ISTANBUL is a city that constantly defies expectations. Just when you think you have a solid conception of some facet of the city, you will see something that completely shatters it. When planning to do a certain activity in Istanbul, you will often find yourself doing something completely different en route, because of an unexpected encounter or a random impulse. What I am trying to say is that you can never know what is going to happen or whom you are going to meet when you are out in the city, and I certainly experienced that last Friday evening.
A friend and I decided to go to one of Istanbul’s most famous (and notoriously most pretentious) terrace bars, Istanbul 360. Although it is very overpriced, it is located on the top floor of a skyscraper in Taksim, and from its balconies you can see an amazing panorama of the city.
When I got out onto the balcony, there were these circular tables, and none were completely empty, so we were forced to squeeze around one, around which were a bunch of other people. I started talking to an English-speaking middle-aged man to my left, and he was asking us where we went to school, where we were from, etc. Eventually, I told him that I was a literature major, and to that he replied that he is a friend of Orhan Pamuk, one of my favorite authors, Turkey’s most famous author, and the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Next, he asked me if, in preparation for studying abroad, I’d read any books on Turkish or Middle Eastern politics.
“Yes,” I replied, “I read a few.”
“Did you read Crescent and Star or All the Shah’s Men?” he responded.
“Yes, I read Crescent and Star.”
“Well, I wrote that book. I’m Stephen Kinzer.”
And indeed, I immediately recognized him as the famous journalist and author of Middle Eastern issues. For several years, Kinzer was the chief correspondent of the Istanbul bureau of the New York Times, so we had some fascinating discussion about Turkey’s role in the twenty-first century. He also told me a few anecdotes about Orhan Pamuk, which were interesting to say the least.
Unfortunately, Kinzer and his party were leaving soon after I arrived, but it was still a great experience of meeting someone whose work I have studied. This was just another of now countless examples of having something entirely unexpected happen in Istanbul.