Friday, July 10, 2015

Looking to get the most out of your travels this summer? Try a taking a literary tour!

Often the setting of a novel is as important to the story as any of the characters. This is quite true in the case of the Chicago of The Jungle.Years ago, just for grins, I went on a self-guided tour of Upton Sinclair's Chicago--specifically through the meat packing district. The idea of immersing myself in the setting of a book that was so richly detailed in the text was a thrill. It wasn't a long tour as it isn't a big area but even as it has clearly been cleaned up (one would not want to spend much time in Sinclair's meat packing district at the turn of the last century) one can still see the streets and buildings, smell the smells, and hear the activity of Chicago's still functioning meat packing district...though maybe that experience isn't for everybody.

Let's journey a few thousand miles further to Istanbul, Turkey, the setting of, and major character in, Orhan Pamuk's romantic and deeply immersive literary and art experience:

The Museum of Innocence and The Innocence of Objects by Orhan Pamuk

The golden ticket!
Kemal, the wealthy scion of a prominent Istanbul family and engaged to marry the similarly wealthy Sibel, unexpectedly reunites with his childhood friend Füsun while she is working in a shop. Though from different classes and different worlds, of course they embark on a devastating love affair. Over the course of his decades long obsession, Kemal collects thousands of small objects that remind him of moments he spent with Füsun and assembles them into a museum. Many of the objects are stolen from her, many are simply discarded waste that he pockets (over 4,000 carefully documented cigarette butts make up the first exhibit in the museum), and many items are donated by her family to his museum.
Sunset on the posh streets of Beyoğlu, where Kemal roamed

In the ultimate blurring of fact and fiction, author Orhan Pamuk built a really real museum, based on the novel, in the really real neighborhood where fictional Füsun's family lived. He built the museum faithfully to his own description in the book which was written as if by fictional Orhan Pamuk, supporting character, friend and confidant of fictional Kemal. Lost yet? Good!  Get lost in the book and cross over into the surreal and awesome experience of walking in a beloved fictional character's footsteps. Think Harry Potter world, only instead of wizards and magic we have a bittersweet love story for grown-ups. At the museum one can examine Füsun's dresses, butterfly earrings (even buy a pair in the gift shop!), her movie ticket stubs, dozens of small ceramic dogs (my favorite case), other pilfered trinkets, and the aforementioned lovingly described 4,213 cigarette butts in a giant wall case--complete with her shade of lipstick dotting the ends. The Innocence of Objects, a third work in this experience is the gorgeously photographed and beautifully written exhibit catalog. Once you fall in love with The Museum of Innocence, check out the exhibit catalog, The Innocence of Objects, and fall in love again. Then plan your trip to Istanbul and prepare to be amazed.

For the full experience I recommend reading both of these books and then going to the museum. (The only thing possibly missing is a film version of the book but I have no idea if one is on the way.) When you go, bring The Innocence of Objects with you, or pay the extra 10 Turkish Lira for the audio tour--otherwise you will have to rely on memory as there is very little text in the museum to remind you of what the assembled items in each case represent. Though they are an impressive collection of Turkish culture and do stand on their own as a work of art one can enjoy without even having read the novel. Photography is absolutely NOT allowed in the museum, so here are some pictures I took:
The line between fact and fiction delightfully blurred in Kemal's bedroom installation
The cigarettes! I borrowed this photo from the internet because the guard could see me trying to sneak a photo. First rule of literary traveling: Don't get kicked out!
For a little background on why he did this, click here for Orhan Pamuk's Manifesto for Museums.

From the city we journey to the countryside with Memed, My Hawk by Yaşar Kemal.

Published in 1951, Yaşar Kemal's debut novel set in a remote mountain village in Eastern Turkey follows the life of Slim Memed from abused and exploited child working for a cruel landlord to legendary avenging brigand. The novel describes in great detail the setting--the mountains, small villages, and the eerily beautiful but brutal thistle fields of rural Anatolia are essential to the development and actions of the characters. I bought this book in the airport in anticipation of an excruciatingly long layover and selected it for the contrast of hiking rural Anatolia after the very urban experience of reading Pamuk in Istanbul. Books have a way of taking you there, and taking you back. Before Istanbul we rented a car and drove through the countryside to an inn near Midas City (Midas Han, if you find yourself off the beaten path, is pretty much the best thing ever) to hike around the remains of the Phrygian kingdom, which lasted from about 1200 to 700 BC and was home to the Gordias and King Midas. The mountains, the villages, and the brutal fields of thistles, were there just as described in Memed, My Hawk, as well as some amazing hiking around really cool tombs and monuments.

The Ataturk airport bookstore's "Turkish Interest" section
A monument 
Phyrigian traffic jam
So just for fun in the comments, tell us your vacation destination (real or wishful thinking) and we will reply with a book recommendation to round out the experience. Bon Voyage!


Stacey King said...

I will be spending some time in Fishkill, NY soon and have tons of reading time available. Very curious to see what you would recommend for that area!

Natalie D Librarian said...

Try "World's End" by TC Boyle for historical fiction set in the Hudson River Valley!

Stacey King said...

I'll be sure to check that one out. Any suggestions for audio books as well (it's a long drive).

Natalie D Librarian said...

You can't go wrong with a classic like The Great Gatsby--and it's great as an audio book!