Winter Sleep at the Cornerhouse

When Nuri Bilge Ceylan gave his acceptance speech for receiving the Palme d’Or for this film, he dedicated it to the “young people of Turkey, many of whom have lost their lives in the past year”[1], an oblique reference to the recent protests and mining disasters. The director of this 197 minute-long opus has also said in an interview that the central character of Aydın is “a typical Turkish intellectual”[2]. These two facts together tell us much about how this film is commenting on Turkish society.

One could easily dismiss it as typical art house cinema. Its sheer length will no doubt put many off. It lacks ‘action’ in the sense that we have become accustomed to expecting from films. By the end, we might feel as though nothing has happened – but we should be mistaken to think so. For over three hours, and many, many scenes of just dialogue, we creep deeper into the trapped and stultified lives of Aydın, an ex-actor turned hotel owner in the harsh landscape of Cappadocia, his divorced sister Necla and wife Nihal. The conversations of these characters simply are the drama: wandering and meandering, they are undoubtedly long, and that is their strength: pleasantries and everyday affectations come one moment, then a series of implied insults, a smirk, a sigh, a forced smile, silence, and then back to pleasant chatter. By these circuitous scenes of dialogue we learn more about the self-importance of Aydın – his pontificating articles in the local newspaper, his disdain for his pauper of an Imam and tenant Hamdi, his tiresome sense of being a self-made man and lordly ruler of his small kingdom. Necla, his sister, brims with a passive aggression towards Nihal and Aydın that has clearing being steeping for many years; one senses that her keen words of criticism have been carefully rehearsed in her mind. Yet it is Nihal’s contempt for Aydın that is most striking. Her fair face shows us a woman withering away, fraught with spite, yet succeeding to distract herself with philanthropy – until Aydın learns of it, cuts it down with a few patronising remarks and takes it from her.

The powerful social critique expressed in the film reaches its peak when Nihal decides to donate a very large sum of money to her husband’s tenants. Does she do it to solely alleviate her conscience or in a genuine attempt to improve the family’s situation? Whatever the reason, her gesture is seen by Ismail, the imam’s brother, as utterly insulting and humiliating. Although she seems to seek to abolish the existing economical hierarchy that defines the relationship between the tenants and her husband and herself, she only reaffirms the pervasive social hierarchy that exists between the two families. Expecting gratitude, or acquiescence, she is confronted to Ismail’s pride and hostility. She then perhaps realises how degrading her initiative is, giving charity to the very same people disgraced by her husband. The hierarchy is equally maintained by the fact that Aydın insists on charging the tenants for the rent. If he is as wealthy as he gives to understand, why does he not simply allow them to live in the house for free? Or would that, again, be an act of unwanted charity?

The notions of morals and conscience are underlying in all the conversations between the characters, who use them to undermine each other’s actions and thoughts. Although Aydın believes he is a man of good conscience, his sister Necla makes a point out of showing him it is nothing but an illusion, a way for him to keep on living his deluded life. Nihal violently puts him in front of his contradictions: all those morals he constantly talks about, isn’t he the very person who lacks them the most? With their self-righteousness, the three of them seek to justify their own acts, words, and thoughts, in order to disguise their deep uneasiness towards each other and towards the members of the community around them.

The study of these faces showing and hiding back their emotions, as they are lit by flickering log fires in the cavernous rooms of the hotel, are fascinating enough to keep one’s attention throughout these conversations. And yet, in between these scenes, there are also some astonishing shots of the barren countryside as it slowly slips on a spotless blanket of snow. The wisps of fog clinging and passing through the fingers of grass in the first shot alone could not fail to catch one’s eye. The frozen beauty of snowy Cappadocia adds aesthetical substance to the powerful psychological drama taking place.

Toward the end, where the film swells to a dénouement, we are tempted to be enticed by the rakish smile of Aydın as he stares straight at us, his grey hear whirling in the wind, and as we hear his voice reading out his letter to his wife to ask for her forgiveness. Yet the following sight of Nihal, staring lifelessly onto the floor, without even the energy to cry any longer, reminds us of Necla’s words to him:

“Butün meselen ne senin, biliyor musun? Sen, acı çekmemek için, kendini kandırmayı tercih ediyorsun.”

“You know what your problem is? In order not to suffer, you prefer to fool yourself.”

