Monday, July 28, 2008

Olives and rowers

There was no way I could get to sleep at 3 AM in my first night back in Istanbul. I was welcomed by news of some horrific bombing in Gungoren and the country has already been going through a mess of legal cases, one on the closure of the governing party and the other on the unravelling of an assumed ultra "secularist"-nationalist group. But the real problem was that my body clock was still adjusted to the GMT, 2 hours before Istanbul clock. I got off from the bed, turned on the TV and watched a documentary on Napoleon, created by BBC, broadcast on a Turkish news channel. As the French were trying to re-establish the "Regime of the Revolution" by the Terror regime of Robespierre, Napoleon was making his way up the ranks by kicking some British ass in Toluon, so objectively captured by the BBC. Once again, I was amazed by the internalised, imperialistic culture of the English that felt as if they can 'say' anything because they've lived it all through. I ate 2 cups full of green olives, as an urge to satisfy my Mediterranean taste, not necessarily to sympathise with the French.
However, the real theme in this blog is not British admiration, it is rather an admiration towards Istanbul...

I woke up for a busy schedule. I had a few duties to complete by the end of the day. Get a Lebanese visa, get an extension on exemption from the military service, buy a suit for sister's wedding, meet up with friends in the evening... It is during the 'military service' that I re-lived Istanbul's magics once again.

I took a 'dolmus', a Turkish version of a 'shared taxi's of developing countries to Taksim to get a bus to the Golden Horn, riverside. The only bus option would never arrive, forcing me to take another minibus to the edge of the riverside and hop on another 'dolmus' from there on. Having already been reminded about the countless alternatives of transportation, having helped a wheelchair user into a bus, having conversed with immigrants and tourists asking for way, having talked with bus drivers, pigeons and low-rank military officials who told me the office would be re-opened at 13.30 after the lunch break, I walked a few minutes away on the Golden Horn riverside to sit comfortably by Sutluce pier to watch the skies and the water. The image was very similar to this:

Sutluce is across Eyup, a fine but run-down district in a historically significant part of Istanbul where masses crowd during Ramadan months. Tourists also flock to Eyup to head up the Pierre Loti hill, once a famous getaway for the French writer. The following image is taken from the top of Pierre Loti hill with Eyup on the right and Sutluce on the middle-left with the pier just to the left of the small boats before the big blue bridge:

There were about 10-12 boats parked by the pier and 6-7 middle-aged to old men sitting curiously but calmly to wait for customers, on my right side. On the left was a converted nargile-cafe located on an abandoned water-structure, slowly rocking on the water. Customers started to come out from their lunch breaks as friends, dad-and-son, and shy couples making way to the boats to cross back to Eyup. There was a slow but comforting breeze with an overcast sky, making a cool welcome and actually complying with the humble expressions of the rowers and serene waters of the Golden Horn. Among the men, the youngest, a mid-30's looking one was asking if there was any 'job' (customers), anxiously waiting to transport someone across. He was one of the few lucky who had a 3-4 Horsepower engine on his boat whereas the slightly older guys rowed their way across for a 10-minute ride. Customers might have liked the row, in an old Ottoman fashion style more in fact, although I could only sympathise with the hard labour under humid and warm weather.

You could not see an expression of complaint at all. These humble men earned £1 for each trip and only the luck ones had 1 trip for the half hour I spent there. With £2 an hour and only the daylight to work with, they were competing with engined-boats that left from another pier 100 metres away. However, one could not hear the roaring engines of those boats but only the curious questions asked by the eldest rower about the news from "Ergenekon case" or the drama-overcast enthusiasm of the younger one when he saw a customer approach by. On the hills behind where I looked were numerous graveyards of different religions, looking across to the river and the Bosphorus further back, the souls probably 'resting in peace' with one of the most spectacular views they could have asked for.

I left the place at 13:25 to go deal with my military service issue, spent the rest of the day accomplishing all my duties and getting back home around midnight to eat around 40 of the new, delicious olives that had already replaced last night's stocks during the day. I had to wait for my body to adjust to the clock and in the meanwhile lived through the calm, peaceful half an hour at Sutluce in my mind. Istanbul gave me the proper 'welcome' with all its chaos and a glimpse opportunity to amaze me with yet another of its hidden treasures, the rowers of Sutluce. All I was left to think was that, "this is probably the most beautiful city in the world".

