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…”

A City in Love with Itself

It is more appropriate to say a people love their city – but in my mind, Istanbul is so much its own entity, with its deep history only fleetingly shared by its current inhabitants.

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Istanbullular (the people of Istanbul) love flowers.  In early spring, the title for this post popped into my head as we were out walking.

This meticulous flower bed in a local park named this blog post.

This meticulous flower bed in a local park named this blog post.

It was barely past winter and obviously municipal workers had been planting.  A lot. This is a different phenomenon from residents trying to cure winter cabin fever by planting blooms.  It is public and pervasive.  It represents investment, identity, and political will.

Early March, on the way to the ferry pier.

In March, on the way to the ferry pier.

I began noticing the flowers before it was tulip-time, but the tulip is the embodiment of spring for Istanbul. Tulips are a reconnection to the Ottoman past.   From about 1730, when mobs destroyed the lavish gardens of Sultan Ahmet III until the 1960s, when a special garden in Emirgan Park was created, Istanbul’s tradition of tulip cultivation was suspended.  Tulip gardens that had lined the Bosphorus disappeared.

A roundabout in Moda in late March. The center of it is a mini park.

A roundabout in Moda in late March. The center of it is a mini park.

We kept hearing about the display in Emirgan Park, although tulips are all over, everywhere.  Since 2006, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has planted millions of tulips from November to April each year in preparation for the annual tulip festival.  2013 is the 8th year of the festival.  For this festival 14,420,000 tulips of 270 varieties have been planted in parks, gardens, avenues, roundabouts, and rest and walking areas in the city.

Emirgan Park, once a private garden, is a beautifully landscaped public woods on the Bosphorus

Emirgan Park, once a private garden, is a beautifully landscaped public woods on the Bosphorus

Hilly and beautiful Emirgan Park on the Bosphorus on the European side is the main venue.  With the addition of other bulbous plants, such as hyacinth and amaryllis, 20 million plants have been planted in that park alone.  On Wednesday April 10, Jim and I marveled at the display on a sunny, but chilly day—not too chilly for a Mado dondurma (ice cream) cone, however.

Emirgan Park

Emirgan Park

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The variety is breath-taking. These were earlier ones, beginning to curl. Bulb planting is sequential so that blooms will continue from late March through April.

Tulips are so associated with the Netherlands that tulip bulbs are sold as souvenirs in the Amsterdam airport.  However, the tulip, lale, in Turkish (from Persian lâleh) is indigenous to the central Asian steppes, primarily the Pamir, Hindu Kush and Tien Shan mountains.  The Ottomans (1299-1923) cultivated them and brought them to their capital city Istanbul, where they were planted in the gardens of palaces and the elite.

Amazing variety, riotous color.

Amazing variety, riotous color.

The Lâle Devri (tulip Age) period of Ottoman history, during the reign of Sultan Ahmet III saw an explosion of passion for the bloom, from its actual presence in gardens to its appearance in costume and ceramics.  Reportedly the sultan so loved the gardens that for an evening party, tiny lanterns were strapped to tortoise’s shells and they slowly roamed through the flowers.  Imagine!  The flowers came to signify commodity culture and excess and most were destroyed in the Patrona Halil Revolt in 1730.

Iznik tiles with stylized lale motif .

Iznik ceramic tiles with stylized lale motif .

Nearby societies also adore the flower.  In Persia, lovers declared their love with a red tulip, whose black center represented the lover’s heart burned to coal by passion.  Yellow tulips signified helpless and utter devotion.

This was one of my favorites, reminding me of the Iznik tulip.

This was one of my favorites, reminding me of the Iznik tulip.

In Emirgan Park, flowers are arranged in all variety of beds and shapes, forming the Turkish flag, waves, dolphins, and stylized tulips for example.  The park itself, at one time a private backyard for a sultan’s magnificent wooden yalı (seaside mansion) now includes three restored 19th century pavilions originally built as hunting and guest lodges.  It remained private property until granted to the city in the 1940s.

Sarı Kösk (Yellow Mansion), a restored 19th C. lodge

Sarı Kösk (Yellow Mansion), a restored 19th C. lodge

Ottomans cultivated more than 1800 varieties of tulips. The first tulip seeds and bulbs are thought to have been sent by an ambassador to the sultan of Turkey to Europe in 1554, but the flower became popular due to Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius’ work at the University of Leiden around 1593.  Tulips were exotic and different from other European flowers of the time, and demand grew quickly.

One of Jim's favorites, he said he always wanted a car of this color.  He said he never found it.

One of Jim’s favorites, he said he always wanted a car of this color. He said he never found it.

There are single hued tulips and wild multi-colored varieties.   The exotic varieties are produced by the “tulip breaking virus”, which “breaks” the plant’s lock on a single color.  It takes 7-12 years to grow to a flower producing bulb from a seed, and since the virus only operates on a bulb, the exotic, highly valued “broken” flowers can only be produced from the few “offset” buds that grow from a bulb each year, not seeds that are harvested from flowers.  Because the virus also weakens the bulb, fewer offset bulbs are created, making the most exciting flowers very rare. Tulip Mania, a speculative bubble of tulip bulbs brought the Dutch economy to its knees in 1636-37.