The word ‘Aydın’ means ‘intellectual’ in Turkish. Together with the remarks mentioned at the beginning by Ceylan, we can see that this is all that is left of the bourgeoisie in Turkey: feeling increasingly alienated from the religious and impoverished masses, they distract themselves by being charitable to avoid waking from their deep slumber, to avoid seeing the republic of their long-misplaced ideals, a republic in decline.

You can see Winter Sleep at the Cornerhouse on Oxford Street until the 30th of November, in Turkish with English subtitles.

This is an article co-written with Mehmet Çiftçi.

[1] http://www.vulture.com/2014/05/17-things-to-know-about-cannes-winner-nuri-bilge-ceylan.html

[2] http://www.screendaily.com/festivals/cannes/nuri-bilge-ceylan-winter-sleep/5072348.article

The picture is from The Playlist.

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#Şiirsokakta – Poetry on the streets of Istanbul

Saying that Istanbul is a city full of surprises is a terribly ordinary statement, and euphemism at its finest. Whoever has been to this marvelous metropolis would agree with me. Şiir sokakta, literally « poetry on the street », is one of those surprises. As I was strolling around the Cihangir area looking for The Museum of Innocence (more to come about that in a future article), I saw that the facade of some houses were covered with quotations and poems. My knowledge of the Turkish language being rather limited, I struggled to understand them, but nonetheless took pictures of them to try and translate them later with the help of a dictionary. It turned that they were quite complex, and I had to ask my Turkish friends for extra help.

While most of these poems were about love, beauty or life, some of them had a political dimension.

I would like to introduce you to my favorite ones, that were all located on a beautiful blue and pink building on the way between Tophane and the Galata Tower.

The first one that caught my attention, and that happens to be my favorite was written by Özdemir Asaf, as I found out upon investigating. The translation goes as follows : ‘She (he) said wait I will come back and then she (he) was gone/I did not wait/she (he) did not come back/it was something like death/but nobody died’.

The second one is only a sentence : ‘It was the happiest time of my life, but I did not know.’ It appears to be the first sentence of Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, which narrates the tragic love story of Kemal and Füsun, in mid-1970s Istanbul. Although I have visited the museum itself, I am still reading the book, so more to come about it in the future.

I could not establish the origin of this particular one. If someone knows who wrote it please let me know ! The translation is : ‘It seems that as beautiful this city is, as blue the sea is ‘.

Another one, written by Metin Altıok, is, I think, rather mysterious : ‘It is as if me and mine / in front and behind / in the corridor of me.’ If you have an alternative translation please let me know, because as you can see this one is rather clumsy. This is only part of a stanza in the poem ‘Kendinin Avcısı’, which you can find here.

Finally, this one, written by the popular poet Edip Cansever proved to be extremely hard to translate. Instead of providing an approximative translation, I would rather simply share the picture with you, until I manage to find a good one. Same, if you do have one, please let me know, and you will be rewarded with my eternal gratitude (or a coffee !). It’s been brought to my attention by a friend of mine that this quote is a part of a very long poem titled ‘Sera Oteli’, which you can find here.

If you type #siirsokakta into Twitter or Instagram, you will be able to find an extened collection of poetical graffitis in Turkish. I find this initiative very intriguing. Taking poetry to the streets is something that I greatly praise, as being yet another way of sharing the beauty that words can create.

Breakfast @ Lazare, the award-winning train station brasserie

French people do not eat croissants everyday, despite the stereotype. Even more now that I have spent time in Manchester, I have always been more of a porridge or muesli kinda person (I will probably have my passport taken away from me for saying that!). However, when in Paris, I wouldn’t say no to a nice pain au chocolat, especially from Chef Eric Frechon’s new brasserie.

My experience of railway station dining so far has been utterly disappointing industrial sandwiches and very expensive tasteless salads. Not great, hence my scepticism about having breakfast at the Saint-Lazare station.
I was then delightfully surprised when we entered Lazare, which far from being your average train station food outlet, is in fact an award-winning brasserie (Brasserie of the year by the Guide Pudlo in 2014). Located in the shopping arcade in the station between two random chain shops, I would have never guessed such a place would have taken up residence there. But oh well!

The main sitting room is elegantly decorated, with dark wood, comfortable chairs, and white crockery.
We showed up fairly early on a Saturday morning, so it was virtually empty. The service was good and very neat, like you would expect in this kind of restaurant. Luckily the waiter did not have this “too good for you” attitude that waiters in this kind of places sometimes have, and was very attentive.

