Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 1 comment

Celebrity Stalking #3: Erdoğan Yaşaran

Istanbul may not be Turkey’s political capital (that would be Ankara), but it is most definitely the country’s cultural capital - our version of New York City - and pretty much anyone who’s anyone lives there.  It’s actually quite possible that I’ve passed many a famous person on Istanbul’s streets and just didn’t know they were famous.  But now, six years in and familiar with at least the most popular shows and actors, I think it’s about time I start running into them in coffee shops.

At the end of April, I had to go up to see my ear doctor for a check-up and I brought along Anna, a foreign friend who had yet to experience this great city.  I was determined that during our four days there, in between ogling palaces and touring mosques, I would spot someone I knew from TV.

On our second day, as we were standing at the base of the monolithic Galata Tower, I saw him.  He had sunglasses on, so I couldn’t see his eyes, but I was sure the bearded guy sitting with a friend at the sidewalk cafe was the actor who plays Erdoğan Yaşaran on “Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne?”  He doesn’t usually have quite that full of a beard, but he’s been in jail for the past few episodes, so I figured he might be going for the scruffy look.  His clothes were pretty plain, and his shoes weren’t what I would call “actor-ish,” but maybe the sunglasses and the attire were just a disguise to keep fans from spoiling his day out.  The character he plays is pretty evil, so if I were him, I wouldn’t want anyone to recognize me either.

I wanted to get a photo to prove that I’d found my famous person, but I’d feel pretty silly saying, “Hi, I love your show but hate your character.  Are you really that big of a jerk in real life?  Can I take a picture with you?”  Plus, he was clearly trying not to be recognized.  So instead, I pulled the classic, “Hey, Anna, stand there so I can get a shot of you...with that famous guy in the background” move. 
(Wouldn't you have thought "Sunglasses Guy" was him?)
An hour or so later, after wandering Galata’s steep, colourful streets and stopping in for a latte break at Cherrybean Coffee, we made our way back up towards Istiklal Caddesi (Istanbul’s most famous shopping street) and passed by the Galata Tower once more.  We tried to be sly as we walked past the cafe where my celebrity had been sitting, but as I glanced to my left to see if he was still there, there he was!  
Or, rather, there he wasn’t.  The sunglasses had come off, and he was clearly not who I thought he was.  In fact, now he resembled a German tourist more than anything.
False alarm.  Close, but no cigar.
The next night, Anna and I were having dinner at the Meşale Restaurant in Sultanahmet.  Every night they have a whirling derviş come do his thing for the tourists.  Since you can only see the real thing during specific religious festivals, this is a good spot to go for a taste of the real thing.  We got a table right in front of the stage, and as we sat there eating our kebap, the show began.  
As Mr. Derviş entered his creepy trancelike state and began his whirling, all heads turned our direction to watch and all the cell phone cameras appeared.  At one point, I turned to get a look at the audience, and I almost choked on my meat. 
“Anna!”  I poked her.  “Don’t be too obvious, but isn’t that our non-celebrity two tables over?” 

She snuck a look.
“I think so, but I can’t tell, cuz I can only see his profile.”
I grabbed my camera.  “I haven’t erased yesterday’s pictures - I’ll check and see.”  
Sure enough, the proof was in the picture - the bald guy in the photo of my Erdoğan Yaşaran lookalike was the same friend sitting with him now, just a few feet away from us.  The fact that he was at this particular restaurant sealed it my mind:  he was most definitely a tourist.  And very likely not famous at all.  Except to us.  
We killed ourselves laughing, and then forced ourselves to calm down lest he recognize us and truly think we were stalking him.  When he and his buddy got up to pay a few minutes later, I halfway considered getting up and telling him the whole story, but decided that might open us up to a new friendship we didn’t really want.  Besides, he might not even speak English.  
So....I didn’t find my celebrity after all.  But finding the same non-celebrity twice in two days in a city of 15 million people counts for something, right?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday, May 05, 2012 - 7 comments

Celebrity Stalking #2: Fatmagül's Cafe

Specimen #2 in our Celebrity Stalking Series is actually more a place than a person.  For the past two years I’ve been following the show “Fatmagülün Suçu Ne?” starring Beren Saat, one of my favourite Turkish actresses.  In the show, Fatmagül runs a cozy, colourful little cafe called Gül Mutfağı (“Rose Kitchen”), and I decided it would be fun to try to find it and either a) watch them filming or b) sit down for lunch and çay and spend the afternoon writing there.
Having looked up the cafe online, I knew that it was a  real restaurant (as opposed to a set) called Bodrum Mangal (Bodrum Grill), and while I couldn’t come up with the address, I knew the general district it was in, so off I went.  
I still wasn’t feeling particularly energetic after my surgery, and was in the no-longer-coughing-but-still-exhausted stage of a cold, so I decided to take it slow and spend a lot of the day sitting down.  (When you’re sitting beside the Bosphorus, “sitting” is a decidedly delightful activity!)  

