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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Stuck in Istanbul

Written by Antonina Okinina
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Istanbul 06Istanbul is a big market.  Yes, they sell everything: from roasted chestnuts to whirling dervishes. They sell with heart and sticky obtrusiveness: if you stop even for a second, you’ll get stuck for a half of a lifetime.

 "Why did I come to Istanbul? A thousand times I regretted it. Time has passed, and there is no escape,"- says an old Turkish song. The longer you stay in Istanbul, the clearer you see author’s point. This city sucks out time, money, and energy, but it seems you don’t have the strength to push away another cherished glass. How many of these stories: one came for a week - stayed for a month, another came for a month –stayed for 10 years. Well, at least there are many of us, the stuck ones. Not to mention 12 million locals. Plus roughly 2 million tourists a year, but to be honest, these seem rather happy.

Why not, really? Istanbul is always having fun, always working. Not to have fun is a shame. After all, in wine is truth. Not to work is a shame, too. A good Turk must stay on job overtime. Otherwise, you might think he doesn’t like to work. So if a Turk is working, it really shows: yes, he’s busy. A waiter will circle around you, like annoying fly, whether you need it or not, taking away from the table anything that is out of joint. Yep, he’s busy. 

However, on Saturday night we will surely see all those workaholics "in Taksim." So they call the fun-artery of the city: Independence Avenue (Istiklal Caddesi) and nearby streets not far from Taksim Square. A trip to Taksim on Saturday night is the best way to feel exhausted even before starting "having fun". Long driving through the hilly streets in multiple traffic jams, followed by a boring search for parking - and here is the reward: the splendor and misery of Istiklal.

Istanbul 20Istanbul 20Christian churches and mosques huddle next to thousands of restaurants (lokantas), snack bars, clubs, shops, and stalls. Swarms of crowds rush non-stop back and forth, virtually day and night. Why do they rush? Just to rush. The most typical pastime is drinking and buzzing in one establishment and then running with a small company to another. And yet to another and another. As if you cannot get high (or catch keif, as Turks say) only in one place.

I come out of a bar, enter a thick human stream of Istiklal and stroll at random - to observe life. To my surprise, it is in this living river you feel the loneliest. Vanity fair, pardon, vanity market, narcissistic fops, dressed in expensive clothes and make-up,  Turkish beauties in the guise of piety, demonstrators, pilgrims in yashmaks, transvestites, beggars, meticulous tourists, street performers, and small traders thrusting their goods toward you 24/7... And all this is one big mess, above which hovers a sickening smell of kokorech - haslets in bread.

If you turn off the crowded Istiklal to the neighboring streets, then gradually, you are immersed into another world: the gypsy quarters of Tarlabashi. Dirty children stare at intruders with interest and suspicion. Washed clothes are hanging across the streets like garlands. Clusters of ragged cats, favorite animal creatures of Mohammed, scatter in trash. And for a dessert – thieving, estimating looks from all around...

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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