An escape to the ‘city’
In the past, it was tradition to call an area’s biggest settlement the “city,” distinguishing it from the rest. We were in the city, or in Istanbul, for a short escape from the dull, boring routine of our “village” of Ankara. Even if life is very difficult in the jungle, spending a weekend there could be real fun indeed.
Forty friends and I hired a bus from a leading bus company. What a big mistake. If most members of the group were in their 60s and the rest were in their late 50s, would it be a wise idea to go on a several-hour bus ride? What’s worse, the last time most of the group had taken a bus trip was at least a decade ago. Sitting for six hours on a bus might be enough to realize the coaches that appear to be rather comfortable are actually painful.
Perhaps it would be a wiser idea to participate in the 38th Vodafone Istanbul Marathon and challenge ourselves by running, if not in the challenging marathon, in the 15K, the 10K or at least in the eight-kilometer “Heroes Run.” I will not ask who the “heroes” to be commemorated were. It obviously ought to be related to those killed in the failed July 15 coup. After all, the Bosphorus Bridge connecting the two continents has been renamed the “July 15 Martyrs Bridge.” Our plan was to attend a meeting, have a gastronomic feast, enjoy some great moments together and travel back to our easy, quiet, rather routine and probably much simpler life in our big village.
It was a hectic day in the ever-crowded metropolis. We had been clever enough to leave Ankara at midnight and had arrived on the second Bosphorus Bridge so early that the huge crowd participating in the marathon was still in bed. It took no longer than minutes to settle in the hotel rooms, change and be prepared for our grand conquest of Taksim Square and İstiklal Avenue.
Alas, Taksim had long been conquered and covered with stones. İstiklal was very much like the Beirut of the 1975-1990 civil war period. I have not been in Taksim for the past three years or so since the current transformation of the historic square was launched. During the early stages of its construction, I stayed at a boutique hotel overnight and because of the noise, dust and difficulty to walk around, I decided not to pass through the region again.
The other day, I heard the tall, bald, bold, angry man shouting that the entire Taksim area would be pedestrianized and all traffic would be diverted into tunnels underneath the square. That would have been a great success apart from the fact that the beautiful and historic square had been turned into a concrete-laden, repulsive plot of land. The only exception was the Gezi Park area the youth had saved from the shopping mall frenzy. It’s only a matter of time before Gezi Park is taken down and replaced with a huge mosque, a mall and perhaps some million-dollar one-room residences.
Perhaps the Istanbul Municipality or the Beyoğlu Municipality could care less, but in the early hours of the day, the plastic walls of a cultural exhibition in front of Gezi Park smelled very much like an ignored public toilet. Could it be so difficult to realize the need to wash the walls and the ground contaminated from the night’s drunkards?
Needless to say, even though the best and fresher fish may be available in Ankara, drinking raki and having fish by the Bosphorus cannot be topped anywhere, whether it be the scenery, the atmosphere, or the closeness of friends. Naturally, at the splendid restaurant on the Bosphorus, we had saved Turkey many times and suggested policies for almost all the country’s woes, until the bill brought by the waiter caused a culture shock among us all, forcing us to return to bitter reality.
Back at the hotel, the tall man on the gray screen was still talking, or rather yelling about some issues. What was he talking about? I could care less, other than murmur some warm remarks of gratitude that he was always ready to instruct us in our lives, even in our bedrooms. Where would we be without his instructions?
Late in the night, it was time to board our bus and return to our village. What refuge! What salvation! How are people living in that jungle? It is difficult to understand, I murmured and a friend quipped, “There was a news article saying people are no longer migrating to Istanbul but are instead migrating from Istanbul.” Really? If that’s the case, then why is it still so crowded?
Boring. Repulsive. Unlivable. But, it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen…