Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What's in a name?

Like suburban developments in the States that might be called "The Meadows" or "Forest Grove" when such things no longer exist there, street names in Turkey also sometimes outlive what originally inspired them. Asmalımescit Sokak ("Vine-Covered Small Mosque Street") in Istanbul is now full of bars and there's not much in the way of trees on Siraselviler Caddesi ("Row of Cypresses Avenue"). In the northeastern city of Kars, Bankacılar Sokak ("Bankers' Street") is a small abandoned alley. So when the driver of a car I was in started asking directions in the town of Sarıkamış that involved "çöp" (trash) street, I assumed it would be more of the same. I was wrong.

As the road led outside of Sarıkamış, I felt like I'd been transported back to the mountains of California: Alongside the road ran a clear stream winding its way through a green, flower-filled meadow at the foot of a forested hill. But as I looked closer, I started to wonder why some of those "flowers" had such vivid, almost unnatural colors. Could they actually be... yep, they were... bits of trash, increasing in volume as we progressed. Around one curve, the reason became clear: The entire other side of the road was a massive open-air garbage dump, with detritus fluttering off in the breeze. Sometimes, a name means exactly what you think it does.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

1. Mayıs'ta Taksim'deyiz!

It wasn't exactly what I'd expected to hear blaring out of loudspeakers in Istanbul: "¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!"

But the protesters gathered in Taksim Square had dipped into the global pool of power-to-the-workers symbols, donning Che T-shirts and hoisting posters of Marx and Lenin amid those of Turkish leftist heroes, to celebrate their first legal May Day in the iconic location in at least 30 years.

Even though the square is just a few minutes' walk from my house, I was only half thinking of maybe going up to see what was happening until I heard the megaphones turn on and the helicopters begin to circle. I'm glad I didn't miss it. Knowing that the last two years of blockades, riot police, and tear gas were just a small footnote to many years of clashes and a still-unresolved tragedy, it was surprisingly moving to see tens of thousands of people streaming peacefully into the square, carrying the flags of their unions and banners depicting their fallen colleagues.

Protesters triumphantly scaled a building where police snipers had previously taken up their posts, and dangled from the Republic Monument in the the center of the square, cheering and grinning. Enterprising businessmen set up stands to make grilled köfte (meatball) sandwiches or toted buckets of iced water to sell to the parched crowd. Bands played and tired marchers snoozed beneath the trees in Taksim Gezi Park. I wouldn't have believed it could happen if I hadn't been there myself. Her zaman böyle Bir Mayısımız kutlu olsun...