Istanbul – not Constantinople

The last leg of our eurotour was Istanbul. We kept the best till last! We had the extra pleasure of sharing our last week or so with my brother Chris who lives in Vienna and was able to join us on the Istanbul trip.

Chris boarding the train to Istanbul

I’ve always wanted to come to this city lying at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. It is the most ancient city I’ve stayed in and it’s amazing how so much of it’s 2000+ year history is still clearly present and legible. There are significant buildings on the skyline of the old part of the city dating from almost every century starting from the 6thC Ayasofya. It’s great detective work teasing apart the various cultural and historic layers, trying to understand what is Byzantine, Ottoman, Christian, and Muslim – like the sticky pastry layers of an ancient baklava.

Sunset from the Golden Gate

East meets West

You can see lots of images of the city on Sandra’s weblog.

The main reason we came to Istanbul however was to experience the music here. We were fortunate in our timing to be able to join in on the first week of Dore Stein’s Tangential Turkey Tour. Dore is the mastermind of Tangents which is far and away my favourite radio program – 8pm-12am every Saturday on KALW – you can stream it live if your not in the SF Bay Area.
Tangents has been a huge influence on my musical tastes since moving to SF. I was excited to be able to spend more time with Dore and to get a chance to experience the musicians he has gotten to know in this richly musical city.

Our first tangential musical encounter was the amplified chorus of the muezzin’s calls to prayer blaring from every mosque in the city 5 times per day. To strangers it’s evocative and poetic The changing chorus as you move around the city and different mosques take the lead has a haunting Steve Reichian quality.

Looking to Allah

As part of our tour we enjoyed a series of concerts over several days at great, intimate venues all over the city.

The first night we say Turkish jazz with percussionist Engin Gürkey’s 5 piece band featuring violinist Turay Dinleyen and a great assortment of guest artists at a cool little jazz club called Nardis, just below the Galata tower.

The next afternoon we visited the studio of famed percussionist, drummer and instrument inventor Okay Temiz.

Okay Temiz

OK! Sandra!

The next night we caught a ferry to Kadakoy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus to dine with and then enjoy a performance by Sumru Ağıryürüyen accompanied by the versatile and sensitive guitarist Cenk Erdogan at a great little club called Guitar Cafe that opened just for our group. You can see a movie of a song from the performance here (make sure it loads fully before you begin the playback!)

Sumru and Cenk at the Guitar Cafe

And finally Roma clarinetist Selim Sesler (featured in Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul) with his incredibly energetic and accomplished band, in another tiny dinner club overlooking bustling Istiklal Cadessi.

Selim Sesler and band

Selim Sesler and band

We also visited Faradan, a well known traditional instrument maker, in his tiny apartment which was essentially a museum of instruments from Asia Minor, many of which he had created from research into historical miniature paintings. I was tempted by a beautiful juniper wood balağmathat he had made but decided to continue researching my options before committing. We spent some time in his tiny, hole-in-the-wall workshop. It’s amazing how such immaculate instruments can be built in such cramped and seemingly chaotic conditions.

Faradan playing the balağma

Faradan's tiny, cramped, seemingly chaotic workshop

Faradan's miniscule machine shop

A coopered Oud body under construction

No musical tour of Istanbul is complete without a visit to Galip Dede Caddessi which winds it’s way up from the monumental Galata Tower. This street is literally crammed with instrument stores.

Our first stop to load up on CD’s was Laleplak (Galip Dede Caddessi no 1, Tünel, Byöglu). Then we drooled down the hill enjoying all the little boutique music stores (stopping for Turkish coffee and baklava of course) until coming to Barok Musik 2 (no. 64) where I had an introduction to the charming and enthusiastic multi-instrumentalist and great salesman Berkant Kaya. Berkant spent ages with me explaining and demonstrating lots of different instruments while fielding constant interruptions by customers from all over Turkey looking for specialty instruments. I finally settled on a beautiful, locally made, long-necked balağma made from olive wood. I’m looking forward to levering open the door to traditional and contemporary Turkish music with my new balagma in the new year.

Thank you Dore and Berkant!!

Excursions

The Netherlands is so tiny that getting to the other major cities is just a day-trip by train from Amsterdam.

