Nesfe Jahan, pt 27

12 October 2010


I’m hosted by Trevor, old time partner from the Berlin/Roskilde crowd.  And as soon as we meet up that first night, we paint the town red. Haggling over fish sandwiches, quipping with touts,  random walk.

He lives in a residential area a stone’s throw from the busiest and most infamous shopping street of Istiklal. Well, truth to be told, you’ll have to throw your stone pretty high. The tiny streets all have inclines of more than 10 percent. The pavements are claimed by tiny stool and chairs, where everyone spends their time sipping tea. It takes a couple of hours to adjust to the car dodging. In the morning, baskets are lowered from 4th floor balconies in the old-fashioned version of internet shopping. Kids actually practice this in the stairwell of the apartments.

Things go downhill from there though. Istanbul is a tough nut to crack. Tourism is ubiquitous, and outside of those neighborhood it’s difficult to find interesting corners or to get into contact. A lot of it has to do with my tendency to wander around randomly, and it simply doesn’t work there. It’s simply too vast, and too much was added during a couple of huge immigration waves to be interesting and varied. Shops and restaurants were expensive, distances big, vistas uninteresting. Not that I had a bad time, simply a difficult time. Especially in hindsight, as you will see later.

Because of this, it was great to be accompanied by my sister for 4 days and indulge in some hedonism. Mezze meals, biscuits smothered in chocolate. Pide, Efes. Gossip. All very nice. I realized then I do miss my family a lot, more than when I was living in Berlin. And it’s great to have so much uninterrupted time one on one. It makes it easier to speak one’s mind.

After she left, it was another 2 or 3 days of random sampling, And then the magic happened.

Tarlabashi is a old Greek neighborhood in the centre of Istanbul. When the shit hit the fan for the Greeks there, it was abandoned, and quickly squatted by an eclectic collection of migrants.  Every Turk will recommend you to stay well away from there. You can read more here. Desperate as Trevor and me were for some raw humanity in the city, we decided to go there for the Sunday market with his Bavarian roommate Katia, leaving our wallets and valuables behind. And my god, we did get what we asked for. No transvestites, no drug dealers, no robberies. Just a wild market with ridiculous prices, a lot of amused stares for our cameras, and a lot of ethnic diversity in the faces. the most sketch thing was a group of 30 kids wrestling to get their picture taken alone. If you’re ever in Istanbul, make sure you visit Tarlabashi market on Sunday.  Before it’s too late and gentrified.

Somewhere in the beginning, me and Trevor thought we had figured it out by saying Istanbul was “going through the motions” pf a modern European capital. Modern museum without too much originality, prevailing moroseness,  uninspired design shops, etc.. Only on nearly the last moment of my stay did I hear a much better of looking at it. Apparently, it’s pretty common in Turkey to compare Istanbul to purgatory.  A temporary hardship, neither heaven or hell. I wasn’t long enough there to see what’s at the end.