Remember that “respite” I anticipated enjoying a few days ago? Well, I received a phone call saying, “Let’s leave in three minutes!” This was not possible. I was still in pajamas! Hadn’t we already decided not to go out? “Oh take your time. The next bus is in 20 minutes. We can sleep over and you can spend tomorrow in town.”
Take my time? Twenty minutes? I’ll have you know that I made it, and Gizem’s father described me as “pleasant, mellow, and down to earth.”
(Perhaps I am undergoing a personality transformation?) 🙂
I was annoyed (some 24 hours later) to miss the 6:30 bus from Kadiköy to Sabanci. I turned it into a more than decent evening though, had tea (cay) and tost at a tea garden on the shore,
watching the sunset and reading Nine Parts of Desire. Eventually I went inside Öszüt for dessert and coffee. All day I meandered. There was no time pressure and no one else to accommodate. I took a leisurely breakfast at the Green Corner Café, then wandered slowly through the Ayasofia (a.k.a., Hagia Sophia). I had to pause before I entered because I was overwhelmed, momentarily, with a wave of emotion. I’m not sure, exactly, what it was: did I feel “life” in the place? I think it was because of the history Gizem’s father had explained. How Ataturk, concerned that Bernard would try to pray inside the mosque to the Christian God (tainting it for Muslems), and aware that tensions between the original Orthodox and current Muslim users of the mosque could rise up again, converted it to a museum: a move that transformed it from a site of potential/continuing religious strife into a shrine of secular &emdash; and therefore mutual &emdash; worship. But it wasn’t just this, it was also that millennia before, when Islam beat out the Orthodox, they didn’t destroy the Orthodox icons. Why not? I don’t mean that they should have, no, quite the opposite. Isn’t that what they always did? And yet: an exception. The icons were covered so as not to be visible, but they were not destroyed. I think what I felt was the enormity of that act of religious generosity.
My intrigue regarding Atatürk grows. Not only did he convert the alphabet in one remorseless swoop &emdash; a part of his secularizing move? &emdash; he restructured government and insisted upon various institutional projects at all kinds of levels, such as the (then) state bank purchasing local street art. Somehow, Atatürk read the tensions of history, projected their probable future trajectories, and made interventions into the social fabric that have enabled Turkish society to come into a complex understanding of national identity that has withstood the ethnic and religious tensions that continue to rend other societies in this region.
Gizem’s dad says Turks are still figuring out their identity &emdash; but aren’t we all? Any of us with enough education, anyway, to know that nationalism is only one hook from which to hang the identity hat.
I revisited the Pera Museum to get some of the artist’s names I’d forgotten to record the other day. Lounged around in their very high-scale café. Drifted along through Istiklal Caddesi, buying more credit for the cell phone, finding an English bookstore, and checking out a history exhibit at the Yapi Kredi Gallery on Catalhöyük. The gallery usually exhibits Turkish painting.
Everything was perfect until I underestimated the time for a taxi to take me from Taksim to Kadiköy. Why did I think a half-hour would be sufficient? Brain decay. The first cabbie, however, took me to the wrong place, which set my mood in a bit of a tither. The second cabbie, poor guy, might have inherited my momentarily mood because everything you could imagine went wrong for him. First, he picked up me. :-0 Second, we hit massive freaking traffic. Snail’s pace hardly describes some very long minutes (no clock ticking; their charges are for miles only). Third, his pass for a toll booth on the highway had expired, so he drove on through, muttering at the alarums and subsequently calling someone who I’m sure was not happy to be receiving his tirade. Once we finally arrived, I had the nerve to ask for a receipt. His book was full, his carbon blew out the window, and clearly nothing was going his way. 🙁 Me neither, but I surrendered to the fates as soon as it became obvious there was No Way I was going to catch the shuttle.