We had to visit the Design Academy in Eindhoven where so many renowned Dutch designers have studied – Marcel Wanders, Hella Jongerieus, Maarten Baas, Jurgen Bey, Toord Boontje, Piet Hein Eek and Richard Hutten to name a few. Clearly they must be doing something right!!

We were warmly welcomed by the chairwoman of the board Anne Mieke Eggenkamp and the director of international programs Yolande von Kessel. We had a great discussion about contemporary design education and the contrasts between the model at CCA and that at DAE. Yolande took us on a tour of the facilities. I was very impressed with the workshop facilities. They are even better than CCA’s with a lot more equipment and room for students to work. There are facilities for metalworking, woodworking, plastic and resin, plaster mold making and screen printing; all in one large space with some divisions where necessary overseen by a team of technicians. Their is even a tiny foundry! The workshops are open from 9am-10pm from Monday through Friday only!! My students at CCA would rebel at such limited access. The design studios seemed much less used or useful than CCA’s which are always packed with students, their work and their energy. DAE’s design studios are used in a very flexible, open manner and as a result aren’t used as a home base or dedicated professional studio by the students. The cafe was great – beer on tap and foosball!!!

We talked about the potential for student and faculty exchange and for cross-institutional projects. I’m hopeful we can grow our collaboration and have a meaningful exchange between CCA and DAE.

DAE workshops

DAE workshops

DEA workshops - metal machining area

DAE workshops - metal machining area

Cafe

Cafe

My next day-trip pilgrimage was to the Rietveld Schroder House in Utrecht. I lecture about this iconic building in my history of furniture course and have always wanted to walk around in it and see its ‘swiss army knife’ features in operation. The house is part of the collection of the Central Museum in Utrecht and the museum provides bicycles for visitors to pedal between the museum and the house – a great way to get a feel for the suburban environment in which the house was built.

Rietveld Schroder House

Rietveld Schroder House

At the time it was built the house was right on the edge of Utrecht. It finished a a street of row houses and beyond it was fields. Now it overlooks a small highway and the suburbs beyond.

The house is well titled as it was a collaboration between Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schroder. It is unique in Rietveld’s ouvre even though many of its features show up in his other architectural projects. It is clear that Schroder had her own ideas about how the house should function and that her thinking was as instumental in the design as his and that his subsequent work incorporated ideas clarified in collaboration with her.

Its great to walk into the second floor space now and feel how open and airy it is. The interior was built for Mrs. Schroder who was a small woman but it doesn’t feel constricted – unlike most of Frank Lloyd Wright’s interiors for example. All of the interior walls fold away into stub walls and dedicated closets so that almost the entire space can be opened up with windows on three sides. When all of the walls are pulled out and connected the space becomes cosy and private. The transformation is remarkably efficient and straightforward and Truus Schroder lived in and operated the house for 60 years from the day it was finished in 1924 until her death in 1985 (at age 95).

She also raised three children in the tiny house despite the fact that the house was generally abhorred by the neighbors who forbade their children from visiting the house or playing with the Schroder children.

The kitchen downstairs

The kitchen downstairs

The kid's bedrooms upstairs with the walls pulled back

The kid's bedrooms upstairs with the walls pulled back

The lounge area upstairs (Can one lounge in a Rietveld space?)

The lounge area upstairs (Can one lounge in a Rietveld space?)

I loved all of the moveable details especially the central staircase (to the left above) which can completely close up to keep the lounge area cosy and separate the living areas upstairs from the kitchen and office space downstairs.

If the museum ever chooses to de-accession the house I’ll sign up to move in. It is still eminently livable; much more so than its contemporary neighbors.

You can find a zooming panorama of the outside of the house here.

Wall plaques of Amsterdam

Amsterdam is such a great city just to walk around in. Its tiny, its NOT based on  grid which means you can get lost and meander around, there are canals everywhere to refresh and provide great vistas. The only hair-raising part is the hoards of dedicated cyclists whizzing by chatting on their cell phones, smoking cigarettes and chatting to the children draped on the handlebars or built-in carriers – all at the same time. Its real easy to get skittled as you gawk around at the architecture and canal boats and whizzing bicycles. So it was at great risk to life and limb that I bring you this little collection of wall plaques.

