Thursday, June 08, 2006


I once heard an Italian song about the Bysantium of the end of the Greek
era, sung by Italian pop singer Francesco Guccini. I'll try to reproduce
here a (probably not too accurate) English version of the lyrics.

"Tonight again the moon rose,
drowned into a vague and purple glow.
Venus is invisible, dim and blurred,
the tip of the stylus is broken,
what horoscope can you draw tonight, Magus?
I Filemazos, astronomer, mathematician,
protophysician, and perhaps wise,
fumbling about like a blind man,
I do not have the knowledge nor the courage
to draw an horoscope, to divine a response
and I should convene that
I am perhaps just to old to understand.
Maybe I lost my mind
in I don't know what complacency or boredom,
or perhaps the stars are changing
in the equinoctial nights.
Or perhaps I underestimated a new god.
I walked slowly almost unconsciously
down to the Bosphorus harbor,
where the land disappears into the sea
almost to nothingness
and then it's land again and it's no longer the West.
I heard the obscene songs of the drunkards,
of people with painted and empty stares.
Horse races, brothels, and nordic soldiers:
Romans, Greeks, cry out, where did you go?
I heard cursing in Alemannic and Gothic.
Absurd city, strange town,
with its husband-of-a-bitch emperor,
with immense populations,
labyrinths and impious deeds,
city of barbarians who perhaps already know the truth.
City of philosophers and courtesans,
suspended between two worlds and between two eras."

No longer Bysantium but Istanbul, still suspended between the worlds and the ages.

I am finally in my element again: a city of more than ten millions on the sea and summer in the air. One of the things I like the most is walking in a crowded large city. This works really well with most cities of the old continents, made for the pace of human walk and not for car traffic (which is endlessly jammed). One can take in the city, read it, learn it, while walking. The flow of information fills you in at just the right rythm to enjoy the change of surroundings: the shops in small side streets, the tea stalls at busy intersections, people resting on the grass of public parks, vendors of fish sandwiches by the harbour, bridges, temples and minarets, old and new palaces. In large cities I like riding the bus or the underground at rush hour. I dislike taxi cabs. I like the human hordes that swarm down the main artheries of communication and crowd at the focal points of long daily commutes. I am a big city animal, at ease in my natural environment. There are cities that have grown to meet us from the infinite depth of time: Nineveh, Alexandria, Bisantium, Xi'an. There are new cities less than a century old like Shanghai, and there is all that lies in between up the river of history. Each layer of existence of a city communicates something to us in whispers, audible only to those who walk its roads at the slow pace of human feet.

Scientific Research and Science Policy in Turkey from CEMOTI