Perfect weather ends in rain

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Turkish Airlines rolls a cart with national and international papers down the aisle — including the international New York Times — and on the flight into Ataturk last night there was an editorial by a senior adviser to the president of Turkey.

As recently as 2015 the A.K.P. was short 20 seats for a majority, resulting in a very unstable Parliament because of extreme disagreements between Turkey’s major political parties.

Unstable for whom? In other places minority governments are called democracy.

That’s something Canadian politicians and media, a parochialism brigade, also get their heads around wrong. But at least Canadian parliamentary deadlocks are not solved by upending the system of government. The page three article was more moderate, I suppose they ran two pieces for balance, but it was also short on precise language.

Describe the nitty of the changes the referendum was deciding, I say, because basically no one knows the details. Was this done anywhere in any media?

The next morning there was a Tulip festival in Istanbul and news from Al Rashideen, Syria. I do not have reason to doubt the reports of cooperation between first responders, of mixed confessions, political opponents, saving those children they could.

And every Syrian I spoke to, in wake of the latest tragedy, had no rush to delineate the confessions of the dead, so as to attach different weights to bodies. Maybe I am predisposed to find myself surrounded by the humane, I hear a cynic arguing. But I don’t always see evidence of this supposed fatigue of the moral instinct.

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I would have never found the tulip festival were it not for my friend, who took me on a Bosphorus tour. We played with some Turkish children on the second half of our trip around. When their mother learned we were Canadian and Syrian, there was no hitch, stutter, or issue. The weather was perfect. How can you not love Istanbul? 20170416_162348(0).jpg

We met up with some Syrians thereafter who were, let’s say, a bit more aggravated with their Turkish experience. I think, despite the truth, these men are aggrieved, there has been a great, long-standing, long-lasting campaign against Turks and Turkish culture. Every culture is maligned and misaligned and everywhere is parochial. The only escape from this is patience and revision through experience.

After dinner the results were confirmed. We took coffee at a young, liberal cafe in a liberal neighbourhood. Everyone there seemed crestfallen.

Less than four years ago, in one of Turkey’s en vogue, extremely gauche, apartment compounds, the Gezi Park protests had spread throughout the country, and at night, the clatter of pots and pans and spoons on aluminium balcony railings harmonised in the hours after dinner. Waking up one could find a broken bowls and spoons fallen from some balcony above. There was some sense of unity against encroachment.

As we walked to the Metrobus, talking of the awful experience of Assad’s political prisoners, the perils of dating (or trying to kiss) Turkish women, and so forth, the same began. It was comedic in a way, the progression of the cacophony — culminating in a burly middle-aged man throwing open his window and thrashing a spoon around inside big cooking pot as hard as he could.

“They still have some rights!” one Syrian yelled smiling, taking out his camera phone.

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He also made the point that a 51% margin, at one stitch in time, to change everything, is a big leap to make. Everyone with experience of the Assad regime would vote hayir, he claimed.

By the time my friend and I got home the perfect weather gave into rain. The enormous ochre moon of the night before was nowhere to be seen. And everywhere, from The Economist to the Toronto Star, people won’t learn everything the Turks voted for, but they’ll know how to feel about it.

Ice

That’s what the hotelier told me first thing this morning — “Ice! Pure ice.”

Sultanahmet is beautiful right now and there aren’t that many tourists out. So I’m going to see if I can sneak into Hagia Sofia (Ayasofia in Turkish) after posting this.

I was supposed to give a workshop today on English CV-writing, for an NGO I’ve been doing some English proofreading for called Afkar. Unfortunately it was postponed because of the snow.

The organisation is expanding. Yesterday I checked out the space they’ve leased in Fatiah, a central district of Istanbul.  They are planning and running various classes — I am hoping to attend beginner’s Arabic at some point in the future.

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We had Syrian for dinner afterwards. Why ever go back to normal rice?

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If you click on this link it should send you to a video news report on Afkar’s most well known work, an orphanage in Eastern Aleppo (they evacuated the children to Idlib province recently).

For dessert we had probably my favourite Syrian food, Halawet El-Jibn, حلاوة الجبن. White cheese pastry rolls with pistachio and sugar drizzle. My new friends let me have the lion’s share of what is pictured. I didn’t hesitate too much.

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Snow

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When I stepped out of the restaurant the snow was falling. Since I learned, two weeks ago, that the Turkish word for snow is kar, I can’t help thinking of Ka and Orhan Pamuk’s book.

Our party broke up and I was left to take the tram home. Cars were logjammed over the tracks, meaning no tram could pass. The wind was suddenly fierce. I was suddenly underdressed. Trams in both directions were stationary as were the cars intervening their path. The visibility dropping, the source of the obstruction was abstract.

Then emergency vehicles rushed up the tracks only to be halted by the gridlock. Now this was a sight, fluffy snow blown horizontal by cutting wind, three ambulances and five police cars sirening to no avail, trams backed up in both directions and endless honking cars unmoving.

