Cities within a city

Byzantium, Augusta Antonina, New Rome, Constantinople, Kostantiniyye, Stamboul, Islambol, Carigrad, Istanbul. These are a few names of the city from its history, but there are many more.

In 10 days I spent around, I started to feel more like a local than a tourist. Living in Kadiköy on the Asian side of Bosphorus I often went to Moda, to drink a beer on the rocks beside the sea with friends or to play basketball. This was a wonderful way to stretch my body and meet people. We became friends with Nika from Georgia, an artist travelling and living in his car. After we played in the same team, we went to party together. I was surprised by the great energy in a fully packed queer bar he invited me to. I got goose bumps seeing drag queens to perform singing and dancing in a Muslim country.

We did a bit of sightseeing together with my cyclist friends, but they were leaving soon. Strolling around Grand Bazaar, Book and Spices Bazaars, Hagia Sophia and Eminönü port I tried to catch some portraits of locals.

If I were a cat in next life, I wish to be one in Istanbul, Nika said while we were passing a cat eating from the bucket on the street. We met to have a lunch and watch a live basketball match between Slovenia and Georgia from his laptop, with comments in Georgian.

Meanwhile I managed to do some ordinary things too. I got preventively vaccinated against rabies for the 3rd time since there are many dogs and cats around the country, visited bicycle servis for a regular check and got new shorts at the busy Tuesday Bazaar. While I worked on his computer or drank çay with him, Ahmed was explaining me about Pakistan, where he is returning to after six years living in Istanbul. I wish I could visit him one day in Lahore.

To escape busy and constantly crowded streets for a day, I took a ferry to Heybeliada, one of the Princes’ Islands, where cars are not allowed. Reading in a hammock and sweaming under the rocky cliffs I was suddenly taken aback with thousands of storks covering the sky! The first sign that autumn is coming, a strange and melancholic moment. Where are you going, dear birds?

As I was reading extraordinary novel My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel winner who lives in Istanbul, I decided to visit Museum of Innocence he cocreated following his another novel. ‘It was the happiest day of my life, though I didn’t know it.’ It is a touching collection of everyday objects from a life of his beloved Kemal Basmaci was putting together for years. I was amazed by more than 4000 cigarette buts acompanied with writings describing situations when she was smoking. ‘We were sitting silently.’ So simple and powerful a life can be.

While I was juggling in the park Sercan approached me. Being a juggler too, he unexpectedly opened me a new door. In the evenings I performed at the traffic lights he recommended. I couldn’t believe wonderful and sincere responses of people in the cars! Sometimes they were honking so enthusiastically loud I thought I could become deaf. Bus drivers always collected money for me. Motorcyclists usually didn’t wait for the green light, sometimes they passed putting notes in my pocket while I was still in the middle of the juggling act. It made my heart laugh a lot!

In the end, these are just some of the faces of Istanbul I had a chance to catch glimpse of. It wasn’t easy to say farawell to the lovely and highly vibrant city – with so many passages, ports, squares, bazaars, parks, mosques, labyrints, people, animals, smells and sounds – the biggest city I have ever been to.