Tuesday, May 31, 2011

under a cloud of apple-scented smoke

Javier sketches while Lapin exhales from a nargile pipe in Ortaköy.

starting from zero

Ladies and gents, I have officially moved into my new apartment downtown. After five patience-grinding days of struggling to get my internet set up, losing my desk lamp to some sticky-fingered movers who also broke my bed, I am once again, a city girl. I may not have hot water, a cooker, a fridge or furniture, but I do have an electric kettle, plenty of tea and this beautiful carpet— a housewarming gift from my family. Speaking of carpets, I've managed to win over my upstairs neighbour! How? By letting her wash her carpets on my balcony! She's actually a very lovely lady, and after being warmly welcomed with coffee and chocolate wafers by her daughter, I am positive this is going to be a wonderful experience.

The feeling of starting from zero is as thrilling as it is frustrating. As much as I am anxious to go out and buy a new bed, a wardrobe and sofa, I think I'll hold off until I get back from Nepal— which is, by the way, in an astonishing 29 days! I cannot believe it's almost been a year since I first set foot in Kathmandu. My goodness, how time flies...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

fortune in a cup

I love a tradition that involves a hot beverage, imagination and a long chat. When you reach the end of your dainty cup of silty Turkish coffee, it's tradition to flip your cup upside-down on its saucer, and examine the patterns formed by the grounds for signs of love, adventure and money.

I see dancing nudes, the Himalaya, a shirtless bearded man and a sea horse.
What do you see?

water and sky

light lines and washes

I'm working on not overworking my sketches; keeping them light, minimal and free.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

istanbul delicious

What kind of friend would I be if I neglected to take Lapin and Javier on a gastronomical tour of yumminess? There is no shortage of ways to feed your hunger in Istanbul— from lip-smacking, finger-licking street food to the delicate wonders of Çiya.

Our first stop on the tour was the infamous islak burger, or "wet burger." Yes, wet burger. Imagine a hamburger drowned in a vat of garlicky tomato sauce with a vague hint of cumin. This saucy beast is then stacked upon others who have suffered the same greasy fate, then heated by light bulbs in a foggy vitrine. It has taken me two years to taste one of these monstrosities, and ladies and gentlemen, I must report that the two lira islak burger is actually pretty damn tasty.

Next stop, perfection in a half loaf: balık ekmek. Mackerel, onions and lettuce thrust into bread that threatens to burst on your lap. Pour on the lemon juice and salt to get it just right, then end it all with a little tub of lokma— fried dough bathed in fragrant syrup. A great way to spend six lira.

So you've been getting lost in the maze of Istanbul— your feet are aching and your stomach is starting to make noises that are almost audible above the cacophony of honking horns. A man yelling something incomprehensible is pushing a little lopsided cart with what looks like an aquarium full of rice and chickpeas. Nohutlu pilav is simply rice and chickpeas. Sometimes you can add some chicken to it, but why bother? It's so good on its own. You might pay anywhere between one and two lira, depending on the mood of the guy pushing the cart. 

Ah, the kumpir. A ten lira massive baked potato with its innards whipped up in butter and cheese, stuffed with toppings of your choice. I like mine piled high with a tomatoey bulghur mixture called kısır, black olives, pickled red cabbage and hot sauce.

And to think I haven't even included the famed döner kebap or lahmacun...

the yeni camii, in two sketches

Friday, May 20, 2011

the yeni camii, in four photographs

As friends and fellow sketchers Lapin and Javier are in town, I've been spending my days in a fantastic frenzy of sketching and sight-seeing. One of our first stops was the Yeni Camii, or "New Mosque" which is as new as 1663, when its construction was completed. The Yeni Camii is that impressive, massive mosque in Eminönü, right next to the Spice Bazaar. This marvellous granite and marble structure is home to sixty-six domes and semi domes, two minarets and an enormous central dome with a ceiling of thirty-six meters in height. As you can imagine, it's not easy to draw.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