Monday, July 21, 2008

Life is a 24-hour rollercoaster

On a partly cloudy Sunday morning I arrived at the Marble Arch tube station at 08:50 and started to wait for C. with whom we were going to pick-up the car from Hertz rent-a-car. C. arrived at 09.05 and a few minutes later came A. and G. as well. The quartet was complete and we all made our way into the Hertz office. We left the car-park around 09:40 after a long-queue and headed outside London into the Kent area in Southeast England.

Like all stories that end with fascination, this one had all started with an embroidery of small coincidences. As I was heading back home from school the previous Monday, I left my bike on campus and took the Tube due to my heavy load. I sat on a seat and across me was an ad. on "visiting Kent by train". A discounted travel for groups of 4+ for as low as £10 ticket for a 3-hour return journey. I sent a text message to A. and G. and to my surprise they were talking about going to Kent with me over the weekend. We topped the team to 4 with C. and decided to rent a car in the end, choosing flexibility of moving around on a day's trip over cheaper train rides. C. and me were responsible for transportation arrangement and the couple A. and G. were the Ministers of Tourism for the day.

We arrived roughly around 11:30 in Canterbury. I only knew about the University of Kent and had once heard about its Cathedral. After wandering around a bit with the car and walking around in the town, we carved for lunch, wanted to get away from the (American) Indian street musicians, skipped the £5.50 entrance fee for the Cathedral, randomly walked into the beautiful Greyfriars and had a good lunch with a superb apple-pie with ice-cream around the High Street. Having had enough of Canterbury with few surprises the city could offer, we made our way to Dover to find out about the White Cliffs under the advice of our Tourism Ministry and a suggestion I had received from a friend during the week.

As soon as we got back to the car, it started raining, reminding us to leave for the clearer skies further in the east. Around 15:30, we were setting off to the peaks of the White Cliffs, for the peak of our trip. I left the A2 road, steered into the road to Dover Castle. The clouds started to open up for a blue sky and there lay the ocean, the sea, the channel or whatever one may want to call, a wide-perspective of water our Turkish souls have been missing for a while. And across the other side, we could see the small harbours and towns of France, the excitement of being so close to the continent was good enough a reason to be there.

At the entrance of Dover Castle at 16:30 we had a tough decision to make. The castle would close at 18:00 and C. wanted to go in. Despite C. would get what she wanted through A.'s witty, innovative points-scheme he came up with, we decided to skip the castle. That gave us a couple of hours to wander around the White Cliffs, a stop that fulfilled our day with pictures, some trekking, big adrenaline-rush and even some drama acting and film-making.

Now, I believe life is only meaningful when you've got stories to tell that have a pack of adrenaline in them. I also believe Turks are a bit too-much of a last-minute people but if you're going to make it in the end, why not make an entertainment out of it? And if you end up losing it, you have always got something to talk about. A small flashback here... In 2005, I was doing language courses around Spain. My flights back to Istanbul were Easyjet-Germanwings connection via Valencia-Berlin-Istanbul. Valencia flight was leaving Sunday morning 08:30 and I was in Madrid the day before. My only connection was a bus from Madrid to Valencia at 01:00. After claiming my luggage at Atocha Station 3 minutes before lock-up and spending too long in Los Amigos Hostel in Madrid to re-live memories from 2004, I had to hassle through Saturday-night Madrid traffic with a cab that left me at the bus station at 01:02. I jumped in the bus that was moving out of the terminal and everything was in summer-heat order.

Back to the trip:
We had to be back at the car at 18:55 to make sure the doors of the White Cliffs national park would not be closed on us. We fooled around too long in our journey to the pebbles with the shipwreck, we had to pace on the way back. A detour took us further than we wanted to go but I was out of the gates at 19:01 to pick up A. and G. on the way. A coffee break in Dover settled the tired souls and we started rolling the tyres back into London. After about 200 miles and 14 hours, we were back in London. Driving over London Bridge we saw the most fascinating sight, if all we saw during the day wasn't enough. A. shouted "look under the Tower Bridge" as if the bridge was coming down or a ship was crashing into it. Just between the steelwork of the bridge you could see the moon, painted in misty-yellow, bigger than any I've ever seen, trying to make its way up in the cloudy London skies... I only had a brief second to see its blinding beauty overarching the blue-grey concrete of Tower Bridge, a sight to be long-remembered.

