The Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) is spooky, but would be a lot spookier if it weren’t overrun with tour groups, or if it was still full of the corpses they once stored here, before turning it into a tourist attraction with a very repetitive, endless loop of classical music for a soundtrack.
This was the largest of many ancient cisterns beneath Constantinople (now Istanbul), and it was built (by slaves) in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The section of the cistern with Medusa’s head planted, upside down and supporting a pillar, was actually taken from another ruin and added to this site later.
People have thrown coins into the water around Medusa’s head, and I wondered: What were they wishing for?
To ponder that, consider Medusa, who’s been interpreted as many things, including as a symbol of female rage, nihilism, and scientific determinism trampling on religious “truth.” Freud unsurprisingly made her all about the penis, and interpreted Medusa as a talisman representing castration.
It seems likely that most well-wishers to Medusa are aggrieved women seeking revenge and redress for their injuries, probably against a man, or men who wronged them. Perhaps some were also making defiantly vengeful wishes against those who proclaim women to be second-rate or inherently lesser than men, or who scold and circumscribe women’s self-expression because of its allegedly deleterious impact on men’s loins and morals. But really, isn’t that properly men’s problem to deal with?
As one Istanbulian woman I met commented hilariously: “You’d think these men would be more ashamed to admit so openly that they’re such perverts! Oooh, a leg! Oh no, a neck! I can’t control myself!”
Text and photos by Brian Awehali
A recent surge in interest in typewriters isn’t just about nostalgia or fetishistic hipster concerns. It’s about light, speed, focus and pleasure. It’s also about digital discontent: As our type has grown speedier and more legible, we’ve become more legible to corporations, governments and private individuals in increasingly centralized, synoptic positions.
Two women — one young, the other elderly and pushing an upright shopping cart — paused to look in the window of the California Typewriter Company on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley.
“Typewriters,” said the older woman, meaningfully.
“Old,” said the younger one, before glancing down at her smartphone.
It’s true; typewriters are old. But their invention, rise, and popular decline also paralleled one of the most transformative periods in modern human history. The newest typewriter in the Berkeley store, a sky-blue Olivetti Studio 46 manual built in Brazil in the early 1990s, might have been made before the younger woman was. Most are decades older, and it’s likely that many of these machines were used at some point by a woman entering the workforce for the first time, as a typist or secretary. The oldest typewriter in the store, a Smith Premier No. 2 with what look like wooden keys, was built in the startlingly retro-futuristic year of 1890, when events like the massacre of ghost dancers at Wounded Knee and the formal end of the US-Indian Wars co-existed in time with mass electrification and the appearance of the first computer — a punch card tabulator used for tallying census data.
The nostalgic and historic appeal of typewriters is easy to understand. But what’s driving the recent revival of practical interest in them? Who’s using typewriters, and why?
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, since I’ve seen plenty of other images of Native Americana in Istanbul — including a garishly “sexy” Native outfit on a very skinny mannequin in the window of a clothing store in Galatasaray. Why all the Native American stuff?
Several Turks have since told me that they identify or feel kinship with Native Americans because they share a common ancestry, via the Bering Land Bridge and the Central Asian Turko-Mongol tribes who made their migrations across it a good 10,000 years before Christianity got started:
A study published in 2007 in PLoS Genetics, led by University of Michigan andUniversity College London researchers, suggests that the Bering land bridge migration occurred 12,000 years ago, that every human who migrated across the land bridge came from Eastern Siberia, and that every Native American directly descends from that same group of Eastern Siberian migrants. The authors note that a “[u]nique genetic variant widespread in natives across both continents suggests that the first humans in the Americas came in a single migration or multiple waves from a single source, not in waves of migrations from different sources”.
Today I saw a guitar player busking on Istiklal in an outfit meant to look like a North American native costume, but the man looked an awfully lot like a man I’d seen playing in a Peruvian flute band on Istiklal the day before, in traditional Andean clothing. (Note: All brown-skinned indigenous people do not look the same to me.)
