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‘I Will Get Attacked for It, But F*ck That’: Fatih Akin on “In the Fade,” Diane Kruger, and Neo-Nazis

The Turkish-German director Fatih Akin has made a career out of chronicling the marginalized. In his 2004 masterpiece, Head-On, a man and a woman — both of Turkish ancestry, both suicidal, but from very different family backgrounds — found themselves in a dangerous, passionate relationship. 2009’s Soul Kitchen followed a pair of Greek brothers as they struggled to run a Hamburg restaurant. 2002’s Solino looked at the lives of Italian immigrants in Germany. 2014’s The Cut depicted the harrowing experiences of a young Armenian man in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. In the director’s latest, the powerful and disturbing In the Fade, Diane Kruger plays a Hamburg woman struggling with her grief and her desire for justice after her Turkish husband and young son are murdered by neo-Nazis. The film, which was recently nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Film, proved somewhat divisive at last May’s Cannes but also won Kruger, starring in a German-language film for the first time in her career, the festival’s Best Actress award. (You can read my review here.) I sat down with Akin to talk about In the Fade, neo-Nazis in Germany, and whether these days he still travels to Turkey.

Where did the idea for In the Fade come from?

In Germany, we have serious issues with the rise of neo-Nazis, and how they’ve — neo-Nazis and racists — now reached the center of society. In the Nineties, you could see the enemy. They were skinheads, and they were idiots, and violent. But what are they wearing now? What do they look like and how do they talk? Now, they are very smart. We had the so-called NSU [National Socialist Underground] killings. Between 2000 and 2007, a group of three neo-Nazis, two men and one woman, killed ten people. Nine immigrants — eight with Turkish or Kurdish background, one with Greek background — and one German police officer. And until 2011, the police, the society, and the press thought these murders were done by the Turkish mafia. Just because the victims were all killed with the same gun, and they were Turkish, people said, “These must have been drug dealers, or they must have something to do with prostitution.” That’s the racism of the society. In November 2011, it came out that these killings were done by this group. And it came out by random — not because of a successful police investigation. I was so furious when I found all this out. First of all, because I could be a possible target for these people. Second, because my brother knew one of the victims. It was in our neighborhood. So, it was close to me. I had to express my anger and my fear.

The real trial is still going on. That’s why my film is a fiction. And because the real case is much more complicated than my film. So, on the one hand I was like, this is good material for a thriller; as an egoist, as a director, I can say that. But on the other hand it was something I could throw out into German society as something they have to discuss. We are great at forgetting stuff, or not talking about stuff, or not being interested in stuff. That’s why I tried to make the film somehow as popular as possible — to reach not just the audience I always reach, but a wider audience in Germany. A lot of it is a classical thriller plot. You know, the victims say, “No, it was the neo-Nazis,” but nobody believes them.

Something similar happens here, too. Every time there’s an attack, there are people who assume at first that it’s ISIS-inspired or something. “Was it a Muslim? Was it an immigrant?” More often than not, however, in the U.S., it’s not. Most U.S. terror incidents in 2017 came from white supremacists. But the society never tells that story to itself. Was it difficult getting a film like this produced?

No. I mean, yes and no. The relevance of the film helped. This is what people talk about: “It’s so up to date,” or “It’s so about today.” And to be honest, I first had this idea in the Nineties. I don’t know if you know about Mölln and Solingen. These were two cities in Germany, small towns. Two or three years after the two Germanys became one country, there was a rise of extreme nationalism. And skinheads at that time threw Molotov cocktails into houses where Turkish people were living. And they killed eight women and children.

It’s amazing that, as a Turk, I didn’t hear either of these stories.

