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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Breaking Down Walls

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

Walls of the cityBetween 408 and 450 AD Theodosius II constructed a wall arching round the city of Constantinople and providing a land defence running 4 miles (6.5 km) from the Sea of Mamara to the Golden Horn.

The walls served the city well protecting it from invading forces for nearly 1000 years until, in 1453, Mehmed the Conqueror breached the walls and entered the city.

The ravages of time and neglect have meant that many areas of the wall have fallen into disrepair, though they are, as ruins so often can be, still very impressive, their shapes making jagged shapes, like broken teeth, against the sky. On one of my recent returns I've discovered that extensive restorations faithful to the original constructs are under way.

The old gates to the city are generally in quite good repair, and when I was first assigned to Istanbul, I stopped for tea at an outside café near the Topkapi Gate, where one can have wonderful part English, part Turkish, part sign language conversations with other customers who are interested to know where you have been, where you are going and how you like Istanbul.

That day was to provide my most abiding memory of the city. The café had a laid-back air, quiet grace. The tea was sweet and strong, the dish was mussels stuffed with rice, and they offered a piece of pure honeycomb for desert, compliments of the house.

Towards the end of my meal, a melody playing on the radio caught my attention. I was having difficulty getting accustomed to Istanbul; I felt like an astronaut trying to get used to zero-gravity. For some reason, this bitter sweet melody that cut to the core had suddenly pulled me down to my surroundings.

A song bites the hardest with its lyrics, and yet I was disabled in that I couldn't completely understand what the voice was saying with my basic Turkish. The disability slowly became an advantage, as I focused in on the music and the musicality of the voice. I felt connected. It was both unbearably sad yet strangely uplifting at the same time. A realisation hit me that the world is this massive place beyond any sort of comprehension, and that there are so many new things to discover. It changed my attitude towards everything. Turks suddenly got street cred.

It may not have been the hippest, populist or most iconic cover song I'd ever heard, but it shone through and at that moment my life was perfect, absolutely perfect.

I indicated towards the sound of the singing, questioningly. "Ah," the lady proprietor nodded. "Tarkan." I was to find out later it was his track "Gitme" (A-acayipsin, 1994).

Songs can be good. They can be great. But few are life changing. Only the very best, from whichever genre, can invoke a feeling that can alter the way you look at life.

Sometimes a song becomes a staging post in your past - both a measure of things lost, and a reminder of things gained.

Often it's the beautifully crafted lyrics of an acoustic track that you can empathise with perfectly at that very moment. But it could also just be an uplifting melody of a catchy pop song that makes you rise from the depths of despair.

Everyone can pinpoint that certain song, which gives them an alternative perspective on an individual predicament.

For me it was to realise that some Turks, whatever the era, can be masters at breaking down walls when they want to be.

The views in this article are those of the author alone.
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