Behind Zencefil

My review for Zencefil was my first real published piece of writing and appeared, more or less as it is here, in Time Out Istanbul. I’d been writing the blog for a couple of months and then lucked into being able to contribute it to the magazine in that way that can only really happen when you’re an ex-pat.

To write for Time Out in the UK, I’d have been competing with hundred of newly qualified journalism graduates happy to intern for nothing or experienced journalists with a CV of publications. In Istanbul, through teaching English, I knew the then current restaurant reviewer and had gone to Zencefil with her so she could write it up. She wasn’t that enthused with the Istanbul restaurant scene and struggled with deadlines and the whole thing was a bit of a chore for her.

So, rather than being an unwelcome competition, she was grateful when I said she could submit my already written blog review instead of writing her own. I asked the magazine if I could carry on doing it, the editor changed and I had to ask again, but then I was in.

I was too scared to go to the first editorial meeting, thinking I didn’t know anyone and wasn’t a real writer and would look stupid. But then the second one, to force myself, I offered to host it at my house (having just moved to the expat centre of Cihangir) which meant I not only had to be there, but I had a role as host so felt more comfortable.

I didn’t contribute much and didn’t say what I was thinking which was that I didn’t understand the new editor’s direction. He wanted the magazine to be one that a reader of any other magazine might pick up, drawn in by the front cover. So a reader of Time Magazine might be attracted by some gritty piece, an NME reader by the band reviewed etc. And to that end, he designated the next issue The Sex Issue meaning that I was asked to write about sex and food.

I didn’t see what any of that had to do with helping locals and tourists learn about Istanbul so the resulting piece, while I was happy with what I managed to write (I stayed up half the night doing it and doubting myself) I thought was the wrong kind of article for Time Out. I put it under another name too, Turkish boyfriend or no, I knew enough not to want students coming across me talking about where to insert cherry tomatoes.

Evidently the magazine owners felt the same as that editor lasted only one more issue, if that, and the very junior assistant editor took over a world famous brand magazine at age 22.

By the time it came out, I think my boyfriend had been away a month or two at most. Initially I sent him clippings of my reviews and articles but I stopped bothering after a while. He never commented, I’m not even sure he read them. When I directly asked what he thought of the sex and food article, he dismissed it as “silly”. It was, in essence, a silly piece, but, nonetheless, it was still something of an achievement and not badly written.

He must have known how important writing for the magazine was to me, how much I loved being part of a team (we were mostly just contributors not in house), between us coming up with a whole magazine from nothing every month. But he never once asked me what I was working on or to see anything. I did occasionally ask him things for pieces but he never asked to see the result, although like a child needing parental approval I did still send those.

The only thing he did have something to say about was when I went to a staff night out at a fancy restaurant, Suada on Galatasary Island, paid for by the magazine in lieu of paying us well enough for the features we wrote. He didn’t want me to go because there would be males there too and my socialising at night in a group was not OK.

I went of course, but think I didn’t stay as late as I might have, some of the fun taken out of being there by the stomach gnawing fear of getting a phone call demanding to know why I was out so late, who was I with etc. One of the topics of conversation at our table that night (6 months after he’d left) was all the couples we knew that were breaking up. I actually hoped aloud that I wouldn’t be one of them.

That’s right. Read back that paragraph and see the two clashingly, jarringly juxtaposed sentiments  it consists of. I was utterly incapable of admitting the obvious decision that was needed.


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