra expensive” and you’ve decoded this charming young merchant’s message.

Make no mistake, sellers at the Grand Bazaar will know you’re a tourist and they won’t hesitate to capitalize on your bewilderment. The key to surviving in this haggling haven is simple: do your research.

Kathy Hamilton, an American textile collector living in Istanbul who leads guided tours through the bazaar, is an expert bargainer. She gave me some helpful tips before turning me loose into the chaos. Now, drawing from Kathy’s advice and my personal hassles, I’ve compiled a my own guide to help future bazaar goers.  Continue reading

Istanbul Fashion Week

In just 3 weeks the students at the Istanbul Moda Academy will be showcasing their hard work at the Istanbul Fashion Show. Dilek Ozturk, a student studying at the University explains how and she and her fellow students have been preparing their designs. One of the students is still completing the stitching on a black blazer that is part of her collection to be showcased. Gizem Kuguk said her inspiration for this collection was the theme of suffering. She researches images and channels the emotions she feels when viewing them into her clothing designs. She said she uses utilitarian shapes of the 40s to help express the idea of being in a cage. “With the idea of a cage, suffering is endless, you can’t escape it, there’s no cure,” said Kuguk. Located in the chic neighborhood of Nişantaşı, the Istanbul Moda Academy is housed in a 19th century mansion, that suffered a great fire in 1988, and has been housing the fashion academy since 2007.

Looking at Luck

As you walk around Istanbul, there will always be eyes looking back at you. I wondered the streets with the popular American song, “Very Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder ringing through my head. Commonly known superstitions in America are if one breaks a mirror, or a black cat crosses their path they will get bad luck and need resolve the situation with different remedies. In Istanbul, Turkey as well as other countries, there is something called the “evil eye”. It is the belief that individuals can cause illness or harm to people and animals with evil if directed toward them. In order to protect people from this superstition, you will see a lot of blue circles with the shape of an eye in the middle of them.

This is to protect people against the potential evil by having an eye to face it back. In Turkish, these blue eyes are called Nazar Boncugu. They are usually found outside of homes, workplaces, on cars, or worn as beads. In Islam, however, it is believed that God is the sole protector against the evil eye. This belief within the religion may be fluid among different cultures, but I found this to be an interesting contradiction seeing that Turkey is a Muslim society. However there are other methods of warding off evil such as reciting different quotes from the Qu’ran or say phrases such as “Mash Allah” or “God has willed it”. No matter the superstition you believe in, friends do not let friends submit to evil. This blue eye is sold in shops all around, and it always makes for a nice gift as it brings protection and good luck to all.

Rug Talk

I traveled to Chicago last Friday to venture into the renowned rug retailer, Oscar Isberian Rugs. When I walked through the door I was greeted by Brian Rojanasumaphong, a rug buyer and merchant for the company, travels the world in search of the crème de la crème of Rugs.

He mentioned that his trips to Turkey have been a magnificent adventure. While there, he tours rug weavers’ shops and villages in order to guide them on the changing American tastes. It’s the buyers who tell the weavers what colors might sell best in the states, and what type of rug people buy more often. This dialogue is one of the most important in the rug industry. He gave me a tour of the Oscar Isberian store near Chicago’s mecca of interior design, the Mercantile Mart, where the dark grey, industrial feeling walls made the hues of the antique carpets come alive. There were rugs that would suit any fancy with varied colors of tans, peaches, to bright greens.

Here we can see Brian standing next to a Knotisse Rug.

Knotisse is the rug manufacturer we plan to visit while on our trip. Knotisse recycles rugs by finding or buying old ones, unweaving them, rewashing and re-dying them, and later creates a new design to hand weave a reborn rug into. According to Brian, Turkish rugs are big sellers in the Chicago land area. We will find out more on how he buys them when we meet him again in Turkey.