Streets of Istanbul

We spent a fair amount of our visit hanging out on stairways or in cafes or hookah bars or restaurants, talking politics among ourselves or with our friends and contacts in Istanbul.

This great hangout place was one of the few where you can safely drink in public… but it wasn’t the Cartier-Bresson photo location we tried to find…

This was the view from the stairs, right at dusk as we sat enjoying some Turkish red wine:

The “moderate Islamic” party that has governed Turkey for the past few years has dissolved the parliament is a new election is scheduled for early July. Local lefties are banding together outside of party structures (to enhance their chances of gaining seats, due to some arcane election rules) and there’s some hope that they might win as many as 25 seats in the coming election, out of a parliament of 550, which will be dominated either by the AKP (current Islamic party) or the pro-secular, pro-military right wing party coalition. Lurking behind all political activity in Turkey is the military, which still absorbs a large portion of the national budget (it is the 2nd largest military in NATO after the U.S.), was threatening to invade northern Iraq while we were in town, and always holds out the threat of another coup d’etat if Islamic politics “goes too far.” In fact, its previous interventions have been to ensure the implementation of IMF structural adjustment policies and to ensure the conditions for capitalist accumulation. The foot-dragging and apparent refusal of the EU to give Turkey a path to full membership is fueling nationalist paranoia, even though most on the left are at best skeptical of EU membership, if not openly opposed.

Our time in Istanbul was mostly spent among these lovely cafes and in appealing neighborhoods that it was easy to imagine living in. Here are a couple of shots of this neighborhood BeyoÄŸlu.

On Saturday it was over 100 degrees so we didn’t get moving until around 3 pm. Francesca and I headed over to see a church/museum called Kariye or St. Savior in Chora, which has amazing mosaic murals dating to the 1300s. Luckily it was at the far end of the “western neighborhoods” which gave us our first direct experience of older, poorer, more popular Istanbul, and we felt very lucky for the chance to walk through it. First we took the Metro out to the old wall, climbing up amidst the crumbling, partially repaired ramparts for the view. Funny how completely open it is to walk up and on these historic walls, and it’s definitely at your own risk!

Here’s a shot of one of the mosaics:

and here are some of the street scenes we caught on our walk:

There are lots of these old wooden buildings around Istanbul, often with bay windows and vaguely like San Francisco victorians… but not!

Our walk took us back over Ataturk Bridge, across the Golden Horn, to Galanta Tower, an impressive tower built by the Byzantines originally and reinforced in the middle 1300s by a Genovese merchant, just below the Beyoglu neighborhood, north of the old city. It has fantastic views over the Golden Horn, especially at sunset. Here’s the tower, and then the sunset:

There was a smattering of anarchist graffiti in certain parts of town, especially around Cihangir and BeyoÄ¡lu, where there are also incredible outdoor café and restaurant scenes. We presume there is a lot of political discussion going on there too”¦ Here are some images of graffiti, stencils and a poster we found on the walls, but it would be a stretch to say this is in anyway meaningfully representative”¦

We weren’t quite sure how Malcolm X came to Istanbul, and it only became more confusing after the next one…

A punk-Islamic fusion gang?

The Turkish part of this says something “go back home” or “go back where you came from” and it turns out it was a marketing ploy by someone starting a new magazine!

Transit in Istanbul

I think I saw about 4 bicycles in 7 days, the most memorable being an old guy in a white robe, white beard, on a mountain bike with the red Turkish flag flapping from the back of his rack”¦ Otherwise, this is a town based on taxis, indecipherable private and public bus routes (some people figure it out, but there were no maps or reliable explanatory systems to be found for us non-Turkish speakers) and some modern Metro and Tram systems. The city is so sprawling, 16 million in about 150 square kilometers on both sides of the Bosphorus, so we can hardly claim to have experienced a significant portion of the whole metro area.

We did have fun riding on the ubiquitous and vital ferries (I suppose the SF bay once had this kind of ferry traffic), as well as the taxis and buses. On the way out to the airport this morning we rode 50 km on a small bus on an 8-lane ultra-modern tollroad, crossing the bridge we watched turn colors every night. The charm of the city’s streets was lost in the hideous, sprawl of 8-20 story apartments that went for mile after mile as we sped along the freeway. This is a glimpse of the scene that was unbroken for 45 minutes:

Here I am before going to the concert on our last night in Istanbul, standing on the balcony at our place:

Well if you’ve made it this far, you might enjoy some images of our social lives this past week:

Francesca and Ali playing “exquisite corpse” at the hookah bar.

Dessert after a fantastic fish dinner on the Asian side of the Bosphorus:

One of our post-3 a.m. drinking nights with a gang of Ali’s friends:

Dinner and dessert with E.A. Tonak, Ali’s dad, a chance to talk Marxist politics…

of course you can’t come to Istanbul and not visit the Grand Bazaar…

and even better, the spice market!

As we walked past this display, the guy hawked it our way as the sign reads, but a man standing near him asked sub rosa, “only five times?”

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