Wednesday, November 15, 2017


I was just going through and clearing my emails in my Admin / IT sub-folder and just came across this... and remembered the chilly and chilled Toronto evening when we shared a plate each of tuna, chicken and aubergine (sorry, eggplant) and sipped on Filipino hot toddies. 

On a day when days have somehow lost their sense and sequence; my mental calendar would tell me that was only 10 days, and about 30C degrees and a 8-hour time difference ago. Where the landscape is awash with sandy yellow submerging with clumsily and hastily made steel and glass of Kuwaiti skyscrapers whereas they would have been much better off keeping to their local tradition and scale, at which they are very good at, I'm reminded of a suburban landscape, colours of which neutralised by the cold, dry air. Only 48 hours after flirting with the feeling with I could just live there with a few very dear people to me (no matter how much and how far back I've known them), would I arrive in New York -- no longer than 48 hours in that magestic city, and it would immediately feel my natural home. And then Kuwait, the Middle East, the sand, the inefficiency, lack of transparency, covered all over in white and oil-dripped sand; another home of the sorts...?

And then I go back to this email... and I miss Toronto, and the dinner, and the walk... not so much the sore throat but the sweet goodbye.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

falls for the falls in fall

A non-descript diner on the corner of a three way junction in a US border town. It’s 11:56 AM, it’s Wednesday.

I grew up hearing about Niagara Falls; it’s one of those places that kept popping up on travel ads or TV shows in the 80s and 90s, and couldn’t escape the attention of those culturally Americani(z)ed.

The friendly conductor of the train walks into our ‘business class’ carriage and announces that we will soon be crossing over to the US side of Niagara River. “On the left hand side will be the best view you’ll get all day today”, warns he. “Oh, look, he’s getting a real good picture of that” exclaims the old lady to her husband, who are sat across the aisle from me.

They’re from Kansas City I learn, about 10 minutes later. She’s got long, grey hair, a very pale lady with ice blue, smiling eyes. Her man is carrying a cherry red stick, he gazes at me underneath his cap, his posture slightly scanted due to his hunched back. They set off from Kansas City to Los Angeles, up the West Coast to Vancouver, then across the maple leafed country to Toronto.

- Via Rail runs on CN tracks; we yielded 25-50 times and got delayed for 10 hours.
- You must be exhausted. Did it affect your connecting journey?
- No, we’re just tired. It’s just that, we never thought we’d stay in a hostel aged over 80. But, it was good.

They’ll get to Chicago before returning to Kansas City, to go back to their two dogs. “It’s easier looking after dogs than children at this age” claims the uncie. Aunties asks how many children I have: “no children, nor dogs” say I.

Border crossings have often been eventful for me. In fact, we were exchanging such stories over the weekend with E., N., Y. and C. on Sunday at Toronto’s Kensington Market.

I get way more questions asked at this rail crossing than I had at Logan Airport in Boston, last week. Train crossings are always curious things. Especially in this part of the world where they’re rarer, they’re almost archaic and have a vintage quality to them. Suspicions inversely correlate with diversity of nationalities that traverse them. It didn’t help that the border officer back in Boston forgot to stamp my passport. Officials had to go through security database to verify my first entry to the US before I hopped over to Canada. I had to pronounce “architecture” three times to the officers when asked where I worked and reveal I didn’t go to any architecture school — a phrase I had to keep repeating, back in Boston last week.

It meant I was left behind by the others and running out of time to leave the station for a quick meal but the conductor nevertheless waited for me at the ticket booth. He knew I wanted to ask if I could get a business seat for the remainder of the journey on the US side — a long, 9.5-hours ride, worth the meagre $33 difference. He thought otherwise: “I wouldn’t, if I were you — seats on the coach class are even wider, and all you get is extra water or juice in business”. I felt slight trepidation as the ticket cashier waited for my decision; I didn’t want to hurt their business upon the conductor’s advice... but little did the green-eyed, ruffled bearded , tall man care. “Let me know if you change your mind”.

I was joined by the blonde, young, on-call assistant conductor walking up the city’s high street to the diner the conductor sent us to, to get a $3 breakfast. She could be a character right out of Fargo. It’s her neat conductor’s suit, Midwest accent, and pale blue eyes against the backdrop of a small, suburban US border town with narrow roads and hanging traffic lights, all catering to my prejudice.

The diner is shut; I find another one up the road; she says she needs to get back so I foot it rapidly. It sits in the corner of a three-way junction. It’s called “The Why”. That must be the US equivalent of “Neden Urfa” that keeps bemusing us Turkish speakers wherever that restaurant name pops up.

