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Watching nostalgia being born in Istanbul in May

I returned to Istanbul at the very end of spring. And with that, Istanbul became a second city that I ever revisitied as a chosen destination. (London was the first one.) Because usually, it is still about new and new and new and new and new and new places. Still.

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The walks from the first Istanbul trip are described in one of my favourite posts on Institute of Wander so far. (* pet pet pet *)

And this time it was all different.

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Last September I travelled there with my lover, so Istanbul became a whirl of sweetness (from baklavas and otherwhere), of wandering steps, crazy shop keepers and blindly discovered alleyways. But this happens to places where we end up together – wormholes open into storybook illustrations of giant icecubes or dancing monkeys in the night. (Long stories, all of the private enough.)

This time, however, I still walked Istanbul with my lover but also with two of our friends. Istanbul being Istanbul, everything still became dressed in baklava honey.

But something new also took place.

As I’ve never felt full nostalgia in my life (blame it on the boogie, the youth-time weed pipes or an insensitively structured memory), I wasn’t quite sure what was happening when the first signs started popping up. There was also no single deail that would have unleashed a string of yearning. Somehow, it was all around me.

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I have always thought of nostalgia as of something somewhat linear. It is something you feel when you go back in time through your chosen means: visiting an old school, looking at photos, entering your room in your parents’ house after having moved out, etc. Always back, always in the back of the head of Time. But! In Istanbul, nostalgia is alive at the same time with you. It does not point backwards but spreads iself out in a parallel fashion.

In here, nostalgia is not only personal.

One of the strangely beautiful things that starts happening in Istanbul is that you start seeing your childhood years as something less unique; of them having been spent inside less of an idiosyncratic structure – in a place that was somehow connected or still is connected to other places and cities of this world. Maybe this is where Istanbul’s magic comes from? (Yes, I’m still after its source.) It is a city that manages to hold all other cities and all other times inside it.

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Fun Fact: we actually did try to keepa list of all places Istanbul reminded us of, and ended up with nearly 20 items listed, from Krakow at the end of the 1970s and Vilnius in the 1980s to the side streets of Montmartre and of Marrakech right now. And none of us has even lived out of the current centuries.

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And I think there’s one more way for nostalgia to get born. It comes to life from the feeling of not having to prove yourself as a place, of embracing the past in full totality, of selling old photographs of the city to the locals and to the fresh-eyed wanderers instead of the newest design bric-a-brac. (Although, yes, yes, all that totally exists.) But what place offers authentic pieces of itself away to strangers so freely? You can only do that when you have near-endless amounts of yourself to give, and when by doing that, you feel like not giving away your past but sharing your very present. This is how nostalgia can be born and alive right in the same moment with you.

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And since Istanbul seems to stand above and around time, I now know that my next trip there will be a (definitely baklava-fuelled) hunt for the future. Because – where else?

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Walking on the pawprint pavements of Istanbul

Everything is dripping. The baklava stands, the flower troughs, the chocolate fountains, the broken water tubes sticking out from the middle of billboards stuck to the crumbling walls. And when things are not dripping, they are shredded to strips. The floss halva, the cheese, the colourful shawl fringes. When nature can overwhelm you by making you inspect the insides of your mind, a city can do the same by making you inspect theirs.

From the dandy-approved city strolling to those innocent trips to the countryside, wandering around in new places fills me with freedom so unreal and strong that I can cut its potency into invisible garments covering my skin for the rest of the season back home.

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It would be easy to give your heart to Istanbul. Rest assured, it would be gone forever. Not all in one go but piece by piece just like the white cheese that gets nibbled away by the tom cats waiting under the chairs of guileless tourists. Or that same heart would get sucked into street art, into the electric blue dervishes painted on back doors or the palm trees stencilled on alley walls on late evenings when the temperature is falling to a mere 34 C. In each case, you wouldn’t be able to ask for your heart back by just taking a long, reverse-stepped walk. No one would hear your calls.

