Orhan Pamuk has written a letter entitled “When the Bosphorus Dries Up” for the New City Reader. It imagines what the Bosphorus will look like when the water has dried up, and it makes for quite a read. For one thing, there’s a certain Black Cadillac belonging to a bandit and his mistress…. Here’s an excerpt, but it’s worth reading in full here. Update: The text appears to be from Pamuk’s The Black Book. I don’t have my copy to check, but it sounded very familiar and a friend also pointed this out to me.
…The Black Sea, we are told, is getting warmer, the Mediterranean colder. As their waters continue to empty into the great caves whose gaping holes lie in wait under the seabed, the same tectonic movements have caused Gibraltar, the Dardanelles, and the Bosphorus to rise. After one of the last remaining Bosphorus fishermen told me how his boat had run aground in a place he had once had to throw in an anchor on a chain as long as a minaret, he asked, Isn’t our prime minister at all interested in knowing why?
I didn’t have an answer for him. All I know is that the water is drying up faster than ever, and soon no water will be left. What is beyond doubt is that the heavenly place we once knew as the Bosphorus will soon become a pitch-black bog, glistening with muddy shipwrecks baring their shiny teeth like ghosts. But at the end of a hot summer, it’s not hard to imagine this bog drying up in some parts while remaining muddy in others, like the bed of a humble river that waters a small town in the middle of nowhere. Nor is it difficult to foresee daisies and green grass growing on slopes irrigated by thousands of leaking sewage pipes. Leander’s Tower will at last become worthy of its name, terrifying us from its giddy heights; in the wild terrain beneath, a new life will begin.
I am speaking now of the new neighborhoods that will take root on this muddy wasteland that we once knew as the Bosphorus, even as city councilors rush here and there waving penalty notices: I speak of shantytowns and shacks, bars, nightclubs, and amusement arcades, of rusty horsedrawn Lunaparks, of brothels, mosques, and dervish lodges, of nests where Marxist splinter groups go to hatch their young and rogue plastics factories turn out nylon stockings for the black market. Amid the doomsday chaos, among toppled wrecks of old City Line ferries will stretch vast fields of bottle caps and seaweed. Adorning the mossy masts of American transatlantic lines that ran aground when the last of the water receded overnight, we shall find skeletons of Celts and Ligurians, their mouths gaping open in deference to the unknown gods of prehistory. As this new civilization grows up amid mussel-encrusted Byzantine treasures, tin and silver knives and forks, thousand-year-old wine corks and soda bottles, and the sharp-nosed wrecks of galleons, I can also imagine its denizens drawing fuel for their lamps and stoves from a dilapidated Romanian oil tanker whose propeller has become lodged in the mud. But that is not the worst of it, for in this accursed cesspool watered by the dark green spray of every sewage pipe in Istanbul, we can be sure that new epidemics will break out among the armies of rats as they explore their new heaven, this drying seabed strewn with turbot and swordfish skeletons and polluted with the mysterious gases that have been bubbling beneath the surface since long before the birth of history….