Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Intangible Heritage of the Thanksgiving Table

We gathered, we cooked and we that everyone has gone home, it's time to reflect.

Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943
Whenever I think of Thanksgiving, I think of Norman Rockwell's painting, Freedom from Want; in my mind's eye, it is the perfect visualization of one of the most meaningful days of the year. The one day it is a requirement to give thanks for all that we have but that's not the only reason Thanksgiving is special... Thanksgiving is also a unique and wonderful holiday for not excluding anybody on account of race, religion, nationality or social status. Everyone can have Thanksgiving, the main idea being, if you made it here (on American soil) you can join in.

But the more important question in my mind today is - do people's tables actually look like this? Contemplating the iconic image of the fresh, smiling faces of the wholesome Americans sitting around the big table set with grandma's best china and linens, everyone looking at each other with joy and genuine affection makes me wonder if this is "real" then how do we fit into the typecast? I recently found out, thanks to Deborah Solomon, that even Rockwell's own life looked nothing like this painting, so I am going to venture to say that it's only normal that ours does not either... 

This is what our table looked like this Thanksgiving. I just realized that we forgot to take a picture of the whole family gathered around it since we were so busy trying to get everyone to sit and start eating. Although we set up a nice table with linens and flowers, I could not find one shot that would do it justice. Normally, I would not put up pictures that I didn't consider to be upto snuff but I think these actually capture the moment better than any perfectly setup, framed and touched up photo could. Because family gatherings are actually chaotic and messy and at times volatile... which makes it all the more special. 

The turkey didn't make its grand entrance at the table nor get the photo-op it deserved... but it was good to the last bite (no left-overs). Then there were the rest of the dishes which, I am proud to say, were surprisingly, very healthy. Vegetables and grains... from different regions of Turkey, fried green beans and egg from the Black Sea, Kisir (Bulgur Salad) from Southeastern Anatolia, green beans cooked in olive-oil from the Aegean, Muhammara (hot pepper dip with walnuts) from my parent's hometown Kilis, and rice with peas and dill which could be any region of Anatolia... accompanied by Coppola wines from California.

As for the deserts... my cousin brought the ultimate American dream, Pumpple (two different layers of cake with a pie in the middle) from Philadelphia, my mother came with Turkish delights, sweet sucuk with walnuts and pestil (fruit leather) from Turkey and for the piece de resistance... a birthday cake Pro and I prepared for my father.  And no, it was not his birthday - during story-time Pro and I saw a very colorful cake in Curious George and Pro said he wanted a cake just like it, so I decided we had to make it. The happy coincidence of not having a specific birth-date for my father except "the time when black grapes were eaten," has given us ample opportunities over the years for celebrating the happy occasion whenever we feel like it.

As Pro and I made the carrot cake from scratch, whipping the cream cheese frosting and than decorating it with gummy bears and jellyfish, I was thinking of a UNESCO video I had recently watched about the French Gastronomical Meal being included in the intangible heritage of humanity. No one can deny the culinary delights of a French Gastronomical meal but singling it out as the intangible heritage of humanity is a question open for debate. The family meal, prepared with love and consumed together has to be the most basic of human traditions belonging to all the people of the world... just like Thanksgiving belonging to all in America.

So, we had Thanksgiving, and we were quite a mix around that table... Turkish, Chinese, Jewish, American and even a bit of Irish, some of us born and bred on these lands, others coming from far away places to make it their home. We had food, merriment and out-of-focus photos with everyone looking in different directions and babies already in their pajamas, around a table which was left a happy clutter of all the good food and lovely memories that had suffused it.  It may be a far-cry from the Norman Rockwell painting but very 'real' none-the-less.

If one is to consider 1943, the year Rockwell painted this work, the pain and suffering that was in abundance all over the world, the image becomes more poignant. Although for Rockwell and his audience the Great Depression was probably uppermost in their minds. They probably needed such an image to reassure themselves that it was going to be OK, they would see better days. This Norman Rockwell painting in my opinion is the visualization of the intangible heritage of America - The Thanksgiving meal, traditions and living expression passed on from one generation to another, contributing to give us a sense of identity and continuity, providing a link from our past, through the present, and into our future, helping us to feel part of society at large.*

* UNESCO, "What is Intangible Heritage?"

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Freehold, NJ, November 2007

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower,
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.
              -  Robert Frost (1923)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ode to Autumn

  Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
  Conspiring with him how to load and bless
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
  To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
  To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
  With a sweet kernel' to set budding more,
  And still more, later flowers for the bees,
  Until they think warm days will never cease;
  For Summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cells.

 Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
 Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
 Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
 Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
 Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
 Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
 Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
 And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
 Steady thy laden head across a brook;
 Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
 Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

                                                   - John Keats

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gather Some Sun For Me...

I started writing this blog not only to illuminate touristic sights and good restaurants but also the culture and people of Turkey. With this thought in mind, on days like this when the sun refuses to come out and warm our souls, I am finding solace in this favorite Turkish folk song. The lyrics are by Zulfu Livaneli a famous artist of many talents, from song writer,movie director, to journalist and even politician. "Gather Some Sun For Me"  is executed by Leman Sam, accompanied by the traditional string instrument of  Turkish folk music, saz. Photographs are from Turgutreis, Bodrum, taken by photographer Muhtar Yavasca.

