AN UNPARALLELED LABOR OF LOVE

 

“I’ve dined in many restaurants…

While dining, many thoughts have come to mind…

I’d like to share a bit about both with you.”

The journey of this blog began with these lines!

For years, I had been sending emails to friends and family to share my impressions and observations about the restaurants that I had dined in.

“You’ve got to write this down somewhere,” they kept on telling me.

In those early days of the internet, though, blogs and websites were not yet really a thing. I also wasn’t keen on collecting everything in a book – as someone who has published books and articles on law and finance, I was afraid that relating stuff that had occurred to me while out at a restaurant might seem a bit too light, at least in book form.

Cue my excitement, then, with the advent of blogs and websites! “Why not?” I told myself.

My assistant Gül Cici formed a blog and began collecting my first pieces and photographs there. At the time, it was 2016 and I was 69 years old.

One day, Esin Aksoy, a financial expert with my team at Garanti Investment Company, came to me and shyly noted:

“I really love these stories. If there’s going to be a blog, I want in!”

Esin was more aware of the technical side of such things than Gül. They came to an agreement, and Esin – a.k.a. the “Atomic Ant” to her colleagues – took up the task. Gül instead began helping direct some of the traffic among the people you see below.

Esin is the “mother” of this blog; she was the one that brought it to life, and she is the one who cares for it, feeds it and meets its every need. Though continuing on with her day job as a financial expert, over the past two years, she’s managed to carve out another career for herself while working at this tempo – that of content manager, together with the support of those listed below. And during this hectic pace, we even got to see her walk down the aisle as well. Her husband, Çağlar, works as a software developer in Dublin. Esin moved to Ireland as well and manages the blog from there.

I thought long and hard about a name for the blog. It had to be something that would tell readers about the restaurants I had been to – without giving away too much – and let them know that it was a blog that aimed to foster conversation with them. It was while enjoying a rakı with my son, Ege Tanör, at his summer house in California that we came up with the name: Restaurants and Tales. Since then, Ege has continued to provide support whenever necessary, such as when I’ve hesitated about a translation.

Stefan Martens does the translations. As for me, I learned French in school; my English extends little beyond “How are you? Fine, thank you…” They recommended Stef, a Canadian, while he was working as a translator and editor at the Hürriyet Daily News. I chose him from among a number of candidates, and I’m glad I did – the feedback I’ve gotten from readers bears me out. And here’s the good part of a lesson for those engaged in their careers: I’ve never ever met Stef. I’ve never even seen a picture of him. Despite this, and here’s knocking on wood, we’ve always gotten along great. Because he’s become an inseparable part of the team, I occasionally consult with him on topics separate from translation. At other times, he also comes to me to make recommendations of his own accord. Stefan even provided inspiration for one of my pieces that I particularly like: “On easily convinced husbands and customers.”

Roxanne Yurchak is the other translator; she’s especially been instrumental in the recipe section penned by my wife. I’ve also never met her or seen her picture. But here’s knocking on wood again, we’ve enjoyed some really productive work over the past two years.

Although I don’t particularly know English, I’ve always been meticulous in ensuring that every word in my pieces has been translated appropriately; for that, I sometimes go for a confabulation on a sentence or a word with Stefan, Roxanne and others that I value. Boston’s Adnan Onart and Istanbul’s Bülent Becan, two people who boast a successful CV in terms of business and an equally prominent place in terms of culture, have enriched the blog tremendously with their ideas. The same goes for Ali Mesut Önen, Banu Hammel and Efe Çakarel, all of whom have hurried to our aid whenever things aren’t going according to plan.

At the risk of complimenting myself, may I openly say that I like the pieces. The restaurants, memories, stories and thoughts all mesh together nicely. This isn’t a food site; it’s a site for a friendly chat. It’s a site that I want a lot of people to read. Though we may inhabit a digital media era in which image is everywhere, I believe that there is no shortage of people that feel a need for some warm conversation next to all the visuals; it’s for them that I’m writing. Accordingly, we decided to create a subscription list for such people, after which I asked friends if they could each prepare a small list of possible readers. Meanwhile, one person I talked to was Galip Yorgancıoğlu, a friend who happens to head a big company. It was he who took the first step to rescue the blog from the morass of ineptitude.

“This thing won’t turn out like you’re suggesting,” he told me. “There are professional ways to go about doing this. Let’s ask Nejat Çiftçi; he can help you.”

