What I Think About When I Think About Istanbul*
Since I learned that I would be flying to Istanbul, I have never stopped thinking about it.
When I think of Istanbul, I think of my childhood. I have spent most of my life in the opposite end of Asia, and Turkey isn’t one of the countries people talk about. They are seldom featured on our TV shows and barely mentioned in the news. But Istanbul took up almost a chapter in our textbook, and as someone who grew up fascinated with history, it certainly made an impression early on.
I remember how I studied its days as Constantinople and its significance as a center of trade and cultural diffusion in the region. I remember sleepless nights of memorizing the important dates that marked the rise and fall of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. I remember trying to wrap my head around the Silk Road and how it led to the massive production of silk in medieval Europe. Back then, I had no idea I would be a traveler. I was raised thinking that travel is a luxury, something enjoyed only by the rich. But I remember making a deal with my young self that I would someday see the city, its landmarks, historical sites and relics depicted in our books.
When I think of Istanbul, I think of a borderless world. I think of Istanbul as a city where boundaries are blurred. It is where Asia sits down with Europe by the Bosphorus for an enjoyable a cup of tea or coffee. It is where East meets West for a seductive endless dance. It is where the past mingles with the present to have a pleasant conversation about the future. It is a city soaked in a multitude of colors, and things are hardly black or white.
When I think of Istanbul, I think about harmony. I paint a picture of worlds coming together, living together. I think about the many souls walking down Istiklal Caddesi, hailing from dozens of cultural backgrounds, including tourists just enjoying the day and locals of several ethnic origins going on with their lives. I think about how cultural pluralism is not a thing of fantasy but an attainable reality for many other cities around the world. There is triumph in knowing that it can be achieved.
When I think about Istanbul, I think about a dream, something that was seeded deep in me when I was a child by the pages of history. I always see places as people. Some are popular. Some are fun to be with. Some are odd. Istanbul is one of those that are hard to define. She’s into the arts, has an eclectic taste in music, and cooks unique food. She’s unpredictable: sometimes quiet, other times animated. She is well-rooted in her past, but is open to embrace the future.
She is one of those with a lot of soul, somebody who has been through a lot and has a globe of stories to tell. I can’t wait to meet her.
*with apologies to Haruki Murakami
by YOSHKE DIMEN