Saturday, December 24, 2011

xin chao!

Xin Chao from Vietnam! I'm wrapped tightly in my blue scarf, hiding from the fierce winds tearing at the trees in Nha Trang. I wish you all a very happy holiday and hope you are enjoying time with your loved ones. If I can manage to upload photos from my sister's iPad, I may be able to post some pictures at some point during the trip, but we'll see. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

taking a turkish bath

Before I hop on a plane to Vietnam, I thought I'd leave you with a little story— a story of a crisp Istanbul night, a night of bizarre luck and nudity.

After a busy couple of weeks which knotted my muscles into burls, my friend Gabby and I decided we were desperately in need of a very Turkish cure for many woes— the hamam. The hamam is the famed Turkish bath, which strikes fear into many a foreign heart, and conjures up images of bizarre rituals involving pain and sweaty, moustachioed men named Mustafa.

Gabby and I met for a pre-hamam kahve and debated which hamam we should go to. There are Turkish baths hidden all over Istanbul, the most famous being the old Çemberlitaş Hamamı and Cağaloğlu Hamamı in Sultanahmet. Since Çemberlitaş has a hot pool, and the thought of soaking to our necks in hot water made our cold toes wiggle with delight in our boots, we settled on the extra tram stop to Çemberlitaş. As we got off the tram, we noticed the front of the hamam was unusually brightly lit, with people hovering about— apparently something was being filmed, and the bath was closed for two days. Of all the nights!

Shrugging our shoulders, we headed to the smaller and quieter Cağaloğlu. The last hamam built in the Ottoman Empire, Cağaloğlu is far more intimate than Çemberlitaş, which can be overrun with tourists, and feel a little impersonal. We were greeted with kindness, handed our own exfoliating kese mitt, and shown to the women's camegah, an entrance room with small changing rooms on its perimeter. We came armed with little sketchbooks and a supply of tools (as Gabby is also a sketcher), with the intent to sketch this cherished of Turkish culture. After stripping down and wrapping ourselves with thin, cotton peştemal towels, we slid our aching feet into wooden sandals and sheepishly asked one of the hamam attendants if we could draw inside the hamam. I tried to explain we were artists, and merely wanted to draw the architecture, but no, we could not, as it was very private. So we returned our sketching gear to our changing rooms, locked them up, and click-clacked into the sıcaklık, or hot room. The sıcaklık is where all the action happens; this is where your muscles get pummelled into submission, and you sweat out everything your poor body has absorbed over the past few weeks or so. 

In the centre of the steamy room stands a large, heated marble slab called a göbek taşı, where fellow bathers are stretched out in the nude upon their unwrapped peştemals, being worked into putty by their attendants. Ladies, please note that your attendant must always, always be female— and you should double check to ensure that there is a women's section of the hamam or a 'ladies only' day. This is a different culture; men and women do not bathe together here— in public, at least. 

While you wait for your attendant to prepare her fingers for the delicious torture she is about to inflict upon you, you have a seat in one of the little alcoves with a marble sink to sweat a little. Here you can relax, and pour some hot or cold water on yourself before you hear the inevitable "Lady! COME." Your attendant beckons to an empty spot on the slab, and then either gently or violently, pulls the peştemal off you, spreading it out on the hot marble. She motions for you to lie down, demands the kese mitt from you, and goes to fill up a silver bowl with warm water. Once soaked, the scrubbing begins. This can either be exquisite or your worst nightmare, if you have sensitive skin, and within minutes, grey ribbons of dead skin come rubbing off your body. Gülistan, my attendant, took pleasure in taking my hand and rubbing it on my belly to show me all the dead skin she successfully sloughed off. We chatted about where I was from, how long I've been in Turkey, and how my Turkish wasn't so bad (she was being kind), while she scrubbed and rinsed, then reached for the soap.

This is my favourite part of the whole experience— the earthy, citrusy soap foam that is lathered from chin to toe and massaged into every muscle— even between your toes! I looked for Gabby, to see how she was doing, but couldn't see her past the bubbles. Gülistan had the most magical fingers and thumbs, and worked out all the stress from parts of my body I didn't even know were tight. After the soapy massage, she led me to a marble sink, where she splashed cold, then hot water on me, and commanded me to sit down for a hair wash. I felt like a doll. Head rubbed, hair scented with coconut shampoo. Heavenly!

Gabby and I reconvened in the nude by the sinks, to gush over our experiences. After a little while, we exited the sıcaklık, wrapped our happy bodies in some fresh towels, and grabbed our sketching gear from our rooms in the camegah. We sat on red velvet stools and began to draw— if we couldn't draw inside the hamam, we'd at least draw each other. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

behind istanbul

I had accidentally deleted these photographs off my camera a couple of weeks ago, and was irritated with myself for not having downloaded them to my computer. As it turns out, I had downloaded them after all— and I'm happy to share with you some impressions of a dark, winter afternoon on the roads behind Istanbul— something you are not likely to see on your visit to this wonderful city.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Hüzün is one of those delightfully untranslatable words— a Turkish word which is closest to its English sister, melancholy. But it's more than melancholy; in Sufi philosophy, hüzün is a spiritual anguish from the distance felt between oneself and god. It's a sense of longing, perhaps for something we are not exactly sure of. This collective yearning can mostly be felt during the winter, when the skies turn dark over Istanbul, the colour vanishes from people's clothes and faces, and everything sort of moans onward. People are quieter, and seem to breathe at a much slower, greyer pace. It's a poetic suffering, permission to feel deeper, to ache.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

naturhistorisches museum wien

I could have easily spent every hour of every day of my trip to Vienna sketching in the Naturhistorisches Museum. Oh what a marvellous place! If you need photographic proof of its wondrousness, click here.

a barely planned adventure

Well my friends, next week I'm off to Vietnam, where I'll be welcoming 2012 with a steaming bowl of phở. I can hardly believe it— Vietnam has been on my list for years, and I must admit that though I've long wanted to visit, I've barely planned what I'm going to do once I get there! I really have no idea. I just want to eat, eat, eat, take a train and draw. That's it. So we'll see. I'm starting to build my art supply kit...

