NO 16 SEPTEMBER 2001
Istanbul, the City of Dreams
16 September 2001
Istanbul really is a strange kind of crucible. These days, maybe partly because of the abnormal heat we’ve been experiencing, it seems as if every significant interaction, every memorable episode, every intense period of my entire life is surfacing enough for me to reflect on it, savor it, revisit its pain or its joy, and attempt to weave it into the carpet that has been under construction well nigh these past eight years. Besides that, time has acquired a decidedly peculiar quality. For one thing, it changes. Some days (or even hours) it feels as if there is all the time in the world and everything appears to move very, very slowly, whereas on other occasions time speeds up and it feels as if there is almost none left to me at all. In short, a definite strangeness is being manifested lately. It’s positively alchemical.
Is it just I? I wonder. I mean, my friends realize that I am given to almost endless philosophical rumination on this or on that, so perhaps it is just I. Then again, maybe, just maybe, there is something intrinsic to Istanbul that gives rise to such things. There is a dreamlike quality about this city, after all, and quite possibly it does derive from the fact of its being forever liminal, situated as it is on the threshold between two continents. I’ve talked about the qualities of liminality before in connection with Istanbul, (1) but on account of what I’ve just described it’s coming up again.
Do you remember that line in the Wizard of Oz about Kansas? (Given most of my readers’ ages perhaps I should first ask if you remember the Wizard of Oz at all! (2)) Anyway, at some point the heroine, the indomitable, red-shoed Dorothy, looks around, is struck by the fantastic nature of her surroundings – and it’s true, Oz was an incredible place – and says to her companion Toto: “We’re not in Kansas any more.” I am tempted to say something like that now. Istanbul is definitely not Kansas and perhaps the connection between Istanbul and Oz isn’t so farfetched after all. I made a remark the other day to an email discussion group I belong to about this not being Kansas anymore and one of its members sent me an email back saying: “But the guy who wrote The Wizard of Oz was a Theosophist. . .. When Dorothy lands in Oz she also starts off on the spiral path of the golden yellow brick road. And her destination is the Emerald Castle. I'm assuming that's a green emerald like those . . . Sufis talk about. And how did she get up there? She was carried upward by the wind or pneuma . . .. Somewhere over the rainbow bridge.”
Ponder those threads of connection for a moment, would you? Oz, of course, that place, “somewhere over the rainbow bridge,” is the symbolic equivalent of Istanbul for those of us who weren’t born here and who “followed the yellow brick road,” as it were, to get here in the first place. Certainly we were all helped along our way by some form of breath, be it wind or pneuma or the spirit of wanderlust. Theosophy – well, the connection there is that, among other things, the most well known exponent of Theosophy, the divine Madame Blavatsky, once worked as a rider in a circus in Istanbul! (Look, everybody has to start somewhere. I mean, this happened before she became famous. You know, before the conversations with the Mahatmas from the ‘other world’ began.) The emerald thing relates to the Tabula Smaragdina (literally, ‘Emerald Tablet’) of Hermes Trismegistus – oh, don’t freak – you know about that – you just don’t know the name of it. It’s a document dating from between the first and third centuries of the common era that tells us “As above, so below.” See? You’ve heard of it. Sufis? Well, of course there’s a connection between Sufis and Istanbul – they’re still everywhere, notwithstanding the ban on Sufic orders in the early decades of the 20th century. And rainbow bridge? That’s easy. No less than Leonardo da Vinci pondered the problem of how to build a bridge (and poetically speaking, wouldn’t it have been a rainbow bridge? (3)) spanning the two continents. In the end -- it was 1502 and Beyazit II had commissioned da Vinci to work on this project of designing the bridge but no one believed that his design would work -- they didn’t build it. (By the way, it turns out that da Vinci’s engineering concept was stunningly viable and at this very moment the city of Oslo, in Norway, is well underway with plans to build the bridge da Vinci intended for us there, in Oslo. Of course, theirs will be only a scaled down version – a paltry 63 meters, not the 1,555 feet Leonardo envisioned. Also, Vebjoern Sand, the artist who proposed the project to Norwegian authorities, hopes to construct the bridge of stone, as Leonardo would have, but the guys holding the purse strings want to make it from wood saying they can’t afford stone. I’ll let you know what comes of this. Still, the bridge intended for Istanbul is going to be built, 500 years after it was first designed. Just not here, is all, but there. I would have wanted it to be here.)
I said Istanbul was a kind of crucible. What I meant was that this city somehow functions to cause me to go through so many changes. You see, there are the bad days here, when I think I will die if I have to teach English one more minute (you see, in California -- in my “other life,” as I am wont to refer to it -- I was a respected, highly-regarded university teacher who taught really exciting, meaningful stuff like women’s studies and mysticism and esotericism and myth and symbol). I fume about the fact that my Turkish employers almost always and invariably treat me like just another dumb yabanci with a TEOFL certificate who got off the bus in Sultanahmet and don’t see who I really am or respect me or . . . etc., etc., etc. You get the idea. But then there are the good days, when I feel positively exhilarated and powerful and walk around feeling like some goddess who has landed here in Istanbul to live out the latest in a long, long line of incarnations. Those are the days when the following poem (4) is exactly right for a foreign woman with a keen sense of the mythic living in Istanbul:
was born in the congo
Well, there. Having delivered myself of all of the above, I can tell you I’ll definitely be back to normal next month. My partner has promised to take me on a badly needed vacation. In the meantime, dear readers, remember that Istanbul has been called the “City of Dreams,” and so you mustn’t forget to dream.
1. See the September 2000 issue of Istanbull...
2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a popular children’s book written in 1896 by Frank Baum. It was made into a movie in 1932 starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. This was the film that made her song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” into a much beloved hit.
3. In fact, it turns out
that in 12th century China there actually was a type of bridge
called a “rainbow bridge.” These “were pier free bridges made
from 20 ft (6 m) long timbers.” Without piers because “bridge
piers interfered with traffic, were difficult to build, and were
frequently swept away by autumn floods, and deforestation meant that
timber of longer lengths were rare.” The way it started, or so
we’re told, is that a man “piled large stones on both sides of the
river to form abutments and then “tossed” several great beams
together, forming what locals called a flying, or rainbow, bridge.”
for the whole story.)
3. I am extremely grateful to another member of my email discussion group for sending me this powerful poem by Afro-American writer Nikki Giovanni .
|No.1- April 2000||No.11 April 2001||No. 20 July 2002||No 29 April 2003|
|No.2 June 2000||No.12 May 2001||No. 22 September 2002||NO 30 MAY 2003|
|No.3 July/August 2000||No. 13 June 2001||No. 23 October 2002||NO 31 JUNE 2003|
|No.5 October 2000||No.14 July 2001||No 24 November 2002||NO 32 JULY 2003|
|No.7 December 2000||No.15 August 2001||No 25 DECEMBER 2002||NO 33 August|
(No. 8 Ocak 2001 - Türkçe tercume
|NO 16 September 2001||No 26 January 2003||No 34 September|
|No.9 February 2001||No. 17 April 2002||No 27 February 2003||No 35 October|
|No.10 March 2001||NO 19 JUNE 2002||No 28 March 2003||No
36 January 2004
|No 37 February - March 2004||No 38 April 2004|
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