I can see the Blue Mosque from the window of my new hotel room. It was $25/night. That’s what prices in low season have come to in Turkey.

The man who checked me in is from Egypt. He lost his job for a British Petrol company when Egypt nationalised the companies a couple years ago. He came to Turkey in hopes of a better economic situation. Since the attempted coup tourism has been very bad, he tells me, and it has only gotten worse and worse since the attacks. He has a family back home. Fluent in French (his second language), Arabic, and English, he says he has no interest in learning Turkish, “That’s a matter of opinion I guess,” he laughed when I said it was an easy language to learn.

There are Russians spending Christmas here in Sultanahmet despite recent events. Many of those who were snapping snow photos with me in the late hours were Russians.

There is much more, but I’m up early tomorrow. This from Snow (remember, our protagonist Ka is snowed into staying in a parochial albatross-town of his past):

Outside, the snow was falling thicker and faster than ever; just the sight of it made Ka feel lonely. He was also worried that the westernized world he had known as a child might be coming to an end. When he was in Istanbul, he had returned to the streets of his childhood, looking for the elegant old buildings where his friends had lived, buildings dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century, but he found that many of them had been destroyed. The trees of his childhood had withered or been chopped down; the cinemas, shuttered for ten years, still stood there, surrounded by rows of dark, narrow clothing stores. It was not just the world of his childhood that was dying; it was his dream of returning to Turkey one day to live. If Turkey was taken over by a fundamentalist Islamic government, he now thought, his own sister would be unable to go outside without covering her head.

I didn’t read Snow in the original Turkish but at times our guide Ka cartoonifies (as it does above) and plays according to (arguably) false dichotomies of certain narrative machines.

Freekeh

On the bus from Taksim towards Ataturk airport I watched a seaplane take off from the golden horn as sun backlit the pillars of the Valens Aqueduct. In an underground bus stop further on there were 1000’s of bicycles hanging from the ceiling for sale. Two boys practiced flipping a water bottle, one third full, to land upright on various surfaces while they waited for a different bus. I was first on mine, window seat, and the middle-aged man in the aisle slept, releasing both of us from the duty to give ours up to an elderly. In Turkey this is otherwise strictly enforced.

One man I saw on one sidewalk was selling four lighters, a sleeve of biscuits, three boxes of toothpaste, and a nazar boncuğu, organised on a square towel. No one looked at him as they passed and the sidewalk wasn’t well pedestrianised.  Still, the vulturenosed man in the puffy black jacket checked his back jeans pocket to make sure his wallet was still there. Nearby cafes had 1453 in their name to mark the fall of Constantinople, then the bus passed perfunctory through that city’s walls.

As we found ourself parallel with the metrobus line a wailing ambulance passed us, took to the curb, then waded into sludge parting traffic.

I arrived. It was the first time I came to my friend’s house and his wife prepared a surplus of food.

At one point in the evening he said:

“Now in Syria there is no meaning of ‘human beings.’ The stone has more value than the human.”

Istanbul’da….

 

DSC_0040.jpgIstanbul’da means “in Istanbul” — I don’t know how to use that properly in a construction. I arrived to Gaziantep airport late this afternoon and snuck a portion of katmer (pictured) into my mouth at the gate.

Katmer is fried pistachio phyllo pastry. I like it with an espresso on the side. Many places in Gaziantep serve it for breakfast and sell out by noon.

The more I learn about the Turkish language, the more I like it. I wish I had invested in learning it at an earlier juncture. But of course we feel this way about all languages, at all times. My friend Mustafa, fluent in Turkish after four years away from Aleppo, always tells me Turkish is easy, pointing out that if you think otherwise you’ll only make it harder on yourself.

Taksim is empty despite perfect crisp temperatures. I grabbed a kofte sandwich from a street vendor and headed to Hafiz Mustafa, a dessert cafe here that is open 24 hours. Some patrons were irking me there. There are more beggars in the square today than tourists, all asking in Arabic. It is a poor location to gauge poverty, certain beggars being schemers, compared to the outskirts of Turkey’s cities, from Antalya to Gaziantep to Istanbul. And the state of construction never changes in Taksim, the government can’t seem to finish the same sidewalks after four years.

More rain today in Gaziantep. At the gym today I met a Turk originally from Istanbul who had lived the last ten years in Cyprus. He had come to Gaziantep for a few months training “And then back to Cyprus [forever I gathered]. Enough time here! Why did you come to Gaziantep? It is not a tourist city.”

If I escape the rain, I’ll be glad to fly to Istanbul. But I think there are clouds everywhere over Turkey these days. I notice the latest attack really affecting the moods of those in my network. Someone was going to visit me in Istanbul Sunday, but cancelled, yesterday the last straw. When I checked up on people’s New Year’s, most had had the air taken out of their balloons.

