Missing the train!

Missing the train!

AYLİN ÖNEY TAN aylinonaytan@yahoo.com
Missing the train We order a Californian pink sparkly. We are both thrilled by the ambiance, happy to be here once again. We were able to miraculously grab the corner table on the balcony, which is perfect for feeling the hectic buzz of the passersby. Just overlooking the big hall of Grand Central Station, we feel privileged to be in this spot in New York City and happy to be re-united. The celestial ceiling mural glistens above us, as if giving us a universal star spell.  

My food writer friend Ursula Heinzelmann from Berlin is in town to give a series of talks, and I’m here for a food conference. We catch up, gossip, talk about our problems in life, and plan future collaborations. I suddenly realize that in the mere half-hour or so that we met, we’ve shared more than we ever did. As she rushes for her next destination, another friend from Istanbul arrives. Banu Özden of YESAM is also attending the food conference, and is quite stressed about her presentation on the history of olive oil in Turkey; she needs a drink. We move to the bar and switch to martinis. This must be the best location for a bar, so we decide to stay and nibble bar food instead of having a full dinner. Still jet-lagged and deprived of sleep, the night would be short for me anyway. The building steals the talk; as we chatted about several things, we ended up talking about railway stations and as typical of Turkish citizens, the politics and the horror of the construction craze overtaking Istanbul. 

There is something in this building that gives one a sense of unification. I realize that with Banu we hardly talk about such issues in depth. It is so sad that our glorious Haydarpaşa train station is closed down for the time being, and who knows what it will be like when it’s reopened. The rumors that it will be converted into a hotel have never really been denied; it would be such a pity if the building is stripped of its original context. I like to call Haydarpaşa as the place where Asia ends. The railway coming all the way from the east, practically goes into the U-shaped building and when you pass through the big entrance hall and leave the building, the stairs lead toward the seashore and there is nowhere else to go but cross the sea to the European side. Asia is left behind, and your next destination is to cross the sea to reach Europe. This is the most unique location for a railway station, and this context of arriving at the farthest point at the tip of Asia will be completely gone if the railway no longer comes into the building. It will be just another horribly restored/converted five-star hotel with glittery decor, but the old, worn-out charm of the past will be totally gone. I sadly recall my daily ritual of 18 years ago when I was in charge of the restoration of the Imperial Mint building across from the Archaeology Museum. After a long working day, I would walk down through the Gülhane gardens to the Sirkeci station and have a cold beer in the restaurant watching over the train to Europe slowly filling up with passengers with their heavy suitcases. I would then take the ferry up the Bosphorus to Bebek, and have another beer on the deck (and yes, two decades ago you could buy beer on ferries in Istanbul). I do not remember when I last dined at Haydarpaşa station, but I used to like the place, with its bizarre mix of sleepy drunkards and families with children waiting for their pullman. Both buildings cannot be compared to the station of the Big Apple of course, and their almost shabby dining choices are nothing compared to the ones at Grand Central Station which boasts perfect dining options – 35 places in total. Having celebrated its centennial birthday last year, Grand Central Station is still boasting life, is more vivid then ever and marks moments of memory in the life of millions every other year.

Thinking of all these, I suddenly realize that we’ve missed the train!

We missed the train to our past, losing all connection with our memories. Our places of memory are rapidly vanishing; all we will be left with soon will be an illusion of the past, with the train long gone...  

Bite of the week

Cork of the Week: In my mind a martini with olives is a truly New Yorker. The Commodore Vanderbilt Martini, named after a railway empire tycoon, was complete with fat olives stuffed with blue cheese, and pleasantly salty with olive juice. Ketel One was my choice of vodka, to commemorate the Dutch origin of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the steely coolness of the clear booze matched perfectly with the legacy of the railway web creator.