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I went to Istanbul’s Taksim Square in a blizzard. Snow comes with Istanbul winters but blizzards are rare. When I emerged from the funicular, Taksim was deserted, which was also rare. The streets spiraling out from its center like bicycle spokes were washed out by a volley of flurries that forced the few pedestrians to scuttle like crabs along the sidewalks. A few tourists gathered in front of the Republic Monument, which depicts two statues of Ataturk, one before and one after the war for independence; the wind had blown a mask of snow over his face on both statues. A batch of roses had been laid at his feet along the eastern portico, a reminder of his importance in Turkish memory. On the western portico, Ataturk’s snow-covered face looked toward Istiklal Caddesi, “Independence Avenue,” obscured by flurries.

I had gone to Istanbul partly because of the weather. I’d always wanted to go but the weather had been a bonus. I hadn’t thought Istanbul would be warm, exactly, but I hadn’t expected the Biblical storms we were at the time experiencing in Boston. I’d been thinking 40, maybe even 50 degree days. It couldn’t get much colder in a city lined with palm trees, right?

The driver who’d collected me at the airport had been the first to warn me of the impending snow fall, but he hadn’t been worried. “The snow here, it does not last.”

He’d been wrong on that point, but neither of us could have known then. I’d asked him if he could visit just one site in Istanbul, what would it be. I’d wanted to know what a local thought worth seeing, and I’d been hoping for a suggestion off the beaten path, the kind of tucked-away jewel only locals knew about. Without hesitating he’d said, “Taksim. If you want to see Istanbul, that’s where to go.”

More… “Huzun, Snowfall”

Robin Kish received her M.F.A in Creative Writing from Indiana University. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Florida Review, and Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, along with other journals. When not traveling, she teaches writing at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
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A student reading poetry aloud in 1950s Mexico
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The proxy war in Syria between Russia and Turkey is only the latest of many clashes between these two great powers. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 left its mark in Anglo-American literature and culture, when it inspired the British songwriter Percy French to write “Abdul Abulbul Amir,” a comic ballad about the fatal duel between an Ottoman soldier and a Russian soldier:

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir …

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

More… “The Re-Enchantment of Poetry”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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Orhan Pamuk
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Orhan Pamuk is one of the world’s best-known novelists. The Nobel Prize-winning author’s fictions often focus on the lives, times, and people of his native Istanbul. His latest novel, A Strangeness in My Mind, was six years in the writing and tells of the life of one street vendor in the city. TSS editor Richard Abowitz reached Pamuk by phone in New York where he teaches at Columbia University.

TSS: The title of your new novel, A Strangeness in My Mind, comes, of course, from a Wordsworth poem — a massive work, The Prelude — but I’m struck by the way you use it, because, you know, we think of Wordsworth as a poet that loved nature, and, while he was pre-industrial revolution, he wasn’t exactly a fan of what he saw coming. You use it, in your new book: “In a city, you can be alone in a crowd, and in fact what makes the city a city is that it lets you hide the strangeness in your mind inside its teeming multitudes.” How did you think of applying Wordsworth to a city and as the title for your book? More… “5 Questions with Orhan Pamuk”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.
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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.
More… “When I Told Them Where Mecca Is”

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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Looking out across Mesopotamia into Syria

I wander through the narrow passages and quickly lose my sense of direction. The limestone buildings are completely closed off from the outside world. They seem built to last forever. My presence, in turn, excites nothing more than an occasional passing glance. A young boy squats in a window framed with stone blocks. The framing is nearly perfect, as if he were a painting. I hear the ezan, the call to prayer. Here and there a church tower is visible. Behind the walls, I sense courtyards with small irrigated gardens. A few dozen pigeons perch on the dome of a mosque. Many of the surfaces are decorated with designs — some purely geometric, others that suggest plants, animals, or drops of water. Arabic lettering on doors and ceramic signs, heavy wrought-iron door handles; Archways laden with complex ornaments.  One of them shows Şahmaran, queen of the snakes. She has the… More…

You have to be sharp.

Pity the turkey. Capons are sauced, cranes are lifted, partridges are allayed, geese are reared. Turkeys are, to use the proper historical carving vocabulary, simply cut up. The ritual carving of the turkey is one of the few vestiges of a past, glorious tradition that once wowed diners at spectacular feasts, and yet, the prosaic words for slicing up the turkey do not seem to match the grandeur of the deed.

Once, carving was held in high esteem. It was less about serving base bodily needs for nourishment and more concerned with spectacle and performance. Those who carved (and those who had carving done for them) were not concerned with where their next meal was coming from. It was a demonstration of power: the ability to muster a bountiful feast and an exhibition of control of the body (both that of the carver and of the animal carcass to be… More…