There was an earthquake on Monday. I wouldn't have known, personally. I was sitting in the living room with my new quasi-flatmates (okay, I don't live there, but I might as well) and partaking in a zealous debate about whose turn it was to go to the store. Two of us yabancı (foreigners) and two Turks, all digging deep into our creative resources to invent a reason not to make the sweaty trip down.
"I can't go because I don't know which kind of gin you want."
"Don't be lazy. You're the closest one to the door."
"I saw that lady across the street lowering money in a bucket on a rope and shouting to the store guy. Maybe we should do that. Do you have a bucket?"
"I don't think that would work."
"Yeah, someone has to go. But not me. I think I went last time."
"What? You've literally never gone. Ever."
"Well, I'm a foreigner. Maybe they'll overcharge me."
"Nah. But I definitely shouldn't go because... wait, was that an earthquake?"
"No," I said. But I was wrong. I walked into the office the next morning to a flurry of conversation about it- a 5.2 quake centered in the Sea of Marmara, no casualties or destruction as far as I could learn. 5.2 is pretty small, after all. But maybe I didn't look far enough; Googling "Istanbul earthquake" turned out to be a distracting affair, with search results ranging from "Turkey's biggest city braces for massive natural disaster" to "scare-tactic advertisements sell quake-proof flats" to "oh god oh god, we're all going to die." (Maybe not so much the last one). İstanbul, you see, sits almost right on top of the North Anatolian fault line, and it's suffered a big shake-up every century or so for fifteen hundred years, most recently in 1999. Earthquake experts, after fiddling with their Earthquake Dials and pushing some Big Buttons or whatever, have concluded that the next one, a big one (imaginatively named "The Big One") is due by 2030, and it's going to be a monster. 7.6 is a number these seismologists seem fond of bandying about- the same size as the 2001 Gujarat earthquake in India which left 600,000 people homeless.
Let me take this opportunity to introduce a Turkish idiom which is in no way relevant: çayı görmeden paçaları sıvamak, to roll up your pant legs without seeing the brook. It refers, as you might guess, to precautions taken before they're necessary, which is the exact opposite of what most of Istanbul is apparently doing, earthquake-wise.
Oh sure, there's been pressure from the government to improve building standards, and the rich folk of the city are increasingly choosing to live in the northern suburbs, which are meant to be among the least affected areas. But as Okan Tuysuz, a professor of Earth Sciences, told the Guardian in 2006, "about 65% of buildings in Istanbul don't meet the rules and the city is growing too fast for anyone to be able to keep up. Things have improved, but not quickly enough to cope with the problem."
Roll up your pants guys. The brook is right there.
This gloomy entry brought to you by Wednesday Morning.
Labels: Istanbul, Turkey