Two thin, black ladies with braids wait at the door for a table and just before suggesting I claim an vacant bar seat, their three friends walk in. It’s the black kid’s birthday and they hug each other warmly; he’s a little embarassed while his two white friends behind him smile. “Didn’t you get my text? It says ‘sent’ here”. He scratches his right ear and the golden ear ring with a baffled, amused and happy look on his face.

The kind lady at the bar suggests I can get #2 breakfast and coffee with the only 4 US$ I have in my pocket. They don’t take card, nor will they accept my remaining 2 CAD$.

- The nearest ATM is by Pops, just up the road. Do you want to order after you get back?
- I’ve got a train to catch. Can I order #3 instead? I’ll leave my jacket, run there and back real quick.

And off to the races, I go. When the sun’s out, it’s that beatiful, clear, crisp, coldish winter weather out there. I get to the mall, get cash and even a bottle of maple syrup promised to A., my host in New York. When back, I find my breakfast covered over with an additional plate to keep it warm.

At the end of the bar table is the owner of the dig, wearing a cross over his neck, curiously observing my movements. Including the bacon in the mix might have been my saviour. As I turn further around, I catch the beautiful smile in that black young lady’s face I had seen at the door. They’re now joined by a party of 3 more people. I figure this was a suprise lunch for the birthday boy. Her smile makes me think of B. from high school. I haven’t seen her or spoken to her for 3 or 4 years.

I leave the nondescript diner on the corner of a three-way junction in a non-descript US border town. Back at the train platform, the conductor, the assistant conductor, an engineer and another man are chatting.

- Sorry that the diner was closed!
- No problem. I went further up the road to another one. It was pretty good.
- Oh. “The Why?” I was always wondering. How much did you pay?
- They have eggs, toast and bacon for $3.20 and coffee is 95 cents.
- See, that’s great. One time, I took the wife to NY; we stayed right by the Times Sq. Went to that famous diner where they shot Seinfeld episodes. They charge $18.99 for two toasts and coffee!!! And $3 for coffee refill.
- You should have walked away with the mug!
- We didn’t stay long.

Shortly after that, we left the station. We will be crossing New York State over the next 9 hours, rolling down Hudson and Harlem Rivers into Penn Station. I’ll be doing a lot of reading, preparing for Kuwait while post-industrial fields, empty mining quarries and leafy suburbs will fill the landscape.
When the Maple Leaf service arrives at its destination, I will emerge on to the streets of one of world’s densest cities.
The kids will be celebrating their friend’s birthday.
Readers will be leaving the town’s beautiful, brutalist library.
Diners will be sipping their milkshakes or coffees on a cold, crisp, early winter’s night.

8 November 2017, Wednesday
Niagara Falls, NY

Thursday, October 26, 2017

dundee arms, formerly aka foo fighters arms, formerly aka dundee arms

22 Sept. 2017

Dundee Arms. Thursday night, 11PM. A pub stood here for as long as anyone can remember. Over the past week, Foo Fighters (yes, the band) took over the pub and made it Foo Fighters Arms, a pop-up band pub. The band didn’t turn up but thousands of fans did, every single hour of every day of the week.

About a few hours ago, all the shenanigans have ended. I’m sat inside, hearing Ritchie Blackmore rip his riffs. A young couple asks for pints of Session IPA — pointing at the blue cans in the fridge behind the bar, she claims her stepfather loved that particular brand of beer. The bartender advises they go to the nearest off-license to buy some. She repeats directions given to her, an American pronunciation of “Bethnal Green Tube stop” sounds friendly out of place.

A group of long, curly, blonde haired dudes walk in. They’re not Deep Purple (who’re not blonde) and they’re asking for a club nearby. Strangely out of the era their looks represent.

A shy boy walks up to the bar and asks for a pint of “the Roadie”; my choice of IPA. I’ve always gone for roadies.

A man walks up and asks whether I’m writing a book. I tell him I’m writing semi-fictitious stuff. That I’m making up some of the stuff that I have or have not seen — as I’m typing it.

I gave the last new, Jane Austen £10 note I had in my wallet to the bartender. Why Foo Fighters didn’t turn up for their pop-up bar is because there’s no back door entry to the pub. Crowd mitigation out of order. It would be appropriate if the music mixer behind a bricked cubicle (with a massive TV overhead, probably showing rugby games on the weekends) queued up The Doors’ Back Door Man.

A man walks up to the bar with a bunch of brochures in his hands. He’s told Foo Fighters Arms is over. It sounds like a whole musical genre has been proclaimed over in a 90’s rock’n’roll roadie movie. I take the final sip of from my pint of The Roadie.

