I knew tearing myself away from this city was going to be difficult, but I had no idea I would spend my last full afternoon in a terrible state of what the Turks might call, “hüzün.” If I did not have to be in Denmark in mid-June I would not leave. Soon I’ll head down to the train station and have a last uskumru sandwich and watch ferries dance across the Bosporus.
I arrived on April 1, 2009 and in the blink of an eye this magical city has wooed me, wowed me, saddened me beyond measure and lifted me to the highest of heights. I will look back on this time just as I do Lake Toba, but for altogether different reasons. Toba was about disconnecting from the world in a way I’d not done in years. It was an escape, an idyll, an exotic dreamscape of guitars, new friends, peace and the warm waters of the lake I bathed in each morning. Toba was a place for me to bury the past, the obligations of home and family and in their place plant seeds that would, I hoped, spring up into a new life.
Istanbul has been about that second spring. It is an altogether appropriate metaphor, right and good. When I arrived it was cold, overcast and only the first, most tenuous buds of green sprouted from the trees. The flowers only just pushing up from their winter sleep. I was wiped out from the chaos of India but it was much more than India on my mind. What Istanbul took away in 2007, it gave it all back and more in 2009.
Three things happened in Istanbul that leave me grateful beyond measure. The grieving process of my failed marriage ended. And in that I realized the second thing: as much as I am a solitary creature I learned that although I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life alone it was only an impulse, a defense. I crawled into a cave, like a bear after a grievous fight, there to heal my wounds. The wounds healed and the bear walked out of the cave to catch salmon in a spring brook, to revel in the world, the glory of the light, the green trees and the cold rushing mountain waters. In a sense I would say that my faith was restored, for faith is not to be underestimated.
Finally, as this most perfect of Istanbul days draws to a close and my thoughts race forward to the train station, crowds, a new language, new places and sights, I am grateful for the simple joy of falling in love with such an amazing city. I believe it was Jan Morris who said, “I have loved places like people, and they have become me.”
The good, the bad and the indifferent. All of it. I’ll trade it, any day, for diamonds, gold, lovers, money, career, fame, position or power. Will I return? I certainly hope so. Will I ever live here? I plan on it. But for now I have a journey to complete. There are a few loose ends that need a twisting up and a sewing shut.
It is a fitting consolation, no matter what transpires, that I can say, where ever I go, “Ben İstanbulluyum!”
“I am an İstanbullu.”
My talisman, my secret chant, my incantation.