Car rental meant more than our trip and thanks to A. and G. After dropping off C. in Bethnal Green, we made our way to my house to pick-up 60-kilo of luggages to R.'s place at the end of the night. Well, the night wasn't ending just yet...

I picked R. after midnight for a stroll around east London, driving into the City Airport, the Docklands, the Thames Barrier, through abandoned avenues, futuristic DLR stations in the middle-of-nowhere's, horrendous housing estates on the edges of highways, truck driver's night-clubs with signs in pink-background with cracked windows; over bridges of numerous canals. We drove all the way up to Stratford and back into the Isle of Dogs as London was sleeping into a new week at Sunday 1 AM.

Grand finale:
I went for my last sleep in my house at 02:30 and woke up around 07:30. There was yet one last mission to be accomplished. Start from Kentish Town, fill the car-tank, pick-up C. from Liverpool Street, drive back to Marble Arch and deliver the car by 09:00. The sole reason why we had to drive with C. to drop the car was because she had rented the car to avoid paying more because of my age restrictions.

When I could only make it to Bethnal Green Road at 08:20 I had sheer hope but between me and C. we had more to fear for paying an extra £41 because of an additional day's rental.

I only missed 2 flights in my life and both were Germanwings flights from Berlin. The actors were the same in the both. Me, my then-girlfriend A., and a German taxi driver. The story was easy to follow. I would hesitate to leave Berlin and A. behind so easy, the S9 to Schonefeld would either break-up or delay, we would get a cab, the driver would never exceed the speed-limit and I would miss the flight.
I only rented a car once prior to yesterday and the Scottish trip a week ago. That was in Berlin and from Hertz rent-a-car. We had driven to Hamburg, and woke up too late the next morning and had to extend the rental to 2 days. We made most out of it anyways back then... This time, none of these could repeat. There was no more time and money to waste, and no desire to drive in London or levy more expenses on the whole team. We had to make it back from East End of London to West End of London through Monday-morning traffic in 40 minutes.

It could only take me and C.'s wishful thinking, full concentration, luck with traffic lights, C.'s small hints on the road, my full intuition and confidence in my orientation skills, and the patience of London drivers against us! Through small streets, side roads, roundabouts, Congestion Charging zone, 3 boroughs, 4 train stations, 10's of traffic lights and 100's of curses, a welcoming Hertz employee in yellow-suits checked-in the car at 08:55. As C. had expressed half an hour before, "it was a miracle come true".

Some days I just look up in the sky and wander how some coincidences weave together. Do people with strong thinking and feelings subconsciously build stories around themselves that come across each other's ways? The setting sun was right in my eye 12-hours ago on the M20. C. handed me her sunglasses, and said the clouds looked only so nice and yellow the way they did because they were over the oceans.
I looked up once again into the skies at Tottenham Court Road after dropping the car. C. headed into the school. Sun was trying to make its way behind the white clouds. Another step and the sun broke down behind the Central Point skyscraper. My eyeballs grew large, and I thought of something I repeatedly had over the last 24-hours:

Life is beautiful, inasmuch you've got stories to tell. I've just had another one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Designing surveillance

Rem Koolhaas's architectural practice OMA have been building the highly complicated, iconic building for the headquarters of China Central Television (CCTV) and its adjacent Television Cultural Center (TVCC) in the new CBD (Central Business District) of Beijing, China.* The building does not only fascinate with its innovative architectural elements but is also championed for its structural achievements on a site of seismic activity.

Spread over a 20 hectares of land, the CCTV building will supply 465.000 m2 space despite its relatively low-height for a growing CBD skyscraper at 234 metres. While the form of the building tries to interconnect various activities at the site such as administration, production and broadcasting, its social and spatial implications are also regarded as being "completely rethought to provoke a new kind of collective construct with the potential for social and urban change" (Tina di Carlo). Initially aimed to be completed by the 2008 Oympic games, the building will be open only after the final torch is put off at Herzog & de Meuron's "Bird's Nest". However, what will match the architectural excellence of this building has already been masterminded by the politicians in the form of social and political regulations of surveillance.