Friday, December 16, 2011

here comes the food

Living in a relatively pork-free country makes one do funny things when travelling abroad. You find yourself sniffing out bacon like a bloodhound and salivating salaciously over sausages. In Vienna, where sausages lurk in stands around every fourth corner, I was pulled like a helpless puppet toward the scent of smoky pork and grease. I somehow ended up ordering myself a tasty beer and a snack in excellent German to a woman with a grill of wursts (apparently my languages resurrect themselves under the hypnotic groans of my belly), and sat down at a picnic table in front of a church to dine. At the end of my table sat an old sailor of a man with a fantastic nose, and a younger fellow with wild, cavernous eyes and tattooed fingers. We briefly glared at each other, then went about the business of devouring our wursts. That hot kiss of mustard... the grainy bread... the beer... It seemed a sin to be so fiercely enjoying myself in front of a church.

But let's travel to Bratislava, where I was confronted by a delicious delight— pickled herring with gherkins and onions, served in a jar. I haven't the foggiest what this wondrousness is called, but oh my goodness... sit me in front of a pickled herring, and I'll be the happiest girl on the planet. My Danish roots come joyously springing out through my tastebuds, and I'm instantly grinning from ear to ear, drumming my feet.

After such an immense pleasure, I decided to indulge in a more traditional fare which frankly was, a bit too much for me. I introduce you to Bryndzové Halušky, dainty little potato dumplings swimming in a sheep cheese. I love potato dumplings and I love sheep cheese, so in theory, I should have been as happy as a clam— but this was overkill. Had the serving been a fourth of the size of what was set down in front of me, I think my stomach would not have protested. I'm just not built to handle that much lactose.

Apparently my stomach forgave me somewhere over the Austrian border, because later that same night, I wandered into the Viennese tavern Zu den 2 Lieserln, on Burgasse. Greeted by a dense cloud of cigarette smoke and an ornery, moustachioed older gentleman, I peeked at the dated wood panelling and omnipresence of green, and sensed I was in for something tasty. Sometimes you just know. What I couldn't predict however, was the mastadonic proportions of the tavern's famed wienerschnitzel— which forced an "Oh mein Gott!" from my lips, and a slight chuckle from the man.

The pounded and breaded pork was roughly the size of my head, if it had been flattened. And because I was still under the pork-craze, I got my schnitzel stuffed with ham— oh, and peppers. The crispness of the breading was a wonderful contrast to the tender meat, and the sour, pickled peppers seemed to cut the well, for lack of a better word, porkiness. I took my time, even pausing to sketch my dinner plate, and did my very best to make it through as much of the schnitzel as possible. When I got to that elusive point just before being full, I put the fork and knife aside, and glanced up at the white moustache in the corner. He knew. He was ready with a container for me to carry the rest of my dinner home.

"I really thought I was going to do it!" I grinned.
A short laugh, and a shake of a head was his reponse.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Three years ago yesterday, I wrote my first post on Harika. I was sitting on the floor of my empty apartment in San Francisco, hours away from a flight to Istanbul, two bags packed and waiting. Today marks my third year here, and it's hard to believe all the experiences I've had, and all the wonderful people I've met.

So here's to bold decisions.
Here's to accepting the possibility of failure and disaster, and pushing through the fear.
Here's to taking a risk and going after everything you've dreamed of.

Thank you, my friends, for your continued support and kindness over these three years!

Monday, December 12, 2011

oh the many marvellous things

What a delight to find this sketch of a future exhibit taped up in a vitrine!
Reminds me of someone...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

hello, venus

The auditorium was dark, and the white-headed professor was droning on and on about something my sleep deprived brain struggled to retain. I hung my head back to stare at the ceiling, trying to recall the bizarre dream I started to have last night, when my thought, like the dream, was interrupted. The slide had clicked to reveal a wonderfully rounded form— the very definition of round. A woman, head bowed, with enormous, pendulous breasts resting on a pillow of belly and hip. I was mesmerised.

The Venus of Willendorf.

I was obsessed. I drew her thighs and rolls in the corners of my art history and philosophy papers. I memorised her curves. This 25,000 year old Paleolithic statuette enchanted me. I daydreamed of the moment she was discovered in the earth, of her voluptuous little body being carved by ancient hands and gazed upon by ancient eyes... and I dreamt of tracing the shapes of her shadows with my own eyes.

Fifteen years later, I found myself standing before her, breath stilled in my body.
I pulled out my sketchbook and pen, and drew by the light which bounced off her breasts.

I am so lucky, indeed.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

oh my thunderous heart!

Why on earth I did not spend every single day wandering through the ornate halls of Vienna's Naturhistorisches Museum is beyond me. It stands alongside The de Young in San Francisco, the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston, and the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen, as one of my favourite museums. Oh wait— there is the Van Gogh Museum and...

But let's get back to Vienna. My goodness... this gem has everything a girl could want in a museum! Light! Elegant, gilded moulding! Fossils! Meteorites! Dinosaurs!

And then, there was the bird room...

Just look at all those corvids!

Can you believe such beings exist? I spent over two and a half hours sketching and gawking wide-eyed at everything within my sight. I was in love with the birds— to see elegant, feathered creatures I've only dreamed of (though stuffed), was such a thrill— to be able now, to better understand their size, colour and shapes...

But there was one thing— one little thing, which made my heart roar with excitement...
She deserves a post of her own.