Yes that is an X-ray of a lung. We found it at 11 o’clock yesterday, 3 hours after we had intended to leave for Edirne.
But first, some context.
7 hours earlier, 4 am: The Turkish Government announced that it would be closing roads, halting Bosphorous traffic, raising bridges, stopping public transport (including the metro, tram and bus service) – and generally shutting the city down. This was not in preparation for the zombie apocalypse or to halt the fractal spread of some public health threat – but in preparation for anticipated May Day (Labor) protests in the city. Taksim square was shut down, 12,000 additional police officers were brought into the city – almost one each for each tourist disembarking from the giant tour-boats docking that morning (Personal bodyguards!) Over 22,000 police were on duty.
8am: 3 hours earlier: We were supposed to leave for our day trip to Edirne at 8 am sharp from a school in Karaköy. Most of us made it to the designated stop – except for a few students who were attempting to negotiate a city without access to public transport and with little access to main streets. That included our bus driver too, who at our designated departure time, was battling police lines and closed streets in Şişhane, near the Galata Tower- and not anywhere near to where we were waiting. The streets were empty, save for the occasional car or pedestrian straggler. Then the tourists came, disembarked from their cruise-ships, bereft of the ubiquitous white buses that seemed to explode in number while we were in Cappadocia. They walked – eerily silent, tour leaders holding up placards from their cruise-ships to identify their tour company allegiances – toward the historic district, the call of byzantine and Ottoman museums, mosques and churches wafting over the Golden Horn.
We sat. We drank tea. Ate ice-cream (of course). We waited. I had a fabulous conversation with the owner of the little food stall that we were clustered around. We called with our bus driver. First he was in Şişhane. Then he was in Şişli (even further way). Then he was in Eminönü, tantalizingly close. Then he was in Eyüp (what?). Then he was parked in Balat, near the Greek Patriarchate, entrenched. We would have to come to him. Okay.
9:30 am: 1.5 hours earlier. We decided to walk across the bridge to get to Eminönü. Most traffic on the roads had ceased at this point and we joined the linen-clad, sock+sandal crowds meandering toward the historic peninsula. Foiled! The Galata bridge was up. Police boats were preventing ferry boats from docking at Karaköy. We walked through the anchor, ship-chain + marine district, heading over to the Unkapanı Bridge to make our crossing there. We discussed the possible revolution brewing in Istanbul: Would the cat-people emerge from their subterranean homes in Roman and Byzantine ruins? Would they enslave the people of this city, making humans work in catnip fields for meagre food payments of döner and köfte? Would Istanbul become Catstanbul? Catstantinople? Overheard by one of the boat repair-man: “We’ve never had this many people come by our street before! Last time was sixty years ago!” We kept walking – and were foiled again. The center section of the Unkapanı bridge had been REMOVED to prevent car traffic from crossing. We pressed on. We came to Kasimpaşa – and saw people crowding around the dock. Apparently a ferry was still working (I couldn’t help but think of the bridge scene from “I am Legend” here or that ferry sequence from “The Dark Knight”) and we decided to go for it. We were GOING to Edirne. We were going to see the Selimiye. Sinan or bust.
Okay, so the ferry may have been slightly “unregulated,” but I pressed a 20 Lira note into the “officer’s” hands and we hopped on for the short ride across. Remarkably uneventful, we ate some good cookies on our crossing and found ourselves, at last on the south edge of the Golden Horn at Eminönü. Haydar needed a bathroom. Alas, foiled again. Hotbeds of political dissent that they are, the public lavatories were also closed. We walked on – plodding inexorably towards our bus driver.
10 am: 1 hour earlier: We enjoyed an almost Sunday morning stroll along the Golden Horn when I first saw it. “That,” I thought, “looks like an odd dog.” Upon closer inspection, canine is most certainly wasn’t. A turkish woman, casually sewing some colorful patterns on a belt had brought her pet sheep to the park. Leashed to a tree, it enjoyed the requisite “ooh-ings” and “aah-ings” from our our students. Heads up Bailey family: Keara is determined now to bring a baby sheep back with her to Minneapolis. Sadly and despite the lure of the plaintive bleats of the cute little future-köfte, Edirne beckons. Onward.
An old Turkish man in am impeccable suite, with a cigarette (of 90% ash) hanging of his lower lip attempts to sell me some of his packaged Turkish delight. I politely decline and offer him a cookie. He glowers at me, calls me a silly yabancı (foreigner) and moves on to harras a Turkish family having a picnic nearby.
10:30: half an hour earlier. We arrive at a park. Our historian, Deniz, is irritated that the bus driver hasn’t come to where we are. “The traffic is moving fine here!” she fumes. She puts her tiny (but powerful) foot down, calls him and gives him a piece of her mind. He protests. She threatens. He is meekly apologetic and promises to come pick us up at once. All Hail Deniz! Meanwhile, some of the students venture into a nearby building looking for a bathroom. Denied. Deniz goes in to sort this out. The bus arrives. This thing is like a blinged out Cash-Cab. Suede trim, Large screen TV (no satellite though), wavy LED lights, tables. Bring it on!
11:am. We discover, in the park, an X-ray of a lung. Much speculation ensues. Best. Souvenir. Ever.
11:01: Deniz returns. The bathroom has been made available to us. The building belongs to the Coast Guard – the Sea Police. Brow-beaten into embarrassed and shamed guilt by Deniz, they invite us into their compound and offer us tea. We agree (thirsty after our trek from the other side). We hang out and drink tea with the Coast Guard. The day is so surreal and we haven’t even yet left Istanbul. I want to quit my day-job and become a writer. Everything about this morning felt like a potential draft of a Hunter S. Thompson book (minus the alcohol and drugs) or a first stab at a Coen Brothers or Wes Anderson movie (I could totally see Bill Murray as the Coast Guard Captain we met – and Jason Schwartzman as our silently resentful bus driver). I mean really, a stalled city, a sheep on a leash AND an X-ray of a lung PLUS tea with the Coast Guard in their private compound? Really? It couldn’t get any stranger. The instant I say that, Haydar muses: “Wouldn’t it be great if some emergency call comes in and these guys bust out on their boats and rocket down the Horn?” Cue the emergency radio call – someone has jumped from the Unkapanı bridge and is in the water – alive or dead, we don’t know. Off they went, rocketing down the Horn.
11:30 am. We depart for Edirne.
It was quite amazing to feel the city so quiet. I don’t know enough about Turkish politics (or as someone I met once said about her line of work “I know enough to be dangerous”), so I can’t give you a nuanced portrait or history about May Day here in Istanbul. Opinions, as they inevitably do, run the length and breadth of the political spectrum and people are passionate about what they believe in. International worker’s day drew some pretty big crowds around the country and there were plenty of protests and clashes around the city. Protesting the government’s policies towards the labor class, 34 people were killed in 1977, protests were banned in 1980, then re-instated in 2010 (due in large part to public pressure from trade unions).
It was a pretty moving experience actually – and it put into perspective for me how cities work (or don’t).It was fascinating – and something I’ll remember forever – to be in a city that was almost completely shut-down. It was quiet – as Istanbul never is (at least as it was yesterday morning); we walked in the middle of completely empty main roads and streets; the Bosphorus, aside from it’s constant energies, had almost no traffic on it. The only other time this happens is when the Strait is blanketed by thick fog. The invisible and equally important infrastructures of Old ‘Stamboul aside, the people of this city in particular rely so intensely on its physical infrastructures – especially in it’s intersecting water-bounded geographies.
For an instant (for me at least), this city that I adore, this city that is always in motion, moving with ships, people, cars and time – was standing still.
An Edirne update will follow.