beware of single girl

Ladies and gentlemen, I've done it. I've finally finished my teaching certification course, and I've found myself a cosy and bright little apartment in the thunderous, beating heart of Istanbul. I've been running around like crazy, signing leases, changing locks and learning that apparently, a single foreign female moving into an apartment alone can be misinterpreted as something completely different than what it is, by older upstairs neighbour ladies. I was warned, with a furrowed brow and dagger-like eyes, that I'd better not be bringing home a different man every night. Often it seems that people here— and in other parts of the world, whole-heartedly equate single foreign female with promiscuity. Being a solo female yabancı in Turkey can be a real frustration sometimes, so can travelling alone. Assumptions are made, and people just can't wrap their heads around why a nice girl like me isn't married and popping out the çocuklar. At times like these, I admit I miss the States, where nobody cares who you are and what choices you've made or plan to make— but this is what it is to live in the world; you learn to adapt and to bend to cultures which are not your own, and in that flexibility, you find strength. You hope that perhaps, by just being yourself, you might be able to open some minds and hearts.

I'm already devising strategies to win this lady over.
She's going to love me.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


It's amazing what you can find on Google. Every four to six months I google my great-grandfather's name, John Tranum, to see what the world wide web might have on him. For you new readers, my great-grandad was a famous Danish stuntman, daredevil and pioneer of parachuting and BASE jumping during the twenties and early thirties. He was the real deal— a man who fearlessly followed his dream with a devilish grin and a gleam in his eye.

I came upon this Danish site of historical press photos and found what are probably the last photos of my great-grandad alive before his 10,000 metre— yes, 10,000 metre, record-breaking jump. Sadly, he never made it out of plane. On March 7th in 1935, at around 8,500 metres, his oxygen apparatus failed.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

drawing the world

I was delighted to receive an email from fellow Urban Sketcher PeF, who was flying into Istanbul from Lisbon with three of his talented sketcherfriends: Pedro, Cláudia and Cate. The five of us spent a drizzly, warm evening behind the Aya Sofya, swapping sketchbooks over çay and chatting about art, the cities we love and just about anything that came to mind. We walked down to Eminönü to feast on fish sandwiches in the dark, and decided to see how much sketching we could accomplish on the Galata Bridge between rain bursts.

I managed to scrawl out this very messy sketch of a couple of the bridge's ever-present fishermen before the rain started to fall. We packed up up our books and pens and darted off to the funicular towards Tünel, in search of a café to carry on with our conversations and drawing.

I'm so grateful to Urban Sketchers for connecting me with such wonderful people— people full of life and warmth, people who I have this sketching addiction in common with. In a few weeks time, two Urban Sketchers who became dear friends of mine, Lapin and Javier, are coming to visit. I can't wait to go drawing with them— I deeply admire their skill, talent and commitment to their art. You may remember Lapin from my Barcelona adventure, whose generosity gave me a sofa to sleep on, delicious food in my belly (whipped up by his charming wife Lapinette), and six days of wonderful conversation and quiet sketching. I met Javier last March, when he came to Istanbul with 50 Spanish designers and artists to sketch and tour the city. Javier is one of those people with whom you find hours just melting away in conversation and laughter— a kind soul with mad talent.

If you haven't yet heard of Urban Sketchers, I highly suggest you visit our site when you've got a few hours you want to fill with stunning and inspiring artwork. We're a non-profit organisation of location sketchers with a mission to "show the world, one drawing at a time." Visit us at www.urbansketchers.org.

Monday, May 2, 2011

kathmandu countdown

Ladies and gentlemen, the Kathmandu Countdown has officially begun. In a little less than two months, this girl will be sitting on a plane with a wide grin across her face as she spies the white peaks of the Himalaya outside her window. I am returning to Nepal, to spend the summer volunteering at Shree Mangal Dvip School for Himalayan Children again. The school, the stupa, the mountains and the monsoon have made a home for me, and my heart pounds at the thought of returning. I know that these two months will feel excruciatingly long, then suddenly disappear, and I'll find myself in Qatar with my hiking boots and sketchbook, waiting for my transfer to Kathmandu. A whole new adventure; slightly less uncertain than last year, but no less exciting. I have made friends and family beneath the eyes of Buddha.

If you feel like taking a little trip over a cup of tea or coffee, you can read all about my summer in Nepal here and here.