Living history in İstanbul

Kılıç Ali Paşa Külliyesi

Kılıç Ali Paşa Külliyesi

İstanbul is a city of contradictions––part Europe and part Asia, part ancient empire and part modern democracy, part bustling metropolis and part quiet byways. It’s hurtling toward the future with modern buildings, massive construction projects, and crushing traffic, but it’s also a city filled with its history, which is to a large extent the history of much of the world.

Today we saw some of the latter. We visited the Kılıç Ali Paşa complex, including a camii (mosque), a medrese (seminary), a hamam (bath), a türbe (tomb), and a çeşme (fountain). It’s in Tophane, which is part of the Beyoğlu district, on the shore of the Bosporus. It was built by Kılıç Ali Paşa, following the design of the great architect Mimar Sinan. Sinan was 90 when he began the project and 98 when he finished.

Kılıç Ali Paşa Camiii dome

Kılıç Ali Paşa Camiii dome

It’s beautiful inside and out. It shows one of Sinan’s specialities, a massive structure, which is surprisingly delicate and full of light. There are 247 windows including 24 for the central dome. Try the virtual tour.

One legend about the site is that when Kılıç Ali Paşa decided to endow a mosque, he applied for a grant of land. The Grand Vezier said: “Since he is the admiral, let him build his mosque on the sea.” Kılıç Ali Paşa brought in rocks and built the mosque on an artificial island connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway. The complex is now well inland, since the sea was filled during the construction of a modern port.

Another legend is that Miguel de Cervantes was a forced worker at the construction of the complex during his enslavement, like the character in Don Quixote.

The Museum of Innocence, 83 cabinets, one for each chapter

The Museum of Innocence, 83 cabinets, one for each chapter

We also saw The Museum of Innocence. Orhan Pamuk created it, based on the museum in his novel of the same name. He calls it “a declaration of love to the city of İstanbul.”

Visiting the museum is like experiencing an alternate reality version of the book. You read or listen from the book as you view the exhibits, which are described in the book. The cabinets are numbered to correspond to the chapters, so it’s a museum about a book, a book about a museum, and a multimedia creation about life in İstanbul. The cleverness of it all is fun and doesn’t get in the way (though almost) of Pamuk’s thoughtful, melancholic writing.

Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi

Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi

Tonight we had dinner at Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi, where Atatürk used to eat. It feels like eating in a restaurant from the 1920’s. The walls are covered with photos and news articles from its 150 year existence.

A diet of worms

It’s fun to visit the famous sites when traveling, even if only to see all the diverse people coming to see those same sites. But What I tend to remember and value most are the unplanned, mundane, and more local adventures.

On Friday in Bucharest, there was one such involving worms. I was speaking at the aptly named “Friday meeting” at the university. The topic of planning in teaching (exploring the important sites?) came up and I had to share a story that Jack Easley, a math and science educator, had told.

Discovering worms

Discovering worms

Jack had been working in a second grade class, guiding a six week long unit on weather. Pupils learned about clouds, precipitation, storms, weather measurement, agriculture, and other such important topics, taught, I’m sure in a creative and engaging way. On the last day, it was raining outside until just before the class ended. Jack knew that there might be a rainbow. Viewing that could be an exciting culmination for the unit.

He took the class outside, preparing to discuss the visible light spectrum, refraction, moisture in air, and others such topics. But the pupils weren’t interested. While Jack was looking up, they were looking down at the closer and and more ordinary. He was a latter day Thales at risk of falling into a well while gazing at the stars. The children’s observations of the worms led them to ask, “Why do worms come out of the ground after a rain?”

Soil, plants, worms

Soil, plants, worms

Jack started to answer, then realized that he didn’t really know. So he asked the students to write down their question for scientists at the university. It turned out they had many ideas, but didn’t really know, either. A few days later a long article came out in the New York Times, saying that this was an important question for science and for agriculture, but the answer wasn’t simple. Even today, there is a lot to say about why earthworms surface after rain?. Jack saw that the pupils became most excited about their own question, which in turn was more like the science that scientists do.

