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.

Sounds of Easter Morning

Christians in the world are celebrating Easter today, (except Greek Orthodox which is 5th of May), but those are not the sounds in my neighborhood this morning.  All of our windows are open; the temperature is 68F/20C now at 11:15 daylight savings time.  Since we just changed the clocks, and Istanbul is a late city anyway…it is calm outside…not yet kalabalık (crowded), which it will soon become in Moda as people flock to the shore and the outdoor restaurants for kahvaltı (breakfast).

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Historic peninsula in the background.

In the still quiet I hear the Moda Tramvay creaking on its rails. It stops 2 blocks away, and in the right conditions, like now, I can hear its bell clang and doors screech as they grind open.  On the street below is the occasional motorbike, and seagulls guffaw hysterically and crows comment in their raspy caw.

A Roma walks along playing a heartrending lyrical tune on his accordion, with his son along to collect alms.  I wonder if people throw coins out their windows.

A sign in the doorway of the building he is in front of warns off vendors and yabancılar (foreigners)...him/us?

A sign in the doorway of the building he is in front of warns off vendors and yabancılar (foreigners)…him/us?

We hear a loudspeaker and a flatbed truck turns down the street loaded with flat white cloth bags.  It looks like they are selling potting soil, but my six weeks of Turkish lessons fail me, so it’s just a guess.

No one is moving quickly this morning.

No one is moving quickly this morning.

In the ferry lane, the IDO between Kadıköy and Bostancı growls by.   It is a fast, powerful catamaran with a booming horn sounding a deep throated warning.  Louder though, are little fishing boats and skiffs, bobbing like bathtub toys in the wake of the ferry.  We hear them long before they come into view close to shore, the sounds of their staccato pistons piercing the smooth bass rumble of the ferry’s motors.

Here they all are, in one shot!

Here they all are, in one shot!

Off, a couple of blocks away are street dogs vocally defining their turf – Lucy heeds their warnings when we are out walking.  A junkman pushes his cart calling Eskiiiiiiciiiii   for the things we might want to pitch out – Spring cleaning made convenient.

Very efficient recycling system, the hurdacı (junkman)

Very efficient recycling system, the hurdacı (junkman)

Walking Lucy this morning, I stopped at the grocer and the bakery.  It is so peaceful early in the morning, with just enough people out to feel like a town.  What a luxury it is to have no breakfast food in the house, and gather those things simply by changing our daily walking route.  I was wearing a heavy cotton shirt and cords, with a wool shawl, and I was too warm.  It is T-shirt weather now, the warmest it has been since we arrived in December.  Spring, a time of rebirth, is here.  Getting out of heavy winter garb feels like its own rebirth.

Bostancı ferry pulling into  Kadıköy harbor, with Europe in background.

Bostancı ferry pulling into Kadıköy harbor, with Europe in background. The ferry’s mast points out the Istanbul Modern Museum. People strolling the rıhtım (quay) in the park, lower right.

A sound inside is big flies buzzing, and Lucy snapping at them…we need to buy screens for the windows, and have inquired at a small neighborhood shop…but our lack of Turkish makes it a challenge to get these things done efficiently.  The shopkeeper took Jim’s number, but Jim was unclear what he would do with it.  We hope he calls and comes to take measurements, and then makes us screens.  We can’t let our fingers do the walking and arrange things by phone because we can’t have comprehensible conversations.  We do not yet have a house cleaner, because we have to find one who will tolerate Lucy – who fears the vacuum cleaner and voices her anxiety–and we don’t know where to start on that, without Turkish.  Our Türk friends live on the European side, so they don’t have references for us.  Plus all of our Turkish classes and homework cuts into our time to track these essential local services down.

Çay (tea) and ezan (call to prayer) to write by...

Çay (tea) and ezan (call to prayer) to write by…

I love this İstanbul spring morning!

İlkbahar is coming!

Or, as we might say in the US…Spring has sprung!  Which isn’t exactly true…things are beginning to spring, more in some places than others…

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It’s been a very mild winter.  The second and last snow was January 7.  I know that date because I had my residence visa appointment that night, and wanted to keep it, a worry that diminished my joy of the snow day.  January 7 seems so long ago.

Two of three little neighbors...they speak German, English and Turkish.

Two of three little neighbors…they speak German, English and Turkish.

In February we left home every hafta içi (weekday) morning for Turkish class.  There was rain, and some days were raw–high 30’s-low 40’s, but reports from this winter in California sound similar.  Before we got to Turkey I had the idea the winters were like New York, but the ground doesn’t freeze here, and it is only slightly colder than Northern California.

We had a new kapıcı, plus helper, for a few days...

