Istanbul is a city where not even stray cats have time to sleep. Loitering around window sills with deprived eyes, they look menacingly hungry. Competition for space is fierce and being natural hunters, cats will do whatever they can to survive. They certainly have no time to relax.
Never in all of my European travels have I witnessed such an orgy of activity on the streets. A wailing cacophony of noise screeches in every corner from shrill boys on bicycles to a thousand fishermen angling for a hungry fix. Listening to the wailing sound of Allah call to an empty sky, I walked along Galata Bridge and felt the world colliding into one.
With the mechanised sigh of lorries ramming alongside yellow taxis, I found myself sitting in a café eating deliciously cubed baklava. Although I can’t say I was overly impressed by the hospitality. Perhaps there are far too many visitors for locals to care. I’m just another slab of white meat using excessively large notes for the smallest of purchases.
Nearby thousands pile off the ferry terminal on and off, on and off from the other continent. A deafening crescendo made all the more atmospheric by the white mist spooking the Bospherous. Forging huge new crowds in a different land mass, the city is unbearably intense and it feels like a new world order is forming. Religion still has that affect on you, even as a non-believer in love with science and nature. And how combined they will explain everything.
Sure if I were to walk over the Galata Bridge towards modern Beyoglu, I would find an epic shopping boulevard that could be literally anywhere in the Mediterranean. Check in to buy a new smartphone, caffè latte or the latest sweater modelled by Gerard Pique. Istanbul is definitely not an Ottoman monolith. However, most people bypass the air conditioned trappings of the twenty-first century and marvel over the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia instead.
And yet behind the imperial majesty of Sultanahmet lies the dusty squalor hidden from tourists. Never have I seen so many inner city dwellings constructed entirely out of wood and inevitably they are falling into disrepair; a romantic vision of poverty that always seem less wrong because of the heat. It’s foreign squalor of course and this feeds into the subliminal mystique you seek when travelling abroad; when walking past abandoned mosques and smashed terracotta in search of something to eat. What would be an eyesore back home suddenly evokes a raw energy in Istanbul, a place where stray cats can finally go to sleep.