Being Back

Merhaba! My name is Hannah Mayer. I am a graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Architecture program at the University of Minnesota. I was fortunate enough to be part of the inaugural program to Rome and Istanbul back in the fall of 2013. Now I am thankful to have the opportunity to return as this year’s co-teacher for the 2016 program.

Below is a quick attempt at explaining what it feels like to be back. The students are beginning to have many exciting experiences and form impressions of a new city, and will resume blogging soon.

I arrived in Istanbul four days before the group arrived from Rome. During this time I re-explored the metro, the ferries, got in touch with Accent Istanbul staff, marveled at all the changes, smiled at all the things that are still the same, walked İstiklâl Caddesi several times over, ate at Dürümzade, smelled the salty Bosphorus air, took a walk down the street we lived on in 2013, and visited new places as well.

Throughout this reintroduction to the city I had two main reoccurring thoughts.

1) Certain spaces felt different to return to because I had been there before. I’ll describe the feeling further. I felt as though I was returning to a place I visited a lot as a kid. When I was young, everything looked huge and vast, but now, certain things are more comprehensible and quantifiable in a way. How much of this space am I actually realizing? That counter you were too short to see over before, now you can, and the view is great up there too. That street you thought existed by itself as a magical, singular place, is actually connected to other streets, and you can access them too. The first impression lead to a certain understanding and acceptance of the space. A period of time passed. As I acknowledged things I remembered about the city, I realized there was now another layer to uncover.

2)  At the same time, because I had returned, Istanbul was now being defined as a familiar feeling. The sounds, the smells, the textures, the way you move aside to let a car pass, all the life on the street, in the squares, on the boats, and everywhere in between. The underlying happiness I felt when I first visited Istanbul was unchanged.

While the first implies that something has changed and now I see the same things in a new light, the second recalls my memories in which I feel how I did before. I can grasp it, but I’m not necessarily predicting it. Things are still surprising me every day.

Projects that were under construction when I was here are now finished. New construction has started. Stores have changed over, expanded, and remodeled. Walls have been tagged with new graffiti. Areas you used to be able to go in are blocked off. The lights on the entrance to the Balık Pazarı are gone. I can’t find my old grocery store. The fantastic view towards the Bosphorus Bridge from the Süleymaniye Complex is now open for enjoyment, and it’s breathtaking. I can’t find Magnum Nar anywhere (…yet). The park by the center is undergoing renovations. But I’m even surprised when certain things haven’t changed.

There is a barbershop near the center, and they dry wet towels outside on a drying rack. It was bolted to the exterior wall of the barbershop, hovering over the sidewalk. It’s still bolted there. A tree with pink flowers was blooming when we first visited the fishing town of Anadolu Kavağı on our Bosphorus tour. I noticed the same tree blooming just as beautifully, three years later. A dog was resting on the roof of a restaurant as we walked up to the Yoros Castle when we came in 2013. A dog was bathing in the sun on this very same rooftop last week. Dogs still love that rooftop. Students continue to love the dogs.

And so it goes on like this. The duality of these feelings is part of why I love Istanbul so much. The city is new, and the city is old. It is vast, but also intimate. I’m seeing things differently, yet the same. I feel different, but also the same. There is a familiar comfort and a desire to know more in both, and at the same time. It’s wonderful, and I’m elated for the chance to be back, going through it all again. 

Below are comparisons of things that are the same.

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Below is the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, completed two days ago. This change is big enough to make up for all of the pictures I don’t yet have of all of the other changes I’ve noticed so far in Istanbul.

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Here it was, just a few days ago, as the last piece was waiting to go in.

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