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    A young girl at Carnaval, San Francisco 2010

    This is Carnaval Weekend in San Francisco — a spectacle of sequins, feathers and Latin American culture. In celebration, I’ve posted some photos taken from last year’s festivities, parading down 24th Street in the Mission district.

    This (chubby, older) guy was really excited about dancing with this (young and cute) girl. It was his lucky day.

    Unfortunately, SF Carnaval is not nearly as bawdy or playful as it once was. It has been replaced by a “family friendly” alternative — which, as someone who *grew up* with the risque carnival (in my family-oriented youth, I might add!), is not something I’m crazy about… But it is still Carnaval …a time to go to Victoria’s Bakery …to eat enchiladas and get drunk and flirt with Cuban and Honduran guys… to laugh at people even more drunk than you are…

    Everyone knows Brazilian Carnival — the hedonistic celebration before Lent. People dress in masquerade costumes, cover their bodies with jewels, sequins (and not much else) and dance atop monstrous floats. There’s also New Orleans Mardi Gras — the beads, the boobs and the Southern-ness.

    San Francisco Carnaval is uniquely “San Francisco.” Established by hippie-ish artists in the late ’70s as a way to “connect with the ancestors,” it has evolved into a city-wide celebration. Really, it is a hodgepodge of Latin American/Hispanic cultures — “The four Carnaval Cities with the greatest influence and presence in the San Francisco Carnaval are Port of Spain, Trinidad; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Salvador, Brazil; and Oruro, Bolivia.”

    Bringing on the party...

    When I was a kid, I remember being happily scandalized by Carnaval — topless women, men with painted bodies, tiny g-strings on both sexes. And, just in case you missed the flesh show, Mission Street stores pasted photos of the naked/mostly naked people on their windows, which stayed up for months (sometimes, all year-long!).

    This was one of my favorite parts of Carnaval last year -- these fantastic headdresses.

    Of course, Carnaval is not (or was not) only about sex —  just mostly about sex! But there’s also a strong cultural element. Actually, I was really impressed by these dancers from last year. They wore these magnificent, feathered headdresses, shaped as if to capture the sun or the heavens. The dancers twirled with their headdresses (with one hand up, to support their heavy load!). The dances were mesmerizing; I wish I could remember where the dance & costume was from… Does anybody know?


    Last year, Benjamin Bratt was also promoting his movie about the Mission District (and low-riders), appropriately called “La Mission.” So, a series of low-rider and cholo cars were also featured in Carnaval… which, I guess, they always are… but, this time, Benjamin Bratt was inside, in case anybody notice or cared… He wore a t-shirt that stated “Stay Brown” (in other words, “We’re not into white hipster/yuppie gentrification”).


    cool wheels

    The cool thing about Carnaval is the inclusion of the SF dance studios and cultural organizations. For months, dance studios work on their choreography, costumes and music — a huge process with, usually, fantastic results. Meanwhile, Brazilian drum ensembles will prepare, capoeira fighters will train and young children will learn traditional Aztec, Mayan or Caribbean dances.

    Pure joy

    Again, it is not what it used to be. I know I may sound old (or old-er) — but I mean it! When I was a kid, dance troupes came from all over the world for the San Francisco Carnaval. I remember seeing troupes from Latin America, Europe and the farther reaches of the States. They were announced with pomp and celebration — “and noooowwwww, the XYZ troupe frommmmm Belizzzzzzzeeeee!”

    But now? No way.

    What a shame.

    And you know what? The city did the same thing with the Castro Street Halloween Festival! It used to be a late-night, costumed, gender-fluid, city-wide bacchanalia extravaganza. Then, some people ruined it for everybody — brought guns and shot people. I still remember that Halloween …I was 16 years old (but not in the Castro that night). So, the city got involved and, basically, stopped the whole damn thing.

    Anyway, that was a tangent!

    Here are some more photos of Carnaval — which is still wonderful (just less sexy, less big and less cool). But, still, it is CARNAVAL!

    I love the guy on his cell phone.

    Definitely the coolest dancer/coolest costume/coolest person at Carnaval 2010.

    Welcome to San Francisco!

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    May 25th, 2011adminIstanbul

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    May 20th, 2011adminAmerica, Food, Los Angeles

    Heather displaying our lovely meal

    The restaurant...

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    May 18th, 2011adminAmerica, Bazaars & Markets, Food, Los Angeles

    CAJUN food! Gumbo with cornbread, carrot raisin salad and chickory coffee from LA's 3rd Street Farmers Market

    So, I spent 3 weeks in America and 1 day in Rome, Italy. Just came back!

    The 3rd Street Farmers Market is fantastic, by the way.

    More photos & commentary coming soon…

    The lovely menu (I hope to visit the *real* New Orleans one day!).

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    It’s been a long time since I properly updated this blog. Honestly, I have been busy (in a good way). But it’s high time I resumed things… So, here it is goes:

    Okay, I hate looking like a “tourist.” I don’t want to carry five cameras and wear white bermuda pants. I don’t want to follow the “beaten path,” eat at every Lonely Planet recommendation and then happily tread home. I love the serendipity and adventure of attempting to live like a local… But, alas, this entry is about being the ultimate tourist — or, in other words, that whenever I enter the Hagia Sophia, I feel like I am back in Istanbul in 2009 (the first time I visited) — totally struck with awe and wonder — bewildered by the history and beauty and blood — that, perhaps, the Hagia Sophia makes everyone (even Istanbul natives) a bit of a tourist — it represents a history that is long gone, a shadow but not forgotten — and this leaves us all in a state of quiet observation…

    The history is mesmerizing, yet tragic. First constructed in the 4th century, the Hagia Sophia was originally built as a wooden-roofed basilica. First under the rule of Constantine II and then Theodosius II (who caused a lot of theological problems by meeting with Nestorius in Syria!), the basilica stood until the Nika Revolt in 532. Nearly half the city was destroyed in the revolt, and the basilica was burned. And what were the riots about? Well, chariot racing factions (in the Byzantine days) more closely resembled 1920s mafia famiglias than one would imagine. Basically, the Greens and Blues (two racing teams) were embroiled in an internal dispute over murders, which spilled out into the city — like football hooliganism and mafia rivalry, all taking place in the Byzantine Hippodrome — then, the Senate took advantage of the opportunity to demand changes in taxation and other political elements — Ultimately, the basilica was burned, with only some marble blocks surviving until the present (which can still be viewed today).

    I was fascinated to learn that the riot was, in large part, quelled by a EUNUCH named Narses. He stepped right into the anarchic Hippodrome, diplomatically tried to reason with the masses …and then Justinian’s troops came in and, basically, made a bigger blood bath of the situation… By the end, it is estimated that 30,000 people were killed…

    For many reasons, Justinian was an unprecedented leader …within days of the revolt, he commissioned the reconstruction of the basilica. But, this time, it would be grander than anything ever seen before…

    In truly imperial style, Justinian demanded the finest of materials. These included columns from Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, stones from the quarries of Egypt, green marble from Thessaly, yellow stone from Syria and black stone for the Bosporus region. The building itself was an architectural wonder — the brainchild of a physicist Isidoros of Miletus and mathematician Anthemios of Thrales.

    Before the Hagia Sophia, domes were supported by heavy columns. But the architects envisioned an ingenious way to create a “floating” dome — one supported by the structure itself, without the need for columns underneath, thereby giving the building a sense of heavenly weightlessness…

    I will include more photos and stories about the Hagia Sophia tomorrow. Today, I need to work and pack because, in two days, I’m visiting the United States! So, more to come…

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    February 20th, 2011adminIslam, Istanbul, Touristy Stuff

    Young German tourists and women in headscarves at Topkapi Palace.

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    January 24th, 2011adminIstanbul, Parties & Night Life

    Jihane in Nişantaşı, New Year's Eve 2011

    I know it’s a bit late. But I never acknowledged it. So, I will now: Happy New Year everyone!

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    January 24th, 2011adminFood, Istanbul

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    January 21st, 2011adminFood

    On Monday, I went to a grill restaurant (which, mistakenly, we first thought was a “girl restaurant,” like a Turkish Hooters, due to our friends’ pronunciation of “grill”). The place was huge, mostly empty, and each table was provided with an individual grill. We chose our meat — and the options were plentiful. If I desired, I could have chosen brains (which, sliced in sections, looked like cauliflower). But we prudently settled for beef and lamb.

    A friend, a gigantic pepper and yours truly.

    We also ate sucuk, which I mentioned in my previous Turkish Breakfast entry. But this sucuk was different — basically, bigger and better. All in all, it was a very meat heavy meal, which is very Anatolian. Turks will explain that “Turkish cuisine” shifts from area to area. The Mediterranean (e.g. Antalya) , Marmara (e.g. Istanbul and Bursa) and Aegean  (e.g. Izmir/Smyrna) regions feature more vegetables, herbs, olive oil and fish. The Black Sea region (which some refer to as “Turkish Texas,” due to its gun-crazy populace) is renowned for its  breads, corn, hazelnuts and anchovies. The Southeast is nationally beloved for its kebabs, baklava and “mezes” (appetizers, which are abundant and scrumptious). And central Anatolia (the heartland, where Ankara, Konya and Cappadocia are located) are known for their “manti” (like a Turkish tortellini in heavy cream sauce) and, of course, their MEATS.

    Of course, heavy meat diets are unhealthy. And, as a former vegan, the sheer level of meat can be overwhelming, at times. But it is very tasty and, though it goes without saying, it is very satisfying. I don’t think my appetite resurfaced until like 12 hours after this meal.

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