Tag Archives: Bosphorus

Time Out’s cities: Astoria! and…Kypsele? No Pera propaganda, brother Turks of mine :( — and Belgrade…

29 Sep

Ok!

Time Out has come out with the fifty coolest neighborhoods in the world, and two — arguably three — of them are Greek; one in Athens, Kypsele, and another in the capital of the Greek diaspora, New York: Astoria.  (Yeah, Melbourne…ok…chill).  Now there are only what, 14 or 15 million of us in the whole world, and we corner 8th and 16th outta 50.  Not just not bad, but figures that make it clear there’s a connection between Greek-ness and urbanity — even Greek villages are really just tiny Greek cities — the polis and everything political life implies, that runs deep.

Ditmars

AstoriaAstoria

KypseleKypsele

What if you have no Greeks (or worse, no Jews).  Well, brother Turk, take a walk, or a nerve-wracking tourist shove, down what you’ve turned yourİstiklâl” into: its new garish, overlit, Gap-outlet, Gulfie, Saudi hideousness…  And weep.  That we left.

Oh, and what’s arguably the “third” Greek neighborhood…  Ok, I scrolled down the list, nervously expecting to find Pera (Beyoğlu) there, the formerly, largely Greek mahalla — the formerly Greek, Jewish and Armenian heart of the City actuallybecause Turkey’s American public relations firms deserve every dollar they get from the Turkey accounts and they manage to shove a fictitious Turkish tolerant multiculturalism in our face whenever they get the chance, and Pera has, for about the past 15 years, taken pride of place in this masquerade of Istanbul hipness and Turkish cosmopolitanism — quite an accomplishment since the Midnight Express days. (Too bad Turkey itself reverts back to Midnight a little bit more every day.)  And Pera wasn’t there, not on the list!

istiklal-caddesi-nde-insan-seli-3273337

The old Grande Rue — Pera

And…  Well, and…a few years back I wrote a post here called: Nobody really cares about Gezi Park: Greek thoughts on the protests of 2013.  And perhaps the biggest stinger in the article was:

“All – I thought a lot about whether I should use “almost all” in this sentence and decided against it –because all the hippest, funkiest, most attractive, gentrified neighborhoods in the historic parts of İstanbul are neighborhoods that were significantly, if not largely, minority-inhabited until well into the twentieth century: not just Pera and Galata, but Cihangir and Tarlabaşı, and Kurtuluş — of course — and up and down the western shores of the Bosphorus and much of its eastern towns too, and central Kadiköy and Moda and the Islands.  (And if serious gentrifying ever begins in the old city it’ll be in Samatya and Kumkapı and Fener and Balat; I wouldn’t put any big money into Çarşamba just yet.)”

And so, happily, I didn’t find Pera being prostituted again by Turkey as a symbol of a multiculturalism that the Turkish Republic eradicated, exterminated, expelled and that no longer exists.  But I scrolled a bit further down…and there was Kadiköy and Moda, #42, also, until well into the 60s, heavily Greek and Armenian.  More sweet justification!

(I’ll take Egyptians on for the empty, dingy Alexandria they got stuck with after our good-bye party in another post.)

KadikoyKadiköy

Finally, came the sweetest of all, my beloved Dorćol in my beloved Belgrade.  50th on the list of 50.  You have to be pretty attuned to the Serbian soul to know what coming in 50th out of 50 means.  It doesn’t mean being last.  It means: “You think we’re cool?  Who asked you?”

img_0828.jpgThe Rakia Bar in Dorćol

Plus, Belgrade comes in in way first place over all of these cities in one important way: the guys.  No joke.

Some restaurant notes:

Don’t go to Çiya in Kadiköy.  Unfortunately, the food is spectacular, and I’m a sadist for posting this picture:

CiyaBut the unfortunate part is that Çiya is owned by a sociological type: the newly comfortable, if not rich, provincial, pious middle-class; that’s the AKP’s and Erdoğan‘s political power base.  What that means on the ground is that your great food is prepared by puritans who won’t serve you alcohol, so you can’t have a leisurely rakı or beer dinner, but have to scarf it all down and leave, paying with dough that might indirectly end up in the AK’s coffers or ballot boxes.  The same goes with the otherwise excellent Hayvore in Pera.  Amazing Black Sea dishes but no booze.  Go ahead if you want.  You can go to Saudi too if you want.  I refuse to.  Even if I didn’t want to drink: just on principle.  And they — Hayvore — make one of my absolute favorite dishes which I can’t find anywhere else: an anchovy pilav.  But I’ll live without.  Or make it myself.

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And then, a little less geopolitically charged, there’s the completely baffling phenomenon of Cyclades in Astoria.  I can’t argue with the fish.  And if fish is their mission statement then fine, because it’s always fresh and expertly cooked — even if the owners are Albanian and hadn’t seen the sea till they were sixteen.  But you do want to eat something along with the fish and everything else is awful.  The cacık and eggplant salad is made inedible by that crazed Greek overuse of raw garlic, so that all you have is the bitterness of the bulb and not even the taste or aroma.  The zucchini and eggplant are fried in old oil.  The raw oil served for greens or salad is horrible — cheap, and I’m not even sure it’s 100% olive.  And in a Greek fish meal, where almost everything is dressed with raw oil, it really needs to be the best quality or everything else is shot.  The bread — and one thing we do well, γαμώτομου, is bread — is nasty and old.  This place reminds me of food in tourist traps in the old days before the foodie revolution in Greece in the 00s.

