Sunday, November 4, 2012

Apocolypse Any Moment Now

The Earthquake, the big one I mean, the one that's coming to kill us all, is something that's been on my mind a lot lately.

Maybe it's the weather. The weather these days is disconcerting. It's not just the unseasonable warmth. It's this weird feeling in the air. A pressure, a moisture, a dark heat like you're in the eye of the hurricane and something is about to break wide open.

The Earthquake came up on Facebook the other day, and my dad commented with something like, "The earthquake for us is kind of like crib death when you were a baby."


I wasn't here for the 1999 earthquake. I visited Turkey for the first time a year after, when people still teared up just thinking about it and their words choked in their throats. They talked about people who had been trapped and made it, and people who hadn't made it. They talked about the smell of corpses that lingered for weeks and shivering in their cars and waiting waiting waiting for news. I was staying on the side of the Marmara near the epicenter, and it was still a rubbled mess, almost impossible to tell what was being built and what had been knocked down. The buildings that were standing reminded me of teeth, a few in a row there like nothing had happened and then a gap where one was missing.

The thing about the Earthquake is that you don't talk about it, not much anyway. It's a back-of-the-mind terror that's always there, but one that will make you crazy if you keep worrying about it. You tell yourself that worrying about the Earthquake all the time is like worrying about getting hit by a bus or getting cancer. It's something that can happen to you at any second and there's fuck all you can do about it.

When I first came here, I like everyone else, practiced a modicum of earthquake safety. Since I lived in a basement flat, I figured getting trapped without water was the only thing I had any control over, so I kept a few large bottles filled with water and a teaspoon of bleach that I refilled regularly. I knew where my passport was. I had a few candles.

Later, when I started living on the upper floors, I figured I would die anyway so why bother getting all freaked out about it?

Good stuff.
The other day, a friend posted this article from the Atlantic. The focus is more on the political and economic quagmire the Earthquake causes here, just by thinking about it and trying to prepare a bit. Here are some fun facts:

"In Istanbul, where I live, politicians are in a race against time, and time is winning by about three years. The vast city is as vulnerable to earthquakes as Los Angeles, but not as prepared. Istanbul is very close to the North Anatolian Fault, which runs beneath the Marmara Sea, and whose most significant break is said to occur every 500 years. The last time the fault broke, the city was ruined. Landmarks collapsed; thousands died; and the city walls, famous for halting invasions, were useless against floodwaters. That quake, nicknamed "the Little Apocalypse," hit in 1509, 503 years ago." 

Thanks a fucking lot, Ağaoğlu.
"There is no feasible evacuation plan, and green spaces that could be used for disaster relief are being steadily consumed by development projects. The issue is not the safety of the houses, but the number of them. Irfanoglu expressed similar worries at the end of our conversation, after a barrage of his own alarming facts had worked him up emotionally: "Nobody knows what's going to happen, but if there is any strong shaking in Istanbul you should get out. Because if you survive the earthquake, it would be very difficult to get out. It's our worst nightmare. Sometimes I look at the news and I just hope there's nothing about an Istanbul earthquake." Yaltirak was more succinct: "They want Pompeii to grow."  "

Unofficially, there are close to 20 million people in Istanbul. When the Earthquake comes, it's not inconceivable that the final death toll will be in the millions. Three million? Five? Seven? What's that going to feel like?

I don't even have the right outfit.
After I read this article, I watched part of the first season of Walking Dead. It wasn't such a good idea. I've always thought that in any sort of apocalyptic nightmare, I'd prefer to be one of the ones who gets killed right at the beginning rather than go through the whole survivalist thing just to die in the end anyway.

That night as I was dozing off, I thought about what I would do if the Earthquake happened right then. The water bottle was almost empty, I had 20 lira in my wallet and LE was across town at his grandparents'.

I am just one of millions of people barely keeping on top of life, forgetting to go to the bank and unable to find a convenient time to wait for the water guy.

A friend of mine once met a Japanese earthquake expert who came to tour Istanbul and evaluate the situation here. The expert's advice? "Buy lime, and lots of it."

When you look across the hundreds of thousands of rooftops and windows in Istanbul and think about each life that's happening inside all those houses, each bit of drama, sickness, joy, TV-watching, angst, sneaking a wank, boiling rice, brushing hair, ennui, arguments, looking for a pen, waiting for phone calls and on and on and on and on...

It makes me feel like pitching my tent in nihilism country or clinging desperately to every little piece of it. I can't tell which one.

So with that, give me something to look forward to and say something nice about my blog here at Expat Blogs because apparently they're keeping track.


Nomad said...

I also worry about this thing a bit too often. I think I should buy a tent and some supplies but then if the whole city is like that, how long would they last? And how would I defend what I have from people who are strong or more in number? I would probably give what I have to the first sad sack that came along anyway.

I recall when Izmir had three fairly sizable quakes in a week. The whole atmosphere of city changed. A weird sense of community and people that NEVER spoke to one another on the street were now babbling away a mile a minute. People would stand outside for hours until somebody worked up the courage to run inside to their apts for something. Telephone chargers, mostly.

You and son can walk down to Izmir if nothing else. If you don't mind lots of ramen noodles.

Stranger said...

I've just added İzmir to my list of places to walk to. I suspect I'd like it better there than Bulgaria anyway.

Anonymous said...

The post is in polish, but the quote I wanted to share is in english. You know there was a tiny little unfelt 3.8 earthquake on Oct. 19th?

Stranger said...

I heard about the Oct. 19 earthquake, but didn't feel it...

I love that Orhan Pamuk quote. It does kind of capture one of the ways of dealing with it, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

The comment posting machine ate my comment, so I will try to write it again.

That quote does capture it and this is what i was doing after I came here: thinking about it constantly. And then it kind of went away from my thoughts and prego: a 3.8. Btw, nobody felt it except for the scribbling machines.

Stranger said...

I've felt quite a few tremors since I've been here. Every time, I just tell myself the tremors are making the fault happy, and helping it let off steam so it won't have to do a big angry shake later on...

paul said...

I was in the 99 quake - to be honest, I don't think that I really recovered from the fear and terror of that night for years, even though I was in Yenimahalle and well away from where all the destruction was happening. I used to wake up at 3.17 regularly for ages after. I remember a saturday class where half the group's chairs were empty - they'd all had holiday homes in the epicentre.

Nomad said...

Paul, I used to work in Adapazari long before the quake. (It was pretty desperate even then!) and every place you looked there was evidence of shoddy construction. Spaghetti bundles of electric wires plastic-strapped to the sides of building, covered in car exhaust dust is one image (though I admit it isn't very structural)

Although I had already moved out of the are and was well away from the disaster, I heard from a friend that my apartment building was one of the one's flattened.
I am still chilled to the bone when I think of the times I taught second conditionals. What would you do if there was an earthquake? It was standard stuff, of course, but it still gives me the creeps.