Friday, October 21, 2011

From Beauty to the Balrog

The word 'expat' has associated with it a feeling of semi-colonial ease. For Brits this may have been true in what my imagination pictures as the sepia toned days of the Raj and maybe pre-1997 Hong Kong. I wince when I'm referred to as an ex-pat here as I have neither the material means nor the inclination to conform to that particular stereotype. No,  the journey I enjoy is the one where we seek out the heart of a culture and my suspicion is that this can only be done through knowing the language and living alongside people.

Wow! I made that sound quite idealistic and almost heroic! In reality this means that one has to do the dreary, dull, routine things that every normal person in most countries around the world have to do just to get by. The difference is that  as an 'ex-pat' without the domestic staff one has to stumble through with an only slowly improving grasp of the language.

Take today for example. This morning I crossed the Bosphorus in the glorious sunshine of a cloudless October day to talk with the owner of a gallery in an exclusive part of the city. We drank tea in a sun soaked room talking of the days when Istanbul was a much smaller city and when there were Greeks, Armenians, Turks and Jews all living alongside one another.

An hour and half later I'm in a considerably less salubrious part of town trying to get my vehicle's (we call it the Balrog) exhaust tested ready for it's yearly check. We're dealing with dirt, money, grim, hordes of cars and grease stained hands. 

Despite all that I have another suspicion that the essence of a culture can be detected as much in the latter situation as the former. 

The above picture is Üsküdar at sunset, oil pastels and watercolours wrestling for space on the page.


english13 said...

I feel uncomfortable with both 'ex-pat' and 'economic migrant' - for different reasons, sure, but here in France I guess I could be labelled as either. Defining these terms and then selecting which box to drop me in, I leave to others. And yes, I agree, the absorbing of local culture, or 'enculturation', is a slow process of getting 'stuck in' and 'our hands dirty' - in Bronislaw Malinowski's words. I like doing that!

Ewen MacDonald watercolouristanbul said...

Well I feel really pleased with myself for negotiating the Turkish M.O.T. system in an hour and a half... I feel like I can hold my head up high in the presence of the local populace, feels like a rite of passage!

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