I was never the biggest fan of Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. Nonetheless, I tried to give him a second chance and read his memoir titled: Istanbul, Memories and the City. It’s a great collection of his feelings, his melancholy (hüzün), his experiences as a child, his rocky family life, and how he sees Istanbul in the past and now. I haven’t dog-eared as many pages of a book as I have for this one, which is saying something very positive. Maybe it’s having lived here for just under two years that drew me into his narratives and essays more. Maybe it was how engaging he made his ordinary midnight walks around side streets in some random district of Istanbul; or the memorable nights when ships were bumbling down the foggy Bosphorus, or when one of the historical and neglected waterside mansions (yalıs) went up in flames and people would come around to eat and drink and watch them like circus acts.
The one part I want to share shows a bit of the underbelly of the city (and perhaps its grotesque charm): warnings, advice, ‘pearls of wisdom’ that columnists and others from the past have written about Istanbul. Pamuk felt inclined to share these snippets, and I’m glad he did. Some of the issues are still relevant today; I’ve seen or experienced them. That’s why I put them here. I love Istanbul, don’t get me wrong – but again I had to share these.
“One of the achievements of martial law has been to ensure that dolmuşes [shared taxis] stop only at their designated stops. Just remember the anarchy of the old day .”
“It is our hope that both drivers and passengers will make full use of the new taxi meters installed by the military authorities, and that our city will never again see the sorts of haggling, arguments, and trips to the police station that plagued our city twenty years ago, when the last taxi meters were installed and our city’s drivers too to saying, ‘Brother, give as much as you can’ .”
“Our eagerness to be first off a boat or indeed any vehicle is so great that we are unable to deter those who jump off the Haydarpaşa ferry before it’s even landed, no matter how many times we shout, ‘The first one off is a donkey’ .”
“We had a drive to remove stray dogs from our streets. If it had been conducted in a more leisurely manner – instead of a fast one- or two-day sweep – if they’d all been rounded up and sent to the terrible island of Hayırsızada, if all the packs of dogs had been dispersed, we would have cleared the city of dogs for good … But now it’s still impossible to walk down the street without hearing Grrr! .”
“It is only by giving up on our old way of comporting ourselves in the streets and in the city’s public places, and only by complying with traffic regulations as they do in the West, that we can hope to deliver ourselves from the traffic chaos. But if you asked how many people in this city even know what the traffic regulations are – well, that’s a different matter altogether .”
“The rainy season has come, and the umbrellas of the city, God bless them, are out in full force. But tell me, how many of us are able to hold an open umbrella without poking people in the eye, bumping into other umbrellas like dodgem cars at Lunapark, and wandering all over the pavement like brainless bums just because the umbrella has impeded our vision ? ”
And my favorite (because it’s the thing that pisses me off most):
“The celebrated French author Victor Hugo was in the habit of riding from one side of Paris to the other on the top of a horse-drawn omnibus, just to see what his fellow citizens were doing. Yesterday we did the same, and we were able to establish that a large number of Istanbul residents take little notice of what they’re doing when they’re walking down the street and are forever bumping into each other and throwing tickets, ice-cream wrappers, and corn husks on the ground; everywhere there are pedestrians walking in the roads and cars mounting the pavements, and – not from poverty but from laziness and ignorance – everyone in the city is very badly dressed .”
See the 1952! And all of that can be seen TODAY. The bumping, the littering, the people in streets, the cars on the sidewalk, the egregiously dressed (and coiffured). It gives me a chuckle. I need it sometimes.