It is with great pleasure that we introduce an article sent to us by our dear reader Anna, who we had the honor of meeting in person, in the company of her husband Philip, a few weeks ago here in Istanbul.
The Power of Imagination to Shape Reality: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Imagine being in Istanbul, specifically in Beyoğlu, and entering an old house in the neighborhood of Çukurcuma; a beautiful three-story building has been well restored with dark red walls, at the corner of Avenue and Çukurcuma Dalgic Sokak. It is now a museum, but once, in the 1970’s and 80’s, there lived a family Keskin: the young and beautiful Füsun with his parents.
Here Kemal Basmacı spent most of his evenings with this family, for the love of Füsun, were he had collected hundreds of small objects; furnishings, clothes, photos, newspaper clippings, and documents preserved with care over many years, because they contained the memory of all the most intense moments of his shocking and unfortunate love story. In this house Kemal lived the last years of his life (he died in 2007) surrounded by all of his treasured momentos, with the desire to organize them and exhibit them to the world. In this house he dreamed to be able to tell visitors not only its history, but also of daily life in Istanbul during the city’s most beloved years.
I believe that with this state of mind we should enter the Museum of Innocence, with the pleasant and seductive illusion that everything in this place is as it was. Of course, the rational part of us knows that it is fiction and that the museum is an integral part of a 10 year project carried out by Turkish writer and 2006 Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The novel, “The Museum of Innocence” was published in 2008, the museum itself was inaugurated in April 2012, and soon after, the catalog entitled “The Innocence of the Objects” was printed last November.
In a few months, the museum has already become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, with many thousands of visitors. However, when Basmacı asked Pamuk to realize the novel as a museum, he determined that the exhibit should not allow more than fifty guests at a time, and, therefore, you can enjoy peace of mind that the special atmosphere is preserved inside.
The help of architects, artisans and other specialists in Pamuk’s detailed curation greatly enhances the exhibits: the stairs that ascend through the three-story home follow a continuous line of 83 wooden boards (the number of chapters in the novel, although some are still closed because they are not finished). Most of the paintings and objects (more than 700, all of which are mentioned in the book) appear to us arranged in actual compositions. Everything – the wise choice of light and played in some parts of the museum, the spiral drawn on the floor of the ground floor (which represents the flow of time and the unfolding of the story), the ascension to the top of the house that allows you to watch the whole museum – everything contributes to the creation of a very special and charming experience.
Finding the bulletin board objects that have marked the story of Kemal and Füsun also means learning a bit of the recent history of Istanbul, and about the life lived in the house until a few years ago. The Museum of Innocence is not only the place in which the love story of two young men (on which I will not dwell, referring to the numerous reviews and interviews available) is told. It is also, and perhaps above all, an act of love from Pamuk to the city where he was born and has always lived. A gift to the quarters of his childhood and youth, where he dreamt for years of setting his novel in that old house and one day turning it into a museum.
In Istanbul a museum dedicated to the city in these terms is an absolute novelty.
Even though the exposure can be enjoyable in itself, my advice is still to visit after reading the novel (among other things, admission (25 lira) is free when you bring the book…the clerk stamps the museum’s logo on the ticket drawn in one of the last pages of the book). I believe that the knowledge of the text – which will help you develop an understanding of even broader issues such as social customs in Istanbul at the time, the conservation of objects in small museums, the sense of time, happiness,and especially love – is crucial for fully understanding the contents of the museum and appreciating the originality of the whole project. In which the delicate overlap between fiction and reality, between places of history and neighborhoods of the city, between the protagonist and author, can not win readers and visitors more carefully. The full catalog admirably narrates the genesis and development of this adventure from the novel to the museum… from the first idea originated in 1982 until today.
At the museum and along the narrow Postacılar Sokagi, which departs from Istiklal Caddesi towards the Bosphorus and continues with Tom Tom Kaptan Sokak (street overlooked by the Italian Consulate), you can find Çukurcuma Caddesi by the homonymous hammam. From here you can see, a hundred yards away, the lovely dark red corner building , dating back to 1897 and purchased by Pamuk in 1999.
Only a ten minute walk from the busy and bustling Istiklal, with its palaces and fine shops, one can arrive at the heart of Çukurcuma, a quiet neighborhood, abandoned since the 70’s and in the process of rennovation, made fascinating by the numerous antique shops and second-hand dealers. These old shops are open along the main roads. Visitors can browse through old furniture and see the houses of Istanbul before its transformation toward modernity. Pamuk even bought pieces for the museum exhibit in some of these stores to accompany those reproduced by skilled artisans and other collaborators for his ambitious project.
A secondary reason to not forego the Museum of Innocence is that the museum itself has the ability to bring the characters and situations to life by using real places in the city as a stage: not only the museum building and the streets that surround it, but also in the streets of Nisantasi, a stylish area north of Taksim Square where most of the novel takes place, or the old wooden houses of Fatih – district west of the Golden Horn that is strongly anchored to the Islamic tradition – or even the Yalı along the Bosphorus.
Moreover, almost all of Pamuk’s novels are set in the streets of Istanbul in which he has lived, with the difference that , in this case, as stated on the cover of the Italian edition of the catalog, “Orhan Pamuk has created what seemed exclusive only to wizarding fairy tales or the Genius of the Thousand and One Nights. He took what existed between the pages of his latest novel and turned it into something material, physical… a space to explore with all our senses: he built the Museum of Innocence. A unique place in the world, an enchanted treasure in the heart of Istanbul: the celebration of love, memory, and the power of imagination to shape reality.”
On this website you can find all the information on content, initiatives, opening hours and reservations concerning the Museum of Innocence: www.masumiyetmuzesi.com
One last thing. In the novel, Kemal states: “The Museum of Innocence will always be open for lovers who can not find a place to kiss in Istanbul.” I have also kissed someone I love on the top floor, facing the bed of love meetings between Kemal and Füsun that Kemal carried up there because the museum was always his home. And it was great.
Anna Rita Severini