Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Turkleywood: Ben Affleck, Liam Neeson, James Bond and Megan Fox in Istanbul

Since I've lived here, I've been surprised by the amount of Hollywood movies filming in Istanbul. It seems to have the same appeal as Canada for the movie industry, in that the city can often stand in for somewhere else...and in this case, "somewhere else" is someplace that's too dangerous or difficult to travel to and film in (I'm looking at you, Iran.)

I titled the post "Turkleywood: Ben Affleck, Liam Neeson, James Bond and Megan Fox in Istanbul," before I started writing it, but now I'm realizing, looking back over it, it should be subtitled "Coincidentally starring the only actors Melinda has ever seen in person."

In November, Ben Affleck was here directing his upcoming movie Argo while Liam Neeson was here at the same time filming Taken 2. Affleck is both directing and starring in Argo, a thriller-drama apparently about the real-life attempt to rescue six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis that started in 1979, which is why he's been sporting his much-maligned shaggy haircut. The key word there, at least for us, is Iran - Affleck filmed all around the city, including in the historic Sultanahmet and Eminonu districts and in Etiler, which is right next to our neighborhood, but Istanbul is standing in for Tehran. The news that Affleck was in town was all over the place - the US website Pop Sugar even posted a funny photo of him posing with a carpet seller - so while we were in Eminonu one Wednesday during the bayram holiday, we made a small attempt to see if we could find them shooting somewhere. I actually have terrible luck sighting celebrities, though I did sit diagonally across from Ben Affleck at a restaurant once in New York City right after 9/11.

Needless to say, we never did see Ben Affleck or the Argo set. However, that day, we did run into a crew prepping a scene...and it turned out to be from Taken 2, once again starring Liam Neeson. We did not actually see Liam Neeson (although, now that I come to think of it, I'm about 99 percent sure I've seen him twice in person, both times riding a bike in Santa Fe through the Outside parking lot. Hmm, maybe there's a pattern here...). When I originally looked up the plot for Taken 2, back in November, no one seemed to know what it was about, but one blogger speculated it would be another kidnap plot featuring a nebulous country with lots of accented bad guys. This seemed to make sense as the extras we saw were all very Middle Eastern-looking (as opposed to Turkish, which strikes me as more southern Mediterranean).

However, according to an online summaries out now, Taken 2 again features protagonist Bryan Mills (Neeson), who gets taken hostage by one of the kidnappers from the first movie while vacationing in Istanbul. The synopsis says that he's vacationing with his wife, and the movie apparently also stars Famke Janssen again, who played his ex-wife in the last film, so maybe they get back together? The only reason I mention this is because you know when I said I saw Ben Affleck that time in a restaurant? Famke Janssen was with him. (Man, this is getting weird...) Anyway, Liam Neeson apparently had a good time in Istanbul although it seems like the paparazzi was hounding him; he apparently was trying to take a leak on the street after a night out, and when they started taking photos of him, he ended up peeing on himself...which of course, they then splashed all over the newspapers, poor guy. (Look at the fun you can have in Istanbul!)

But perhaps the biggest Hollywood movie news is that the new James Bond film Skyfall will be using Turkey as its one of its foreign destinations (and, recent rumors suggests, its primary destination). According to the newspapers, they were supposed to start shooting the movie here in November - I was actually waiting on that to start before posting the this. But then I waited and waited...Skyfall is apparently scheduled to start shooting in the city of Adana in mid-February and then move to Istanbul in April, and the action will somehow involve a train, according to Today's Zaman. Istanbul has hosted James Bond twice before, briefly in The World is Not Enough (the one with Denise Richards) and more importantly, for almost the entirety of the second Bond film From Russia with Love, which is an amazing window into how different Istanbul looked in the 1960s.

And then, most recently, Megan Fox was in town last week to film a Doritos commercial. She made the rounds on Turkish TV shows and in her ongoing attempt to prove she's smarter than everyone gives her credit for, she told one morning host that she was surprised to discover Istanbul is a big metropolis (minute three though very hard to hear). This is the second time I've heard/seen someone say this...why is that?

So anyway, that's the end of Istanbul's Hollywood adventures, for now anyway. For the record, I've never seen Megan Fox or Daniel Craig in person, though perhaps we'll get a chance to catch James Bond in the flesh while he's here. And yes, I made up the term Turkleywood. But I think it has a real chance of catching on... Pin It

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Istanbul snow day

Around 4 p.m. yesterday, it started snowing. Of course, all of the city was at work, so getting home last night was complete and utter chaos - the trip usually takes me an hour and 10 minutes each way; last night, it took me 2.5 hours! Apparently, there were 1,107 traffic accidents in Istanbul alone last night, if you can believe it.

