Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Missing Istanbul . . .

As I sit here out on the verandah, slowly being lulled into sleepiness by the gentle rocking of this big ship upon the waves . . . I find myself thinking fondly back to Istanbul.

I wonder why that is? Why among all my travelling is it always the big cities which shine brightest in my memories? Honolulu, Paris, Rome – it must be the New Yorker in me! While everyone yearns for the quiet little cottage in the countryside, I find myself forever drawn to the hustle and bustle of grid-like streets and hurrying crowds. To move to the sway of humanity down quaint, cobble-stoned side alleys lined with shops run by indifferent merchants offering wares of dubious origin and authenticity.

Perhaps it’s the anonymity of the big city that I’m drawn to. The way everyone looks through you but not AT you. You are seen, but rarely noticed. Thousands of eyes scan your face, but no one remembers your name. We’re all just part of the same tapestry – student, professional; foreigner, native; rich, poor. We all belong to that collective OTHER. The gestalt consciousness of the city-mind that never slumbers, but is forever dreaming and yearning for the best life has to offer.

Okay, I realize I’m being oddly philosophical here—dare I say, even romantic—in my enthusiasm. Suffice to say that my brief two days in Istanbul were enough to show me that it is a city after this New Yorker’s own heart. It represents all that I love about cities. The aforementioned anonymity they afford, sure. But also the sheer diversity of all that there is to experience. It has history and timeless culture dating far further back than my own birthplace. I cannot stress enough how much this appeals to me. Just letting my mind roam back through the centuries and imagining all that this city has seen. Things that I’ve only read about in textbooks! Yeah, this element thrills me. It’s why I love old cities like Paris and Athens the most.

Istanbul, like New York, is also forever full of bustle no matter the time of night. I’ve been to other big cities like Philly and San Diego where the main downtown areas seem to shut down the minute the sun sets. Not in Istanbul. For a place where Islam is the dominant religion, folks there sure do know how to have a good nightlife. There’s this image in my head of Lisa and I racing through the lit up maze-like streets of the Beyazit district in the back of a cab that will forever stay emblazoned in my heart. It is the quintessential element of what I love most about cities. That vibrant, electric energy that fills the night when you tap into the frenetic pulse of the metropolis. And lest you think that this is just the ravings of the newly smitten to a strange and exotic foreign land – think again. I still get this same thrill even when Lisa and I go out to dinner in New York!

Like I said, it’s a big city thing. You just can’t duplicate that sort of feel in a rural setting.

Istanbul is a city alive with secrets. Intrigues that go back a thousand years and people who come from a long and proud history. There is a sense of respect and love for time-worn traditions in the shops and restaurants you frequent there, as well as an irrepressible joie de vivre that the younger urbanites share for all things new and modern.

See, few places on earth have that perfect mixture of old meets new like Istanbul. I truly regret that we didn’t have the time to stay longer. All I have are the pictures, videos, and memories inside my head to remind me of the beautiful, glittering city by the sea we left behind. Where the people are no more standoffish than any other city dweller, but are perhaps just a tad more friendly and accepting than most. A city not unlike New York in many ways, yet at the same time completely different and exciting in that old, old world sort of fashion.

For now, these memories and two-dimensional captures will have to suffice. But mark my words: I do plan to return there someday. Yeah, this after just two days . . . I’ve become entranced. That right there should tell it all.

Istanbul is, and forever will be, in my heart.

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