Thursday, May 18, 2006

BOOKS: Istanbul by Pamuk

Istanbul: Memories and the City
By Orhan Pamuk
Translated by Maureen Freely
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005
[05/05/2006 ~ 09/05/2006]

Pamuk wrote Istanbul not just as a portrait of the city of his birth. It is also the portrait of Orhan Pamuk the writer - from his childhood amidst his large Turkish family, to his younger days as aspiring artist and when he finally decided to be a writer.

In his book, there is love and joy – but also a grievance against the city of his birth. He identifies a perennial sadness that possesses the entire city. Istanbul is a fallen city. The gem of the former Ottoman Empire that is no more.

Pamuk opens his book with an epigraph from Ahmet Rasim:
"The beauty of a landscape resides in its melancholy."

It encapsulates the poetry of the city.

Ahmet Rasim is a columnist of the city in the late 19th century. He is praised for his love of love, his wit and the joy in his craft. Rasim spent 50 years writing about Istanbul. Some of the best portraits of Istanbul are drawn from the ink of her journalists.

Random picks from the journalism over the years:

The celebrated French author Victor Hugo was in the habit of riding from one side of Paris to the other on 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 Istanul residents take little notice of what they’re doing when they’re walking down the street and 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]

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]

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