Most of the traditional buildings in and around the canal ring have these terracotta or stone plaques imbedded in their masonry walls. Originally they indicated the trades of the people who owned the buildings but they now represent the history of the building itself or probably a more ironic or aspirational comment by the present owner who restored the building.  The animals have more poetic meanings – heraldic beasts, totemic icons, creatures recalled from exotic travels, domestic pets perhaps or even a caricature of the owner?

The stork - bringer of babies!

The stork - bringer of babies!

Watercarrier

Watercarrier

A cooper?

A cooper?

Th boatman from 1699. The oldest one I found.

The boatman from 1699. The oldest one I found.

More blessings!

More blessings!

Every man's home ...

Every man's home ...

The castle that sucks up money? Or that changes silver into gold?

The castle that sucks up money? Or that changes silver into gold?

The real source of money!

The real source of money!

And then there’s all the animals!!

The musical herring

The musical herring

The white elephant

The white elephant

One of my favorites, the penguin. Nice colors.

One of my favorites, the penguin. Nice colors.

Tiger tiger burning bright ...

Tiger tiger burning bright ...

Amsterdam

Sandra wondering if the lean on the buildings is just a side effect of caffeine withdrawal

Sandra wondering if the lean on the buildings is just a side effect of caffeine withdrawal

The next stop on the Europe tour has been Amsterdam. The first trip to the Netherlands for both of us. I was looking forward to visiting the capital of early 21stC design thinking. The fact that almost the entire country has been designed and constructed is unique – the dutch have a saying that ‘god may have made the world but the dutch made the netherlands’.

In Amsterdam we splurged and decided to stay on two houseboats. This was a great choice. One, because it meant that we didn’t have to schlepp huge suitcases up and down flights of narrow stairs. Two, because it felt like we were living in Amsterdam rather than visiting as we had a lounge room and kitchen and could relax, spread out and even cook at ‘home’. And three, because the canals are still the heart of this city in many ways and we were able to see so much just from our waterfront windows.

With our friend Anter cruising past our first houseboat on the Prinsengracht

With our friend Anter cruising past our first houseboat on the Prinsengracht

My first visit was with the  world renowned designer and co-founder of Droog, Gijs Bakker. We arrived in Amsterdam on the last day of an interesting retrospective exhibition of jewelry work by Gijs and his late wife Emmy van Leersum at the Oude Kerk – the oldest church in Amsterdam which is ironically (or appropriately) located in the heart of the redlight district.

Gijs in the pulpit!

Gijs in the pulpit!

Gijs held a conversation on this last afternoon regarding the work on show, his creative collaboration with Emmy and the state of contemporary design. It was moving listening to Gijs talk about his life and work with Emmy in the ancient church. The church itself has 2,500 huge slate slabs forming the floor and each one is a tombstone. Over 10,000 Amsterdamers are buried under the church floor. A fitting scene for recalling memories of lost ones.

Engraved floor slab tombstone

Engraved floor slab tombstone

Windsurfing was invented in Amsterdam!

Windsurfing was invented in Amsterdam!

Gijs has recently parted company with Droog in well publicized separation which is dicussed on his website. But he was joyous about the prosepct of having more time to devote to his own design work and to the jewelry collective chi ha paura …? – which translates as “who’s afraid of ….?”

He also talked about the increasing attention to the ‘slow movement’ in contemporary design.

The following day Gijs welcomed Sandra and I into his wonderful home and studio in a stately old townhouse facing on the Keizersgracht. We were surrounded by interesting artwork and design prototypes and enjoyed tea and cake while chatting about a huge range of topics. Gijs was about to fly to Taipei for an intensive teaching workshop but was relaxed and charming and made it clear that it was important to take time and savour life’s encounters.

To see more of contemporary Dutch jewelry design check out www.op-voorraad.blogspot.com.

The San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design will be hosting an exhibition of chi ha paura …? opening on January 15th 2010! Gijs will be in San Francisco for the event. Stay tuned to SFMC+D website for announcements of public programs around the opening and Gijs’ visit to SF.

Gijs' desk. How could you get anything done with a view like this?

Gijs' desk. How could you get anything done with a view like this?