Sketches of Istanbul
The transcontinental city of Istanbul has been bewitching travelers for centuries. Between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, continuously caressed by the waters of the Bosphorus, the city known as Byzantium and later Constantinople holds a unique place in the history of our extraordinary world.
One of its most renowned sons is Orhan Pamuk, a brilliant writer whose work has shaped both my ideas and memories of Istanbul. In honor of his multilayered stories and profound love for his city, I’ve created a few abstract sketches, to unravel a few aspects of my days by the Bosphorus.
Polarising Sultanahmet’s skyline stand Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, two symbols of strength and prayer, radiating silence and communal solitude.
Inside the Hagia Sophia, under the omnipotence of the calligraphic circles, people gather in awe of the human ability to convey overbearing magnitude disguised as spiritual yearning. Sitting by the minbar, as if waiting for Friday’s sermon, a stripped cat yawns, safely aware of the needlessness of ablutions.
The vast circle of lights hovering above the restricted square in the middle of the Blue Mosque remind you of a perfectly constructed solar system, a place where order has subjugated chaos, having successfully eradicated black holes and shooting stars. While an elderly couple gawks at the patterned ceiling, a little girl studies the colors in the carpet, before jumping up and running towards daylight, her hair becoming luminous for the few seconds a black curtain swirls.
Cats. Sleepy-eyed remnants of Byzantium, gatekeepers of fake empires and cold gazes under the sun. Scattered, elongated figures of grace and cunning. These climbers of ruins are the true owners of the minaret city, their casual waggling of tails dictating the seasons and the sensual breaks in the continuous flow of time. The sun, caressing fur throughout most of the year, is to these sinuous creatures a mantle as reassuring as the robe kindly shared by the Prophet, who knew better than to disturb the sleep of the sons and daughters of Bast.
Male. The stench of men overcrowding the streets of Beyoglu. Dark children of Suleyman, embracing each other as the sun follows their footsteps. Motile gametes spreading along the dry horizon. You walk in their midst, unnoticed, transparent to every gaze. Your breath is sterile. Descending the hill towards the Grand Bazaar, you find yourself shimmying through chaotic traffic and mustachioed vendors of sunglasses.
Once inside the multiform corridors of trinket shops and spice stalls, a dizzying array of colors and smells sweeps your entire being. You feel as a trespasser in Ali Baba’s cave, having forgotten the password leading to your exit.
Time speeds forward when the mind is lost. Finally emerging from the labyrinth, you retrace your steps uphill. The sun is leaning downwards. Suddenly, the sound of a ring bell breaks the mechanical sway of your legs. You stop at a crossroad. A whiff of femininity strangles your throat as a swarm of schoolgirls descends a stone staircase shaped like infinity, their dark blue skirts undulating as jellyfish swimming in the open sea. Girlish giggles surround and entrance you.
They brush past your body with the confidence of timeless youth, leaving behind them a patchwork key to a moist world of scent and skin. In the middle of the crossroad, standing menacingly, a policeman fondles his Uzi as you continue your journey home.
Between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, history flows through a silken route long forgotten. Your fingers caress the curve of a rusty rail as the wind blows across the Bosphorus. The boat is slow, but will transport you to a new continent.
Stepping Kadikoy for the first time is like shuffling the pages of a dusty book, where you read stories of faraway lands steeped in the transient fog of antiquity. Passengers depart into an early afternoon made soft by the Sea of Marmara, oblivious to your sudden clenching of teeth, veiled evidence of the turmoil in your eyes. There will be no shedding of tears, but you swallow your first taste of Asia with trembling lips.
The return journey to Europe is accompanied by a dwindling sun and an ascending balloon.
Approaching the Golden Horn, seagulls greet the coming evening with endless squawks, while the contours of minarets rise in the closing distance. You are reminded of a ragged postcard, lost inside a treasure chest, to be discovered by the curious hands of a child.
The orange sun is a perfect circle. All the tales within Istanbul are mirrored by the luminescent eye above the horizon. Centuries turn to seconds, or the time a reflection shimmers. Darkness falls upon the waters of Istanbul. You are mesmerized, grateful, silent.