Friday, 22 August 2014

Turkish Delight: Friday

Gezi Park,Istanbul

Taksim Square, Istanbul
Ceramics Bazaar

Some weirdly named spices

Blue Mosque: Alternate View
In the mosque's courtyard during rain

Rain, Sea, Rainbow, Balloons, Macaroons and Me

Exquisite color of the sky during dusk

Galata Tower: From across the bridge
New Mosque at Eminonu.

Galata Tower, from below

(I traveled to Turkey for vacation during first half of July,2014. Following is an account of my experiences in Istanbul. This is the fourth installment of the series, involving an quick trip to Taksim, meeting new people and an unsuccessful trip to Galata Tower. I hope you enjoy it)

Friday/Cuma, 4th July 2014.
“Each and every human being is a work in progress that is slowly but inexorably moving towards perfection. We are each an unfinished work of art both waiting and striving to be completed.” Elif Shafak

I started Friday in frenzy. Having gotten myself booked on a flight to Cappadokia, I was supposed to buy a ticket till 11 am on Friday. The closest sales office was near Taksim and I had failed to locate the office last night. I was determined not to miss this wonderful opportunity. The weather was overcast and made the historical skyline look even prettier. Following the routine breakfast, I left the Otel to take a tram towards Taksim. I had used a map from foursquare to locate the office previously. This time, I took the exact address from Turkish airline's website and checked it on Google maps. I reached my destination well in time and got my return ticket. A wave of calm and accomplishment swept over me. I was finally relieved. I strolled across the square to enter Gezi Park and stayed there for a while.

Ever since the Gezi Park protests, I've felt spiritually close to that place. The events at Gezi, initially with an environmentalist agenda, snowballed into a protest movement that affected the Turkish society as a whole. AK Party’s Islamist government overreacted to the protests by using indiscriminate force, and the viral videos of police brutality affected the optics. Turkey, with its tremendous economic growth under the AK party regime and tourist-friendly policies, presented a unique model as a modern Islamic country for much of the last decade. Gezi Park changed the perception that everything was alright under the surface. The protests united people from various strata of society and stood as a symbol of cosmopolitan awakening in face of an increasingly repressive regime. Taksim square, with the Monument of Republic and Ataturk Cultural centre in background, became the symbol of resistance of urban middle classes against forced gentrification of their city. One of the aspects that I discovered and which fascinated me was the role played by Ultra-fans of different football clubs in Istanbul(more on Turkish football in later), especially the bravery shown by members of Beşiktaş club’s ultras known as Çarşı.

Gezi Park is not as majestic or historic as the monuments in Sultanahmet, but it is a modern shrine to that resistance. I took the tram back to Sultanahmet and spent some time hanging out with my friend Doğukan.I joked that If he ever went to the US, he’ll most definitely be nicknamed “Doug”. During our walk around the hippodrome, I was introduced to Nazlıcan. We went together to the volunteer centre where the youngsters had lunch and I got some Ayran.Ayran is Turkey’s national drink and is a mixture of yogurt mixed with water and salt, shaken together. We have a similar drink in Pakistan known as “Lassi” and it is served in both salted and sweet flavors, although it is not AS popular as it is in Turkiye.

Doğukan led me back to B gate of Blue Mosque via the ceramics bazaar(Arasta Bazaar).I spotted some oddly named spices there and the smell of spices there reminded me of Old bazaar in my hometown. During the walk back, I spotted graffiti in support of East Turkestan movement in China. It felt out of place, until a friend later explained that Turkish government supports East Turkestan Islamic Movement as part of its foreign policy. The movement strives for greater autonomy of Uyghur Muslims living in Xinjiang province of China. The weather was absolutely pleasant and sat at one of the wooden benches in front of B gate. Soon there was a whole gang of volunteers there chatting with a south Korean tourist (Yeonghwan Kim) .While we were sitting there, a group of north African girls approached us and asked about the "black market" of Istanbul! We suppressed our giggles and told them that they were probably looking for a “flea market”. The volunteers informed them that all tourist areas are relatively expensive in Istanbul and they had little options to shop cheap. We were later joined by a British lady and even more volunteers. 

We talked about south Korea and the subjects that each of us was studying (or pursuing to study at a university). All three girls (Beyzanur, Nazlican and Sinem) wanted to be doctors. Upon enquiry, I was told that the reasons for this choice included the prospect of a good, wealthy life, influence of TV show 'Doctors'(Turkish version of Grey's anatomy) and choice made by parents. Later on, I found many girls who wanted to become psychologists. They gave the reason that it involved less work than becoming a doctor and the profession was quite popular. 

While we were sitting outside the mosque, it started raining heavily. Before that, we were surprised to hear the imam conclude his Juma sermon in English!! I was sitting there waiting for a friend of mine who was supposed to visit me. I met a British-Pakistani there who was visiting Turkey to obtain a hair transplant. He regaled me with his life-story, how he used to run a business in Leeds and lost his savings in the stock market crash, his move to Hull and the hooliganism he faced at his takeaway place initially. Meanwhile, we spotted two Pakistani families coming out of the mosque after Juma Prayers, recognizable due to Shalwar Kamiz, the traditional dress in Pakistan. One of the families had immigrated from my hometown to Denmark and the other family was based in London. 
The rain got so ferocious that we had to move inside the mosque. It was full of other tourists who had sought shelter in the covered area of the mosque. I met Kaan under these circumstances. He works as freelance photojournalist and we discussed political situation in Turkey, socialism and anarchism (inside the courtyard of Blue Mosque :P).

I caught up with my friend whom I had met the last time I was in Turkey. He hails from Iran but has spent the last five years in Istanbul, getting two masters degrees in International Relations. We sat at a café near the Hippodrome and discussed about the time we had last year and the intervening period since then. We had Turkish tea/kehva while he informed me that he worked part-time as a tour guide to support his stay in the city. He promised to get me booked in a cheaper hotel with similar amenities as soon as I vacated my previous one. We discussed Iran-US relations, situation in Gaza and American Universities. He was kind enough to escort me to the nearest Koska shop, from where I could get the best Baklava in town. It was raining and we didn’t have an umbrella, so he departed afterwards and I walked back towards my hotel.

After taking some rest, I grabbed coffee and macaroons from the nearby McCafe and walked to my favorite place near the seaside. There were balloons, rainbow, slight drizzle and an absolutely beautiful view of the city from afar. I tried to let the feeling sink in for a while and then took a walk towards Galata Bridge. I had previously visited the Galata area but had not visited the top of Galata Tower, I decided to reach the place and take a look at the city during the wonderful dusk shades. I was not fortunate enough and reached there an hour too late. The tower was closed for visitors after 8 p.m., a fact that I was previously unaware of. I roamed around Isteklal street and visited Carl Junior’s near Taksim square. It was almost empty except for me and an Arab woman with her young daughter. Brazil was playing Colombia that night in Quarterfinals and I kept checking the scores on my mobile. Everyone was glued to the TVs in cafés and restaurants across the neighborhood. I was supporting the underdogs(Colombia) but they lost the match eventually. It was another fun-filled day spent in a city that I began to love even more. 

(To be continued)

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