Istanbul’s beauties

The last two chapters of the book do not fall too far from the melancholy of earlier pages. Pamuk opens his soul to the city as to absorb fully its intense nebulous dim and rescue his own self and passion for art through his love for the city. His journey while on board of Kocatas transports him to Eastern Istanbul, as he feels it. It’s a sweet picture of the city as as much of a gift to the reader as it is to himself, in his search for something – as he acknowledges int he last chapter of the book – he was wanting.

This beautiful image of an “unspoiled East” is quickly confronted with his quarrels with his mother and her misfortunes, as well. One can sense that she, in her own way, wants to protect him from hardships and shame as a painter. Fortunately, his daily immersions in the city’s “darkness” is a powerful dosage of artistry and feelings Pamuk needed to convert his pains and joys into this beautiful literary masterpiece.

After Pamuk, I admire Istanbul; his Istanbul.

Taksim: Forever Turkish

Reading Pamuk’s “Four Lonely Melancholic Writers” (Istanbul) was a delightful experience. His admiration for Sinasi Hisae, Yahya Kemal, Tanpinar, and Ekrem Kocu as writers reflects his own admiration for the cultural value of the city of Istanbul itself. Pamuk’s daydreaming of would-be chance encounters with these artists introduces us to his city and the many shared spaces that the author might have experienced with the writers.

In his own words, Pamuk acknowledges that “these four heroes…opened my eyes to the soul of the city in which I live.”(111) Beautifully, by reliving his love for the artistic merit of these four writers, we are kindly introduced to their city, their way of remembering its past, and our own chance encounters with their city through their artistic eyes. It is worth noting that Pamuk recognizes that these writers were once recharged by the East-West – past and present – tensions that Istanbul hosted. Their “pure poetry” was embedded in originality of an art the looked forward without apologizing for the past; their melancholic approach celebrated the Istanbul they knew and hoped to always keep alive, somehow.

Pamuk skillfully gives us a snapshot of modern realities of Istanbul and the presence of opposites, side-by-side in the city: rich minority versus sea of working majority; old buildings of Ottoman once-grandeur versus waves of ethnic immigration to a “new city.” It’s the patchwork of Istanbul forming at our very own eyes. And what more “to chance” than encountering that on the grounds of Taksim Square? That would be life-for-the-sake-of-life art!

Thus, the remodeling of boxed concepts in modern Istanbul by its own diverse population (with varied motives and aspirations) is the city’s new Istanbullus. In “Breaking Memory, Spoiling Memorization: The Taksim Protests in Istanbul,” its population stamped the city with its own signature: diversity on old grounds. The old and the new in the city concentrated in one historical site of traditional cultural value for the sake of democracy and the reshaping of  what means to be Istanbullus.

Protesters have shown that artificially propelling the city into the future without taking to heart what is meaningful to the people living in it is not what is valued by this new, multicultural self of the city identity. As the article reinforces, they cried against Erdogan’s “…conservative and repressive moralist approach to governing society…its authoritarianism…its crack down on intellectuals by restricting freedom of expression, its neoliberal development plans, its destruction of nature…its takeover of Istanbul’s old quarters and neighborhoods for neoliberal gentrification projects, its long-term repression of Kurds…and of non-Muslim minorities….” Istanbul’s many faces wanted to be seen, heard, and write their own history. Maybe these are the readers Pamuk’s writers had sought, after all. Not a city of architectural grandiosity, solely, but a city of shared spaces for shared values, aspirations, and meaning.

Olive oil – more than meets the eye!

Getting to read more about all that’s involved in the production of olive oil – Athena’s gift to us – was fascinating! Even more so, from a more medicinal approach, was the intricate details of molecular composition in relation to the search for optimal health. Thus, the exuberance of this sought-after culinary “relic” not only relies on the gustatory realm of admiration, but also  in its medico-scientific benefits.

Such benefits are heard from since ancient times (Hippocrates) and have left their mark in the modern collective mind as a staple for good health and fresh-looking skin. Understood as part of the elite  olive oil, the “extra-virgin” (first/second cold pressing) type contains the anti-inflammatiorial chemical oleocanthal. Moreover, claims for the benefits of olive oil to heart health have contributed to the frantic love sparked between what is generally known as “Mediterranean diet” and non-Mediterranean cultures, such as ours.



Ethnic Bodily Practices

The manner by which post-colonial French society sees its immigrant body oscillates between, on one hand, condemning Islamic practices as fanatical and non-secular and, on the other hand, glorifying achievements of immigrant-descent athletes. As Silverstein explains, the latter is part of a historical attempt of “train” natives in the ways of the colonist and to diffuse anger and rebellion tendencies. In a more global context, multi-million corporations claim their consumer allegiances through branding of ideological identities to consumerism-based belonging practices.

The prominence of athletes such as Zinedine Zidane in the 1998 FIFA World Cup winning French soccer team helped bring the idea of a national identity by means of individual skills and ethnic diversity – the “New France.” As a French-born to Kabyle parents, Zidane became a poster child for the idealized integrated France of the new millennium. However, the celebrations of this World Cup victory has existed hand in hand with suppression of internal differences considered detrimental to the formation of a national identity in France.

It was under this umbrella that Nike’s slogan There is not but one God, there are eleven led to the substitution of the religious shehada values (There is but one God and Mohammed is his prophet) for sports secularism. The French state has also attempted to utilize sports’ capacity to draw the youth in its favor: it has represented an alternative to fanatical religious practices, to government eyes. These same eyes have also seen the use of bodily adornments as “ostentatious” and sectarian, at times.

The year following the national soccer victory, in the suburbs of Paris, three girls were expelled from school for refusing to remove their respective headscarves for classes. This has cause a lot of controversy and international attention to the issue of use of outward signs of personal beliefs. Some governmental officials thought that, in order to preserve French national history and perpetuate it for future generations, the public use of headscarves in public educational institutions should be avoided. Thus, Silverstein tells us that in the 1994-1995 academic year, “more than 150 young women were legally expelled from public schools.”

In that regard, analogous to Nike’s appropriation of religious values in a twist towards capitalist consumerism, the French government sought to transcend from the ideology of religion to the pragmatism of the civic. Silverstein calls it the “sacralization of the state.” Thus, the French school system was used as a common ground for the propagation of France as a secular nation-state under the allegiance to all things civic.

Algeria in France Reading

The book “Algeria in France” by Paul Silverstein gives the reader a very detailed and multifaceted understanding of the various discourses and ethnic voices within French society and identity. Chapter two explains how colonist’ views of Berbers and Arabs helped create ambivalent modern ideas around ethnicity, race, religion, and belonging.

Before French uptake, Algeria was composed of Ottoman provinces, with its “janissaries” overseeing facets of economic development and its diverse populations. As French colonists set their eyes on reconquering the Mediterranean as a crossroads toward the trade-prone East Indies, imperialistic ruling was noticeable, as Muslim “subject” influences were downplayed (e.g. Arab taxation, territory redistribution, etc.) Categorizations of the colonial “other” were stratified against what was acceptable or savage-like when compared with France’s national make-up. The utilization of sub nationalities as identifiers, especially between the Arab’s and Kabyle’s way of living, promoted what was coined “The Kabyle Myth.”

The latter myth has been created in search of the “naive” North African culture; as it would be more receptive of and similar to the colonist’s assimilatory endeavors. Thus, the Kabyle was often depicted as agricultural, sedentary, monogamous, and hard-working. In contrast, Arab populations were approached as lazier and more prone to fanaticism. Thus, the French ideals would be more likely to be implemented among the non-Arabs of Africa. Algerian Muslims were, then, divided ideologically by the colonist as natural enemies, and not a people sharing the same religious background. The Kabyles were the likely recipients of French’s civilizing efforts and economic goals.

