Sunday, August 1, 2010

This is the AP, reminding you: The muzzofolk don't count.

Fun lil' article by a dude almost named Turchia in the AP I found through Facebook. The Pera Palas, which I work a stones-throw from, is reopening next month. It was supposed to open in January, but, well, work delays happen. Especially hotels. Especially especially in historically protected hotels.

Oh wait, no, I'm sorry, it wasn't the wilting economy and general, these-always-happen delays. It was "Business interests and a lack of political will". Also, don't mention that Beyoglu was a cesspool of organized crime in the 1980s and '90s, and that Tarlebashi is still gang-ridden. Rather note "Many local residents fled deadly unrest or moved to outlying areas, leaving neglected stone facades to brood in the narrow, trash-filled streets."

This really deserves the full Fire Joe Morgan treatment.
It was the last stop on the Orient Express, a grand hotel with Istanbul's first electric elevator where artists and aristocrats sipped champagne beneath chandeliers as the Ottoman Empire dissolved and the world drifted toward war.
It was actually just a hotel. Sirkeci was the last stop on the express. Well, not really. The train ran all the way to Baghdad. That's why Agatha Christie wrote a book taking place in Baghdad. She went there on the Orient Express.
Mata Hari, accused of spying and executed in France in 1917, stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel. So did Greta Garbo, who played the shadowy dancer in a 1931 movie. Ernest Hemingway checked in to report on war between Turks and Greeks. Agatha Christie is said to have crafted "Murder on the Orient Express" in Room 411.
Then, like the empire it outlived, the hotel slid into decay.
Get yer intrigue! Get yer intrigue rite here! Yeah, sure, interesting people stayed here. And that little war Hemingway wrote about? Oh, the Turkish War of Independence. And also, will there be an Ataturk-figure for the Pera Palas to rescue and revolutionize the hotel?
On Sept. 1, the state-owned Pera Palace will reopen after a two-year restoration that cost 23 million euros ($30 million), seeking to capture the lost sparkle of what was one of Istanbul's most prominent landmarks. It is no longer the lone luxury hotel on a hill above the Golden Horn inlet. The former Ottoman capital teems with high-end accommodation, some in restored imperial mansions along the Bosporus Strait that divides the Asian and European continents.
Pinar Kartal Timer, general manager of the Pera Palace, believes fabled guests of the past will bestow new glory on the hotel, which held its opening ball in 1895.
There he is! There's our Ataturk! With the fantastic name of "Falcom Timur", too! 
Also, its not like Istanbul ever lacked for hotels. And yes, the Ciragan and the Kapinsky are nice. There are lots of nice ones here. This isn't fucking Lagos. Former capital, now just your standard 15 million person city that is the economic powerhouse of one of the most powerful economies in the world. So lets leave Sir Richard Burton, Puritan Speeches, and your sorry-ass tropes out of this.
"These people have left their traces in this hotel," Timer said in an interview in the 115-room hotel Wednesday. Major structural work and painting was complete, but the old ballroom was empty and the mother-of-pearl bookshelves had not been installed. Workers hammered, and layers of cardboard and plastic covered some balustrades and marble-floored passageways.
The Pera Palace mirrors the revival of the surrounding Beyoglu area, historically known as Pera, which comes from the Greek word for "beyond." It was nicknamed "Little Europe" in the late 19th century, an enclave of Greek and Armenian entrepreneurs, along with European diplomats and businessmen who imported luxury goods from capitals to the west.
Smart Businessman is smart. But pity they didn't break out the bookshelves and marble before finishing construction. The writer's girlfriend-cum-photojournalist-with-a-coolpix is not impressed.
And did you read beyond the first paragraph on Pera in wikipedia? This was the Genoese city, the Greeks had Fener, the Armenians had Balat (generally...they lived all over the place, as did Jews, Romani, Italians, Arabs, French, English AND EVEN ANATOLIAN AND BALKAN MUSLIMS). And again with the "luxury goods," because there ain't much else in this entire empire but damascene scents and rugs, right?
Many local residents fled deadly unrest or moved to outlying areas, leaving neglected stone facades to brood in the narrow, trash-filled streets. In the last decade, shops and restaurants flooded the central neighborhood as economic fortunes and pride in Istanbul's heritage blossomed.
There hasn't really been deadly unrest since the 50's, but hey, lets make this sound scary. It is the east, after all. And I love the "pride in Istanbul's heritage blossomed" bit, because as anyone who's talked to an Istanbullu knows, they certainly had an issue with being too humble about their city.
Mehmet Karaoren is a partner in an architectural firm that snapped up a dozen Pera buildings, restoring them and selling or renting the refitted apartments. In some years, the prices of their properties have doubled.
So what happened is that this Mehmet Bey took 200 words to say "we've bought 12 buildings in Beyoglu and restore them. We've doubled the property prices sometimes." Journalism 101.
A commission linked to Turkey's Culture Ministry bars changes that would taint the historical integrity of a structure, though allowances are made for reinforcement against earthquakes and the installation of elevators in tall buildings with dimly lit, winding staircases.
Why use "linked to"? Has that ever been used in such a non-nefarious circumstance? Would it be because you knew the law existed, but didn't want to look up who? Or is it just because you wanted this to sound like a dark, evil, way for people to ruin old buildings by...making them standing and livable. Huh?
Business interests and a lack of political will have sometimes trumped the work of conservationists. Istanbul, home to relics and monuments from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, is at risk of being placed on a list of endangered cultural treasures by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee. That would be a serious embarrassment since the European Union designated the city as its "cultural capital" this year.
Already made fun of the first part. And the second sentence doesn't make sense. The entire city will be an "endangered cultural treasure"? Or was it just that you found this article and only read the headline, not realizing that it is just poorly-translated into English? Because here's the endangered list, and if you notice a trend, its places of political unrest and environmental issues. Neither are relevant here. And note how he has been unable to prove that there are business interests against building up the Pera Palas. That's because there's not. He just asserts stuff and says "embarrassment".
David Michelmore, an international conservationist, said unrestored sections of old Pera were at risk of demolition, and he compared the area to London's Notting Hill district in the 1960s, a shabby area before its successful rehabilitation.
Of course unrestored sections may be demolished. Tarlebasi is a slum in a city of 15 million people. Are you worried about titling rights for impoverished folk? No, you just want to make it seem like the state hates the idea of becoming a tourist wonderland. Which is funny when your source says that,
"It's not tourists mostly, it's Turkish people who are going there," Michelmore said. "Historic centers have a huge capacity for serving purposes of recreation and relaxation."
So it looks like its these Turk fellas afterall who are doing the fixing.
Nobody will sleep in Room 101. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former army officer who founded Turkey in 1923, once used it as a base. The room will house a museum of items belonging to Ataturk, including hats, slippers and dignitaries' gifts.
Ah yes, Ataturk entered the equation. Founded the country in the war that *Ernest Hemingway* covered. We discussed this war. Maybe you should've changed the paragraph order a bit.

