Voices of Istanbul

Can you recognize Istanbul with your eyes closed? The ezan, the call for prayer, is particularly dramatic when you are awake early in the morning and the background noise of the city is at a low ebb. At times like these, the muezzin and his recorded song dominate the acoustic landscape. Soon the seagulls chime in. They make you realize how close the Bosphorus is — hardly more than a quarter of a mile away. Why do the gulls start up their awful screeching so early on summer mornings, and why do they settle down later on? Are they motivated by mysterious air currents, changes in temperature, or just competition with their fellow birds? More… “Voices of Istanbul”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.


Twenty percent of art can now be explained by neuroscience. That, at least, is what V.S. Ramachandran thinks. Ramachandran is the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is, in short, one of the top neuroscientists around at the moment. He is also a clear and engaging writer. His 1999 book, Phantoms in the Brain, brought him much popular attention and his most recent book, The Tell-Tale Brain, is doing more of the same.

The Tell-Talle Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human by V.S. Ramachandran. 357 pages. W.W. Norton & Company. $26.95.

Much like Oliver Sacks, his friend and admirer, Ramachandran comes to many of his insights about the human brain by observing its dysfunction. Problems in… More…


Who out there knows that butterflies are scented? Their aroma can be that of flowers like honeysuckle or jasmine, herbs and spices like lemon verbena or cinnamon, or confections like vanilla or chocolate, depending on the species. It can also be unpleasant, like vinegar, or urine. According to Avery Gilbert, author of What the Nose Knows, scented butterflies are neither exotic nor rare. While field guides do not say so, Gilbert notes that butterflies can easily be caught, sniffed, and released unharmed. What a captivating pursuit!

With my recent article on body odor, and the heat of summer causing lots of seasonally assertive odors, questions about the power of scent have stuck in my mind. So I turned to an expert: Gilbert’s new book examines why the sense of smell is so underappreciated, and why it should be… More…