Well, you’re here, and the Germans, they didn’t want to draw too much attention about it. So, since I was a teenager, or in my early twenties — I was nineteen then — I wanted to express my anger and my fears on film. But it took awhile because, although the film has the perspective of the victim, I didn’t want to do a victim narrative. Like, “Ah, we’re the poor immigrants,” and “Please take care of us,” you know. That was very important. That has something to do with pride. And I wanted to make it entertaining, which is difficult enough. Especially in Germany, because [when it comes to] anything about Nazis and the Third Reich, we have people who observe what you do very carefully, like the liberal press or film critics. You have to really know what you’re doing and choose the right angle. And I was not ready for that. I didn’t want to be didactic, either. It took some time to have the self-knowledge to work on this story.

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In the Fade essentially jumps among three different genres. In the first section, you really give space to Katja’s grief. It’s emotionally grueling  and very powerful. So many filmmakers would be afraid to go that far with it, because it’s relentless. I’m curious about the decision to let that live for a while, and then to go to the courtroom drama, and then to go to the revenge plot. 

 Without spoiling too much, when you really analyze the film, it’s about the details. In every section of the film, it’s really about details, the details keep the story going. The decision in the first part to take time was not to have “grief porn” — somebody wrote that at Cannes. The intention was not to make the audience cry over stuff like this. You know how the first part ends, right? Without spoiling it…

When she’s in the bathtub…

Yeah. In the bathtub. And I had to make it believable for her to go there. The audience has to believe that step. That’s the one thing. The second is: I got kids. Even if you don’t have kids, you understand this. But especially if you have kids, you have to be honest with these things. This is the biggest nightmare that can happen. And you have to show it as a nightmare. You have to show it as a fucking horror film.

Then, when I structured this with a sketch on paper, I said, the second part, the trial part, will end the way it ends…how can you make that believable? How can you convince the liberal German press that this can happen? So, the trial became longer and longer and longer.

Did you have to do a lot of research to get the legal details correct?

Yes. Like I mentioned before, the real trial still goes on in Munich. And I was several times in Munich, at the real trial. It was so boring. And I understood the system behind it. A lot of those victims are Turkish people, or immigrants, and they were so emotionally involved. But the trial is doing the complete opposite; it completely lacks any emotion. Maybe this is the right thing. Maybe it has to be like that, you know? But the real victims, they have emotions — and it was my job to make it real but at the same time very emotional.

Diane Kruger in “In the Fade”

At what point did Diane Kruger get involved? She’s fantastic, but by foregrounding all this emotion, you’ve created a film that absolutely requires an outstanding actor to pull it all off. That seems risky.

I’m very, very lucky with Diane because somehow it was an instinctive decision. Diane came on board before I had a screenplay. Like I said, I was trying to write a story for twenty years, but once I had the general framing, it was so fast, the whole process. So, I had a storyline of ten or twelve pages, maybe two pages description of the character. I sent that to Diane.

When I was writing I thought, “OK, I need a good actress for that, who can I cast?” The usual suspects came into my mind — you know, the usual German actresses for this. And they all felt not quite glamorous enough. Or spectacular enough. Or bigger than life. And then I had the idea of Diane. I sent her the material and thought, “OK, she’s just going to say no.” She immediately responded, and said she loved it, but she was really scared about it, too. That was a humble but ambitious way of responding. I went to Paris. She invited me for dinner. She cooked. And I came with a lot of prejudices to Paris. Like, she’s an It girl.… After the meeting I did my homework and discovered brilliant work from her. Other directors worked that out before me; I’m not the first. She was very great in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. And she made a bunch of movies where she’s enormous, but I hadn’t seen them. So, when I came to Paris and I met Diane, maybe because she’s smart enough to prepare herself like the character, she had a bad hair day, no makeup, very loose clothes…and she was the character. And my instinct was: She’s right. Then I started to watch all her films. “OK, how did my colleagues photograph her? What is the right angle, what is the wrong angle?” And I saw what a great actress she is.

She’s very good with emotion, but she’s also very good at just conveying thought. So much of the performance is wordless, where we’re watching her as she decides on what to do and what not to do. The ability to think onscreen and make it interesting is something quite rare.