And they commit one incomprehensible abomination.  They serve oven-baked potatoes — with lemon, fine… But. With. The. Fish.  These are potatoes, that according to the taxonomy and order of Greek food, if such a primitive cuisine can be said to have such order, are baked in the oven with meat in a composite dish or casserole.  It’s a sin of commission to serve them with fish, with which they haven’t even been cooked, unless you’re going for plaki which means tomatoes and a whole different palate.  And they taste as if they’ve been soaked overnight in lemon.  And I dunno, but the yellow color is so suspiciously bright that it looks like yellow dye #2.  Investigate them; I’m sure I’m right.  And, of course, everything comes garnished with piles of more lemon wedges, to satisfy that deep Greek urge to obliterate the taste of everything else on the table.

And people — Manhattan people — come out to Queens and wait, for over an hour, malaka, to get a table at this Soviet cafeteria (the lighting is awful; the music is deafening).  They’ll often go cross the street to wait to be called, to get a drink at Michael PsilakisMP Taverna, where the food is phenomenal.  It’s only slightly reinterpreted Greek — it’s deeply faithful to the roots but Psilakis — I dunno — freshens things, and combines traditional ingredients in ways that make you wonder why no one else had ever tried this.  It’s generally full and has a great and friendly bar that looks out on the bustle of Ditmars Boulevard.  But it should be a destination spot and it’s not.  And Cyclades is.  It makes me think that white people will eat bad food if they think it gives them woke and authenticity street cred.  And convince themselves it’s good.

He dicho.

comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Köprüdekiler

11 Jul

“Bridge-on-that-(are)-ones” would be the name of this film if you constructed a literal calque in English from the Turkish word order.  We used to play a game like that in grad school — the Turks and the rest of us poor schmucks who were trying to learn Turkish — would play at having whole conversations in an English constructed on the fascinating syntactic structure of Turkic languages.  “Sent-me-by book you-to yet came, huh?” if I remember correctly;  “huh?” was what we used to serve as the Turkish interrogative particle “mi?” — like the Japanese “-ka” — because it was the best we could come up with.  It was pretty silly but a lot of fun.  And when I was teaching ESL, one thing every Turkish student of mine learned from me when he asked an Asian student whether Korean or Japanese was more similar to Chinese was that Korean and Japanese are more grammatically similar to Turkish than either of them are to Chinese.  Their reaction was interesting.  They swallow the silly Turanianism of Turkish Republican ideology whole, but don’t seem to like being confronted by it in such bluntly real and not mythic terms.  “Wait a sec…me…and this Korean guy?”

“The Men on the Bridge” — to get back to the post here — is about three men in İstanbul who are connected only by the fact that they work on the Bosphorus Bridge, the older and southernmost span between the two sides of the city.  One is a gypsy boy who sells flowers to people stuck on the bridge’s usually horrendous traffic; he tries to find other employment but is functionally illiterate, can’t even hold down a job at a working-class lokanta, and ends up back on the bridge.  The other is a poor, exhausted dolmuş driver (group taxi — same root as dolma, “stuffed,” which gives you an idea of how comfortable they are, though the new ones are actually very nice), who’s usually stuck in the bridge’s horrendous traffic and tormented by a frankly bitchy wife, who can’t understand why he can’t make enough money to move into a bigger apartment, though she herself doesn’t work and has no skills to get a job either, who, like most of her type, is fairly useless around the house as well, and whom any self-respecting Turkish man would have long sent packing back to her mother.  The third character is a traffic cop who tries to keep the horrendous traffic moving, including by harassing the gypsy boy with the flowers and giving the dolmus driver a ticket when his wife has called him to bitch about something and won’t let him get off his cell.  Played by the only professional actor in the film (his brother is an actual traffic cop), he’s a slightly dorky but handsome kid from Kayseri, with the shy, good manners that still exist in the Turkish provinces.  He’s doing a bit of religious exploring, misses home, works out, and tries to find girls to date on-line — snotty İstanbullu chicks he meets up with who start looking at their watch when he says “Kayseri” and suddenly have to leave when he says “a village near Kayseri.”  He’s particularly proud of his Turcoman clan lineage, one of the first, he claims, to come to Anatolia, and launches into its history with one of these girls, which I wanted to hear more of; she yawns, I think.

“Köprüdekiler” is not some major work, but it’s a very Turkishly melancholy and sweet film that makes its point powerfully enough: that is, that even if all of the recent years’ hype about Booming İstanbul and Booming Turkey is real and not the product of a good American public relations firm — like one sometimes suspects — that certainly not every Turk has gotten to be a part of it.  Aslı Özge makes that point most effectively by refusing to show us even one shot of the glamorous New İstanbul that gets a major piece in the Times travel section, The New Yorker and Travel and Leisure at least once every other issue.  Even the city’s beautiful sea views are almost invisible — and this in a film about a bridge — and even the one scene shot on the Jadde, a scene that makes you want to cry, where the gypsy kid and a friend are innocently checking out CD’s on a stand outside a shop and are suddenly hustled away by security to be frisked and brutally threatened, is shot in such close frame that you see none of the street’s other activity or entertainment or crowds.  She takes an effective swipe at Turkish militarism and nationalism too while she’s at it.

The dumb psychedelic lights they’ve put on the bridge — which if you know how it dominates the City’s sea-and-landscape you must know are particularly irritating — weren’t present in the film and I wondered why.  And then I checked and found it was made in 2009.  I wondered why so many films come even to New York so late and then remembered what profit pigs and cowards American distribution companies are.  I saw it at a one time screening at MOMA last month.  But it’s worth the effort to find.  See it.  Trailers below.

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