Filed under: event, the city | Tags: gezi events, istanbul, istanbul 2020, olympics, opposition, resistance
On May 31 2013, I was watching the break of events in Taksim on the Internet. A Swedish TV Channel was broadcasting live from the Taksim Square, and Turkish TV Channels were not even showing the notorious penguins: a beauty contest on one of them, two serials representing the police as loveable patriots, and some other nonsense. Unable to predict what lied ahead, I almost wrote an open letter to the members of the International Olympic Committee, urging them not to vote in favor of the Istanbul 2020 bid. I was going to tell the committee how the people of Istanbul were forcefully denied a say about the city they live in. I was also going to ask them if they would let such government undertake organizing the Olympics, an event committed spreading sportsmanship and peace despite its problematic components like its Eurocentric conception of humankind, and racist flag. I must have forgotten what the Olympics actually are.
I never wrote the letter. I took a bus to Bodrum the morning after, and started working in a remote holiday resort on the following day. My friends clashed with the police throughout the month of June, giving a strong message to the government, and the international audience. I am not sure if any of them got the message correctly, but this is not our topic.
What really makes me think is actually personal. When did I become this person? When did I grow apart from the child who watched every Olympics with tears in his eyes? For me, the Olympics used to be the celebration of humanity. I still remember how my heart almost exploded when the arrow touched and lit the torch in Barcelona 1992. I don’t know how many times I watched the opening ceremony of Beijing 2008, and of course, a torch crown on fire, rising from underwater in Sydney 2000 is never to be forgotten. The tree metaphor of Athens 2004 was neat, and the torch of Atlanta 1996 is still the coolest thing I have seen in the Deep South.
You see; it is always the spectacle I fall, or fell, for. That’s probably why London 2012 was the only games I missed so far, mostly because of its horrendous opening ceremony. But wait… there are also those readings I did about urbanization, and gentrification, and urban displacement, and neoliberalism, and all the other evil you can encounter. Is this growing up? Is this the real enlightenment? Is this “luck?” I don’t know. The spectacle just lost its edge for me. And I couldn’t care less about the Olympics in Istanbul or anywhere else. But I am glad it didn’t hit Istanbul last night.
I thought of the letter I wanted to write as a form of opposition to the government, and later a form of resistance. Now, I think that letter, though never written, was being a part of a larger movement, and worldview. The government supporters or pro-Olympics circles are blaming people like me for being merely political. Yes, it is political, but fairly larger than AKP and its success narratives.
The Olympics are nothing but public masturbation of power holders; they are flashy masks of profitable gentrification projects in the host cities; they are new ways of inscribing (neo)colonial points of view to the host communities; they are the twin brother of what was on Turkish TV on the eve of the Gezi uprising and violent government crackdown. If you still believe the Olympics spread sportsmanship and peace, please explain the rising racism in the Premiere League, the ghost town aka the Olympic village in Beijing, which is one of the most crowded cities in one of the most crowded nations in the world, the situation in front of the banks in Athens, the wars Australia participated in the last 13 years, or maybe just tell me where Atlanta is. Not wanting the Olympics in Istanbul is not, and never was, only a blind opposition to the Turkish government. It is opposing a way of life, which is largely driven by a colorful spectacle. But just like the flag itself, the spectacle is ugly, and it belongs to an old world.
#2, January 2, 2012
I am fed up. I was already fed up actually, but today, with only six days left to go and many friends still not visited, I have the urge to write it down. Istanbul is no longer my city; Istanbul is an ex with a bad break-up.
My relationship with pain was never with relief. I am not one of those who do whatever he can to ultimately avoid pain. I used to easily coexist with it. There were moments of prolonged adolescence where I took pain as “my fuel in life”, and although those days are long past now, I still acknowledge the power and importance of pain. In addition, as I have written before, I found a way to cope with pain in a sweet city to start learning how to cherish life.
Istanbul, however, is such a bitch that it could not stand my “cured” persona, and treated me worst ever: To, most probably, take revenge, it reintroduced the omnipresent pain engrained in herself. And although I no longer live here and now I am an outsider to this city, I am still able to notice and point out painful details of Istanbul life, and it totally ruins the whole experience of holiday and visiting friends.
