Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Where I Live (Istanbul, Turkey)

purchase Robert Johnson "Istanbul Grey"
purchase Ella Fitzgerald "Istanbul ..." (somewhere in this link)

I can lay claim to having swum from Europe to Asia and vice versa – several times. But that’s only one of the many, many perks of living in Istanbul. Istanbul is a city that straddles two continents, and the swim from one continent to the other is less than a mile in most places. My folks used to tell a story about a dowager who claimed to her Atlantic ocean-going companion (with her nose in the air), “I have crossed the Atlantic 5 times “, to which her deck-mate replied, “and I cross from Asia to Europe every day”. She lived in Istanbul.

I grew up with a fortress built in 1452 literally in my back yard – well …  across the street from our house (that’s the castle in the video that accompanies this earlier SMM post). This disconnect made it kind of hard for me to relate – or maybe for my classmates to relate to me – when I began high school in the US: I wasn’t particularly in tune with popular US culture (TV shows, sports statistics …) partly because TV didn’t come to Turkey until around 1970, by which time I was 15. My historical time frame was millennia, not the decades of US history (think: Neolithic, Helenistic ….)

Until 1973, the only way to get from the European to the Asian half of the city was to swim or to take a boat. Crossing the straits meant waiting in interminable lines for a car ferry.  Today, there are two 6 lane bridges spanning the Bosphorus and another one under construction. Yes, it can still take hours to get across the water, but that’s because Istanbul has just about the worst traffic in the world.   On the other hand, Istanbul has been rated (more than once) as one of the best places for events/action.
Ella and Bing

 A partial list of Istanbul events for March 2015 includes many local talents whose names would mean little to you as well as others you would know: Hugh Jackman, Bobby McFarrin, the London Philharmonic, Julio Iglesias – but this winter-season list doesn’t really predict the general trend. I watched Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood  a few years back (and that’s merely my choice).

As far back as Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby, the city was attracting attention  - granted, not likely the kind of attention today’s local media-rati would prefer, but hey … they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. (Belly dancers are not Turkish – they are Persian). While, on the one hand, there is a major disconnect between the cultural perceptions of 21st century Turkish youth and those of their fathers/mothers, there is also the realization that local culture is irreplaceable and probably worth preserving – at least in a bell jar. Something to point to, but not necessarily to aspire to. We’d rather wear yoga pants than baggy (shalvar)pants.

Turkish popular music, for the most part (IMHO) is formulaic: pseudo pop tinged with arabesque. That said, there are rare examples of artists working outside the mainstream and creating melanges of East-West synthesis: as on some of Robert Johnsons’s recordings. There is a definite potential for cultural melange where East and West mix, and that is the major part of the attraction of Istanbul.

As we said in "our" attempt to win the 2000 Olympics bid: “Let’s meet where the continents meet.”