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My Beautiful RL

I am really more of a much-rather-stay-at-home kind of a person. I will happily spend all of my days right here, at home – as long as I have a good computer, a decent ADSL line and the roomies of course…

And yet at the same time I know that I happen to be living in a magical city. So, how is that for a contradiction then?

Fall is here, and somewhat early this year too. In fact, I have already had the heat on ever so slightly in the evenings for the last few days. The days are getting noticeably shorter and there are absolutely glorious sunsets that break through all the rain clouds, sunsets for which this place is famous for in the fall. I hate the summer and I love the fall and even the winter. The day I put on the first woolly socks of the season is a feast day. So, this really is the greatest time of the year for me and to my mind the greatest time of year for Istanbul as well.

I love this huge, congested, confusing, ugly/beautiful city and the funny thing is that I thoroughly detested it until about 15 years ago.

Istanbul was dead during the years that I grew up here: It was a provincial city of a million people or so. And yes – no doubt architecturally speaking it was far more beautiful then than it is today. The hills of the Bosphorus were still largely forested and most of the old gingerbread houses were still struggling to stand in their big pine tree gardens on the Asian side. And yes, people were far more polite and well mannered – the famous old guard Istanbul bourgeoisie was alive and well, daintily sipping their tea with crooked little fingers, sitting in the “Cercle D’Orient” or the “Grand Club”, or indeed all the refined drawing rooms of well bred Istanbul ladies. Faded and pathetic grandeur… Turkish is a language with a formal “you”, as well as an informal “thou” – and boy, was the “you” much in evidence back then… My my… Yeah… yeah…

It was boring! Elitist, uniform, stuffy, stultifyingly conservative, effete, outmoded… So stilted in fact that most people of my generation – at least the ones that had even one single, even remotely rebellious bone in their body – once they hit their twenties could not wait to get out. Either by becoming revolutionaries that desperately tried to throw the whole dilapidated social structure on to the garbage heap where it really and truly belonged, or by just simply physically wanting out. I personally went to London first for a couple of years and then ended up in New York where I lived for 7 years. And New York is, to this day, my other big love city – except that unfortunately this other big love has ended up breaking my heart, deceiving me very badly in fact, by metamorphosing into this “obey the rules whilst pretending to be hip” sort of an old fuddyduddy city… So there, in New York, the love is the woe of lost love; whereas over here, the then so deservedly shunned upon, sniffed at conservative Istanbul of my younger days has ended up revealing itself as the true wild lover?

And it all happened because at one point, in the 80’s came a visionary prime minister, who opened up the economic barriers that Turkey had literally been suffocating under up until then. And millions came flooding in from the impoverished countryside into Istanbul in search of employment at the newly raised industrial parks and factories; bringing with them their cultures, their food and their music. True they were extremely rough around edges, true they were uneducated but they were also bright, innovative, ambitious and hard working. The hook nosed, blond Laz from the Black Sea and the Kurds from the east; and then of course the small, round faced Turkish peasants from central Anatolia. They worked, they wheeled and dealed, they confiscated government land on which they raised their favelas, and then they worked some more and turned the favelas into perfectly civilized middle class neighborhoods – albeit unbelievably ugly ones, that now stretch across the once unspoiled, beautiful horizon. Today Istanbul is a vast, and at times very ugly city, a megapolis of 15 million – grown to that size in less than 30 years. With horrifying traffic problems, and crowds possessed of an energy that people say is akin only to what is encountered in places like Shanghai and Hong-Kong these days.

And the kids of those once immigrants are now my students. And the students of all my colleagues employed at some 20 universities in this city. Close to half a million university students in Istanbul apparently… Blond big Laz boys snogging dark small Turkish girls. Kurdish mommy – Laz daddy. Turkish daddy – Kurdish mommy: The parents of the backpack brigade.

Today I was out and about all day. Various chores and errands that then turned themselves into an absurd sort of a shopping day where I ended up buying my 5th black backpack. And then came back to Besiktas, my ‘hood, quite late and sat in a small Lahmacun (sort of an eastern anatolian pizza with ground beef on top) place and wolved down two of those while watching the “other” members of the backpack brigade saunter by in the rain. And eavesdropping onto this completely absurd and very funny conversation between the two lahmacun guys in their little red paper hats concerning soccer results and predictions, waving around rolling pins and little balls of dough to emphasize their points. I very badly wanted to take a photo to put in with this post (which I sort of began writing there I guess) but there was this heavily necking couple sitting directly dead center in my FOV and I figured they would not really appreciate all the attention, so I left it…

The backpack brigade: This must be the city of the backpack. I don’t think I have ever seen so many of them sold or used anyplace else. Every second street vendor is selling backpacks it seems and seeing someone without a backpack is almost an oddity. Reason: Well, 65% of the city is under 35, you see. It is a city of youngsters, all stomping along with their backpacks, some of them with sometimes almost waist long dreadlocks (boyz and girlz – I have no idea how they manage to grow dreadlocks of a quality that would easily be the envy of most Rastas, given that hair around here is usually quite straight and fine), yet others with shorn heads, and then all the others with comparatively tame looking, nicely kept long tresses. And then, every once in a while, a scarfed Muslim girl amidst all the hair swaying crowds, one who somehow manages to contrive a totally punk combination with her all-star high tops, her jeans – with a mini skirt on top and then the scarf to complete the whole outfit – as likely as not to be seen busily cuddling a spiky haired boy with ear cuffs, whose baggy jeans look in grave danger of slipping south at any second. Countless piercings and grungy black t-shirts all in place. 10s of thousands if not 100s of thousands or indeed yes, even millions of them; filling the streets day and night. Filling entire soccer stadiums in colored face paint, busking on city ferries, busily reading their little underground fanzines, texting SMS at the speed of lightning, scouring the internet, clogging up both MSN and ICQ, eating and drinking in the thousands of bars and cafes that fill entire neighborhoods large enough to be cities in their own right, talking talking talking. And big worriers they are too – worry about everything, they do – hhh. Like I said, there are 15 million people here and 65% of them are under 35… So, go do the math. It is a huge huge number, creating a huge cultural wave, one that has brought a dead city back on to its feet – and then some…

They have created a formidable music scene. Turkish folk music amalgamated with heavy metal and hard rock. Then the Turkish rap scene. Blue collar parent’s kids with jelled up spiky hair, singing a harsh mixture of Turkish tunes to rap rhythms. Then the ones that create crossovers between Thracian gypsy music and hard rock. The ones that mix up arabesk and western ballads. And then of course all those more serious and intellectual types, who take their ney and their tambur out on the streets and play Sufi jazz. Buskers everywhere it seems. I love it.

And yet it is a city living under the pall of an imminent and colossal earthquake. The geologists are saying that the huge fault line underneath the Marmara Sea is due for a break within the next 20 years or so. And when it does, the magnitude of the thing is expected to be 7.5 or even over. They have torn down entire neighborhoods that are in the direct danger zone (where I live is not anywhere near that category – thank god) and are re-structuring those areas. But still hundreds of thousands live in secondary danger zones that are also under grave risk.

After I ate my lahmacun I dragged my old and new backpacks filled with all kinds of absurd goodies up my hill (a very nice black beaded necklace, 2 leather wrist braces that I would certainly not be sneezing at in SL either, a brand new and ominously worn out looking black t-shirt that has “Turkish Rap Underground” written on it front and back, some shampoo that promises to make my hair curly… hhh). Opened the front door to find an army of roomies complaining loudly at my prolonged absence.

So, can my RL get any better than this? Not that I want to seem greedy or anything like that, or not that I am not immensely grateful for all that I have already – but… I should bloody well hope so!



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