As stated in the first entry of these chronicles, most of my friends are undergoing an intriguing depression in their lives and they don’t hold themselves back from expressing their resentment on my face– the tourist who came from far away after a very long time. Their fragile emotional state must have turned them into discomfort-disseminators, and their “”life” is not making my “experience” well-pursued at all.
Secondly, my inclination of hearing life not from my friends but from other people that I see on the streets, my personal preference of using public transportation, my sweet but unachievable quest for used books have taken me to many different conversations and over-hearings. What I used to notice, while I was living here, was anger—people shouting on the phone, shopkeepers cursing after a difficult customer, football fans beating other team’s fans. This time, I heard pain openly expressed by people: A shopkeeper gave me a 4-minute long monologue (uninterrupted by me, the fascinated habitant of the purgatory between local and foreing) about how he can no longer support his family despite his corner shop in the middle of Cagaloglu,; a fifth grader failed selling her used text books and her father couldn’t afford buying new ones; a girl who sat by me in Starbucks told her correspondent on the other side of the phone how her New Year’s Eve had been a disaster full of quarrel and beating with her ex; another girl passed by me in Kadikoy crying her eyes out. I was not only doomed to hear and understand all these, but I also carried them home with me. They kept me in an emotional limbo, where I constantly felt like I drank a venti Americano to an empty stomach. I felt like crashing or even passing out emotionally but something also kept me awake, and maybe even too awake.
The cherry on top has been the music, something I earlier had noticed, recognized, and admitted, but also forgotten. Last year, in a state of homesickness, I told my friends in Istanbul that they had the luxury of pain in that city. They constantly listen most painful songs, but they also could defer their blues with a good table of friends and raki—something not easily generated abroad. Anyway, this year, I noticed almost every producer is up to taking advantage of this obsession with pain. I watched a rock video where the singer was in a grave, singing how she dag her grave herself. Another “pop” video followed. A well-groomed male singer was singing a very high-beat song, with a smile in his face, but the lyrics were his cry of incapability of making people’s demands of “more” from him. And finally, I found out that one of my favorite singers, Goksel made a song called “It hurts”, and she sings this line over and over, with her melancholic and melodramic voice. The worst part in this experience is, I believe, my ongoing awe although I had had realized this long before. In my self-imposed amnesia, I probably enjoyed, deep down, this nostalgia for my prolonged adolescence. I may claim myself pain-free but the reality is not that clear-cut.
The pain rarely brings me to burst. I always burn inside within. But this time, due to my heavily altered life in Arizona, I cry that I am fed up. I am fed up with this city’s sickening relationship with pain, and I no longer hold my subjectivity back. When I first moved here, I used to refrain from complaining just because I probably was not the one to criticize this unique city. That’s why I never joined my comrades from Smyrna who used to start complaining about Istanbul the moment they step in it. Those days of respecting Istanbul for its potent place in history have passed, and my personality totally rejects its magnificence. I was never a usual-Smyrnian, I always liked Istanbul more than I did Izmir—which is extremely rare in our breed; but I feel that I am done with it. Interestingly, in a holiday of which I spent only four days in Izmir, this is the day I go back to my roots, and start hating Istanbul with all my guts.
I am fed up, and I am taking no more your BS, Istanbul.
#3, January 8, 2012
I am sitting on the benches of Istanbul Ataturk Airport, waiting for my partner in crime, Deniz, to arrive. I have thirty minutes before check-in starts, lots of alcohol in my blood, and some extra holiday pounds. They will leave me when time arrives.
I am sitting here with two major feelings: An ultimate satisfaction deriving from quality time spent with friends and family, and a major heartbreak created by two important people in my life.
I am sitting here with my coat on and with one song in my ears looping. The song summarizes the major heartbreak, the expected moment of my life. After two great nights spent with friends, who know how to love and deserve more love than I normally give them, I am waiting for my departure time to arrive with a bittersweet feeling, tending to darken due to those heartbreaks.
During this visit to Turkey, I did not have the time of my life, but luckily, last two days were amazing by all means. I reconnected with most of my dearest friends until next time—this June or another cold and rainy December. Throughout this stay, I have eaten more than enough Turkish food, many of them being delicacies I craved in the middle of warm Tucson nights. I have seen four amazing Turkish movies, took many positive steps for my academic and literary career, talked to many strangers about life in Turkey and grasped an overall sentiment about the latest developments. It was better than I expected in certain issues, and worse than in some others.
