… one of those places difficult to define. Some would call it ‘capital of the World’ or ‘capital of the Empire’, others ‘cradle of cultures’ and others ‘the worst place to live’; ‘ hell on earth’.
|Graffiti on the streets of Istanbul (I don’t know about the Heaven, but the Hell is here)|
I’ve spent more than 1001 days in this city and I still find it difficult to reply to a simple question: ‘What is Istanbul like?’ Maybe it’s because I have been here too long and I’ve come to realise that there is no simple answer to this question. Istanbul has many faces, many nuances if you will. It is difficult to explain them to a total stranger or a person who has never visited the city. Even though you have visited the city once, you have probably lifted only one veil from its face. If you were born here, this doesn’t make you an Istanbul expert neither.
You have to get to know Istanbul slowly, day by day, page by page, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. This is actually very difficult because neighbourhoods are changing fast and new are growing even faster. Living all the time in one neighbourhood and meet only people from that place, this won’t help either. The phenomena of Istanbul is that you can live in a bubble for ages without noticing it…or being well aware of it and being comfortable with it. This won’t help you to dive into the secrets of Istanbul either.
You should be in a relationship with Istanbul. It might get complicated, you will have good and bad days. You will hate it and love it. After years of this relationship, it might still surprise you. You will still discover many new things about your partner. And yourself. It will push you to your limits. You’ll take a lot of good pictures together. On one hand, people will envy you (at the end you live in a city which others only visit), on the another, they will think that you are crazy. How can you live here? It’s always crowded, polluted, traffic jams are an everyday’s reality, it is huge, too big to handle, it exhausts you…
… but it has the sea, beautiful Bosphorus view, you can stop the time crossing the straight with a ferry. Or a cup of tea. It’s always too hot at the beginning, or too sharp for your palate, but then you’ll get used to it. You still won’t be sure if it’s colour is dark red or brown… (one more thing to discover). It is also home to people from all over the World. You can travel to any corner of this planet without really leaving Istanbul. This experience will make you richer, but you have to surrender. It’s the city that never sleeps. You can go shopping anytime. Or eating, or drinking. 9pm or 10pm is not too late for anything. Day has only just begun. You can as well also go out there alone, get mixed in a crowd. Or just sip your coffee (or tea) and observe the people. If you want to run away, you might as well chose one of its islands.
Already Jean-Paul Sartre was well aware that hell is the people around you, and I guess it goes the same for heaven. And the same analogy we can use for any city in the World. You can surround yourself with your tribe and you will be just fine. I do confess that certain place do add some of their positive energy to the mix. And Istanbul is one of those places. So how would you define Istanbul?
…as a heaven and hell mixed in a glass of tea, sometimes with sugar, sometimes without. I still don’t know, how strong do I like my tea, but Istanbul is definitely my cup of tea…
In case you want to learn more about Istanbul and get a more personal view of the city and its history, I recommend you to read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul.