Twenty million people surge through the passageways and streets that make a maze of the the densely populated city. Remnants of a history still alive but ancient lay as concrete and form a platform against a city striving for modernity. I spent most of my time in Istanbul buzzing through the heart of the city – Taksim.
Under the wings of a government who increasingly strives to decrease the amount of choice and freedom of its people, the effects of such oppression do not seem affect the modernized mass. The people here walk the streets in dress of choice – the young with their tattoos, latest styles, dreadlocks, and even miniskirts – they walk hand in hand with their loves of both genders, heading to the cafe bars or to the clubs for ouzo.
The anticipated restrictions seem impossible to enforce on such a lively and in motion population. Entering onto the metro, the tram, or the busses and being sandwiched between hundreds of bodies all fairing their own course you wonder to yourself how it is possible for a city to host and direct so many independent lives. And of those lives you are curious what it means for them to live here.
Living is a muslim country for so long I heard the word ‘forbidden’ pass through the mouths of many. I found however that the people of Istanbul lived differently. Besides when the call to prayer rang loud and across the skyline of houses, mosques, and skyscrapers the people here walked free, empowered, and in many cases – radical.
The young and old all have something to say about everything – everyone has an opinion and an emotional one at that. Crossing by the cafes and seeing the men together in groups leaned over their steaming cups of tea and chatting in chorus a conversation that may seem cross but is in fact their passion and heart.
Alongside of the passion and emotionality I felt in the streets I’ve also felt a strange sense of alienation. With such a large population engrossed in their own separate lives the city is devoid of community – like most are. But here that effect seems to be larger as most of the locals spend the majority of their day in motion – submissive to routine movements and gestures.
Istanbul also made me realize the effect congestion has on perspective. If you eyes are only as wide as a shrunken horizon, then only so can be your working mind. If looking out of your window and the skyline is broken by towering buildings and houses, just how far and how wide can you see? The physical blocks of the city mentally effected my clarity, and I wondered what that meant for the psyche.
I found myself desperately seeking and needing to be refreshed my nature. My claustrophobia started to exhaust me. The lack of trees, clean water, and air began clogging the pathways of my mind.
What I did love and appreciate about the city was the palpable history alive with authenticity, integrity, and colour. I could really feel the cultures age and depth – hearing it through the Turkish language, tasting it in the cuisine, seeing it in the architecture, and feeling it through the traditional music.
Anyone wishing to discover the magic of Istanbul could spend one or two weeks exploring the streets, the mosques, palaces, and seaside. It is the only place in the world where you can go within minutes between the two continents of Asia and Europe that are joined together by ferry or bridge over the Bosphorus Sea.
You can see authentic music played in any Turkish bar, drink tea into all hours of the night, be offered endless Turkish delights from the shops vying for your patronage, and see protest after protest march and make loud their presence on one of the busiest walkways in the world.
While I could never live in such a lively place, thank you Istanbul for giving me a view into how modern lives can be enriched with ancient culture and history while functioning with integrity. Although some practices I feel could be changed, and in a way some of the ties to antiquity were bounding, there was something to be respected here. And of course, thank you for giving me a safe passage through and past the jungle …