Thanks to the New York Times, I could see a diagram of Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport and the precise points where suicide bombers Tuesday spread death and destruction.
Yes, there’s where we picked up our bags in January. There is the arrival hall, where we waited for our driver. Here are the main doors we walked through to get to our shuttle.
They say travel makes the world smaller. That it widens your horizons. That it sparks an appreciation for the sheer wonder of this globe.
What they don’t tell you is that travel can make you grieve, too.
On the day after we left Istanbul for Greece in January, a suicide bomber detonated himself near a group of German tourists visiting Sultanahmet Square. Less than 48 hours earlier, we’d stood at that very spot gawking at a 3,500-year-old Egyptian obelisk and marveling at the thundering beauty of the famed Blue Mosque.
Too close for comfort.
I am not going to make this a “God’s will” thing, blathering on that I must be blessed because I passed through these places and survived. (Frankly, I find that reaction offensive, though I also acknowledge that it’s a very human thing to try to find some sense of order in tragedy.) But being there does change my perspective.
So many times the media coverage of distant, far away destruction remains precisely that: distant and far away. From havoc in Brussels to the grim aftermath of Orlando, I am touched by tragedy, but these places I’ve never been still manage to retain some element of abstraction. I have no eyewitness reference to process the scope or scale of calamity.
Several months later, I’m further removed in terms of time frame from the Istanbul airport bombing, but the emotional impact feels nearly the same as learning about the Sultanahmet Square bombing. The images I see from the scene at the airport, both photographs and video, are of places that were part of my own corporeal experience. My reaction shifts from the abstract to the concrete.
I loved visiting Istanbul. I want to go back. It is a glorious city steeped in the architecture and history of three major world empires. The food, noise, sights, crowds and culture are all-encompassing. I can still taste the baklava, feel the winds on the Bosphorus, hear the calls to prayer. The city is home to The Museum of Innocence, a small institution that had a profound effect on me.
I am sad for the residents of the city, some of whom rely heavily on tourists for their livelihoods, and for the stress of living under a terror watch. I am sad that many visitors will decide never to come because it is too dangerous, missing out on a chance to see one of the world’s great cities.
I am sad so many people died.
But I won’t stop traveling. I want to see as much of the world as I can. I can only hope that the places I love can stand strong against the maddening destructiveness of ignorance and hate.
Donald Munro’s Istanbul articles