When I started this entry, I was expecting a catharsis on this heartbreak. My alcohol level, my sleepiness, the song in loop signaled this very-needed catharsis. However, as I realized and explained in these chronicles, I had changed a lot. I fire frustrations faster and easier than I used to, and this is totally new to me. I think as Istanbul becomes a more touristic, attractive, sign-board invaded city, my character complies with it: The loses are obvious, the human cost is huge, and the history is massively neglected, but to become more flexible as a person, to have a life with more lights, to welcome more people, I quit burdening friendships easier and quicker than usual. My friends at college used to mock my short temper towards people close to me. It was something funny, because although I claimed ending my relationship with many people, I never had succeeded, and my short temper was only a funny reaction of mine to human conditions.
This time, the heartbreak occurred so gradually and deep down, no one challenged me when I talked about my heart breaking. They all admitted that my relationship with those two former friends was over. It was easy, apparent, accepted by everyone around. The decadence was recognized with ease.
And just like that, after two amazing nights, I took a cab from Taksim to the Airport, and started waiting for my flight. It was that simple.
Filed under: music, the city | Tags: arizona, ezginin gunlugu, istanbul, leaving, music, proust, tucson
As you would remember from some previous entries, I take music as a conveyer of my personal past. Due to my shark-like nature, my past does not only consist of time periods but also different cities. A la recherche de mon temps perdu, music defines eras, therefore geographies. That’s why a song can take me to the museums of Paris, humid mornings of Augusta, beautiful campus of Middlebury College or a drunken festival night on the Bosporus.
In a day or two, I will publish three entries about my visit to Istanbul in December 2011. There, with awe, you will see how Istanbul and the meanings it encompasses in my life are in constant change with time. Although I no longer live in Istanbul, this city still holds such a potent and influential place in my life that, it can change meaning even if I only visit it now.
Due to my horrible experience back in December 2011, I had removed Istanbul from my life for the last four months. I barely thought about the city, had only a couple of Sykpe conversations with my dear friends still residing in that behemoth, and did not listen to a single song that is directly related to the imperial city in my personal universe of signifiers. It was tough, and full of remorse. I had spoken big when I talked about “never leaving Istanbul/Istanbul never leaving me”. My relation with the city came to a point where one side had to sacrifice a lot to reduce the pain resulting from this relationship. Of course, I was the one who had to sacrifice. And I had taken Istanbul out, maybe not completely out, but to an extent never explored before.
But on the day before my trip, on my way back from my first proper camping experience with the spiritual purification bestowed upon me by Mount Lemmon, I inadvertently played “Siyah Gozler” by Ezginin Gunlugu. A song from the very heart of Istanbul, dedicated to my quintessential pain felt for this city. Listen to the song; you will know what I mean.
It started as an “innocent” move to expose my friend some Turkish music. As I was imposing my patch-worked taste in music, I stumbled upon Ezginin Gunlugu and said, “Oh, you will love them. They are quite interesting.” I hit the play button unconsciously, and it took only five seconds to hit me back. All of a sudden, due to the amazing clarinet solo, as we were driving down the mountain, and the fauna was changing from pine trees to cacti, I was surrounded by Istanbul, the city I had removed from my life. I, there, realized I had been successful in exiling Istanbul away, and it was emotionally safe to recall it on such a moment.
Elif Shafak always compares and insistently contrasts Istanbul and Arizona, she calls them “two places on earth that could not be more different.” One time, she however noted, Arizona and Istanbul resemble each other in terms of “huzun”, the concept that is at the same time possible and impossible be translated to “la tristesse” in French, or “melancholia” in English, according to Orhan Pamuk. I agree, in both geographies, a sense of melancholia is omnipresent. Istanbul’s huzun is more consecrated to human interaction and its imperial past, while Arizona’s melancholia is more limited to contrasts, such as sun and shade, different definitions of border, and city’s eclectic architecture juxtaposing a skyscraper and a Mexican cathedral together.
Huzun is both similar and different in Arizona and Istanbul. The Oaks on Ciragan Caddesi and theSaguaro cacti on UA Campus share a common feeling not only in the habitants of Tucson form Istanbul but in a larger sense: just like paradise and hell, they share human.
