cloudy skies and seagulls flying backwards


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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul
September 24th 2010
Published: September 24th 2010
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I remember realizing at a very young age that if I stare at something long enough, it looks different. If I relax my mind, the whole context can change. I remember watching power lines from the window of a car as a child; they would slowly bend to one side and then bounce back into place, again and again. They stopped serving their intended purpose and became an abstract art instillation barely entertaining enough to keep my attention. But enough... for a few minutes at least, until my mind drifted elsewhere.

Yesterday evening, on the ferry to Beşiktaş, I saw a seagull flying backwards with all of its might. It was west of the boat, but the sky was cloudy enough that the setting sun was not blinding to look at. From my point of view, the gull was just above the skyline, which was rapidly advancing northward along with the ferry, as it pushed up the Bosphorus. The bird was not quite keeping pace, thus creating the illusion. The Galata Tower and Marmara Hotel nearly grazed its feathers as they crept ahead just underwing. I watched from the inside of one of the new ferries, through a large glass window, safely protected from the chilly September winds that are blowing through. The glass added to the spectacle as if the bird was on a huge television screen. I usually ride outside, where I can hear the water as we splash along, but I doubt I'll be doing much more of that until the spring.

The Bosphorus is grand and powerful every day of the year. Still, its mood changes under grey skies. It seems mightier now, even ominous. I'm five days into an eleven day streak of crossing it twice everyday for work. Its message is clear: winter will be here before long and, unfortunately, there's nothing to be done about it.

At least my recent arrivals in Beşiktaş have distracted me a bit from such patterns of thought as the big open square that I walk through is for the time being filled with the Yaratıcı Sokaklar Festivali (Creative Streets Festival) - sorry, no pictures. Actually, it's pretty underwhelming - think: Koh San Road Bangkok-style hippies plus yawn-inducing breakdancers. I do enjoy watching good breakdancing - but from what I've seen here, İstanbul will sadly never catch up with Manhattan or Krakov or even Moscow. The festival has not really been yaratıcı enough to slow my pace down as I walk through the square.

More of my attention was devoted to the seagull.

As I reflect now, perhaps there was something subliminally symbolic there: the city's bird flying backwards as we moved forward in space and time. If you've not been following the news, Turkey recently held a referendum to decide whether or not to add a few dozen amendments to its constitution, a few of which seem even more ominous than the waters of the Bosphorus in the dead of winter.

Most of my friends and I were hoping for a "no" vote.

The country's voters instead said "yes," even if many had probably only a negligible understanding of why they were doing so.

In a nutshell, this means that the power of the military has been greatly limited and will no longer serve as it has for decades (drastically at times) as the balancing force against the central government. The prime minister and the president gleefully celebrated this "victory for democracy." Many feel that this means they now have the freedom to turn this country into "another Iran." I've been hearing these types of worried comments for years, and though it sounds unlikely in many ways, it's always made me a bit uncomfortable at the same time. This is perhaps the first significant step in such a direction that I've noticed since I started coming to this country and observing it from up close.

Is the whole context really changing?
Or is it just seagulls and power lines?

Time will tell.






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