journal three weeks ago.

It’s amusing when people around me don’t know that the foreigner next to them might understand biraz Türkçe, and sometimes even enough to understand what they’re complaining about: this time about an English teacher telling a high schooler to shut off his phone in class, and in the end the student being angry the cell phone was in fact taken away.  It reminds me of when I worked at the zoo in the US and sat next to people speaking amongst each other in Spanish, as if people around them wouldn’t be able to catch what they were saying.  I sometimes showed my attention to them, but oblivion reigned.  Temptation reared its head often, I wanted to make a remark so badly, but I always held my tongue in the end.


A monochromatic room.  My eyes are surrounded by white office decor – walls, boards, even the Styrofoam cup is blaring my vision with false purity.  Inside it there’s cola to infiltrate the room.  Like the chair and the many black objects of mine: phone, pen, notebook, glasses, pants, shoes.  A stark contrast puts the composition in equilibrium.  Clacking shoes on linoleum; ready to serve and be of service, cloudless incomprehension sometimes in her eyes.


Rushing to the ferry… don’t leave without me!  To have to bear 30 minutes sitting dejectedly in the dark is too much.  There’s Dedem Afrodit, the neon glow of the Greek restaurant overhead as I listen to the National.  Greece takes over and falls in the same month.  While fast-walking down the hill, a cruise ship looked like some wicked light show, some left-over Christmas  decoration in the sky hovering at the docks like a swollen ferry.  Unnatural by the centuries-old stacked apartment blocks, some shuttered and crackling away in the wind as this monster in the water sheens and eats at everything else I see.

It kills the picturesque, so much so that I want to sigh as I’m heading towards the ferry back to Kadıköy.  But I can’t because the idiot next to me dumped an entire bottle of cologne over him.  I’d inhale it, slink to the floor, and go into spasms.



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 [1971].”

“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’ [1983].”

“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’ [1910].”

“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! [1911].”

“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 [1949].”

“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 [1953]? ”

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 [1952].”

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.