Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lunch at the Reading Terminal Market

It was just before noon on a Wednesday and we had just purchased wild sockeye salmon and crabmeat from John Fish Market; broccoli, mushrooms, bananas and red peppers at Iovine Brothers Produce; and a free range chicken at Godshall's Poultry. Now we are having an early lunch at the counter of Sang Kee Peking Duck. I’m enjoying roasted pork and duck with Bok Choy over white rice while Maria is eating sesame chicken. We did all of this under one roof.

Sang Kee Peking Duck

If Philadelphia has a gastronomic heart and soul it would have to be the Reading Terminal Market. It is one of the oldest and largest public markets in the U.S., not to mention one of the finest. There are more than 80 merchants that sell everything having to do with food. They share the space with vendors who sell books, crafts, plants and flowers. The butchers are skilled, the produce is always colorfully arranged, the pastry and candy shops are visually stunning and the restaurants represent a variety that is rare.

The counter at DiNic's

Maria and I have been shopping in this vast market since the 1980s, before we knew each other, when there was talk of closing the 118-year-old market as part of the construction of a new convention center. Instead, the city’s leaders listened to its constituents and embarked on a plan not only to save the market but to renovate it. The results have been better than anyone could have imagined. The aging and neglected structure was replaced with new HVAC systems. The light colored interior is highlighted by the reds, greens and blue colors marking the food stands. Plenty of attractive light fixtures hang down from the market’s high ceilings. The floor plan provides plenty of access for shoppers and the layout makes it easy to find your way around. Outside of its busiest times, such as a major convention, the place is designed well enough to handle the crowds.

A woman enjoying an ice cream at Bassett's

As market veterans, we chose our time to shop carefully, before the noontime rush. We were able to see our regular vendors and chat with them while it was still calm. As we ate, the terminal began filling up with hungry people for lunch. Locals, conventioneers and tourists wait in line at the sandwich shops, such as DiNic's for its famous pork sandwich and Carmen's Famous Italian Hoagies and Cheesesteaks for its Italian Hoagie with Prosciutto. They all mingle comfortably at tables set up throughout the market. Locals with their shopping lists in tow walk with purpose while out-of-towners stroll at a leisurely pace and stop to examine nearly every stand. They all mix well with the hungry lunchtime crowd. The sound of friendly conversation fills the space.

The counter of the Dutch Eating Place

Below is the first part of a video I took while walking through the market:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Published Story Update

A story I wrote on automated jewelry design appears in the March issue of JCK magazine, the leading trade magazine for the jewelry industry. In the article I interview university instructors and artists skilled in using and teaching Computer-Aided Design/Computer-Aided Manufacturing software for jewelry design.

These instructors give their opinions on how jewelers can become proficient in using CAD/CAM, how much they need to spend, and the differences in using automated systems for jewelry design as opposed to designing jewelry by hand.

The story appears here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Istanbul 101

The driver we hired for a day told me he has lived in Istanbul for five years. He was from Ankara, the capital city of Turkey about 280 miles away. He told me he truly enjoys living in Istanbul, with the exception of one thing: the traffic.

I think this is a good a place as any to begin a story about this amazingly complex and contradictory city. It’s been said many times but it all bears repeating: Istanbul is the only city on earth that sits on two continents (Europe and Asia). Culturally, it is the crossroads of the Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Historically, it has been the capital city of the Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the Latin Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. It is as beautiful as it is complex, with water playing a major role in its topography and its way of life—bordered by the Black Sea to the north and the Marmara Sea to the south. The Bosphorus strait splits the city in two, with the west being Europe and the east, Asia.

The Istanbul of today is a Muslim city in a Muslim country that embraces western culture and modern life. The city was chosen as joint European Capital of Culture for 2010. The historic areas of Istanbul were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.

In short, this city of anywhere from 12.8 million to 15 million people (depending on who’s counting) is a wonderful place to visit. I was there to cover a jewelry trade show located on the outskirts of the city, an hour’s drive to Eminönü, the heart of the walled city of Constantine in the southwest area of the city. The trade fair organizers arranged a bus for a group of us—which included journalists from India, South Africa, Lebanon and Hong Kong; about 20 Greek buyers; and a smaller group of Armenian buyers—where we received a tour of the historic area with a tour guide. We visited the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and the Grand Bazaar. The bus took us back to the hotel as the sun was setting and the walled city began a transformation. Cafés were lit and filled with people, couples strolled hand-and-hand along the ancient streets and on the Bosphorus the lights of the boats cast a warm glow as they drifted along the strait. All I wanted was to get off the bus and join the crowds.

The following day an Indian couple and I hired a driver and went to the Istiklal Caddesi shopping area and another mosque in the walled city. However, most of the day was spent in confusion and frustration as the driver who doesn’t like traffic also didn’t know where the monuments and sites we wanted to see were, and spoke almost no English. This was compounded by our lack of knowledge of what we wanted to see and our inability to speak Turkish. For example, the Indian couple were insistent on seeing the “Emperor’s Palace,” which turned out to be the Topkapi Palace. The driver and his boss insisted that it was closed on Sundays. They weren’t buying it. It turned out that it wasn’t closed. But when we finally arrived, it was after visiting hours. We spent most of the day in the car where I was mediating between the Indian couple, the driver and his boss on the phone. Occasionally, the driver would slow down, point and say, “This is very old. Want to shoot picture?”

The following is an overview of the major sites of this great city:

Hagia Sophia. If there is one building that encompasses all of the history and culture that makes Istanbul the place it is, it would have to be Hagia Sophia. The current structure is actually the third church built on the site, which was finished in the 6th Century. It is considered one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture. For 1,000 years it was the largest cathedral ever built.

Blue Mosque. Its official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but its common originates from the 20,000 handmade blue ceramic tiles inside the building. Completed in 1616, there are more than 200 stained-glass windows that bring light and heighten the blueness of the tile.

A man sells grilled chestnuts and boiled corn at the Hippodrome of Constantinople.

Hippodrome of Constantinople. Today it is known as Sultanahmet Meydani (Sultan Ahmet Square). In the fourth Century it was the sporting and social center of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. It was a U-shaped track for horse and chariot races. Today it is a meeting place in front of the Blue Mosque and near other historical sites.

Grand Bazaar. It has to be the most famous place in Istanbul and maybe the most famous shopping center in the world. Certainly it is the most touristed. Opened in 1461, it has more than 1,200 to 4,000 stores (depending on who’s counting and how they count) attract hundreds of thousands of people who attempt to bargain with shopkeepers, who, let’s face it, are the pros.

Istiklal Caddesi. A modern pedestrian shopping district that attracts waves of locals and tourists. No bargaining here, although the prices are often better than at the Grand Bazaar. A video of the shopping district is below.