I’m slowly meandering through Orhan Pamuk’s ‘Istanbul: Memories of a City‘, a beautifully wrote book full of the melancholy (hüzün) that permeates Istanbul’s very air, buildings and landscape; it is a feeling that infuses the city fully and wholly. He specifically talks about the city’s relationship with the Bosphorus, that much discussed strait that helps to separate Istanbul from the rest of the mass of Turkey, the city that transforms and melds European and Eastern culture into its own distinct and unique blend. Although I’m currently only half way through the book, it is thus far an easy read filled with elegant descriptions of not just Istanbul and her architecture, but of her very soul, as espoused through her art and its makers. Every other page contains a photograph, or a painting, of the city that helps to capture her different sides and to provide a companion to the words written above or below. Whilst Pamuk deftly and delicately captures the influences of the native cultural scene, infused as it is with an array of influences from both European and Eastern artists, Istanbul continues to stand defiant of either, and as such, remains a fabled destination of the both the traveler and the curious.
Perhaps most movingly of all is Pamuk’s memories of his own life, and those of his family, based in Istanbul for generations. Reading about how his uncles spend and relentlessly chip away at their inheritance on business schemes that never quite work out, how his grandmother spent most of her time in bed commandeering her flat from afar, of the rows of his parents carried out within earshot of his brother and him, and of trips on the Bosphorus with his mother and brother, the reader is presented with, and given, a private history and introduction of his beloved city.
This reminds me of a scientific paper that I had read a while ago, of how memories are re-enforced by the remembrance of them themselves. That they, in essence, become memories of memories. They are strengthened when we recall them often, and thus become lodged in our deep time brain. Although they may become distorted by the passage of time and circumstance, they remain ‘fixed’ in our own inner thoughts and personal life narratives. I was reminded of this whilst reading a few pages of ‘Istanbul’ today, and as Pamuk discussed his grandmother I was reminded of my own, and of my grandfather.
I cannot write it now, but I will, in time, write of the memories of the Sundays spent at their house. How the conversation sometimes ended limply, and in its place silence was left to hang in the air. Of how I dearly wish I could go back in time and fill those silences with meaningful words to my beautiful grandmother and delightful grandfather. Sometimes when you are reading, you are often reading about yourself, and Pamuk’s book reminded me of the transcendental nature of family.