Sunday, July 3, 2011

Goodbye, Istanbul

The evening before leaving, I was sitting on the balcony, drinking a glass of cool water and just slowly soaking up the amazing view of the city-scape. Even though I saw this same view every day, each time I take a few minutes or half an hour to just sit in my chair and look and really see it, I feel this sense of awe. And the evening is my favorite, because the light isn’t so glaring and harsh as it can be in the day. Everything is muted and I love the sort of melancholy, wistful and open feel of an evening sky, just after the sun has set, when the work of the day is over, and it’s time to let go of all the efforts and worries and struggles of the daylight hours. Evening is a time of freedom and release from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

(Not an evening picture, but you can understand the idea.)

Anyway, I love the view from our balcony. I’ve taken pictures, but I don’t think they really capture the feel of it all. I love looking at all the houses (aka apartments) stacked up helter-skelter on the hills of the city. There is a feeling of business, confusion, the messiness of life; it feels somehow organic. The buildings are almost like a hive, all mismatched, built up wherever there’s a few free inches of land, right on top of one another, at all different angles with no uniformity of size or shape, in a manic and seemingly thoughtless way. There’s no apparent plan; there's only action and result, constant movement.

Then there are the colors - red clay tiled roofs, the burnt orange, pale pinks, soft yellows and warm browns of the apartment blocks. Hanging from the balconies are clothes lines draped with sheets and shirts and socks, drying in the still-warm evening air. As the sunlight fades, you see the lights of hundreds of windows turn on, one by one, and sometimes you can distinguish the flickering glare of a TV in someone’s sitting room. And there are constantly big seagulls soaring around the city and congregating on rooftops. You can see them in the form of white specks against the red roofs in the distance, and closer to home you can see two or three preening their feathers on the neighbouring buildings, and soaring from roof to roof. There are also swallows darting everywhere. They make constant ear-piercing squeaks as they circle and dive and swoop, catching whatever flying insects are drifting around on the warm breeze. The seagulls soar and have a lazy, relaxed look about them, but the swallows are like dive-bombers, all energy and speed and efficiency.

I love to slowly soak up this scene. I breath in the cooling air and look, really look, at it all. As my own thoughts slow down and I forget about myself and my day and all my concerns, I let my eyes adjust to the light, to the colors and shapes, to the depth and the many layers of the city. Sometimes the city, the actual buildings and balconies and rooftops and trees and lampposts, seems to have a life all its own. It has a personality and a unique physicality. It’s unlike any other place. It is an individual, full of contradictions, rough spots, ugly bits, quirks, noise, corners and sharp edges, layer upon layer of being, complexity, a past, present, and future, a pulse. It is full of life and death, poverty and wealth, callousness and hospitality, struggle and beauty, achievement and failure. This city truly breathes with great big gulping breaths. It is vibrant, blinding, demanding, harsh, and in its own unique way, painfully beautiful. This city is a microcosm of the larger world; at any given moment, absolutely everything is happening here. The human experience is being played out in all its complexity and drama right before your very eyes.

If you want to know about life, come to Istanbul. For better or for worse, life is here and happening all around you. There’s no escape and you can’t ignore it. This city isn’t just a place that you visit or live in for a while; it’s a place you form a relationship with. It takes you over, it owns you, it changes you in ways you can’t fully wrap your mind around. I don’t think this is a city you can ever truly leave, no matter where you go. I think it must stay with you forever.

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