I learned a lot from her. I learned how to really use space with an actor. She would ask me a lot for space — verbally and non-verbally. That was my whole job on this. Space in terms of trust, freedom, consoling. Taking care of her, so that she doesn’t hurt herself with her emotions. Space of no fear — no fear that anything might be embarrassing, you know. It was a laboratory. We could work things out, we could try things, and she always had ideas and suggestions. There are two sorts of films for a director, in my experience. The first are the ones where you really have to direct the film — every fucking little tiny decision you have to be aware of. Some of my earlier films are like that. And then there are ones where the film does its own thing. The film has its own spirit, nothing to do with you anymore. It just goes its own way, and if you’re smart, you let it go. You don’t try to force it to the path you had in mind. And this film was a film like that.

With the final shot, going up and revealing the upside-down sea — I had an immediate reaction to that, and a particular kind of meaning came to my head.

When I did the flipping [of the image], I did that in post-production. I found the shot very boring, and too long. I went to my editor, “Can we flip the shot? What would happen if we flip it in the sky?” And we did it and immediately we knew that it was right. But it was not planned like that.

That sends the film in a whole other direction for me. Because I look at that and I think to myself, what I’m watching in some sense is the flip side of another world, and in that other world there are people who don’t look like Diane Kruger who also are hurting and don’t feel like they’ve gotten justice, and are doing things that we see as criminal and horrible. Suddenly, the fact that you never mention Islamic extremism and all these other contemporary things, it all made sense — because in that upside-down world, there might be a whole other narrative.

Yes, exactly. You know, the moment we flipped it, it was a visual solution for all the questions we had in the editing room, I tell you. Everything was somehow solved in that moment.

What about the title?

“In the Fade,” you mean? It’s a different title than the German one. In German it’s called “Aus dem Nichts.”

And how does that translate?

You cannot really translate it. Not with the same impact. If you translated directly, it would be something like “From Nothing,” or “Out of Nothing,” or “Out of the Blue.” But “Aus dem Nichts” in German is something that has an impact. There is a power in these three words, “Aus dem Nichts.” You know, it’s like “Gegen die Wand.” It is three words, and you cannot translate it. “Head-On” is not the same. If you fuck up the movie, you say, “Hey, he drove with the film gegen die wand.” Sometimes I don’t like translations from German films into English, the one-to-one translations. “The Lives of Others,” you know? It’s not the same as in German. “Das Leben der Anderen” is…that’s poetry. And “The Lives of Others,” excuse me, but it sounds like shit. So, I was looking for [a title with its] own identity. I was listening to a lot of Queens of the Stone Age, and at the end, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age wrote the soundtrack for our film. I used one song, but I cut the song out. And the song was called “In the Fade.”

What has been the response to In the Fade in Germany?

Mostly positive. Which surprised me a bit. I expected, and I hoped also, that it would be more divisive, to be honest. Don’t trust a film which has just good reviews. And because I want to provoke, and after Cannes, globally — not in Germany — a lot of people had problems with the film. “Why are the killers not Muslims?” This kind of bullshit appeared. I was very surprised that this came from the liberal press. But in Germany it’s mostly positive. Diane is very important for the response in Germany, because she’s kind of like the lost daughter who came back to the mother country. Plus she won [the Best Actress award at Cannes], and suddenly, the girl nobody seemed to like in Germany, suddenly they’re all proud of her, and they’re really curious about the film.

Do you go back to Turkey often?

I haven’t been back since the premiere of The Cut [Akin’s film about the Armenian genocide] there, in December of 2014. So, I haven’t been there in three years. Before that, I was there so often. I have social networks there, like Instagram and Twitter and stuff, and most of my followers are from Turkey. Most of my followers are females from Turkey. And not because I’m a very handsome or attractive guy [laughs]. I think that my work, which is about honesty and freedom, somehow touches these people. I’m very, very happy that I have this audience there.

Is it because of the response to The Cut that you haven’t returned?

