Monday, July 28, 2008

Olives and rowers

There was no way I could get to sleep at 3 AM in my first night back in Istanbul. I was welcomed by news of some horrific bombing in Gungoren and the country has already been going through a mess of legal cases, one on the closure of the governing party and the other on the unravelling of an assumed ultra "secularist"-nationalist group. But the real problem was that my body clock was still adjusted to the GMT, 2 hours before Istanbul clock. I got off from the bed, turned on the TV and watched a documentary on Napoleon, created by BBC, broadcast on a Turkish news channel. As the French were trying to re-establish the "Regime of the Revolution" by the Terror regime of Robespierre, Napoleon was making his way up the ranks by kicking some British ass in Toluon, so objectively captured by the BBC. Once again, I was amazed by the internalised, imperialistic culture of the English that felt as if they can 'say' anything because they've lived it all through. I ate 2 cups full of green olives, as an urge to satisfy my Mediterranean taste, not necessarily to sympathise with the French.
However, the real theme in this blog is not British admiration, it is rather an admiration towards Istanbul...

I woke up for a busy schedule. I had a few duties to complete by the end of the day. Get a Lebanese visa, get an extension on exemption from the military service, buy a suit for sister's wedding, meet up with friends in the evening... It is during the 'military service' that I re-lived Istanbul's magics once again.

I took a 'dolmus', a Turkish version of a 'shared taxi's of developing countries to Taksim to get a bus to the Golden Horn, riverside. The only bus option would never arrive, forcing me to take another minibus to the edge of the riverside and hop on another 'dolmus' from there on. Having already been reminded about the countless alternatives of transportation, having helped a wheelchair user into a bus, having conversed with immigrants and tourists asking for way, having talked with bus drivers, pigeons and low-rank military officials who told me the office would be re-opened at 13.30 after the lunch break, I walked a few minutes away on the Golden Horn riverside to sit comfortably by Sutluce pier to watch the skies and the water. The image was very similar to this:

Sutluce is across Eyup, a fine but run-down district in a historically significant part of Istanbul where masses crowd during Ramadan months. Tourists also flock to Eyup to head up the Pierre Loti hill, once a famous getaway for the French writer. The following image is taken from the top of Pierre Loti hill with Eyup on the right and Sutluce on the middle-left with the pier just to the left of the small boats before the big blue bridge:

There were about 10-12 boats parked by the pier and 6-7 middle-aged to old men sitting curiously but calmly to wait for customers, on my right side. On the left was a converted nargile-cafe located on an abandoned water-structure, slowly rocking on the water. Customers started to come out from their lunch breaks as friends, dad-and-son, and shy couples making way to the boats to cross back to Eyup. There was a slow but comforting breeze with an overcast sky, making a cool welcome and actually complying with the humble expressions of the rowers and serene waters of the Golden Horn. Among the men, the youngest, a mid-30's looking one was asking if there was any 'job' (customers), anxiously waiting to transport someone across. He was one of the few lucky who had a 3-4 Horsepower engine on his boat whereas the slightly older guys rowed their way across for a 10-minute ride. Customers might have liked the row, in an old Ottoman fashion style more in fact, although I could only sympathise with the hard labour under humid and warm weather.

You could not see an expression of complaint at all. These humble men earned £1 for each trip and only the luck ones had 1 trip for the half hour I spent there. With £2 an hour and only the daylight to work with, they were competing with engined-boats that left from another pier 100 metres away. However, one could not hear the roaring engines of those boats but only the curious questions asked by the eldest rower about the news from "Ergenekon case" or the drama-overcast enthusiasm of the younger one when he saw a customer approach by. On the hills behind where I looked were numerous graveyards of different religions, looking across to the river and the Bosphorus further back, the souls probably 'resting in peace' with one of the most spectacular views they could have asked for.

I left the place at 13:25 to go deal with my military service issue, spent the rest of the day accomplishing all my duties and getting back home around midnight to eat around 40 of the new, delicious olives that had already replaced last night's stocks during the day. I had to wait for my body to adjust to the clock and in the meanwhile lived through the calm, peaceful half an hour at Sutluce in my mind. Istanbul gave me the proper 'welcome' with all its chaos and a glimpse opportunity to amaze me with yet another of its hidden treasures, the rowers of Sutluce. All I was left to think was that, "this is probably the most beautiful city in the world".

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