Istanbul is loud. But since it is also exuberantly colourful, the loudness can go unnoticed for days. All our senses enhance each other, but they also hide sensations from us when the situation asks for it. And Istanbul is light. Even when the sunrise is still hours away, you can spot the clothes hanging from differently coloured lines above the narrow streets or notice paw fur variations on those kittens that are now crawling out from their hiding dens in hundreds. Speaking of paws no other city I’ve walked in has had that many cat and dog pawprints (especially those!) pressed into the concrete. When the streets get rained upon or hosed down in the morning, the pavements become adorned with tiny pawprint lakes. (Pavement Pawprint Lakes will be the name of my indie band. It’s either that or the Defenceless Thistle.)

It reminded me of the upside-down seashells neatly laid out near the waterline on the Rockaway Beach some summers ago, all filled up to the brim with water from the sky. My notes from that day describe a row of frail bowls placed on the ground waiting for the children of sirens to stray. No such thoughts pop up in here. Although you can’t think of Istanbul without the water, its layers of streets and stairs and rooftops do not let the Bosphorus take too much control over the place. The everyday mythologies are balanced between the water and the land.

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But yes, Istanbul is a city of sounds. From the one-stop funicular merrily pulling its squeaking weight up towards Taksim Square to the jingles shouted out by the water sellers on the pavements and on the bridges, the sounds get interwoven into a thick carpet of exotic notes wrapping the city into its folds. The understanding of the sound level’s actual strength hits you with a delay, either in the middle of the night when you can’t hear the fan in your room for all the outside ambience or upon leaving the city on a ferry, under a dozen white clouds trapped in the azure sky. It is interesting to note how clouds mean different things in different places. For example, the morning clouds of Istanbul would prophesy a longer rain in Lapland, a short shower in London and apparently nothing on the shores of the Golden Horn. An idea to return to.

In cities like this, life gets everywhere. The surfaces get drenched in stories. And you feel safe from the invisible in here. Although forests and metropolises are ravishingly similar on their deeper structural levels, the notion of safety sticks out as one of the differences.

You can feel “at home” in a forest but it’s a fact that you can never be completely safe from the invisible there. The forests are home to the invisible. They are the guardians with limitless memories, always waiting for you to enter and prove yourself worthy of your luck. This is why it is easi to wander without route planning in cities. In here, all you need is time and perhaps some flair for decadence. When wandering away from civilisations in the same manner, you need the wanderlust gods, luck, stamina and calm knowledge all to accompany you on your way. This is a beautiful and encouraging thought, however. As long as you trust luck to show up you are never too far from the source of an adventure.

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Other similarities and differences between city and nature walking that come to mind:

– The older a city, the more it resembles a wood. In places like these, you can be sure that there exist hundreds of shortcuts and desire lines, serving your every directional need. In both places, you can find your way around by just following the clues in the sound- or landscape.

– Cities approach you from the outside-in: they make you ponder all the things you haven’t done. Nature works from the inside-out: it makes you think of things you want to do. Almost the same concept, but inhabited by an opposite emotional range.

– In cities, you are able to make more intimate connections to objects and paths than in nature. It is easier to “make things yours”. In wilderness, everything is connected to so many things out of your reach that the concept of intimacy feels man-made and foreign. When crossing a moorland (or any other natural terrain), its invisible code of behaviour seems to say: everything you must love, you can love. Also – don’t stumble. Walking in nature makes you more tolerant of all life’s possibilities; it is easier to accept not being in control.

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Cities as public spaces have more to do with control and order. And when that order is made up of the remains of one of the greatest empires, your every thought easily collapses into poetry each time you take a turn after having climbed a hundred stairs.

It seems that Istanbul is full of invisible guideposts that sneakily make you change your direction. Some of them direct you to East London, for example. You end up in (what look life) leftist bars with the cheapest raki in town, sitting under ironical pink neon signs saying “Deleuze this Deleuze that”, in Turkish. The irony is so clean that is is beautiful. No haughty embellishments needed.

