Gotham Diary:
20 October 2011

In the middle of Elif Batuman’s lively New Yorker piece about her fellow Harvard-alum-of-Turkish-extraction, ÇaÄŸan ÅžekercioÄŸlu, an ornithologist dedicated to the establishment of nature preserves near the Armenian border, I came across a new word, “carental.” I didn’t know what it meant, but I was too delighted to care. Surely, “carental” would open a door on even better understanding of the post-Ottoman culture that, as Orhan Pamuk never tires of rhapsodizing (in his melancholy way), has persisted through nearly a century of Kemalism. It struck me that “carental” would look like it made more sense if it began with a “k.”

I read the sentence over again. “We drank tea with a provincial governor, with a giant mustached carental agent, and with the head of the Kafkas News Agency, who shared with us a piece of breaking news…” It was thrilling, that carental was a kind of agency. All I could think of was Ben Kingsley, in Pascali’s Island — when would Batuman and her friend be shot? That all this was taking place in Kars, the once bustling but now distinctly former entrepot in the mountains of eastern Turkey, which is where Pamuk set his last novel but one, Snow (Kar in Turkish; Batumen tells us that he considered titling his novel Kars’ta Kar — Snow in Kars)  — Snow being a novel that I read whilst actually in Istanbul — well, I was beginning to wonder how T S Eliot managed to write The Waste Land without “carental.”

Then I saw the hyphen, and the second “r.”

The sad sound of air leaking from a balloon of eager expectancy reminded me of the time that Fossil Darling and I were driving through Indianapolis — an occurrence even less likely than my reading Pamuk on the shores of the Bosphorus — and, as he drove, I read a review of something appearing in, naturally, The New Yorker, and without my giving it any thought, the word “lunatic” came out of my mouth with the accent on the second syllable. “Lune-attic,” I said, and wondered what it meant. Even Fossil was befuddled — but then, he was driving. Working out the real meaning of my new word was a big let-down.