The hotel hosted spies as well as statesmen. Kim Philby, the British-Soviet double agent, was nearly unmasked in Istanbul, and the agent codenamed Cicero, valet to the British ambassador in Ankara, visited as he sold secret documents to German agents in World War II.
A witness to tumult, the Pera Palace became a target in 1941 when a bomb exploded at the entrance shortly after the arrival of a British diplomatic party from Bulgaria, which had sided with the Nazis. Several people died.
Wait, this is interesting. Especially the second bit. Were they British, or Bulgarian? Who did the bombing? What about Turkey's pretty-fascinating neutrality in WWII? Ah, forget it, we have Papa Hemingway to discuss.
Hemingway drank at the hotel's Orient Bar in the early 1920s. In his story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," the main character, a writer, recalls a brawl over a woman with a British soldier in Istanbul. He slept with the woman that night:
"...and he left her before she was awake looking blousy enough in the first daylight and turned up at the Pera Palace with a black eye, carrying his coat because one sleeve was missing."
Ah, Hemingway. No snark here, I love how the man writes. And I love how he's seemed to have a drink in every bar in the world.

So my favorite part of all this? The only mention of any aspect of Turkish history in all of this is how "Oh, you can't sleep in one of the rooms. This dude from Salonica got there first."

The gates of Europe are apparently at the front door of the Pera Palas. It is an outpost in the dark heart of the Mediterranean, and the locals may only be peered and leered at. It's garbage writing, even if its for a bland piece on tourism. I will rail and rail against the false separation of East and West. Not just because its wrong, but because its lazy journalism. It reinforces the acceptability of "The local culture is just a lens for me and my friends to view ourselves."

The view you have from the Pera Palas is the view hundreds of people have had, wherever they were from. Men stashed their mistresses in the room when it was a garconniere, waiters snuck their girlfriends in when it was at third-capacity, and couples have argued and thrown plates while looking at that Halic sunset. To only focus on the Westerners of the city ignores how much there is on offer from the Istanbullus themselves.

All of those 15 million Istanbullus have lives that only tangentially revolve around you finding your own fulfillment. Lets not forget that all of them have interests, and some of them are actually interesting. The awkward Orientalizing clashes so viciously with what the city really is, so lets push to change the cliche.