Istanbul Journal, May 21st 2009: “A City of Near Misses”

Fishing At Dusk: IstanbulMy friend Kipouros lives here in Istanbul and wrote one of the best descriptions of why this place is so wonderful, why it has such an amazing and captivating spirit:

But why does it draw people in so? It’s not necessarily physical beauty, though Istanbul has plenty despite the flood of cement that has obliterated much of its old character. When I look off the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge up the undulating turquoise Bosphorus, lined with brilliant white mansions below forested hills splashed with the pink of Judas trees, I often think, “when this view ceases to move me, it will be time to leave.”

These are things that draw people to the city, but what keeps them here is the inescapable warmth of the people (even if there are some we feel like strangling) and an ever-transforming, inexhaustible energy. It’s not always pleasant; a friend described Istanbul as a “city of near misses,” and it’s a good description. Everyday life can be a bit like watching the local neighborhood showoff throwing rocks at a hornet’s nest. Things could play out in lots of different ways, but you know something’s going to happen, and it will probably be interesting.

I’d encourage you to read the entire post, as he echoes many of my thoughts and feelings about this place.

Home, I realized somewhere between Singapore and Sivas, is where I choose to make it. Of course, the trite phrase, “where ever you go, there you are,” is all to true, but there is something about this city.

Right now the ferries are skating across a sheet of blue marble. Sunlight dances about the whitecaps ploughed up in the wake of a bulk freighter lumbering downstream to the Dardanelles. The trees wear the ‘dress-greens’ of Spring, leaves rippling in the breeze. Dry cleaners press shirts in silence. Laughter spills out of barber shops. Tea houses rumble with the din of a hundred conversations, jokes and laments. Istanbul has thrown off the cloak of its ‘huzun.’ The whole place has fountained into a rollicking cascade of life and light. Lovers cuddle on benches. An old man walks deliberately down the seashore, hands clasped behind his back holding prayer-beads. The Turkish flag snaps and claps in the breeze. And the sun taps on my temples, neck and forearms, not harsh, nor fierce, just warm. The horizon out across the Marmara is a thin ribbon of opposing blues. It is, in short, one of those days of incomparable Spring joy.

When I look out on this view I don’t ever want to leave. My heart starts scheming the moment I cast my gaze elsewhere, like a jealous lover. “Get a job here,” it screams. “You can teach. You could write here. If ever there was a muse, aren’t I she? You could work for a bank, asset management, anything! Something! How can you possibly consider leaving this place?”

I do, so love this city. Every crooked cobble, every misstep, every ‘near miss.’ Every gray-bearded imam and slick-suited young yuppie. Every gang of smiling, unemployed young men. Every scarved-matron waddling to the bread store to feed her pious, conservative husband. Every rude American tourist, and each genteel waiter who serves her. Every crooked taxi driver and the other twenty honest ones. All the shoe-shine boys. And all the gypsies. The insane drivers. The incomplete and incoherent infrastructure. The rain. The sun. The snow. The clouds. An uskumru sandwich on the Eminonu Docks. The burning singe of Raki and a mellow sip of tea from a delicate tulip-shaped glass. The martyred-Greeks, the persecuted Armenians and the invisible Kurds. The clean streets and the dirty alleyways. The green gardens and the concrete playgrounds. The crush and throng of the Grand Bazaar and the Holy silences of the Imperial Mosques. The austere antiquity of the Hagia Sophia and the outrageous Baroque decadence of Ortakoy and Dolmabahce. The permanent solidity of the Theodosian Walls and the slippery transience of the Bosporus current. And forever and ever the inexhaustible ‘azan’ blasting out from a thousand minarets five times each day.

I can work myself up into mountains of sacred rapture only to fall the very next day into profane depths of depression.

And though I might complain a little, it never lasts long.

True love is like that.

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