As I am typing this entry on my way to Istanbul, not back, I am thinking how long will I have to individually struggle to tell people the commonalities of different geographies are much more than their differences. Since the beginning of humankind, some people may not be changing where they live from cradle to grave. But their fixed residual habits are miniscule, especially once compared to the traveling human element in every city’s content. The words we use can be forgotten, or ignored; but the eyes we see cannot be forgotten, or ignored. Especially when their universal humanity is considered.
For me, Ezginin Gunlugu also belongs to Arizona now. And Istanbul does not seem so vicious any more. Especially out of the plane’s window, when the Bosporus’ waters are shining like gold.
A very hot Izmir afternoon, I came home and found my father dead. After 58 years, which he had spent mostly working, he passed away due to a heart failure—leaving all of his loved ones in a state of shock. I remember that day had started just like another Friday, he had woke up really early, went to work, came home, and had a shower afterwards. My mother found him, and when I came home, the doctor chose to give “the news” to me rather than my mother. The reminder of 2009 passed with other unfortunate events. A friend’s father passed away, a friend had a stroke and almost died, and a schoolmate was killed in a car accident.
Back then, I thought that pain in my life would never cease. My father always missed Istanbul, the city where he spent most of his childhood, and I had to live in “his city” to finish my degree. Things in my life, like inadvertently moving to one of the neighborhoods he had lived or walking everyday by the elementary school he had attended for a year, were keeping his memory alive, with a grave pain accompanying it. Izmir also became a city where I hated spending time. I remember, before moving to Tucson, my visits to my hometown were compact: I would visit my dentist, meet some friends, see some family, and in a day or two, I would be back to Istanbul, where pain had become somehow less evident. 13 months after my father passed away, I moved to Tucson. And, I unexpectedly loved this city. I loved Tucson although it wasn’t, at all, similar to the previous cities I had lived.
Tucson was smaller population-wise but geographically wider. Its weather was dominated by an ardent desert climate with almost no rain. It was very remote to my previous life, which took place in Amsterdam, Istanbul, Paris, and Izmir. And everyone, including me, found my immediate admiration to Tucson inexplicable. But Tucson revealed its meaning in a moment which is very unlike any Tucson moments. It revealed its meaning under the rain.
For the last week, Tucson gets probably more rain than its monsoon season. Last Monday, my roommate and I couldn’t bike to school because of the rain. Last night, we came home from our Saturday dinner by bike, under the rain again. This morning, I am writing this piece in our front yard while rain is unusually watering all our plants, and a couple of drops are splashed onto my computer screen. (By the time I proofread this entry, in the afternoon, it is still raining!) Tucson weather is definitely not acting as it should.My roommate and I make jokes about being in London or Istanbul when we drink coffee in our front yard. And this unusually moist Tucson days made me realize why I love this city that much.
When I was in Istanbul, or in Izmir, landmarks, avenues, streets, a random elementary school at the corner, knickknacks in my mother’s apartment, in less words anything reminded me my father, which is not a bad thing. However, they also reminded me the pain I had to cope with after his sudden death. I could not remember my father’s jokes or wise words, because the shock, and the following sorrow, was constantly with me, dominating everything about him. My father’s memory was by no means stripped from the pain of his death. However, Tucson, with no physical reminiscent of him around, gave me a new life where I was alone with the memory of my father, not the pain. Tucson was the city where I reconciled with that bitter aspect of life, the death of a loved one. It does not mean that I will not miss him when something good happens in my life. I already foresee some hidden tears at an important event, like a graduation or a birth; but this time I will be armed with the cleansing Tucson granted me.
There may not be many art galleries in this city, or the nightlife can be a joke considering other places on earth. Public transportation may be weak, and the rain may be a rarity in our lives. But Tucson will always remain the city that healed me. So, if still, anyone is wondering why I love this city so much, you have just read why.
I came to USA for a reason: I was sick of moving around, and I wanted a home. However, the outcome has been… more moving!
American graduate programs’ undisputable quality was not the sole reason for deciding to live here. I wanted a stable home for the rest of my twenties. It could be far from “home” but I wanted to build up a new life in a city, and basically live there for a long time. I wanted to become a local in another part of the world. Given that the programs here are longer than the European ones, USA seemed a perfect place to do settle down and do graduate work. If you are a graduate student at a US institution, you have to really live wherever your school is. You can’t enjoy that European freedom of pursuing a PhD in France, working in a Turkish university, and taking your vacations in Italy. In USA, you have to be on campus 10 months a year, and summers are really not times to relax. All of your classmates are learning another language or doing some awesome internships around the world, so you just can’t buy your ticket home and do nothing for three months. You have to do something, and that’s what brought more moving to me.