Other guideposts lead you to slums in the falling daylight. They direct you to ghettos that stand five minutes away from the tourist-filled restaurants and freshly painted houses. In here, the entire width of life is compressed into a street-wide stretch, a full readiness to grow decaying into a speckle at a great speed, reaching its destination long before departing. On these pavements, mothers wipe their children’s bottoms with dirty plastic bags soon picked up and carried away by an odd homeless dog. You know that the will to live is everywhere, burbling, unchanged and unbreakable, but in the midst of powdered life (and to a stranger’s eye), it looks stillborn. “Everything we can’t bear in this world, some day we find in one person, and love it all at once,” writes Djuna Barnes in Nightwood. That same idea could be perfectly adopted to cities.

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What about the things out of nature, however? I exaggerate, yes, but there aren’t almost any tree shadows to be found in the centre of Istanbul. Unless you go to a few specific parks. (However, people do tell stories about the greenness of the city.) It took me a while to get to the root of that specific “my neckline feels strangely exposed” feeling. During my six days of wandering, I managed to walk next to trees on three occasions only (in the park near the Topkapi Palace, at the entry to the Botanic Gardens (actually, those were the gardens) and near the Sultanahmet Mosque). Maybe it was because of September but there was also hardly any bird song in the air. However, you could hear dogs barking a lot, especially after dark. It has been said (by Flann O’Brien) that “when a dog barks late at night and then retires again to bed, he punctuates and gives majesty to the serial enigma of the dark, laying it more evenly and heavily upon the fabric of the mind.” These are the childhood sounds of the night, cleaning out the souks of your soul with great care.

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Meeting houses that have met millions

Entering and leaving grand cities fills you with very particular sense of power. (As opposed to the deep woods that can sometimes meet or leave you at “This seemed like a good idea at the time.”) It is a borderline moment, and thus, filled with more strength than a regular passage in space. I guess you just tap into their endless reservoirs of chance and chaos. Of course, changes in the weather always help along. Outside of Istanbul, thunder sounds like someone dragging a massive suitcase over a cobbled sky.

I left the city and its pavement pawprints in order to say goodbye to the season and scatter my summer into the salt water. On my way out of this majestic town, I saw mountain bridges being built. The gigantic concrete walls reaching high above the ocean of trees and not supporting anything above their heads filled the space around them with thick, dormant strength. The sight was intensely time-sensitive: you could feel the place exhaling readiness for the things to come. The time stood ripe and heavy on the road. Encouraging, once more, but encouraging in a way a hunting dogs smiles in their sleep. With a mote of uncanniness hovering above their head.

Time plays a great part everywhere in Istanbul. The basements of the houses naturally hide things that would be glamorously exhibited at museums in other parts of the world. In turn, a certain museum in this town only holds completely made-up objects, making the narrative time from its partner novel softly clash and play with the official time of the streets.

In Beyoğlu (the district that National Geographic calls the Soho in the Heart of Istanbul), you can actually enter an antique shop where the salesman still writes with a quill and keeps one of the ancient console games of the world in the corner of his shop. I tried taking a picture of that piece, but the once a Grand Bazaar salesman told me off for taking out my phone. “Put that away. It disrupts the time in here.”

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At the end, the gate to summer wilderness was waiting for us at the shores of the Black Sea. The heartbeat of the distant metropolis did not carry so far. It did not reach the waves nor the most relaxing forms of silences I have ever heard. And as it often happens when you can see something for what it really is only after having travelled the distance, I suddenly understood what the heart of Istanbul was all about. At least for me.

It was exquisite, sweet and deliciously presented. It was a baklava stand.

Switching between realities on the South West Coast Path

After a late afternoon surfing session, I decided to walk to Holywell. Sneakily, I was planning on walking to Newquay, but having checked the map and knowing the distance to be around 20 K (on the coastal path, so all the ups and downs added), I was not certain whether I’d make it there before the sunset.

