As the mist rolls in from the Sea of Marmara, I look towards the Golden Horn and try to collect thoughts that gather emotions that long to be given life in words. Soon Asia Minor disappears and all I see are the straight lines of the ferries that take people from one side to another, and back again. Istanbul, a name that sounds Turkish but derives from the Greek, to the city. A city, which is one and divided, separated by water and united by boats and bridges, split in half by the border between two continents, where fundamental Muslims have found homes in the old European section and secular people, who have no need for religion, live on the Asian side.
We live in between, still in Europe but separated by water from either side. Both sides are visible from my window. I’m thinking of what I heard on the Al Jazeera news. Al Jazeera, another enigma but it is the place where you get your most informed news.
“This is what BBC-World used to be,” Th says. I take his word for it. He has been an informed news junkie since his youthful days. Yesterday on the news: the trial of the three Al Jazeera journalists detained in Egypt and the fact that the Turkish Secret Services has its surveillance powers expanded on the eve of May 1.
We were at Taksim Square yesterday; we will not be there on May 1. No one will be there. The place will be cordoned off.
Tasksim Square is the heart of modern Istanbul according to Wikipedia. I don’t always take their word for it, but in this case they are right. What Wikipedia does not mention, though, is that Taksim is a large open heart that longs to set you free as soon as you emerge from the short ride up some 60 metres above sea level. This gigantic square, with its park threatened by extinction, if politicians and money people get their way, leads to Independence Avenue, a wide pedestrian shopping street, where people walk shoulder to shoulder as if they were on parade.
As I look out my window a cruise ship the size of a town is docking. In front of my window I see movement in the water and I come face to face with my first “Street Boys of the Bosphorus.” They are a pod of dolphins, one of three species on the Bosphorus. They stake their territory in this relatively narrow channel where they compete for food with one another. Apparently, things can get quite heated between rivalling pods.
The world outside my window.
At the other side of where I am, watching over it all, the Hagia Sophia. I placed my hand on her flank, yesterday, and I walked between her and her younger sister, the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmed I. They were hurling chants at one another and up to heaven. Plaintive melodies from crying voices. The pleas of mere humans who would be gods but who never quite manage, so all they have left is to turn to their god and plead for mercy.
Between the two, a demonstration is on its way. Not reading Turkish, you are left to speculate until you realize that the group is proceeding in two squadrons. First the men, then the women, heads covered but eyes boldly ahead and voices loud. Behind them a scraggle of boys with clear designs.
“Those boys just came for the girls,” Th says.
He is immediately corrected by one of the organizers, a good looking young fellow with eager eyes. “Those are their sisters,” he says. His voice the voice of authority as he clearly wants to make sure no one entertain impure thoughts about the women and we all know brothers can be real dicks.
We decide to move on. Th has a surprise in store for me. His favourite tea house is a place where you enter through a dark narrow passage, gravestones on either side behind a thick iron fence and covered by tall weeds. It opens up into a courtyard with public washrooms at the back or the side of a mosque. But before that, the smell of apples and, reaching for us like open arms, the warmth of burning charcoal in an open oven and in metal baskets that waiters are taking to customers. White clouds of smoke emanate from people on low carpet-covered benches and stools as they are taking long drags from water pipes.
Today, as I am writing all this down, the Bosphorus shines blue like the sky and the outline of the hills towards the Sea of Marmara is clear. I ventured out alone today for the first time. It feels different without a male escort. Where before men greeted us—and who would not greet my cheerful husband—today I was not part of the circle. I instinctively kept my eyes to the ground and walked briskly, while the men, unmistakably, wondered what a white-haired pink woman was doing walking all alone down the street.
A Roma family sees an opportunity as I am sitting at a reputable coffee shop with tables on the sidewalk. Without warning they are on me, asking for money or my sandwich, or probably both. First a mother and child, then two men join. I cruelly ignore them after shaking my head no. I even proceed to take a bite from my sandwich, thinking: I haven’t eaten; this is mine. Then the child asks for the praline that comes with the coffee.
I place it in his dirty hand.
I was probably lucky the waiter came to shoo them away. They scurried off like alley cats who know their place in the pecking order. I sat back to think. Well, no, I ate my sandwich first because I really was very hungry. After that I did my thinking as I looked at the little park by the water, across from the busy road where automobiles and trams shuttle to and fro.
A man with weathered face passed by. He was dragging an enormous bag mounted on rubber wheels and with large handles for easy pulling. One of the many “recycling men” keeping the city spotless.
I had planned to go to that little park after my breakfast but the family had also gone there after they were shooed away, checking for open car doors as they went. A number of scenarios played through my head but, in the end, I decided to continue as planned. I paid the waiter and I crossed the road. I walked with brisk demeanour toward the water that was crashing into the quay, sending up a spray of white. I even took a few pictures of my Lady and her sister, way across the water.
Then I walked home.