Photographs by Nicola Tams
I had just returned from a four-day trip to Istanbul when I saw that a small cinema in Moabit, called Filmrauschpalast, was showing a Ben Hopkins film called “Hasret – Sehnsucht”. It was a film on the questions of the ghosts, cats and melancholy of Istanbul.
Afterwards I started to think about writing about this place using the memories which keep the form of fragments in my mind. All of these left-over memories are stockpiled, and exist without structure. I wonder whether I should write about Istanbul, whether it would be wise to write about something that I cannot grasp so well.
I wonder how to say something about a place that seems to have different layers underlining the visible? How to write about a place that I have only visited twice, a picture which has not yet taken shape in my mind? Yet I feel it writing in me anyway, something travels back and forth, looking for truths in the in-between space– where Hopkins locates his cats.
Hopkins says that the cats are one of the ways to start a voyage from the outer to the inner world, from what is most obvious – Bosporus – to what is most hidden – ghosts, pain and love. Cats are supposed to have several lives and they live all over, even in the most forgotten corners of Istanbul streets. They permit a way to access hidden layers of meaning. Who are these ghosts that Hopkins speaks of? And why does it sound so true when he speaks of melancholy?
So let us follow the unordinary paths of the cats, to see where we can find these sort of truths.
I saw cushion covers hanging from a clothesline in Beyoglu. It was as if they were expecting attention from passers-by. They waited and waited, but no one took them away. How long could they stare with their black, dull faces without eyes? What do they ask, if they don't want to know? Everything. They are lazy objects, but what if they demanded: "Come here, take a seat, and talk about your experience." How to make them speak?
I then walked into the "Museum of Innocence" where Orhan Pamuk tried to give life to literary "objects": Masumiyet Müzesi. In the museum he places all of the objects he gathered in his fictional book on Istanbul. For instance, he provided an envelope with a letter which, according to his voice on the audio guide, is so private that he would be ashamed to death if someone were to read it. But the statement stays untrue because we cannot read it. No account to be given here, either.
Why open the letter, when the secret is so much more inspiring? Why formulate things rather than letting them stay in the wind, covering the streets with the sounds of their heavy laughter? Can we fictionalize our lives? Is Pamuk diminishing the difference between a book and a lived life, real violence and violent language? How can we judge or grasp the thin line between one and the other and say: "This is not important." Or: "This is."
And how can we forget? Is it fiction, if someone tells me his or her story? Is it fiction if they lock objects into museum shelves? If it is, then I would like to see only what I want to see and write only what I want to read.
A friend of a friend once surprised me with the remark that she had once been blind. We both shared the sensation of having been watched, people staring at our bodies, especially as women. One day she decided that she had wanted to turn away from this. It would be easier not to be seen if we could just shut down our own vision. Like hundreds of cats that just close their eyes and sleep on a warm metal car or rolled over two chairs in a café. She was surprised to discover that when she was blind, she saw some things even better. I wish I were less afraid of the experiment she proposed to me and I could walk a couple of days through the streets keeping my eyes closed, blindfolded.
I have a picture of Istanbul in my mind. A woman's eyes look at the street, there is work to be done. A little girl's eyes follow the movement of a cat, a street cat, an Istanbul street cat. I watch the little girl who is watching the cat, she is holding her hand towards the cat, it needs to be seduced to stay.
The cat stays for a while.
There is something going on. The cat of my friend is in awe of the printer giving out sheets at an impossible speed, it follows the sheets with its eyes. My friend says that's because cats don't have a sense of machines, but I think the cat had an intuition. It stared at the working printer, amazed. Just like the two of us being surprised that we could find the correct printing driver and make it work.
Another cat walks over a broken mirror and does not seem to be struck by the fact that it is an object which can no longer be used. Nor does it seem to be struck by its brokenness or even by the light. So why do I write? To not forget? To not forget the few things I have and haven't seen, when there is still only intuition?
Hopkins begins and ends his film on depression, at the same time on a lost love for the city he had wished to be drawn into. He really seems to have captured some of its emotional truths – as fluid and vague as a dream, or a piece of music. Like those old Istanbul tango songs, street music was able to make people smile even in a rather melancholic moment. And yet I haven't taken part in that pain. Some façades, some lights that cut the lines, drew the city into a postcard, made it representable, effable, to be sent to someone else in the form of light, in the lights of storytelling. Is a witness full of lies? Yet Istanbul is itself a play of different greys which tries to escape the sun that puts people into shape, that gives them a clear identity.
I return home from the cinema. As I am walking through Berlin Wedding, there is a gloomy moon hiding behind a cold German winter night and I wonder what is different. Nothing is left on the streets, just a couple of cars passing by and something is missing. The cats. There is no one to keep me company. I should be like one myself and cling on to someone’s footsteps as a jealous company. But I prefer to walk on. My hard shoes make an odd sound which reverberates in the empty street. A ghostly car whizzes by and it is as if I were in a different place. No cats, no pain but no happiness either. Just the explosion of some artificial lights, the street covered in black nothingness, and some publicity urging me to read it. I feel a nostalgic need for a chair to hold on to, but nowhere, nothing is to be seen.