Sabiha, une flâneuse dans la ville, Feride Çiçekoğlu
La femme, la ville et le cinéma. Portrait d’une icône qui déplace les lignes entre espace public et espace privé.
I spent most of my life as a nomad, commuting between cultures and various cities. Yet, of all the places I have seen so far there is no one that has mesmerized me as profoundly and incessantly as Istanbul did and still does.
To begin with, let me give you a secret about this place. It is an old secret known by the natives and only barely sensed by tourists. The secret is that there is no such thing as Istanbul.
Instead, there are different Istanbuls living side by side. This city is not one single city. It is a huge, female Matrushka doll. You open one doll and inside you will find another one. You open that one only to encounter another doll nesting inside. Istanbul is multiple cities hidden within a city. Istanbul is a labyrinth, a riddle within a riddle. It is a hall of mirrors where nothing is quite what it seems. What looks very “Eastern” to a stranger might in fact be very Western. Likewise, what seems very “old” at the first glance might be pretty new. One should use categories carefully when talking about Istanbul. This city doesn’t like clichés.
So let’s start by questioning the two major clichés of all times: “East” and “West”. The moment you apply these clichés to Istanbul they will lose meaning and start to evaporate. Because Istanbul has multiple identities and out of these identities she creates new syntheses. Where does this belong? Is it Eastern? Is it European? The answer is: Istanbul is the most Eastern of all Western cities. It is a European capital of culture and art and stories.
After all “East” and “West” are relational categories. But we tend to forget this and use these labels as if they were mutually exclusive. “West” and “East” are ever-changing definitions and yet somehow they seem to be static, almost eternal. But when you are living in Istanbul you learn right away to mistrust these two concepts. And if you happen to spend enough time here, you might just as well stop using them altogether. Istanbul makes one comprehend, perhaps not intellectually but intuitively, that “East” and “West” are ultimately imaginary concepts, and can thereby be de-imagined and re-imagined.
And now let’s take a closer look at the different Istanbuls:
There are actually four Istanbuls living together. They are like four different currents in the same river. First, there is the Istanbul of those who have left the city. They have left behind so many of their belongings -scattered remnants from a past now hard to envision. Of them remain churches and chapels and synagogues, as well as schools and graveyards and vineyards. An old Jewish cemetery, an Art Nouveau building once owned by a Levantine family, a carving from an Armenian Catholic hospital, a decrepit Assyrian church, long pastorless and without a congregation, a Greek school now completely empty. We Istanbulites, walk by these vestiges every day, without giving much thought to where on earth their owners might be today.
In this city ghosts of our ancestors live with us. Cemeteries are scattered among the buildings. There are no clear-cut distinctions between past and present or even life and death.
Second, there is the Istanbul of those who have come here in the past five decades –the latecomers. They have migrated from small towns or remote villages in Anatolia, mostly for economic reasons, hoping to attain a better life here because as the saying goes, “the stones of Istanbul are made of gold”. The latecomers have little, if any, concern for the city’s cosmopolitan history. It is the bright future that they are after. They thus slide along the streets of Istanbul without ever infiltrating underneath, never reading the city’s tombstones, never asking themselves what kind of people used to live here long before they arrived.
Third, there is the Istanbul of those few who have managed to stay put –generations of native Istanbulites, born and raised here, Muslims and non-Muslims. They are the only ones who remember what the city used to be like and perhaps that is why they speak so little, knowing too well that their words will fall on deaf ears. But they are always looking for the good old days. They stare at the city through the eye-glasses of melancholy and nostalgia.
Fourth, there is the Istanbul of sojourners –tourists, hippies, pilgrims, mystics, artists, secret agents, conference participants, journalists, diplomats, people who stay here for a temporary stopover on their way to elsewhere. Their Istanbul has nothing to do with melancholy or nostalgia. Their Istanbul is a vibrant city throbbing with life and rhythm.
These four Istanbuls live side-by-side. East and West are no water and oil. They do mix. And in a city like Istanbul they mix intensely, incessantly, surprisingly. And altogether the four cities compose the music of Istanbul.
The first Istanbul, the city of those who have left, resembles a qanun –a stringed musical instrument that produces a complex, beautiful, Oriental melody.
The second Istanbul, the city of those who have migrated here, resembles the darbuka –a goblet shaped small drum that beats to a fast and energetic rhythm.
The third Istanbul, the city of those who have a long memory and long ties with the city resembles the ney –a very mystical, flute-like instrument, both simple and strong.
And finally the fourth Istanbul, the city of sojourners, plays the piano, sometimes to an alla Turca melody sometimes to a Western melody.
And with all these instruments Istanbul makes its own music all the time.
And here is my second secret about the city: The streets and plazas and many public spaces might be male-dominated (you will see more men than women) but in fact Istanbul is a female city. It is a she-city. And she responds differently to its women visitors than to men visitors. With men, she sometimes falls in love with and when male visitors fall in love with her too, Istanbul offers breathtaking adventures. But here is a downside. She gets bored with her lovers very quickly. With her women visitors, it is more tricky. If you are a female visitor and if Istanbul likes you, she becomes good friends with you and whispers her secrets and stories in your ears. If she doesn’t like you at all, well, she will let you know that right away.
This city is a tough cookie.
Finally, whether man or woman, if you are an artist, if finding and creating stories is your profession and passion, you should come to Istanbul and see the city with your own eyes. But if you do that, try to see not only one, but all four cities.
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