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    March 12th, 2013adminHackbright

    I’m snuggled up in my bed right  now, ready for an early bedtime. But before I crash, I’m posting two things, found thanks to Brain Pickings (one of my favorite sites!), related to the themes of my last entry (trying new things, feeling confused but excited, and accepting the ambiguity).


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    March 10th, 2013adminAmerica, Hackbright, San Francisco, Technology

    The Hackbright ladies on International Women’s Day


    How do I feel? The short answer is very, very excited.

    Am I nervous? Do I feel intimidated by all there is to learn?

    Of course.

    But I also feel such joy about the learning that is now my life.

    Before I left Istanbul, my friend, Ilkay, gave me an interesting definition of time. He said, “Look, when I was in school, and I was studying law and languages, I was learning so many things. Now, I work all the time. Everything is fast, and everything passes.” He said, “When you’re in San Francisco, and you’re studying, you’ll have a different sense of time. You will live time in the right way.”

    And he’s right. This past week was undoubtedly challenging, and I have only begun to make sense of many of the concepts. Just today, I sat down, pen and paper in hand, and went back to the basics. I asked myself, What do I understand? What do I think I understand (but perhaps need to further clarify?). And I went through my code, line by line, forcing myself to articulate the logical progress.

    But I have felt such pride in my use of time.

    Me, week 2?

    Me, Week 2?

    Right now, I especially want to focus on retraining my brain. As a writer, I’ve rarely looked at my work as something defined by logic, by things like loops or if-else statements. And I know that, even if I weren’t a writer, I would still struggle with the gap between the way our brains vs. our computers register commands. One of my classmates said, “This stuff is is not intuitive.” And, for many of us, that’s probably true. So, now, I’m interested in slowly training myself — going through my work, and the work of others, and understanding the story behind the results, one line at a time.

    Meanwhile, I’ll learn alongside amazing classmates and instructors. I can’t complain about that. Okay, it’s going to be a lot of work — that’s one thing I know for sure. But it will definitely, and without a doubt, be worth it.

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    March 5th, 2013adminHackbright, San Francisco, Technology

    After a very extended vacation from blogging, I am back! But now I am in a new city (or maybe an old one?), San Francisco, for an exciting reason: I’m learning how to code at Hackbright Academy. Yup, after nearly three years in Istanbul, I came to the end of my strange and wonderful journey. I already miss the street cats and the minarets and the Bosphorous. I especially crave the Turkish breakfasts, with the varied cheeses, laced around tomatoes and cucumber, as well as the menemen and infinite cups of piping hot tea. But, most of all, I miss my friends. It can be an incredibly challenging (though rewarding) experience to be a foreigner, and it makes all of one’s personal relationships all the deeper. So, it was admittedly very difficult for me to say goodbye, and it’s brought me to truly appreciate this next step in my life.

    Yesterday was my first day at Hackbright, which I will blog about later. But, in brief: The group of women is a fantastically varied and interesting bunch, and I was happy to learn about some of them over lunch at Shalimar. We spent the second half of the day reviewing the Command Line Crash Course, followed by some fun maze games on Blockly. The mazes challenged us to “think like a programmer” — in other words, to logically determine how to find a solution, based on creating rules/statements that a frustratingly stubborn man would follow across the maze. My partner, Meggie, and I got to the tenth exercise, which left us (and the whole class, it seemed) rather confused. And this was where we left off — knowing that Exercise 10 presented where we would like to be — with the mental and programming tools to look at the problems presented at Number 10 — to ask the right questions and determine the proper steps to taking apart the issue and, ultimately, finding the answer.

    Now, off to my bus for another day at Hackbright!

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    August 21st, 2011adminHistory, Italy, Touristy Stuff

    Buildings on the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") - a medieval bridge that goes over the Arno River. This is the only original Florentine bridge to survive the bombings of WWII.

    The Ponte Vecchio shops were first installed under the edict of Cosimo de Medici. The famous Italian painter, architect and historian (a true “Renaissance man”) built the corridor.

    Interesting historical tidbit:

    “It is said that the economic concept of bankruptcy originated here: when a merchant could not pay his debts, the table on which he sold his wares (the ‘banco’) was physically broken (‘rotto’) by soldiers, and this practice was called “bancorotto” (broken table; possibly it can come from ‘banca rotta’ which means ‘broken bank’). Not having a table anymore, the merchant was not able to sell anything.”

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    I’m now back in Istanbul after a week in Italy. Today, I’m posting photos of Venetian masks, which is a new fascination of mine after this trip. They’re simply striking; I love the high theater and drama. And, while, the Venetian Carnival is in February, the masks are displayed and sold throughout the year.

    Walking the back streets of Venice, I came upon a dress and mask shop. I saw a woman hand-sewing a traditional Venetian baroque costume, all the work completed with a simple sewing  machine and her hands.

    Honestly, it was a relief. So many of the stores along the waterfront sold items that were ostensibly “Italian” or “Venetian.” But it didn’t take a brain-surgeon to guess otherwise. The material was cheap and obviously mass-produced. Half the stuff was probably imported from China or Bangladesh. In perhaps one of the most touristy places in the world (Old City Venice in August!), one would be a fool to not know they were being taken as a fool. So, to witness something so basic as a personal handicraft, completed on an old shop desk, on a forgotten side street, was really quite remarkable.

    I chatted with the store owner, too. The business was an old family-run operation, and he participated in Carnevale every year. He asked if I was religious, told me he was an atheist, and talked about psychological research conducted by a professor at my former alma mater. Then, pulling out his computer files, he showed me his recent photos — there he was, decked in fine white silk, and his son — like a baby baroque charmer — and an older Dutch woman, who has participated in the Venetian Carnival for over 20 years, and even an old gay couple, with one man in female costume.

    I bought a handmade, paper-mache bauta (full-face mask.) It was a rare character, explained the shop girl (who was religious) — someone who is always getting involved in everyone else’s business. “Oh, a gossip!” I exclaimed. She continued, “One of the main characters in the Commedia dell’arte is Harlequin,” motioning at the Harlequin masks. “How about women?” I asked. “Oh, there is Colombina,” she said, “who is smarter than Harlequin.” My mask is now sitting on my bookshelf; it has a long-nose, beautiful sea-blue paint and a traditional Venetian floral design on a paper surface.

    When I’m traveling, I like to talk to everyone, from dapper cafe dwellers to bored plumbers. There’s a pleasure in being an “outsider,” and as a result, not even noticing (or at least fully participating in) the class distinctions. Similarly, Carnevale was developed with the same spirit; the masks rid of traditional social distinctions. You cannot see who is who. So, in theory, everyone can rejoice freely. And, yet, how true was this? Did common servants walk in lavish costumes, exquisite jewelry and finely-painted masks? I would think not.

    The same holds for today. A poor kid, trying to make ends meet, will not fly to Venice, purchase magnificent historical costume, and have the financial means to forgot himself in a week of high-end drunken splendor. Sorry, Venice. Just wouldn’t happen.

    Venice has become a holiday destination for the idle rich, who purchase sinking architectural masterpieces along the Grand Canal. It has become a playground for who? Maybe Russian oligarchs or Euro socialites. Maybe American billionaires or bored heiresses. I don’t quite know who. But I certainly do know that this beautiful city — once the home of Marco Polo, Bellini, Titian and Casanova — is now a home to a very select few: the long-standing locals and the rich.

    And, combined with the hordes of tourists, Venice can also be a nasty thing. I was reading quotes on Venice, and came upon some funny ones.  Henry James on Venice: “Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors.” And, Truman Capote: “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”

    But, ah, I’m veering! I’m supposed to be writing about the MASKS. And I do genuinely find them gorgeous.

    I learned that the Commedia dell’ arte, which is the origin of many Venetian masks, has ancient roots, going back to Greek theater and Etruscan festivals. This tradition was carried on to the Roman Empire, though the first record of such performances was in 16th century Rome. The performances were earthy affairs, played on the streets and in public venues, by traveling actors. And, unlike other European theater of the time, female characters were played by actual women — imagine that! In fact, Ben Jonson supposedly referred to one female player as a “tumbling whore.” Fantastic.

    I especially love the characters. They are full of humor and real life relevance. I can imagine people today, in my life (especially in Istanbul!), who could stand as examples of such characters. There’s the Zanni, the a-little-too-clever servant, with country roots and a wooden sword. There’s the Innamorati (“the lovers”), constantly and melodramatically in love. And, as the shop girl said, Colombina, the flirtatious, female intellect.

    In the next few days, I’ll post more photos from my Italian Week of Food, Wine and Beautiful Things. I visited Rome, Florence, Venice, Padova, Verona and Lake Garda. I remembered how much I loved Italian food. Like prosciutto with melon. And wine. And fresh mozzarella. I remembered pizza and pasta. I tried new foods for the first time, like tripe soup and horse meat! And I was charmed by a bevy of cafe baristas and shop owners and candy shop keepers. Thank you, Italy.

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    August 2nd, 2011adminIstanbul

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    June 28th, 2011adminActivism, Istanbul, Parties & Night Life

    Gay Pride Parade, passing a Catholic cathedral on Istiklal. Quite a sight!

    It is remarkable to attend a Gay Pride Parade in a majority-Muslim country. I believe Turkey is the only country that can claim such a thing… Though “gay pride” is certainly NOT widely accepted.

    Hell yes!

    For many years, I attended San Francisco Pride, perhaps the most famous Pride event in the world. But Istanbul Pride felt very different. The biggest contract was the audience/non-participants. Whereas, in San Francisco, the audience members are a wild, effusive and diverse crowd, the crowd in Istanbul looked generally confused… many  people did not know what to make of the radically queer gay men and brazen, unapologetic lesbians…

    Interviewing an out Turkish gay man, in English and Turkish

    The message and “feeling” of Istanbul Pride was also different — in a sense, more basic. Rather than the highly commercialized bacchanalia of San Francisco Pride, Istanbul Pride was a demand for acknowledgment (and a celebration of sexual identity, being queer and having fun!).

    My friend

    My fabulous former flatmate, Angela, from Barri, Italy. I miss her lasagna with all my heart.

    As I mentioned, the public reaction interested me the most, so here are some photos I took of confused, “every day” Turks:

    Looking down at the parade, in amusement

    Disapproving glares from the mosque

    I wonder what is going through his head...

    Shoppers at the mall

    And, here are some more general PRIDE PHOTOS — enjoy!

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    Mieun in San Francisco (spring 2010)

    I miss the alleys in San Francisco… I took these photos last year, walking through the Mission district with my friend, Mieun — a lovely SF transplant & graphic designer, originally from Seoul.

    Me in 2010... seems like a really long time ago...

    This photo was taken at the Women's Building on 18th Street -- a "woman-owned and operated community center," founded in 1971 and *very San Francisco*

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    May 30th, 2011adminIstanbul

    I found this adorable cat, enjoying a lazy Monday afternoon, in Cihangir. The neighborhood (which is my 'hood, by the way), is famous for its beloved street cats. And, as you can see, people really do love them.

    A close-up of the cuteness.

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    I took so many great photos at Carnival last year (see last entry for more info). So, I’ll just post a few more… Today, I’m hopefully going to a barbecue in Cihangir — my flatmate is an English teacher at a school here, and he has organized an English-language get-together for them. Anyway, enjoy the Carnival photos!

    Every parade needs an Asian drag queen in historical costume.

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