(See here for AF background).
Today I went to visit the AF in Istanbul. It’s on the top end of Istiklal next to Taksim. They always have a banner out front listing the various cultural things they have going on throughout the month, and a sign telling you to come in and visit their cafe. However, this AF is really not very welcoming. In order to get in, the French, those traditional lovers of liberty, have posted a guard at the door who barks at you from behind glass: “WHAT DO YOU WANT!”
Oh, I don’t know, you’re promoting a library, French courses, a cafe, a bookshop, an art gallery… could it be one of those? I told the guard I was going to the library. He looked confused and shut down all bodily function for a second as he stared into space, trying to process this information. Finally he motioned, half-stupefied, for me to put my bag though a scanner and walk through a metal detector. Ye gods! What we go through to read French literature! In American libraries, you just walk through the door! No quiz, no scanning. Anyways, in I went.
TOILETS: Just fine. A sign in French and Turkish told us to keep the toilets clean. Two men were outside mopping.
CAFE: An outdoor cafe in the courtyard. For those who like a quick interrogation and search before buying 8TL coffee, this place is un must for summer.
GALLERY: There were some photos of boats and sunsets on the Bosphorus. The scenes were exceedingly cliched, but well done. There were also some terrible red paintings with glitter on them, and some small watercolours of Turkish scenes. There was a guest book in which had been written various comments in broken French in teenage hands.
LIBRARY: A big, cavernous library in the basement, with lots of archways and some screaming kids. I took a few photos and the librarian rushed up to me.
– Vous êtes français?
– Beh non, chuis américain.
The fellow then went on to tell me in broken English that it was “forbidden” to take photos! First off, don’t you think it’s strange that they hire a librarian who doesn’t speak any French? Come on, it’s a French library- the dude should at least learn more French than “Vous êtes français”. Quand même!
I told the fellow in French, hoping that he’s be able to understand bits and pieces if I spoke slowly, that I’d been to a number of AFs- more than he, I daresay- and never had any problem with photos. Oh, he said, but this is not just a library, cafe, art gallery, etc., it’s also the French consulate and full of sensitive material and information!
Let me give you a piece of advice, French! If you have a building housing sensitive materials and documents, it’s probably not a good idea to build a cafe, an art gallery, a library, a children’s playing area, a bookshop, a room to practice the cello in (this I saw and heard), French classes for children 5-14, etc., and then advertise for people to walk in!
I sat and read Riad Sattouf’s Vie secrète des jeunes and did a lot of laughing. I wrote him a letter in 2004, but he never replied. Ah, les stars.
Overall, a paranoid and schizophrenic piece of France right in the middle of Istanbul. Oh, and I still have the photos.
Bonus: Top 5 ways to avoid having people take photos in your consulate:
1. Put up a sign that says “No photos please”.
2. Put up a sign that says “No photos please”.
3. Put up a sign that says “No photos please”.
4. Put up a sign that says “No photos please”.
5. Don’t tell people to come in and have fun drinking coffee, playing music, reading, and running around screaming and then not expect them to take photos.