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A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine. Published on Fridays.
POSTCARDS FROM ISTANBUL (a fiction)
A suite of 18 hand-made postcards, 92mm x 145mm each,
mailed from Istanbul to Toronto, in the Summer 2019.
Archival pigment print, hand-writings, stamps
(Words by Holly Lee, with photo images by Lee Ka-sing)
In the collection of Kai Chan
A collaboration work, 2019
Back in Istanbul, at the new Istanbul Airport in Yenikoy, which has been operated fully in April and is about an hour from the city. We took the Havaist Airport Shuttle bus like last time, seeing the city once again like re-visiting a ghost dream. Everything is so vaguely familiar…Hope your exhibition go smooth…
xoxo K+H July 29, 2019.
Arriving at Deniz Apt. without being lost. Same heavy metal door and marble staircase, the spiralling wall has finished refurbishing. When we arrived it started to rain. With a little accompaniment from the precipitation, we noticed the Golden Horn suddenly humming a new song. Wish you were here, with your eyes, mouth and ears.
xoxo K+H night July 29, 2019.
Orhan has a different hair-cut but I recognized his face right away. Breakfast at Emir Nevruz has become a ritual. Menemen, the spicy tomato egg thing and Turkish coffee have become our stable morning food. O was surprised to see us back so soon. It has been almost a year, I told him. He asked for you, the guy with the green beret and green scarf. I said you are busy with an exhibition. He said, “I knew it from his look, he must be an artist. Is he a landscape painter? No, I answered. He's a foodscape painter.
xoxo K+H July 30, 2019.
Went back to Galata Mevlevi House (1941) not just for the dance, but also for the museum we skipped last time. That beautiful October we strolled past graves of poets, musicians, Mevlevi Lodge masters and their families, appreciating the unique tombstones, sitting with roaming cats. This time we thought, what in the museum that interested you most, might not be the ceremonial items, or musical instruments, cloaks, robes, turbans or hats. It would be the room with the display of various vessels, cooking utensils and cutlery all could have been used once, in the lodge kitchen centuries ago.
xoxo K+H July 31, 2019
Night cruise on Bosphorus,
With water on the horizon,
Moon and starry dome,
I give you Do Fu
K+H Aug. 1, 2019
(Traditional Turkish meal on a sini - 1)
Yesterday Orhan invited us to his cousin Hakan's house in Göynük for a sini - a traditional Turkish meal on large tray. The city is just four hours south of Istanbul. There were only four of us, Ka Sing and I, Orhan and Hakan. A large round brass tray was set outside his garden, where we sat surrounded by almond trees. I've never seen an almond tree before! 'Tis the harvest season and some hulls began to split open, exposing the almond shells. Our tray was placed atop a cloth on a sofra, raised several inches off the ground. Foods were arranged in small dishes around it. We put the edges of the cloth under the tray on our laps, and used it as a napkin... A breeze fanned by. See part II…
Love, K+H Aug 2, 2019.
Imagine the tray was two feet in diameter, on it a number of small metal dishes were laid. The centre dish was lamb and bean (etli kuru fasulye) immersed in tomato sauce. Two varieties of yaprak sarma (stuffed grape leaves): one filled with rice, currants and pine nuts, the other minced veal, onions, and bulgur. There were yogurt and pilav, and desserts like baklava, and hoshaf, which is sultana raisins in sweet syrup. Freshly baked rye bread as a good accompaniment, and we toasted our friendship with raki. You know, there are different names for raki, araki is one of them, Hakan said. Without saying a word, Ka Sing and I looked at each other and laughed.
xoxo Aug. 2, 2019
Did you take a bath in the famous Haseki Hamam last time? It is the beautiful building ./. the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Built by Sinan in 1556, commissioned by Hürrem Sultan - or Roxelana, the greatest love and wife of Ottoman Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. The hamam was operated until 1910.
After a massive restoration from 2008, it was reopened in 2011. If you were there you must have lain on their Marmara Marble floor, used their silk loincloths and gold coated bath bowls. Imagining yourself a sultan!
K&H Aug. 3, 2019.
Surprise. Orhan's cousin Hakan is planing to come to Toronto next Summer to open a Turkish coffee shop! He revealed to us that he has been saving up for years for this venture. He was glad to meet us, who travelled from Canada and wanted some advice. Even though I told him about the perils of running a business in Toronto, or any big cities, especially the one that you hardly know, he's not about to give up. Well, I guess we better start to use our coffee pot (they call it ibrik) before he comes, or we'll never use it.
K+H August 4, 2019.
Went to Ciya today and guess what? We met the founder Musa Dagdeviren! A documentary team from China was shooting in the restaurant, and Musa Dagdeviren was busy presenting his signature dishes...
xoxo K+H August 5, 2019.
We were so lucky Kai, to be able to talk to Musa Dagdeviren, turned out he's more than just a world-famous chef, his devotion to excavating and reviving Anatolian food is admirable (especially region of his birth place - Gaziantep’s Nizip district in south central Turkey). Politically active in his younger days, been arrested several times, loved theatres, concerts and literature. His biggest dream now is to open a cuisine institute. We told him we're his biggest fans and totally support his idea.
xoxo K+H Aug. 7, ’19
We ate a sucuk (soo-jook) brunch at Burç Ocakbaşı, located on a narrow side street off the Grand Bazaar. This down-to-earth grill house serves very tasty food from Gaziantep, the hometown of Musa Dagdeviren. Sucuk is basically prepared from ground beef with spices using the traditional methods of natural drying and fermentation. Our lunch consisted of slices pan fried sucuk served with Turkish cheeses, freshly-baked bread, olives, honey, fruit preserves and our favourite - foamy Turkish coffee.
xx K+H .Aug. 6 ’19.
By luck, we ate at Rejon, a kebab shop in an alley within the Grand Bazaar. We ordered Kilis tava, a thin meat patty eaten as it is done in Kilis, a town near Turkey’s southern border with Syria. The owner of Rejon, Durmuş bey prepared the thin patty of minced meat mixed with peppers, onions and spices and laying it over thinly sliced potatoes on a wide, round dish. The mixture was then covered with newspaper and walked over, through alleys and small passes to cook in the wood-burning oven at Ahmet’s kitchen —>P.T.O.—> After baking, the kebab was walked back and served on our table. The shop owner/butcher Durmuş bey ‘triples’ his duty as a Kilis kebab maker, and in fact most of the flatbreads in the Bazaar come from Ahmet's oven.
Love K+H Aug. 9, 2019
In the Museum of Innocence he said he'd spent the entire summer in 2011 writing notes under each cigarette butt that Füsun smoked. Notes like 'It's not what you think' or 'let nothing be forgotten'. And - what did she smoke? Samsun, a brand popular in the 70's. He even recorded a video the hand gestures Füsun made while smoking, from holding the cigarette, flicking the ash off its end to stubbing it out on the ash tray. In my memory, nobody has ever addressed the smoking culture in such detail and poetic ways like him. 4213 Cigarette butts from 1976 to 1984.
August 8, 2019
Şişhane, the underground station of the M2 line subway near Deniz Apartment. On and around the street where we live, are lined with traditional wooden houses, and we never get tired of looking at them, right? Very little pre-20th century domestic architecture remains in Istanbul, maybe about one percent of the original 150,000 wooden houses are still standing. The highest concentration of these aged houses is found in two districts: Suleymaniye and Zeyrek. Both were added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1985. In fact we're planning to go to Zeyrek and do a walking trip today…
K+H August 10, 2019.
We took a 90 minutes ferry trip to Büyükada, one of the Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara, to see Europe's largest wooden structure built in 1898. Originally conceived as a luxury casino hotel, it was turned into an orphanage in 1903, taken care of nearly 5,800 Greek Orthodox orphans until its closure in 1964. Once so gorgeous, this unique six-storey structure now looks like a haunted house, and in the danger of collapsing. A man in his 80s stood in front of it, with tears in his eyes, he murmured what happened to my house. Later we learned that he was an orphan there in 1938.
Love August 12, 2019.
Last day! We are drinking a Turkish wine Buzbağ tonight. After a sumptuous meal, this pungent and robust blend of boğazkere and öküzgözü (grapes unique to Turkey) is, to my limited palate, a delightful treat. Do you believe that there are no regulations on wine production in Turkey? The highest quality wines produced are based on reputation and integrity. But strange as it is, it's illegal to market or advertise Turkish wines in Turkey. For some good brands, Hakan advised us, look for (see front) good brands: Kavaklidere Yakut, Pasaeli Karasakiz or (see top) Doluca Klasik.
xx K+H August 13, 2019.
Instead of saying good-bye, we say "see you again Istanbul". Still too early to board, decided to visit the exhibition located at the Domestic Terminal Departures Floor. There we will see Ara Güler's Istanbul b/w photographs again. He died last year, just shortly after we three returned from the first trip of this great city. Got to go now to find Ptt - the bright yellow cone-shaped mail box…
xx K+H. See you very soon Aug. 14, 2019.
An end note
From Istanbul, these postcards have finally returned to Toronto and reached Kai - one on October 18 and, seventeen of them, on October 23, 2019. The cycle is complete, the story is complicated.
The three of us, Kai, Ka-sing and I went on a trip to Istanbul on October 4, 2018, and stayed there for almost two weeks, spending time together, eating, drinking, walking, sometimes arguing, seeing and feeling things in different ways, and tastes. When we came back to Toronto we decided to do a retrospect of this journey, only a year after. It did happen just two months ago, on October 5, 2019, as a one-day exhibition - AFTER ISTANBUL.
This little project POSTCARDS FROM ISTANBUL was actually conceived around March in 2019. Ka-sing participated with his diptych images from Istanbul and printed eighteen unique postcards. I would write little stories on each of them, send over to a friend Cem in Istanbul so he could mail them back one by one, to Kai. When Kai received them, he would believe we were again in that city.
Things did not go well. We sent the postcards as a parcel by air mail at the end of July, and Cem just missed them when he was on a trip visiting his mother in the south. The postcards were on the way back from Turkey. We received them back in mid-September, but in two separate patches, one arrived a few days earlier than the other. We considered it fortunate to receive the whole set and no postcard was missing! Still hoped to catch up with the exhibition, we resent the postcards to Istanbul by Express. However they returned to Kai only after the show. The surprise was still a surprise, but less excited.
Yet we’re still overwhelmingly glad to have them all returned, to complete the project, and as a souvenir for Kai. After all, they’d travelled twice to Istanbul, not by imagination.
Thank you Ka-sing, for your exquisite images of Istanbul, Cem, for your help to send them back (I still owe you stamp money), and Kai, for making a beautiful case for the postcards. For some time, I though I’d almost gone there for a second visit.
We plan to publish a print-on-demand small book on this series, which will be available in January, 2020.
Hand-made case by Kai Chan
A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine. Published on Fridays.
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Holly and Ka-sing currently live in Toronto with their daughter Iris, and their cat Sukimoto.