This served as a tool for the justification of a “trans-Mediterranean unit” and warranted the opportunity for a new “Crusade” into a territory prone to cross-cultural communication.  Claiming this affinity with the southern Mediterranean meant a distancing from the Germanic north and a pull towards the Latin Mediterranean.

Chapter one focus more on immigration and political will within French culture and national identity. The latter oscillates between the idea of a nation for its citizens or an ethnic nation. The understanding of the Algerian place in a “unified” Europe has to be conceptualized within Europe’s historical transformations regards what constitutes identity when it comes to immigration and the changes it brings. Discussions around the theme of the place of ethnic groups in Europe have intertwined  realities pertaining many societal levels, from housing to education and racism. Essentially, ethnicity has many times been dealt with as a “problem” that needs to be solved. The author addresses what our TV screens and newspapers have witnessed: the often use of physical enforcement of ideological views on the role of ethnic minorities within the larger scheme of societal functioning.  More specifically there are major “glitches” that have stemmed from diverging views of the Muslim population – and more specifically, Islam – within French nation.

Historically, German and Switzerland, Britain and Sweden, and France, have composed the three main models for the “European nation-state.” German and Switzerland have adapted the policy of treating all foreign-born worker on national soil as temporary workers who are not part of the population as citizens. The Britain and Sweden have been historically more leniently welcoming to the incoming foreign-born population on national soil. The latter has been less true recently, as more tools promoting a national ideology based on race has sparked more racial conflicts from right extremists, mostly.

The French model has also seen a shift in requirements for “belonging” standards in French society, as the oscillation between the “true French” and the “republican French” in relation to civil rights and empowerment as citizenship flags. As Silverstein reiterates, concepts of what forms a particular national identity have often caused policy changes that support minority cultural and political diversities as “universal human rights.” But, of course, the book has been edited over a decade ago, and changes in neighboring identities and affiliations (e.g. Turks) have sifted through these dichotomies and ambiguities between being human and being a national citizen.

“Istanbul” – Reflections

Orhan Pamuk writes magnificently. I really enjoyed
the ten chapters assigned for this week’s
readings. It takes us from his childhood, with its
simple joys and impressions to the world
outside of the Pamuk Apartments, beyond Istanbul’s
streets, beyond its waterlines, towards a
new world of transforming realities, geopolitics, a
nd questions of identity.
The first chapter introduces us to his childhood i
nsecurities, especially his vivid
imaginations of the whereabouts of the “other orhan
.” It is fascinating to try to experience his
joys of being presented to the view of the outside
world, and still partake in his description of a
city that, more and more, was distancing itself fro
m the hopes of a “capital of the world,” as
Flaubert would have predicted. Pamuk shares with us
not only his exact age, but his emotions
and entrusts us with the accounts of his “second li
fe” where an awaken writer is not that far
from that once curious child.
The second chapter expands our portrait of his fam
ily life, with black-and-white “ghosts”
that inhabit the top portions of silent pianos and
introduces the environment to personal
journeys that are very much connected to the life o
f his city: as with the Ottoman Empire, his
family was crumbling from the inside, although stil
l able to maintain its “architectural integrity”
on the outside.
I especially enjoyed his long voyages of imaginati
on and whimsical tone as the author
navigates the rooms of the family property with cre
ative realities and daydreaming. Moreover, I
learned that we both shared the same strangeness to
Saturn Devouring His Son
and the
terror that the described Mickey-being-eaten scene
can evoke. Good, I’m in good company.
This same autobiographical chapter of infancy seem
s melancholic and bittersweet. On
can notice his father’s absences and quality time,
as well; his caring mother’s affection and the
overall rejection of warmth that the author resents
and mindfully flees from.
Chapter four introduces to the outside world. The
pictures in this section of the book
are somber and sad. It portrays the fading of a onc
e-grandiose city whose melancholy, in the
words of Pamuk, “was all around us.” (29) This sent
iment was pretty much shared by the writer
himself, whose words claim an impending doom and sa
dness that traveled a little deeper than
his young man’s understanding of the realities that
led to the construction of the oldness
around. Pamuk is franc, open, and vulnerable in des
cribing his physical fragility, as it went hand-
in-hand with the frailty of the city.
In chapter five, all the black-and-whiteness of hi
s home rooms and the overall feel of the
city find resonance in Pamuk’s writings: “I feel a
deep sense of fellowship, almost as if the night
has cloaked our lives…” (35) When watching a film p
roduced by the Turkish industry he
confides in us that his own past comes to mind. Ist
anbul’s mosques, shops, children’s clothing,
decaying fountains, etc. paint a portrait that is n
ot only sad, but bittersweet as a deep sense of
place and belonging can be felt from Pamuk’s words.
Istanbul’s most territorial body of water is a nat
ional pride and tell the stories of a once-
rich society. The architectural might of the waters
ide mansions named yalis are as vanishing as
the Pasha’s mansions’. Their sight causes a sense i
nferiority and impotence, even in the words
of someone whose family belongs to the
nouveau riche
of the new republic. However, so
important is the Bosphorus to the author that a par
allel to Monet’s
Water Lilies
is drawn. (55) It
is a beautiful memory of a place where some of the
best memories with his mother took place,
during his childhood. The idyllic nature of the pre
sence of the Bosphorus in the author’s and
city’s life rapidly succumbs to his accounts to the
unfortunate realities of what he calls “our

