What Flows Through a City
I've written about the archives in Istanbul before (here, here, and here, for a start), but while I was organizing some photos from a recent expedition, I chanced across this one:
|Offices of Istanbul Directorate for Natural and Cultural Heritage|
The photo is nothing terribly remarkable: One of the dossier for a mosque in Eyüp. There's a collection of correspondence that's passed through the directorate; beneath are two notebooks prepared by the company that undertook the most recent restoration of the mosque. And on the bottom are three or four folded maps documenting the then-present state of the mosque, the plans for its restoration, and a plan for what the mosque will look like after restoration.
But on the other hand, the photo speaks –– to me, at any rate –– of something surprising about Istanbul: Just how much has been written about the city. Or maybe better: This city is thick with documents. Istanbul is thick with many things –– people, wind from the north, dust from construction sites, cats, napkins from simit sellers, cigarette butts, gulls, fishermen and fishing men, cheap plastic umbrellas –– but it is especially thick with documents.
Why are these documents important? They're important because they help us think about the kinds of things that flow through a city and that help to constitute the city as such. Some things (the Bosphorus) flow smoothly in Istanbul, some things (its bridges) don't. Money is another of the things that flows in this city, that seems to flow towards these massive developments as easily, as inexorably, as naturally as water down a hill. These documents, however, are something more viscous; they get stuck in archives, in offices, in dossier.
What is left behind when the flood flows away?
I was reading yesterday a document from the Ottoman Archives, describing the repairs to the books of the Sokollu Mehmed Library in Eyüp. While one group of the books could be repaired and rebound, a second group was beyond repair:
... based on it being manifest following an investigation that as a consequence of the flood, 66 of the existing books, completely abraded and that pages stuck to one another, had arrived at an irreparable condition...
|From Başbakanlık Osmalı Arşivi, ŞD.194.50|
Looking at these documents is important because it helps us think about the kinds of circulation that constitute the city; not just people and automobiles, but reports and orders and memoranda; not just orders from on high, but the kinds of objects through which those orders flow from site to site. In a strange way, I think I've arrived at a feeling similar to the one I wrote about a few months back:
While I was living in Los Angeles, I biked the same route to and from school. Despite the relatively consistent schedule I kept, it was a relatively solitary movement: Man against the city, in a way. Moving through Istanbul is different -- it'sthicker, for lack of a better word. One might describe it almost in terms of dipping hands in various liquids. If Los Angeles is cold salt water, looking out always for the edge of the horizon, Istanbul is honey, the stories of thousands upon thousands gathered and shared.
Life is, perhaps, a little stickier here, but perhaps more sweet.