Istanbul, August 1, 2014

This is my first full day in Istanbul for three weeks, and I have four observations, on the color of the sky, on the habits political rulers, on public treatment of space, and on the value of art.

Morning sky

In an early year at school, an art teacher observed to our class that the color of an object depended on the light that fell on it. He showed how a sheet of so-called white paper became dark when held up to the window. Is the sky blue, while clouds are white? Here are three views of the dawn from our balcony today, at 5:37, 6:11, and 7:02:

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Rulers

We spent two weeks in the Math Village, occasionally visiting the village of Şirince (population 600), but not even going down to the town of Selçuk (population 30,000). It was disconcerting to come back to the big city and see campaign posters for the upcoming presidential election. It was even more disconcerting to observe that the vast majority of the posters were for the sitting Prime Minister. Here I have juxtaposed a view of Istanbul this morning with a view of Isfahan, Iran, from September of 2012. The text in the Turkish Prime Minister’s near banner reads, Turkey trusts you or perhaps Turkey believes in you; in the far banner, Add power to Turkey’s power. The English text in the banner of the Supreme Leader of Iran is, To obey our leader—Imam Khamenei—is the secret of our power and persistence.

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Of course Turkey and Iran are different. For one thing, as you can see, Iranian cities (in my experience) have more greenery than Turkish cities. Also, for the time being, Turkish cities still have bars, like Crazy’s Bar next to the Turkish Prime Minister’s far banner above.

When life gives you lemons, make more lemons

As I reported three months ago, in evident rage over the Prime Minister’s attempt to ban May Day observations in Istanbul, a sidewalk advertisement was smashed. I liked to think that the responsible vandal was protesting the theft of public space.

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It transpires that there were other people that perceived the advertisement as a theft: a theft of parking space. The advertisement was completely removed, and now the sidewalk has become even more unusable by everybody else.

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I think the vans here all belong to the (privatized) electric company whose facility is right behind them there on the corner.

Art

Our university in Istanbul is a Fine Arts University: it was originally just an art academy, but was made into a university by order of the Higher Education Council, which itself was created by the military government after the coup of 1980. Actually, Fine Arts was added to the name of our university only later, apparently as a trick to sell off some of its waterfront property. In any case, I was pleased to discover new paintings hanging just inside the entrance to our building (which is far from the water, and is not actually where the university’s painters work; they have kept their waterfront building).

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I asked the security guard at the entrance if she knew anything about the new paintings. She didn’t; but she asked me, What do they mean? I had forgotten that many people may have such a response when confronted with abstract art. Perhaps the guard could not even perceive that the painting in the photo actually depicts three figures. I tried to say, for example, that art was better than advertisements (which also hang in our building). I indicated also the landscape visible through the great windows that one faces when one enters the building.

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The landscape is nothing special: it is a cityscape, and not a spectacular one. But light is better than darkness; a window is better than a blank wall.

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