Situationİst Says Skip the Pre-amble and Just Walk the Walk

By Mark Szawlowski

Earlier this week I resolved to set myself a strict walking regimen for crossing central Beyoğlu, and to follow it to the “t” in the true Situationist spirit that saw practitioners of this surrealist offshoot make topographical tossers of themselves in the glory years of the 60ies. On this occasion, I decided that I would head straight ahead for 100m, take the first left, the first left again, the second right and then walk ahead for a block before randomly purchasing something from the very first commercial premises that appeared on my left. Half an hour later as I furtively left the brothel, I mused over the limitations of this approach to the built environment. Itch notwithstanding, I’ve been a Situationist since long before I’d ever heard the term, and almost before I was old enough to spell it. Getting lost by choice was how I discovered what was to become my plastered playground and carbon monoxide rat-run – London. This is basically a liberating “Ism” in whose locomotive clutches you experience a familiar city afresh. True, the Situationist’s drifting walk, or ‘derivé’ isn’t just another workaday option for the evening like ‘DVD and takeaway’ or ‘Jack Daniels, a ‘38 and one bullet’. No. It demands a certain frame of mind and, moreover, the willingness to embrace wasting your time. In this it has much in common with golf and stock-broking. İstanbul is actually a prime destination for the visiting Situationist and a virtual epiphany for us ‘Situoes’ already living here. Pavements effectively don’t exist, or else dissolve abruptly under a parked car or café table. This makes walking in a straight line a rare occurrence. Which is good news for the more self-conscious among us, who’d still like to give it a try. This, remember, is the city of Suleiman the Magnificent and Gucci the fake. Here, walking about, sporadically changing direction like a beetle that’s had its antennae pulled off by a cruel, lonely child is par for the course. And even where pavements do exist, they’re often shunned for the relative space of the road, which over the the year collectively spells human road kill and gridlock. Even more reasons to sidestep stationary objects. And yes, I know Situationism was about more than simply getting lost in the backstreets of metropolis and mind. Like any other ideological venture, dull people in berets called Claude stroked beards and nodded sagely over cheap wine in various attempts to reinvent the wheel. In fact the whole thing swam in a murderous sea of sociology, tethered to sanctimonious Marxism that emitted as much aura of fun as a politburo reeducation-barbecue circa 1956. But if you skip the pre-amble (no pun intended), the idea of subverting your journey from A to B by inserting points C, F and P simply because you can is quite radically sexy, and well within the UN-defined borders of acceptable madness. Polish Situationists too, will smile knowingly at the appropriateness of that well-known expression, “Czy idzie, czy chodzi, to na jedno wychodzi”. This alas, completely defies translation, but believe me, in its mirth-making wisdom it’s at once hilarious, and a sad indictment of our times. Self conscious walking is a curious experience. Suddenly you notice the height of shop fronts, or perhaps an architectural detail purposely inserted too close to street level to be easily seen. You begin to feel the ebb and flow of bodies brushing and rushing about their business around you as if collectively choreographed. You pause to take in a cat up a tree, noticing a rusty nail protruding from its bark, while a Bosphorus ferry siren provides the soundtrack with seagulls on backup vocals. When the headaches and hallucinations begin though, do seek medical

assistance. Istanbul is a berg of hills ‘n thrills, and systematized hill walking will not only keep you fit, but also take you to some truly remarkable commanding views of city and sea alike. Before a few drinks at one of Beyoğlu’s thirst-slaking wells, why not tram it to Tophane and cross the road to Mimar Sinan University. To the right of this academic fortress of brick and cupola is a steep winding road with skeletal Ottoman window frame ruins on your right, and what bizarrely resemble farmhouses to the left. Meander apolitically up this slope and you end up at the gate of Cihangir’s Sanaklarlar Park, which affords an exquisite panorama of where Bosphorus and Golden Horn meet at the mouth of the Marmara Sea. Compete for a seat with a murder of silky winged crows that abound in the neighborhood and enjoy a sunset before climbing on to a beer. Oh, and if you should see a trembling Cocker Spaniel squatting in the grass, please don’t stare. She’s very self conscious, but friendly with it. Home girl, heel!

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