CCTV is better known as an abbreviation for a technical term familiar to most London and British citizens: Closed-circuit television. There is no consensus on the exact number of CCTV cameras in London, numbers vary from 10,000 crime-fighting cameras to 500,000 public+private surveillance cameras in London to a staggering 2 Million all around the UK. Anna Funder in Stasiland has argued that there were around 50 Stasi informers for every citizen in the DDR (East Germany), comparing it to 1/300 for Russian KGB. I had likened this to the Second Constitutional Period of the late Ottoman Empire. An estimation of 500,000 cameras in London would suggest 1 camera per 14 people in this city.

This is not to suggest that DDR citizens enjoyed a lifestyle the British enjoy today. There's a fine article, followed by some fine comments (look for the comment by Koolio) in the Guardian newspaper website. Nonetheless, I'd imagine east Germans feared from more tangible suspects, e.g. a weirdo-looking neighbour who seems to set an eye on your wife (or even your dog) whereas he's trying to track every single move in your household. In comparison, Londoners today are forced to think today that they fear from a terrorist-act that will come flying over from people of distant lands, descendants of many they actually have had the opportunity to live together for long decades. In a unique and bizarre sense, the liberal and imperial experience of Britain helped its citizens towards a much wider and open perspective towards other cultures, while its political agenda planted seeds of extreme surveillance. In the meanwhile, China is coping with its global agendas looking towards its western counterparts...

It makes little wonder that the OMA received service for Broadcast Consultancy from a London firm for the CCTV project. In the southern China city of Shenzhen, 20,000 police surveillance cameras have already started supplying the monitors in OMA's architectural masterpiece with constant footage as well as information on work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number of citizens thanks to a clever data chip.

After the re-unification of Germany, a special institution created by the federal state, "Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic" has been holding the inspection files created on former DDR citizens. People have been enjoying their right to go to the archives and read what had been written about them since 1990. These have been inspirational resources to many literature and cinema production on the issue, and helped the likes of beloved Ulrich Muhe who has read his own Stasi files before going on to act as Captain Gerd Wiesler in Das Leben der Anderen. Whether the British or the Chinese will go through similar processes, may the occasion arise is beyond my knowledge, but the visual aura created by the impressive CCTV building in Beijing will be accompanied by the visual data within itself and the "social change" (referred to above) that is taking place in China.

To wrap all of this up, we can refer one last time to Anna Funder's experiences in the East German television station at Adlershof, Berlin. This place has been transformed into a new multimedia centre since the time of Funder's writing, but she was lucky enough to feel the never-ending corridors consisting of identical rooms on each side of it, that could only be distinguished by the function they were serving: control room, production room, filming room, etc... The simple modernist architecture of the East German television centre held the archives of propaganda programmes like "The Black Channel". Simple-minded surveillance and propaganda of the DDR made no fuss about architectural extravaganza like in the times of neo-classical, heroic style of the Nazis, or the current ground-breaking form depicted in Beijing's CCTV. After all, more and more cities like Shenzhen, Beijing or London transform into open-air panopticons (although they are not designed as such, but rather transformed into) enforcing an indirect discipline in a Foucaldian sense. Iconic architecture remain well-seated in the midst of it, continuing to amaze citizens of these "open cities".

* A funny side note is the interplay of abbreviations: OMA together with its research centre AMO are building CCTV and TVCC next to each other.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Skye was the limit...

Isle of Skye was one of the destinations of our 6-day Scotland trip with my mother. This is a collage of pictures taken at the Neist Point Lighthouse at the western tip of this West Scotland island, overlooking the further out islands, Ireland and the Atlantic Ocean.

We arrived in Edinburgh on a rainy Saturday, took our 'natural' share of showers for 2 days in this late-medieval town dominated by late Gothic architecture and dark and gloomy skies that have few resemblance to its cheerful citizens. We stayed in the New Town, in a nice block of converted Victorian houses with good facilities.

We picked the car we rented from Edinburgh Airport on Monday and started our some 1200-mile journey through Callander, Inverness, Glen Affric, Isle of Skye, Oban, Glasgow and back to London. Apart from the enthusiasm of driving on the left side of the road in a car with the wheel on the right side, the scenic routes of Scotland were extraordinary, giving us joy and helping relieve some of the exhaustion and stress of short-term, long-distance journey.