I took the bus as far as Çengelköy, grabbed a cheese and herb poğaça (a kind of pastry) from Komşufırın (my preferred Istanbul bakery) and sat down for çay with a sea breeze at Çınaraltı Tea Garden.  (“Çınaraltı” means “under the plane tree”, and with its shaded courtyard opening onto a fabulous view of the Bosphorus and the first bridge, it’s a favourite spot for sitting and sipping.  It’s especially popular for weekend breakfasts because you can bring your own food - hence my poğaça.)
Having gathered my strength and satisfied my “strong tea and salty air” craving at Çınaraltı, I took the bus a few more miles down the coastal road and got off in Anadolu Hisarı.  The neighbourhood’s name means “Fortress of Asia”, and its main road runs right smack through the middle of a crumbling-but-imposing stone fortress built in the early years of the Ottoman Empire.  When the characters in “Fatmagülün Suçu Ne?” first moved to Istanbul, they lived in this area, and from what I could tell from my research, my quarry, the restaurant, was nearby, too.  
Now, I have to admit, I felt a little bit “starstruck schoolgirl-ish” going off in search of the restaurant where some of my favourite fictitious characters work, so I was hesitant to ask for directions lest I get laughed at.  But after having searched unsuccessfully for more than half an hour, I gave in and asked a few locals who all shrugged and said they had no idea.  By this time, I was getting tired and hungry, and I knew I’d need to eat before I walked anymore.  
Instead of eating the stuffed grape leaves and cheesy börek I’d been dreaming about ever since I’d Googled the Bodrum Mangal, I headed for the cafe next to the house where Fatmagül and her family used to live.  I’d been there before once while on a hunt similar to this one and, again, hadn’t been able to watch them shooting (the crew was just setting up) but had been excited to see the house and the set from the road.  A potter, Hasan Usta, has his workshop on the property and the yard is full of clay pots of every shape and size.  The house appears to be empty, but the plastic-tent-turned-cafe next door (fittingly named “Potter Hasan Usta’s Tea Garden”) seemed a good spot to fill my stomach as well as hopefully gain some information on where I might locate the actual object of my search.  
As I sat and ate my cheese and pepperoni toast, I laughed to myself when I heard two other customers ask the waitress if the house next door was indeed “Fatmagül’s house.”  She must get that all the time.  This made me feel all the more sheepish when, after paying, I asked her if she knew where the Bodrum Mangal was.  She smiled patiently and explained that she knew it was “up the hill that way and in a bit.”  I was slightly disappointed when she said it was about a half hour walk, or a bus ride plus a bit of a walk.  She wasn’t sure if the bus went exactly that way or if I’d have to get off and walk some more, and she couldn’t really tell me in which direction.
I decided to chance it with walking and set off up the hill, but after only about 20 feet, I stopped.  I was feeling weaker than I wanted to admit, and suddenly this hill wasn’t feeling like such a good idea, even if it did potentially have famous people and a pretty garden and good tea at the end of it.  
By the time I got up there, I’d have less than half an hour to sit before I’d need to leave and go home, and that’s IF I actually found it right away.  It was the previous day’s Ara Güler Dilemma all over again - to spend a whole lot of time trying to meet someone or see something famous (but possibly disappointing) or to spend time with Istanbul, the city for which I long whenever I’m away.  
Perhaps as much as my not feeling well, the thought that this was the last time I’d be able to sit by the Bosphorus before heading back home caused me to change direction and propelled me back down the hill to the water.  I get to see Fatmagül’s cafe every Thursday night at 8.  But the opportunity to sit with a tulip glass full of steaming Turkish tea beside the body of water I love more than any other in the world is a rare treasure not to be squandered.
It seems that with me, when it comes down to it, I’ll choose “favourite and familiar” over “famous” every time.  And I’m okay with that.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday, May 04, 2012 - 1 comment

