ResIstanbul

The first protest weekend I viewed the events catapulting Istanbul into international news mostly through my computer screen. I have borrowed most of the photos here  from friends’ Facebook posts.

A creepy but beautiful shot by  Noémie Deveaux, Photographer.  31 May, on Istiklal Caddesi

An unsettling but beautiful shot by Noémie Deveaux, Photographer. 31 May.

Facebook and Twitter posts from friends in the thick of it have been my window, along with Turkish and global news sources all over the world.  We live in a quiet neighborhood with no massive gatherings, but with obvious protest I’ll describe later.

Istiklal Caddesi, 01 June, from Hugh Pope's window.

Istiklal Caddesi, 01 June, from Hugh Pope’s window.

A caveat: I don’t know the lay of the land, lack adequate context, am not Turkish, haven’t been here long, don’t speak the language (not for lack of trying), and don’t understand the nuances or the politics of the culture.  My American lens is likely inaccurate.  This isn’t my fight.  Also, I am a guest in the country and unclear on my rights of expression. I have no role in influencing politics and am free to leave.

Taksim Square Sunday 01 June, 8pm.  The police had left.

Taksim Square Sunday 01 June, 8pm. The police were called off. Gezi Park is at the center left edge.

It is an interesting time here, and I’ll try to offer a considered look at the situation.  I find these events give me perspective on my own country and its system. For me, it gives insight into plights of the other fledgling democracies in the region too.

Early hours of Sunday 01 June, 40,000+ people walked over the Boğazıcı Koprusu (Bosphorus Bridge), which does not have a pedestrian walk.

Early hours of Sunday 01 June, 40,000+ people walked over the Boğazıcı Köprüsü (Bosphorus Bridge), which does not have a pedestrian walk.

Taksim Square is one commercial center of the city, and THE political center of the city.  It is where protests traditionally are held.  It is a main touristic area as well as a destination for Istanbullular after work and on weekends.  It is also a neighborhood where many people live.

Two photos of private sailboats motoring to join the protest, 01 June.

Two photos of private boats motoring up the Marmara Sea to the Bosphorus Strait to join the protest, 01 June.

You’ve seen my earlier photos of Istiklal Caddesi, an iconic outdoor pedestrian mall, along the lines of La Rambla in Barcelona and Calle Florida in Buenos Aires.  Istanbullar flock to the meyhanes (taverns) and night life in the streets and alleyways off of it. Political rallies and parades often weave their way through weekend crowds on Istiklal Caddesi. The highest point of Istiklal connects at Taksim Square, a huge plaza and transit hub where the Metro stations, bus and dolmuş (shared taxis) lines convene.

gas antidotes.

gas antidotes.

On November 5, sections of Taksim Square were blocked off with corrugated aluminum fencing and a big development project was begun.  We arrived one month later, and immediately heard complaints about how it had destroyed local businesses, and the public had no involvement in its conception or approval.  Less than a week after we arrived, I picked my cold rainy way through the muddy chunky mess to go to a life drawing session nearby.  I got lost in Gezi Parkı that first night, which was dark but not dangerous.

Taksim Square and Gezi Park in winter, before development project.

Taksim Square/Gezi Park in winter, before development project.

Gezi Park was Lucy’s best exercise place.  She needs to run, and we had three choices. Narrow Fıstıklı Parki on the Bosphorus, a close-by church parking lot obstructed by a cranky priest, and Gezi Park. The month we lived there, we found much of Beyoğlu and Cihangir just down the hill from Taksim Square pretty unlivable because of the huge muddy construction projects gentrifying the area. If we still lived in Cihangir, we would have closed our windows to tear gas, and worried about our pets..

New Taksim Square plans from AKP website.  Offending mall is upper right.

New Taksim Square plans from AKP website. Offending mall is center right.

The small group of young activists began protesting in the park Monday two weeks ago.  By that Friday, riot police trying to disperse the reportedly peaceful group used harsh measures of tear and pepper gas, and water cannon.  For the first few days there was very little coverage of the skirmish on local mainstream news, evoking cries of media suppression by the party.  The prime minister, at a ceremony announcing a (controversial) third bridge project across the Bosphorus had dismissed the 3-day old protest by stating the park decision was made and final. Period.

The original Ottoman-era military barracks that fell into disuse and disrepair.  The mall was to replicate this structure.

The original Ottoman-era military barracks that fell into disuse and disrepair. The mall was to replicate this structure, on the site of Gezi Park.

The general complaint against the current government is of authoritarian behavior, and headlong, unrestrained, crony-enriching development (sound familiar?).    I have Islamist friends who share that complaint. Secular Turks who experience the ruling party as Islamist autocrats imposing religiously motivated lifestyle restraints are really unhappy.

Rival futbol (soccer) teams showed solidarity to the protesters by wearing each other's scarves.  Unprecedented...these guys hate each other.

Rival futbol (soccer) teams showed solidarity to the protesters by wearing each other’s scarves. Unprecedented…these guys hate each other.

The PM is very popular and powerful, and as he is timed out of office after 2015, he is working to change the constitution to a presidential system, so to run again – a la Michael Bloomberg in New York.  The protest began over trees, but has evolved to become directly critical of the prime minister, due to how he has reacted.  The president, and deputy prime minister have met with representatives of the protesters and acknowledged the need for democratic dialogue.

Old Türks expressing their disagreement with the status quo.

Citizens expressing their disagreement with the status quo.

Most of my expat friends, while riveted to the subject, skirt the protest areas, however, many people live in the Taksim area or need to travel through its hub in their daily life, and are thereby impacted.

Our neighbor got caught in the crowd on 31 May, not knowing the protest was happening...

Our neighbor, picking up his daughter, got caught in the crowd on 31 May, not knowing the protest was happening…

We had a life drawing day planned on the violent Saturday in the Harbiye flat mentioned above.  Friday night, with protesters and tear gas on her street and trapped in her apartment, my friend cancelled the event and spent her time offering lemon juice to wash out the eyes of those gassed.  I’ve learned that antidotes are vinegar, milk and lemon juice.  Ayran works well too. 🙂

Manning the gas management supplies station...vountarily.

Manning the gas management supplies station…voluntarily.

Clashes moved to Beşiktaş, because the PM’s Istanbul office is close by.   A  different friend trying to skirt a blockage on the main shore road between Kabataş and Beşiktaş, took ferries to and from Kadıköy zigzagging across the Bosphorus, where she then sought tearful refuge in the smoke of fires set by protesters also as (interestingly) tear gas antidotes.  She reported that people on top outside decks of the boat moved inside with eyes streaming…gas from a helicopter they said…!!??

Sunday morning, 01 June, protestors were back, cleaning up the place...all of the food, and gas antidotes were placed here for those who needed  them.

Sunday morning, 01 June, protesters were back, cleaning up the place…all of the food, and gas antidotes were placed here for those who needed them.

The government has characterized the protesters as hooligans, extremists, and marginals, although they look like students and citizens of all ages who care about their life in Istanbul and Turkey. I suspect there are criminals mixed in — those who seek a situation to prey on.  I’ve also seen some reports that plain-clothed police officers have roughed up protesters and caused damage.

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Antidote. Noémie Deveaux Photographer, 31May.

All over Istanbul, including on our street, in our building, citizens have protested from their homes by hanging the Turkish flag, and banging pots and pans.  Called cacerolazo in the Latin world, this form of protest gathers steam because it is easy to participate. The practice began in Salvador Allende’s Chile in 1971.  Listening to a neighborhood chant, whistle, clap hands, ring bells and bang on cook pots is an amazing sound.  It sounds like entering an airport gate full of Hare Krishna. I found it charming, for a short while.  It erupted here the first Saturday and Sunday nights at the dusk call to prayer. Its acoustic nature is compelling. The first Sunday evening it took on its own life, and like a car alarm that someone is ignoring, it got tedious and sent Rita running to her most scary hidey-hole.  Over the last 10 days It has settled into a ten-fifteen minute 9 PM ritual.  One evening it was preceded by a recording of the Turkish anthem.

01 June, a hammam towel pressed into protest...Diren means "resist".

01 June, a hamam towel pressed into protest…Diren means “resist”.

An American friend who has lived in Turkey for many years said this protest reminded her of the 60’s in the US, rather than the Occupy movement.  Our Turkish friends agree that this is a watershed, but can’t tell us how.  The protest songs I learned in college are playing in my head…”pave paradise, put up a parking lot…”

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If it is the last day of the world, at least it…SNOWED!

We are here with three big rollers and one small rolling suitcase each.  Turkish Airlines offers more options, but is as inflexible as other airlines on baggage weight.  As I packed, I weighed each on a bathroom scale trying to balance it all, but in the flurry to get away, we stuffed things in pockets, disturbing my careful distribution, and incurred excess charges.

We left Rita’s toys, which is too bad, because animal toys are uninspired and limited here.  When our visiting friends ask what they can bring, we’ll probably tell them cat toys…unless by that time there is something we miss much more.  Jim and Lucy would already probably say it was peanut butter.  Something called that, made in Holland, is sold here, but it is gritty and dry and 20% hydrogenated vegetable oil.  Say “bacon” and Western expats crack up.

Thinking that the real cold weather would come after January, and our shipment of 45 pieces of stuff would have arrived by then, we both packed our heavier and bulkier clothing to go by sea.  Our load is delayed due to required signatures and inefficient communications, which feels like a run-around and means that we have no idea when our warmer clothes and general household goods will arrive.

Sticking more.

Sticking more.

Friends and others have predicted snow for over a week, but AccuWeather missed it. Yesterday it forecast 11°C for today, and obviously snow comes closer to zero.  We woke up to flurries this morning, and it has snowed all day.  Public buses have stopped, many shops closed, the city is sort of halted, as has running water in our flat.  After about four hours the water flowed again…we are grateful for the gift of getting it back!  The old city of Istanbul delights in many ways!

