Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I am currently in Istanbul reading, appropriately enough, "Istanbul" by Orhan Pamuk. I just finished the chapter where Pamuk describes the beauty and poetry that outsiders find in the poor, ruinous areas of northwestern Istanbul, along the old city walls.

I myself ventured out to said area two days ago to visit the Chora Church. When I exited the Metro at Topkapi Ulubatli, I was shocked to find myself walking amidst such complete waste and wreackage. To my left were the ancient wall ruins of Constantinople, and to my right were 20th century ruins, skeletal remains of houses, stores, apartments, and other buildings. Piled around the structures were mountains of trash, old furniture, shoes, clothing, old pictures, and other junk of a personal nature. I had realized earlier on in my trip that Istanbul is a bit run down in many parts, but what I found on this day was unlike anything else I had seen thus far. I immediately thought this is what Gaza or Baghdad must look like, the rubble and ruins of bombed out buildings with everything strewn about. But no, I was not in Gaza or Baghdad, but in north west Istanbul along the old city walls.

I was surprised to find people actually living in the wreackage, and I learned today that the area was once a hub for Gypsie living and the government had to kick them out and tear the buildings down. They are planning to rebuild much of the area, but it will take at least five years to clean everything up before re-building.

Pamuk writes about the "accidental beauty" of these areas, and how only outsiders can appreciate the picturesque nature of a "broken fountain, an old ramshackle mansion...the crumbling wall of an old mosque" and "the old blackened walls of an old house". He emphasizes that to appreciate these things, one must "first and foremost be a stranger to them." I completely agree, since a local sees and lives among these things everyday, whereas I-an outsider-stumbled upon this place for the first time, totally unnacustomed to such surroundings.

While I had gotten used to seeing numerous dogs and cats throughout the city, I was surprised to see a bunch of roosters and chickens pecking through the trash. Where did they come from? Are they wild or does someone actually own them? What do they eat? I looked closer into the trash mountains and saw mementos of peoples lives, more or less forgotten.


Istanbul is a massive and dense city, spanning two continents. I cannot hope to see it all in the course of 10 days, but so far I have seen different parts of the city, old and new, rich and poor, and I'm finding this city to be so full of character. I also find myself drawn to and fascinated by the poorer, derelict areas of the city. Even in the more modern parts of the city I am treated to a crumbling building with broken windows, faded billboards, empty shops, and wooden buildings badly burnt and ready to crumble at any moment. Its obvious this city is photogenic, especially these wrecked buildings. They are lived in, worn out, exhausted, and hanging by a thread. I think I like this place.