Accidentally Istanbul
104 weeks ago

Accidentally Istanbul

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One of the many things I love about travelling across the Middle East, and I use that term loosely for this post, is the call to Prayer, the Ezan in Turkey, I was reminded of this recently as I read an advance copy of a friend’s book, Accidentally Istanbul, which I am helping her launch on Tuesday 5 April in Sydney at Glebebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road at 6pm. You are all welcome.

The book is the story of the accidental encounter of Istanbul by my friend (Nancy Knudsen) who was sailing in the area with her husband, and ended up staying there for two years, then buying an apartment as she couldn’t bear to leave.

I know this feeling, although I haven’t been able to act on it, yet.

Travelling through the many different countries that make up the Middle East has been and continues to be one of the passions of my life. If I could, I’d pack up tomorrow and go and live in any number of places so that I could simply find a different pace of life, a different flow, new inspirations and deeper insights.

Many of my friends and colleagues don’t know why I am so absorbed by the Middle East and are also quite concerned for my safety or simply amazed that I can and do work in this part of the world. No amount of explanation by me assuages them, but Nancy’s book just might get them to dip their toe in the water with Istanbul.

So, what is it about the Middle East that I am drawn to.

The culture. This is intertwined with Islam and as with Christianity, it has a deep, beautiful and varied story. It also encompasses extraordinary scientific, artistic and literary journey of the world. Who can’t be entranced by this?

Islamic scholars stood on the shoulders of the Greeks, added to their knowledge which was then transferred to the West through southern Spain – from the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma) in Baghdad to the great houses of learning in Cordoba, during the Caliphate of Cordoba, under the Umayyad dynasty (929-1031). There’s a video series created by the Smithsonian titled East meets West that’s worth viewing.

The history. Having grown up in a small town in New Zealand, my history education was focused almost entirely on Tudor Kings and Queens of England. At university I ventured into politics and got a brief exposure to the issues facing Lebanon and Palestine. It wasn’t till my son had a school project about Mummys that I discovered my latent passion for the Middle East and started reading, and have never stopped, all I can about the Middle East.

I do not profess to be a Middle East expert, although I am constantly asked by my friends and colleagues to explain what’s happening ‘there’ at the moment. In some ways I am at a loss to explain current events as it takes a deep understanding of the culture, Islam, ancient history and modern history to even start to understand the complex and deep rivers (literally and figuratively) than run through the Middle East.

But, as Nancy’s book so simply describes, the call to Prayer which, on first arrival, seems an annoyance, actually becomes part of the rhythm of each day, a reassuring sound that somehow becomes infused into you. I look forward to travelling to the Middle East so that I can hear it. It pulls me into a different pattern of life, one that’s somehow more thoughtful, that creates time and space for thinking about more than doing, rushing, working . . .

So, while I’ve visited many places across the Middle East, I am yet to spend some time in Istanbul. Now Nancy has her apartment there, I’ll know where I’ll be staying. And, I know the first story I’ll write. The story of the Istanbul Women’s Book Club. And yes, that’s another story in itself.