I take the Metrobus every day to work; it's a fairly new system, opened in 2007, and on the section I travel, has a dedicated lane in the middle of the highway. It's also a daily reminder of just how very crowded Istanbul is; in the morning, I get on at the first station so I usually can get a seat, but at night, it's just a massive crush of people. It's slowly eroding my will to live here. :)

So anyway, last night, I managed to get onto a very packed Metrobus, and we made our way fairly uneventfully - even though it was snowing - to the second-to-last stop. Then the Metrobus just stopped. The driver didn't really say anything though he periodically opened the doors for people who wanted to get out. After we sat there for about 15 minutes, I considered it (I could have walked to the subway station from there), but it was absolute gridlock on the stairs, so sitting on the bus seemed like a better option. Over the next hour, the Metrobus moved in fits and starts, a foot here, three feet there. No one couldn't really see what was going on, except that there was at least one other Metrobus in front of us; but then, little by little, I started to see people walking on the Metrobus track in the snow, apparently walking to the end station. The driver continued to open the doors every once in awhile; I considered getting out but it seemed like an easy way to get hit by a bus, considering you'd have to walk on an icy, narrow road between the two bus tracks. But I'd estimate by the time we got to the station, hundreds of people had passed us walking. I managed to snap a photo at the end...

Eventually, we got to the end station and it was absolute chaos. Once I was safely out of the station, I had a look down at the people who were trying to get on the Metrobuses, and they were not happy campers. Empty Metrobuses will often pass because they stagger the start points on the route, but last night, people were in the road, banging on the Metrobus windows trying to get the drivers to slow down and open the doors. It was just insane!

From the Metrobus station, I have to walk down a very large hill to get to the subway, and unfortunately, I slipped on the ice. :( This morning, it was still a winter wonderland in our area, with snow coating everything, but interestingly, in the neighborhood where I work, it was like it had never snowed at all. So it was a big surprise then tonight when my Metrobus-to-subway hill was still coated in ice, though I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised then when I fell again, this time right on my tookus. Apparently Istanbul has all these micro-climates because the water, and the weather in one part can be radically different than the weather in another part. All I have to say is: lesson learned.

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Costa Concordia accident

Yes, I'm back with more thoughts on this...mostly because I keep reading these news stories where passengers claim the crew members weren't trained in safety procedures - which I can guarantee you isn't true. One passenger apparently told "Good Morning America" that "no one knew how to help because they were never trained. That is the cruise ship's fault." In that same story, another passenger said, "crew members apparently had little training in how to operate the lifeboats," while a Reuters story comments, "There were around 1,020 crew from 38 nations on board but many were entertainers or catering staff rather than seasoned mariners."

As I said in the last post, per international maritime guidelines, all crew members, regardless of position, were trained week in and week out. (However, the specialty entertainers - comedians, magicians, etc - which never usually numbered more than five people at a time had passenger status, but they were usually only onboard for a couple of weeks at most at a time.) In my experience in the most recent years, the lifeboat teams lowered their boats at least once every two weeks (since crew drills were always conducted in port, only one side could ever be lowered). I don't think it's fair to say that Costa was negligent in their training or crew members were clueless - rather, it's that you can never adequately prepare for an accident of this magnitude. While it appears that the captain has a lot to answer for, that is the fault of just one individual, and human behavior like this is something that can never really be prevented or trained for.

But this is the most important point: Crew safety drills are conducted on a steady ship, in port, in the daylight, without 2,000+ passengers running around. The Costa Concordia accident happened in the evening (presumably when it was dark or getting dark, since it was dinnertime), the lights went out and the ship started leaning. With the ship leaning like that, you can't lower the lifeboats because of the way the mechanism works; it would also be hard to load the rafts and get them down. (The rafts are stored in these round canisters, and you can unhook them and drop them into the ocean, where they will open when submerged in salt water - but then that also means people have to jump overboard to get into them if a Deck Three door isn't open and available.) I'm not surprised the crew members didn't know what to do in that situation, and apparently there wasn't a lot of information coming out of the PA system from those in command, but you can't really say the crew was ill-trained. There's just no way to prepare for something like that - you cannot simulate that environment with any frequency - and I'm sure the actual event was 1,000 times more horrifying than any of the rest of us can imagine.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Disbelief over Costa Concordia, safety procedures on cruise ships

*A second post on the Costa Concordia here.

