Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

white lines and chain-link


I miss my grandad terribly. I miss his crooked grin, I miss his laugh, I miss his hello. I miss his mountain of notes— tiny scraps of paper scrawled on in his own blend of Danish and English. I miss his colourful, often incomprehensible sayings and his honesty. "Treat someone the way you'd like to be treated" he'd say, deeply serious, with a wag of his finger.

My grandad taught me how to fish as a little girl, and humoured me when I wanted to take the tiny sparkling fish home as pets instead. We found bowls for the fish, filled them with tap water, and when the fish didn't survive, we buried them under the bush with the red berries in the front yard.

I have countless stories and memories that I will cherish with every molecule of my being, and every time I see Denmark spelled with an 'e', I'll remind myself of his great frustration with the English language and how it fouled up his beloved Danmark. The loss of my grandad weighs heavily in my life; he was one of my most favourite people in this world. As life rolls on— much as I wish it could stand still a moment or wind backward for a spell, I carry with me the memories and stories as comfort and joys. I am fortunate to have known such a wonderful man, such a unique and special human being— so lucky indeed, to have been his granddaughter.

Jeg elsker dig, morfar.

Monday, December 13, 2010

ink for my grandfather

I have given my grandparents my left leg— there's a gardenia for my grandmother and now, for my grandad, a Danish paper heart with the words jeg elsker dig across it. This will be a holiday surprise, though somewhat expected, as they are my ninth and tenth tattoos.

Once again, the talented Mr. Emrah Özhan over at Lucky Hands Tattoo Parlour has inked me up. I'll post photos of the finished work once we get there— I still have to add some of my grandad's much loved mamelukærme flowers and add colour here and there.

Lucky Hands Tattoo Parlour
Mısır Apartmanı, fourth floor, İstiklal Caddesi / Beyoğlu / İSTANBUL
0212 251 52 91 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

two years

Two years ago, on the bare wooden floor of my beloved San Franciscan apartment, with the drumming of my fingers on the keyboard echoing in the empty room, I sat, typing the few lines that were my very first blog post.  I had made the radical decision to sell most of my possessions, pack my life into two suitcases and move to Istanbul, a city I remembered fondly from my childhood. There were no plans, only action; I wanted something different for my life.

I was brought up a nomad, and the thirteen years I had spent in the United Stated left me itching for a return to the life I had known; a life of adjustment, displacement and above all, movement. I longed for the challenge of twisting my tongue to a different language, I missed the wonder of learning something new. After spending the last four years of my twenties in the manic grind of the ad world, watching airfares rise and fall online for trips I'd never have the time or energy to take, I realised the life I was living was not what I wanted to live.

I wanted to travel. I wanted to see, smell, taste and feel something new. I wanted to know the world; to meet people and places I would never meet from behind my desk. There were so many questions I wanted answers to— what colour is the Danube in the fall? How does the Barcelona sun feel on a shoulder? What does morning sound like in Kathmandu? Does the Bosphorus still turn that green before it snows?

Two years later, I know that the Danube is a silvery grey, the sun licks your shoulders with a stinging warmth in Barcelona, morning is birdsong, laughter and chanting in Kathmandu, and the Bosphorus is, as I look through the window at this very moment, that pale green. I've had the good fortune of meeting so many wonderful people, and I've been lucky to have set foot on many different soils, but with each step and every new smile, another question arises.

I aim to discover the answer to every question that rears its head, and I aim to eat it, photograph it and draw it. I aim to share my findings with you. Thank you all for your kindnesses, your comments and words of encouragement. It has been a splendid two years full of adventure, and the third promises to be just as harika.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

body worlds

If you haven't been to the Body Worlds exhibit at Antrepo 3 in Karaköy yet, you'd better bust a move. The show ends on the 17th, and is beyond fascinating— real human bodies preserved through a plastification process, posed and sculpted for maximum impact and beauty. This exhibit is a must for any artist interested in the human form.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

giving thanks

After the whirlwind of a wonderful trip that was Denmark, I've come back to a sunny, warm Istanbul and a pile of work to catch up on. Essays to write, half-finished paintings and drawings, freelance pieces and Thanksgiving. This past Thursday was Thanksgiving, an American holiday with ties to harvest time, centred around giving thanks for what we have been given in life. Traditionally it is said that the day marks a time when the New England pilgrims were on the brink of starvation, and the resident Native Americans came to the pilgrim's aid with food, thus saving their lives.

Growing up, this holiday was perhaps the most important in our household. We were nomads, moving from country to country, culture to culture, rootless with no sense of home except where we decided upon the moment. My mother, an American, was adamant about keeping this one tradition alive— it was her favourite childhood holiday, and she insisted my sisters and I have the pleasure of this family feast as well. A typical American Thanksgiving meal is composed of a tender, stuffed roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, gravy and pumpkin pie. No matter which country we were in, my mother would somehow track down a turkey, even if they were not traditionally farmed or eaten in that culture— which often meant visiting butcher shop after butcher shop and befriending expats who might have a turkey connection. There were times when my young mother, who had been raised in a land of pre-packaged poultry, had to learn how to pluck a bird, gut it and decapitate it. Most people would have stopped at plucking the feathers, but my mum was determined.
We would have a turkey.

