Seven Artists I’m Loving Right Now

(Quick note: generally whenever I use images in this blog, they are all pictures that I’ve taken and own the copyright to.  Obviously I don’t own the images in this post, but I do list sources for them and, when applicable, websites for the artists.  The cover painting for this post is Portrait of James Hamilton, Earl of Arran by Kehinde Wiley, which can be found here.)

I love art, I love art museums, and I love finding new artists to follow.  Below is a list of some of my current favorites, all of whom are contemporary working artists except for one.

Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley has been making well-deserved headlines lately, since Barack Obama chose him to paint his presidential portrait, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  I discovered Kehinde Wiley several years ago by his re-imagining of Judith and Holofernes, which hangs in the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, my old stomping grounds.  The NCMA is a great museum in general, but I literally stopped in my tracks when we got to Wiley’s painting.  There is something I love in the combination of his hyper-realistic portraits and brightly colored patterned backgrounds that I haven’t seen from any other artist (although his works do remind me a bit of this Vincent Van Gogh painting, which I also love).  He also provides a fresh take on many existing artworks, like the aforementioned Judith and Holofernes and the famous portrait of Napoleon.

You can find his website here.

(Image 1 Source, Image 2 Source, Image 3 Source)

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Judith and Holofernes
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Randerson Romualdo Cordeiro
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Alexander I, Emperor of Russia

Monica Martino

Monica Martino is an artist living in Georgia who makes all sorts of hilarious, clever products like t-shirts, mugs, and paintings, all designed and drawn by her.  Basically, she does what Urban Outfitters does, but better, and as a small business.  I have several friends who have bought things from her Etsy shop and been thrilled with them, and they make fantastic gifts, in case you have anyone in your life that you’re still stumped on what to get them for Christmas.  Anyway, seeing her stuff always makes me laugh, and I have a bunch of things bookmarked on her Etsy page for future purchases.

You can find her Etsy shop here.

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Perfect stocking stuffer for your grandma, no?

Ester Hernandez

Ester Hernandez is another artist I discovered via the North Carolina Museum of Art (no, really, it’s wonderful! go visit if you’re in the area!), where her painting La Ofrenda was part of a special exhibition of Chicanx artists.  Her work is part of permanent collections in the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and Stanford, and she also has permanent collections in Mexico City and London.

You can find her website here.

(Image 1 Source)

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La Ofrenda

 

Clare Caufield

Clare Caufield is a British artist who does dynamic, dreamlike drawings and paintings of city scenes.  I found her while obsessively poring over Etsy, looking for art of my favorite cities.  It turns out that she has her own website as well where she posts her galleries, exhibitions, and art she has for sale.

You can find her website here.  All images were taken from her website.

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View from the Rialto Bridge, Venice
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Charles Bridge, Prague

Gustav Klimt

Okay, hear me out.  This one is obviously different from the other artists on the list because he’s both 1) dead and 2) super famous and firmly canonized.  But I think he’s worth putting on here because I didn’t really know much about his work until recently.  The only painting of his I knew was The Kiss, which honestly, is not my favorite work of art ever.  Maybe it’s been ruined for me because it’s so ubiquitous, and I associate it with, like, college dorm room posters and notebooks and stuff.  (But a lot of Van Gogh and Monet stuff fits into that description as well, and I still like them, so maybe not.)

Then I went to Vienna, Klimt’s hometown, in the summer of 2016, and it turns out that he’s actually a really amazing artist.  (Who could have guessed, right?)  His work was everywhere you turned in Vienna and so much of it was more interesting than The Kiss.  He’s worth looking into more if you don’t know much about him.

I don’t have a website where you can buy his stuff (obviously), but I do recommend that you check out the movie Woman in Gold, about one of his paintings that was stolen by the Nazis and starring Helen Mirren, based on a true story.

(Image 1 source, Image 2 source)

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Dame Mit Faecher
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Detail from ‘Medicine’

Hayv Kahraman

Hayv Kahraman is an Iraqi painter, illustrator, and sculptor who is based in Los Angeles.  I honestly don’t know much about her outside of her art, but her work seems to focus mainly on women and the Iraqi diaspora, and is both wonderful and, at times, harrowing.  She’s getting lots of attention both within the art world and from more mainstream media outlets, so she’s someone to watch for sure.

You can find her website here.

(Image 1 Source, Image 2 Source, Image 3 Source)

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Leveled Leisure
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Honor Killings

Ingrid Vermeer

Ingrid Vermeer is a Dutch artists who I found on… wait for it… Instagram.  She did a project where she drew portraits of people on Post-It notes every day for a year, and then switched to 100 days of drawing on found objects.  It doesn’t look like her stuff is available for order online, but I really enjoy following her.  Her art is just… fun.

She can be found on Instagram with the username studioyellowdays and her blog is 365 days of post it people.

(Image 1 Source, Image 2 Source, Image 3 Source)

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Self-portrait on an old encyclopedia page
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Some of her post-it people
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Part of her 100 days of drawing on found stuff project

 

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You Can Still Visit the Original Istanbul Train Station Where the Orient Express Began

This past weekend my husband and I went to go see the new Murder on the Orient Express movie.  It was about what I expected, based on reviews I’d read– the acting was fun, the costumes and scenery were fantastic, the story itself was enjoyable if a bit underwhelming.  It’s more a homage to the glamour of the 1930s than it is a riveting detective movie, even with Kenneth Branagh’s stellar performance as Hercule Poirot.

One thing I did like about it is that it’s perhaps the first movie I’ve seen that takes place in Istanbul (partially, for a brief bit at the beginning of the film) that didn’t make me want to tear my hair out.  Most Western movies use Istanbul through a heavy lens of orientalism— making Istanbul seem exotic just for the sake of being exotic, of attributing various aspects of Arab culture to the city that don’t even exist here (reminder: Turks and Arabs have distinct languages, religious denominations, and cultures), that sort of thing.  There was none of that in this movie, thankfully.

Something I didn’t know until last year is that you can still go to the train station in Istanbul that was one of the endpoints of the Orient Express, and I only found out because we happened to stumble across it while out in the city one day.  It’s a beautiful old building, and we wandered over to get a better look at it before realizing what it is.  It’s situated in the city’s historic peninsula, and is surrounded by bazaars and mosques and monuments that are hundreds and thousands of years old, so it’s kind of easy to miss even though it does have that old-school glamour that the time period is known for.

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The front of Sirkeci Station

Sirkeci Station was built in 1888 by the Ottoman Empire, who decided that Istanbul needed to be connected to Europe after the Crimean War.  The station ran both local and international trains.  The train lines changed frequently over the years, and eventually a restaurant was added that became a popular spot for artists, writers, and journalists in the 1950s and 1960s.  The Orient Express line to Istanbul was shut down in 1977 (later, the other stations were shut down as well in other countries, ending the famous route), and all international lines were shut down from Sirkeci until just this past year.  Now, a few routes are running to cities in the Balkans.

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Inside one of the waiting rooms of the station, looking out to the train platform

When we were at the station last spring, they were doing restoration on the facade of the building, and certain parts of the station were locked/unavailable for tourists.  Still, the architecture is beautiful, and it’s worth wandering into when you’re in the area– and if you’re a tourist in Istanbul, you’ll definitely be in the area, since it’s close to the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque.  The restaurant still exists and you can sit down for lunch, or even just for tea and a snack.  The station was decently busy but not overly crowded when we were there, both with tourists and with locals, and at one point a group bike tour pedaled through.

