Monday, July 15, 2013

In a New York minute

Sitting here, nibbling on my dinner-sized bowl of fresh radishes and chopped cucumbers, a lovely cool breeze blowing through my screen-less windows as I watch my neighbours not-so-frilly delicates flap in the breeze; another day in Istanbul ends and the sun begins to make its slow steep climb down from my perch and through the bowels of Tarlabasi's ghetto, over the Golden Horn, to set towards the mythical West.

Here in a city of such constant visual stimuli, is worth occasionally stopping and simply listening to the sounds of Istanbul, not allowing the immense overload of imagery to crowd your experience. The ever present pigeons mix with sparrows and miscellaneous hyper mystery birds that sound like they have downed an entire kettle of Turkish coffee. During this month of Ramadan, a man carrying a large drum parades up and down the streets at 3 am to wake everyone -regardless of faith-, and remind them to get up quick and eat the pre-dawn meal of Sahur. Add to this mix the jangle of car honks, children yelling and throwing things into the garbage pile, the Gas-truck speeding up and down the streets early in the morning, playing his catchy jingle in an attempt to sell his canisters of cooking fuel...and it is a veritable urban symphony unlike any other, at times leading to symptoms of insanity amongst its occupants, but more often than not a lullaby, wakeup call and general anthem for the average working class hero. (There is actually a handsome young chap whom I've seen walking up and down Istiklal street wearing a T-shirt with this written on it - "WORKING CLASS HERO", and I am envious, I must say).

Working class hero/masochist that I am, I live here in the belly of the beast in the semi-slum of Tarlabasi. I'm not sure if its simply because of my rather thrifty upbringing, my many years spent in art school near-poverty, or some sort of vow of suffering I have taken upon myself, but while many a frou frou-y expat spends their time living in fancy frilly upscale areas of Istanbul, (shopping at the local multiplex mega-mall and completely detached in a clean and antiseptic reality so far removed from my life), I simply cannot feel comfortable in such posh confines, and have thus gravitated to where I have. It might also be that I am being paid a much lower wage than some other ex-pats I have come into contact with, (those of the pink-washing-machine purchasing variety), who's days seem to be concerned with what brand of knives to buy, or how to remove wine stains from their plush white carpets, and if I want to live centrally, there is no better option than here.

This is a city that can drive you crazy, where in one minute you can be sighing pleasantly to yourself certain it's love - walking across the Galata bridge at dusk chomping down on a Balik Ekmek (fish sandwich), or dancing up and down Taksim streets half-drunken with friends, on a perfect summer night. Or you can be swearing to yourself with certain hate -crammed into that packed Metro subway car, or eyes burning with tear gas at taking the wrong corner on that same summer night. I myself fluctuate wildly and rapidly in my own opinions, like some manic, bipolar orientalist who has forgotten to take her pills, but sitting here on this evening I am feeling the love side of the coin take over, and honestly wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

A fellow Canadian friend of mine who also lives in Turkey wrote this choice statement -presumably in repose to the romantic stereotype that people have created for Istanbul -and I am using it to close this scattered, random blog post because it is just hilariously perfect.

"We are in New York, or at least the New York of the East, and anyone who calls it the Paris of the East has never noticed that Istanbul is lacking in romance, a working level of English and decent croissants".

It's Lord of the Flies meets the summer of Sam, and just like Times Square in a bygone era, the gritty chaos envelopes as noisy birds fly on high over the cuckoos nest.