When I moved from Beyoglu to Uskudar in the beginning of my second year at college, I already knew I would be moving out at the end of the year to do exchange in Europe. When I arrived in Paris and entered my room, I remember telling myself this was my home only for 10 months. I came back to Turkey, got an apartment in Kadikoy this time, and said again: “Well, this is a great place to spend only one year since I’ll be heading somewhere else next year.” I did, I came all the way to Tucson, Arizona to make here my home. I did it, but it does not mean that I am no longer moving. In fact, I am moving more. Here is how:
Today, I left my second apartment in Tucson. I had to leave the first one because I was constantly ill due to my roommate’s obsession of 65°F as indoor temperature. I moved in with an awesome Chilean geologist, who was always cool about my messiness or Glee songs. Then I got accepted to a language program in Vermont for the summer, so I had to leave my apartment for a cheaper one, in which I will spend only one month before my language program starts. Today, I am writing this entry in my third home, and I will be packing again in one month, to head up north, and seven weeks later, I will be returning to my new home—somewhere I should find during June before I leave. So, this August, I will be moving into my fifth room in 12 months. Is this how you settle down, or is it just life telling me the harder I try, the worse it gets?
I really don’t know the answer, and I am freaking out if the response to my question will be something like that: “Well, honey, you are already a nomad. Deal with it.” No, I am not that 18 year-old romantic who went to “the New World” but was called back “the fairy tale city”. I don’t buy that kind of stuff anymore.
As a pragmatist academic, all I think now is I should find such a great place to move in this August that I will never want to get out until I am done here with Tucson.
Wish me luck; I will need it so bad when I am trying to stop this four-year long habit.
How do I overcome homesickness?
One day, a close friend’s mom, Güniz Teyze, read my fortune from coffee grounds in my cup. She said: “You will always be on road. When you are here, you will have a bag ready to depart anytime. When you are there, you will always miss here. You don’t belong here, or there. You belong to both.”
She had known me since I was 14. I was 23 years old when she told me this. I believed in her with the whole of my heart.
In one month, I will be celebrating my 26th birthday in Arizona, and not on an island for the first time in 7 years. This year has been the year of change, and I can’t say I don’t enjoy it. I am leaving some habits behind, just like some expressions, or a couple of favorite dishes and fortunately many obsessions. I am building up a new life in America in general, and in Tucson in particular. I have a bag ready to depart here, too. But for a long time, I plan to stay on this part of the world.
However, this does not mean that I don’t miss my life back in Turkey in general, and in Istanbul in particular. Looking at a crowded street from the second floor of a building, and feeling the noise rather than hearing it is at the top of my list. I miss people filling streets up and me looking at them from Oyuncular Kahvesi or somewhere in Nevizade. Or I miss sitting under the pergola in a quiet summer afternoon, drinking tea and looking at Galata Tower. I miss the chilly spring mornings of Gülhane Parkı or taking a taxi from Taksim to Kuzguncuk, my last neighborhood in Istanbul, and not realizing how we crossed the Bosphorus bridge as I am already sleeping because of that last drink. I miss live clarinet, buying a simit and running to a bus with it, or getting soaked under the rain on my way to Ortaköy and cursing myself for not taking the bus. I miss things unique to Istanbul, unique to life there, and mostly individual moments rather than collective ones.
Why individual rather than collective? Why personal rather than communal? The answer is hidden in “Virtual Rakı Sofrası”.
I don’t miss collective moments because my friends are creative enough to organize a virtual gathering on Skype, around a Raki table, with all rituals completed. They turn on their Skype, raise their Raki glasses with me, and stay up until 4am just to talk with me around the table, something very different than any gathering including alcohol. They have time for keeping my spirit up with such an event on particularly May, the best month of Istanbul, full of festivals around the city. They are so sweet that they read me passages from my yearbook, which recently came out and is so heavy and emotionally valuable to be shipped. They keep me updated, they keep me happy, they keep me belonging to two without sacrificing one or other. Their kindness, and valuable friendship, and considerable efforts leave me with my yearning to only individual moments.
I can’t thank them enough, so I just raise my glass.