The breakfast menu is very concise, you can either have a croissant (or pain au chocolat), or tartines (fresh baguette topped with butter and jam), and you can choose from a range of hot beverages and freshly squeezed orange juice. Quite traditional, and very French indeed.

Individually, the items on the menu are very pricey (around 7€ for a cappuccino, 3€ for a croissant), but if you come before 11am you pay 10€ for a hot drink, an orange juice (fresh), and a croissant/pain au choc/tartine. Considering that a similar breakfast in an average brasserie in the area would cost you around 8€, it is quite reasonably priced. But now, what makes the difference between the breakfast at Lazare and that of an “average brasserie”?

First of all, the pain au chocolat that I had was very good: not too buttery and the chocolate inside was very fine. I believe that all pain au chocolat weren’t created equal, and this one was definitely at the top. My parents had a croissant and a tartine, which according to them were equally good. The drinks however weren’t outstanding, still better than the bottled orange juice that we had the following morning in said average brasserie. The cappuccino, although topped with an impressive asymmetrical foam, was not exceptionally good.

All in all, Lazare is a pleasant place, the breakfast is simple yet of good quality, and the service is spotless. I would not specifically go out of my way to have breakfast there, but if you are around Saint-Lazare with an empty stomach, it is a good place to go. If you intend to have lunch or dinner there though, I think you should book well in advance, as it is quite a trendy venue.

This is the last post with bad pictures, as I have finally retrieved my camera, which I had forgotten at home when I moved back to Manchester in September (how could I, I wonder…). Next post will be about a place in Manchester, now that I am back here!

Restaurant Lazare Paris
Parvis de la Gare Saint-Lazare, Rue Intérieure, 75008 Paris
+33 1 44 90 80 80

‘Je m’appelle Niki de Saint Phalle et je fais des sculptures monumentales’ – Exhibition at the Grand Palais

As a child I grew up in a very much culture oriented environment. Being a millennial little girl also inclined me to appreciate female artists. I was thus, by the age of 8ish, able to say that Niki de Saint Phalle was one of my favourite artists, after seeing a documentary broadcast after her death in 2002.
However, at such a young age, what fascinated me about Niki was her project for a park inspired by Gaudi’s Parque Guell, and Les Nanas, those big, colourful sculptures of figuratively powerful women, which is what she is mostly remembered for.


I then, somehow, moved on and forgot about her. However, when an exhibition dedicated to her at the Grand Palais coincided with me randomly spending a weekend in Paris, I decided to give it a chance and go.
For those who do not know her, Niki de Saint Phalle is French and American sculptor and painter born in the 1930s in an aristocratic family, and was educated in a convent. She was raped by her father as a child, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman. After being a model, she decided to dedicate her life to art, recognising the healing power it had on her tortured mind.
The exhibition was chronologically organised, to reflect the artist’s evolution. If at first, she represented violence through collages, under the concept of creation through destruction, she then moved on to making pieces representing an extremely deep psychological insight and reflection.

She strongly believed in woman empowerment, and conceived and represented women as protective, creative, loving, and complex. She believed that with the failure of Communism and Capitalism, what the world needed (and probably still needs) was a matriarchal society, giving a political dimension to her art. Through Les Nanas, those gigantic sculptures, she sought to represent women in and of power, women with attitude, seeking greatness, ready to take over a world ‘where everything was invented by guys’, in her own words.

What impresses most now is her reflection on love and relationships, through a series of drawings made in the late 1960s. Her drawings ‘what shall I do now that you’ve left me?’ and ‘why don’t you love me?’ depict the distress that love, and lack of reciprocity in love, can cause.
Another one titled ‘could we have loved?’ explores the unstable dimension of the concept of soulmate on which we always seek to base our love relationships: ‘had we met some other time could it have been you instead of him?’ She addresses the issue of possibility and commitment, but also of deep love and the intimacy it supposes: ‘my love what are you doing?’, ‘are you you driving your new car/are you drinking bloody mary?’

