Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mall / Food / Universities

Today I left the usual tourist spots and took the subway to Cevahir Shopping Center, the world’s second largest mall located in Şişli, an affluent neighborhood. (The largest mall in the world is in West Edmonton, Canada; the third largest is the Mall of America in the States.) American architect Munoru Yamasaki designed Cevahir in 1987; it opened on October 15, 2005. I read that on November 14, 2006 St. Martin’s, the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), and Pradera Asset Management bought the mall for about $750 million. I don’t frequent malls often, but today I spent several hours exploring it. I especially liked Koç Taş, which is a comparatively more aesthetically organized sort of upscale Home Depot. (Well… maybe two hundred years from now someone will think of this mall as today’s Blue Mosque… not!) It’s like walking through Pentagon Mall near DC, or the Valley Fair Mall in Silicon Valley: the architecture, the set up, the stores, the food… they’re all the same (globalization indeed!), except that there’s a bit more glitter at Cevahir. The ceilings are way higher, there’s a lot of marble, steel and glass everywhere, and the floors are shinier; even the columns are shiny.
Oh yes, and the glass ceiling is a huge clock, the largest of its kind in the world; you can see the 12 in the picture below. (I couldn’t take too many pictures because a policeman told me it’s forbidden; and yes, as you enter, like in every museum or public building, here in Istanbul and at home in California, you go through a metal detector and your bags are x-rayed.) Like the bazaar, merchandise is grouped together (all shoes in one area, all home goods in another, etc.), and it was packed (think consumerism at its peak), but the mall is clearly orderly, clean, well-lit and very chichi. I walked all seven floors, which are connected by escalators, stairs and a glass elevator.
Two of the floors are dedicated just to food (including the perennial McD’s, Burger King and KFC), the top one for more formal restaurants. In a china store called Portland I ogled an exquisite porcelain $500 vase; and in Koç Taş I marveled at how anybody would take (what I imagine is way too much) time to arrange light bulbs so artistically. There’s a huge IMAX theater showing films from everywhere, but I decided to go out into the city and explore.

The metro ride was easy: everything’s labeled in both Turkish and English; the trains are super modern, fast, clean and the stations are decorated with murals (usually depicting life around the Bosphorus) done in new generation tiles from Iznik.

Şişli is one of the 32 districts of Istanbul on the European side. In the 17th century there were only graveyards there; in the 18th, vineyards and gardens were planted, but in the 19th, with the expansion of Istanbul, many immigrants and non-Muslims began to settle there. In 1913, after the first electric tram was installed, even more people moved in and many apartment buildings were built in the 1920s. After that modernization, Şişli became one of the most elite neighborhoods where the upper class and wealthy foreigners lived.

Today it continues to be a bustling religiously mixed and prosperous commercial and residential part of Istanbul where you can find many Muslim mosques, Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. The Jewish presence in this area is interesting: there’s the Şişli Beth Israel Synagogue at Efe Sokak No. 4, which is a very modern building and is supposed to be the center of the Jewish community.

I think I walked by the Italian Jewish Cemetery, but since it was closed and since I didn’t see the monumental Baroque gate the guidebook describes, I’m not exactly sure. It was founded to serve about 400 Jewish families who arrived from Crimea during 1854 and 1855 and it’s still active, though like many cemeteries in Istanbul, it’s not easily accessible. It used to be that cemeteries in Istanbul were located right in the middle of neighborhoods, but with modernization they were relocated outside the city, and thus are now barely seen. I liken that to moving Woodlawn Cemetery (in place since 1863) and its 300,000 graves (some of illustrious people like Herman Melville, Irving Belin, Fiorello LaGuardia and Otto Preminger), out of the north Bronx. What a loss that would be for that Bronx neighborhood! There are supposed to be many famous Istanbullus of the 19th century buried at the Italian Jewish Cemetery, and the tombstones are supposedly inscribed in Italian, English, French, German, Russian and Latin.

So yeah, I also want to tell you a little bit about the delicious food I've been eating. I'll be upfront: I've eaten one too many Turkish Delights and Baklava--and a whole lot of simits (think of New York size soft pretzels with toasted sesame seeds--yum!). Simits are so easy to eat on the run. They're sold in bakeries (along with a lot of other kinds of breads), in Simit Salons (along with coffee and chai, sort of like at Noah's Bagels), from carts and even trays on top of men's heads. They're 50 kurus (that's about forty cents) and for me they're a meal (not balanced eating... I know).