Nejat Çiftçi was one of the top executives at the same company… More importantly than that, he has been a friend of my son’s since the two were in elementary school. I know him well and vice versa… I explained our problems, and he soon invited me to his office. Lo and behold, our little Neco (like his family and friends, I had called him that since he was boy) had gone, to be replaced by a tremendously professional executive! He had brought along some people that he wanted to guide me in this endeavor, and together they delivered an hour-long briefing, in which I learned everything about making a blog from A to Z. I say “learn,” but that’s not to say that what they were saying wasn’t just a little bit scary. Apparently, we had been leading a pretty amateurish outfit until then. Previously, I had only been aware that there was a difference in reading quality between desktop computers, tablets and mobile devices. Apparently, this was just the beginning! The stuff that needed to be done didn’t appear to resemble the writing of any pieces.

“Don’t worry, Uncle Reha!” Neco reassured me. (Like my son’s other friends, he always called me “uncle.” Instead of hearing the cold and distant “Monsieur/Mister Reha” common to the West, I’ve always much preferred being addressed in that particular Eastern way that transmits so much more familial warmth.)

“Don’t let all this get you down. We’ll be there right with you and we’ll give you whatever support is needed,” Neco said.

It’s actually here where our story really started to take off.

As I said, Neco is a very successful professional. His command of his field, his power of analysis, his ability to solve problems and create solutions, his planning, his efficiency in terms of execution and monitoring, as well as his determination to succeed, really had an impact on me. In my 45 years in business and my 15 years as a professor in graduate studies, there are very few people that have gotten top marks from me. But for both his professional and his personal qualities, Neco aced his test with me.

The task began with the inclusion of Ercüment Büyükşener, a digital media consultant and a professor at Bilgi University. He took care of all the loose ends that I didn’t know about in terms of the digital world, explaining all that needed to be done first to ensure that the blog could be read conveniently and reliably on all devices.

When I said, “How on earth am I going to do that?” he was there to put a hand around my shoulder.

“Don’t worry, we’ll help you.” And with this support began a tremendous project. First, they moved to train Esin, accepting her into their classes at university. Then they started to teach everything about how to improve and manage the blog. As if that wasn’t enough, he and his team stepped in do all that was necessary whenever something exceeded Esin.

In the next stage, Ercüment brought in software developer Barış Ünver. Though young in years, Barış is someone who has reached the rarified heights of publishing articles in his field in a global setting. What’s more, he also boasts a love of culture and the arts. He took on the responsibility of strengthening the blog’s technical infrastructure, teaching a lot to Esin in the process.

Naturally, when one gets past the growing pains, one begins to want more. Despite all the changes that were made, I still wasn’t quite satisfied with the layout. In short, I wanted something else. When I was in high school, I had been in charge of the school’s journal and newspaper. Even then, I had been able to create solutions while laying out the page. Now, however, whatever I would do, I would be confronted with the statement that “the template doesn’t work with that.” My sense of logic just couldn’t accept this dearth of solutions. Nejat, however, had understood my troubles and soon brought on board the creative agency Brandthebliss. There was another meeting, and then another step toward progress and something better. Erhan Güven and his team understood my expectations, got down to work and produced something great. I hope, too, that you also like the blog’s visual component.

When Erdir Zat, who has edited two momentous works in his field, The Rakı Encyclopedia and Rakı Gastronomy, saw what we were doing, he said he wanted to enlist in the project as well. As a valuable editor, Zat made an immense contribution in terms of defining the philosophy on the blog and transforming this into a motto.

As you can see, this modest blog became possible thanks to extensive and valuable support.

And apart from some necessary costs, this support has all been a voluntary labor of love.

These people at the peak of their professions must have thought this:

“This guy is 70! At most, he should be in his pajamas at home with Instagram and Facebook for company, but he’s only gone and tried to start a huge blog!

“Half of the guy’s blog is restaurants. You know, places to go wine and dine. But then he says, ‘I don’t know much about wining and dining because my wife’s food is enough for me.’ That’s what he says, but now he’s trying to do a food blog!”

“When you ask the guy how he is, he gives you a perfect ‘Fine, thank you,’ but then adds immediately: ‘Don’t ask anything else because that’s it…’ And then he says, ‘My blog has to be English – it has to reach people from everywhere!’

“Is this guy crazy or what? But if he’s here willing to do it, why shouldn’t we be too?”

They probably reckoned this was an interesting challenge and an “enjoyable project” and chose to give me some help and become part of the undertaking.

When the drive for creativity and productivity is combined with professional discipline, there’s nothing you can’t succeed at.

At present, we’re just at the start of the project. Time will tell as to whether we’ve been successful or not. If people from different nations, religions, ages and genders come to read this blog and join the conversation, I’ll consider it a success.

That’s what we’ve done so far. The only people writing on this blog are my wife, who provided recipes for some of the meals we cook at home, and I.

The rest of the site belongs to the people listed above.

I can’t find the words to thank them… Let me just say this:

This blog is theirs!

August 2017