Friday, 29 January 2016

Istanbul: A Museum of Innocence

If you are from Istanbul what do they call you? *Istanbulli? But really found nobody close to being a bully in this friendly ancient city! This *word was stuck in my head since I read about an Istanbulli protagonist in a novel on love, loss and recreation of a lover's paradise built around objects that are mere memories of an innocent time. Istanbul is simply a museum in itself - an innocent witness to its past, present and future as I type this blog. Its mysterious streets may dot many museums but simply being there is no less than witnessing history and geography from a totally different perspective.

Just a few days ago, I was living next door to a unique venue called the Museum of Innocence in Çemberlitaş situated in the heart of Istanbul. If you love to find that special sweet spot between novels and travel to help bring real life places alive through the books you read, this is one museum you should not miss. More than the tragedies in the novel, by the same name, on which the actual museum is based on, my personal tragedy was missing this venue. Blame it on tired legs after 16000+ innocent steps each day in the city. I simply did not visit the museum despite crossing its door at least a few days times every day... keeping it for later sometime. Just like how we miss to take a closer look at something that is near us because our eyes are fixed far away! I missed it. Today's news reports the London premier of the film based on this museum/book. The film is named Innocence of Memories.

In The Museum of Innocence, his first novel since winning the Nobel prize, Orhan Pamuk strolls into this minefield with serene confidence, his own enterprise courting the same unease as that of his protagonist, Kemal Basmaci. Pamuk’s this novel is one of Turkey’s most famous ones. It is set in Istanbul – mainly in the 1970s – and tells the story of one man’s obsessive love for his distant relation Füsun. Over time this businessman, Kemal, who is also a wealthy Istanbulli playboy, spends a decade besieging his beautiful young cousin and then, after certain tragic events, devotes the rest of his life to creating a museum in her memory, stocking it with objects connected to his relationship with Füsun – such as her hair clips, cigarette butts and dirty coffee cups. These objects become a ‘museum’ to his obsession. Not just a love story, the novel is seen as a glimpse into the lives of Istanbul’s wealthy classes and the dilemma they faced in balancing their traditional values with the increasingly attractive Western culture of the time. It addresses issues of sexuality, gender, modernisation and religion, while whipping us along  the streets of Istanbul in vintage American cars and taking us on ferry journeys up the Bosphorus. But Pamuk has gone a giant step further than most novelists. Several years after writing the novel, he has built a real life Museum of Innocence in the part of Istanbul where Füsun’s parents have their home, and where Kemal spends a lot of time hoping to catch a few moments with his love (and stealing the odd tea cup for his collection).

The museum allows free entry to those who bring a copy of the book. A ticket placed in the 83rd chapter of the book will be stamped before ushering the reader in.
More than a love story cum travelogue, Pamuk’s novel is partly an exercise in cultural fetishism, as, after rejection, the lovelorn Kemal meticulously collects every scrap connected with Fusun, however trivial they may seem to fit a museum! For instance objects like panties, nutcrackers, and other trifles recovered from their moments together. I know this sounds creepy to many of us who may have also experienced real-life stalking but the novelist's perspective is different. Hence worth a mention.

British film maker Grant Gee's film is based on the actual museum that Pamuk opened as a real-world counterpart to the fictional one that Kemal creates; a double-meta construction that is only accentuated by the film casually referring to Fusun and Kemal as corporeal figures and Pamuk’s positioning of himself as a fictional character in a key scene in his novel. Pamuk’s habits as a flaneur of the Istanbul streets, and his inclination to see the city as a repository of collective memory, both individual and cultural, will surely give Gee’s film a kick into the most rarefied of intellectual spheres.

Grant Gee's film gained much acclaimed following its Venice premier in September. I hope to catch the movie when it reaches cinemas in the UAE!

More from the art scene in Istanbul

If you are in Istanbul right now try and catch Banksy's art here at Karakoy. It is showing until February 14, 2016.

If your visit is scheduled in February or March this year don't miss the !f. No ifs and buts about this one! The line up for the 15th !f İstanbul International Independent festival was announced at a press event at the Istiklal Caddessi. A total of 112 titles from 40 countries will hit cinema screens in three Turkish cities at this year's  Film Festival, from late February to early March in İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir. The Turkish big screen debuts of some of the year's most hotly anticipated indies will take place at the festival, whose theme for 2016 is “!f İstanbul unites!”, organizers announced at the press conference on Thursday.

This venue on the right hosts !F annually

Snow settles between the cobblestone pavements from Taksim square to Istiklal Cadessi... there at the far end you can see the poster of a much talked about and recent Turkish film Ertuğrul 1890 
International creative collaboration: Here is a closer look at the poster. The first film to be co-produced by Turkish and Japanese directors, ‘Ertuğrul 1890' reveals the roots of a friendship between two nations, and premiered in Istanbul on Thursday.
Also please visit the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, taste the Turkish Coffee as well as tea (varieties of it), shop for artefacts at the Arasta Bazaar and spices at Eminönü quarter of the Fatih district (the most famous covered shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar)... pictures below are what I caught in my camera while strolling there this week:

Turkish coffee tastes even better when sipped while watching the Marmara sea from one of the street cafes/restaurants that offer a panoramic view of the whole place!

Stroll along the tram ways and find treasure troves -  magnificence of the ottoman/hellenistic eras on the right and related trivia in form of souvenirs on the left that can be taken home in exchange of liras
Blood red carnations at Sultan Ahmet's Hippodrome signify the deadly event that happened here a few days ago due to a mindless terror-probed activity that killed 10 tourists as a suicide bomber blew himself up in the name of God! or Syria or just something else we may never know fully!

Amazing souq nestled between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, offers Ikat silks from central asia, Kilims and other expensive artefacts you may like to browse/buy

A shop's window at Arasta Bazaar

Arasta bazaar has fewer shoppers/tourists during winter mornings
Hagia Sophia pronounced as Aya Sofya - once a cathedral, later a mosque, now a museum... houses brilliant ancient art, relics of two religions, indecipherable scribbles in viking script by guards on duty at the upper gallery, and plenty of friendly cats
Inside Aya Sofya you feel tinier than you are... no matter how tiny you may already be! Soak in all that is still there to marvel in the form of art and culture from a bygone era
Topkapi palace treasury has golf-ball sized emeralds decorating the Topkapi dagger among invaluable other material wealth that the emperor who lived here collected from around the world. The palace also houses some important Islamic religious material that includes some organic remains of holy relevance.
Topkapi display: If you look at the ancient Islamic art patterns closely you will witness that the artists at work were hugely inspired by the shapes of local birds, flowers, fruits... and must have spent long-hours decoratively arranging the forms in aesthetically pleasing geometrical/symmetrical patterns.
Aya Sofya: The mosaic from Constantinople's time started revealing when the Ottoman plastering started withering off with time. Some historians say that the Ottomans could never really fully demolish/cover the Roman cathedral decorative art. Whatever the story is/was... it is worth a look. Simply magnificent, if you ask me. And reminds one of the art in Vatican, Florence and else were in ancient Italy.
Aya Sofya: Imagine if minutes of a meeting where inscribed in stone like this! This is precisely that.
Aya Sofya: A huge marble container from the 5th century used to store/serve grape juice during special occasions.
To taste the true flavours of Istanbul one has to savour its equally unique food too. That will be featured in another blog soon!

Teşekkür ederim! (Thank you!)

This story was published in Gulf News on March 2, 2016
To read it online click here:
PS: Did you know that Istanbul had very unique vending machines... one where you can pop a few liras and buy a new novel? Another one where you can recycle used bottles in exchange for dog food!

No comments:

Post a Comment