Monday, November 30, 2009

tarragona dona

Ink, gouache and tea painting of a woman hiding behind her hair, by Samantha Zaza
This lady of mine will be in Tarragona at Espai Cromàtic for the DONA Showcase from December 12th– February 4th. DONA, Catalan for woman, is an illustration exhibition dedicated to the idea of woman. I am thrilled to have been invited by the good people of Espai Cromàtic to contribute a piece to this pool of talented artists. If you happen to be in town during the next two months, have a stop in the gallery and say hi for me!

My piece, titled "Hide," was drawn in India ink and coloured with touches of gouache. The background was stained with tea. Please click on the image to see it larger.

Espai Cromàtic
c/ Barcelona, 2
43004 Tarragona

...and a little bit of charcoal

the things i saw on november 17, 2009

Click on the image to see it larger.

Monday, November 23, 2009

divine dessert

Let me introduce you to künefe.

 A sweet, buttery fragrance wafts towards you, followed by the waiter, whose hands carry a small metallic plate as he weaves his way to your table. The unassuming dish is gently set down in front of you, and you are warned of its heat. A reflective pool of syrup slowly sinks into the browned pastry. Your fork is met with a light crunch, then a softness, followed by another crunch. As you raise its tines to your mouth, a subtle scent of roses steams up to your nose, and an elastic string of cheese tethers your bite to the piece on your plate. You pick up your knife, and with great sensitivity and politesse, you wrap the string around the morsel until it breaks away from its anchor. At first, your mouth is filled with warmth, then the delicate flavour of the cheese. The sweet, barely rosy syrup floods you, and your teeth crunch on the crisp, buttery pastry. Sweet and salty, hard and soft— textural heaven. The sensation is overwhelming, and you cut it with a sip of thyme tea.

the art of haggling

I've always been deeply intimidated by haggling, and while I can pass for a Turk in appearance, the price goes up the second I open my mouth. On Saturday I went to the Kapalı Çarşı and, as usual, I found something I so badly wanted to own.

"Ne kadar?" I ask, shoulders back, neck long, ready.


"Oof. Güzel, ama seksen? Hmm."
I scrutinise the stitching, pick at the silver beads. The necklace looks old, but who knows?

Bu antika— çok eski. Normal fiyat yüz yirmi." With a rolling hand gesture, he begins to justify the eighty lira he wants to charge me. "Bak— eski. Ama sizin için, sadece— seksen."

ıyorum, ama ben bir fakir ressamım. Seksen çok pahalı!" I explain that I am a poor artist and can't pay eighty. I make my poor artist face and smile.

"Oh-OH!" He laughs, big grin across his face, teeth gleaming in the poorly lit shop. At this point I know I can ask for something ridiculous and the fun has started. He offers me a çay, which I happily accept.

"Kirk lira."

"Kirk? Tsk! Haa-y
ır!" He thrusts his chin at me and turns away, feigning irritation. He reiterates how old the piece is and that eighty lira is a special price just for me. I put it back, and drop a sugar cube into my çay after watching it saturate.

"Ok. Tamam. Altmış."

While I pretend to think about his latest offer, he insists in a quiet voice that sixty lira is his absolute last price. I sigh, look at the necklace longingly and pick it up again. He laughs.

"Ben burada oturuyorum."

"Ressamısınız? Oof! Tamam. Eli lira."

Do I want this for fifty lira? Is it really old? I do love it— but I wasn't kidding about the poor artist bit. I fumble through my wallet. I've got forty-five lira and I show it to him.

"Maalesef, sadece kırk beş var." I grin widely, he rolls his eyes with a good-hearted laugh. He throws up his hands in defeat and takes both money and necklace from my fingers. Suddenly another shopkeeper appears in the door, and my forty-five lira is given to him. The new guy looks me in the eye with a smile, then brushes the bills under his chin and disappears into the dark labyrinth of the bazaar.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

crossing bridges

Lately the crossing of bridges seems to have become a recurring theme in my life. In the past five weeks, I've walked across the Bosphorus Bridge, crossed Budapest's green Szabadság híd three times, Széchenyi lánchíd once, the Margit Bridge once, Árpád híd once, and the Galata bridge twice. There's something wonderful about walking over water, passing from one land to the other.

I love bridges, I always have. I was deeply in love with San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, and had crossed it too many times to count. I was even once proposed to in the middle of its orange span. Here's a fact that few people are aware of— the Golden Gate, which is the opening of San Francisco's Bay to the Pacific, was named after Istanbul's Golden Horn. Yesterday, I spent a few hours on both sides of the Golden Horn, both above the Galata Bridge and beneath it. There are a number of fish restaurants under the bridge, most cater to tourists and are priced so, but for a cup of tea, some börek and a sketch, you can easily spend ten lira for a beautiful hour.

