Wednesday, July 18, 2007

People just living their lives...

What a view! It reminds me of San Francisco. I took this photo of the Bosphorus Bridge from a bathroom window at Bogazaci University, which, in fact, was called Robert College and is the oldest American college outside of the United States. Robert College was founded by Cyrus Hamlin (an educator, inventor, technician, architect and builder) and Christopher Rheinlander Robert (a well-known philanthropist and a wealthy merchant from New York) in 1863. In 1971 the Board of Trustees recommended that the Turkish government take over the college, and then it was renamed Bogazici University. All instruction is still completely in English. Look at this picture of one of the many buildings constructed out of blue limestone that was quarried right on the same plot of land where the 118 acres campus still stands.

So, it's been another fabulous day in gorgeous and stimulating Istanbul. I'm too tired to think right now, but I want to share a few pictures with you, and I want to give you a couple of vital stats--mainly because I know too many people (maybe not you!) in the US have such erroneous ideas about this (and any) Muslim city and country. Check out the basics:
--Official name: Republic of Turkey
--Turkey's political system is based on separation of powers.
--The government is a multi-party SECULAR parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the
--Prime Minister is the head of government.
--Executive power is exercised by the government.
--Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
--The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
--The current constitution, called the Anayasa, was adopted on November 7, 1982 after a period of military rule; it privileges the principle of secularism.
--There are plans to revise the constitution.
--Population: 73,197,000
--Capital city: Ankara (3.4 million pop)
--Largest city: Istanbul (9.4 million pop)
--Language: Turkish
--Turkey is a member of the G20 (which brings together the 20 largest economies),
--and an associate member of the European Union.
--Turkey is NATO’s sole Muslim member, and therefore it is positioned as strategic partner in achieving peace in the Middle East.
--Turkey is located in the Eastern Mediterranean, on TWO continents--Europe and Asia.
--The European part of Turkey is called Thrace.
--The Asian part is called Anatolia or Asia Minor.
--Istanbul straddles both continents.
--The two continents are separated by a strait called Bosphorus.
--The Bosphorus joins the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara; it has been an important trade route since ancient times.

Today we took the ferry up the Bosphorus to the mouth of the Black Sea. Both the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus are packed with exquisite houses that have been standing there for over 100 years. Some have been lovingly renovated; others are still waiting. In his memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, Orhan Pamuk describes the Bosphorus he knew growing up in the 1950s to 1970s (until today):

For centuries, it was just a string of Greek fishing villages, but from the eighteenth century, when Ottoman worthies began building their summer homes... there arose an Ottoman culture that looked toward Istanbul to the exclusion of the rest of the world. The yalis--splendid waterside mansions built by the great Ottoman families during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries--came to be seen, in the twentieth, with the advent of the Republic and Turkish nationalism, as models of an absolete identity and architecture. But these yalis that we see photographed in Memories of the Bosphorus, reproduced in Melling's engravings, and echoed in the yalis of Sedad Hakki Eldem--these grand houses, with their narrow high windows, spacious eaves, bay windows, and narrow chimneys, are mere shadows of this destroyed culture.... To be traveling through the middle of a city as great, historic, and forlorn as Istanbul, and yet to feel the freedom of the open sea--that is the thrill of a trip along the Bosphorus. Pushed along by its strong currents, invigorated by the sea air that bears no trace of the dirt, smoke, and noise of the crowded city that surrounds it, the traveler begins to feel that, in spite of everything, this is still a place in which he can enjoy solitude and find freedom. This waterway that passes through the center of the city is not to be confused with the canals of Amsterdam or Venice or the rivers that divide Paris and Rome in two: Strong currents run through the Bosphorus, its surface is always ruffled by wind and waves, and its waters are deep and dark. If you have the current behind you, if you are following the itinerary of a city ferry, you will see apartment buildings and yalis, old ladies watching you from balconies as they sip their tea, the pergolas of coffeehouses perched by landings, children in their underwear entering the sea just where the sewers empty into it and sunning themselves on the concrete, men fishing from the banks, people lazing on their yachts, schoolchildren emptying out of school and walking along the shore, travelers gazing through bus windows out to the sea while stuck in traffic, cats sitting on wharfs waiting for fishermen, trees you hadn't realized were so tall, hidden villas and walled gardens you didn't even know existed, narrow alleyways rising up into the hills, tall apartment buildings looming in the background, and slowly, in the distance, Istanbul in all its confusion--its mosques, poor quarters, bridges, minarets, towers, gardens, and ever-multiplying high-rises. To travel along the Bosphorus, be it in a ferry, motor launch, or a rowboat, is to see the city house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, and also from afar as a silhouette, an ever-mutating mirage. (48-52)

Right before dinner we went to Ortakoy, a part of Istanbul that is north of Sultanahmet where I'm staying. As usual, people where out and about in the cafes and along the water--talking, laughing, walking...

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