Not just. I think today a film like that would be more difficult to show. But at that time, it was not as harsh as it has become. Now I’ve become what you call a “betrayer,” you know? A public enemy. Because of The Cut, because I was supporting the Gezi Park protests, because I announced another film, about Kurdish freedom fighters in North Syria. So, people went crazy. Like it was OK to support ISIS but not the Kurdish freedom fighters. This is embarrassing in a way and very harsh. But I say the truth, you know? What can I do if people in Turkey ask me questions? I can lie, or I can be a coward by not mentioning stuff. Or I can say the truth. I say the truth. I will get attacked for it, but fuck that. It’s always worth it to work with the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Guide: All You Need to Know About Turkey Day Deals and Destinations

If the thought of an eight-hour layover followed by your drunk uncle’s ode to Donald Trump doesn’t exactly ignite the spirit of American heritage, you may want to consider the many other tasty alternatives to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Here are 10 great ideas:

If you want to spend the actual holiday helping people, but still want to eat a Thanksgiving-style meal, head to:
Angel of Harlem, 2272 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Monday November 23 and Tuesday November 24
Instead of staying open on Thanksgiving, Angel of Harlem will be closed so chef Max Hardy and his staff can volunteer nearby at The Food Bank for New York City. Guests who wish to do the same can eat a few days in advance with a $45 per person pre-fix menu. The selection includes white cheddar mac n’ cheese, citrus and herb roasted turkey with cornbread stuffing, and braised short rib.

If you want to go out the night before, but can’t stand your hometown bar, head to:
Grand Ferry Tavern, 229 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, Wednesday November 25, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Pre-game Thanksgiving eve with an all-day oyster happy hour, wine specials, and a $20 prix fixe menu. Dinner includes a draft cocktail, the Grand Ferry burger with fries, and bourbon ice cream. Oyster platters will be half-price during happy hour and range from $17.60 to $32.50, while any bottle noted on the wine list will be 50% off.

If you want to walk away with more than just leftover turkey, head to:
Artisanal Bistro, 2 Park Avenue, Thursday November 26, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
In addition to a five course prix fixe for $85 – 2 courses for $60 per child – each table receives a complimentary wine and cheese basket to take home. Guests can reserve two hour seatings beginning at 11 a.m., with the final seating taking place at 7 p.m..

If you want to re-enact the Mayflower voyage, head to:
The Water Table, West Street at India Street, Brooklyn, Thursday November 26, 4 to 7 p.m.
Set sail for Lady Liberty while enjoying Thanksgiving on the East River. For $95, pretend you’re a millennial pilgrim with a four-course dinner highlighted by greenmarket pretzels with maple mustard, organic turkey, and garlic mashed potatoes. Drinks – which are not included in the cost of a ticket – are available for purchase on board. Hop aboard here.

If you want a celebrity chef to do the cooking, head to:
Jams by Jonathan Waxman, 1 Hotel Central Park, Thursday November 26, 1414 6th Avenue
A nearby option if you plan on watching the Macy’s parade, diners can warm their bones with a a three-course dinner for $85 per person ($35 per child). The table setting includes Parker House rolls, pumpkin lasagna, and either turkey breast with sourdough bread budding, baked cod, or potato gnocchi. All traditional sides will be served family-style.

If you like turkey, but really prefer seafood, head to:
The Clam, 420 Hudson Street, Thursday November 26

If the bird is decidedly not the word in your family, settle down with baked littleneck clams accompanied by pancetta and crab and stuffed Maine lobster as part of a three course $90 prix fix menu ($25 for children). Desserts include pumpkin pudding with gingerbread cookies and spiced cream and hazelnut cheesecake.

If you want a European twist on an American holiday, head to:
Socarrat Restaurants, 259 W 19th Street; 284 Mulberry Street; 953 2nd Avenue, 12 to 9 p.m.
For $55, give Thanksgiving a Mediterranean twist with a variety of paellas, pan-seared lamb chops, and seafood casserole. The restaurant is also offering turkey stuffed with chorizo, apple, and dried cranberry as part of its three-course menu. Wine pairings are available for an additional $42.

If you usually celebrate Thanksgiving with a Tofurky, head to:
by CHLOE, 185 Bleecker Street, throughout November

If the thought of eating a gentle gobbler is too much to bear, grab a vegan-friendly Thanksgiving burger to dine in or bring to mom and dad’s. The patty is made with lemon-caper seitan and topped with kale, stuffing, rosemary gravy, and a fresh cranberry sauce.

If you need a gluten-free Thanksgiving, head to:
Madison Square Tavern, 150 West 30th Street
For $50, families with gluten-free eaters can avoid gravy drama by heading to this restaurant for butternut squash soup, sautéed red snapper with blood-orange butter, baked ham, or organic turkey. The restaurant is ending its three-course meal with a choice of chocolate bread pudding or roast pears with vanilla and coconut sorbet.

If you don’t like restaurant food, but hate cooking large meals, head to:
Foragers Market, 56 Adams Street, Brooklyn and 300 West 22 Street 
Grab a pre-carved local turkey, Cape Cod cranberries, New York apples, and pies from Four & Twenty Blackbirds at these DUMBO and Chelsea markets. Thanksgiving dinners can be ordered a la carte to your specific needs or chosen from a few themed dinner packages such as traditional and vegan. Wine pairings are also available upon request.

If you like restaurant food, but would prefer eating at home, head to:
Donovan’s Pub, 57-24 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, Thursday, 11 a.m.
Grab your brother-in-law or daughter’s unsuspecting boyfriend and pick up a whole roasted turkey, sides, and sauces from this longstanding Irish favorite, which is offering meals for parties ranging from four to 16 people. Dinner packages – which range from $189 to $432  –  include a whole roasted turkey, a choice of salad, a choice of four side orders, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Orders must be placed by Tuesday November 24 for pick-up on Thanksgiving Day at 11 a.m..

If you’re just responsible for dessert, head to:
Bien Cuit, 120 Smith Street, Brooklyn, Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m./7 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thanksgiving
If you want to steal the show, pre-order pies or buttermilk biscuits to pick up starting Tuesday November 24. The bakery is offering two nine inch pies – cocoa nib pecan and pumpkin caramel – for $35 each; buttermilk biscuits are $16.50 for a dozen.

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This Week’s Five Best Food Events – 11/24/2014

Make the holiday work week go by even quicker by focusing your efforts on these five delicious gatherings.

Free Movie Night: Aladdin, Huckleberry Bar, 588 Grand Street, Monday, 9 p.m.

Begin a week of thanks by raising a glass to the life of Robin Williams, as this cocktail bar concludes its month long tribute to the actor with a viewing of the Disney classic. The bar will offer a two-for-one on cocktails as well as free popcorn for those who sign up for the bar’s free movie night membership. Additional food, such as a Sicilian tuna and focaccia grilled cheese sandwiches, are available for purchase.

Six Degrees of Social Innovation: Food, Centre for Social Innovation NYC,
601 West 26th Street, Tuesday, 6 p.m.

Does the thought of holiday leftovers leave your conscience in disarray? Proponents of social change and those interested in the food space are invited to a discussion on the state of hot button affairs. Organizations such as Waste to Wealth and Stewardship Farms will help facilitate conversation, and refreshments will be available throughout the evening. Guests are encouraged to bring a canned good or suggested donation of $5.

Float, Secret Location, Brooklyn, Wednesday, 9 p.m.

Instead of the soul crushing pre-holiday celebration in a crowded hometown bar, grab some friends and check out an experience designed to be head and shoulders above everything else. Swings, a floating surfboard, and fluffy chocolate desserts should give the night an uplifting element before the inevitable Turkey Day crash. Tickets start at $10.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner, multiple locations, Thursday

If you’re looking for a place to gobble up warm turkey this holiday, the city has a ton of options for Thanksgiving Day festivities, and the following are just a few of the places still accepting reservations: The Water Table is offering a full spread of Turkey Day delights along with a cruise around the Statue of Liberty for $90. For those who prefer something other than poultry, Tender is offering a choice of items like polenta lasagna and filet mignon as part of a $65 four-course dinner package. Finally, if you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path, Barbounia’s annual Thanksgiving Day meal features a Middle Eastern twist with dishes like duck falafel and pizza with smoked turkey sausage.

