Istanbul Underground

As we spoke, we walked into a parking lot used by the tourist buses that shuttle tourists in and out of the ancient peninsula. Here were were greeted by a strange parking lot keeper who claimed that he was a nutcase and that was the only way he could stand his job which he detested. Ignoring his remarks that he would charge us a lot more next time we came, we walked into the dusty parking lot towards a hole in the ground hidden behind some parked vehicles.

At the end of April, which happens to be the best time with the Judas trees blossoming everywhere, we spent a Saturday in and out of many holes trying to discover a hidden part of historical Istanbul. It was a trip arranged by Tur Kosmos with Vera Bulgurlu, Ferudun Özgümüş and Hayri Yılmaz as our guides. The goal was to see the Roman/Byzantine remains of the city from the remains hidden under post 1950’s structures.

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Shalimar The Clown, Salman Rushdie

As we reached the end, satisfied, having sated our (intellectual and culinary) hunger, I felt a little uneasy because the whole night we had been discussing India and Pakistan and on the next table were an expat couple (their timidity signaling a preliminary stage of their dating) one American born Indian (an ABCD) the other asian/oriental. If they end up reading this post I’d like to apologise to them, but they can rest assured that we had the best intentions in the world. And I do not mean it as in the proverb which seems to sum up one of the morals of Shalimar The Clown, “the road to hell is paved with the cobblestones of best intentions”.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, our latest book in our book club was a gem. It was short and dense, made me think about how I waste my time, one of the most important steps on the way along the “know thyself” route. It was a book ideal for introverts and was about the internal reflections one has once in a while. Shalimar the Clown, by one of my favourite authors Salman Rushdie, is another attempt at knowing oneself (as all good literature is) but this time in a different way. Salman Rushdie is more concerned about “us” and others and how the troubles in some seemingly remote part of the world affect those who think they are safe and sound in their glass houses. In that way Shalimar the Clown might even be an orientalist novel especially after September 11 and other terrorist attacks that tainted the “safe west” closing the gap with the tumultuous nations of the “east”.

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Bombay and Istanbul

Eminönü has been the shopping district of Istanbul since the Byzantine times which makes it the busiest part of the city for the last 1500 years. My father and I would start in the Mısır Çarşısı (The Spice Market) and look at the birds, dogs and cats, fish, spices and teas, monkeys, cheese and sausages, hamsters, dried fruit and nuts. We’d have lunch in Pandeli which brings back images of aubergine and tender meat, and elderly waiters with pristine white shirts. And finally we’d walk up the street towards Suleymaniye, the most magnificent of the mosques in the city. I remember my father buying me toys and trinkets from the little shops in tiny and crowded streets: balloons, Chinese toys made from cheap plastic, a small radio, a green ring connected to a small rubber ball hidden in the palm used to spray water to the face of the unsuspecting onlookers.

I spent the last week of November thinking about Bombay.

I only have two posts about India here and I blame myself for my laziness, incompetency and perfectionism. If I delay my travel writing, I always end up losing the feeling of being there, the posts become mundane reports or encyclopaedic entries. So when I know too much time has passed since my travels to write about them, I end up trying harder, reading vigorously and spending more time on the piece which delays it even further until I totally lose my inquisitive tourist’s touch. So I could not write about Bombay, Jaipur, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Delhi, Varanasi, Goa, and Lucknow yet. All of these locations deserve a post of their own.

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Gospel According to Jesus Christ (İsa’ya Göre İncil), Jose Saramago

It was not totally Saramago’s fault. Our timing was terrible. 43% of the book club members were depressed because of the financial crisis that began to shake the capitalist world. (Ironically, Saramago could have been feeling some schadenfreude at the same time.) 29% of the members had tardy arrivals because their business meetings ended very late, a bit unusual for a Ramadan day.

In the third book review of our Book Club books, I had mentioned my high expectations of Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. I’m glad to say that my expectations were met. Alas I must add that the discussion that followed was a bit dim.

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The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon

This is problem with slang, especially old (80’s) slang like this, the minute you step out of the relevant circles you begin missing out on the experience and it becomes difficult to distinguish the passé from the hip. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (TMOP), the coming of age story of Art Bechstein is set in an era that is clearly defined by flamboyant details like knitted ties, white blazers, spandex and loop earrings. It also happens to be an era I could – however I would rather not – remember in the context of my teenage years.

This third meeting of our book club was held in Cihangir, the East Village/Notting Hill of Istanbul where our two fortunate members live. It was a nice change to get out of our stuffy neighborhood and feel humored amongst those who were once called hippies, bobos (Bohemian Bourgeois) and guppies (a gay yuppie). I’m not sure if this slang still holds, but observing the abundence of kids in the neighborhood I couldn’t help thinking some of them will soon become dinkys (Double Income No Kids Yet), yappies (Young Affluent Parent) and silkies (Single Income, Loads of Kids) if they haven’t already. At least the lombards (Lots of Money but a Real Dickhead) have not yet invaded, they stick to where we live because in Cihangir the streets are too narrow for their Range Rovers and there isn’t enough parking.

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