An Irish sounding girl walks up to the bar — she’s recently moved to London. A Celtic sounding folk tune is heard over on the stereo. My flatmate texts he can’t make it as he’s too tired while I get my 2nd pint served. Since each sip continues to taste like I’m chewing on a small branch of weed must mean it’s not the glass, it’s the actual drink.

Of the three blondes who’ve just walked in, one asked for red wine, another for a Corona (keeps the slice of lime intact) and the final one a prosecco. That’s what I call diversity; bar the equally standardised hair dying operation in place.

The very important information that they’ll close at 12:45AM relayed to me may be a curse or a blessing in disguise. I need to leave home at around 03:30 for my flight to Denmark.

The journey to the bathroom is a peculiar one: as I walk away from the dimmed Art Deco lighting up the Victorian stairs into an empty hall, the last thing that would cross my mind is to run into a group of Icelandic and British birthday crowd who took over my stool. Only one of the three Icanders isn’t shaven headed but they all smell of lavender amd sweat.

A dude was complaining in the toilets that someone walked out having not washed his hands. He claimed his OCD got the better of him. He proclaimed: “why not wash your hands? It’s free!”

The Icelandic crew are slightly disappointed no pastice is served. The sambuca alternative does not cut it.

The long anticipated Old Fashioned is ready. The dude who’s kindly asked for permission to ‘borrow my stool’ had long gone and once the Icelanders have left, I’m back on my stool. The noise level has gone up by a few notches and Nirvana is on stereo.

The more I write and observe, the more I get counter-observed. Is it the recently acquired self-proclaimed author’s gaze I’m receiving reactions to or is it just it’s getting very crowded?

I get wrongly served a pint of soda after I’d gotten served a G&T, by the same man. First single malt request comes in just as a super-oriental Rock The Casbah cover kicks into the stereos as the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club crew (had appeared while I was in the loo) go mad.

A super drunk local dude asks me about lagers.

Half an hour later.. suspecting his accent and acquainting all the while, he turns out a Mancunian. Construction, Principal Tower, the Queen, pension age, Spain, Montenegro, his daughters and family, 3AM shifts, are amongst 100s of stuff we talk about.

He’s missing few teeth. He rolls his o’s to u’s as a proper Northerner. He’s baffled to hear I’m Turkish. He’s obsessed with Spain. He only took a week off in the past 3 years. He doesn’t like the fancy lager offered on tap.

He hits up on one of the 3 Corona, Prosecco, Wine blondes and I’m relieved. I’m relieved I can write again. I’m relieved he subscribes to the standard — so, my prejudiced observsation stacks up. Shame on me. Shame on whom? They’re almost kissing and I couldn’t care a tiny less. But he’s cool. He’s a Danny Boyle character that didn’t make the silver screen.

He is hating his Camden Hells. He was here all along for Amstel. I’ve got 3 more hours to waste. A direct reverse correlation between alcohol level and striving to keep awake will play against me. Where do I cut it?

The blonde approached by my Mancunian takes up on the OCD guy. He runs away. She asks me how to get back to the bar. Her lips might exlpode. An Icelander walks past. I’m worried about my flight. The stomping on the timber stairs is mixed with vanilla. Vanilla came apparently from our Mancunian’s e-cigarette. So much for the pension scheme.

Nirvana’s on again. Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Feels like teen years.
Feels like I’m done.
This is Dundee Arms.
It’s 00:44.
London’s a tough place.
It’s not been easy.
I love London.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

pride in our parks

I received a message on LinkedIn asking me whether I wanted to share a regeneration project I was involved in to be promoted by some online publication. The request didn't appear anything much more than an attempt to aggregate some success stories for a self-proclaimed publisher and their blog/book/magnum opus.

Nonetheless, I tried to come up with something worthy of a mention and moments before I would receive a notification on my Twitter feed of a retweet by RioOnWatch, I reminisced of an emotional moment just about 4 years ago these days from Rio de Janeiro.

At the time, I was in charge of coordinating and running the floor for the Urban Age 2013 Conference -- as Rio was gearing up for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, we were investigating major investments (mainly in transport and regeneration) and whether they related to / tried to alleviate some of the chronic problems facing the city. We wanted to highlight Parque Madureira as one that gifted the city with a public asset in a once redundant / obsolete part of the city.

The architects in charge of the project presented the project at the conference. While prepping for the actual conference, testing A/V and lighting, we've run each presentation to the desired setup and presentation sequence. One of the technicians in charge for the technical desk first erupted to shouts, laughters and excitement which were then slowly left to a mix of emotions and tears. He later told me he grew up in the area of regeneration, and was now using the park and very proud of it being showcased as a prime example of regeneration at the Conference.

This, for us, was a testimony of a story of success and one that probably merits a narrative and a reminder at times when there's little appetite or faith left in mass regeneration. At a time when I've been desperately searching for some inspiration, how I recall the joy and pride in that man's eyes...

Monday, February 20, 2017

as the desert runs into the sea

When you’re left dehydrated for four days in a desert, you begin to lose sense of direction, walk in circles and eventually starve yourself to your inevitable end. US border officials know this too well and are often left collecting corpses beyond recognition of those who desperately try to make it across the ruthless Sonoran Desert. That, or they encounter them during their journeys and take them away, but not all those journey-makers prefer this latter outcome. Exploited by traffickers on the Mexican side of the border, if they can manage to complete their perilous walks, they hope to find a safe haven, and sometimes find themselves knocking on strangers’ doors, only to hope that they’d extend a helping hand rather than turning them to the authorities.

As fatal as they are, deserts can be incredibly inviting geographies; with no end in sight, an infinite depth of field and an offer of wilderness that us humans have long let go of our lives, which immediately draws one’s gaze. Borders on the other hand, especially those with walls, fences or any other invisible apparatus of control are usually repulsive. In the case of Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki’s “El Mar La Mar”, these attributes are reversed; or rather merged: the Mexican-US border at once draws the pair in to tread a careful and sensitive excursion around it. They were taken by both the landscape and the hard border on a trip from New Orleans to San Francisco and started to storyline what is truly an intense documentary of survival and expulsion.

Shot on a Super 16, the film is a visual feast of landscape imagery, combined with some incredible and innovative sound design. As the southern Arizonian images of nature, wildlife and cowboys blend into whitened- and blackened-out images, uninterrupted testimonial interviews with border officials and journey-makers alike are mixed with field recordings, sometimes in their raw format but most times manipulated with additions of reverb or stretching out of frequencies. Hardly any of this comes as misplaced as they create an environment that is both very impressionistic but also abstracted to such extent that Mexicans' heart-wrenching stories create the incredible tension that the film rests on.

The film is split into three sections titled: “Rio”, “Costas” and “Tormenta”. I had my own interpretations but also went to ask the directors why they did not translate those titles, to which they replied they wanted the audience to keep engaging with the film by researching them if necessary and that they had only finished editing 5 days prior to the screening! But as a contextual point, the film's opening title "Rio" begins with a flickery image recorded from a moving vehicle, which, as the camera zooms out, slowly morphs into a recognisable image of a metal fence. It is one of the most dynamic scenes of the entire film, as the rest is very much made of a static (and stunning) visual language. But, despite that slow pace, the film is anything but stasis. The directors did an incredible job of marrying their audio-visual interpretations with people's testimonials and allowed for these to speak for themselves, and safely stayed away from taking a stance.

The shortest description I could make for the film would be “excruciatingly beautiful”. As I arrived in Berlin on Sunday late afternoon, I was still filled with certain inspirations I had acquired over the weekend. Ending up at strangers’ house late on Friday night, finding myself playing percussion in an impromptu house jam session, and meeting the same incredible people who had put out an exhibition at St Pancras Parish Church’s Crypt Gallery the next evening had already filled me with much anticipation, as if the prospects of going to Berlin, one of the most special places in my life, was not enough.

Titled “CAPUT”, that exhibition that displayed works from artists from France, Greece, Italy, Senegal, Turkey, the UK and the US not only responded to its own setting so intelligently, but also portrayed the interplay between life and death, the dynamic and the static. Everything I saw at El Mar La Mar seemed to have this incredible point of reference to works I saw and experienced at the exhibition. Can’s video installation complimented by sound recordings from the materials he used was as genuine as Bonnetta and Sniadecki’s mix of the harsh audio-landscapes, metallic surfaces and the soft human touch of border-gazers. Beyza’s poetry and grainy video footage were almost a response to the filmmakers’ own use of artistic language, through blur and abstraction. Having experienced a monochromatic part of her video, I could not help myself but remember how El Mar La Mar’s brutal black or white backdropped scenes of testimonials merged into the landscape photography. And Merve’s three paintings, with a varying tones of red, green and beige from vivid to pastel had defined my interpretation of the exhibition: although she refers to themes of harvest and blossom, their spatial features and subtle lines gave me an immediate feeling of rugged but tested landscapes and borders. Her painterly abstraction did not give me a feeling of exclusion; on the contrary a sense of invitation and intrigue.

So, it was almost hardly a coincidence when the Berlinale presenter on stage addressed her first question to the filmmakers about the painful beauty of the film and how its poetry-like structure almost made Sonoran Desert an appealing place. My second question was about the two men who walked for 8 days and ended up at knocking at the ranch the filmmakers were staying at. They connected them with humanitarian focussed organisations, while receiving their testimony of the journey. The men were very tired, sleep and water deprived over the final few days of their walk and had almost acquired a totally indifferent feeling to the emotions they were suffering from, except, when they talked about a fellow female traveler who died as they had to leave her behind, one of them started sobbing. I wanted to know how the directors approached these men about a story so traumatic and had just taken place: apparently, the men wanted to put their story out and the filmmakers were, by this point, experienced enough to create the optimal distance that allowed them to investigate deeply with true interest but remain emotionally stable as not to take a subjective stance. That's why this film was so powerful. So human, despite very few humans seen in footage.

Writing this text took me longer than I anticipated. In between the 11 films I saw, friends I met, very different environments I have been in (both physically and spiritually), my initial feelings towards El Mar La Mar stayed the same. If anything, they have been supplemented by various inspirations through the week, culminating with an unexpected approach on the dancefloor at the end of a long clubbing night (and morning) with the statement “can I dance next to you; you look so happy and make others happy” — something you don’t expect to hear much in Berlin, the ultimate individualist capital of hedonism.

But, that was also reminder of how much we seem to strive for these interactions and the need to really understand and communicate what we individually and collectively go through, whether this be with complete strangers or our neighbours. In fact, often is the case that the more we connect, the less rigid those definitional boundaries become. Like the first scene in El Mar La Mar where the fluid image turns into a hard fence, or the weekend in London that prepared me for my journey to Berlin… with gratitude to everyone who keeps inspiring, old and new alike.

Monday, February 06, 2017

cruel sun on a fake spring's day

the sun came out today. when i was least expecting it. and when i was certainly not ready for it. when it came out briefly on saturday, i was again neither expecting or prepared for it. but, it came with warmth, with a hint of smells of flowers, with long walks, hat shops and unexpected pub stops. it came in the form of pale ale and sushi. and when it left, i could do without it for a while. now that it's back, i don't know what do with it.

...because it wasn't real spring, and it turned out it wasn't here to stay.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Here comes the piss truck

“Here comes the piss truck” they were yelling and laughing. I don’t know why they call it that, but its arrival felt like a regular proceeding to the end of another working day for the Columbia Road Flower Market. Street markets are strange, in the sense that they have a single day working week; albeit an intense one at that.

Stranger is the three-sided football league we play in. A single, two-hour endeavour, first Sunday of each month. Less stranger is ‘planned engineering works’ that take place across various public transport infrastructure networks of London. Which is why, I had to cycle on a city bike to Tower Bridge, and run to New Cross thereafter, courtesy of my bike’s broken pedal and the festive period that prevented a quick fix.

That stretch of South London on any given Sunday is primarily home to communities of Afro-Caribbean origin who stroll between their homes and those of their relatives and their local centres of religious affairs. Congregations in front of brickwork, concrete or makeshift churches, Victorian, postwar, or semi-urban houses are celebrations of colour and glamour.

Running on a side street somewhere between South Bermondsey and Surrey Quays, I came across a lady, all dressed in white except for her golden necklace and the grey earphone through which she was euphorically talking to a relative. Her posture could not have been any calmer, though. She was taking small and calculated steps and owned the very pavement we shared for those few seconds. She smelled of summer; the streets smelled of River Thames’s low tide. By the time it reaches London, the river picks up some salt and it was this indistinct trace of smell of salt that was helping my head keep clear.

The game went well; we did a good job. It’s now 3 games without a loss; a straight out win, followed by two winning draws. We jumped on the unreliable Overground on the way back, which was now running a more regular service. I took my usual route from the station but instead of cutting directly across to my street, my feet dragged me across Columbia Road (next street up) to see the market day come to its conclusion. Only few more stalls were up, and there has been carnage of flowers; those that did not make the cut and were not walked home by young couples and aspiring flatmates.
A very loud truck started its engine and started rolling up the street. When it finally stopped before the last stall standing with a loud roar, the driver jumped out to the yells and laughs of the traders. They called it the ‘piss truck’. Another week had just ended with little out of the ordinary. The ‘piss truck’ was about to start its duty of sweeping away the end of the week as I hastily, but calmly, took this picture.