We last left our poor terrace in the dark of winter, with an unruly chimney spewing black bits of soot all over our beautiful tiles.

Fortunately there have been some improvements in the last month, thanks to Cemil Usta, our miracle-working iron man and a few trips to the flower market in Eminönü.

Cemil has designed an impressive structure that (mostly) keeps the sun out of your eyes when enjoying lunch. We sill have some experimenting to do with some sliding curtains on the far end if the sun ever really comes out. He has also enclosed the crumbling chimney!, which not only prevents it from falling in our dinner, but also stops the black soot from scattering all over the terrace. Note: never rely on a neighboring business association to do what you can do yourself. Another option was the chickens of course (chimney sweeping chickens) We also have a nice new railing to keep us from falling down the stairs to the kitchen.

We now have a growing family of plants that are waiting with us for the nice weather: jasmine, cilantro, ornamental cabbage, blue bells, some ‘Ottoman’ tulips and various flowering trees and vines.

Now only if it were warm out…

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When one of our residents asked us for a good place to see Byzantine frescoes, we got hungry! The Kariye (or Chora) Church is one of the most impressive structures in Istanbul. Because it is a bit far from the historical district in Sultanahmet, it does not get as much attention as say, Hagia Sophia. Well, and in my opinion, it is also not as impressive (oops.)

The main attraction of the Chora Church for Julie and I is that is sits beside one of the most intriguing and delicious restaurants in Istanbul–Asitane. Definitely ahead of it’s time in leading the Ottoman culture revival that persists, Asitane has separate winter and summer menus which highlight recipes found all over turkey, but also taken from the old recipes from the kitchen at Topkapı Palace. Okay, I will admit, Ottoman cuisine uses too many raisins and currants. They overdo the ‘fruit with meat’ thing a little bit too much for my taste. BUT–that is something I can overlook when I get a chance to eat Gerdaniyye (Lamb chuck medallions stewed with aromatic vegetables and herbs, blended with sheep brains) or Liver Kebap with cinnamon and clove. We are acquaintances with the owner, who while he was sitting with us said, “Offal is really in these days.” Which is just about my favorite quote to use out of context.

Kinky: Lamb, currants, nuts, rice doin' it inside a quince.

Other guest stars in what developed into a full-on food field trip included, Lamb guveç, veal, cauliflower salad with tahini, and goose hidden in crust.

The ugliest photo of the BEST food

Oh, and the church was nice too:

Kariye Church

I had distinctly remembered there being a wooden trap door in the apse, with guard standing there, lifting it to show visitors a hidden fresco under the floor. The trap door was there, but when I asked a guard to open it he laughed at me. After a couple minutes of conversation about it, I realized that he had no idea if there were something under there or not. About 10 minutes later I caught him trying to take a quick peak into the hole. I don’t know what he saw.

We took the bus back to Eminonu en masse and went on a fruitless hunt for crash pads and tumbling mats in the sporting goods district. We were joined by a friend of ours who was hungry, and so we ended up at one of our other favorite haunts: Hamdi Despite still being full from lunch, we managed to stuff down another 20 kilos of food between the 6 of us.

After dinner we managed to roll onto a ferry to Uskudar to attend an opening in Kuzkuncuk. A friend’s family owns an enormous and cute house that they can’t figure out what to do with (a-hem . . .) and occasionally they host art exhibitions in it. We got there as the show was closing, but were invited up to the top floor kitchen. We ended the night there drinking home-made cherry liqueur and sampling a guest’s hand made olive oil–drinking it straight from the spoon. We stayed until late and a good time was had by all.

We were magnetized by this piece of work in Kuzkuncuk

When you roll with us, you can let your inner glutton shine through. . .

Three lucky souls are spending part of their February at Caravansarai! We have determined through trial and error that one month is the minimum amount of time needed for a productive residency. But, as a result of cancellations and other scheduling snafus, February and March are a series of 2-week stays.

Happily, our Feb. 1-14th artists are mostly interested in taking in the city. Jorunn Monrad has turned her visit into a quest for pigments. As a painter, Jorunn has a serious pigment fetish, and filled 40 or so little plastic bags full of colored powder to bring from her home in Italy to Istanbul. She is the perfect guinea pig, then, to test the pigments sold on the ‘paint street’ near the fish market. Here there are large brown paper bags lined up on the pavement outside the shops–their rolled-down tops revealing rainbows of the glittery and dazzling colors packed inside. They are visually striking, but so far we have noone to vouch for their quality. She has announced that she will head down there and judge whether they are suitable for artists.

