Published: February 1st 2010November 30th 2009
It was April, I’d just got back to Abruzzo after another experience on the road. Spring was well underway in its annual task of making the world and our lives more colorful. The earthquake had struck. Hardly. Invisible waves in the night breaking stones, bending steel, plowing old roads and paving new ones instead. Those leading to the grave.
And then the usual routine of fear, obviousness and media jackals was there. And people slept in their cars and pointed their fingers at the government and prayed God to spare them. Atheist prayers of those who believe only when in need of asking. As in political campaign.
After the first week, nothing but corpses would come out from the heaps of ruins, and so televisions have nothing morbid to feed distant peoples with. People who are moved only if the tragedy is on the screen. Those hearts that beat only in the presence of an accident with pedigree. But the TV schedule need to be filled however -sponsors demand it- and if from those piles of rubble no photogenic material comes out any longer, then they dig elsewhere. In the who is to blame. And the geologist is replaced
as talk show’s guest by the lawyer.
One week living in the earthquake. Actually, No, living "of the earthquake". There was no way to avoid it: 299 people killed on the spot -the lucky ones-, 58 million who decide to die bit by bit, just because they fail in accepting their own fragile mortality.
Days when the earthquake was the only topic of conversation. It was everywhere, it covered us just like soot covers the chimney-sweep. Everybody was talking about it, and everyone was saying pretty much the same. I tried on occasions to analyze the event from a distinct perspective. I tried to mention the earthquake that had just struck as a chance not to be lost to reflect about existence in general, on what counts and what does not count in life. I tried to ask what lesson could we learn from it. I was looked at with the same mix of dread and curiosity with which we would observe an alien just landed on our planet.
Faces saying (without saying it) "No, what sort of questions do you ask? Ask me, instead, if I personally knew any of the victims. I want to tell
you of that cousin of my aunt who... ask me all about civil engineering and seissmography, I have followed all the specials on TV... but don’t ask me to look into my soul".
And so I soon grew tired of it, and besides I had no money and I needed to work, and my friend Flavio offered me a job as salesman for the online booking website (Clickbed
) whose commercial area he was head of. Destination: Prague, Czech Republic.
In fact, three weeks later here I am: Istanbul, Turkey. Problems of language... I don’t speak czech... ok ok, I don’t speak turkish either , but... hey, nobody is perfect!
Istanbul is an abnormal monster. Abnormal amount of people, abnormal expanse of gray buildings, abnormal amounts of rubbish left here and there in the streets, abnormal absence of green. Yet it is a benevolent monster. Its people (Turks in general, perhaps) live elbow to elbow, literally, yet they don’t give the impression of minding it. A part of them lives of 9-5 (9-6 here) office routine, shopping malls on Saturday, trendy bars in the evening. The others live in a megalopolis of 13 million people as if they
were still living in those Anatolian villages they left years ago (or even generations ago, in some cases). The differences from neighborhood to neighborhood, even from street to street in the same neighborhood, are so marked as to suggest two separate cities. Two separate countries living in two different centuries.
It is surrounded by water: one sea (the Sea of Marmara), one channel (the Bosphorus) and one estuary (the Golden Horn): three for one! At sunset, when from the countless minarets the muezzin sing their call for prayers, mosques, palaces and churches dress up in lights for the night. One after another, like a all year round Christmas tree. It is then when the city offers the best of itself to those who have desire and time to observe. And that's when the monster takes the form of a sweet teddy bear.
My job was about convincing hotel keepers to join the above mentioned website. And I couldn’t have come to a better place. The vast majority of the meetings went well beyond the brief, concise financial discussions. I met people willing to talk and to listen in front of the inevitable çay
. Time is not a problem.
As it should always be, everywhere: nobody lives longer only because he lives faster!
Over 200 meetings and I only recall 4 or 5 with matter-of-fact people whose time was too precious. Three of them were foreigners, a Frenchman, a Dutchman and an American woman, the latter not even met in person, as her secretary (Turkish) was too terrified to let me pass without prior appointment (as if we were talking about the Pope) and the text of the only e-mail she wrote me, in response to mine written in the utmost Middle Eastern formality, was "How much?". Not even "Dear Mr. D'Aprile, how much?" (Which would have made me sick anyway).
Unfortunately the Expat world is like that. They are (we are, given that, in spite of myself, I also fall into the category) a plague for the local culture. Here in Istanbul as in Bangkok, in Bucharest or Cairo.
Six months ago, at the beginning of this now ended adventure, I decided to get myself a copy of the magazine Time Out Istanbul
”, this in the ingenuous hope that it would help me to understand where I had ended up. The very first article I
read, the editorial, was the report of an Expat. It was a long list of defects of the Turkish way of life, such as: intermittent electricity and running water (untrue), streets and sidewalks in deplorable conditions (partially true), and especially an old-fashioned and not at all practical way to carry on business (true, but unfortunately this will be soon eradicate by people like the author of the article). When I was already wondering why the fuck she lived in Istanbul if she didn’t like anything, here come her pro’s of Turkey: a significant number of local stallions ready to mount her, or to put it in her more metaphorical prose: "those heads full of black curls to stroke that make my emotional life a roller coaster".
I read the article in disgust at ever growing speed, while I kept tossing and turning the magazine in my hands, as if it were a newly purchased Chinese made Gucci bag paid as Italian. Shit, I had been ripped off! And with magazines you don’t even have the satisfied or refunded clause. The worst spent 2.50€ of my life. It made me think about how I could have used such capital in
more uplifting ways: I could have put them in a bank and, 20 years time and thanks to the ever growing generosity of those institutions, my 2.50€ would have become… 2.55€. Dreams of future unimaginable wealth wiped away in one swoop by the purchase of the magazine of the enemy.
But at least this way you learn that a issue of Time Out
if used judiciously will last months as toilet paper, and anyway you can always retain the hope that despite such pervasive presence of expats, Turks will never want to replace their wonderful, ancient, atavistic poetry with such prose son of the nothingness.
La versione Italiana di questo articolo è disponibile su Vagabondo.net
Link: Espatriato per Caso