Fare Share Friday, St. Bartholomew’s Church, 325 Park Avenue, Friday, 4 p.m.

If you’re looking to give back this Friday, join this celebration, where soup kitchen regulars, volunteers, and supporters of Crossroads Community join together for a meal. Chefs from The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and The New York Palace will prepare a traditional feast to celebrate the day, with all proceeds going to help support volunteer efforts. Be sure to RSVP.

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Beer of the Week: A Toast Before the Roast

Thanksgiving is the pinnacle of American traditions, no doubt. Stuff your face, watch football, pass out in a tryptophan-induced food coma before the nightly news. With so much awesomeness at hand, finding the appropriate ale to mark the occasion is a daunting task. Sure, the craft beer scene is awash in autumn-inspired offerings. It would be easy to pick any number of bottles stuffed with pumpkin spice and move on to food preparation. But you’re better than that. You need a beer that fires on all cylinders; something that tells any number of stories. Shapeshifter Scotch Ale is here for you.

Brewed earlier this season by Grimm Artisanal Ales, Shapeshifter arrived at the ideal moment in human history. For one, it’s brewed with dark candi syrup from Belgium, lending it the caramelized nuttiness that works well with any number of dishes populating the Turkey Day spread. An 8.3 percent ABV means you’ll be feeling its effects in no time, helping you deal with the stress of a lengthy afternoon with extended family. And the name of the beer itself also provides a coping mechanism, as you perilously attempt to squeeze into your jeans at the end of the holiday weekend. Surely it was the clothing, not your belly, that shifted shapes.

Shapeshifter is brewed in authentic scotch style, wherein the malt undergoes an extended boil, bringing more robust flavors and deeper mahogany colors into the glass. And as today’s headlines suggest, it’s a good time to be an immigrant in America. Whereas we might have once looked to pour out a suspected foreigner, drinkers are now free to weave Shapeshifter into the diverse cultural tapestry of the American dinner table.

So when you pop open a 22-ounce bomber next Thursday, remember you’re not just celebrating the beer’s well-rounded notes of toffee and spice, you’re also celebrating our way of life. Serve it out of a football, and you will have the most Thanksgiving beer of all time.

Grimm is a husband-and-wife team of nomads, making their limited releases in small batches at assorted breweries across the state. As such, no single offering will stay on the shelves for long. Check their twee-rific website for more info on where to track them down.


 

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Mercan Dede & Istanbul Tribe+The Secret Trio

Making his first local appearance in a decade, Dede (AKA DJ Arkin Allen) is a popular Turkish progressive who fronts a traditional ensemble on turntables, electronics, and occasional ney flute. The concept behind his 2013 double-CD album _Dunya_ is environmental apocalypse. The Secret Trio – Tamer Pinarbasi (kanun zither), Ismail Lumanovski (clarinet), and Ara Dinkjian (ud lute) – play mesmerizing originals and traditional music from Turkey, Armenia, and Macedonian Roma.

Tue., June 17, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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Smyrna: Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City Fails to Honor a City’s Rich Legacy

Istanbul was Constantinople, just as today’s Aegean-coast metropolis of Izmir, Turkey, was once Old Smyrna—an ancient Greek settlement that would eventually be fortified by Alexander the Great before evolving into an affluent Ottoman cultural center. Ripe with several centuries of absorbing history, filmmaker Maria Ilioú’s uninspired flake of talking-head Wikipedia cinema focuses on the forgotten Anatolian port city’s post-World War I years. A pompous British writer and five historians, including the film’s official consultant, Alexander Kitroeff, and some second- and third-generation Smyrniots, speak hyperbolically yet broadly about the fancy fabulousness of this forgotten melting pot—split into Greek, Armenian, Muslim, and Jewish quarters—and its wealthy American region, nicknamed “Paradise.” But how did residents make money? What was daily life like? The film’s few hints of specificity lie in the remarkable found footage and vintage photos, roved over Ken Burns–style while Nikos Platyrachos’s too-jaunty score gives them the awkward feel of a silent comedy. (Even the testimony of the sole Smyrna-born interviewee is limited by his having been a small child before the mass evacuation.) Yes, as the Greco-Turkish war neared its end in 1922, enemy forces invaded and mass fires broke out, causing tens of thousands of deaths and even more refugees to flee. If only the film offered more depth or pleasures to honor their legacy.

