Saturday, October 12, 2013

The White Witch

Stepping out of the airport in Istanbul, I was made immediately aware of our foreignness. Swarming with people, the buzzing sound of turkish, taxis whooshing by, and the aircraft overhead was only drowned out by the sound of the call to prayer from the closest minaret. After contemplating our mortality on the highway, our bus bobbed and weaved up a small road in the middle of the city to our hotel. There I was met with a dilemma.

The Marti Istanbul, a five star hotel, sits on a plateau full of luxury hotels and stores geared towards tourists which overlooks a rather poor area. Not 500 meters away in the opposite direction sits Taksim square, the location of the large and violent anti-government protests this summer. The park next to the square, as you may remember, was decided to be dug up and replaced with a shopping mall. Though there are many, many underlying reasons which propel small protests to the kind that we saw at Taksim, it was so simple to understand why it sparked once I saw the square with my own eyes. Why, indeed, should the only green space in the area be replaced with a shopping mall in a district which has miles of storefronts?

I can't say that I didn't enjoy staying at such a nice hotel, which, it should be noted, also sponsored the festival we performed at. Looking down on that multitude of housing complexes, I struggled, however, with the idea that what I was doing was really of benefit to them, let alone the moral-greyness of our location. We've talked at the Schola that performance can have a powerful experience over someone, but I'm convinced that our concert in Istanbul was more of a exhibit of western culture than an experience of one.

There is no doubt that Istanbul is full of western influence. Consumer culture is strong and most shops in the centre are owned by western corporations and sell western goods at fixed prices. Magazines in the hotel are filled with adds and pamphlets payed for by the government encouraging western investment. English and German are popular second languages. However I question whether the majority of those I looked out upon could afford to come to an event such as ours regularly. Reading through the business-speak from the testimonies of various business executives in one pamphlet, it's clear that even the highly-skilled Turkish workforce is payed less than its European counterparts.

The view from the top.
How, then, am I to reconcile this? I'm very happy to come and perform, especially for a full-house like the one we had last night, but my concern for this use, or abuse, of Turkey by westerners will always remain in the back of my head. If those thousands of satellite television dishes were disconnected on those rooftops, would those households still be happy looking up at me?

One must be careful not to be blinded by the occasional glamour of concert life. When Edmund snuck out of the Beaver's house to give up his brother and sisters to the White Witch, it was for a bit of Turkish Delight.

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