Our temporary kapıcı (doorman), plus helper, for a few days…

I remember that Magnolia trees on the campus at San José State would begin blooming in late January. At home our Chinese Plum tree usually was in full bloom by February 22.  Our tenants confirmed its normal behavior this year.

Jim getting ready to enter our gate, taken from our window above.

Jim getting ready to enter our gate, taken from our window above.

Here in Istanbul I began noticing changes at the beginning of March.  Flower shops had flats and pots out on the sidewalks, and people were stopping and buying.

Then I saw this:

A couple of weeks ago it was still cold, but getting colorful

A couple of weeks ago it was still cold, but getting colorful

Then these…

So bright.

So bright.

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Like everywhere else I’ve lived, the first warm weekend of the year brings everyone out.  This past Sunday looked like this:

Jim and Lucy at the back of the promenade.

Jim and Lucy promenade.

Everybody is out sunning…

How many nappers do you see?  Five.

How many nappers do you see?   Five cats lazing in the warmth.  A first hand view of parking challenges in Moda, as well.  We are gladly sans-car.

Lucy is doing the same thing here she did in California…

This spot is why we chose Moda to live...our sea dog in her realm.

This spot is why we chose Moda as our residence…our sea dog in her realm.

Istanbullular (people who live in Istanbul) are outside in winter more than New Yorkers or San Franciscans.  One California/Istanbul friend said Türks sit outside in winter because they like to smoke…maybe, but I was struck when I visited at really how much life here is lived outside.  There are outdoor heaters everywhere in constant use in the winter, day and night. And, there is the charming tradition of the “house pashmina”, color keyed to the restaurant’s decor.

Istanbul at play…

It's hard to see, but the people standing are shooting air guns at the string of balloons.

It’s hard to see, but the people standing are shooting air guns at the string of balloons.

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Relaxing in the sun…

T shirts!

T shirts!  Don’t you just relax looking at them?

We fell into step with a guy and his girlfriend…they’d been shooting the balloons.  Though Western, we don’t look like tourists…I had a camera, but nothing else with me, and Lucy was with us. Turks frequently ask if we live here, and seem surprised that we do, which has led to many fun conversations.  Our new friend told us about Turk WebTV…I found a sitcom I’m now going to watch every week as a barometer to how much Turkish I can understand.  I got none of it this week…I wonder how long it will take until I can understand it?  The couple lives in Beyoğlu near Taksim Square, but say they come over to the Kadiköy seaside every weekend.  Maybe we’ll connect up for brunch one day.

Sundays, regardless of the weather, are also football days.  There are 3 Istanbul soccer teams: Beşiktaş, Galatasaray, and Fenerbahçe.   Fenerbahçe’s stadium was on our walking route, and fans had been fueling up — Efes beer, mostly — all afternoon for the game that evening.  Here they are in the park in front of the stadium…

Fenerbahçe.fans in their regalia.

Fenerbahçe .fans in their regalia. I think the smoke in the background is BBQ.

Ours is a quiet street and building  but if there is noise, it is on Sunday nights.  If people entertain within our building, it is then.  The waterfront park across the street attracts inebriated fans singing their fight songs.  I am happy that the season won’t go all summer, it ends in May.

Local color.

Local color.

There are a couple of drawbacks to it getting warmer here.  First, the belongings we shipped are still not here, and we originally expected them mid-January.  We were tracking the ship we were told it was on, but last week that boat made its last call in Turkey at the port of Nemrut north of Izmir in the Aegean Sea.  Then it headed to New York, and is now in the North Atlantic.  Our freight forwarder said, “no your boat isn’t headed to New York”, but our stuff will be delayed a couple more days. My annoyance with being “stuffified” at home has been replaced by a longing for my books and artist tools.   I also want the art pieces we packed, and our pots/pans and kitchen knives. It’s been like this for the last 6 weeks, I’m not even asking about it anymore.

Flowering trees, new this week.

Flowering trees, new this week.

Instead I’m shopping!  I packed winter things, and not one piece of warmer weather clothing, in my suitcase.  It got warmer all of a sudden, and our classroom at Tömer is hot, the air conditioning isn’t on yet. In the city, if we are out, we are walking all day, so shoes and purses get a workout.  For Turkish-made purses and shoes, Istanbul is a candy store.

The other drawback is that as the trees fill in, we will lose our view.

These will leaf out...soon.  There's been a lot of branch trimming in the park, we hope they'll do this tree too.

These will leaf out…soon. There’s been a lot of branch trimming in the park, we hope they’ll do this tree too. All those little intermediate branches could go…

Happy sunning…or dreaming of it, depending on where you are..It is supposed to get cold here again in a few days…but “they” keep revising that coldness forecast upwards.

Joyous İlkbahar!