In Elif Shafak’s book “10 Minutes 38 seconds in This Strange World”, D/Ali asks: “If I were to ask you what the biggest difference is between Western European cities and our cities, what would you say?”
He answers his own question saying that the biggest difference is the burial grounds. “At some point in history,” he says, “Europeans had the brilliant idea of sending the dead to the outskirts of their towns. it wasn’t exactly out of sight, out of mind’, but it was definitely ‘out of sight, out of urban life’.” And like that, the dead were separated from the living. This was very beneficial for them, for when they no longer saw tombstones at every other corner, they “pushed death out of their daily routines” and they could focus on other things, things like inventing new things and colonizing new places… Leila then asks D/Ali: “What about Istanbul?” and he answers:
“It’s different over here. This city belongs to the dead. Not to us. In Istanbul it was the living who were the temporary occupants, the unbidden guests, here today and gone tomorrow, and deep down everyone knew it. With headstones met citizens at every turn – alongside highways, shopping malls, car parks or football fields – scattered in every nook, like a broken string of pearls.” and he says this resulted in people loosing their appetite for innovation, and this caused renovation projects to fail, because people were constantly reminded of death.
This is so true and Elif Shafak very beautifully put it into words. If you’ve been to Istanbul, you can clearly see what she means by “this city belongs to the dead.” Tombstones and cemeteries are everywhere, in the backyards of mosques and near schools and in the middle of universities. I’ve seen the same thing in a few other Turkish cities, and a little bit in Ankara (not much probably because Ankara is a newer city built to match European cities?), in fact there’s a graveyard on the campus of my university.
The presence of tombstones everywhere might indeed have an indirect effect on the lives of people and the way they think like Elif explained. Can you think of other aspects of cities that have similar effects?