井底之蛙

3/8/2010

Dogs again

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:19 pm

As a follow-up to Konrad’s post below I came across something on dogs in Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, where he is lamenting the passing of the old city, but at least the dogs are holding out as modernization sweeps things away. I’m not sure wartime dog-killing quite fits with this, but some of the other aspects of Communist and Nationalist animal control certainly do.

What grievance I feel when I read western travelers on Istanbul is above all that of hindsight: Many of the local features these observers, some of them brilliant writers, noted and exaggerated were to vanish from the city soon after having been remarked. It was a brutal symbiosis: Western observers love to identify the things that make Istanbul exotic, nonwestern, whereas the westernizers among us register all the same things as obstacles to be erased from me face of the city as fast as possible.

Here’s a short list:

The Janissaries, those elite troops of great interest to western travelers until the nineteenth century, were the first to be dissolved. The slave market, another focus of western curiosity, vanished soon after they began writing about it. The Rufai dervishes with their waving skewers and the Mevlevi dervish lodges closed with the founding of the Republic. The Ottoman clothing that so many western artists painted was abolished soon after Andre Gide complained about it. The harem, another favorite, also gone. Seventy-five years after Flaubert told his beloved friend that he was going to the market to have his name written, in calligraphy, all of Turkey moved from the Arabic to the Latin alphabet, and this exotic joy ended too. Of all these losses, I think the hardest for Istanbullus has been the removal of graves and cemeteries from the gardens and squares of our everyday lives to terrifying high-walled lots, bereft of cypress or view. The hamals and their burdens, noted by so many travelers of the republican period—like the old American cars that Brodsky noted—were no sooner described by foreigners than they vanished.

Only one of the city’s idiosyncrasies has refused to melt away under the western gaze: the packs of dogs that still roam the streets. After he abolished the janissaries for not complying with western military discipline, Mahmut II turned his attention to the city’s dogs. In this ambition, however, he failed. After the Constitutional Monarchy, there was another “reform” drive, this one aided by the Gypsies, but the dogs they removed one by one to Sivriada managed to find their way triumphantly back home. The French, who thought the dog packs exotic, found the cramming of all the dogs into Sivriada even more so; Sartre would joke about this years later
in his novel The Age of Reason.

Max Fruchtermann, the postcard artist, seems to have recognized the exoticism of the dogs’ survival: In a series of Istanbul views he produced around the turn of the twentieth century, he was careful to include as many street dogs as he did dervishes, cemeteries, and mosques. p.242

12/30/2009

A Farmer Learns his Chinese Characters

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:05 pm

I haven’t been making any substantial posts to Frog in a Well of late even though I have been buried in fascinating historical materials as I write my dissertation. I have decided, however, to share the occasional short anecdote that pops up in some of the secondary and primary sources I come across.

If you have studied Chinese you may know how hard it is to maintain memory of those characters. I remember being impressed with a friend who attached little labels on everything around the house to help his girlfriend learn German vocabulary. Looks like this is a method with a lot of history behind it. In a section talking about literacy in Communist controlled areas of wartime China, Dagfinn Gatu brings up a patronizing anecdote from Jack Belden’s China Shakes the World I don’t remember coming across describing one way to remember the Chinese characters:

“A farmer plowing his field would put up one character on a big board at each end of the field. Thus, going back and forth all day, even his primitive mind could grasp the complex convolutions.”1

  1. Quoted in Dagfinn Gatu, Village China at War, p. 77. Originally in Jack Belden, China Shakes the World, p. 117. []

« Previous Page

Powered by WordPress