March 25, 2007

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

"Walter Benjamin once wrote that in observing a city, outsiders concentrate mostly on the exotic and picturesque, while the natives always see the place through layers of memory" — Amos Elon reviewing Orhan Pamuk's "Istanbul: Memories and the City" in a recent NYRB.

But it's precisely because of people like Benjamin (and Pamuk, for that matter), that even outsiders see cities like Paris (or Istanbul) through layers of memory — other people's memories, for sure, but what's most striking (for me, at least) about visiting a city like Paris or New York or London or LA is the overwhelming sense of recognition of the ordinary rather than strange exotica. You can't read those cities like unknown books, you read them through layers of half-remembered (or vividly-remembered) memories of other texts and memories, you re-read them (this time in the original). What perhaps feels exotic is the source of the sense of remembrance in each place.

(When I moved to London I felt like I was inhabiting books; coming to California was about inhabiting TV and film).

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