Catalina Ulrich, a professor at the University of Bucharest, and my host, appeared to be quite excited by this little story. She pulled out her smartphone to show photos (shown here). Just the day before she had been observing in a crèche (preschool), where the children had been fighting over a bike. But then, one of them discovered a worm. Like Jack’s students, these even younger ones saw that soil and worms were more interesting and more attractive than whatever else they had been doing, and than many people might think.

Doreeen Cronin Diary of a WormThat evening, we had dinner at the home of Claudia Șerbănuță. I needed a toilet break, and as is my habit, couldn’t avoid looking at the reading material there. Right on top was Doreeen Cronin’s Diary of a Worm.

The book describes the world from a worm’s point of view. For example, in the beginning, it tells you the three rules about worms that you must never forget. The third rule is “Never bother Daddy when he’s eating the newspaper.” When I came out, I asked Claudia’s children about the book. Could they tell me the three things we must always remember?

They grew quite excited and shouted out the third rule in unison. When I asked about the others they weren’t so sure. The other two have something to do with how worms live, the making of soil, the interdependence of life, or global food supply. I couldn’t remember them either.

The Icon Walk

Merchant's Arch, Temple Bar

Merchant’s Arch, Temple Bar

Temple Bar is an area with narrow, cobbled streets on the south bank of the Liffey in central Dublin. It’s famous the world over for its lively nightlife, but that’s not high on my list of reasons to visit it. There are better places in Dublin to experience Irish food and music, ones where you’re more likely to encounter people who actually live in Ireland. However, the area does offer much that’s special, such as the Irish Film Institute.

One that we just discovered is The Icon Walk, a project of The Icon Factory. It’s located just off Fleet Street, along Aston Place, Bedford Lane, and Price’s Lane. Local artists have transformed the lanes into an open air gallery of Irish culture. It’s recently been awarded approval as a UNESCO City of Literature site.

Someone described the Walk as a twenty minute activity, but it deserves more than that. There’s a great collection of photographs, drawings, paintings accompanying sayings of famous writers and artists, descriptions of moments in the history of sports, movies, fashion, and more.

Arriving at the Playwrights section, we read,

Around 1610, Shakespeare wrote the “The Tempest” and retired to Stratford on Avon where he died in 1613. Queen Elizabeth I having completed the conquest of Ireland was dead. The last of the great leaders, O’Neill and O’Donnell were gone to Spain and Ulster planted with Crown subjects.

Between 1613 and the War Of independence in 1922, which won back self rule for most of Ireland, no play of real merit was written in the English language by anyone other than by an Irish-born writer.

The selected icons–Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, and Oscar Wilde–won’t be enough to convince everyone of that claim, but their collective oeuvre is amazing.

Along the walk, you can see many great images produced by a wide variety of artists. A few of those are on the website, but the majority are visible only on the walk itself. They’re best seen that way, in any case, in the context of the other artworks and Temple Bar itself.

One of the best parts for me was the individual quotes, both from writer’s works and from their lives. For example, we read,

Beckett went on to live with an older woman who was not exactly a barrel of laughs. She took the phonecall that informed them of Samuel’s Nobel Prize. “This is a disaster, our lives are ruined” she responded.

In the eighties, Beckett was invited to Germany to direct “Waiting For Godot”. When presented with the script which he had not read in many years he exclaimed; “This thing needs a good edit”.

John Hume, third from left

John Hume, third from left

(Again, however, most of these texts exist only on the walls. I hope there will be an exhibition book at some point.)

One thing I learned was that in 2010 John Hume was chosen in an RTÉ survey as Ireland’s Greatest. He was also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1998), the Gandhi Peace Prize, and the Martin Luther King award. He had modeled his own work for equality in citizenship on that of Gandhi and King. Unfortunately, his peaceful work was disrupted by violence and the “troubles” began. Hume became a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. Through speeches, marches, hunger strikes, dialogues, and long-term negotiations, Hume was behind many of the developments and agreements toward peace in Ireland, and later for European unity.

You can get a sense of the walk from the video below (only part of which is in English):

Las Misiones Pedagógicas

burros

Traveling libraries

As we’re about to set off on a trip both to explore and to discuss progressive education, I’m thinking about the example of the Misiones Pedagógicas in Spain in the early 1930’s.

