Artist Profile
Your friend the enemy

Chapter 1 – Hello My Friend

There was plenty of think-time on a 24hr flight for eleven artists from Australia and New Zealand as they embarked from antipodean shores on Anzac Day 2014. Exactly 99 years after the landings on the Gallipoli peninsula, setting out to explore for themselves the very locations handed down in Anzac lore, and remembered with the mournful notes of the Last Post at cenotaphs around both countries since then. Several family connections, direct and indirect, echo down the years, including that of Idris Murphy. His grandfather’s wartime letters have given the venture its title, ‘Your Friend The Enemy’, thanks to the exchanges between the Turkish and Australian soldiers as they swapped tobacco and tea across the trenches.

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After 24 hours in cattle class, Turkey begins with an amorphous throng at Ataturk airport. Visitors clutching their e-visa printouts spill out of the labyrinthine race into battle, jostling to get through immigration. From time-to-time, a friendly official comes across the frontline and lets the troops through to the near-empty Turkish nationals section, and the tension bursts with a rumble of wheeled carry-ons and linguistic babylon.

Outside the Customs portal modern Turkey awaits; a rack of ATMs, 10 banks or more, and at the taxi rank sits a line of brand new yellow Fiat sedans. Ali, of course, is waiting for me in his bone pin-stripe, immaculately tonsured but no tie. Newly smooth tarmacadam glides us towards the district of Fatih, a cluster of cargo ships anchored in the bay where the Sea of Marmara becomes the Bosphorus. Several of the Princes Islands are visible through the soupy mix of morning mist and pollution haze emanating from a city that has become 15 million strong. The panoply of domes and minarets piercing the horizon from Topkapi marks it unmistakably as the fabled Istanbul (not Constantinople). The 9am muezzin cry, bounces slightly out of sync between competing mosques, giving a haunting multi-track descant to welcome the weary travellers to a new reality: the cross-roads of Europe and Asia in more ways than just its geography.

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Walking through Sultanahmet it is hard not to get drawn into the chaos of the university flea market. Africans selling fabric and wooden carvings side by side with kebab vendors and Syrian beggars fleeing the civil war across the southern border. In Topkapi the tourist trade is hitting peak season between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, two icons of the city’s polyglot religious history. On the descent past the palace’s outer walls to the ferry docks, not far from the old Orient Express terminus, conjuring early 20th Century visions of luxury steam train travel. A pair of Muslim clerics dodge huge gulls as they shuffle at a fast trot in their robes towards a tram ride back up the incline.

‘Hello my friend,’ says a voice behind me. Another Ali, this time a carpet salesman has a friend in Newtown who married an Australian girl. He wants to know what life is like in Sydney. ‘And by the way, would you like to see my shop?’

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By the time the entire travelling brood gather for dinner later that night there are many streetwise tales to share. A vanishing laptop complete with passport, a three-card trick from the shoeshine boys to liberate some lira, and the burgeoning success of the clothing salesmen outside the hotel that see at least two of our tribe wearing the same blue and red jackets to fend off the humid funk of springtime in the capital.

A long-table dinner begins in the rooftop bar of the Burkin Hotel just as dusk falls. The foreground is dominated by the domes of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and as the city lights up towards sunset, huge vistas looking across to the Galata Tower show a collision between ancient and modern, Byzantine architecture side-by-side with suspension bridges glittering with LED lights in the distance. Over dinner there is a cacophony of introductions. Glasses clink and smash, people fall asleep, and general chaos ensues as the sense of expectation – mixed with profound alienation for some – unfolds. The journey has begun.

One Comment

  1. Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    nice post

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