Celebrity Stalking #1: Ara Güler

The past month has included two trips to Istanbul - one for ear surgery and one for post-op follow up.  A recurring theme during these two trips has been celebrity stalking.  More accurately, my failed attempts at celebrity stalking.  In honour of my recent flops in this arena, I decided to do a three-part series on my mis-adventures tracking famous people in the city.
Ara Güler (photo:  Wikipedia)
Our first specimen:  Turkey's prized photographer, Ara Güler.  He is said to be the seventh greatest photographer in the world (how "they" determine this, I am not sure) and he has been a major source of inspiration for me.  I am a particular fan of his black and white photos from the '50s - '70s in some of Istanbul's poorest and most lively districts, which are also my personal favourite places to photo-roam.  (Check out his work here.)
Just off Istiklal Caddesi below Galatasaray Square is Kafe Ara, below the famous photographer's studio (named after but not owned by him.)  My aim was to see if he'd make an appearance, as he's said to often do in the afternoons.  And if he did, the plan was to ask him if we could go out shooting together sometime.  Presumptuous?  Perhaps.  But sometimes you’ve just gotta ask.
These are "on-the-go" notes, rather than a polished piece.  Enjoy the ride.
He’s here!  At the table next to mine!
Apparently he has appointments lined up cuz when I got here, a girl was showing him her portfolio, and when another arrived, he said, “There’s my 3 o’clock.”  So...I’ll wait her out and see what happens.  Hopefully when they finish up, he’ll stick around for another çay, and I can at least say hello and shake his hand and see if he seems chatty.
He definitely looks old.  Being born in 1928 would make him....84.  Wow.  I wonder how well he walks?  I’d so love to head over to Zeyrek or Edirnekapı with him to shoot, just to see how he sees and watch how he interacts with his subjects.  
I feel a little like Rory on that Gilmore Girls episode when she meets Christiane Amanpour.  She doesn’t believe when her mom calls her to come to the inn and see who’s there, so she shows up still in her PJs.  
I don’t exactly look the part of a world class photographer just now, wearing a hoodie and with my ear all bandaged up, but there you go.  I have no idea what to say, but I’m sure I can manage, “Hi,” and, “I’m a big fan of your work.”
I really like this cafe and its atmosphere.  It’s sort of a split level place, with the back half being a raised loft that sits over the kitchen.  All the pipes and air ducts are exposed, but with the wood floors and banisters, the feel is more warm and friendly than cool and metallic.  White globe lights hang from the ceiling and matching half-ones are mounted on the walls between prints of some of Güler’s black and white Istanbul photos, all in black and white.  A small glass vase of pink and white carnations each table - a welcome sign of a long-awaited spring.  
Several shelves and ledges are decorated with antique telephones, old thermometers, bright red milk pitchers and old kettles of various shapes, sizes and colours. There’s one light blue one with white polka-dots that I particularly love.  And there’s this great bundle of cezves (Turkish coffee pots) tied together and hanging from the ceiling over the door to the kitchen.  A window-y display case looks through to the kitchen and is crowded full of tiny tea pots, cups and mugs, all solid colours - bright tin-like one’s that might have had a previous life in an American diner in the ‘60s.  
Plenty of Louis n’ Ella, Frank and Dean, and a lot of big band music make me think I could stay here all day.  
Piles of photographers keep walking in, armed with mile-long lenses and confident expressions on their faces.  This is clearly the place to gather, or be seen, or both.  I wonder if they’re all lined up to see Mr. Güler, too.  
I asked my waiter if I need an appointment to meet The Man, and he said no, that I should just wait til he’s done with his friends and then he’ll see if he can get me a few minutes.  
There’s a table where all the Long Lenses are sitting, and among them is a girl who I think might be his assistant.  She’s been there since just after I came, intimidating me simply with her presence and her air.  I wonder if I’m supposed to go through her...  Thankfully my waiter’s really sweet and normal.  I think I’ll pass on her and stick with him.
My lunch (yes, I’ve been sitting here that long) was yummy, if not a bit pricey.  Well, actually, in dollars, I guess it really wasn’t.  I had a sage-dill-walnut-white cheese pasta dish that I really enjoyed.  (And, yes, I checked - no greens in my teeth.)  People whose reviews I read online raved about the homemade lemonade with mint leaves, but I wasn’t such a fan.  Too tart and too sweet all at the same time.
Okay, I’m really battling fear and intimidation here.  And I’m feeling a little dizzy.... Apparently the drugs that knocked me out for the operation haven’t quite left my system.  Surely a cup of coffee will flush them out.   And calm me down.
Yes, this latte is doing the trick.  Funny, I’ve seen several people drinking what looks like Nescafe in Turkish tea cups.  I thought that was a total no-no.  Maybe it’s “socially unacceptable” if you do it at home to serve guests, but “creative presentation” if you pay lots for it at a trendy cafe.  
Okay, his “friends” are leaving.  Are there others in line?  Maybe not.  Do I just walk over?  Nope, someone else already did.  Dangit!
Maybe I’ll just keep writing about the decor til they all leave.  Colourful painted plates hang on several walls - some in the traditional Ottoman Iznik style, others more plain and modern....
Seriously, how long should I sit here?  On the one hand, I’m sad not to be out gezzing (exploring), though I know I do still have tomorrow if I want to come back.  On the other hand, leaving feels like quitting and giving in to fear, and I certainly don’t want to give in to that either.
Intimidating Girl and the guy at the table with her appear to be leaving, which gives me great hope.  Now I just have to wait out the guy at the table with Mr. Güler.  I can do that.  I’ll just keep ordering more tea.
Okay, continuing with the play-by-play...  He got out some cash, which made me think he was leaving.  (Do you suppose he has to pay to eat at the restaurant named after him?)  Oh, now two more people joined him.
Oof.  I’m really not good at this “stalking famous people” thing.  And my bladder can’t hold any more tea.  Should I just try again tomorrow?  
Intimidating Girl is gone now.  But so is my nice waiter.  Hmm.
Would it be rude to just tap him on the shoulder and say hi as I leave?  Oh, the questions!

