A few months ago I spent a week in Istanbul. The first few days were shrouded in mist and damp. Mealtimes were announced by the cries of hungry seagulls circling around the building, screaming for the bread thrown out the windows.
Though right in the centre of Istanbul, we were on an island. I could see Fatih Mosque and Suleymaniye and Beyazit Tower. I could look out into hidden parks, and wonder.
We escaped one day to find ourselves in a film-set perfect neighbourhood, the butcher, tea house, supermarket, decorative housewares, plastic cheapwares, newsagent, bank, all gathered around a neat triangular park. The supermarket boasted eighty years service. At any moment I expected someone from the “Seksenler” series, the Eighties, to step out. The predominance of mobile telephone accessory shops was the only indication of modern day. This was two steps away from a main street of Burger Kings, MacDonalds and chain-store baklava shops.
After a few days the weather began to clear and I could see for miles, toward sky scrapers on the Anatolian side, and even, if you squint, the giant construction on the side of Camlica.
Each day I rose with the sun, watching the transition from the sparkle of city lights to the magnificent splendour of the sky. When the sun finally rose above the horizon and washed away the deep reds and purples of the dawn it was nearly disappointing.
It was funny to be in Istanbul, city of minarets and history, juncture of continents, crossroads by land and sea, and yet feel so isolated from history, so very embedded in the present day. In some ways it’s a microcosm of life, where we live in a historical, cultural milieu that actually has very little to do with getting the kids to school and making sure the dinner’s on the table.