Color at work
Jason De Haan and Miruna Dragan are taking a little break from their lives as artists in Beirut to scour the city for all things Byzantine and frescoe-ish. Mostly this manifests itself in some admirably intensive sight-seeing. They have the energy to spend their days documenting the crap out of all of the deservedly well-trafficked tourist spots and still find time and inspiration to work a little and also be good company. We don’t doubt that whatever develops out of their time here will be extremely interesting. The proof that they have been out doing things:

There is someone looking at you at the Hagia Sofia. You can stop them by sticking your thumb in there

Graphic designer Alex Bettler was at Caravansarai last week to taste the bread of Istanbul (hopefully not too much of the bland white fluffy kind) and to make some of his own. We were hosting the Turkey edition of his international Bread Workshop. He was interested in the way that the simit could act as a means of communication, like a newspaper, when it is distributed through the street carts.

After a short introduction of his past works and some history behind his fascination with bread, we got started. The production space was a flurry of flour, oil, milk, sesame seeds, baking powder and eggs as the 25 or so workshop participants mixed together their dough. He brought two recipes to choose from, simit and an Irish Soda bread. While the dough was resting, he encouraged the participants to go out into the neighborhood, to research and brainstorm the way that their bread could communicate their message.

Back in the production space, the dough was rolled, shaped, smashed and otherwise formed into all sorts of shapes – small cubes to imitate sugar cubes placed aside tea glasses, hands, strips, infinity symbols, even a giant Nokia mobile phone. We paraded through the streets with our trays of dough, to the neighboring Pide Restaurant, whose stone oven was still hot from lunch. Though I doubt that any ‘new forms of communication with the inhabitants of Perşembe Pazarı’ were invented through the bread, the neighborhood did enjoy the results of our labors. You can imagine how much bread 25 people can make.

The workshop was organised by TRUK, ( TR – UK), a new organisation organising talks, events and other activities among designers in Turkey and the UK.

More about the Alex Bettler Bread Workshop
Alex Bettler’s website

Sara Pape and Gerardo Gomez Tonda just concluded their residency at Caravansarai. They stayed in Istanbul an additional month after completing their work for the Artist 2010, Tuyap Art fair. Except for us, they had the building to themselves.

Their project ‘if you like it, pic it up‘ is the start of what seems like a long-term, multi-location investigation, leaving objects that they have made, inspired by a chosen location, in the location. In Istanbul, they chose the Karakoy Fish market. Early in the morning, they placed four paper machete fish throughout the market, with a note, encouraging whoever finds the fish, to take a picture of it wherever they place it. We managed to find only one of the fish they left, which was beautifully hanging from a tree by our favorite fish restaurant.

We’re waiting for their return to Istanbul, so we can have another mexican brunch!

The ongoing saga of the month is the chimney, raising up just above our terrace, spewing black chunks of ash all over our pretty new terrace tiles as well as the tables, chairs and people enjoying the sunny Istanbul fall. The chimney is not ours, it belongs to the neighboring çarşı (market area). This particular çarşı is owned by a vakif (something between a foundation, a business association and a charitable trust), therefore having about a dozen owners, half of which are locatable, one of which is (sometimes) present in the neighborhood.

Our communication has been with the smily security guards, who, despite their complete lack of power, tried comfort us with their daily lies of ‘the worker will come this afternoon’ ‘we’ll come and take a look’ ‘tomorrow we will come’. The issue is this : the chimney used to be used for coal-burning oven, heating the shop below. It has since been converted to natural gas, but the chimney is so dirty, it continues to spew soot.

After two months of pleading, negotiating, threatening, crying, getting angry, being nice, bringing friends, going alone, it was clear that nothing was going to happen. I retreated, defeated, to the office of Ceylan Metal, (our renters and friends).  I told them the story and they kindly offered to take care of it.

I asked what they were going to do about it and they just said not to worry. They went on to explain how they did it in the villages, long ago. They would take a very lively, snow white chicken and stuff it down the top of the chimney. The chicken, in panic about its inability to fly, would desperately flap its wings as it tumbled down the shaft.  It would come out the bottom, pitch black, covered in the soot. Repeat if necessary. Great idea! The sell chickens in Eminönü!

A few days have passed, still no chickens or chimney sweeps. Off to scrub the terrace again.

Five people in all, cutting, folding, dipping, painting on, drawing on, collaging and otherwise working with paper.

Palatti, an international collective of artists, is here in Istanbul producing a commissioned piece for the Artist 2010, the Tuyap Art Fair, to take place October 30 – November 7.  Working in the Caravansarai production space are artists Audrey Bakx, Sara Pape, Betty Ras and Gerardo Gomez Tonda.

Our other resident is Stephanie Beck, who is here for one month exploring the architectural forms of Istanbul. She is constructing multi-sized domes, arches and vaults, eventually to be taken on a boat ride up the Halic. Check out her blog.  Stay tuned for the time and place…