Okay.  I’m going to leave.  Not because I’m scared (at least, not entirely), but because I don’t want to spend my entire day drinking pricey tea.  Forget meeting a famous photographer - I’m going to go out and shoot some famous photos of my own.  I think that’s what he’d want me to do anyway.  :)

**If you squint real hard, you can see Ara Güler
 himself, just inside, under the "Açık" ("Open")
 sign.  Clearly, I was not cut out for the paparazzi life!

Friday, May 04, 2012 - No comments

The Other Side

(written March 28th, on the Kadıköy - Karaköy ferry)

I'm FINALLY feeling up to gezzing (loosely translated, roaming or exploring) after being cooped up in the house for a week following my surgery.  Got out of the house a little later than planned, but was glad for the extra time with my "little sister."  It's a properly gray Istanbul day, with either the threat of rain or the promise of sunshine - it's hard to say.  

I've been lying on the couch all week, dreaming up places to go see once I felt alive enough. Much as I love to roam around the neighbourhoods of Fatih (the heart of the old city) amongst the immigrants and the gypsies and the crumbling city walls, I don't think I'm quite up to it just yet.  I'm more in the mood for something a little nicer, but still unfamiliar, and the area around Taksim/Beyoğlu won out.

It's not my favourite area, in that it's crowded and full of tourists, "Bohemian Turks" and rich people.  I prefer the quieter, less affected districts on the Asian shore better myself.  But if I am going to profess to love Istanbul, I really should explore all of it, even the bits that don't fit my cherished but lopsided image of the city.

The truth is, when I think about strolling around in places like Cihangir, Teşvikiye or Nişantaşı, I don't feel classy enough or hip enough to fit in.  I feel like I'll be an underdressed American who is sorely out of place in the uppity parts of Paris.  Granted, looking like a tourist probably buys me some grace.  But when I think of myself as a Turk, I don't feel "worthy" of those neighbourhoods.  

(There's got to be some "royalty in disguise" heart lesson to be uncovered here somewhere....)

As a photographer, though, and even moreso as a writer, I really need to get over this fear of places I don't fit in and people who are "higher class" than me.  It's easy for me to feel confident in Fatih, where I am a wealthy foreign novelty, but Istanbul's trendier districts are a whole different ballpark.  

And so I head to the other side.  Here's to a day of overcoming fear....