şemsiye mezarlık (umbrella graveyard)

şemsiye mezarlık (umbrella graveyard)

Oops.

Receiving…

Istiklal Caddesi is quiet.

Istiklal Caddesi is quiet.

Reverse Dalmation.

Reverse Dalmatian.

Here in Cihangir, where we climb everywhere we go, just walking around is treacherous.  Adding two or four wheels and a lot of weight to the mix is a recipe for disaster.  We watched a truck stuck in a “valley” between two steep streets, unable to crest either of them. Since this district is also an ongoing construction zone – gentrification, which will totally change the character of the neighborhood in a few years – the slush quickly turns to mire.  Locals say it does not freeze here, so we’ll probably have a mud season until spring.

Snow Dog

A new route.

I remember a board game I played as a kid called Chutes and Ladders.  Walking in Cihangir is like playing an interactive version, especially in the snow.  Landing on a ladder moves you forward, hitting a chute sends you back.  We keep discovering new “ladders”, new stair steps that shorten our trip, or keep us off narrow and crowded roads.  My morning walks with Lucy uncover these treasures.  Each new one excites her – she races to discover new smells, and add her commentary.  Depending on how one enters it, the stair is a ladder or a chute.  On the descents, I need to keep reminding Lucy “no pulling”.

Chutes and Ladders

Chutes and Ladders

It would be fun to have a toboggan here.

It would be fun to have a toboggan here.

Warning: Food Porn

Friday was Jim’s 65th birthday.  Just in front of the tram stop at Fındlıkı station is this shop:

Elif'li Pasta and Cafe

Elif’li Pasta and Cafe

and, it provided our takeout dinner.  Pasta means this:

He could "eat a whole tray of that stuff and not blink an eye"...

He could “eat a whole tray of that stuff and not blink an eye”…

So, pasta (pastries) was our main course, topping off the signing of our lease on an apartment in Moda.

It got very cold as the sun dropped in the afternoon, our realtor was talking snow, although there is none in the forecast so far. Istanbullus LOVE the outdoors.  In our new home town of Moda (as of January 1) people dine al fresco in mid December, aided by establishment-provided pashminas and patio heaters.  I wonder what it will take to get us all inside?

Our visitors will need to ride the glorious ferry to see the tourist gems of the ages, but when they work their way back to Anatolia, they will revel in Moda and Kadiköy’s charms too…

Basically, we took the first flat we looked at…we did look at another in Kabataş/Beyoğlu, which we really liked, and in some respects was more suitable, but the Moda place has a wide open view of the Sea of Marmara, facing west.  That means big boats and daily sunsets.  The street in front is very quiet, the Kadiköy/Moda Tramvay is 1/2 block away if for some reason we don’t want a 10 minute stroll along the water to the ferry, and directly down steps is a big park on the corniche for our athletic water dog.

Beyoğlu is charming in an old European way, with very narrow, VERY steep  cobblestoned streets and long sheer stairsteps.  There are tiny groceries, several to a block, but none of the goods inside have inspired us to step into the kitchen.

On our reconnaissance trip in May, we walked many of the streets we do now. We ranged all over Beyoğlu, up along the Golden Horn to Fener and Balat, we scaled the Asian cliffs of Kuzguncuk, ruling it out because it felt a bit far away from the center.  Taking Istanbul’s traffic into consideration, we chose against Beşiktaş because we would have been reliant on street-bound buses   We learned the hard way one long Sunday afternoon, when every bus that stopped was full and we walked all the way home, that rail and water were desirable. Were it not for an American friend who was living in Moda, we may not have made our way over there, but the minute we stepped off the ferry in Kadiköy, it felt more “us”.  It was a bit more “beachy”, lighter, more open.  It is still very urban, and today it felt like a smaller town in Europe.  Moda (a neighborhood) in larger Kadiköy has enough going on to be interesting and yet seems small enough to be personal.  We were Upper West Siders in Manhattan in the early 80’s when hookers worked Broadway above 84th street and beyond 96th Street was the DMZ. I chose my NY apartment, partly because I could hear birds over the street noise.

So, here is a sampling of what caught our eye as we roamed our future neighborhood just before we signed our rental lease.

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This'll get us in the kitchen!

This’ll get us in the kitchen!

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From the marzipan garden

From the marzipan garden

How about a mushroom omelet?

How about a mushroom omelet?

Türks love sweets...for a minute I thought I was in Paris.

Türks love sweets…maybe more than Jim does.

Eat those fruits and veggies!

Eat those fruits and veggies!

This is available in December!

This is available in December!

Türks have been uniformly welcoming to us.  We really need to speak the language to live here, but when we are standing on the street perplexed, trying to communicate in our only language, English, a local who does speak English always steps in to help out.

And, consumerism is alive and well…all customers are welcome…

"A nice bath for junior, don't you think?"

“A nice bath for junior, don’t you think?”

"I'll play bad cop..."

“I’ll play bad cop…”

Sonra görüsürüz!  (see you later)