Gather Some Sun For Me
Dawn-wind, Go up to the mountains,
Gather some sun for me
Send word to four corners of the world, sweetheart
Gather some sun for me

From amidst hopes
From those dark eyelashes
From the wound in the bosom, sweetheart
Gather some sun for me

Dawn-wind, from the eyes of the beloved,
From the bird trails in the air
From the night sky, sweetheart
Gather some sun for me

Please visit Muhtar Yavasca's blog to explore more beautiful photographs from Turkey. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"The Perfect Sunday"

Although the first day of spring came and passed, we still don't seem to be getting any closer to that elusive season in the East Coast. With snow warnings in effect for this Monday, I decided the best way to cope with this unpleasant weather is to get lost, in my fantasies and make up a imaginary itinerary of a "Perfect Sunday" spent in the city of my choice.

It will come as no surprise for those who know me that the city of my choice is "Istanbul" of course. So, what would I do if was to wake up to a beautiful, sunny Istanbul tomorrow morning...

First, we have to know where we are going. Rumeli Hisari, is the quaint seaside village on the Bosphorus that happens to be home to the Rumeli Fortress built by Mehmed II before he conquered Constantinople. On the weekends this little strip along the Bosphorous becomes the favorite haunt of Istanbulites for enjoying a long and hearty breakfast. As a matter of fact this was the first stop for Anthony Bourdin No Reservations in Istanbul.  Since he went to enjoy breakfast at Kale Restaurant, I guess we can too. This is the perfect 'hole in the wall' type of breakfast spot where the food is excellent and service even better. The owner can be seen supervising his flock of waiters serving the unfathomable hoards in this tiny space in the photo above.
Haunted Mansion, Borusan Contemporary
We would have to get here at the latest by 10.00 am since it gets really crowded, really fast and we have much planned.  Most Turks go into a serious debate that ends with accepting all the suggestions of the experienced waiter or the owner. After multiple cups of tea and a variety of the best Turkish breakfast delicacies (which can be seen to best affect in the Bourdain video) we would head to Borusan Contemporary for a bit of art, nature and coffee.

What could be better than art? Art with a view! This little gem of a museum is actually the headquarters of Borusan holding during the week which is open as a museum for visitors on the weekends. The cafe is on the first floor with a commanding view of the Fatih Sultan Mehmed Bridge and during the guided tour ( which is a must!) visitors get a chance to walk through the executive offices which contain a very fascinating collection of contemporary art by International and Turkish artists.

The View from the first floor terrace and Cafe

They always have interesting exhibitions but their main collection is really worth a visit by itself. Some of my favorites were...
 Daniel Rozin, Sketch Mirror #10 (link)
Andrew Rogers, Unfurling, 2007

Beat Zoderer, Patch Ball No. 3, 2009 
Ellen Kooi (link) and Lee Sang Hyun, Symphony No. 9, video (link

Ekrem Yalcindag, Feels Like Home, 2007
(This is also the tower where the executives can take their coffee break)

Ormond Gigli, Models in Window, 1960
There is a fascinating story behind it (link)

(Photo from Huffington Post)
Daniel Canogar,Hipocampo 2, 2010 (link)
Devrim Erbil (link), Nuri Bilge Ceylan (link), Erol Akyavas, Basak Kaptan just to name a few of the Turkish artists...
and maybe my favorite Sabine Pigalle (link), Verify, verify I say unto you, that one of shall betray me, 2006
Looking towards the Rumeli Fortress from one of the terraces of the museum

After this amazing museum I would take a walk by the Bosphorus towards the Rumeli Fortress and past it, enjoying the incredible vistas and the mass of humanity, full of interesting characters, that would be out enjoying the best Istanbul has to offer by now. 

The shore road in front of the Rumeli Fortress

The Cafe's lining up the road across from the Bosphorus

View of Bogazici Bridge (The I. Bridge)

I would walk along the shore road for as far as I could go, passing through what used to be quaint seaside villages one after the other, each more beautiful than the one before, Bebek, Arnavutkoy, Kurucesme and finally Ortakoy.
Bebek Park

Ortakoy not only provides beautiful views and Ortakoy Mosque (Buyuk Mecidiye Mosque),decorated in the baroque style but it is also famous for its artisans and street vendors. This is a great place to go shopping for gifts for loved ones or yourself. Unfortunately most of the charming little restaurants are being replaced by big name chains which is really disappointing but there is still a huge variety of choices. If you are in the mood for an elegant snack or cafe style dining, the House Cafe is a good alternative. 

Then I would go home, tired and happy, holding onto the pleasant lightness of being...

Kale Kafe and Restaurant
Address:  Yahya Kemal Caddesi No: 16 34470 Rumelihisar - STANBUL
Tel:        0 212 265 00 97

Borusan Contemporary
Address:  Baltalimanı Hisar Street, Perili Köşk No:5, 34470 Rumelihisarı, Sariyer, Istanbul, Turkey
Tel:          0 212 393 52 00

House Cafe, Ortakoy,352,1,1/house_cafe_eng/subeler/subeler/ortakoy
Address:  Salhane Sokak No: 1 Ortaköy İstanbul
Tel:          0 212 227 2699 -39