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Situationİst Says, Wow, that’s really “….

The march of time, together with over - or plain misuse has a tendency to turn even the
strongest words into linguistic road kill. ‘Naughty’ overheard in Elizabethan England brought
a blush to refined faces. Nowadays the “C” word is the new black. And this is never more the
case, I argue, than with the word “surreal”.

Any matter of the slightest weirdness, or a joke that even peeks beyond regular convention as
often as not earns this moniker. And while ‘surreal’ somehow remains a badge of honour –
just - it’s as threadbare a cliché as that three-by-two reproduction of Dali’s ‘Sleep’ that
bedecks every undergraduate dorm,
as familiar a crutch of its
environment as unwashed smalls and
pot noodles. A critic once wrote that
nothing looked less surreal to him
than an actual item of surreal art.
And while he never worked again,
criticism was in its infancy and his
point remains. These days even an
advert for haemorrhoid cream in a
Saga Holiday brochure won’t kick
ass unless it features a burning
snowman pointing at a levitating
statue of Eva Peron. We’re all
permanently surrealed-out. Still, as
clichés go, it’s forgivable, even
though the real surrealist fathers
(being surreal there were no mothers, although one had an uncle) tired of the inky baggage it
had accumulated by the early 1920s. Also, naturally enough perhaps, certain objects and
locations seem to archetypically lend themselves to surreal comparison and aura. Mirrors and
corners are surreal. Monday morning, cats and body odour are not, and will feature in my
subsequent piece on deconstructionism. So why not ‘drift’ around İstanbul like a 1960s
PsychoGeographer and try to root ‘em out? Do this alone in a bowler hat for that alienated
Magritte experience, or else with an associate equally louche of mind, perhaps dragging a live
lobster on a ribbon behind you. Yep, Dali again. To facilitate your session however, allow me
to load your cerebral brush with myriad hues from the urban palette so that you may simply
“ooo-and-ahh” your way above İstanbul’s streets of crocodiles and steam trains, past faceless
Venuses on Bosphorus ferries and melting Simit sellers (fresh twice daily). Lobsters at the
ready. The very streets themselves, if you squint hard enough, are your portal to beyond the
real. Yet it helps the imagination to have less, and not more to focus on. The pavement
running from Beşiktas to Kabataş is closed on the left hand side to vertiginous height by the
walls of Dolmabahçe Palace. Lean against the wall with both hands and contemplate your
frail mortality in a vain ‘tilting against windmills’ gesture. Now imagine the wall is actually
pushing back. Also, the brick pavement itself, laid just last year, is so appallingly bad that in
or after rain it seethes organically underfoot with a telluric life of its own, drenching your
socks with its lifeblood. Down the road, Eminönü is not only a port neighbourhood, but a
Valhalla for deadbeat traders peddling hopeless products. Individual cigarettes sold from
packs opened when the city had a population of 750,000, gruesome musical toys that would
destroy a four-year-old’s faith in its parents, and ballooning ladies’ underwear stretched out in
the bare hands of an unshaven hawker most kindly described as demented. These collectively
pack more surreal punch than a bowlful of melting clocks (ants included). Surrealists were
famously nature-intolerant, avoiding it the way a junkie avoids a square meal. In this they
completely missed the essentially surreal nature of a cow. You can do better though, as you
relish İstanbul’s Belgrade Forest or Park Orman on a wet Sunday afternoon. And to heighten
the effect, just imagine the swaying canopy of naked branches above you is a rhinoceros
selling sheet music to Archduke Ferdinand. Then take yourself off to Miniyatürk, the city’s
“Honey, I shrank the country” extravaganza. Here, in Cheech and Chong slo-mo, you may
bridge Hagia Sofia to the ruins of Ephesus in three strides without lighting up. İstanbul, eh?
Surreal.

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