Wednesday, October 17, 2012

WHERE THE GOLDEN HORN MEETS THE BOSPHORUS


Guest post from David Joslyn:

Finding the Galata Bridge on your first visit to Istanbul is like discovering the center of the universe, where dozens of cargo barges, huge water taxis and tourist cruise ships crisscross the golden Horn that flows under it in a never ending mish mass of maritime movement,  a constant flow of ocean vessels visible in the distance carrying oil and grain, sharing the narrow Bosphorus passage with naval ships of all sizes as they move from the Mediterranean through the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and back.  One of the busiest and most exciting trading centers in the world, where the past races by the present, full steam into the future, where Europe and Asia blend together in a cacophony of colorful dress, multiple cultures, and a myriad of languages, Istanbul represents a Turkey hell-bent on being a constructive player on the World stage.
Majestically guarding the narrow space between the historically rich Sultanahmet, Seraglio Point, and the Bazaar Quarters of the city with its majestic Topkapi Palace, endlessly chaotic Grand Bazaar,  imposing Hagia Sophia,  spacious Suleymaniye mosque and quietly overwhelming Blue mosque on one side, and the more modern albeit funky, occasionally Bohemian Beyoglu Hill on the other side, stands the two tiered Galata Bridge over which armies of people walk, drive, and ride the buses and trams every day to get to work, shop, or sightsee, like us on a warm day in September, on our recent visit to Turkey.  This bridge, and the Karakoy and Eminonu neighborhoods at each end, from where the huge passenger ferries take off for Asian Istanbul, is the sweet spot of this city, where a  variety of wonderful traditional food begs you to stop, sit, rest awhile, and eat.

Dozens of exciting fish Lokantas (restaurants) perch along the length of the lower level of both sides of the Galata bridge, an amazing place for a cup of thick, rich coffee in the morning, a leisurely lunch, or late night multi course dinner when regulars and tourists, side by side, order platters of meze (small plate appetizers) that might include baked, sautéed or marinated sweet peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant accompanied by salad, flat bread and haidari (garlic laced yogurt). But it usually doesn’t stop there:  combinations of steamed midye (mussels), grilled ahtapot (octopus), marinated calamari (squid), fried sardalya (fresh sardines) and hamsi (anchovy), and broiled levrek (sea bass, most likely farmed) and cipura (bream) all await the hungry diners.
 

“Exciting”, rather than “Elegant”, would describe the eating experience on the Galata Bridge.  So for a quieter and somewhat more upscale experience there are several places nearby, such as Pasazade, offering excellent lamb shanks on the quieter Ibni Kemal Cadessi, around the corner from the converted bath house where a stimulating dance show Hodja Pasha should not be missed. Better yet try the much acclaimed and therefore more expensive Lokanta Maya on the Karakoy side a couple of blocks up Kemankes Caddesi, making sure you order the zucchini fritters, caramelized sea bass, marinated bonito, and garlic laced shrimp.  In either case, a bottle of Kavaklidere Ancyra Bogazkere or Cankaya will bring old world Anatolian grapes right to your table.

But, a prolonged stop somewhere  along the seemingly mile long restaurant that is the lower level of the Galata Bridge, with its unimpeded views of the waters of the Golden Horn blending with those of the Bosphorus and a most diverse and attractive parade of humanity, will reward you with a most unforgettable sense of the vibrant heartbeat of Istanbul.



David Joslyn, having lived in Chile, Ecuador, Italy, and Costa Rica, and worked throughout the world in international development, now splits his life between Santiago, Chile, where as a Peace Corps Volunteer he married his Chilean wife Ximena, and Leesburg, Virginia. He is a private consultant who also writes leisurely about Chile, good and not-so-food, wine, and the wonderful people he has met in his travels. He blogs at: http://daveschile.blogspot.com

   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

THE GOLD COAST


 


This old drawing doesn't show the the Gold Coast in Australia, Long Island or Florida. It depicts Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast in Ghana. The gold that gave its name to the Ghanaian coastline wasn’t only the shiny metal from the African hinterland. After the establishment of plantations in the New World it was the money earned from the trade in slaves who supplied the labor that made the plantations of coffee and sugar cane so obscenely profitable.

Ghana hosts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites memorializing this horrific past, Cape Coast Castle and St George’s Castle in Elmina. Our visit to Ghana was a chance to see them. The route led us from the dock in Takoradi, piled high with manganese to be shipped to China, along the coastal road lined with a seemingly endless landscape of tiny shops and stands. 


The shops were proof that despite evident poverty the spirit of enterprise was alive and well but this time led by locals, not foreign invaders. Set between flame trees and ancient crumbling Portuguese buildings the miles of shipping containers and shacks offered services of every kind. The names painted above the shop doors simply begged us to enter: God is Able Hardware, By the Grace Phone Repairs, Love of Jesus Restaurant, Adam Food Joint, Humble Works Furniture and God First Vulcanizing. Even the battered Surely Goodness and Mercy ambulance awaited business by the roadside – not for us I prayed.


Our first stop was Cape Coast Castle where the emotional impact of what the slave trade really meant to the people involved was overwhelming. The massive two-story whitewashed fortress is one of best preserved of what had been 37 strung along a 300 mile section of the African coast where access to the interior was relatively easy. As a consequence Germans, Dutch, Danes, Portuguese, Swedes and the British battled for control, the latter eventually pushing everyone else out. Swedish traders first built a trading post for the export of timber and gold. The Dutch converted the building into a castle in 1637; after which it changed hands between the European powers five times over 13 years until the Brits grabbed it in 1664, holding on until Ghana’s independence in 1957, the first African colony to  succeed in ridding themselves of overlords.   

We crossed the parade ground to look at the remaining canons that still overlook the coast and to visit the room used as a chapel where the masters gave thanks on Sunday for their profits, as the source of that wealth - the captives - struggled to survive in the slave pens below. These dungeons held up to a thousand men and five hundred women at a time with no light or sanitation for up to twelve weeks as they awaited  their walk through the Gate of No Return and shipment to the New World or, more likely, death on board a slave ship. It was beyond horrifying. I could not, did not want to, imagine how anyone could survive in such conditions.


The slave trade was abolished by Great Britain in 1808 although the Royal Navy was intercepting slavers off the African coast until 1860. I wondered what an Englishman who visited in 1835 really saw when he wrote that the castle presented a “handsome appearance…with its high white walls founded on a ledge of granite extending into the sea; and against which the bright green and white surf dashed incessantly with a heavy roar…”

When we walked through the infamous Gate, the same green and white surf was still evident. But instead of slave ships a brilliant scene of red, blue, yellow or green striped fishing boats drawn up on the beach delighted our eyes. Seemingly heedless of the past, fishermen dried and mended their nets and women gathered the catch to take to market.




Despite this attractive scene we were lost in contemplation of the mindless cruelty always present in human existence.







 
 
The visit to equally  massive St. George's Castle in Elmina, menacing since 1482 but now brilliant white and looking innocent  until we looked closely, only confirmed that human greed is an all-too-common trait and that we need to look in our own hearts on a regular basis to see what is really inside.

Unfortunately it is much easier to look at the colorful fishing boats in the nearby port and the lovely flame trees than it is to examine one's soul.

Lest we forget.








Drawings of Cape Coast and St. George's Castles courtesy of hitchock.itc.virginia.edu. Photos by author.