Apart from the time spent in the cities, most of the journey was nature oriented. Although we hoped to have more hiking and trekking experiences, some of the distances took much longer than expected due to the nature of the roads (one-lane), accidents (of other cars), lack of knowledge of the country's best sites, lack of preparation and poor weather. Nevertheless, we were able to capture some magnificent sights especially around Glen Affric, Loch Katrine, Isle of Skye... Listening to Scottish radio with Gaellic, Celtic and classic music was an integral part of the trip as well.

Unexpected stopovers, such as the one in Oban greeted us with delightful and scenic breaks, and paved the way for my mother to plan already for the next summer. Other small towns on the way like Callander also added to the diversity of the trip.

Overall, one of the most satisfying elements of the trip was "food" that was dominated by salmon. Having only eaten salmon once or twice before, I've helped my appetite (and arguably my health) with 7 meals of salmon, in the form of smoked salmon sandwich, salmon steaks, and even with a special "salmon feast" in Edinburgh. It is a delicious combination of salmon pieces cooked in black pepper, ginger, mixed spices and coconut.

More entries will follow with various stories and close-up's to some of these destinations. I am hoping to update and add more pictures as soon as I can get them from my mother's camera as well. For the time being, "beannachd leat" and "oidhche mhath".

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Existential Being of a Thesis work-in-progress

Following are pictures from the kitchen of my house. I took them whilst in the early stage of miserable work on my Master's thesis. It sheds light to the true existentialism of the Thesis created and given meaning by the sole author (me) in a Heideggerian sense of 'dwelling environment' in which the objects are only meaningful and relevant to the environment by the use I make out of them. The isolated first-person narrative is the eye behind the camera, depicting the kitchen table the way it is without his meaningful presence (although, in this case, if one reads the notes I've been taking for my Thesis material, one should rightfully judge my 'meaningfulness'). Yet again, the very nature of an abstract thinking process questions my association with the outside world. As an isolated soul, my survival depends upon a bag of crisps, a pack of hummus, Nutella, some bread and honey, a few books, my laptop, £10.01 remaining on my bank account and these very words now you're reading transmitted by my 'nothingness' to you dear subjects. So, before I vanish into my non-existence please record my once-ever presence and remember me as a friend that was 'not there'.

Please click on the images to zoom in and see the secrets hidden in the details of the objects on the table.

Picture 1-

From left to right: "Istanbul and the Concept of World Cities, Keyder & Oncu", the Inter-Library slip reminding me I have to return this book by tomorrow so that British Library can send it to the place they borrowed it from; a teddy bear I had found on the street - as isolated as me; "Stasiland, Anna Funder" so that there is non-academic stuff that I also read, a bag of crisps: Sundried Tomato, Garlic&Basil flavour; a pack of Hummus as a dip-in service to the crisps, the two-combined reminding me of my Mediterranean roots; a pack of honey to help with pumping sugar to the brain in need; my mobile phone with no phone calls/messages during the weekday; and in the foreground is he famous T-shirt.

Picture 2-

From left to right: A huge bottle of Evian water so that I don't have to drink coffee made of nasty tap water all the time; Nutella (team-mate of the honey); the laptop that holds the most of the evidence of what all this fuss is about; my Bank account reminding me that I've got £10.01 left, good enough to withdraw a £10 bill from the ATM because they only come in multiples of 10 and signalling that I've done a good job to survive until now and I shall be spoilt with my mom's arrival tomorrow afternoon if I can live on £10.01 for another 24 hours. Other software running on the machine give a hint to how to deal with this work: Surf and research on Mozilla, play some Chess, listen to music on ITunes, chat on Messenger, type your stuff on Pages application and play around with Photoshop.

Picture 3-

The edge of the table with the chair where I like to put my feet on. Hanging on it is the environmental friendly bag to shop with. All of the materials seen on the table have gone through this bag before making their way here. Further to the right is the sink and the dishes, my biggest companions in the cyclical process of getting messed-up, dirty and clean back again. Metaphorical it may sound, studying indoors, grilling and drinking outdoors at the end of the week is the cyclical process on which many of us survive.

Below is the combined picture, again you can click on it to see it in detail.