Hüzün - melancholy of millions
Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s most famous writer, says the Koran uses the word hüzün to describe the feeling of deep spiritual loss, but a hopeful way of looking towards the future. He writes that the Sufis (a sect of Islam) describe hüzün as the feeling of spiritual anguish from feeling distant from Allah. Pamuk uses hüzün to describe the common melancholy felt by millions—the melancholy of Istanbul.
Reasons for hüzün:
- After the fall of the great Ottoman Empire, Istanbulites experienced a loss of identity. Everyday reminders of their loss are seen in decaying Ottoman ruins.
- Istanbul struggled for years to be accepted as a Western city, but has yet to live up to Europe’s expectations
- There are millions of immigrants passing through Istanbul, no one quite feels at home.
- Poverty is embedded into Istanbul’s society.
Istanbul breathes hüzün, from the way restaurants make the same recipes for generations to preserve the glory of Ottoman culture, to the way the old man smokes his cigarette and stares out into the Bosphorus.
Go to a cafe on Istiklal. Order a mint limonata. Upload my 987234987 photos. Edit my 982472038 photos. Blog about Turkiye.
But alas, deadlines are haunting me.
Finishing two stories this week + plus a presentation + discussion prep everyday.
I’m going to be such a bum when I get back to the US. I can already feel it.
Sounds from my dorm window in Istanbul:
Stray cats fighting
Seagull-like birds squawking from above
Children playing below
Parents yelling for their children from doorsteps
Murmurs of old women chatting on balconies
Scooters zooming down the street
Honking from avenue traffic
A woman yelling in Turkish into her cell phone
The rumble of distant trucks and buses
Clinking of empty glass bottles being dumped at the corner business
The whir of wind blowing through the narrow streets
Blaring trumpets of jazz music playing from a unit in the building across from me
Babbling toddler in a unit to the right of me
Ringing echoes of Muslim prayer calls across the city
Dog barking followed by owners shh-ing
Sounds from my bedroom window back home (as I can remember):
Rustling of leaves from the willow tree in my neighbor’s yard
Crickets on the ground below my window (especially on warm nights)
The hum of tires rolling down my street
Sometimes the buzz of the cell phone tower behind my backyard
My favorite owl, whom hoots me to sleep from my neighbor’s willow tree
The hiss of lawn sprinklers
Periodic car door slamming shut
In Istanbul I live on a Cihannüma street, 3 blocks from the Bosphorus water front, two blocks from the local mosque, and one block from the main avenue in the Beşiktaş neighborhood.
Life is so public here. The streets are narrow, the buildings are tall and adjacent, and the windows are always open because of the heat. The neighbors naturally socialize: sit together, drink çay (tea), chat, and people-watch from their front porches.
Almost every night, I stick my head out my window, and look for the old man whom sits and smokes on the porch directly across the street below me. I then let my eyes wander down the street and listen.
I laugh at the thought of my silent, sterile, hometown suburbia, which hushes down at 9 p.m. People would be irritated by watchful neighbors, outdoor chatting, and rumbling traffic—not to mention prayer calls. Our housing association even removed the community pool’s diving board because of complaints that the reverb is too loud.
The sounds from my bedroom window are just one in a million opposites I’ve found between life in Istanbul and life back home. Everyday I am confounded, and absolutely charmed by society here. Everything from the level of democratic participation to the ancient architecture leaves me dumbfounded, absolutely speechless.
Like my co-intern said, “Just 10 days and it’s been overwhelming.”
I am trying as much as possible to understand the roots and history of Istanbul and Turkey; something I am not used to doing, as Americans don’t hold shame, grief, or glory of the past as much as the Turks do. Here, the way Istabullus carry themselves, their political orientation, and their social interaction is a reflection of years of independence struggles, reformist changes, and ethnic divisions. Istanbullus have complex, complex, layered identities.
Time is against me here in a sprawling city with a rich history and 13 million people. Only three weeks left and I feel like I don’t have a moment to reflect. I only expect to scratch the surface. The rest waits until my curiosity finds me and leads me back to Istanbul.