Cranberries were hidden in cans and bags between layers of our clothes in our suitcases if we happened to visit a country were they were available, yams were hunted down, and somehow, it always all came together in the most elegant and delicious way. Our house would be fragrant with rosemary and roasted turkey, sweetened by baking pies— it was a magical time. Our little family would gather together, invite friends and dine on my mum's determination and thoughtfulness. This was the one thing that connected me with America, a land I barely knew.

This year my mum found a new butcher— believe it or not, a turkey is not always easy to acquire in Turkey, brought in yams and cranberries from Lebanon, and invited a full house of friends to share our feast. This has been the third Thanksgiving I've been able to spend at home since I left for college at seventeen. Every year this holiday passes, I am reminded of how truly magnificent this woman is, and how lucky I am to call her mother.

Friday, November 26, 2010


What was a week felt like two; I had met so many people and seen so many things in such a short time, sitting here on my sofa in Istanbul, it's hard to imagine. I would like to dedicate this post to the Clausen family for making me feel so welcome and happy in their home in Copenhagen. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your warmth, kindness and generosity.

Thank you to Sue and Steen for your conversations and stories, your hospitality and laughter. Thank you Maria for so much more than you know, my kindred spirit.

mummies, vikings and medieval merchants

In what felt like a blink of an eye, I was back in Copenhagen. My time in Esbjerg far too short, I was soon lugging my suitcase down wet, grey pavements, umbrella in hand. I had taken the 7:41 train to Copenhagen so I could spend my last full day exploring the Nationalmuseet— and whatever else I could see. With one look out the window, I decided I'd much rather see if I could get lost in the museum than try to stay warm while wandering around outside.

The Danish Nationalmuseet is absolutely incredible— mummies, Viking utensils, national costumes and rich, glossy oil paintings— I actually did get lost somewhere between Early Christian Europe and Ancient Greece. The Nationalmuseet has easily become one of my favourite museums— the de Young in San Francisco and the Isabella Stuart Gardner in Boston taking number one and two (though it has been a while since I've visited the magnificent Smithsonian Natural History Museum in DC). I strongly suggest exploring this grand museum's impressive collections— it just might be the only thing in Denmark that's free! Located on Ny Vestergade, a stone's throw from Tivoli Gardens, the Nationalmuseet is open every day except Mondays.

danish delicious

Just your typical salty, buttery bakskuld and dark bread with carraway schnapps coffee on Fanø.

Luscious bacon-wrapped pork medallions with sautéed mushrooms and a potato soufflé, smothered in whiskey sauce in Esbjerg.

Some succulent Danish hotdogs that make you wonder whether you should be eating them in public.
Well, when in Copenhagen...

I admit I did feel a little naughty.

trains, pastries and cows

family history

I left the comfort and warmth of Sue's beautiful farmhouse to bump and sway down the rail road tracks to Esbjerg, my grandad's hometown. There I met Steen, a kind and generous archaeologist who offered his sofa to a cold and sleepy artist who still hadn't drawn much. Steen was my second Couchsurfing experience— Sue being my first, though we had previously met in Istanbul. Couchsurfing is a wonderful way to see the world and meet people, based fundamentally on trust and the goodness of strangers. You visit the website, search for someone with a couch or a bed to sleep on in the city you are travelling to, et voilà: somewhere to lay your wandering head and possibly, a new friend.

I asked Steen, knower of many, many things, if he had heard of my grandad's dad, John Tranum. With a tilt of his head he said he knew of a road with such a name, and almost simultaneously we both added, "by the airport." Since my great grandad was a famous parachutist, stuntman and daredevil, it was only fitting that the road to the airport be named John Tranum's Way. We spent the dark afternoon and evening discussing my adventurous relative, the history of Esbjerg, and what it's like to dig in the mud for ancient homes.

In the morning I met my grandad's cousin Maria, whom I had never met but felt an instant connection to. Maria took me to the place where John Tranum now rests, as he has ever since his final record-breaking jump attempt in 1935, which sadly, he never got to perform. His oxygen tank failed, and he never made it out of the plane.

Before Maria and I ran off to catch a ferry to the island of Fanø, just across the Esbjerg harbour, she showed me a veritable treasure-trove of old photos— pictures of my grinning grandad, of beautiful Maria as a Fanø calendar girl in traditional costume, of Chieftan, her legendary Alsatian, of our ancestors The Captain and his wife Anna, who had seven daughters named after the seven seas. Among these books of faded photos, a calendar of Esbjerg history contained one photo that captivated me and my child-like sense of wonder: