Saturday, January 28, 2012

Brussels and Istanbul

The first response I get to this little ditty is "Why brussels sprouts?". Good question.

The first meal I ever cooked with my wife to be was brussels sprouts in cheese sauce (not my idea, not that good actually, only for the commited sprouts fan, pity for the other ten people we were cooking for in that student house).

I never remember seeing them in Asia until I got to Turkey, they have cold brussels sprout salad here, doesn't sound good to me, or even to my wife actually. Here's a link to the recipe if you want, let's hope the website doesn't crash under the pressure...

I suppose for the purpose of this picture, sprouts are green and these apples are red, the colours bounce of each other nicely.

Monday, January 23, 2012


I really like Krista Howell's work Last Year's Snow. She has skillfully captured the freshness of fallen snow on a delicate branch with light breaking through. Snow can indeed bring out the best in a location, although, it really does depend on where the location is. 

I used to live near a city in China where the pollution levels were off the charts. The name of the place in Mongolian was translated as 'Fragrant Meadow'. In the winter, indeed in the summer too, truth be told, the name, I'll write it again, 'Fragrant Meadow' was a cruel joke. The air was so thick with coal smoke in the winter that snow would turn black very soon after falling. Alongside the roads would be piled up black snow and the temparatures were so cold that the piles would remain well into the spring. So my gut reaction to snow it one of a sense of foreboding, flight delays, pneumonia, pollution, slippery roads, and bad hospitals, a bad combination.

Now that I've excorcised those difficult recollections I'd better explain the picture above. It's urban snow, sludgey, dirty, warm, wet, ugly urban snow in a gutter. All the same I thought there was some understated beauty in it somewhere, you have to look hard.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Art of Seeing

Galata tower, watercolour and pastel 

Snow is good, it teaches you to see. Learning to see is something it's taking me a lifetime to understand. One can see a scene so many times and one instinctively knows when it's beckoning to be captured on paper.  It seems that something clicks in the mind and one just knows how to go about the work ahead. It also interestingly seems to be pointless to try too hard before that mysterious moment of ripeness in one's imagination.

So indeed snow brings our surroundings to life, contrasts, cajoles and rewards our seeing with great freshness.  

I wish I could be so positive about the effect snow has on the traffic in this great city.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Peppers, Aubergines (egg plants) and the Fall of Byzantium

So apparently 50,000 people were taken away into slavery when Constantinople fell in 1453. Apparently this was not unusual, the Byzantines would have done the same were the situation reversed. Part of the point of medieval warfare  was the promise of booty and this came in human form as well as material form. According to some, the crusaders of 1204 inflicted far greater sufferings on the city than the armies of Mehmet the Conquerer in 1453.

In an era when ancient-world slavery was only slowly going out of fashion and the European early modern type was yet to take off, being conquered was a little bit like being taken hostage (if you survived the slaughter and if you were a man). If you had rich friends who would buy you back you were lucky, most however would have had to be content to start a new life. 

I find it hard to emotionally grasp the magnitude of a situation where some mother or daughter after finding themselves on the losing side of a seige, suddenly becomes one of the wives of a foreigner who killed their husband or father!

Apparently some of the Greek nobles captured after the fall of the city converted to Islam, historians wonder if this was not just a prudent move under the circumstances but rather a heart felt conversion after feeling catastrophically let down by the god of Byzantium. The Ottomans and their god did indeed seem invincible even if the fall of the city was a relatively close run thing.

I'm beginning to enjoy the way that watercolour works with vegetables....

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Weather

'Oh well, it's raining again'.

It's the kind of comment that comes naturally to a Brit. According to the author of 'Watching the English', commenting on the weather is a way the British have contrived to be able to speak to complete strangers without running the risk of being considered mentally ill. Thus one can safely engage almost anyone in conversation whilst waiting for a bus, for example, simply be commenting on the state of the sky above.

This doesn't always work in foreign climes. For one thing Mediterranean peoples seem to be a little more relaxed than Brits and don't necessarily need such techniques. When I find I myself defaulting to this social game here complete strangers seem to think that this poor foreigner, for some bizarre reason, actually does want to talk to them about the weather, more often than not they are happy to humour me. 

In fact the conversation can very quickly get fairly theological. Living in places where there are frequent water shortages in the summer, heavy rain is viewed as a blessing from God. As a result of this I can often find myself the object of a well meaning homily on why we should actually be grateful for the rain as it is a blessing from the hand of God. I do need reminding but that was more than I was bargaining for, I usually dutifully concede that, yes, indeed we should be thankful.

Despite that I can at times feel a little cheated. I don't like rain and I've appreciated over the years living in places where it doesn't rain much, so I can't help but feel slightly aggrieved when a city that considers itself as situated in the Middle East has more annual rain than London. I should add that Istanbul does get most of it's rain in the winter unlike London where the rainfall seems to be every other day all year round. There are times when I can almost feel myself saying that I want my money back!

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis depicts Purgatory or Hell as a bus stop in a dull, grey, rainy, urban setting. I wonder if he'd visitied Istanbul in rush hour on a rainy January evening.

The picture above is Istanbul on a good day......

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