"Until well into the twentieth century, a home-cooked meal was a rarity. "This mode of dining was almost exclusively the purview of the wealthy, who could afford a permanent kitchen in their villa or mansion, one of more servants to go to the market, and a cook to prepare the food. Average Istanbullus got their food in groups... Given the need for food that was easily prepared and easily served to large groups, simplicity was key. ... That is why so many of the memoirists of everyday life in Istanbul are most wistful when they recall a noted baker, the purveyor of an especially good yogurt, or a well-shaded teahouse. A traveler today can go from a morning simit, ... to a grilled fish or stew at midday, to a sludge-bottomed coffee in the afternoon and still approximate the foodways ... of average Istanbullus of the past." (p. 143-144)
|A city full of wonderful culture|
and colorful characters.
|Poet Nazim Hikmet|
on a stamp.
He wrote a poem titled
"Gioconda and Si-Ya-U"
in which Mona Lisa runs off
with a Chinese Revolutionary.
Midnight at the Pera Palace brings these changes to life by describing political events, ever-present espionage, several waves of refugees, changing awareness of history, and cultural trends like jazz, avant-garde poetry (especially the poet Nazim Hikmet), folk music, restaurants and clubs, and much more.
Above all, Istanbul changed from a city that looked to Europe and had a very multi-ethnic and multi-cultural population to one that was dominantly Turkish and Muslim, but with a secular government. The invention of Turkish nationalism under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the backbone of the changes, including negatives (above all, the Armenian genocide) and positives (e.g. the development of rights for women, including the end of polygamy). However, politics is far from the only focus of the book.
The Pera Palace of the book's title began as a luxury hotel in the best neighborhood of Istanbul. Diplomats, foreign journalists, and tourists like Agatha Christie (and fictionally, Hercule Poirot) stayed there. Socially, King relates, it was a center for jazz and other entertainment, western style as well as upcoming Turkish jazz. Spies and other agents met in its public spaces. White Russians fleeing the Revolution stayed there if they could afford it. Subsequently, its Greek owner was displaced as part of the expulsion of much of the native Greek population. Along with much property that belonged to former Greek residents, it was confiscated and turned over to a Muslim. Soon thereafter, its upkeep deteriorated, the location became less prestigious, and its status began to decline.
The historic hotel nevertheless continued to be a center of activity through World War II. In this era, we learn, Istanbul was a critical location because of Turkey's resolute neutrality and strategic location. Notably, early in the war the Pera Palace suffered major destruction from a suitcase bomb planted among the luggage of British diplomats who had just been expelled from Bulgaria. Later, it housed one of the major players in the effort to save Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.
|On our visit to Istanbul in 2006, we visited an island that|
I think was the temporary home of Trotsky.