And if you like this kind of architecture and the glamour from that time period, another place to visit is the Pera Palace Hotel and Museum— it’s where Agatha Christie used to hang out and write when she was in Istanbul.  It’s a beautiful building and one of my favorite art museums in Istanbul.  It’s not particularly close to Sirkeci Station– it’s across the Golden Horn, located just off the famous Istiklal Street.  Istiklal sadly has seen better days and is definitely not what it once was– nowadays, it’s mostly construction and empty storefronts– but the Pera Palace is still there and still stunning, and I definitely recommend it if you have a free afternoon.

Istanbul is such a diverse city, and sometimes you can find the most interesting bits of history when you look past the mosques and bazaar.

Rome: An Ode to Off-Season Travel

I’ve been to Rome twice: once as a 19-year-old study abroad student in 2005, and the other at age 30 in 2015.  The two trips, ten years apart, could not have been more different.

(Yes, this happened two years ago; a friend recently posted pictures of the Trevi fountain and it made me all nostalgic, so I’m finally writing about it.)

My first time, it was a weekend trip.  I was in Italy for the summer, living and studying in the small hilltop town of Orvieto, in Umbria.  (Google it!  It’s beautiful.)  I went to Rome for the weekend with some other girls from my American university who were also doing the summer study abroad program.

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Fountain at the Vatican

My memories of the 2005 trip to Rome are hazy at this point, but I mostly remember it being hot, crowded, and overwhelming.  I’m sure there were things I liked about it, but the most vivid recollections I have are standing in the heat in front of St. Peter’s and trying to find drinkable water, getting lost at night trying to use public transportation, and climbing up the hill to the Vatican Museums only to see a note on the door that it was closed.  And did I mention that it was HOT?

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The Trevi Fountain

And I’m sure a large part of it was me, and my lack of experience; I was young, it was my first trip out of North America, and I wasn’t used to navigating big cities.  My only experience with life at that point was my tiny hometown and my quiet, small college campus.  Rome was a whole different beast.

Yet I hear others report similar experiences there when they go during the summer, at the height of tourist season– that it’s crowded, hot, chaotic, and with really long lines.  When everyone inundates the city for the summer, it turns into a rat race of trying to cram everything you want to see into a few days while fighting millions of other tourists to do it, all with scorching temperatures.

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Piazza Navona

My trip in 2015 was almost the exact opposite experience.  I’m a seasoned traveler by now, and have lived in big cities, and toured many more.  I’m not stressed out by them anymore.

But perhaps the biggest difference is that we went in fall, during the off-season.  And it was absolutely lovely.

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Have I mentioned the food yet? Drool.

My husband and I went for a long weekend (four or five days, I can’t remember) and the city seemed almost empty by comparison to my last trip.  Everything was calm, quiet.  This time my main memories are of wandering side streets and stumbling upon the most amazing architecture, visiting the Trevi Fountain at night, of drinking cheap carafes of wine with lunch, of walking right up to both the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum and buying tickets without any lines, and going right in.  The memories are of beautiful weather and candlelit dinners in restaurants near our hotel.

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Cheap (but good!) wine is 100% my favorite thing about Italy

It was such a nice, relaxing trip, and when I think about Rome now, I only think about how romantic it was, and how I’d love to go back again and again (…. but not in summer).  If you’d asked me before this trip if Rome would ever hold any special place in my heart, I’d probably have said no– before, it seemed mainly like one of those “go once and see everything, and that’s enough” cities.  But now, it feels like I’ve seen an entirely different side of it.

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In St. Peter’s Square– look how empty it is!

I guess the moral of the story is that most places deserve a second chance, because you never know how your experience will change– and that beating the summer crowds (or waiting for them to disappear) is worth more than just a cheaper plan ticket.

 

Things I Wish Americans Knew About the Middle East

Recently I went to a talk by an academic and journalist who specializes in Middle Eastern politics.  This journalist has spent the last decade living in the Middle East and as part of her research she interviews people from all over the spectrum in Middle Eastern politics– from activists involved in the Arab Spring and the Muslim Brotherhood to jihadists.  Her talk, which really was more of a discussion that invited questions and input from the small audience, delved into a lot of various issues in the Middle East right now, and I left the talk thinking, “This is the kind of information I wish everyone in America knew.”

Some of the things she mentioned were things I already knew.  Some were things I had never heard of, or had heard of but didn’t understand on any sort of deep level.  Here is a brief list of things that I think would be surprising to most Americans– some of them are things that came up in the talk, and others are things I’ve only learned myself in the past few years and wanted to pass along.

Many of the jihadists and people recruited by ISIS aren’t “good” or overly observant Muslims.  A lot of the jidahists that have emerged in Europe, especially, are petty criminals or people who do things like drink, take drugs, or sleep around that are “haram” (forbidden) in Islam.  They tend to be more driven by a desire for violence and revenge, or a search to belong to/be accepted into a group, than religious piousness.

The #1 indicator of whether or not a young Muslim man would become radicalized is whether or not he grew up in a Francophone (French-speaking) country.  Researchers think this is because of the strict secularism laws that exist on those countries, including a ban on headscarves, that has made some Muslims feel oppressed.

Only 2 countries have enforced headscarves/covering laws (Saudi Arabia and Iran).  However, 15 Muslim countries have had or currently have laws *against* headscarves.  Turkey is one of those countries– women covering their heads was not allowed in schools, universities, or public service positions until 2013.

The boundaries drawn in the Middle East are completely arbitrary and relatively new.  They were made France and Britain after WWI, when the Ottoman Empire (which controlled much of the Middle East at the time) lost the war.  The random splitting up of territories didn’t take into account how the locals felt about it, and ended up in a lot of the in-fighting between different ethnic groups and sects that we see now.

“Muslim” and “Arab” are not synonymous.  If someone is an Arab, it means they’re from one of the countries on the Arabian peninsula or Northern Africa.  There are lots of Arabs who aren’t Muslim– there are plenty of religious minorities living in those countries, including Christians.  Alternatively, there are lots of Muslim countries, and lots of Muslims, that aren’t Arab.  Fun fact: Indonesia is home to the largest percentage of Muslims in the world.

… Related, not all Muslims speak Arabic.  Turks speak Turkish.  Iranians speak Farsi.  Afghanis speaks Pashto and Dari.  Pakistanis speak Urdu.  Bangladeshis speak Bengali.  … And so on.  Also, this is not a complete list by any means; all of these countries have other languages and dialects as well.  But they definitely do NOT all speak Arabic.

There are no camels or deserts in Turkey.  When people learn that I live in Turkey, a lot of them seem to picture some sort of vaguely Arabic landscape that looks like Morocco or Saudi Arabia.  Nope.  Turkey has lots of different climates due to all the mountains in the country, but a lot of the country is very green and humid and fertile, and there is not a single desert to be seen anywhere.  Also, we don’t do our weekly grocery shopping at the Grand Bazaar.

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It also snows in Turkey– this was the view out of my apartment window in Istanbul this past winter.

There has been a LOT of Western, especially American, meddling when it comes to Middle Eastern governments, leadership, and power struggles.  We had a hand in the Iranian Revolution in 1979.  We funded and armed the group that would become the Taliban (and are currently funding the weak Afghanistan government that is now fighting against the Taliban).  We are currently arming the Syrian rebels to fight against the Syrian government and the Kurds in Northern Iraq to fight against ISIS.  These are just a few brief examples, but basically the US has a long history of choosing a side that supports our own interests without really thinking of the long-term consequences or how it affects the people living in those countries.

There are different “levels” of devoutness for practicing (and non-practicing!) Muslims.  I don’t mean that there are set levels and they choose one, but Islam is the same as most any other religion, especially such a big one– some believers are very strict, some aren’t, and there’s everything in-between.  Some Muslim women dress modestly, some don’t; some Muslims don’t drink alcohol and some do; some fast during Ramadan and some don’t; some pray five times a day, and some don’t.  And there are also Muslims who consider that their cultural identity but who aren’t actively practicing.

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And before I end, one more thing to perhaps challenge the perceptions you have of Islam: the picture I used for the cover photo of this post was taken in Spain, at the Alhambra Palace in Granada.

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Going Home/What I Miss

I leave in a couple of days for a two-week trip to the US to see my family.  Two weeks seems like a lot of time but it always goes quickly, and it’s never enough time to see the people I want to see; nevertheless, I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve been living abroad for three years now and it’s funny, the things I end up missing.  It’s never the things that I thought I would miss.  (This isn’t including people, of course– I always knew I would miss my friends and family.)  I was pretty homesick my first year in Turkey but it got a lot better after some adjustment, although Christmases away are still pretty hard.  But the things I miss most are things that I barely even noticed while living in the US.

I miss peanut butter.

I miss being able to walk into any clothing or shoe store and finding my size.  (Turkish women are tiny!… They don’t even sell my shoe size here.  The woes of being an almost-5’9” American woman living in Istanbul.)

I miss being able to find lots of different cuisines at the grocery store.

I miss stores and cafes opening earlier in the morning.

I miss central A/C.

I miss closets!  Oh how I miss closets.  One wardrobe is not enough storage for two people living in an apartment, and I don’t even know how families with small kids manage.  Where do other people store their vacuum cleaners?  The fake Christmas tree between seasons?  (Okay, maybe not too many Turkish households have to worry about that one…)  The sports equipment?  The luggage?  I NEED CLOSETS IN MY LIFE, DAMMIT.

But the thing I miss most of all is…. driving to Target.

Let me explain.

When I was living in the US, I didn’t have any particular affinity for Target.  I liked Target a regular amount– I went there when I needed to, but I never went around talking enthusiastically about how much I loved it or how great it was.  It was just a store I went to sometimes.

But now, when I think about things I’m excited to do when I go home, one of the first things that pops into my mind is getting in the car, driving to Target, and walking around.

I think it’s less because Target is just that awesome, and more because it represents everything that I can’t do in Istanbul.  Istanbul is a city of about 15,000,000 people, which is actually probably a low estimate, so hopping in a car and doing *anything* becomes difficult.  Istanbul traffic is horrendous.  This sometimes makes running mundane errands difficult.  We try to do most of our errands in our neighborhood, where we can walk to the stores, but on the occasions when we need to go to a bigger store elsewhere in the city, we take a deep breath, gird our loins, and accept it’s probably going to be at least half a day of battling with traffic and crowds.  There’s nothing fun about it.

And Target has everything– one stop and you’re done.  Again, this is very different from Istanbul, where we end up going to multiple stores to find the things we need.

So the thought of getting in a car and driving on calm, mostly clear roads to Target and being able to get everything in one fell swoop sounds almost Utopic.

Of course, there are good things about living abroad that balance out the things I miss– I might miss Target, but not enough to move back for it.  And there are things that utterly confuse me about the US now when I visit.  (The serving sizes are huge! … Why is the smallest size of a milkshake 16 ounces?  You can’t even get a milkshake that big in Turkey!  And why oh why does someone need that many different options for toothpaste?)

Bags are (almost) packed, passport is in my purse… I’m ready to go.

 

 

 

 

Hidden Gem Istanbul: Süleymaniye Mosque

I have a love/hate relationship with Sultanahmet, otherwise known as the historic peninsula in Istanbul, where most of the oldest sites and tourist attractions are.  On one hand, it’s a beautiful and deeply historic neighborhood, and everywhere you turn there are buildings and monuments that are hundreds and thousands of years old.  It is where the Grand Bazaar, Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque are located.  It’s clean, well-kept, and beautifully  landscaped.  It is worth seeing at least once in your lifetime.

On the other hand, the areas around the ferry stations and Spice Bazaar are so crowded, both with tourists and sketchy people trying to scam the tourists, that walking through it all to get to the other sites is irritating at best and deeply unpleasant at worst.  The scammers don’t disappear in the other areas and you have to be careful of who you talk to, which gives it a seedier feeling than other parts of the city.  And the one time I went to Sultanahmet without my husband– I took my (female) cousins when they were visiting– men yelled after us and harassed us all day long, which was infuriating and embarrassing since I was trying to show my cousins how great Turkey can be. (Never judge a city or a culture based on the most touristy area; it seems to be where jerks tend to congregate.)

Still, I end up going to Sultanahmet about once a year because the sites are too amazing to stay away from for long, and this past weekend my husband and I took the ferry over.  We went to the Basilica Cistern, which is normally amazing but is currently undergoing a renovation that will last until 2019, so it didn’t quite have its full glory.  Still, the Medusa heads are always interesting to see.

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Fun fact: The Basilica Cistern dates back to the 6th century and was commissioned by the Emperor Justinian, but no one knows where the two Medusa heads came from or why one is upside down and one is on its side

Afterwards we wandered over to Hagia Sophia and took in the sights there, including petting the cat that lives in the 1,500 year old church-turned-mosque-turned museum.

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Hagia Sophia: No filter needed

And then we decided to check out one of the lesser-known mosques, Süleymaniye Cami (cami means mosque in Turkish), and it turned out to be the highlight of the day.

It’s easy to find Süleymaniye Mosque: you directly see if from the ferry area or the Galata Bridge, depending on how you go to Sultanahmet.  It sits on top of a hill overlooking the Golden Horn and cuts an impressive image even from far away.  I remember staring at it during my first trip to Istanbul in 2013 and thinking, “Huh, that looks important.”

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Picture of Süleymaniye Mosque taken from the Galata Bridge in 2013, on my first trip to Istanbul

And it is important.  It was built by the most famous architect of the Ottoman Empire, Mimar Sinan, in the 16th century, and it is the burial place of the Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (hence the name) and his equally-famous wife Sultan Hürrem.  (Their story has been made even more famous by the TV show Muhteşem Yuzyıl, or the Magnificent Century, which oddly enough is available on Netflix in America but not in Turkey.)  They each have their own buildings with their tombs inside.

Süleymaniye Mosque’s beauty starts before you even go inside the building.  Since it is on top of a hill, it offers an amazing view of Istanbul, including the Golden Horn, Galata Tower, Bosphorus, and the first bridge of the city that connects Europe to Asia.  It feels like you’re on top of the world.  And the grounds are meticulously kept, with lush green lawns and a beautiful cemetery.

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The cemetery spanned one side of the mosque and surrounded the enclosed tombs of the Sultan and his family

On the day that we were there, it was not crowded at all, and there were very few tourists.  There were a lot of Turkish families that were lounging on picnic blankets on the lawn, in the shade of the many trees, and their children were running around.  There were no scammers and the people working at the mosque were friendly and laid-back.  It had a completely different vibe than the tourist-inundated Blue Mosque, where workers have to be strict to control the throngs of people.

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The mosque courtyard
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Before going inside; I might have been living in Turkey for almost three years, but I’m not too proud to take a selfie while sightseeing

Inside, the mosque has been restored as recently as 2007, and it doesn’t look five hundred years old.  It has a red-orange carpet and the typical tiles and calligraphy of Ottoman-style mosques, but its main dome is interesting and sets it apart from others: it was destroyed by a fire in the 19th century and when it was rebuilt, they painted it in the Italian style that was popular at the time in Europe but is rarely seen in Turkey.  They also have young, very friendly, and English-speaking volunteers who are happy to answer any questions you have.

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A bit blurry, but you can see the painted dome ceiling done in 19th century Italian style, very different from most Ottoman mosques

(As a bit of an aside that might be helpful for people who are visiting Turkey for the first time, here are some tips for visiting mosques: women should cover heads and shoulders; short sleeves are okay; shorts and short skirts are not; some mosques will not let in anyone who has the bottom part of their legs exposed, including men in knee-length shorts, but it really differs from mosque to mosque with how strict they are with that.  You have to take off your shoes before going in and every mosque is VERY strict with this.  There will always be a place for you to leave your shoes close to the door; some mosques will let you carry them in as long as they are in a place bag, or if you are just carrying them in your hand, make sure the soles are pointing up.  If you are wearing shorts/a tank top/don’t have a scarf to cover your head, they will have clothes and scarves there that you can borrow–I have seen many men wearing borrowed skirts over their shorts in mosques–but I recommend just taking a more modest outfit with you to wear on the day(s) that you will be visiting those places, and sticking a scarf in your bag to throw over your head.  Also, there are usually separate entrances for people going into the mosque to pray and those who are just visiting, so follow the signs, which will most likely be in English.)

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Shoes off in mosques, always, without exceptions

I’m really glad that we decided to branch out a bit and visit someplace new.  I definitely recommend going to the better-known Blue Mosque because it’s absolutely stunning and worth seeing, but the Süleymaniye Mosque is worth a visit too, and is especially great if you’ve grown tired of the crazy atmosphere and crowds at the tourist sites.  This was also a really good reminder that even though I’ve been living in Istanbul for almost three years now, there are still so many places here I haven’t seen.  Sometimes it’s fun to go sightseeing in your own city.

And overall, the thing that struck me most about the Süleymaniye Mosque was just how quiet and calm it was, up on the hill all by itself.  In a city of 15+ million people, that is worth its weight in gold and jewels; even a sultan could tell you that.

How To Eat Like A Turk

I was cooking dinner tonight and as I got a lemon and a container of yogurt out of the fridge, it occurred to me that I use both of those things almost every day now– a habit that I only picked up after moving to Istanbul.  It got me thinking and I thought it would be fun to write up a post about some of the awesome food culture in Turkey.  Enjoy!

1) Put Lemon On Everything

Cut open a lemon and give it a squeeze over whatever you’re eating.  Seriously, it works with almost anything, and really brightens up flavors.

2) Put Yogurt On Everything, Too

One of the best things I’ve learned from living in Turkey is that yogurt is super versatile, not just for a sweet snack with tons of added sugar.  Turks use regular plain yogurt (sour-tasting) and süzme yogurt (strained yogurt, similar in texture to Greek yogurt) as a regular part of meals– both by itself, with spices (I love putting a bit of garlic powder and mint in plain süzme yogurt and eating it as a snack or a side), dolloped on meat, lentils, into soups…. it’s everywhere in the cuisine here, and it’s delicious.

3) Accept That Your Fish Stares Back At You

Fish in Turkey are almost always served whole, with head and scales and tail, and you de-bone it yourself and pick out the meat.  It’s also common to get little fried anchovies called hamsi and eat them whole, even the bones.  The first time or two it’s weird, but then you get used to it (mostly because it tastes so good).

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4) Realize That Small Dishes Are Amazing

Meyhane is a type of restaurant where you get a bunch of mezes (small dishes similar to Spanish tapas) for the table to share, along with a bottle or two of raki (anise-flavored liquor similar to Greek ouzo) and each person typically gets their own fish course.  However, I love mezes so much that my husband and I often skip the fish course and just have a long dinner of nothing but side dishes, and enjoy the heck out of it.  This is my favorite kind of Turkish dining.

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And sometimes, a kitten wanders over to help you eat your mezes

5) Carve Time Out Of Your Weekend For A Long, Glorious Breakfast

Turkish breakfasts are my other favorite kind of dining here.  Like in meyhanes, proper Turkish breakfasts are long and made up of many different small dishes.  Of course most Turks don’t eat like that every day (and who has time for that before going to work?), but oh man, Turkish breakfast is like brunch on steroids.

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6) Cut Down On Sugar

There isn’t much added sugar in Turkish foods, not even really in their baked goods.  Most of their cookies and cakes are way less sweet than their American counterparts.  There are exceptions to this, of course– like birthday cakes with lots of frosting, and tres leches cake has become very popular here– but generally cakes don’t have frosting at all.  When desserts are super sweet, it’s usually because it’s been soaked in syrup.

7) Drink Tea, Not Coffee

Turkish coffee is a cultural institution and great (albeit very, very strong– imagine a shot of espresso with the grounds still in it), but it’s usually only drunk after meals to help with digestion.  Instead, Turks typically drink black tea in the mornings and throughout the day.  The tea is strong too, brewed for 15-20 minutes in a double boiler until a concentrate is made and then mixed with warm water according to taste, and is drunk in little tulip-shaped glasses.

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8) Be Open To Weird Flavor/Texture Combinations

There are some Turkish dishes that most Americans would never imagine working.  Some of them I love, like künefe, a dessert that has melty cheese surrounded by shredded wheat, submerged in syrup, and topped with kaymak (a kind of sweet, creamy butter) and sometimes pistachios.  If it sounds heavy, it is; don’t expect to be able to move afterwards.  But it’s delicious!  Others, like ayran, a frothy yogurt drink with salt, have been more of an acquired taste.  Regardless, there are a lot of flavor combinations that seemed weird when I moved here that now seem totally normal and appealing.

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Yogurt and salt– what’s not to love?

9) Put Egg On Your Pizza

Or pide, to be more specific.  Pide is the Turkish version of pizza, and it’s the same kind of idea– there’s dough, and you put stuff on top of the dough, and you bake it.  Simple.  There are some differences, though, like the fact that pide doesn’t have tomato sauce.  Another (amazing) difference is that you can get an egg on your pide.  Either scrambled or just kind of cracked on top.  Such a great idea, I don’t know why more cultures haven’t picked this up.

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10) Speaking Of Eggs… Cook Them With Peppers And Tomatoes

I’ll be honest, even after two and a half years here, I don’t know how to cook many Turkish dishes– a lot of them require lots of hands-on work and long cooking times, and, well, I’m more about the quick dinners after work.  But one thing that is super easy to make and super delicious is menemen, where eggs are scrambled with chopped peppers, tomatoes, and olive oil (or butter).  My husband used to make an improvised version of this using salsa when we lived in the US, but real Turkish menemen is heavier on the green peppers.  You can also add different cheeses and meats to it if you want, or you can eat it plain.  Here is an English-language version of the recipe from Ozlem’s Turkish Table.

11) Roll Your Bagels In Sesame Seeds

Turkish simit are like thin, crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside bagels that have been covered in sesame seeds.  We used to find frozen ones in a Turkish store in North Carolina and they are worth the trek if you have an international foods store in your area.  Or you can try to make them at home, if you’re feeling ambitious.

12) Eat Raw Meat

Okay, not really… but there is a dish called çığ köfte, which literally translates into “raw meatball,” and did indeed used to be made out of raw red meat.  Now, though, there’s a wonderful vegetarian version made out of bulgar mixed with bread crumbs, tomato paste, walnuts, and spices.  Typically it’s eaten wrapped in a lettuce leaf and squeezed with lemon.  It’s a great light lunch or dinner.  My back-up life plan is to move to the US and market çığ köfte to hipsters as exotic health food (vegan! served with lemon and lettuce! made with exotic oriental spices) and charge them a lot of money for it without mentioning that it’s one of the cheapest foods you can get in Turkey.

13) Load Up On Lots Of Fresh Fruits And Vegetables

Unlike in the United States, fresh produce is one of the cheapest foods you can buy in Turkey, and there are vegetable and fruit stands literally on almost every corner of Istanbul, so it’s easy to grab anything you need on the way home.

There are so many more things I could talk about, but these are the things that immediately came to mind.  Hopefully it inspires some people to either book a trip to Istanbul or maybe just find a Turkish restaurant in their area.