I am still absolutely shocked by the Costa Concordia accident that occurred Friday evening, off an Italian island. As the days have gone by, more details of course have emerged, and it seems like the scene was just absolutely chaotic, especially as the ship started leaning and people were trying to make their way to lifeboats (or, when that failed, jumped into the sea).

Not surprisingly, it makes me think of my own time on ships. It's funny, while I have absolutely no intention of working on a cruise ship again - I loved it when I was there, but it's in the past now - I often have dreams where I cheerfully find myself on a ship and then I slowly realize that I am working there, trapped. I have dreams like this probably every week or two, but why, I don't know. I even had one last night.

But I digress...According to Reuters, "Passengers say there were unexplained delays in organizing the evacuation of those on board and this had resulted in chaos."  I am not at all surprised by this - what else would it be, really? Even though the crew is trained week in and week out on safety procedures, I'm not sure you can really prepare for that moment.

When I first started on ships, in 1998, safety procedures were pretty lax. When you first sign on to a ship, both then and now, you have to attend about a week of sessions on general safety procedures, and at the end, you have to take a test, usually multiple choice. At the beginning of my tenure, supposedly you could fail three times before getting fired; however, the rumor was that the safety officer would help you before it got to that. (This was more of an issue for some of the behind-the-scenes crew who didn't necessarily speak English that well and thus couldn't understand the safety lectures or booklet.)

In the early years, we had to participate in a safety drill about once a month, that took place when we were in port somewhere, whenever our particular group was called. Every crew member was assigned to a safety number, which specifically outlined their emergency duty and was listed on an enormous billboard in the crew area; some people were assigned to the fire-fighting, medical or lifeboat teams while others might be in charge of a muster station (a passenger emergency station), stairway control, or have to search passenger cabins. As a youth coordinator, I was always responsible for getting the kids to their muster station; since this is a very difficult thing to practice with invisible children, what we did during the safety drill varied every contract. Sometimes we just sat in the kids' facility and gossiped while other contracts we would have to act as runners (which is also a very difficult thing to practice). Things were so lax in my early years on ships that at one point, I was actually a lifeboat commander because our guy was never able to attend and when he did, he had no idea how to work the thing. I found this particularly alarming and ended up taking the three- or four-week course just so I could feel confident that I could save myself (and obviously others) if push came to shove.

The only time of real serious stress was in anticipation of the US Coast Guard drill, which happened once a year (or maybe once every six months? It's hard to remember); basically, the Coast Guard would board the ship on a port day and watch us go through the motions and ask random crew members questions. If we failed as a ship, we couldn't set sail.

As the years went on, the safety procedures got a lot more serious. In my memory, it seemed to happen in 2001, coinciding with 9/11, when security also significantly improved. We started to have drills every week, and you were expected to do your duty and do it well. Every crewmember was also expected to get other certifications; a particularly fun one was the day-long fire training, which I did at a facility in British Columbia when we were docked in Vancouver. We got to wear all the fire gear and had to put out fires with the hoses. It was sort of an interesting training considering I would never have been put on the fire team (because you could only have one emergency duty), but I guess the reasoning was that everyone should have basic training in this area, since fire is considered the biggest hazard at sea.

Of course, the passengers had a drill they were required to participate in, and this was required to happen within 24 hours of setting sail. Reportedly, the Costa Concordia hadn't yet held their drill (for everyone or just some passengers isn't yet clear), but in all honesty, I don't think it would have mattered. We (the youth coordinators) were almost always required to help with the passenger drill, even though we wouldn't have been present in a real emergency, and it was like pulling teeth. Most passengers never wanted to be there and barely paid attention; each muster station was allotted just a small space on deck, and it was amazingly hard to get everyone to line up next to each other without significant grumbling. If the weather was bad, passengers got pretty pissed at us for making them be there. I'm sure it just never seemed relevant to them, especially when they just wanted to have fun on that first afternoon onboard, but of course, it didn't bode well for an actual emergency.

I am eternally grateful that in my six years on cruise ships, nothing major ever happened. For most of my six years, I worked for one company, and there were only two major accidents, which happened on other ships in the fleet: One ship crashed into a cargo ship in the English Channel at like 1 a.m., bashing in the front, while another's boiler blew up while it was docked in Miami, killing multiple crew members. That last accident still makes me very sad, even thinking about it nearly 10 years later.

