Someone once quoted me a statistic that women cry 60 times in a year, and men cry 6. It could be complete bullshit, I don’t know. I know that I don’t cry six times a year- not even close. Maybe 2? 3 in a bad year? Sometimes I feel a suspicious prickle deep in my eyeballs, and I think, “Oh. If I were a crier I might be crying right now.”
I felt that in Gezi Park on Friday night.
I haven’t been back, honestly, since the park reopened. I wanted to go and eat some gas on the day it was supposed to reopen but didn’t, and again on the day it actually opened, and many times after that for one little protest or another, but I was chained to my desk.
I still don’t know exactly how to articulate how it felt to walk up the stairs from the funicular and stand in Taksim square, which was heaving with tourists. It’s Friday night. Taksim is supposed to be heaving with tourists. That’s normal. Yet didn’t we create a new normal not that long ago? And there, along the side, is evidence: A toma, a few riot police with shields and big guns, city buses of the sort that in the protests were filled with plain clothes cops. The cognitive dissonance was deafening for a minute, and I could not explain what I was feeling to my friends, or even really to myself.
Surely the Germans have some word that neatly sums up the concept of “I have seen this place filled with gas and fire and violence, overturned cars and burnt out buses, I have felt the weight of great injustice in this place, and I have tried to be brave in this place, and I have seen the brief triumph of peaceful protest against violent government, and then I have seen it snatched away, people have died for this place, this place appears normal now but it will never feel the same to be in this place again.” If such a word does not exist anywhere in the world we should invent it. I felt overwhelmed for a moment, but trying to explain what it felt like to my friends I could only really stutter,
“It’s just, it’s just, it’s just… oh God. This is so surreal.”
On Istiklal, after dinner and drinks, we came across a small anti-war protest outside Galatasaray. People were just chilling with their signs and banners, eating çiğ köfte on the street. Another sign that even though I was being jostled in a very normal way by tipsy British ladies, things are not the same: this protest required a toma and four police riot vans. Before it would have required one police riot van.
Though the girls were very tired by this point, they indulged me in crossing Taksim square to enter Gezi Park. Along the way they made nervous jokes about the police.
“Hey, we’re the Turkish police! We just drive around in armored vehicles looking menacing. It’s what we do.”
More cognitive dissonance: The park looked nothing like it did before Gezi, and nothing like it during. It is a completely unfamiliar beast. There’s a new playground, many new trees, new flower beds. And yet I kept seeing in my minds eye, like peering through two stacked slides, the park as it was: “That was the yabancı corner- I remember that. That’s where the lending library was. That’s where the striking Turkish airline pilots sat, I think. That- oh God- that- you know that photo of me on facebook where I’m sitting on those two pipes and one pipe says ‘Fuck the Media and one says Fuck the Police’? THAT’S where that photo was taken.” Eventually I felt myself becoming boring so I shut up but I couldn’t stop the interior monologue- that’s where the bulldozer ate into the park before it was stopped. That’s where people later built terraced gardens. That’s the tree Z found us under one night when TJ and I got separated from the crowd. That’s the hotel that sheltered the protesters. That’s where that’s where that’s where.
We stopped to watch some Halay dancing, again a hiccup from the past, all the happy, dancing people in Gezi. And then we got in a Kadiköy dolmuş where the voice in my head grew more strident: That’s where the burned out buses were- that the police turned into a trap. That’s where I saw my first barricade on fire. That’s where the çarşi drove the bulldozer or backhoe or whatever the hell it was at the tomas. There was a barricade there, and a barricade there, and a barricade there, and a barricade there. That’s where Z wrote graffiti with his board marker. There was a barricade there and a barricade there and a barricade there. That’s where I got gassed for the first time. That’s where I dug bricks up from the sidewalk- oh good. They’ve repaved it with concrete. Apparently the government CAN learn from its mistakes, just not the lessons we wish it would.
“It’s just, it’s just, it’s just so surreal,” I murmured again as we zipped past dolmabahçe and out of the past, into the night and the uncertain future.