Jake's Journal

By jakethreadgould

Here endeth my stay in Turkey...

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...for tonight I'm heading to Bulgaria, in order to get my flight out in three day's time.

Coming back into Istanbul is a real perspective-changing, open-palmed smack on the face. Just over one month ago, I was on the tram coming in from the airport. I remember taking note of the different, colourful headscarves of the women sat around me. A few pious, bearded men dotted about thumbing through their prayer-beads.

But on my way back in, on exactly the same tram, I was struck by the cosmopolitan air of the city. The amount of girls and women without headscarves, people in suits, well-dressed students intertwined with the dirty overalls of workmen and the knackered shoes of the toy-slingers.

My vision, so to speak, had shifted. A month of travel around the poorer, more conservative (they often go hand in hand, seemingly) areas of the country had imprinted a different go-to mental image of Turkey in my mind.

You'll maybe notice what I'm hinting at here. I'm trying desperately to avoid that cliche which is so often appointed to Istanbul- 'the city where East meets West'. And in light of what I just said, this terminology would surely sound appropriate. But something inside me just won't accept it. These kind of lazy expressions send shudders down my spine, they really rattle my cage and they grind my gears!

And yet, perhaps this whole 'East meets West' thing, far from being lazy phraseology used by travel writers to describe anywhere between Istanbul and the Southern Balkans, is a good thing. Presumably it originated around the time of the Silk Road- and I guess Istanbul does bridge Europe and Asia (although that leaves poor old Georgia and Armenia in a bit of a geographical pickle). So, at least it has some important historical connotations.

But in today's travel writing, it seems to me that this 'East meets West' malarky has simply morphed into 'Muslim meets not so much Muslim'. What they are saying is that this is a sort of frontier of cultures- 'where churches and mosques mingle'. Churches and mosques mingle in Kurdistan, too, and London. And where does this 'East' end? who does it involve? who does it exclude? It categorises anything east of Istanbul into the same group, homogeneously 'Eastern', 'different', and this way, it seems, is much more digestible for the Western imagination.

That's enough hoity-toity ranting from me. Edward Said wrote a whole flippin' book complaining about the same irks, so I probably should have just linked that at the beginning and told you about my bus pal, Abdullah, from the other day.

But the only funny thing about that was when we'd both put our seats back to get some rest, he'd fall asleep immediately and slouch down to my shoulder, his big horsey teeth hanging over his bottom lip. It looked like we were sharing a bed, so I kept waking him up by giggling. But when he woke up his thick lensed glasses magnified his eyes, staring at me, haunting.

Fare thee well, Turkey.

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