Place: Istanbul |
Drink: Monkey Shoulder blended whiskey |
Late Friday night, listening to fighter jets hurtle overhead as a coup attempt erupted on nearby streets, I found myself thinking about a passage from The Museum of Innocence. The concept of rebellion features only tangentially in the novel by Nobel prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, but the passage and the book and Friday night typify something else I’ve come to associate with and appreciate about Turkey since arriving here a year ago.
The Museum of Innocence is at once a love story, character analysis, and homage to Istanbul at the end of the 20th century. It tells the story of Kemal, a member of the Istanbul elite, who becomes obsessed with a younger, poorer distant cousin and then spends much of his life compulsively collecting objects to place in a museum to honor her. The passage I recalled involves Kemal remarking on the last time Turkey experienced an internal uprising:
On September 12, 1980, there was another military coup… In those days, coups came every ten years. From time to time army trucks came down the avenue, filled with soldiers singing martial songs. I turned on the television at once, and after watching the images of flags and military parades and listening to the generals who had seized power, I went to the balcony.
There is something both wonderfully innocent and resilient about the attitude of the protagonist here and the reaction of real-life people to events in Turkey over the past few days, weeks, and months. That is not to say he or they don’t understand the gravity of these events; they do. It is their acceptance – perhaps built on a heritage which includes the steep rise and fall of one of the world’s great empires – that history happens. The Turks have been-there-done-that too many times to count, and in the process they have become masters of getting on with it.
The word “resilience” means “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” The day after the terrorist attack this March on Istiklal Avenue, which killed four in the heart of downtown Istanbul, I was amazed to hear people were back on the same street, strolling, shopping, eating, and drinking. It wasn’t they were unaware of what had happened; they just weren’t prepared to let it get in their way. The Turks were not letting the terrorists win. The same was true after the January attack that left 13 foreigners dead in Istanbul’s tourist center, Sultanahmet, and another attack last month that killed 41 at Ataturk Airport, which was fully operating again within 24 hours.
Likewise, Pamuk’s Kemal bounces back time and again from misfortune and change, recovering both from mishaps of his own creation and those beyond his control. I wouldn’t call The Museum of Innocence a classic; for me, it drags too much in the middle. But from what I’ve seen living here so far the novel does an excellent job of capturing the challenge Turkey faces – in large part due to its geographical fate – navigating powerful currents pulling from East and West, while always getting on with it.