So the morning began for me at 3am because somebody texted me, not thinking of the time difference. I had done the same to them the day before, so serves me right. ;) Couldn’t get back to sleep. Heard the call to prayer around 6am. Alarm went off shortly after and got up to start the day. Breakfast at the hotel and ready to go as planned.
We had a meeting set up with Dr. Deniz Bingol from the ACCENT Istanbul Study Center. Prof Kim made this connection because ACCENT is the school that she and Prof Balducci are using for their classes in Rome this summer. So Deniz could introduce the ACCENT program to us and also give us a guide to the city. Dr. Bingol is amazing. She is worldly and friendly and opinionated and educated. She grew up in Istanbul, but has been everywhere from grad school at University of Michigan to just about everywhere else. I apologize I do not recall all of the schooling and experience to list it. Just imagine that almost every time you mention a place, she has spent some time there. We didn’t mention South America or countries east/south of China, but I have a feeling she has probably visited there too. :)
So after our 8am breakfast, we set out in a cab. Seriously….I have no idea how people drive around here. It’s just magnificently awful. And when cars aren’t going down the road, people use the road as a sidewalk. A car comes barreling down the tiny road and a person nonchalantly barely moves out of the way and life goes on. It’s amazing the lack of bloodshed.
The cab driver didn’t quite know where the place was. It makes me feel better that I am instantly lost in this land of winding streets if CAB DRIVERS get turned around. The great part was driving around the city. We realized that the sea and ancient wall are like 2 blocks away. Also seeing the full expanse of the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara was amazing. We are SO CLOSE to all of it, but couldn’t view it in the winding hilly streets in Sultanahmet. We finally found it and the cab (arranged by the hotel) charged exactly what he said he would. We were first greeted at ACCENT by two other employees who made us feel at home. One is originally from Connecticut in U.S. and recently relocated from the Rome office. The other is an Istanbul local. Both are educated young women fluent in English.
The building is a recently renovated old printshop. One of the prints leftover was this one of Ataturk. I recognized him and made sure I was right. Later in the day, he came up many many times. Turkey is SUCH an interesting country. It has such immense history and yet is also a very young Republic that purposefully stripped itself of its history to create a new existence less than 100 years ago.
The streets we were on were not overcrowded like New York City or Tokyo, but certainly not abandoned. There were people everywhere, along with those well-fed cats and a few dogs. Only one time did I see a homeless family, which appeared to be refugees. Deniz explained to me they certainly are not the only group; however, this was the only who were visible in this part of the city.
We also viewed some of the graffiti and she explained that Banksy recently had an exhibition in Istanbul and it has been celebrated as an art form (while also being viewed as destructive by some), which parallels what is happening in many cities around the world. See these pictures and understand some of the street views (remember to see the captions!!!)
I also had mentioned in my thesis that I would ignore any logo that was for a religious or government program. As soon as I mentioned this to the two Turks, they nodded for religious but immediately shook heads at government. “You definitely will NOT find Ottoman script for anything governmental.” The Republic of Turkey purposefully stripped itself of its history and within ONE DECADE, an alphabetic revolution occurred. An efficient language written in Roman letters became Turkic where no symbol stands for more than 1 sound, 29 letters in total and 8 vowels.
Turkey became an extremely centralized government. The following was explained to me, but this all deserves more research to be sure on my transference of factual data: Turkey’s government became very centralized and PRE-1983, 70% of the economy was state-owned. The Turkish Lira would not convert to other foreign currency. If somebody wanted to go to Paris, for example, one would need to wait for months for a foreign currency to arrive and only $100(-ish equivalent) was allowed outside the borders anyway. 1983, the markets opened and everything changed. Advertising agencies were local shops and big money was to be made in the 80s. 1994 brought (the first of many) economic crisis and many local shops were sold to huge ad agencies, many of them from America. Therefore, most of the shops in Istanbul are offices for the big players I recognize like DDB, Saatchi&Saatchi, and Young&Rubicam. Students find work in these agencies, but nobody makes as much money as they used to and hardly any interns are paid.
As the sun was starting to get low in the sky, we had them call us a taxi. This ride was the usual rollercoaster of near-death experiences and seeming inability to find the hotel. We had some miscommunication on money, but all was solved by the staff at Hotel Amira. I cannot recommend them highly enough. SO great. We all went in just in time for tea and treats. Finally tried Turkish Delight and YUM YUM YUM. Though one would think that at 6pm, we should go out and get dinner, Kim and I are thoroughly exhausted. Considering I had only 3 hours of sleep, I don’t think I’m long for this waking world.
Tomorrow, we are probably going to hit up the Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, and a nearby design gallery. On Wednesday, we will head back to the new town (and by "new", I mean it’s still incredibly OLD) and see the Design Biennial and research at the Salt library. Every day will be full! This city is absolutely amazing. I sincerely hope that someday we can bring students here. This city is such a gift to be shared. I feel more comfortable here than I have felt in some American cities.
Thank you for following this very long post today. It was absolutely amazing and this is only our second day! Please see what happens tomorrow! :)