Şişli Tour, July 2018

When I lived in Ankara, I tried to build up a collection of photographs about life in different cities. I was exercised by the Ankara mayor’s utter disrespect for pedestrians, as shown for example in his narrowing of sidewalks (by widening roads) so that bus shelters would have to block them, and the sidewalks themselves might disappear into the walls surrounding the adjacent embassies. I took photographs of such situations and started putting them on my webpages (I didn’t have this blog then). I looked for similar situations when we visited Europe. Such visits were usually for conferences, and I prepared webpages about Barcelona, Besançon, Berne, and Istanbul.

   

I gave up on the project as needing too much work. A photograph alone was not enough to show what it was like to walk around a city, or to sit in a sidewalk café.

In Istanbul, there is an arch of the Aqueduct of Valens that is used by both cars and pedestrians. It is not really wide enough for both at the same time. Ayşe and I were walking towards it recently, when a red car honked at us from a distance. We pedestrians (there were more than the two of us) were supposed to get out of the way. I stayed in the middle of the road, turning around to gesture that the driver should just slow down. When the car did pass to my left, somehow its mirror was knocked askew against my arm. The car stopped, and—let’s just say there was an exchange of words with the imperious young man sitting in the back seat.

In the old city of Besançon, there had been similarly narrow passages; but photographs alone would not show that impatient drivers were unlikely to harrass you.

When I used to look at Facebook, I might see bunches of snapshots from the weekend hikes of a friend who lived in the Rocky Mountains. Having some experience of what mountains are like, I might be able to make some sense of the photographs. However, my favorite work from mountains, mentioned in “On Knowing Ourselves,” is the two volumes called Southbound and Walking Home by the Barefoot Sisters, Lucy and Susan Letcher, about hiking the Appalachian Trail both ways. There are no photographs, except on the paper covers.

Here are some photographs from a stroll through my wider neighborhood in the Şişli borough of Istanbul on Sunday, July 15, 2018. It was the second anniversary of the coup attempt, but I don’t know that this made things any different on the streets. At night, massive crowds celebrated the successful resistance on the renamed 15 July Martyrs Bridge over the Bosphorus.

I didn’t set out to take photographs, and I didn’t have the “good” camera. But when I started walking down Sıracevizler Caddesi (“Walnut Row Street”), I thought that it was actually a pleasant street for a dense city. There is a Twitter account called Çirkin İstanbul, documenting the ugly side of the city; but the owner also maintains Güzel İstanbul, to show what the city can be. In this spirit, I took the first photograph above, using my old mobile (the only one that I have ever had; it dates to 2011). Later I snapped the next shot, on Doktor Cemil Bengü Caddesi; the scene is similar, but somehow not so nice.

Meanwhile, my wanderings took me to a pedestrian bridge across Piyale Paşa Bulvarı. The municipality seems to do a lot of work to beautify the edges of such boulevards; but I do not normally see the results. In the photo you can see that this boulevard passes the Çağlayan courthouse, where some of the Peace Academics have come before judges.

As I walked towards the courthouse along the left or west side of the boulevard, I passed an enormous building under construction; apparently it will be the Okmeydanı hospital. Between the building and the road, there was some old rubble, partially covered by dirt, and in the dirt grew grass and wildflowers. The flora in the sun were gorgeous, as the snapshot can hardly show.

Further along the side of the road, under a tree, some men gathered with liquor bottles. They didn’t seem to be entirely down and out, though the tax on liquor might make you so, if you drank a lot.

I crossed back to the east of the boulevard and found myself in a community where trees shaded most of the road. Living nearby on a street with no room for large trees, I was impressed. But the place seems to be practically a gated community. The only way I could get out was by the “sidewalk” along the highway, on the other side of which is the Çağlayan courthouse. (The highway leads to the 15 July Martyrs Bridge.)

When I reached Abide-i Hürriyet Caddesi, I turned left, and thus north, to follow the road under the highway. I passed the Florence Nightingale Hospital on the right, then turned right onto Doktor Cemil Bengü Caddesi, mentioned above. Between the buildings on my right, I could see that I was above a valley filled with apartment houses.

When I reached a space that had been opened up by a demolition, I decided to descend a stairway into the valley. Two boys seemed to come along with me. On the street, I had not been able to understand their language. Sometimes it sounded like French; if it was, maybe the boys were from Syria. More likely they were speaking Kurdish. On the steps I greeted them in Turkish, and they responded politely in the same language.

As a boy myself, at the edge of a park in Washington, I had looked up a slope, at the top of which was probably a parking lot. The slope itself was covered in leaves that were probably kudzu. I was awestruck. Likewise striking is a hillside in Istanbul, covered with all sorts of different houses. Perhaps it is a shame. An oil slick may be awesome.

I was below Trump Towers, at the top right of the photo above. In San Francisco it was said that, in the old days, the wealthy lived in the valleys, which were more accessible; the workers had to settle for the hilltops. In Istanbul, at least in the parts developed in Republican times, because valleys flood, it seems these, and the slopes, are left to the poor; the rich take the high ground.

In spite of the existing dense development, a deep foundation was being dug for a new building of who-knows-how-many floors.

From the bottom I walked up the road along what must once have been a stream. This was village Istanbul, where—it seems to me—the only way you know you are in a big city is that you cannot see fields of crops beyond the houses. I did not pause to take photos like a nosy clueless tourist. People must have wondered who I was anyway. Something interesting is that there did not seem to be any mosques around.

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