The phantom of the Bosphorus tunnel

The phantom of the Bosphorus tunnel

The phantom of the Bosphorus tunnel There is a ghost in the Marmaray, the tunnel under the Bosphorus. I will explain.

I don’t know if you have heard of the “Marmaray.” The Marmara is the name of the sea, “ray” in Turkish means rail, so it’s like “Marmarail.” It connects two continents, Asia and Europe, under the sea. (The two suspension bridges over the Bosphorus have already connected the two continents over the land.)
Well, it has been more than a year since the Marmaray was opened and began operating. But for silly reasons, I and people like me have not ridden it yet. Well, actually not even paid any attention to it.

We, the dissident Turks, the ones who do not like this government, have conspired to transport our negative feelings toward this regime all the way to this technological achievement of the century, two railroad tunnels built under the strait.  

One reason for the dissociated feeling was that we have been pushed away, alienated and hated by the government so much that, in return, we indeed became “the other.” This marvelous accomplishment which belongs to all of us looked as if it was “theirs.”

Second, there was a lot of black propaganda. There were many reports, rumors that it was not safe because the government just wanted to open the tube early for political reasons before it was ready. This happened on the fast train to Ankara where dozens died in a 2004 accident when unsuitable rails caused a derailment. You would expect that from this government.

We heard that the project manager of the Marmaray quit because he was forced to do things against technology. You know, these guys are Islamists and they do not understand technology. I still have doubts about its safety but I took a shot...

I took the metro from Göztepe station, on the Asian side. Because the project is not complete, there are only a couple of stations. The crowd in the train was coming from Kartal, Maltepe and further inland on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. The metro network in Istanbul is not like the Moscow metro or the London underground. It is new, brand new. It has not had the time to develop its own rituals like the petting of the bronze dog in the Ploshchad Revolyutsii station in Moscow. Or where everybody pretends to know what they are doing with some “British coolness” on the London underground. Here, under Istanbul, there were those who knew what they were doing. Then there were first-timers like me. You could immediately spot the first timers from the stupid looks on their faces.

Let me tell you how I felt. First, some kind of a national pride – I don’t know where it was coming from – spread over me. The link was actually the dream of a city, the dream of a nation, for centuries. It was too bad that this government monopolized it.

From the days since I was a young journalist, the tunnel under the Bosphorus has been planned, programmed and discussed. I remember interviewing Istanbul Technical University (İTÜ) professors; it looked like an engineer’s fantasy that was not possible or realistic. But it was here, quite real.

After Göztepe, Ünalan and Acıbadem stations, I switched trains at Ayrılık Çeşmesi, which is the historic “Separation Fountain.” It is the place where Ottoman armies would conduct their last training and camp at the İbrahimağa pasture before they set out on a campaign. It was also the sendoff point for the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is a farewell place for any occasion. If a civil servant is appointed to Anatolia, his family, neighbors, friends would come and see him off from this place.

My late mother said it was where sweethearts were sent off to their military services. I wonder if my mother sent off her fiancé (my father) to his military service here. Also I wonder if my grandmother said farewell here to my grandfather going on the hajj, actually seeing him for the last time because he died there, orphaning my toddler mother and baby uncle. I will never know.

Anyway, this Ayrılık Çeşmesi, the separation fountain station, is the end or beginning of the tunnel on the Asian side. I texted my husband when I boarded the train, telling him to pray for me: “I am going underwater.”  

It was exciting; the whole journey was brilliant, fast, new, and very, very worthy of pride. I am so proud we did it; it does not matter who is the president. Well done to all of us.

As a side note, this rather belated pride in the Marmaray reminded me of the bitterness that was imposed on us when Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize. We could not rejoice with whole-hearted pride. The whole country treated it like a disaster and him like a traitor. This unbelievable achievement for a country like Turkey was … I mean, just remember the Eurovision victory and finishing third at the 2002 World Cup. (Third place, guys.) I think we owe an apology and a hero’s welcome to Orhan Pamuk.

And I owe myself a fully recognized celebration. With this mentality in power, it will be at least 150 more years before any Turkish citizen comes anywhere near the Nobel Prize again… The poor guy, that evening, went to a modest Galatasaray restaurant with a couple of friends, followed by cameras, after a brief press statement in front of his apartment building…

Anyway, back to the metro…

I was having these feelings; you know, excitement and disbelief that I was going under the Bosphorus below sea level, under the water. I was also trying to look cool so my excitement did not show to those hardened commuters.

In this combination of joy, disbelief, admiration and pride, there is a moment you go into a trance, this was the moment when...

I was looking out of the window of the Marmaray; there is nothing to see when you are going under the sea, and it is dark out there. I was looking and I saw my dead mother. I looked again. Well it was my own reflection which, due to old age, looked more and more like my mother. (The more I and my sister are trying not to become like our mother, as fate would have it, the more we, especially me – to the horror of my husband – physically and somehow in character become more like her.) Oh God, my mother was there looking at me from the dark walls of the Marmaray tunnel. (When I put on a headscarf, I look directly like my grandmother. So, I will try that next time I am on the Marmaray.)

Go take the 10-15 minute journey on the underground, from Asia to Europe or vice versa. Enjoy it, feel the twinges of history, the civilizations of Istanbul’s underground, feel this sad nation’s passion, its pride while experiencing in every millimeter the technological excellence mankind has reached. Also make yourself aware of the fact that you are overriding the restrictions imposed on you by a political power, that this is the normalcy of being a citizen in your own country. If you focus hard enough, you may reach that trance moment where you may or may not see your dead mother or dead father or grandparents in the reflection of your own self in the glass...

Ride the Marmaray, look out of the window in the middle of the Bosphorus… It’s surreal.