So I was kept off of the blog due to a crazy travel schedule, including 36 hours in Antalya followed by a three days in London for conferences, plus the usual insanity involved in trying to wrap up work and moving a family across the Atlantic. I’ve had ideas for posts swirling through my head, but haven’t had the chance to write any of it until now, sitting in my sister-in-law’s kitchen in Chicago, surrounding by a ridiculous number of suitcases (225 EURO in extra luggage fees!).
One thing I’ve been thinking about is all the everyday things that I came to take for granted and accept as a normal part of my everyday life. These are the ubiquitous moments of life in Istanbul; fellow Istanbullites will understand.
1. Using Roman aquaducts as geographic markers when giving people directions.
2. Cigarette smoke. Everywhere.
3. Turkish men sitting in tea houses and tiny bistro tables on sidewalks, looking surly and drinking tea from delicate tulip-shaped glasses. In the U.S. such tea drinking habits are more commonly associated with femininity, but in Turkey tea houses are men’s spaces. And of course they are always smoking.
4. Walking on cobblestones in high heels. Elif Şafak has a wonderful scene describing this challenge in the opening chapter of The Bastard of Istanbul.
5. The smells. Such an array of smells! And even the unpleasant ones were delightful, because they reminded me of where I was. Rose, cigarette smoke, roasting meat, begonias, fish, fresh-baked bread, cinnamon, cat pee, salt water, roasted chestnuts, tomatoes, human sweat, and in the spring and summer the occasional whiff of fresh-cut grass. And I swear that stone has a smell. There’s the smell of it after a rain, when it reeks of earth. It has a different smell when it is hot under the sun, and another when it is cool and lines the walls of a dimly lit hallway.
6. Walking. We had no car during our time in Istanbul, and I don’t think I would have driven if I had the money to buy one. It was stressful enough taking taxis. Everyone now comments how thin I look. My secret is 10,000 steps a day and as much dairy and baked goods as I feel like eating. The olive oil probably helps. As an aside, walking is a great way to get to know Istanbul.
7. Taking a ferry as an everyday form of transportation. We took a ferry tour of the Bosphorus, but most often we just hopped on a ferry to get to the Anatolian side of the city. I did once take the new Marmaray metro line that runs under the Bosphorus, but that was mere convenience. The ferries are all about the experience. My kids cried whenever I suggested we use the Metrobüs instead.
8. Along the transportation theme, I’m really going to miss dolmuş. These shared taxis are a super convenient way to get around the city; they connect neighborhoods like spider webs stretching across the massive sprawl of Istanbul. I needed to go to Koç University during my second to last week; the campus is located waaaaaay far north near the place where the Bosphorus and Black Sea meet. I dreaded it; I thought I would need to take a taxi much of the way, and was imagining the expense and possibly 2 hour+ trip. But then a friend told me to catch one dolmuş at a metro stop, then transfer to another dolmuş. Boom! I made the trip in just over an hour, and it costs me the equivalent of a couple dollars. Every large city should have dolmuş.
9. Mezes. It’s hard to go wrong with food cooked slowly in olive oil. It’s everywhere.
10. The history of everything. The imperial mosques and Ottoman palaces are obvious, but every interaction you have, everything you see, has a history to it. And you can’t quite understand it until you know the history. From the kind of head covering that women wear to the way food is cooked to who shows up at what political rally. It’s not just some individual choice; it is the culmination of events taking place over the course of years and sometimes generations. I often walked away from situations feeling like I could have used a history lesson beforehand.
11. No rodents. Just cats. EVERYWHERE! I decided that when I got back to the U.S. I would get a cat. His name will be either Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificant, depending on his personality. Or Roxelana (Suleiman’s wife, and a prominent figure in Ottoman history) if she’s a female.
It will be strange not to have these things in my everyday life anymore. It’s so nice to see family, and I’m looking forward to seeing other family and friends soon. But I’m also plotting my return to Istanbul.