 

She also reflected on her background and her relationship with religion, and her parents.
Although she saw women as loving and protective, she also made a series of sculptures titled ‘The devouring mothers’, in which she gruesomely represented the endless (emotional?) greed of women, mothers, her mother, and the petty bourgeois routine characteristic of her family’s social background. Instead of colorful opulent women, these sculptures represent ridiculous fat ladies with greyish hair, old-fashioned purses and dresses, and pearl necklaces. The film ‘Daddy’, directed in 1973, seeks to openly address the abuse she suffered, imposed on her by her father, with crudeness, exposing the facts as they were in an attempt to show everyone what happened.

Niki de Saint Phalle used different techniques to express herself, including a very peculiar one: she would shoot on a blank canvas with a rifle, aiming at bags full of paint, which would then explode and drip. The canvas itself would be a sculpture: objects stuck to, or carved into a blank surface. With this comes again the theme of creation through destruction. According to the artist herself, she was literally shooting ‘on violence’, hers and that of her time. The shooting session were often made public and some of them were even shown on TV.  Here is a link to a video showing them.

Upon seeing this impressive exhibition I discovered that there was much more to Niki de Saint Phalle than colourful sculptures and extravagant parks. Her whole work is incredibly subtle and powerful, showing the artist’s genius and sensitivity.

If you happen to be in Paris before the 2nd of February do go see this exhibition at the Grand Palais, it is spectacular. However make sure you buy tickets online beforehands as it gets very crowded and the queue is endless.

I took all the pictures at the exhibition, the quality isn’t amazing but it gives you an idea of what you can see there, I hope you enjoy it!

Castlefield Market – Review

I recently bought Ceviche by Martin Morales, the founder of the trendy Peruvian restaurant of the same name in Soho. Although I am the biggest fan of world cuisine, I find it hard at times to cook it at home for one main reason: a lot of the ingredients are hard to find in your average supermarket.

So I found myself roaming the internet in search of aji amarillo and aji panca, only to find that the shipping was always more expensive than the product itself. As I had given up on the idea of making an authentic ceviche, I came across Viva Peru. First surprise: they are based in Manchester. Perfect, I thought. Then came the second surprise: they were going to have a stall at the Castlefield Market on the following weekend.

What stroke me when I first arrived in Manchester two years ago was the huge amount of chains in the city centre, and the relatively small amount of independent places. When I found out about the Castlefield Market as I discovered Viva Peru, I decided it would be the perfect place to go for a nice break between nightmarish essays. I ended up there with a friend, going through piles of handmade headbands (food isn’t the only thing you can find there), tables full of organic cosmetics, and all sorts of artwork.

On the food side, there was plenty to choose from. We first decided to have lunch from one of the food trucks. I went for a mushroom and truffle pizza from The Pizza Maker and Margaux had a pumpkin soup from 4Lunch. Although we struggled to find a seat in the rammed hall, the food was worth it. The pizza I had was absolutely delicious, with a thin crust and real mozzarella, the closest I’ve had to a real Italian pizza in Manchester so far. The pumpkin soup was equally delicious. For dessert we had paleo, gluten free and dairy free muffins from Tyler and Hall, so good you could not tell they were that healthy. The banana and walnut muffin especially was heavenly. Pricewise, it was all fairly cheap and good-value for money, 5£ for a medium sized pizza, 2.5£ for the soup and a roll of bread and I think about 2£ per muffin.

When we finally got to the Viva Peru stall, we got to meet Adam and Xavi, the two lovely guys running the business. As we tried samples of the products, they explained that they decided to open Viva Peru as Xavi, who is a chef, struggled to find the ingredients he needed. I decided to buy a jar of aji amarillo paste, one of aji panca, the basis to most Peruvian recipes, and a small bottle of Rico Picante ‘Oops!’ Chilli Sauce, with the promise that it would bring extra picante to any dish. I also ended up buying a packet of instant chicha morada, a sweet drink made with fruits and purple corn, that turned out to be delicious!

Overall, the Castlefield Market is a place I highly recommend, mainly for the food products, although the other stalls offered pretty good gift ideas (thinking ahead for Christmas!). There was also a DJ, playing all sorts of music, which added to the nice, joyous atmosphere.If you want to have a good time grab a couple of friends and take them there for lunch, make sure you check the dates though because it is only on every first Saturday of the month. Next time will be a Christmas special, and will be on a bit more frequently, to match the Christmas Markets in the city centre: every Friday to Sunday from the 28th of November to the 21st of December.

Also, sorry guys for the lack of pictures, I did not have a camera with me when I went (and the one on my phone is terrible), but next article will definitely have some so keep an eye out!