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January 23, 2013, Wednesday

The donkey library (1)

Some 45 years ago the German geographer Arno Peters redrew the familiar map of the world using a projection which made countries of equal size actually appear of equal size as they didn't in traditional maps.

The Peters Projection never really caught on. However, it did overturn the idea that there was only one way to depict the world, and last week it occurred to me that one could do something similar with the map of İstanbul. We all know what the standard map of the sprawling city looks like, but were it to be redrawn according to the touristic experience, it would look very different. Some 80 percent of the city, for example, would consist of Sultanahmet. Another 10 percent would be made up of Beyoğlu, and 5 percent of the Bosporus. The rest of the city would barely feature at all.

Certainly Maltepe on the Asian side of the city would be nowhere in this touristic representation of the city. Let's face it: In the 20-plus years that I've been exploring İstanbul, Asian Maltepe has never got a look in with me either. Then last week I found myself boarding the 19B from Kadıköy and heading out into deepest suburbia.

And what had brought on this sudden interest in the city's remoter reaches? Well, a little corner of the Hezen Hotel in Ortahisar actually. There, some months ago, I'd spotted a black-and-white photograph of a man with a donkey, its panniers full of books. “He was my grandfather,” explained hotel owner, Hakan Güzelgöz. “He brought a mobile library to Cappadocia. There's a statue of him in İstanbul.”

At once my ears were pricking up and they only drooped a little again when I learned that the statue was on the campus of Maltepe University. Luckily last Sunday was a bright and cheerful winter day and my friend Julie was free to accompany me in the direction of Maltepe. Unluckily, the 19B didn't actually go to the campus on a Sunday. “But you can get a minibus there,” the driver assured us. At Maltepe we disembarked with a student who told us that we needed the Cezaevi (Prison) minibus. Perhaps this also doesn't run on a Sunday. Anyway, after watching hopelessly as many non-Cezaevi minibuses whizzed by we finally hailed a taxi.

The driver was one of those annoying types who much preferred barking into his telephone to checking what his passengers wanted. Out we drove into the countryside, coming upon the campus right in the middle of nowhere. Past the entrance we roared, still unable to attract the driver's attention. At once we saw a statue of Atatürk and then -- shock, horror -- a long line of other statues seemingly of history's every intellectual.

“We're looking for a statue…” I finally managed to say, and at once the driver was hailing a security guard. “A statue of a donkey library,” I persisted despite the driver's attempts to ignore me.

Ping! On came the light of recognition and minutes later we were photographing a sweet little statue of an old man on a donkey, its panniers labeled Gezici Kütüphane Servisi (Mobile Library Service). Rather surprisingly, there was no explanation to go with it. The driver dropped us at Maltepe to catch the wonderful new Metro back to Kadıköy. I'll explain the story behind the statue next week.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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