I think I'm going to do a life-sized pencil drawing of the man selling simit— I'm really happy with how the photograph turned out and would love to draw his face.

sketches of budapest

Friday, November 13, 2009

pretty in pink

Out of the clear blue sky, I get this box wrapped in grey paper with Portuguese printed all over it. I tear it open— as I tear every package open— and wrapped inside a delicate cocoon of tissue paper, I spy something deliciously pink. I discover a button. Then I freak out.

Last Month, Fluevog asked people to vote for a new colourway for my shoe, The Zaza. The choice was between a luscious pink/pink, and a snazzy violet/orange combination— which won. Unfortunately only the winning combination could be produced, so imagine the incredible shock and joy I felt to discover that I now have a pair of the unattainable, pretty pink Zazas.
Aren't they fabulous?

Thank you Fluevog, I love you!

Submit your shoe design to Fluevog's Open Source Footwear, and you too could have your very own shoe!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the last day

For my last full day in Budapest, I wanted to visit the Dohány Street Synagogue— I've never been to a synagogue, and this happens to be the world's second largest. I wasn't sure what to expect, so I was surprised and delighted by the Moorish architectural influences, as I've always been a fan. The building is simply spectacular— the warm light inside, bouncing off pinkish tiles, is out of this world. Once I spied the unusual chandeliers— which for some reason reminded me of some sort of sea creature or sea plant, I was disappointed they weren't illuminated. How those arches would have looked if they were lit!

In the garden behind the synagogue stood a single, beautiful weeping willow of metal, made by Imre Varga. The leaves were inscribed with the names of thousands of Hungarian Jews who were victims of the Holocaust. I was filled with a terrible feeling I cannot describe, a dreadful silence, as every leaf I touched represented someone lost in an unimaginable way.

When I was thirteen and living in Belgium, my history teacher took us on a class field trip to the ruins of a concentration camp called Breendonk. It's not something I enjoy discussing or remembering, but I remember being filled with dread as our school bus approached the austere building. I kept thinking about how that road and that fence, and those darkly stained wooden posts that I saw with my eyes were also seen by thousands of other eyes, wide with fear, questioning, uncertainty hanging overhead like some incredible weight. People unaware or perhaps knowing, that their lives would be lived out in the worst way between those walls.

When we were taken inside the prisoners' rooms, the musty smell of the decaying wooden bunks and the claustrophobic stacking of beds like shelves was overwhelming— who lived here, who died here— they all had names, favourite things, memories, families, loves and losses. I had never before or since, been brought to tears by a building.

Beside the Dohány Street Synagogue, is a small museum of Jewish culture with some lovely pieces of art and beautiful old prayer books— many other things too, but these things in particularly caught my eye. For some reason I didn't photograph any of the books, and I am really wishing I had.

Since Mirco had only a few hours before he had to head to the airport, we decided beers were in order, and since I needed to pick up some last minute souvenirs, we revisited the Great Market Hall, Nagycsarnok. Tempting waves of food smells wafted by us and became too intense to ignore— and what goes better with beer than a juicy, spicy sausage?

As you can see below, I was handed a sausage in its own paper plate with a pool of spicy mustard (which was oh-so delicious), and a slice of white bread on a napkin. Hmm... instinct was telling me to roll the sausage up in the bread, but common sense told me that if it was meant to be eaten that way, it would be in a bun. I watched the old man next to me as he very dignified, cut a bite of sausage with his knife and fork, dipped it in the mustard, chewed it thoughtfully, then tore off a piece of bread and ate it alone. I did the same.

Back at the hostel, I bumped into Nancy and Molly after saying goodbye to Mirco, my dear Associate Adventurist. Nancy had found a new restaurant to try, and we decided to kidnap one of the hostel's staff members, Andras, along with two new guests one of whom, Ben, is an Iron Man competitor! How on earth— and why— a person would put themselves through a 3.86 km swim, followed by a 180.25 km bike race, topped off with a marathon, is beyond me. It's simply amazing. I won't even run to catch a bus.

We set off for M Restaurant, one of the coolest places I have eaten recently— the walls were pasted with brown packing paper with lamps, shelves and curtains drawn on. The food had a delicious home-cooked comfort feel, perfectly matched with a glass of wine and long conversation. It was a wonderful end to an incredible adventure.

On the walk back to the hostel, I passed through the city's many metro stations. I watched people hurrying about to who knows where, and I had that feeling so familiar to travellers, the feeling of not wanting to go home. I love Budapest. The layers of history, the friendliness of its people— the waffleman. Budapest, I'll be back.

"would you like some badass with that waffle, miss?"

