Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Turkish Embassy Letters 2012

I hope the name of this diary will not give anyone pause, for I am no Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and neither is my husband the ambassador to Turkey.  But almost two hundred and fifty years after it was first published, Lady Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters still continues to inspire and impress and I want to see if I can revisit the idea of the lady adventurer recording her observations of the Orient for Western consumption.  Lady Montagu's account of eighteenth century Ottoman Empire is especially important for Easterners and Westerners alike since she may in fact be the first Westerner to ever enter the inner sanctum of a Turkish household and her descriptions are considered to be in accordance with Turkish historical sources.

As for me, spending my whole life traversing between two cultures, two countries makes traveling to Turkey neither unique nor an adventure but I can be creative, even in my perceptions.  Besides I always fancied to turn out to be a lady adventurer myself (the influence of watching too many historical British movies no doubt.) I am going to be living in Turkey for the next four months and thought to record my own observations and experiences here...  I hope I can make Lady Mary proud. 

September 11 2012, Istanbul

"I am now got into a new world where every thing I see appears to me a change of scene, and I write to your Lady-ship with some content of mind, hoping at least that you will find the charm of novelty in my letters and no longer reproach me that I tell nothing extraordinary"
                                                  -  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1 April 1717, Adrianople1

We have safely arrived in Istanbul yesterday, the journey to be classified as tedious at worst. It was by a direct flight from Newark airport making the preparations for the trip more problematic than the nine and a half hour flight itself.  Even though I consider myself a seasoned traveler, I can never seem to master the art of minimalism when it comes to packing.  This was even more problematic this time since there were books I could not bear to leave behind. In any case, we arrived with three bags, travel worn and disoriented, this last bit due to the exhaustion of the last few days at home.

I am currently reading Travel:  A Literary History by Peter Whitfield, a Eurocentric (by the author's own admission) history of travel writing.  Mr Whitfield's remarks about the inner journey, the transforming experience of traveling and especially travel writing resonated with me since this particular journey to the place where I grew up holds the promise of being exactly that.  Although I grew up in Istanbul and have been traveling back and forth ever since my family moved to the States in the late seventies, this time I will be venturing to new territories.

Is it possible to relive your life all over again? I guess so. Although family obligations necessitated my decision to come to Istanbul, I cannot deny the appeal of studying Byzantine and Ottoman art and culture in situ. So, I am back where I started from but same as Lady Mary "I am now got into a new world where every thing I see appears to me a change of scene, and I write to you ... with some content of mind, hoping at least that you will find the charm of novelty in my letters."

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, The Turkish Embassy Letters, Little Brown Book Group, 1994

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...