07 February, 2010

Reading Heidegger in Ulus

I'd say i rolled out of bed on the wrong side - but since the bunk Oğuz and i sleep in is against the wall, there's only one side to roll out on. The trouble was, last night i was exhausted. I had been working, or trying to, interrupted by friends who wanted to chat online and some drunk, giggling girls who called for Can and decided since he wasn't in they would flirt with me - while i was trying to make a skype call, putting cell phone service stateside on hold.
     "How old are you?" the girl asked.
     "26. I really can't talk now - i am on a phone call over the computer - "
     "I don't understand. You can talk to me."
     "Bilgisayar. I am talking on bilgisayar."
     "Are you more handsome than Can?"
     "No, i don't think so."
     "Now you may ask me a question," she said. 
     "Can we talk later?"
Foreignness, my turkish friends say, gives me an edge with the ladies. Should i care? They called back again, more giggly than the first time; i felt like this was the middle-school experience i never had. Mostly i was annoyed, but by the time i shaved at 0:30 to be presentable for the 4AM bus, all feelings were subsumed in exhaustion. And then i missed the bus to Kapadokya, slept right through the alarm. I have never awoken so frustrated.


When the campus shuttle reached Sihhiye, i asked a fellow rider how to get to Gençlik Park. Of his halting directions, the hum of traffic obliterated all but "walk straight, it's on the left." 

I have never been in this part of the city before, and it amazes me how difficult it can be to translate from a map to the architectural snarl of a downtown. Simple enough to walk straight, and turn left, but am i walking straight in the right direction? It is only when you begin to know the city through your own eyes and feet that a map becomes a useful reference. And no map could fully represent the complexity of Ankara.

On the bus i'd been reading "The Age of the World Picture", an essay by the phenomenologist Martin Heidegger:
      "And it is precisely the opening up of such a [procedural] sphere that is the fundamental event in research. This is accomplished through the projection within some realm of what is - in nature, for example- of a fixed ground plan [Grundriss] of natural events. The projection sketches out in advance the manner in which the knowing procedure must bind itself and adhere to the sphere opened up."

Heidegger's language is unfamiliar; in footnotes, German words like vorstellen - a bringing to stand as an object - sketch out a foreign ground plan of relations among events in Being. In the text, as in an unfamiliar neighborhood of the city, i search for orienting concepts, orienting landmarks. "If you don't understand," Dr. Mutman said in his opening lecture - in reference to Heidegger, and other assigned readings - "this is good. It means you're going to learn something."

Ahead, i see a ferris wheel and a high rise - which i had seen from Maltepe two weeks ago. But the landmarks completely disorient me; they turn upside-down any sense of where i am in relation to where i was. And then i am standing in a thin strand of green on the map, a narrow park winding along Ataturk Boulevard, and Gençlik Park lies just under the next overpass. Inside, a broad pavement runs from the street down through trees and tea houses and spreads to the pond, sand-hued stone broken by slate-color accents. The pond is edged turquoise, and sheathed in thin ice on which gulls by the hundred stand. People walk to the pond edge and pose for photographs; across the water is a small amusement park from which the beat of Turkish club music pounds. I can see now that the ferris wheel seats are fashioned as little, stylized hot-air balloons - the name Montgolfier springs to mind.

Gençlik Park

Just after noon, Yiğit met me at the park's Ulus Gate; a few minutes later Emin arrived, and we set off through the streets of Ulus, after stopping for lunch and the traditional winter drink boza at Akman Bozacısı on the courtyard at Ulus square. (Post on boza coming soon.) Yiğit is a generous guide - but our peregrinations were directed as much by his shopping list as by mere sightseeing. First we hunted up a basement used bookseller. There Emin asked for books in English and we discovered a volume on "Mevlana and the Whirling Dervishes" - along with an entire shelf of Steven King in Turkçe: Tom Gordon'a Aşık Olan Kız. Along the way we searched for leather shops, and paused to examine stopwatches.

It was up, up through Ulus quarter, and through the narrow alleys lined with open-air shops. From where he sat among stacks of sweaters and pants, young boy saw my camera and motioned, "take my photograph." Blue tarpaulins formed a makeshift roof, and sunlight streams in on bins of nuts and dried fruits, belts, hardware. Smoke rises in shafts of light, and sellers beckon passersby toward their stands - "buyrun," they say. Please come in!

on the "dowry street', Ulus quarter

These narrow streets are a labyrinth. On one, boomboxes thirty years old sit in front of a shop. Here, in Ulus quarter, nothing is too old to be useful. Ankara is a city of the east; here there are AnkaMall and Armada, modern shopping centers four stories deep, and just across town lie things i have seen only in national geographic. A young man stands at a folding table in the middle of the cobblestones; on closer examination the table holds just a few pornographic DVDs. Up another street: my guides call this one the "dowry street," where women come before their wedding. Shop after shop on the quarter-mile stretch displays wedding gowns, housewares, upholstery, brassieres. Dresses by the hundreds hang from the rafters.

Out of the back-alley bazaars, on the main roads, the shops display more touristic wares. We climb until blacktop gives way to ancient stone. Shops fashioned from old mud-walled houses fill the oldest quarter, the heart of Ankara. They sell spices and raw wool; symbolic charms, copper cups and brass-plated tea sets. The last few meters rise steeply to the Citadel.

Emin and Yiğit (L to R) atop Ankara Citadel

Ankara citadel is a relic from the Hittite period. Standing at 978 meters elevation, it rises from the valley, the true anchor of Ankara. The view is unparalleled, as the city sprawls away on every side. Within the castle walls stand the oldest buildings in this city; especially on the approaches to the inner castle, many have been converted to shops and restaurants. Yet many are still homes. Here the juxtaposition of past and present is particularly jarring. Looking down, the red clay rooftops and mud walls are studded with satellite dishes. 

I am sure the citadel will return in later posts, when i know more about it. And there will be more images - since it is a fantastic place to watch the sun set. After we did that, we three travelers drank tea and ate gözleme (a very thin flatbread; spinach gözleme for the main course and honey-walnut for dessert) at one of the restaurants within the castle walls. It was delightfully traditional - we removed our shoes before entering, and sat on cushions around a low table - and surprisingly affordable. And as we left i noticed yet another juxtaposition: the clock by the front door was a promotional clock from a multinational drug company.

Click on any of the pictures for links to the full photo album.

south: the new city