Friday, January 6, 2012

Turkey's 19th-century Renaissance man

Osman Hamdi Bey's "The Tortoise Trainer"
Maybe it's all the bad knock-offs of his most famous painting, "The Tortoise Trainer," for sale on İstiklal Caddesi and around the Galata Tower, but I always found it a bit hard to understand what all the fuss was about Osman Hamdi Bey.

Turns out painting was probably the least of the sad-eyed, long-faced Ottoman intellectual's contributions to Turkish culture. As the exhibit "Osman Hamdi Bey and the Americans" details, old Osman Hamdi essentially invented Turkish archaeology, conducting important digs at Nemrut Dağı in central Turkey, Assos along the Aegean coast, and Sidon in modern-day Lebanon.

The small, well-put-together exhibit -- which admittedly is likely to be of most interest if you've visited some of the places Osman Hamdi excavated -- ends this weekend at the Pera Museum but the fruits of his labors can be seen in perpetuity at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums across the Golden Horn in Sultanahmet.

Chillin' at Nemrut Dağı
Now one of the most important institutions of its kind, the museum's "collection" was essentially just a pile of booty from Ottoman military campaigns when Osman Hamdi was appointed director in 1881.

His focus on scientific classification and protecting antiquities turned the museum into what it is today, while the enacting of the Antiquities Law he wrote kept Ottoman treasures within the empire at a time when they were being increasingly hauled off to Europe by whoever found them. (Whether the famous Alexander Sarcophagus and other discoveries from Sidon should now go back to Lebanon is, I suppose, another question altogether.)

And for my money, his richly detailed painting "The Fountain of Life" (also on display at the Pera Museum) runs rings around that damn tortoise trainer any day.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Out with the old, in with the new-ish

The unscientific consensus (of people I know on Facebook) seems to be that 2011 was a year best forgotten. My year wasn't all bad -- I went on tour in Europe with a rock band, after all -- but there were plenty of parts I wouldn't care to repeat. My track record with my lets-not-call-them-resolutions for the year that just passed wasn't too hot either, as it turns out.

My pledge to pitch more stories mostly fell by the wayside, though I did somehow manage to write articles for five new-to-me magazines. I did some new stuff in Istanbul and other places in Turkey but stayed in ruts a lot of the time too. And all my talk about going to Iran someday remained just that.

I did do some cool stuff I hadn't planned, however. I ran a 15-kilometer race in Istanbul. I traveled around the Aegean coast updating part of a guidebook to Turkey. I learned how to make a damn good apple pie. I moved into my own apartment for the very first time after 36 years of living with family, friends, flatmates, and boyfriends. And I quit my newspaper job, casting myself out into the uncertain world of the full-time freelance writer/editor.

While all three of my "intentions" for 2011 still hold true for 2012, I've got a few more I want to add to the list:

  • Run a half-marathon. I'm taking recommendations as to where. Already suggested: races in Berlin, Paris, Antalya, and Belgrade.

  • Be more adventurous in my travel. I've got people I could visit in Tunisia, Kosovo, Dubai, and (soon) Qatar. There's a cool-as-hell-sounding free arts festival in Serbia. Such opportunities should not be missed.

  • Keep cooking new and tasty things and inviting friends over to eat them with me.
Herkese iyi seneler! Happy new year, everyone!