Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Hello again!

Today was fabulous, and don't let anybody tell you differently.  We took a ten-hour bus and walking tour of certain sectors of Istanbul, guided by an extremely knowledgeable professor of History and Built Environment, Orhan.  (Don't ask me how to properly spell his name, cause I won't.)  We bused from neighborhood to neighborhood, getting out for forty five minutes at a time to listen to him talk.  He talked about "modern" vs. "pre-modern" Turkey, migration within the country into and out of Istanbul, certain neighborhoods that grew from migration and cheap labor, working class neighborhoods facing government-funded gentrification, and I don't know...a lot of other stuff.  Seeing the even just the buildings of the city from this perspective was so cool.  For one thing, they LOOK really neat because they're built so close together.  For another, each neighborhood we visited looked and felt slightly different, and learning why made it much more meaningful.

For example, one neighborhood was built around and partially built to fund the Greek Orthodox church it surrounded.  Because of its location around the old church, the modernization process it had undergone had not been able to straighten out the streets into a grid of any sort, so it was just winding everywhere and going up and down hills and in general being very picturesque.  In the neighborhood undergoing state-led gentrification we could see the buildings that had been recently renovated TO LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THEY HAD BEFORE whether or not the dwellers could afford to renovate or move.  A couple houses we passed had signs in the windows that said, "Hands off my house!" in Turkish.  That neighborhood was mostly made up of families, so it was completely safe for kids to play around in the streets without adults.

I feel like I learned so much relevant information in just one day - and we're only still in Istanbul!  I'm nerding out, and am stoked for the rest of this trip.  I will try to post a few pictures.

Edit: It should be noted that the gentrification lecturer was quite into himself, and not the nicest guy.  His tour was far too long.  This turned off most of the group - I'm still not sure why I enjoyed this particular bit so much, because people are still very bitter about the eleven-hour tour.  Anyway, I thought I should disclaim that.  It's interesting and amusing to me.


Hello everyone!  I wrote this entry yesterday, so it no longer applies.  But I thought I'd post it, so here you are:

Hey folks!  As I’ve said, I feel a bit odd about this whole blogging thing, but I am going to try to do it of my own accord rather than only when my teachers tell me to.  So here goes.

We got into Istanbul last night around midnight.  This was after roughly 20 hours of traveling – 14 of them spent flying.  (I must say, British Airways gave the best dinner and a movie plus breakfast the next morning flying experience I’ve ever had.  Not only was I served alcohol, but it was free!  And don’t worry, I just had a tiny little bottle of red wine.  Luckily I am not a wine snob, so I could not tell if it was very bad or not.  However, I watched HP 7 and I can assure you of my competency in judging it to be very good.)  I wish I had packed lighter – that is what I get for waiting until the day I left.  I did reasonably well, but my computer is absurdly heavy – I would have done better to rent one from the Honors Department.  My back and shoulders ache from lugging around just my carry-on, which contained my laptop.  Oh well.  I live and I learn.

So even though I went to bed almost immediately after we checked in to our hostel, I probably did not sleep until closer to 2 or 3.  This is because our room’s windows open to a happenin’ side street, and there was stuff happenin’ all night.  The most happenin’ thing that happened, though, was the morning call to prayer, which occurred at 5 am.  I only groggily remember it as being beautiful and as lasting for quite some time.  If I hadn’t processed before then that I was in another country, the call to prayer certainly helped me fully realize the strangeness.  Also, daylight showed me the unique architecture and “feel” of Istanbul – we spent today on a wonderfully-guided tour of the area we’re staying in.

There are a surprising number of churches and synagogues in this area alone, though they represent the religious minorities of the region.  We were told that much of the recent embrace and preservation of synagogues is “towing the government line” of tolerance.  Our guide, Jen, gave us an insightful and very brief history and context of Istanbul, from the rise and fall of the Ottoman empire to the present day. 

There seems to be a rising popular nostalgia for long-ago times of coexistence between people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds – a nostalgia which sometimes contradicts certain historic forced relocations of groups of people, such as with the Armenians and the Greek  Orthodox.  Currently, the party in power is both culturally and religiously Muslim, and bringing great controversy to the nature of the long-ago secularized Turkish state.  (Jen clarified that here, secularization means enforced government supervision and control of religion, rather than the “separation of Church and State” with which we are so familiar in the USA.)  Despite the apparently conservative outcome of the recent election, however, Jen assures us that there are vibrant emerging youth movements, with youth becoming increasingly more politicized than the generation before them.  Cool, I guess.

I am honestly still a bit confused about differentiating between secular culture, Muslim culture, Muslim religion and religious minorities, and the power dynamics they carry.  Hopefully I will come to understand this a bit better over the next few days.

I am greatly looking forward to learning more tomorrow about an organization for migrant communities.  This will be extremely relevant to my proposed research project.