My colleague, Iván M. Jorrín Abellán, just sent a link to a digital copy of the 1934 report: Patronato de Misiones Pedagógicas : septiembre de 1931-diciembre de 1933, in the collection of the Bibliotecas de Castilla y León. It tells the story of the Misiones  through text, photos, and a map. Even if your Spanish is as poor as mine you can enjoy the many photos and get enough of the text to appreciate the project.

Some of the photos of uplifted, smiling faces are a bit much for today’s cynical eyes. Still, it’s hard to deny that something important was happening for both the villagers and the missionaries.

el-teatro

Watching theater

The Misiones Pedagógicas were a project of cultural solidarity sponsored by the government of the Second Spanish Republic, created in 1931 and dismantled by Franco at the end of the civil war. Led by Manuel Bartolomé Cossio, the Misiones included over five hundred volunteers from diverse backgrounds: teachers, artists, students, and intellectuals. A former educational missionary, Carmen Caamaño, said in an interview in 2007:

We were so far removed from their world that it was as if we came from another galaxy, from places that they could not even imagine existed, not to mention how we dressed or what we ate, or how we talked. We were different. –quoted in Roith (2011)

phonograph

Listening to music, outdoors

The Misiones eventually reached about 7,000 towns and villages. They established 5,522 libraries comprising more than 600,000 books. There were hundreds of performances of theatre and choir and exhibitions of painting through the traveling village museum.

We are a traveling school that wants to go from town to town. But a school where there are no books of registry, where you do not learn in tears, where there will be no one on his knees as formerly. Because the government of the Republic sent to us, we have been told we come first and foremost to the villages, the poorest, the most hidden and abandoned, and we come to show you something, something you do not know for always being so alone and so far from where others learn, and because no one has yet come to show it to you, but we come also, and first, to have fun. –Manuel Bartolomé Cossio, December 1931

There’s an excellent documentary on the Misiones, with English subtitles. It conveys simultaneously the grand vision and the naïveté, the successes and the failures. As Caamaño says, “something unbelievable arrived” [but] “it lasted for such a short time.”

Watching a film

Watching a film

In her study of Spanish visual culture from 1929 to 1939, Jordana Mendelson (2005) examines documentary films and other re-mediations of materials from the Misiones experience. Her archival research offers a fascinating contemporary perspective on the cultural politics of that turbulent decade, including the intersections between avant-garde artists and government institutions, rural and urban, fine art and mass culture, politics and art.

I’m struck by several thoughts as I view the documentation on the Misiones. Today’s Spain is more literate, more urban, more “modern”. But although the economic stresses are different, they have not disappeared.  There are still challenges, in some ways greater, for achieving economic and educational justice.

Iván and other educators are asking how the spirit of the Misiones might influence community-based pedagogy in current times. Their experiences have lessons for those outside of Spain as well.

References

Mendelson, Jordana (2005). Documenting Spain: Artists, exhibition culture, and the modern nation, 1929–1939. State College: Penn State University Press.

Roith, Christian (2011).High culture for the underprivileged: The educational missions in the Spanish Second Republic 1931 – 1936. In Claudia Gerdenitsch & Johanna Hopfner,  (eds.), Erziehung und bildung in ländlichen regionen–Rural education (pp. 179-200). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Hoffmann’s feverish dreams

E. T. A. Hoffmann

E. T. A. Hoffmann

One doesn’t just read, but rather descends, into the tales of Hoffmann. Sir Walter Scott must have agreed when he judged that Hoffmann didn’t need literary criticism as much as he needed medical assistance:

It is impossible to subject tales of this nature [referring to “The Sand-man”] to criticism. They are not the visions of a poetical mind; they are scarcely even the seeming authenticity which the hallucinations of lunacy convey to the patient; they are the feverish dreams of a light-headed patient.

Lunatic he may be, but somehow Hoffmann manages to convey essential truths through his grotesque tales and drawings.

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker

In conventional stories, a character has an identity that we learn about as events unfold. Often that identity develops or evolves, but generally, we at least know whom we’re talking about. Supernatural elements, if they appear, may be hard to explain, but we can usually distinguish them from the ordinary. There’s typically some sort of resolution, which gives us a semblance of coherence.

Hoffmann is quite different. Writing two centuries before post-modernism, Hoffmann turns the rules inside out. Neither we as readers, nor the characters, nor, as I suspect, Hoffmann himself, always know whether a given event is real or imagined. Is it an hallucination, a metaphor, a dream, or a supernatural occurrence? Is the kobold we encounter an independent entity, or simply a buried aspect of some character’s personality? Is this one a person, or a doll that the character assumes is alive? Is some occurrence the dream of a character, of Hoffmann, or one that we forgot that we’d been having and now can’t eliminate from our thoughts?

The Tales of Hoffmann

Spalanzani & Coppélius in “Tales of Hoffmann”

Combining rich, believable realism with extravagant fantasy, Hoffmann gets the reader to probe deep into the story, whatever the reader imagines that to be. He challenges Aristotle’s Poetics by offering only the beginning and the middle, but not the end, or resolution: He shows us that it’s a disservice to a good story to bring it to an end; the reader should be allowed to carry it onward.

In one of his best stories, The Golden Flower Pot, We struggle along with Anselmus to make sense of a world that doesn’t make much sense. The Archivarius tells him,

the gold-green snakes, which you saw in the elder-bush, Herr Anselmus, were simply my three daughters; and that you have fallen over head and ears in love with the blue eyes of Serpentina the youngest, is now clear enough.

The elder-bush, then a snake, now becomes the love of his dreams:

The Student Anselmus felt as if he now merely heard in plain words something he had long dreamed of, and though he fancied he observed that elder-bush, wall and sward, and all objects about him were beginning slowly to whirl around, he took heart, and was ready to speak; but the Archivarius prevented him; for sharply pulling the glove from his left hand, and holding the stone of a ring, glittering in strange sparkles and flames before the Student’s eyes, he said: “Look here, Herr Anselmus; what you see may do you good.”

It’s painfully obvious what Anselmus should not do, yet, he does. We as readers follow obediently and disastrously, learning along the way the preposterousness and the tragedy of romanticism from one its major initiators.

The Doll (DIe Puppe)

The Doll (DIe Puppe)

Thanks to these features, Hoffmann’s stories invite a variety of interpretations on multiple levels. The nutcracker may be Napoleon and the seven-headed mouse king, his seven cabinet members. But they may also be Hoffmann’s critique of romanticism, or a manifestation of buried aspects of the personalities of Clara and Fritz. Or, maybe they’re just idle fantasies, and Hoffmann has seduced the reader into unveiling his own psychic disturbances.

Ernst Theodore Wihelm Hoffmann is best known by his pen name, E. T. A. Hoffmann (Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann). But if my experience and that of a few friends is any guide, he’s not known well known by any name today, at least in the US beyond scholars of German romanticism, and certainly not anywhere near what his contributions deserve.

Some people are familiar with Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, an opera based on Hoffmann’s short stories with him as the main protagonist, or with the Powell and Pressburger film. Fewer still know that Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker was inspired by Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” That may be due to the fact that the sweet Christmas performances of the ballet lack the disturbing edge that Hoffmann works into all of his stories.

Kapellmeister Kreisler

Kapellmeister Kreisler

But I didn’t know that Hoffmann’s stories inspired many other famous works of music and film (e.g., Alfred Hitchcock, Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander); that his writings were a major influence on Edgar Allen Poe, Nikolai Gogol, Charles Dickens, Charles Baudelaire, George MacDonald, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Robertson Davies, Alexandre Dumas, père, and even Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung; that he wrote the first (Western) detective story, a novella (Mademoiselle de Scudéri); that his stories are the basis for much of modern gothic, ghost, sci-fi, and other genres; that he was arguably the first romantic composer in music, inspiring Robert Schumann and others; that his music and literary criticism were major influences on romanticism; or that he was an accomplished sketch artist, political satirist, and philosopher.

Worth getting to know. Just be careful about those dreams.

References

Hoffmann, E. T. A. (1967). The best tales of Hoffmann (edited with an Introduction by E. F. Bleiler). New York: Dover.