Anyway. You cannot escape the flute players from the Andes. They may well be in every city in the world. If I flew to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, I would not be surprised to encounter an Andean flute ensemble playing the cafeteria.
Antarctica may look like outer space in the trailer above, for Werner Herzog’s brilliant Encounters at the End of the World, but Andean flute players will surely be the first musical act in actual outer space, where they will likely be comforted by the presence of the ancient Incan superfood, quinoa, which is well on its way to becoming the Official “Grain” of Long-Duration Manned Space Flight.
I passed through Ferguson, Missouri a week after Michael Brown was killed. The first thing I noticed as I drove onto Florissant Ave., the main street through town, was three armed national guardsmen getting gas for their armored personal carrier at a QuikTrip convenience store. The other customers at the store seemed unfazed, buying their chemical- and corn syrup-laden junk food, getting their gas, and generally going about their business. It was eerie and unsettling, how quickly they seemed to have grown accustomed to the elevated martial presence in their town.
But the scale and aggression of police force in Ferguson shocked and outraged many Americans, not least because of the considerable dramatic media coverage it received. As I drove down Florissant, the small handmade sign that hung across the street from the police station was dwarfed by the assembled media vans and their satellite dishes, which helped put Ferguson on heavy rotation in national and international news.
No one in the media-“informed” public can know with factual certainty what happened between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown, which makes the latest round of destruction in Ferguson and St. Louis much sadder than it would otherwise be. But the racist systematic municipal harassment of Ferguson’s African-American population is documented and undeniable. Disproportionate rates of police violence against blacks and the overrepresentation of black folks in our prison system are also documented and undeniable. Addressing and changing the deeply entrenched racial injustices that plague America is a long and difficult ongoing process, but one immediately useful result of the events in Ferguson and their media coverage is that many people became aware, for the first time, of just how advanced the militarization of domestic U.S. police forces has become. (See also this Vice interview with Radley Balko, a police militarization expert.)
One hopes the the current protests, riots and alleged looting won’t be spun by the media in such a way that serves to justify militarized domestic police forces, but it’s hard not to see it happening that way.
I’m in Turkey right now, and was surprised to see street art expressing solidarity with Michael Brown in the Galatasaray neighborhood. Turkey, too, has experienced a number of police shootings of young minority/disenfranchised youth. I’m no expert on Turkey, but I don’t think most Istanbulians today would find great shows of police force very shocking:
n 2014, political marches occur routinely on Istiklal, one of the biggest and busiest streets in the city. It’s not uncommon for large numbers of Turkish police in riot gear to amass in response. It seems fair to say that the overall level of political engagement, across the ideological spectrum, is greater and more intense in Istanbul than it is in any U.S. city, and that a good portion of people here do not confine their political action to simply voting, as a good portion of the less than half of Americans who vote do.
Most of the riot police who greeted this Nov. 8 Istanbul Kobane (Kurdish) Solidarity march looked quite young, and more concerned than angry.
Istanbulians and visitors continued going about their leisure activities, strolling, eating, and listening to music. It seemed to be just another Saturday night on Istiklal.
Lake Bafa used to be part of the Aegean Sea, but time and nature gradually closed it off. Now it’s a very, very large and brackish lake, nature preserve, camping spot, and popular destination for migrating birds and birdwatchers in southwestern Turkey. The ruins of Byzantine-era monasteries can be found along the backside of Mount Latmus (Beşparmak Mountains), at the northeastern tip of the lake.
We were staying at a terrific little hotel/farm/olive grove called the Silva Oliva when we noticed kayaks along the shoreline one morning. Oh yes.
It was off-season, and this massive lake was almost completely undisturbed, with not a boat or person in site! So we paddled a small part of it, taking in some bird life, a tiny island with crumbling ruins and goats grazing, and several leaping fish that were probably mullet, a determined and wily fish I hadn’t heard of before watching this Discovery Channel documentary about Turkey which shows, among lots of other interesting things, mullet spawning at Lake Van: