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August 9, 2001
My City (Part I)


Years ago, Turkish journalist Refik Erduran found himself taking a walk with one of his country's most famous writers, R. H. Karay. If I recall the anecdote correctly, Erduran was in high school at the time, and Karay was one of his teachers. In the middle of expounding on a weighty topic Karay cut himself short and said, "Refik, you're one person."

"Sir?" Erduran was perplexed.

"You're only one person."

"I don't understand."

"I mean, talking to you about this directly is a waste of my time. I'll go write it up and then thousands can be exposed to it!" And with that he walked off. It was a typically cheeky, if not rude, outburst for the narcissistic Karay, who was to reveal to Erduran during another conversation that his deceptively "meaningless" last name was simply the most vulgar Turkish word for the male organ, written backwards. (Most Turks did not have last names until 1934; and some pretty colorful ones were picked at that point.)

So what's my point? He and I are very different people but just this once I'll borrow from Karay (hey, I know, that name will never sound the same again once you know the story behind it). Three people asked me recently to supply some information about Istanbul, and I thought I'd just put it out there. I mean here. I can't claim to reach thousands, but Borderlands has so far pulled in about 600 people, with several dropping by every day. (I thought for a long time that that was the leader among my non-menu pages, but it turns out the long September 2000 is top dog with 1,200 views so far. Must be all those Google freaks.)

I spent a few hours looking through my photos the other day (a bit more complicated than it sounds because my data drive still won't communicate with the primary hard disk and I end up going through back-up CDs whenever I need to find archival material) and gathered a bunch. I thought I'd do something different with this. I'll provide basic (and off the beaten path) information, but I'll break it up into little pieces and tie some of them to little stories or anecdotes. I want to keep coming back, maybe not daily but frequently until August 24, and give you bits and pieces of my city, the way it lives in my head and comes out during dinner conversation.

I'm doing this not only for you but also for myself, for memory is my Power Bar and clumsy pop culture referencing is my middle name.

I'll post either early in the morning or late at night (like I'm doing right now), and you can take your pick from what you find, depending on your needs. (I won't be spending a huge amount of time on these, so minor errors are not out of the question and corrections are always welcome.)

Before we begin, you should acquire some basic familiarity. I mean, if I wanted to tell you about the New York City area, I'd begin by laying out the five boroughs roughly, make sure you knew about that big park in the middle of Manhattan, and the green woman with the torch guarding the harbor. Once we got the basics down we'd be able to talk about the bridges, the scenic wonder that is Bayonne (home to the Piranha Club), the landfill Staten Island got stuck with, and where Tony Soprano lives in North Caldwell (I'm sorry, I love baiting Google).

So I'll give you a little map with the next installment. It'll enable you to identify that sliver of water going through the city, reveal the world-famous aphrodisiac known as the Golden Horn, and show you the most prominent landmarks, neighborhoods and highways--not that you should entertain the notion of renting a car and motoring on them, even though as I write this the currency has devalued to the point that the rental fee, insurance, post-collision deductible expense and first-class hospital stay should run you no more than what it costs to call your primary physician's thrice-removed receptionist in America.

From the air

From the air

For those looking for for a guide book, I recommend the Eyewitness Guide to Istanbul first and foremost. It's a little pricey at 25 dollars, but its visual approach, rendering neighborhoods in loving, near-edible detail, makes it a winner. It's practical stuff section is great, too. For Turks reading this, a Turkish version is available. The Everyman Guide, despite the blatantly orientalist cover and opening plates, is a good source of information. Finally, if you prefer your info in the form of medium-length essays, Insight Guide (with some very good non-touristy photos) is your ideal tree-based product (not to mention the all-time favorite, Strolling through Istanbul by Freely and Sumner-Boyd, and its Turkish counterpart, Istanbul Gezi Rehberi by Murat Belge--which is also available in English).

One more thing today. The city of Istanbul is not ruled by its mayor or the governor or anybody else. It is under the spell of stray cats. They come and go as they please. If you're dining at an outdoor establishment, especially one that serves fish, you should keep an eye out for the local whiskas and share graciously. (You can always order another plate; restaurants are cheap as long as you don't go to a pretentious one, in which case you'll pay Rainbow Room prices). There's always that weak cat among them, and without your help he or she may not survive. You will need to throw a decoy or two to distract the meanest, strongest ones, and then quickly feed the little one.

And then there's the joy of feeding seagulls pieces of your simit when taking the ferry across the Bosphorus. But we'll talk about that later.

break

Waiting for the ticket office to open?
Waiting for the ticket office to open. Beylerbeyi dock on the Bosphorus.

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The current banner photo was taken in Istanbul in October 2000.
The satellite photos were sent to me years ago; I have no idea who took them.


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