Monday, January 22, 2007

Turkish politics

Got back to the hotel from dinner on the Friday night, switched on the telly and found a CNN report of the murder of Hrant Dink, the Armenian-Turkish journalist, in Istanbul. Eh? Not so I had noticed. CNN showed a huge demonstration involving, it seemed, thousands, in protest of his murder (which surprised me a little bit). Apparently he was killed by some stupid boy aged 17 or so. Boys should really be locked away between the ages of 14 and 20! Someone had probably wound him up. It must be really hard to govern a country like Turkey which has such huge differences in outlook between different parts of the country.

I had heard nothing at my end of the town. Where was all this happening? So I changed my plans for Saturday and went over to Beyoglu - the big Ataturk cultural centre is there, and I thought that's where the demos might have been, too. My Lonely Planet guide had a walking tour for that neighbourhood, and maybe I could do it in reverse, arriving at Taksim, the nerve centre of that side of Istanbul.

This line of people (read men!), on Galata Bridge, was busy fishing for tiddlers - the tiniest fish, no longer than an index finder, and half the width. There were hundreds of them. Not sure of the point of it all.

Well, I did not even find the starting point (or the end point). Partly this was because in Istanbul roadsigns are a little scarce; also I did not have quite the right understanding of the scale of the map. So what was supposed to be a day-long enterprise had me standing, after quite a lengthy detour (I worked out afterwards), on Taksim Square by 10 am...and for the rest of the day?

Luckily creeping up the very steep hills I had clocked a poster for a concert, by the Istanbul Devlet Senfoni Orkestrasi (Devlet might be a word for a type of institution, like 'municipal' or 'national'). And it was to be at 11 am, in the Atatuerk cultural centre. Perfect, or what?

That gave me just enough time to dip into the lovely cafe nextdoor and partake of not one, but two dainty custard/fruit tarts (see picture - they are on a saucer!) - they were so small that even a dieter could try out both tastes.

The Atatuerk cultural centre is, to be frank, a monstrosity. Built probably in the late 60s or 70s, it is a smoked glass cube, with lots of lights hanging down, darkly teak pannelled walls, red chairs, lights in the ceiling of which random ones work, and a shell for the orchestra. The hall is used both for orchestras and concerts, but the shell suggests that the acoustics for orchestras is not so great.

Anyway - the hall was full mostly of older folk, though also a school class or two. The programme was Rodrigo's 'Concerto Madrigal' for two guitars and orchestra, and Mendelssohn's 3rd symphony. I'm not a great guitar friend, but ah well. The problem with them, apart from the plink plonk, is that they always need to be amplified when playing with an orchestra. Here we had the two guitarists Liat Cohen and Ricardo Moyano. Liat, female, was very much the dominant partner in this. She got all the good tunes...the way they were sitting, her hair hung down so that she could not see her partner (but in some ensembles that does not matter). She also moved her microphone with the result that she sounded as if she was sitting beside you, and he - well, we could see him play. The orchestra seemed to have been told that they had to play quietly for the guitars, and this they followed to the letter, to the point of inaudibility at times. At other times, in any case, the orchestration did not seem that great, and much hanging about took place on stage. I feel no need to hear this piece again in a hurry. For their encore, the two guitarists dropped their music stands and their hair and suddenly came to live with some typically guitarish kind of piece.

The Mendelssohn was nice enough, though I do wonder why it was called the 'Scottish' symphony. Did he write it when he was there, bobbing about in the sea outside 'Fingal's Cave'? Anyway, a perfectly pleasant morning in Istanbul. Interestingly, the orchestra had 28 women out of a total of 67 players - the highest participation of women I have seen anywhere in Istanbul!

Then I wandered back across the square to start the walking tour the right way round... except I could not be bothered to bob up here and duck down there, to peek around a corner or slip down a lane.... The main street, the Istiklal Caddesi, was heaving with people streaming up and down in both directions. The busloads of riot police were loitering at the top of the street, going shopping for their lunches, chatting to their friends, all very relaxed. This seems to be the main shopping street, with many brand name shops, but also many bookshops, quite a lot of whom have English books....

And then there were lots of cafes, self-service restaurants, posher restaurants - a street full of bookshops and restaurants cannot be bad, no? Had a gorgeous lunch in the lokantasi 'Aga', full of slightly ageing men (in the side street by the mosque Agua Camii) - this is a restaurant where you look and point at the food, and it is brought to you at the table (about 5 seconds later). I am not sure that you get alcohol in some of this locantas. Picked something covered in strips of aubergine which turned out to have the tenderest, pinkest meat under it I could imagine? Rabbit? Once I got to the bone I realised it would have been a wer-rabbit. No idea what kind of meat it was. But soo goood!

(In the evening I ate in another locantasi, almost next door, the Haci Abdullah, with a melt in the mouth chicken on a puree of aubergines, a kind of slippery, shiny puree perhaps also with potatoes, but what a taste!! Total bliss - and much cheaper than some other restaurants I had been to).

Tootled on down the street; found a tiny demo about Hrant Dink taking place (about 40 people), with some riot police chatting quietly nearby. The Turkish Daily News said that yesterday's demo had contained 60 people, and yet CNN had shown thousands all facing the same way (unlike a shopping crowd where they go in both directions). Strange - whose news were right?

Crossing the bridge again to Sultanahmet I passed the ferry terminal, and wasn't there a wee boat just ready to leave for a round trip? It was to last 1 hour 15 minutes, or maybe 1 hour 50? Popped up on deck, where, on a January afternoon, it was none too hot....

We sailed over back to the Beyoglu side, then pottered along the coast under the large Bridge joining the Asian and the European side - it took so long that I began to worry whether I had got on a ferry and might have to find my own way back, but as darkness sank, eventually the boat went over to the Asian shore, and returned to the harbour with a very few and rather frozen set of deck passengers. Brrr. - And then the hotel had no water, so no chance to warm up!