Scott, Sir Walter (1827). On the supernatural in fictitious composition. The Foreign Quarterly Review, I(1), 60-98.

Veronica Robles at the Methodist Church

Veronica Robles

Veronica Robles

I had a very enjoyable evening thanks to Veronica Robles, who performed Saturday for a Habitat for Humanity fund-raiser at the Wellfleet United Methodist Church.

Her show was a great introduction to the dance, costumes, songs, language, and histories of different states in Mexico, including Michoacán, Jalisco, and Chiapas. Robles is co-producer and host of the popular Telemundo show – “Orale con Veronica (Let’s Go with Veronica)”. You can hear samples of her music on the Orales website.

A major goal of hers has been to connect Latino families with social services and programs. She co-developed the Latino Art and Culture Initiative at Centro Latino de Chelsea and founded Dance, Camera, Action! at the Charlestown Boys and Girls Club. She has six CD’s out and recent appearances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.

Veronica is a natural teacher, who takes her show to public schools in Boston and beyond, promoting arts, diversity, and cultural understanding. She performs with authentic outfits from different regions. The performances are interactive, with group singing and opportunities to dress up and learn dances. There was much amusement at some of the clumsy volunteers, such as myself.

Mariachi in Wellfleet might seem at first to be an odd fit. But it worked surprisingly well and made a nice addition to life here.

See Best bets things to do this weekend | CapeCodOnline.com.

A rebus baby announcement

In these times, we hear about family events through cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and for a few old-timers, email. I got to meet a new grand-nephew that way just last week.

Chloe & Bishop

But that wasn’t always so. I came across an older technology while we were cleaning up our attic. It’s a rebus announcing Sunny Baby Jim, with at least 230 cut-outs from newspapers and magazines pasted onto a continuous roll of brown wrapping paper. It not only announces the baby, but also provides a glimpse into life in the US in 1905.

The paper for the rebus has become brittle and is starting to crumble. Some of the cut-outs are faded.I decided I should photograph it and decode it before it disintegrates completely.

It’s probably from my Great-Great-Aunt Fanny in Spokane, writing to my Grandmother, Dorothy in 1905. See whether you can decode it. The images aren’t very clear in the small versions, but should be more readable if you click each one to enlarge it.

There’s a scrap cityscape of Spokane, which probably came first. So, I think the first part says,

Spokane

Dear Little Dorothy,

I send you a puzzle to make you laugh.

It is raining cats, dogs, and babies.

The babies shown include the Gold Dust Twins, mascots for Gold Dust Washing Powder. Those racial caricatures were wisely phased out, but not for another 50 years.

Aunt Fanny goes on to ask:

Would you like to hear about the new baby in this house? He weighs nine pounds and sleeps all night, that’s the way babies grow. When he smiles we call him Sunny Jim Baby.

Then, there’s a comment about babies in general, and some local news:

Before babies sleep and after babies sleep, they eat, all the time.

I have a new pair of shoes and they hurt my feet and corns.

We got awakened one night. A shot was heard around the house. We called two policemen and he ran away.

How is Grandmother? I am getting so fat.

Spokane is soon to have a circus. [There’s then a six-frame comic strip set in a circus ring.]

While looking up information on that circus, I learned that a steel bridge with power wires for streetcars and overhead lighting was constructed over the Spokane River Gorge after the wooden bridge burned in 1890. The new bridge vibrated badly, and in 1905 the National Good Roads Association declared it unsafe. The Ringling Brothers Circus elephants refused to cross it. It was replaced in 1911.

The closing of the rebus reports some national news:

It is time for a bath and bed.

Love to the whole damn family.

PS: Teddy Roosevelt is in Colorado. [He went bear hunting there in 1905.]

Your Aunt [Fanny]

I don’t know how long we can keep the original of the rebus, thus this post to preserve it in a limited way. But it’s held up surprisingly well after 106 years, especially since it had not been cared for, just tossed into boxes in attics or garages. Will we be able to read this blog post as well in the year 2117?

Thanks, Aunt Fanny for your fascinating artwork. I suspect that few aunts (or uncles) today could or would invest the time to make such a detailed token of love for their niece.