Saturday 26 November 2011: Not The Turkish For Squirrel
We're in Istanbul for five days, till next wednesday. My wife had to come here on business and took myself and the wean along. This is the first real holiday we've had in around three years, so I want to make the most of it. The hotel is in a very busy part of the city. We have a self-catering apartment on the 4th floor, with great views of the Istanbul skyline (domes, minarets, etc.) and narrow streets nearby throbbing with hive-life: shouts, flailing tentacles of passing pop songs, sirens like magnified chirrups and car horns, LOTS of them. The traffic noise is a drawback, as myself and Sam found it nearly impossible to sleep, and the wean was restless too (though slept rather better). This was my intro to Istanbul, so I had the impression that the city might be very bullish, a kind of men's only environment. The two hour time jump didn't help either.
I prised myself out of bed at around one and we went for something to eat nearby (grilled chicken: not great) then wandered up the steep steps to the top of the nearby hill. Here we moved with the flow into a main shopping street which, like a river entering the rapids, seemed to get steeper and longer and busier the farther we went (like our own Grafton Street multiplied till it crossed the whole of central Dublin and more. I began, gradually, to enjoy the strangeness, to even feel a little at home in it. Finally we emerged into a wide square where we noticed a phalanx of cops in riot gear (which we'd seen earlier) and realised that some kind of demo was approaching; we could hear the chanting. At this point my wife was exhausted (she is coming down with a bug, unfortunately) so she decided to get a taxi with the wean. I said I'd wait around to get some photos and see her back at the the hotel.
The demo was interesting, completely non-violent, a calling for peace between Turks and Kurds (one of the men who spoke English explained this to me). The cops were calmer than their shields, guns and hard hats might suggest; no clashes or angry shouts or baton-charges. I shot a few frames then wandered back the way we'd come, this time with a camera-eye out on its stalk.
The impression of bullishness had vanished by this stage. I was beginning to like what I thought I could perceive of the Turks; I like the gentleness of the people I spoke to and the down-at-heelness of the buildings, the mingling of traditional businesses and 21st century emporia (I stepped into a lovely offstreet cafe for my first cup of proper Turkish coffee). I love all the street-vendors' wares, the most common being lottery tickets (spun on a big wheel) and roasted chestnuts; I love the old trams (with children clinging like monkeys to their rear ends) that push the crowds gently aside like tugboats moving against a heavy current. The one exception in all this might be the photo above: a guy holding a cage with a squirrel in in and a little paper sign saying SATILK, which I assumed was Turkish for squirrel, though it actually means FOR SALE (pretty obvious I suppose, as the squirrel didn't need to be spelt out). Where did they get the squirrel, and who would buy it, and for what? It occurred to me later that I might have bought the animal and released it, though I am not sure where. Perhaps they will simply let it go, or perhaps there is a joke here that I don't quite get. But I thought they made an interesting photo nevertheless.