There were of course lots of smaller incidents - for example, I was once on a ship that crashed into a Holland America ship while we pulling out of Cozumel; that same week, the ship's water system broke and it rained down the entire aft staircase. But the one that really sticks out in my mind happened my second summer, the last night of the cruise. That night, we only had a 45-minute program so we were pretty lax with the kids' safety bracelets, which they were required to wear at all times since it listed their muster stations and other important information. It always seemed like nothing could happen...and then that one night, there was a fire in the kitchen right next to our facility. As everyone streamed out of the restaurant and smoke began to fill the hall, we looked at each other in a panic; in the moment, it was really hard to figure out what to do. Should we wait for further instructions or move down to our emergency meeting point on deck 7? (The average crew member doesn't know what's going on in an emergency; the only advantage you really have as an employee is that you know what the codes mean when they're called over the PA system. You're not supposed to move to the muster stations until the captain calls it, and at that point, everyone knows.) We ended up taking the kids down to the meeting point, just to be safe, and of course half of them didn't have their bracelets on. It was a really scary half hour; in the end, nothing happened, they put the fire out and we were all fine. But it was a lesson learned; after that, when I was the manager, I was pretty darn strict about our safety procedures. But in general, the experience was a real eye-opener into how scary and panicky an actual accident could be. My heart goes out to those who were on the Costa Concordia. Pin It

Massive power outage on Saturday!

On Saturday, we got our first real snow of the year. Although there had been about five minutes of snow right before Christmas, this was the first real snowfall, which started slowly and didn't initially stick...and then the power went out. According to various news stories, there was a breakdown at a power plant in Bursa, which caused the power to go out in six Turkish cities in the northwest. So it was cold, and fairly dark because of the snow. Our power was out for 3.5 hours - I mostly read while Cagatay played games on the iPad, but we got more and more bored as the afternoon went on...and I started to realize why people had a lot of kids pre-electricity. What else was there to do?!? (Don't think dirty thoughts; I'm just saying I understand the impulse.:)) As the afternoon went on, the snow got heavier and heavier, with thick, cotton ball-like chunks coming down.

Eventually, we decided to walk to Sapphire, the mall at our local metro stop, which is about a 10-minute walk away. Cagatay thought their generators would be on, and we could eat and have coffee. So we got ready to go and as I was pulling on my second boot - literally pulling it on - the power came back on. We decided to go anyway and as we walked, the snow started to fall again, but much lighter this time.

I was pretty excited to see snow but now that it's happened, I'm ready for spring. When I wrote this post this morning (I didn't have the photo with me so I saved it), it was only forecasted to snow this afternoon. It did in fact snow and it was awful, worthy of its own post, and now I am DEFINITELY ready for spring. Pin It

Monday, January 9, 2012

Lego Art at home

I haven't played with Legos in many, many years, but I love this trend of Legos as art, especially when the little mini-figures are made to recreate famous paintings or events. So when I was home over the summer, I was excited to discover the Lego architecture series, which has so far created 11 kits recreating famous landmarks or designer houses. Admittedly, I don't love all of them (I'm not convinced by White House or Guggenheim models), but I did develop a soft spot for the Empire State Building, partially for its design and partially because it was small enough to bring back. Now it sits next to our plants as Cagatay's little minifigure Stormtrooper hangs on for dear life, King Kong-esque. (Why does my boyfriend have a Stormtrooper minifigure lying around, you ask? A very good question...)

Then, over Thanksgiving, when I was trying to get some ideas for homemade Christmas ornaments, I somehow came across the website of artist Chris McVeigh, who photographs Lego minifigures in funny situations. The prints were incredibly affordable and Red Bubble was offering low shipping to Turkey, so we bought three: Breakast of Champions, pictured above, plus It's Not My Fault! (Stormtroopers toys hanging from a clothesline) and Death of Robat (a play off of Jacques-Louis David's famous painting substituting C-3P0 for the dead Marat). We still need to get these photographs framed, but I'm excited to put them up, especially because they'll be our first pieces of wall art! Pin It

Inspiration: Lego Art

I absolutely love Lego art and though I've never tackled a project like the ones below, I've been gradually incorporating Legos into our decor. But first, some inspiration...

Clockwise from left:
1. Marco Pece recreates the Mona Lisa and other famous works of art, and posts them on Flickr  2. The Guardian newspaper posted Lego recreations of noteworthy events in 2011, including the summer riots in England  3. One of my favorite websites published its Lego recreations of Old Testament stories as a book  4. One of the most arguably famous Lego artists, Nathan Sawaya, recreates a billiards set  5. Fergie wore a Lego dress by Michael Schmidt to the 2011 Nickelodian Kids' Choice Awards  6. Proof that you can do anything with Legos, a physicist built a mini Large Hadron Collider Pin It