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SPELLBOUND

Erdal Erzincan is the Eddie Van Halen of the Turkish lute called the baglama, if only when he performs in the tastefully flashy fretboard-tapping selpe style. Known best outside Turkey for his instrumental improvisations with Persian kemenche virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, Erzincan sings and plays both secular folk and Sufi devotional music. A member of the Alevi lineage, which mixes elements of Sufism and Shi’iism, Erzincan accompanies spiritual songs called nefes on his seven-stringed instrument, which is considered a direct link to the divine for both player and audience. At the same time, Erzincan maintains the Anatolian folk tradition as practiced in Erzurum, where he was born in 1971. Mostly, though, he is a wonderful and often downright funky improviser who spins spellbinding tales through his instrument.

Tue., March 12, 7 p.m., 2013

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Does NYC Need Elk Burgers?

Yes, there’s a burger in there somewhere.

The elk is a mighty animal. Also known as wapiti, it’s really a very large species of deer, native to North America and East Asia. Males of the species have magnificent horns, which are shed every year, and these horns are often used in traditional medicines. Male elks make their presence known by issuing loud screams, known as bugling. Female elks gestate around 260 days, and produce calves averaging 32 pounds, usually only one at a time. Why is FiTR telling you this? Because now you can eat elk at restaurants.

Smokey Burger Organic’s elk burger in cross section

In general, serving wild game in New York restaurants is still illegal. But elk is farm-raised in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas. Sometimes the herds are grazed on the prairie grasses, sometimes – in the case of Pennsylvania – fed a diet of oats. Nomad Acres (sounds like a good sitcom subject, right?) feeds its herd grains, and describes the resultant flesh as “healthy, sweet meat.” Elk flesh is also exceedingly lean. Are you fat-o-phobes listening?

Smokey Burger Organic recently debuted in the Theater District, a burger joint that specializes in patties made from game. The deep narrow space has rustic lumber walls, and you can almost feel like you’re eating in a hunting lodge. The menu offers the usual beef, turkey, and lamb burgers, but for novelty junkies, there are ostrich, buffalo, duck, and elk choices, too. Since the elk seemed the most extreme, that’s the one we went for.

While you can get the more exotic patties in simple burger presentations, the bill of fare is intent on offering them in elaborate settings. There may be a reason for this. The elk burger, called the Big Boss Armando ($18.95), comes on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, turkey bacon, a runny fried egg, two types of cheese, and fried onion rings, right in the sandwich. With all that glop, who can even taste the elk?

We asked them to hold the cheese, and made a point of nipping off small pieces of the elk patty for taste purposes. The patty was rubbery, but boldly flavored, not exactly like beef, but not unlike it either. If we’d expected a slightly gamy flavor, that could be detected, too. The patty seemed to contain almost no fat. It also tasted as if it had been frozen, and the time it took for the burger to arrive at the table seemed to confirm that.

Really, not a bad burger, though you probably could have put a urinal cake in that setting and it wouldn’t have made much difference.

Smokey Burger Organic
339 West 41st Street
212-245-5700

The outside is somewhat camouflaged.

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FiTR Bids You a Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the wonderful paper turkey with all the trimmings in the window of Anthropologie in Chelsea Market.

Happy Thanksgiving from Fork in the Road! Don’t eat too much!

And here’s the whole spread:

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White Castle Shows You How To Stuff Your Turkey With Tiny Hamburgers

Spouting inanities, the “chef” of White Castle shows you how to make turkey even more boring — and freak out your guests in the process. No pickles? WTF?