I walked to the çarşısı (bazaar or pazaar in Turkish, I think) with a couple from Hama in the early afternoon rain. There we met a man named Ali who sells antique carpets — Turkish, Kurdish, Iranian, Iraqi — some over 100 years old. There was a language gap (I had the best Turkish of the three of us, problematic), but no matter, we were received warmly and served çay. Despite a limp, Ali was rolling out antique carpets for my appraisal. They looked old and battered. “If you gave me one, I wouldn’t put it in my home,” my friend said. Some did look positively derelict.

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I noticed yesterday a number of my Syrian friends on facebook had birthdays. If you don’t know the day of your birth, just the year, it is common to enter it into facebook (and more official documents) as January 1st. I know a lot of my Syrian friends also don’t use their real names on facebook, so it is also a method of anonymity.

The media here (twitter too, of course) seems to be now splashing the killers’ face everywhere it can, his selfies, his videos. I suppose that can be justified while he remains on the loose. But still — perpetrators gain renown while victims are swallowed by anonymity.

 

That is one thing that struck me from the beginning. Despite all the talk of technological change and surveillance and satellites, there are people at the bottom of the Mediterranean who sunk without a trace or an inquiry or a paper trail and there are people who died whose stories were lost immediately and forever because no one interested knew where they were at the time.

“You die twice, the second time when you are forgotten,” I paraphrase what an Irish friend quoted to me, north of Dublin about a month ago. The second time should take a while, I suppose, but some Syrians experienced both at once.

 

 

Sun

The sun has returned to Gaziantep.

Last night around 21:00 I was walking home when I saw a Syrian woman and her two children rooting through a dumpster. It isn’t unusual — they have a method and a cart for collection. The economic situations remain largely unchanged for Syrians in Turkey.

When I woke up this morning there was news of another attack in Istanbul. I am flying there Tuesday; today is the day to book a hotel surely.

Sanko Park was not open. It’s a mall here, with a Starbucks, a movie theatre, an ice skating rink, a pool hall. Usually it opens at 10:00 but as of 11:48 they were still not letting people inside — many tried, to be turned around by security, and then waited in a conspicuous crowd right outside the mall’s metal detectors.

So I sat in the park nearby re-reading Antifragile by Taleb. Finally the weather allowed this. The thrust of the book is that antifragility is undervalued, underconsidered, and wholly distinct from robustness or resilience. I think post-traumatic growth is a useful term (mentioned by the author).

We know the idea of antifragility intuitively, that if you sit as a couch potato, you’ll decay, but the opposite, vigorous exercise, fasting, sweat, et al can strengthen you. This positive reaction to stress is not the same as resisting harm, where you remain unchanged, neither fitter nor fatter, after exposure.

In any case I came across this early on in the book,

For revolutions feed on repression, growing heads faster and faster as one literally cuts a few off by killing demonstrators.

Hydra is the metaphor of course (Taleb loves eight or more analogies to make every point). (italics his, and I shudder at the diction).

I am not so sure how well this fits with the Syrian revolution. When the Hama massacre happened, my understanding is, this ushered in nearly three decades of uninterrupted suppression — the kingdom of silence. And it is well named a massacre — the Assad regime killed a lot of innocent people that year. A couple paragraphs later,

It is that political movements and rebellions can be highly antifragile, and the sucker game is to try to repress them using brute force rather than manipulate them, give in, and find more astute ruses, as Heracles did with Hydra.

I guess the out here is ‘can’ — Taleb isn’t making the mistake of claiming to understand the nature of reality. He is just saying ‘this phenomenon sometimes acts in this way’ where the phenomenon is rebellions and antifragile is the way. Insofar as I understand Hama, brute force did work for the regime.

Brutal force did not work in 2011 — news of the regime locking up, torturing, and killing fourteen year old boys in Deraa, while its agents taunted their parents, stoked the uprising. And as the army began shooting protestors, more protests erupted, Syrians began getting more organised — repression fed the revolution in 2011, but didn’t in 1982.

But look at that second half of the second quote — “manipulate them, give in, and find more astute ruses.” Assad has played a very good manipulation game. He gave in every where it didn’t matter. He waited out the revolution as it changed. So has the conversation.

For example the idea that Assad was, is, and will be, a protector of minorities in Syria has made a comeback. It has been repeated to such an extent that some people believe it. The arc of its believability has not been steady, it is more believed now than it was in 2013, but less than it was in 2010. Of course it was never true. The regime has always used each minority individually as it suited its interests, straight out of Machiavelli’s playbook. Yet some slice of those who considered themselves informed count protection of minorities as a point in Assad’s favour. In that vein, they also frame matters as a dichotomous choice, clarified by tallying a scoreboard of points, for and against the regime.

So repression rightly tuned succeeds. The problem sometimes with Talebian claims that include phrases like “more astute ruses” is that they risk boiling down to saying “better solutions work better.” But Taleb would be the first to point out that theoretical, universally applicable explanations of the world — actually he despises such foolish ‘platonicity’ —  are inaccessible. He uses the bed of procrustes often to illustrate that you can’t fit everything in the real world into some theoretical framework.

Instead we have piecemeal wisdom and habits and practices — aphorisms and human attempts at their application.