Morning after morning, I would stare longingly at the waffles being pressed by the waffle man at Jég Büfé, and each time I approached him, I got a steely look in the eye, and found myself scurrying away for a poppy seed roll instead. I was deliciously intimidated by him, and enjoyed this funny little morning ritual of fear. Friday was the day, I decided, that I would get a damn waffle. I would look the world's most badass waffle man in the eye and order what I had craved for days— and I would eat it with great relish.

I walked up to the window with my head held high, and having practiced my Hungarian pronunciation, read off precisely what I wanted. He grunted and began pouring the batter.

Was this man a commando? Did he wrestle bears? Who was he?
A vanilla custard-filled waffle was thrust into my eager cold hands.

"Köszönöm!" I grinned with satisfaction.

A large smile spread across his face, and his eyes changed from steel to warmth.


island of fall and the surprise liver

Thursday we walked to Margit Island in the middle of the Danube. Margit Island was full of churches, monasteries and nunneries from the 12th century until the Ottomans came in and destroyed it all in the 16th century. Today, the island is a peaceful recreational park with lots of trees and running paths. There's a hotel with a spa at the Northern end, a swimming pool and a theatre. It reminded me a bit of Golden Gate Park in places, except for the yellow and oranges of fall leaves.

We took the bridge on the Northern end, and wound up in the middle of massive Soviet-style apartment blocks— quite the contrast from what we had seen the rest of the week. The buildings were enormous, grey and rectangular, with no sense of individualism whatsoever. A few apartments had painted their balcony walls a bright red or orange, but most of what we saw was bleak and monotonous. It was quite fascinating, I wonder what living in a space like that feels like.

All that walking around in the cold air was making me hungry, and it seemed as though the area we had wandered into had nothing edible anywhere. Suddenly out of nowhere, a giant, ugly steel and glass structure popped out between the Soviet-style buildings. It was either a market or a bizarre spaceship from the early 80s. Excited, I dragged Mirco across the street, convinced there was food inside the ugliness. We were amazed by the amount of pickles and produce, meats and clothing made in China. It was awesome— and we started to search for a cheap solution to our hunger. We soon found on the upper floor, a red fast-food stall that offered plenty of csibe, which I had learnt meant chicken. Chicken sandwiches seemed ok, and the backlit pictures on the menu didn't offer any clues as to what the difference between the sandwiches was. I settled on the Süper Csibe Szendvics— because, well, it was super with an umlaut.

We paid, and got a red plastic tray with very plain looking breaded chicken sandwiches in paper sleeves, and a paper plate of fries. I spied a couple of tomatoes and a mushroom in mine, and figured they were what made a Csibe Szendvics süper, since Mirco got a regular szendvics and was without produce. At first bite, I ran into some pickles that added to the süperness, and discovered there was no sauce of any kind at all— which was odd to me— I had expected a mustard of some sort at least. It was alright, and I was hungry, so I ate it happily until Mirco discovered something odd on the receipt.

The women behind the counter decided to charge us for an extra sandwich— a problem we pretty much ran into everywhere we ate. I had read that this sort of thing is a common occurrence in Budapest affecting tourists, but figured it was an exaggeration. Sadly, if you are a tourist, you absolutely must check every receipt and bill you get before you pay. Mirco bravely went back to the counter, where the woman was beginning to look nervous. I sat back and took another bite of chicken and suddenly, my mouth was filled with a horrific taste. At first, I didn't know what had happened— it was dreadful! I dissected what was left of the sandwich to discover that what I had believed was a mushroom, was no mushroom. I began to recognise the wretched flavour— it was liver. The süper in a Süper Csibe Szendvics is a big ole hunk of beef liver! I began to look around at the other customers— livers were poking out between buns everywhere! Apparently I was the only one disturbed by this.

Mirco strode back in victory, and I had missed the entire exchange between the brawny lady and my friend, thanks to the liver surprise. It was good of her to give the money back, she knew she was doing something wrong, the guilt was all over her face. I think in most places, you'd never see that money again. I'll be happy to never see this sandwich again.

Later that evening we met some fun new hostel guests, Molly and Nancy from Washington— Nancy is in the midst of taking her daughter Molly on a tour of Europe. They had been through England, The Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Spain, and were passing through Hungary on their way to the Czech Republic. Nancy was determined to find a delicious local restaurant for dinner, and asked us along. Desperate to wipe away the memory of that liver nightmare, I happily joined them in finding Café Csiga, an artsy café with hearty divine dishes. We got a little lost, and I'm still not sure how we found it, especially since the café had no sign, but before we knew it, we were seated in a smoky, sultry space bursting with conversation and music. This is the kind of place where you imagine everyone is a writer or painter, and they've come for beer, cigarettes, and words like "existentialism."

I tried to get a picture of my delicious beef in black beer, but it was so dark and my little camera just can't handle low light situations. It was a fantastic liverless meal, accompanied by a lovely Hungarian red. We stayed on into the night for beer and conversation, enjoying the ambiance.