WHEN I TOLD THEM WHERE MECCA IS
Trying to make sense of Istanbul
BY BERND BRUNNER
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I approach this city with a spiraling movement, whose beginning and end I can’t determine. I conquer the town on foot, often on the move for so long that I feel nothing but muscle, bone, and heartbeat. Once I am past a certain stage, I am no longer thirsty, let alone hungry. Heat like this would normally slow me down, but my body reveals strengths that I didn’t know it had. I have a personalized map with spots marked on it wherever there is some association for me. These markings become gradually denser until they spread across the city like a spider’s web.

Everything feels different. And sounds different too. Early in the morning, I’m awoken from a deep sleep by the chanting. Some voices rumbling from the city’s belly are louder than others, and the singing comes from different directions, out of step. But perhaps each voice is aware of the others? I’m promptly wide awake, and rise to lean out of the window to hear them better, my eyes still closed. There are moments when I can’t tell if the ezan from the next-door mosque is echoing off the walls on my block or if I can hear the calls to prayers from other mosques.
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Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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A former Israeli soldier searches for his memories of Lebanon's civil war.

 

Say what you like about Israelis, they know how to play the game. I’m speaking of the humanity game. It’s a game with specific rules and expectations in Western civilization. Its centerpiece, the very core of the game, is self-reflection. Demonstrating your humanity (since the Enlightenment, at least, but the roots go back to the beginning) is less about doing and more about reflecting on what you’ve done. The basic formula is already there at the Delphic Oracle: Know thyself. The trick of it, the reason that the humanity game is hard to play, is that the quest for self-knowledge does not lead to clarity, but down ever deeper into the muck. Knowledge, in the Western tradition, is very much about its limits. Knowing ourselves is thus partly about knowing the infinity of an enigma.

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