When did you move to Istanbul? What is the first memory you have about Istanbul? AA: My husband and I moved in 2003 and stayed in Ulus with my brother-in-law for a few months, so my impressions from those days are of the sun setting over the Topkapi Palace far in the distance as the family ate barbequed lamb chops on the balcony, an assembly line of kuzu izgara. Sprinkling dried marjoram and oregano on the chops. But my first memories started when I visited in 2000 ( I felt ages of winter chill emanating from AyaSofya’s old stones as I gazed up at the Byzantine mosaics). Then when I married in Istanbul the balmy summer of 2001, at Esma Sultan in Ortakoy, the memories punctuated by the flashbulbs of a glitzy Turkish wedding. The overall memory of Istanbul? A lot of kisses, for everyone, coming and going, every day, every night.
What does Istanbul mean to you?
AA: Since I have a degree in Classical Greek, Roman and Near Eastern Archaeology, Istanbul’s historical significance as the center of the ancient civilized world is never far from my consciousness. It’s a place of power and energy and ideas, and has been for centuries. There is no mistaking that this is an important place on the globe. But as a New World woman from cutting edge California, I also love that with its heavy history it’s not musty and dead like a forgotten museum. I can appreciate its new layers of lives and dreams, and find modern day Istanbul to have more than its share of fabulous places, people and events.
Which part of the city do you live in? How do you like it?
AA: I lived in bohemian Cihangir for four years and loved my scenic view of the Bosphorus overlooking Kabatas ferry terminal. Perched on the cliff the view had all the energy of a transportation hub but at the same time was completely serene – and quiet, if you don’t count the taxicabs honking at all hours of the night! The proximity to Taksim and Istiklal was wonderful, and with the new tramway and metro extension, it really felt like the center of the world! My husband couldn’t take the commute to his Maslak office though so we just moved to Istinye, where we have a much more intimate view of the bay with its teal-colored water. I’m liking all the hillsides covered in wildflowers. But I’ll miss the cafes of Cihangir, like Miss Pizza, and Savoy Pastanesi for simit toast on Sundays and of course in a neighborhood so full of feisty street cats, the great veterinarians. I adopted my cat Bunny from Kazanci Sokagi, so where ever I go I’ll always have a bit of Cihangir in my heart, and in my home.
How does Istanbul look like from U.S.? Are there any misconceptions about the city?
AA: Physically I think the general image of Istanbul does not include so much water, waterways, vistas of water. The hills are also a surprise to many people. It’s hard to conceive of a metropolis made of so many small villages, how Istanbul can go on for miles and still be Istanbul, even if each kilometer is like a new world.
Do you have any favorite spots in the city?
AA: My favorites are the ones I haven’t been to yet! They exist in my dream of Istanbul. There are so many places I yearn to go. Like the Ilhamur Kosku in Muradiye, the Beykoz pavilion, and Beylerbeyi Palace. The Horhor market in Eyup with its Levantine antiques. A strange restaurant in Gunesli specializing in huge platters of chicken wings. Things you hear about, things you see from a distance, things you have to find a special time to do. The problem is more time I live in Istanbul, the longer my list grows.
Some of the stories take place in Istanbul in the book “Tales from the Expat Harem”. Is Istanbul a good setting for works of literature?
AA: I think so, (and for film too! Why aren’t there more films set in Istanbul?) The Expat Harem tales set in Istanbul show that the city offers a colorful and diverse backdrop for personal histories, and adds true depth to the narrator’s every day life. When a young Guatemalan woman recognizes two hatun speaking Ladino on a Mecediyekoy bus, she feels pride in her Spanish linguistic connection -- and at the same time she acknowledges the chain of history that brought this medieval language to Istanbul. What echoes in that moment is that the Guatemalan came to Istanbul through her own chain of history…
What does Istanbul need? How would it be better?
AA: A more extensive Metro network, servicing coastal spots like Beskitas, Ortakoy and Bebek. Imagine how that would alleviate street traffic!
What are your future writing projects? Is Istanbul somehow in them?
AA: Istanbul absolutely will play a role in many of my upcoming cultural essays, in fact the title of my travel memoir in progress is “Berkeley to Byzantium: The Reorientation of a West Coast Adventuress”. It’s about the physical (and metaphysical!) journey from my utopian hometown in California, around the world through classical Italy and the media worlds of New York and Hollywood, to the plantations and palaces of South East Asia, finally ending up in Istanbul. The challenge is to fully explain how my life has culminated in this incredibly meaningful place. Another challenge is to stay home and write when Istanbul beckons!
What do you think about Istanbul being the “European Culture Capital for 2010”?
AA: It’s about time! It seems to me that Istanbul makes good use of its breathtaking monuments and historic settings for cultural activities (like concerts at Rumeli Hisari and the Aya Irini, and exhibits at the Darphane and Tophane-i Amire, and receptions at Feriye and Dolmabahce), and the yearlong festival will be a perfect opportunity to show off to the world the city’s priceless heritage, and the life that the people of Istanbul inject into these wondrous spots.
How is the expat life in Istanbul? Is Istanbul an easy city for expat living?
AA: There are tons of options for expatriates in Istanbul, social and business clubs and general communities, and lots of support networks and foreign language media. I’ve been an expat in Rome and Kuala Lumpur where I learned some expat survival techniques and put them into practice as soon as I arrived here. I think Jennifer Gokmen would agree that making the anthology helped make sense of our own lives in Turkey as foreigners -- the Expat Harem is an apt metaphor for us. The title positively reclaims the concept of the Eastern harem just as we consider ourselves and our writers inextricably wedded to Turkish culture, embedded in it, though forever foreign. The virtual walls are there: our initial lack of language skills, undeveloped understanding of the culture, and even some of the ethnocentricities that we cling to. Luckily for us, Istanbul has a long history of welcoming foreigners, and being able to accomodate many different cultures and mindsets.