I’ve just returned from Istanbul. I’ve wanted to go there since I saw “From Russia With Love” in 1964. It was great, and now I can cross another item off my bucket list. That list is getting short — ominously so. I mean, when you come to the end of your bucket list, what then?
A trip always sheds fresh light on familiar topics at home. I took a walk down Istiklal Street, the main drag of the new (meaning 19th century) part of Istanbul, which is lined with shops, restaurants and theatres, and thronged with people. It’s served by the “Nostalgic Tram.”
Istanbul has many modern trams, long sleek passenger trains that snake around the winding streets of the city. The Nostalgic Tram is special. It’s one old-fashioned streetcar running down the middle of the main drag. It passed me several times going in one direction or the other, and every time it was full.
Naturally I thought of the Loop Trolley. Here was its backers’ dream realized: lots of folks shopping, dining, people-watching, strolling — all unmolested by cars. Istiklal Street is closed to traffic. When you get tired of walking, you board the tram.
Alas, ridership on the Loop Trolley has been low so far. I hope it will pick up in the summer. But even a trolley supporter like me has to admit that St. Louis falls a long way short of Istanbul, which has a population of 15 million and plenty of tourists.
On the way home I stopped off in London. On a street of modern office buildings, I was delighted to stumble on a large, half-timbered house that looked like a survivor of Shakespeare’s London. It was. A plaque in the pleasant courtyard said it was constructed in 1545, renovated in 1826, 1886, 1937.
We could do with more of this in St. Louis. We’re getting to be an old town, but it seems we only preserve cathedrals and courthouses. When other buildings get rundown, we demolish them and build new. That’s how you end up with a banal cityscape. We should fix up more, tear down less.
My friends here have stopped watching the news because Brexit is so depressing. Four years after the people voted to leave the European Union, the government still can’t agree on how to do it.
The country is divided and leaders seem frozen in their opposing positions. Already people are saying that the latest delay, to Oct. 31, isn’t going to do any good. Prime Minister Theresa May kept putting forward bills that were rejected and had no new ideas.
Some say May’s heart wasn’t in it. Deep down, she agrees with those who say Brexit is a terrible idea. She was against it before the vote. After it, she said, “The people have given their verdict,” and leaders were bound to do their will.
Last week May resigned, and will officially step down on June 7.
I told my friends to cheer up. There is a way out.
“Parliaments needs to follow in the footsteps of the Missouri Legislature,” I said. “If the voice of the people says something the Republican majority doesn’t want to hear, they just ignore it.”
In the last election, the people voted for Clean Missouri, an act limiting campaign contributions, opening legislators’ records and reforming the redistricting process. It got 62 percent of the vote (Brexit got 52 percent.).
Since the vote, Republicans have been maneuvering to thwart all these reforms, to keep their dealings with campaign contributors and lobbyists secret and preserve their safe seats.
“Their justification,” I explained to my British friends, “is that the people are too dumb to understand what they’re doing, so legislators have a public duty to deny them what they voted for.”
“Tosh!” said my British friends. (They like to say things like that.) “They wouldn’t dare come out and say that.”
I pulled out my notebook of Republican wit and wisdom, which I carry with me always.
“Here’s what Sen. Dave Schatz said. ‘I think the initiative petition itself, there’s a lot more to it than the standard person can understand.’ And here’s Governor Mike Parson. ‘Fundamentally, you think when the people vote, you should not be changing that vote. But the reality is that it is somewhat what your job is sometimes.’”
“There’s our answer, then,” said my British friends. “Just pretend the Brexit vote never happened. Your Missouri legislators are far in advance of us in democratic theory. Not to mention elegant rhetoric.”