I believe every city has a certain essence. You can’t necessarily put it into words, but once you live there you know it. For instance, the essence of Washington, D.C. (at least in my experience) was self-importance. Everyone in DC is wrapped up in affairs and doings, business and busy-ness that they see as profound and important–whether it really is or not.
Istanbul also has an essence, and for me the essence of Istanbul is: a beautiful pain in the ass.
As I said, Istanbul is a universe of chaos: you can be going about your day and be detoured by an angry communist protest and a destructive soccer riot. On May 1st, International Labor Day, the city shut down public transportation, causing people to cancel plans in the city and even miss their flights. Then there are the daily inconveniences: overcrowded metros, choked up traffic, belligerent taxis, aggressive salespeople, various kinds of unwanted attention. There are times when I’ve been put over the edge. This article at Time Out Istanbul sums up the situation in a succinct list of pros–including unceasing opportunities and ample air connections–and cons–concrete jungle, ugly development, mass insanity, and empty illusion.
But when you find the moments of stillness, of calm, they seem all the more beautiful and uplifting. It can come to you slowly, like taking a leisurely ferry to Üsküdar and seeing the Maiden’s Tower superimposed against Sultanahmet and Galata Tower, or suddenly and without warning, like turning a corner and coming face to face with an epic Bosphorus vista. It may be dependable, like the daily view of the sunset from Galata bridge, or it may be fickle, the usually charmingly dilapidated streets of Karaköy made grubby on an overcast day. Or the other day, when I went to meet a friend at their offices in Levent.4. The street was plain, the usual tunnel of cement with few trees, but when I was admitted past the office’s gate I was met with a luscious green garden surrounding a masmavi (very deep blue) pool. Going through a door or turning the corner, you never really know what you’re going to get.
At least, that’s how I see it now. I’ve been thinking about this city a lot as I’m planning on moving there this year. Will I be able to put up with all the pains for the sake of the beauty? Either way, I’m curious to find out, or perhaps to discover a deeper essence of the city.