• History: A Dead Old Thing?

    October 19th, 2010adminHistory

    Yedikule Fortress, Istanbul: History without placards or museum-ready glossiness.

    My friend sent me an email in response to yesterday’s entry:

    I have read your latest blog entry and quite frankly, I agree with you. History is so sanitized and commoditized in America that it often doesn’t even feel real here. Of course, the Turks do have an advantage since Istanbul is thousands of years old but it still does not excuse how America treats its own history. You’re definitely right when you mention how in Istanbul, you don’t even have to go to a museum to see history. In America, you often don’t even have a choice since the whole surroundings have often completely changed due to new development and etc. I live in a 1920s Art Deco apartment but with the exception of San Francisco (which often has a strong incentive to keep its historical buildings for tourist reasons) and a few other cities, most American cities do not even bother to preserve their history; even though San Francisco preserves its buildings, I can’t help but be disappointed by the reason why the people want to preserve the buildings, it is mostly for monetary reasons since 10% of San Francisco’s GDP comes from tourism. I mean just take a look at McMansions in Beverly Hills.

    The former home of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, now a museum. He moved into the home after returning from the Syrian Front and lived there until 1919.

    Of course, history is not perfectly preserved in Istanbul by any measure. In Osmanbey, you can visit the Ataturk Museum, which is actually right around the corner from one of my closest friends here — so, maybe I’ll give a report on the museum soon!

    But, anyway, the museum is, basically, a house — a beautiful, 3-story home where Ataturk resided from 1908 to 1919. And what’s around this absolutely charming building, which was surely once also surrounded by other absolutely charming  buildings? Well, not much. There are high rise apartment buildings, greasy cafeterias, even a burger joint (Kristal), recommended to me by a man I met in the Plovdiv bus station. And there are definitely some preserved buildings, eighty years or older. But many buildings in this district are emotionally gray: post-WWII, boxy and cold. So, is this area now beautiful? Do the streets seep with nostalgia of a bygone era — a time of genteel gentlemen and fin de siècle culture? I would think  not.

    History isn’t perfect anywhere. But, nevertheless, America does an especially bad job of remembering it.

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