magnificent heritage.” (in irony, as the sight of f
eces and cigarette butts, among other things,
taint an otherwise personal treasure)
The same Bosphorus brings the city and its dweller
s together in the meticulous,
miniature, carefully disproportional, “gothic” artw
ork of Melling. We feel the author’s
heartbreak as he acknowledges the recordings of a l
andscape that “no longer exists.” (63)
Although Pamuk sees that some of what is depicted s
till exists as the painter saw it –
watermelon sellers, three-legged tables, and sesame
roll sellers, for example – much more has
changed than not – fountains, cobblestones, tombsto
nes, etc.
Then chapter nineteen takes us to the heat of Ista
nbul and its people even further. It
shows us what is beyond the streets, beyond crumbli
ng structures, beyond the facades. It
introduced us to an era born in May 29, 1453: when
Constantinople fell (for the Greeks) and
Istanbul was conquered (for the Turks). The chapter
’s pictures show the devastation of the
lynching of minorities, raping, and inability to co
exist. I was sad to see that most of the
atrocities and fears felt by the local minorities a
ctually took place in a period contemporary to
the author’s account of their occurrence than at th
e aftermath of the historical date, itself. The
pictures don’t lie or hold back from us and, for th
e first time, I think I felt a bit of the
melancholy that lives with the author since the fir
st chapters of the book.
Chapter twenty-five talk about westernization of t
he author’s city. In his own words, it is
an account of the “love-hate relationship with the
western gaze.” (235) For the most par,
western literary eyes wanted to see the exotic of t
he land and not always saw the bigger
picture in Istanbul culture and society; what was o
ften approached was the “harem”, the “slave
markets”, the “hamal”, etc. and more rarely any wes
tern-resistant initiative. So much so that,
as Pamuk explains, officials westernized the sense
of fashion in the land. It is a sad
acknowledgement but a reality: in Pamuk’s words, “t
he West set the standard for all
humankind.” (238)
The notion that Istanbul is, simply put, “dated,”
carries a burden of isolation as in a
westernized framework for a stagnant socio-cultural
reality. As Pamuk explains so beautifully,
Istanbul was transformed into a “monotonous monolin
gual town in black and white.” (238).
That is really sad to me: to know that, unless some
one, somewhere, recorded the lively variety
of what Istanbul used to signify, future generation
s will unlikely know what we left behind.
After reading this last assigned chapter, Walter B
enjamin’s concept that, for outsiders,
what draws them to Istanbul is the exotic but for n
atives, memories, truly resonates in me as I
begin to feel that same compassion (not pity) that
Pamuk asked of us at the end of the first
chapter. Then, I cherish even further this author’s
ability to entrust us with his “second life.”