Wonderings in Istanbul, May – June 2014
Blog entry, 13 May 2014
When I was in Turkey last year, I revisited a book from my town planning days – Jane Jacobs’ ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’. In this she refers to the everyday scene of her street as ‘an intricate sidewalk ballet’.
“I make my own first entrance into it a little after eight when I put out the garbage can, surely a prosaic occupation, but I enjoy my part, my little clang, as the droves of junior high school students walk by the centre of the stage dropping candy wrappers…While I sweep up the wrappers I watch the other rituals of the morning: Mr Halpert unhooking the laundry’s handcart from its mooring to a cellar door, Joe Cornacchia’s son-in-law stacking out the empty crates from the delicatessen, the barber bringing out his sidewalk folding chair.” (Jacobs 1962: 52-53).
She describes how such habitual and unconscious actions can lead to meaningful social encounters and connection to place. It is interesting how this paragraph has returned to me through another source, again in Istanbul.
I’ve been thinking about the sidewalk ballet and my daily walk to and from my studio. Some days I consciously vary my route, but often, whilst in some kind of daydream, my body tends to lead me along the familiar path.
As I leave my apartment, there is often a truck parked out front, delivering the daily bread to the bakery across the road. I cross the main road and pass the cemetery where familiar cats congregate, munching on food left by the locals. I walk down a street lined with Turkish tea houses, sometimes feeling discomfort that there are predominantly men seated at the tables, followed by a wariness of my internal critique. I turn down the antique street, intrigued by the owner arranging his vintage records. I tell myself ‘tomorrow’.
My experience of the place ballet doesn’t stop on the street. Walking down the arcade stairs to the studio, I very briefly lock eyes with the same old man sitting in the back corner of yet another Turkish tea house. He would have no idea that I am thinking of him now. Inside the studio, the ballet morphs into a musical composition. I hear the click clack of backgammon pieces and animated conversations, a dog barking, water from upstairs gushing through the pipes and rhythmic thumps and shouts of the kids in the karate school further down the arcade.
I’ve been considering the use of text in my own art over the last week. At times I struggle with the way that words can sometimes be too revealing and diminish the mystery of a moment. But here, I’ve been surrounded by wordsmiths (past and present) and feel inspired by both the compelling texts, as well as the places and moments experienced. My personal challenge is finding the right words to evoke invisible movements…the emotions, feelings and inner responses that also shape the street ballet. Reduction seems to be my current process…perhaps I will end up with no words again and simply an experience.
Put on headphones, press play and scroll. Find your pace and rhythm.