I've enjoyed the typical Turkish breakfast (though I'm totally ready for my usual oatmeal), which consists of several kinds of olives, raw tasty tomatoes and cucumbers, a few kinds of white cheeses, breads, jams, yogurt (did you know that Turkey introduced yogurt to the world?) and chai (strong tea) or coffee.

I won't try it, but everywhere you go you can also buy corn (imported from the States?) either boiled or roasted. There are carts in every nook and crany. And of course, there's pizza everywhere too. I’m not the best person to discuss all the delicacies available here (since I’m vegetarian and definitely not a "foodie"), but I can tell you about what I’ve smelled and seen while others eat. I’ll start with what you can find at restaurant row under the Galata Bridge. I walked through it today again, just to see what it’s like on a Sunday. It was packed with people eating fresh “fish between bread.” That’s what that place is famous for: (fried, sautéed, broiled, and in a few other ways) fish placed between two (sometimes more) pieces of either flat bread, baguettes, or fancy (like whole wheat with nuts) bread. If you want, they’ll put cilantro, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pepper, and sauce. It looks and smells delicious, but I'm leary because I see all those people fishing off the Galata Bridge and I know about all those tankers that spill oil into the Bosphorus, and all the cars that have accidentally fallen in (not to mention the bodies in the cars), all the garbage thrown in by cruise ships, ferries, people...yikes!

People seem to eat a lot of roasted lamb--with rice, in stews, in sandwiches, in fancy restaurants and on the streets. Pierced huge chuncks can be seen at stalls and carts everywhere (imagine what our Health Department would say about that). The vendor (99 percent of the time a man) pulls out a looong blade and slices pieces according to how much you order. Then, depending on your preference, he puts the pieces over rice, in a sauce or in a huge baguette sandwich. You wash that down with Coke or Pepsi. Borek is everywhere too. They're the Turkish version of a spring meat roll. As a main meal it can be served with a shepherd's salad (chopped cilantro, parsley, tomatoes, onions, vinegar and olive oil), or on the run it too can go in between bread.

I've also had a lot of chai--both the Turkish version (which is just tea, mostly apple flavor with tons of added sugar and served in a pretty tulip-shaped glass--I skip the sugar) and the chai latte made with soy from Starbucks. Other than the Cappadocian white wine (did you know that wine has been produced for millenia in Turkey? Right now there are about 50 operating wineries in different regions; the most famous ones are Okuzgozu, Bogazkere, Narince and Kalecik Karasi), I also tried Raki. A tiny sip was enough for me. Raki is a traditional Turkish drink made from grapes and raisins and flavored with pungent anise. Usually you dilute it with water and it turns a milky color. But even diluted it is way too strong.

A couple of days ago, I met my colleague from the Interior Design Department at WVC, Çiğdem (she's Turkish and is here on vacation), and we visited Kadir Has University where we talked with the Department Chair of Architecture/Interior Design about a possible faculty and student exchange program between the schools. The university is in a beautifully re-designed old building located in Cibali overlooking Haliç (the Golden Horn); from 1884 until 1995 when it was abandoned, it used to a tobacco warehouse and factory until 1998 when it was renovated and then opened as a school in January 2002. Kadir Hasoglu, the business man who established the university, died just two days ago at age 89.
Like so many of these new private universities in Turkey, the “mission of Kadir Has Univeristy is to help the public and private sectors prepare for EU accession.” Çiğdem spoke with representatives at the other universities that have Interior Design programs that we're considering. They include Bahçeşehir University located in Beşiktaş overlooking the Bosphorus (which was founded in 1998 by Bahçeşehir Uğur Educational Institutions), and Bilkent University in Ankara, which was founded in 1984 by Ihsan Dogramaci.

I'm really fascinated by the surge of private for profit universities in the 1990s (for example, Koç University that was established by Vehbi Koç Foundation in 1993; I posted pictures in a previous entry). They are all modeled after American universities, all the teaching is done in English, and they all seem to have very explicit political and economic aims. I started reading a 2006 dissertation (titled Histories, Institutional Regimes and Educational Organizations: The Case of Turkish Higher Education by Zeynep Erden who says that in the 1980s Turkey experienced a great deal of Americanization and economic development, and when the government eased control of education and laws were changed to allow individuals and foundations to set up private universities, they "were seen as a force that would bring competition in the higher education field. Hence, in addition to the control of the state, now it was time for market forces to increase the variety of services as well as to increase the quality of education due to expected competition among higher education organizations" (60).

(No, I don't have too much time of my hands, it's just that the issue is really interesting. After all, these institutions are training the future political and economic leaders of Turkey, especially since 9/11 when it became so difficult, particularly for Muslims, to study in the States. That's a lot of power for those universities.)

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