A Memento for Istanbul

I’m doing research on Ahmet Ümit this summer, so I keep reading his novels. This is a section from A Memento for Istanbul, where the protagonist looks out of the window in his wooden house in Balat as the evening falls:

“Through the open window the crumbling chimneys, cracked roofs and faded, peeling walls of my neighbours’ houses could be seen. It was funny; normally I wouldn’t want to gaze upon a view others would say was ugly but it was soothing to look upon those simple unpretentious buildings and those simple, humble folk under the darkening sky who stoically accepted whatever difficulties life threw at them; watching them made me realise that life was not something to be taken so solemnly” (p. 73, translated by Rakesh Jobanputra).

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This was the feeling I had last weekend at my uncle’s funeral in Antalya, my hometown. There were hundreds of guests, many of them traditional people, most of them middle aged, some elderly. Several families had arrived from Isparta, one extended family from Alanya, crowding into the small rooms of my aunt’s modest flat. Aunts in headscarves praying, uncles sitting with hunched shoulders, sipping tea… During the two days I spent there, I thought once again about how time flowed more slowly in the province; most of the time people just sat and made small talk. Everything, from the way people dressed to the issues they discussed, the food and beverages served and the appearance of the plastic tables and chairs at the wake, felt parochial. The lives of those unassuming people seemed so removed from the hassle of metropolitan, professional life in Istanbul. Their concerns and ambitions looked so innocuous compared to those competitive people with inflated egos I encounter everyday. Their patience and wisdom had a calming effect on me.

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