Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012 - No comments

Istanbul: The Daily Dance

This was the piece I wrote for an assignment for my writing course on "My hometown in 500 words." (I know, I know, Istanbul is not my "real" hometown, but I like to pretend.) :)


A chaotic choreography is performed daily on the streets of Istanbul. Every person, every vehicle has its part in the ensemble. I step out my front door and take my place on the stage.

I’m “home for the holidays,” spending the Sacrifice Festival with my “Turkish family.” It was on this street five years ago that I took my first wobbly steps in the dance. I’d like to think I’ve become more graceful since then, that I have improved my sense of Turkish rhythm and no longer have two cultural left feet.

The crisp November wind sends rainbows of laundry aflutter, carrying on it the smell of freshly baked bread and the lingering scent of the woodstoves that kept the neighbourhood warm last night. Yaşar Abi is selling roasted chestnuts on the back of his truck. “I’ll stop on my way home,” I promise. Accompanied by the clatter of backgammon dice and the low voices of the men huddled outside the cafe puffing away on their cigarettes, the junk-collector calls out a nasal “Eskiciiiiiiiii” as he lumbers up the street with his cart of broken treasures.

Wedging myself between a laptop, a grocery cart and the door, I punch my Akbil to pay my fare as my bus swings out and creates a space for itself in the morning traffic jumble. We weave our way through clouds of exhaust fumes down the hill into Kadıköy, braiding paths with overcrowded minibuses and grouchy taxi drivers, past the median where the pigeons congregate, the dilapidated wooden Ottoman mansion that I’ve always had a crush on, and the grey-haired pastry-seller who once wrote a poem about my friend Mandy’s blue eyes.

At every stop, as the bus brakes just long enough to inhale more people than it spits out, a hierarchical reshuffling occurs. Texting teenagers in Converse give up their seats for old men with canes. Spots are swapped to prevent a covered woman from sitting beside an unrelated male. Those of us hanging onto ceiling straps with one hand and guarding wallets with the other struggle to move back a few inches without landing in any unsuspecting laps.

Wriggling my way to the middle door, I am ejected onto the crowded sidewalk. I join the crush of shoppers inching their way through the Fishermens’ Market, scouting delicacies to spread before their holiday guests. Miniskirts from Moda meld with headscarves from Üsküdar, bobbing and twisting to avoid colliding with henna-haired gypsies selling roses, hamals shouldering baskets full of old ladies’ groceries and çaycıs deftly swinging trays of steaming tea cups.

Sidestepping puddles of fishy water and ducking under strings of dried peppers, I dip in and out of the throng. At the Ecevitler deli, with its singing butcher and nineteen varieties of olives, I purchase smoked eggplant salad and cabbage dolma and pause to watch a shopkeeper toss a fish to a cat perched on a striped awning. The call to prayer momentarily silences the music floating down from the rooftop cafes, but the chattering seagulls and Bosphorus ferry horns pay no heed.

Several hours and multiple shopping bags later, the grainy remains of a Turkish coffee break still on my lips, the bus deposits me at my stop. I measure the rhythm of the evening rush hour, plotting the lane by lane dash that will get me safely across the street. Two others join me on the curb, and we share glances of “us-against-the-traffic” before charging into the first available opening. With a grand finale of “car-step-step, car-step-step,” I nod to my partners and exit the stage. Yaşar Abi trades me three lira for a bouquet of steaming chestnuts as my reward for surviving another performance, and with a mental bow, I head for home.