Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

In Istanbul, living in the present moment is a form of defiance.

January 19, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Food, Places, Traveling

Marzipans. All photos of Istanbul vitrines and shop displays by JZ.


Candied fruit

A sparrow was sipping water from a half-filled glass in an Istanbul café Wednesday morning. Customers had their lunch outside, thanks to the warm weather, and chatted about the latest episode of Sherlock, screened hours after the terror attack on the city’s Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve, which killed 39 people. Two cats were fed leftovers; a stray dog watched the scene from a safe distance. The terror threat level had been raised as high as it would go, not only because of the Reina attack, but also a simultaneous attack in the capital Ankara that had been foiled at the last minute, not to mention many more that had been thwarted in the past month. But this did not at all seem like a city under threat.

How do Istanbulites do it? It is a hard trick to pull, this immediate return to normality. Some consider it an expression of powerlessness, but I find wisdom in the ability to counter shock with calm. After the suicide attack at the Ataturk Airport in June, the scene was cleaned of signs of chaos in a matter of hours. The shattered glass was swept away, airport personnel reopened their desks, baristas served overpriced Caramelattes to travelers—it didn’t really feel as if 45 people had died hours earlier. And yet those people were not trying to erase history. Living in the present moment, for them, was a form of defiance, not amnesia.

Read Kaya Genc’s dispatch from Istanbul.


More teas

Dried fruit


Only two weeks till our next Writing Boot Camp

January 18, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Announcements


You’ve always wanted to write, but you don’t know how to get started.

You used to write, but you haven’t done it in a while and you feel rusty.

You’re sort of interested in writing, but you’re afraid to even admit it.

You’ve started many stories, but you ran out of steam.

You think you can write, but you need a second opinion.

You have a writing project that you’ve kept putting off, and you just looked at the calendar and it’s almost 2017.

(Or you have a friend who is any/all of the above and you want to give them a little push.)

Join our Writing Boot Camp! The objective is simple: to start and finish a piece of writing (story or essay) in two weekends.

Dates: February 4 and 11, 2017, from 1-5pm.
Venue: WSI Corporate Center, Metropolitan Avenue, Makati (near the Makati fire station at the end of Ayala Avenue)
Cost: Php5,000.

For inquiries and to book a place, email (To those who’ve already registered: I’m sending you an easy writing exercise next week.)

Weekly Report Card 1 and 2: A Bigger Splash, La La Land, Nobelists and ex-wunderkinder

January 17, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

In 2016 I was so distracted by the horror of the outside world that I read fewer books and watched fewer movies than I usually do. This was a mistake because I live in my head. I know one must be aware of what’s going on, but it’s not necessary to get the bizarre news as it happens or read vile tweets as they are posted. In my case it only leads to helpless rage, despair and catatonia, and I’m not even on the social media.

It is precisely in times like these that novels and films are essential to survival. To ensure that I do not slacken in my reading and viewing, I’m starting a weekly scorecard. I urge you to do the same. File under sanity maintenance.

Week 1: Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney and A Bigger Splash by Luca Guadagnino.

Precious is the word, as in precioussssss. This is a seriously overwritten book about well-to-do people who feel poor among richer people. Oh, the humanity. Typical sentence: “Inside, she’s confronted with a vast creaking stairway composed of ancient oak planks that recedes as it ascends in front of her, each floor taking her farther back into the building, until finally she finds herself on the top floor, where the door stands ajar.” Wow, he just described how stairs work.

A Bigger Splash: Emotional Rescue

(I saw Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back on the plane—every time Princess Leia appeared I felt like bursting into tears.)

Ralph Fiennes is hilarious in A Bigger Splash as a loud, disruptive, middle-aged music industry guy who turns up uninvited at the Italian island retreat of his rock star ex (Tilda Swinton) and his ex-friend (Matthias Schoenaerts), dragging along a young woman (Dakota Johnson) whom no one believes is his daughter. Trouble ensues. Since The Grand Budapest Hotel Fiennes has been in a comic phase (See Hail Caesar) and it’s unleashed something wild and unpredictable in this serious thespian.

Week 2: A Strangeness In My Mind by Orhan Pamuk and La La Land by Damien Chazelle

Reading Pamuk in Istanbul is an incredible experience. Combine with a visit to his Museum of Innocence and you can sit in the van for the rest of the trip (But don’t).

An exhibit from the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul.

La La Land is beautiful to behold, Emma Stone graduates from her protracted ingenue phase to break your heart in her final audition song, Ryan Gosling’s frustrated jazz musician is so real that you want to kiss him and punch him in the face at the same time, and that Last Temptation of Christ-like montage nearly killed me. I wish the composers had listened to Sebastian’s rants about jazz and used more bebop. But though I am also partial to Bird and Monk, I know that jazz isn’t dying, it’s simply moved on. You got a problem with Miles?

From Lying to Leering: Rebecca Solnit on Trump’s Fear of Women

January 16, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Places

I can’t bring myself to post a photograph, so here is an orange singing the Habanera from Carmen.

Trump is patriarchy unbuttoned, paunchy, in a baggy suit, with his hair oozing and his lips flapping and his face squinching into clownish expressions of mockery and rage and self-congratulation. He picked as a running mate buttoned-up patriarchy, the lean, crop-haired, perpetually tense Mike Pence, who actually has experience in government, signing eight anti-abortion bills in his four years as governor of Indiana, and going after Planned Parenthood the way Trump went after hapless beauty queens. The Republican platform was, as usual, keen to gut reproductive rights and pretty much any rights that appertained to people who weren’t straight, or male, or white.

Misogyny was everywhere. It came from the right and the left, and Clinton was its bull’s-eye, but it spilled over to women across the political spectrum. Early on some of Trump’s fury focused on the Fox presenter Megyn Kelly, who had questioned him about his derogatory comments about other women’s appearance. He made the bizarre statement on CNN that ‘you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.’ He also denigrated his opponents’ wives and the businesswoman Carly Fiorina’s face; he obligingly attacked Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe, in a flurry of middle-of-the-night tweets after Clinton baited him about his treatment of her; he attacked the women who accused him of assaulting them after the grab-them-by-the-pussy tape was released.

Read it in the LRB.

Stranded in a Snowpocalypse

January 13, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Places, Traveling

Record levels of snow fell over Europe, blanketing the continent, closing the Bosphorus to shipping and causing flight cancellations. In Istanbul, homeless people and stray animals were rounded up and taken to shelters. In Cappadocia, the snow heightened the extraterrestrial feel of the landscape. It makes me think of Arrakis with snow instead of sand, and the fairy chimneys as frozen sandworms.

It was supposed to be our last day in Turkey. In the morning we went up in a hot air balloon for spectacular views of Cappadocia.

To no one’s surprise, the airport was snowed in and our afternoon flight back to Istanbul was cancelled.

These clever cats live at the Nevsehir airport, where there are warm spots to huddle in and people to give them food. I had taken to carrying cheese and cold cuts from the breakfast buffet for the critters I met.

The safest way to get back to Istanbul was by land. So the next day we drove ten hours from Goreme to Istanbul, with pit stops every two or three hours. Turn a setback into an adventure! I must’ve seen every public WC and convenience store in Anatolia.

Throughout this unexpected development, the center of calm and efficiency was our tour guide, Arif Yasa. Not only is Arif super-knowledgeable about Turkish history, culture, and cuisine, he is also extremely kind and patient. You try being in charge of ten Pinoys, each with specific requirements, and maintain your sanity.

If you’re going to Turkey, one of the smartest things you can do is get Arif to be your guide. You can reach him at

By 8pm we were having dinner at a mall in Istanbul, by 10 we were at the airport. Almost the minute I strapped myself into my seat, I was asleep.

Notes on travelling to Turkey and elsewhere

1. The news is scary, so it’s natural to hesitate about going there. In the aftermath of the nightclub shooting, security has been tightened in Istanbul and people have been warned to avoid crowded places. At no time during our eight-day trip did I feel unsafe. Not to belittle the problem, but there is an upside to this: fewer tourists. You can hear yourself think.

Listen, the whole world looks like Children of Men (the Alfonso Cuaron movie) now. Are you going to hide, or are you going to get out there and live?

2. Always have travel insurance, even if it’s not required when getting your visa. Shit happens. Best to be prepared.

3. If you’re going to a cold country, Uniqlo is your friend. When I was packing for the trip it occurred to me that my ten-year-old winter coat could use reinforcements. I stocked up on Uniqlo sweaters and Heattech shirts, and they saved me from hypothermia when the mercury dropped.

4. How can you see the world when you’re perpetually checking your phones and tablets? Disconnect. It’s mostly chaos and idiocy anyway, and you do not need minute-by-minute updates. Enjoy the silence. Get reacquainted with yourself.

While I defrost my extremities, enjoy this camp classic from Turkey, one of the most bizarre movies ever made: The Man Who Saves The World a.k.a. Turkish Star Wars.

For great Turkish films, check out Yol (The Road), Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, or Winter Sleep.

Snow falling in Cappadocia, Turkey

January 09, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Places, Traveling

Writing Shit About New Snow
by Kobayashi Issa

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.

Translated by Robert Hass

Despite the name there is nothing sinister about the Byzantine church carved into the soft rock. The church is called that because it’s not exposed to direct light, sparing the frescoes from serious damage.

I was wearing four layers of clothes and an overcoat. This cat was taking a stroll in the snow. He accepted some cheese and cold cuts, and a hug.