İstanbul Thoughts by Barbara Nadel

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Just back from the golden city on the Bosphorus. As always I come home with a bewildering array of impressions. On the one hand I had a fantastic time seeing old friends, wandering the lesser known boroughs and having one fabulous (and free) night at the iconic Pera Palas Hotel. On the other hand however, a lot of death has happened since I was last in the city. A friend’s young brother, a soldier, has been killed by PKK terrorists in the East; a woman I knew in central Anatolia has died of cancer while a strange American woman on the periphery of my circle allowed herself to be led into an early and painful death by a corrupt alternative healer based in Hawaii. My Turkish ‘family’ has its ups and downs and its oddities just like its British equivalent. Of course it does. It’s just that when one isn’t around all the time, such experiences become all the more intense. There was a lot of talk but also, on my part, a lot of thinking too. I didn’t just get a free room at the Pera Palas for no reason.

Officially, the Pera Palas, the hotel where passengers from the Orient Express ( Paris – İstanbul) used to stay, was giving me the Agatha Christie room in return for a book talk I agreed to perform in the bar. This duly happened, was very well attended and the hotel management were very pleased. But I was doing more than just singing for my supper. This was a research visit, embarked upon with a view to writing a murder mystery set in the Pera Palas featuring Çetin İkmen, Mehmet Suleyman and possibly Arto Sarkissian too. But I didn’t really know quite how this was going to manifest when I went there. Now I do.

People sometimes ask me why I always feel it is necessary to visit all the places I write about in my books. I think that some people think that maybe I’m just having some sort of wild jolly-up – albeit, most of the time, at my own expense. I can see how that impression can be given. But I also know that my research trips, be they to Turkey, the USA or wherever, are always purposeful and never in vain. Until I got to the Pera Palas I didn’t know what kind of mystery I was going to write. It would take place in the hotel, yes, but who would be killed, why and in what sort of time frame?

I spent a lot of time wandering the hotel corridors and thinking weird thoughts in Agatha’s old room. I slept little and found myself constantly bothered by ideas that were sparked off either by the view from my balcony, the comings and goings in the restaurants and bars down below or just my own head grabbing hold of every second of time I had there to work things through. Now I’ve been and come back, I know what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. But that is only because that place and the atmosphere it had just pre-Christmas, told me what to do.

In my head, in part, I am still in İstanbul and will be for quite some time to come. That’s how it goes with me. I go there and get all the latest ‘gossip’ both national and personal and somehow things come, sometimes from the most surprising sources. You want to know what I’m going to be doing to İkmen this time! I can tell you, it shocked even me.

So author trips or ‘jolly-ups’ or whatever you like to call them, do actually have a function and I for one am not about to stop doing them. Who knows where I’ll end up in 2012?

And talking of which, Happy Christmas to all those who celebrate, and Happy 2012 to everyone. Inşallah it will be a lot better than 2011.

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