Winter in Istanbul: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
(next time, I'll go in winter)
This is for Edition 5 of the >Language >Place blog carnival, to be hosted by Parmanu. Contributions by Sunday 20 March. See link in my sidebar for details and how to submit.
Everything I remember of Istanbul makes me want to go back, which is really rather surprising, since neither of my trips there was much fun. I love to go to Istanbul by proxy, in the films and in the photographs of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, in the pages of Orhan Pamuk's novels and memoir. I go there several times a week through artist Samantha's beautiful blog, Harika. One day I'll go again for real.
The first trip was for work: brief, hectic, sleepless. We saw little, most of it on a roundabout taxi ride back to the airport - twinkling, chaotic streets and a dusty, mysterious skyline. A year or so later, I persuaded a friend to join me for a brief holiday. Mistake. It competes for worst holiday ever. It was summer and I was too hot. My friend was not. We never once wanted to do the same thing. I wanted the shady side of the street, she wanted the sunny side. I see us hovering crossly at the melting quayside where the boats leave for the islands, almost unaware of the grand, glaucous vista of the Sea of Marmara. My consolation in discomfort was poring over the 'useful phrases in Turkish' at the back of my guidebook, learning these and trying them out wherever we went. When I got it right, was understood in this strange, difficult tongue, it was utter joy. And my friend cringed, pretended she wasn't with me.
She thinks I'm showing off! and it's so far from that; it's an escape from ego, from the me, me, me who is hot, hot, hot. When I can get beyond the heat, I'm entralled by this city. What is it about Istanbul? The dirty, gritty tangibility, I think. It's full of glories, history and beauty, but not just a place for tourists. It makes me feel the way I used to feel about the north of England - the satisfying, rough depth and breadth and contradictions, the bigness and complexity of everything, along with sparkling jewels of detail (and, no, I’m not oblivious to pollution, potentially oppressive religiosity, violations of minority rights). I want to touch this city, and through language, through touching words, I can touch it.
Istanbul ended our friendship. Not the wretched holiday (those happen), but her incomprehension and intolerance of my wanting to touch language. We were too different, and the week in Istanbul crystallised this.
It was some years later that Turkish film-makers and novelists rose to deserved international prominence, reminding me of that old enchantment, that I always meant to go back to Istanbul, to learn more Turkish.