Istanbul, and Turkey itself, is a place with many histories. It is truly a layer-cake of epochs and empires…
A rusted Toyota Camry glides along Kennedy avenue, the four-lane highway adjacent to the wall of Constantine – eight meters of ancient imperial brick still protecting the west from incursions across the Bosphorus. Sunlight strikes the face of Mehmet the conquerer. His bronze likeness resting atop a plaque nestled in the wall. The electric speakers of hundreds of minarets call the faithful to prayer, and the twangy arabic verses echo across the water. The red insignia of modern Turkey flaps in the wind, hanging from a flagpole on the old Ottoman train station. Cruise liners and ocean freighters emit their own siren calls, and the life of the world’s second largest city rises to greet the sun once more.
The detritus of this city is older than anything in my country. Wading through knee-high grass in over-grown city blocks, we see roman bricks are covered with spray-painted graffiti. Junk here is history elsewhere.
There was an article I once read reviewing the televised adaptation of William Shatner’s Tekwar – it was a ghost-written paperback science fiction series that took place in a ‘futuristic’21st-century Los angeles, and the series itself is unimportant. What is important is what the review focused upon. Despite all the given plot gaps and paper-thin characters, the one nugget the article picked out that has stuck with me ever since is this – in the future new and old will overlap in ugly ways.
There are no perfect, symetrical glass-steel imac-stylized cities, no dazzling utopias of aerial parks nestled in pristine white tower-scapes, there is just new stuff built on the old stuff, with anything that was not worth the trouble to destroy still littering the present. This is something like the experience of Istanbul, a city, by all measures modern, within which are nestled some profitable antiquity tourist traps. But all things historical here – unless they are discovered to be useful in some other way – are added to the forgotten legacy of ancient junk beneath the city.
It is not that the city neither affirms or denies historical value, but that this valuation takes a backseat to the selection of the market, that archaeological appreciation by capital that takes neither stock of the humanity implicit in it’s lost treasures, nor the knowledge it could bring – it only bases its selection on the expected buying and consumptive behaviour of humanity at present. Humanity in Turkey and at large does not buy that much history. Economically-speaking, Turkey really has too much history. Artifacts that would be encircled with high-pressure glass and over-paid security goons in the western hemisphere can be just as easily discarded in the trash here for want of space.
Such is the mask of humanity that there really exist two histories – the one presented in museums, and the other lived within. One epitomized in the way humans intended to be remembered, the other betraying how they actually were. Triumphant arches and forgotten sewers. The expeditions of academics to places here are like rare charities dotting a landscape of apathy – the general disinterest of humanity in itself.
Nothing makes more apparent to me the distinction between old and new world than the multiplicity of histories and peoples in this place.