I spent most of my formative years in Istanbul - from age 11 to age 19 - at Saint Joseph, a French Jesuit boarding school. If that sounds horrifying, yes it was. It was my Oliver Twist chapter, especially in the early years. It was a “strong education,” and I’m grateful for it now, but as a teenager it was difficult.
I usually spent my weekends with my grand-parents or aunts, which sometimes required me to cross the Bosphorus on the ferry, often at sunset. Because I felt so lonely and disconnected, Istanbul seeped into my soul. As several writers have expressed - real writers, not mere playwrights - Istanbul became a romantic and melancholy companion for me. I still don’t do well with sunsets: I’d just as well get them over with.
In all relationships, of course, partners change and evolve. Over time Istanbul became much more crowded, self-involved, and arrogant. I became - well - I grew to be happier, more fulfilled and confident. Istanbul doesn’t quite like that.
My trip yesterday was almost uneventful. There was a longish line at security in Konya. I waited with others for quite a bit but then realized I should be holding my passport. I took off my backpack and unzipped it - a very short pause - and the woman behind me, covered, snuck right in front of me. Well! I couldn’t notsay anything, it was so audacious. Covered women, more than others, feel particularly entitled these days. On the subway I watched a young woman staring a man down until he finally got up and gave her his seat. So I said to this woman: you just stepped in front of me! She ignored me but the man behind her, a brother or husband or whatever, became obstinate. But you stopped, he shouted. You have to keep moving! I said, only for a moment!
And then he insulted me. He called me artist. He sort of mumbled it: artist.
To my amusement, I had heard Salih use the same term during his speech about “we shouldn’t pre-judge people.” He had met an “artist-like” man but then realized he was actually a good man at heart. So “artist” is the new derogatory term for pretentious snobs and know-it-alls like me.
Inside the airport I ran into an English woman whom I’d met at Çatal the day before. We arranged to sit together on the plane. Amanda is a documentary film maker working for Al Jazeera. She’s planning a documentary about Çatalhöyük.
We were delighted to realize that we’re both nervous about flying and shared many anecdotes about Çatal and other things, while paying attention to any unusual sounds that may come out of the airplane. Amanda understands all the distinctions between “pings.” Some mean we’re alright and stewardesses my move about. Others mean there’s turbulence ahead.
Yesterday I took the ferry across the Bosphorus and back, and then hung around Beyoğlu, Istanbul’s bustling thoroughfare.
I snapped a few photos.
Unlike Konya, where most of the women are covered, in Istanbul, most women are modern and open. The ones who are covered are stylish. I tried to capture some contrasts. Most of my images involve covered women.
It’s a very hot day. Most people are amazed at how unusually warm it is.
Okay I have this discussion fairly frequently with "enlightened" feminist friends - the question is whether the "covering" is a personal choice, and whether it should be respected as such. In other words, are women who are covered doing it because they chose to - or are they under personal or social pressure to hide their hair and most of their bodies.
One friend recently made a fairly compelling argument: Place, she said, a covered woman next to a woman in a bikini, desperate to show whatever she can to get attention. Which woman is freer? I get this to a certain point - yet we live in a world that pressures all of us to look a certain way to gain attention, or narcissistic gratification. Still, I think the bikini woman has freer choice than the covered one.
Here is a woman who demonstrated in a bikini during the recent Istanbul riots next to the latest Turkish swimwear.