Controversy over new Turkish Airlines spokesman Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant Turkish Airlines spokesmanIn order to promote the upcoming new Los AngelesIstanbul flights, the new Turkish Airlines spokesman Kobe Bryant has prompted some protest in the Armenian American community. Turkey (as well as the United States) does not recognize the death of 1.5 million Armenians at the end of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire as genocide. 700,000 Armenian Americans in California are hoping Bryant will use his stature to raise awareness and put pressure on the United States to recognize the deaths, threatening to boycott the basketball star and the L.A. Lakers if he doesn’t back out of the deal.

Should he continue with the deal, Bryant will make his own inaugural trip in 2011. “I’ve never been to Turkey,” Bryant told CNBC. “But all the guys on the team in the league who have been keep saying it’s one of the hottest places to go to.” The LAX-IST flights will begin in March, four times a week. Turkish Airlines also has direct flights from New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Turkish Airlines’ current brand embassador is actor Kevin Costner, though no protests are known against his films or for the work of Benicio del Toro, whose image can be seen all over Turkey in advertisements for Magnum ice cream.

[Photo via Flickr by Keith Allison]

Roman ruins in Turkey to be flooded by dam project

One of the most important Roman archaeological sites in Turkey will soon be underwater.

The Roman spa town of Allianoi will be submerged beneath a reservoir once the nearby Yortanli dam becomes operational. The town was built in the second century AD near Bergama (ancient Pergamon) and has remained remarkably preserved. Archaeologists have uncovered baths, sculptures, artifacts, and elaborate mosaics that are giving them insights into Roman medicine and culture.

The site has become a battleground between archaeologists and European Union cultural officials on one side, and the Turkish government and farmers on the other. Local farmers are eager to see the dam finished because it will irrigate almost 20,000 acres of land. The EU has weighed in on the controversy because Turkey hopes to become a member state, yet the construction goes against both EU and Turkish heritage preservation laws.

Ironically, the site was only discovered because of an archaeological survey conducted in anticipation of the dam’s construction.

Only a quarter of the town has been excavated so far. Workers are currently burying the site in sand in order to protect it when it gets inundated.

[Photo courtesy Cretanforever via Wikimedia Commons]

Eating whale in Greenland

Don’t hate me but I ate whale meat. More than once and from more than one species (cringe).

I didn’t do it for the sake of boasting–I’ve eaten whale before in other countries. I did it because when you get invited over for dinner at somebody’s house in Greenland and they serve you whale, you just eat it and smile and say, “Qujanaq”(thank you).

As a guest in Greenland, I was first served a tender whale steak smothered in caramelized onions, and honestly-it was good. I still felt uneasy about eating it, though–I was indoctrinated by the Save the Whales campaigns of the 1980s and still believe that commercial whaling is fundamentally unnecessary.

Perhaps more disturbing was seeing humpback whale on a plate, which I also tasted and felt guilty about. Hunting humpbacks is banned by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and the species is still listed as endangered under the United States’ Endangered Species Act. However, the IWC does include an “aboriginal subsistence whaling” clause that recognizes tradition and allows indigenous hunting communities to take enough for their own consumption, as long as its done “sustainably”, meaning within the limits of internationally-recognized quotas.

The Inuit of Greenland have been whaling for a few thousand years and that won’t change any time soon. While visiting the southern town of Qaqortoq, a minke whale was hunted and butchered right down in the harbor. What followed was an odd blend of ancient tradition and 21st century technology: cell phones buzzed around town to spread the news, and all the old folks gathered around to chat and linger. It was a big event–whole families walked in to look over the meat, people brought their own bags and carefully picked out the morsel they wanted. For a few minutes, I was able to suspend judgment and just witness the way life is lived in Greenland.And life in Greenland includes eating whale. Not all the time-whale meat is rare and not eaten everyday. Also, whale isn’t cheap. In the supermarket, a pound of narwhal costs around $40. Smoked salmon is far more abundant and much cheaper, as is musk ox and reindeer (also tasty). But whale is the delicacy people love and the way Greenlanders talk about it is not unlike Americans raving about KFC-it’s oh so wrong, but it just tastes so good.

At some point, all travelers have to find that balance between personal beliefs (“But I’m a vegetarian!”) and simple respect towards the place they are visiting. For me, that meant eating tiny chunks of whale blubber as an appetizer at a cocktail party in Narsarsuaq.%Gallery-103128%

Controversy over Spain’s reopened Army Museum

Spain has reopened its Army Museum after moving it from Madrid to Toledo, but some Spaniards aren’t happy with the choice of buildings.

The Museo del Ejército is housed in El Alcázar, a fort overlooking Toledo. When the fascists rebelled against the Second Spanish Republic and started the Spanish Civil War, Toledo was controlled by the Republican government, but the fort was in the hands of an army garrison who threw their lot in with Francisco Franco and the other fascist leaders. The defenders held out for two months against overwhelming odds until Franco’s army took the town. Franco went on to defeat the Republic and rule Spain as dictator until his death in 1975. Spain quickly switched to democratic rule after that.

The siege was a rallying cry for the fascists during the war and a major propaganda tool throughout their rule. Many on Spain’s left don’t like the symbolism of putting a military museum there. Some on the right are upset too, because a planned exhibit dedicated to El Division Azul, Spanish volunteers who fought for Hitler on the Russian front, was left out. Some artifacts from the division are on display in the World War Two section.

Another lingering controversy is the cost–€101 million ($129 million), almost four times its original budget. The museum was four years late in opening.

The museum itself is an interesting addition to any already much-visited city. With 21 rooms and 8000 square meters of exhibition space, it displays thousands of items from the early days of Spain’s military might up to the present day. While the displays tell the story of the Spanish army, the controversy over the museum says a lot about Spain’s struggle with its past.

Photo courtesy Rgcamus via Wikimedia Commons.

Southwest bumps thin passenger off flight for two-seater

Last week a 5-foot-4, 110-pound woman was removed from a Las Vegas to Sacramento Southwest flight in order to accommodate an overweight teenager who required two seats. Despite paying full-fare for the last available seat, the anonymous woman was booted off the flight when the heavier passenger boarded the plane just before departure. Southwest admits their handling of the incident was “awkward” but were reluctant to ask for volunteers to deplane as the overweight person was a minor and they didn’t want to cause her further embarrassment.

This isn’t the first time this year Southwest has had a weight-related controversy. In February, director/actor Kevin “Silent Bob” Smith tweeted that he was deemed a safety risk and bumped from a flight after he refused to buy a second seat. The airline claimed they were acting in accordance with their “Customer of Size” policy, but apologized to Mr. Smith. In response to this latest incident, he tweetedNow me AND my wife can get booted off Southwest… TOGETHER!”

How do you think Southwest Air should have handled the situation?

[Photo credit: Flickr user David Reber]