Emirgan Park

Emirgan Park

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Here this spring, I began noticing beautifully planted flower beds in early March, and tulips blooming at the end of March.  On our morning walk, Lucy called my attention to an attractive group of sidewalk planters…she thought they would be really nice to walk – and maybe do other things – in.  I redirected her and took out my camera.

This photo was taken at the end of March.  Today the tulips are white fluffy ones.  There are a few red petals left, and some yellows that bloomed in between the reds of March and the whites of now.

This photo was taken at the end of March. Today the tulips are white fluffy ones. There are a few red petals left, and some yellows that bloomed in between the reds of March and the whites of now.

Someone's kids in Emirgan Park.

Someone’s kids in Emirgan Park.

I love watching as urban areas don their spring attire, and Istanbul is in a class of its own.  I remember long dense beds of tulips blooming in the median on Park Avenue in New York, flowers beds in Rockefeller Center, residents planting their window boxes and the flowering trees lining the neighborhood streets.  A big event was commercial, the annual Macy’s flower show filling their Herald Square main floor.

Emirgan Park

Emirgan Park

Emergan Park

Emirgan Park

Last spring we enjoyed the magnificent spring plantings in Buchart Gardens on a visit to Victoria, British Columbia.  In the northern California suburbs,  spring is a more private celebration.  I enjoyed noting the daffodils sprouting on highway 280 – some years ago someone planted bulbs on gentle ridges along the freeway, and we always joined the many people buying backyard annuals at plant nurseries in April.

Emirgan Park

Emirgan Park

Tulips are a favorite of private window boxes.  We'll load our boxes with bulbs this fall too.

Tulips are a favorite of private window boxes. We’ll load our boxes with bulbs this fall too.

Here in Istanbul, though, it is SO public, exuberant, coordinated…and gorgeous.  The planting is staged so that beds will have new blooms emerging as earlier ones fade. Emirgan Park is the main venue, but not the only park to be full of tulips, not to mention the bloomers that adorn expressways, main roads and most any little triangle of dirt anywhere. Too bad each tulip only lasts about a week.

Enjoying Emirgan on the Bosphorus.

Enjoying Emirgan on the Bosphorus.

On the way back from Emirgan Park.

On the way back from Emirgan Park.

Winter Driving Lessons in Beyoḡlu

Lesson 1.  Don’t.

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After the snow a few days ago the weather stayed overcast and cold, around 0°C.  In Cihangir’s peaks and valleys, all manner of wheeled vehicles are spinning out, usually when they don’t have enough of a running start to get up the hill.  The sound of spinning tires on icy asphalt is painful.  You know the driver is desperate, and his tires are suffering. Last night, trekking from Bolahenk Sokak to Taksim Square, we had to duck and cover as fish-tailing wheel-spinning cars tried to crest the hill and negotiate a right turn as we entered that intersection.

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Looks navigable, but don’t try it.

Yesterday morning for our sunny walk, Lucy and I chose a steep street guaranteed to offer views of the Bosphorus, and gave witness to gnashing of teeth and smoking tires of the long line of cars and drivers trying to scale the terrain.

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Shiny Bosphorus after days of gray.

The previous peak, which leads to a valley, out of which these folks were trying to climb, has big construction projects which this morning were coating the cobble-stoned streets with wet clay, clogging the driver’s treads.  The narrow street has a foot-wide sidewalk, so Lucy and I sought protection in a large driveway and noticed that the more skillful drivers maneuvered to the seam between the street pavers and the gutter.   This morning, with an ebbing of traffic a panel truck driver painstakingly, but strategically, backed himself into a spot from which to get a running start, at which point a long line of vehicles impatiently queued behind him.  I felt sorry for him as he pulled out of their way– imagining him entering into a behavioral loop of some duration.

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Cihangir from the Catholic church parking lot, where the cranky priest won’t let Lucy play ball.

This being our first winter here, we don’t know if a long swath of cold wet gray days is the norm, but the sunshine, this Christmas Eve is really welcome!

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Winter blooms sunbathing.

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Cihangir morning.

We are hosting Turkish friends this evening.  Our intention was to cook our traditional Christmas turkey and trimmings.  In my typical impetuous enthusiasm, I invited them, and have agonized over it ever since.  We don’t know where to find the ingredients.  We’ve looked, but can’t find.  Also, we have not cooked in our well-stocked-for-tourists, but not for real cooking, kitchen.  So, days ago I decided we’d bring in paket (take out) for our guests.  Company on Christmas Eve also requires a level of Christmas décor.  We bought two wreaths, one with red metal jingle bells and fake greens, which we hung on the big old front doorknob, and another gold pine cone wreath that we replaced a picture with.  That and the red and green candles on the table, still don’t cut it, so we are taking our 15% off coupons to Tepe Home (where yesterday we bought most of the furniture we will need for our place in Moda) to buy the green glitter raffia trees I’ve been eyeing.  Next year we will have a properly appointed Christmas, Inshallah.

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You have to buy early in Turkey too! Tree trimming was picked-over two days before Christmas.

Merry Christmas to All.