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Think I found the beach bar. July 2015.

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It was strangely sad to leave Perranporth. Today, my body already knew more things than yesterday and getting up on the board did not register as a ridiculous concept any more. Everyone was still in the water when I started walking up the hills and just… Yes.

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Next time I leave the city for surfing it will be for a longer period.

blogisse1.3blogisse1.4But the hilly walking next to the ocean leaves one no space for sadness. After all, after every corner, a new beach. A long, stretchy, not your typical English pebble. Every day, a new beach. This how this week has been.

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Somehow, I managed to make it to Holywell without even noticing. Amongst houses, I lost the path. That is typical, it seems. I can spot it or take imaginary short-cuts on the natural terrain but as soon as there’s a house around, I become confused. It should be the other way around, really.

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A bit of hilly heathland later, I was soon back on the South West Coast Path. And quite soon also reached the Crantock Beach. Somehow, I had managed to walk roughly 9 miles in around 2 hours (and a bit more). I don’t remember running it. I definitely do not remember any running. What I do remember is seeing a completely new natural phenomenon – a coastal meadow (very very close to the ocean) with low-growing greenery that all looked like Mediterranean ferns. God as a child, practising different terrains, this is what it looked like. I also saw a rabbit on the sand. In my northern country, the only place for rabbits is… everywhere away from the coast. But yes, technically, I saw a beach bunny.

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And then someone turned the switch. Another time started ticking, another mindset settled in. I’m not kidding. Something funny happened in that neighbourhood. First of all, I doubted myself for the first time. Walked a bit up the hill, walked down to the beach soon afterwards, looked around for a possible ferry – there was a river there, separating me from my access to Newquay -, learning the ferry had finished for the day, tied my sneakers to my backpack and waded around the river a little, but seeing it becoming deeper, came back to the beach. Talked to some people.

One of the people I ended up talking with was not probably a real man. He was working together with another human, so I did not imagine him – not a real man in that sense. Just in a sense that he was not a man all together. Some other species, but I don’t know what. He was about my height, slightly shorter, and had hair of yellow-grey-greenish. But even better – he had the most otherworldly eyes I had ever seen. Mostly bright turquoise and just around the iris – a rainbow of darker blues, greens and greys. A water spirit? Definitely too big for a water spirit. A mermaid turned surfer? He did look awkwardly out of place on the land, though. Hmm. But, yes. Upon hearing my wish on wanting to reach Newquay he told me to wait an hour for the tide to go out, so the river would move away and reveal a bridge that I could cross if I were lucky enough. I would have to wait at least an hour for the tide, though. The other option was to walk through the Crantock village, turn left and just walk to Newquay, basically around the river. He also offered me a ride if I waited 20 minutes.

I could not wait. Not 20 minutes and definitely not an hour. I thanked him and started walking on the bigger road. Soon, I became surrounded by lush trees quite uncommon to the beach areas. And that’s when another switch was pulled. Church bells started ringing out of nowhere. Happy bells, bells for people waking up from the dead or angels brought to earth. I then saw the church tower and a white, wolf-looking animal galloping around the tomb stones in the church garden. I would just like to say that I’m not making this up. This all happened only a minute after I had found a small gate, barely up to my knees and covered with ivy, with a lady’s face carved into its wooden surface.

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I walked out of the church garden, nearly seeing a trapped woman walking around this same place, but once again, not trapped in a bad, helpless way. It’s as if everyone had chosen to fall under a spell in here. And the village itself! The pub – definitely made-up. The fences and the garden gates – more than definitely made-up! Public pathways leading into arched passage ways of the unknown – khm!

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I finally walked up to a mountain (managed to ignore my instincts twice and do a bit of to-and-froing), until I jumped over a low fence and started walking straight across a hilly field, down towards the river where it was supposed to reach its ending.

I still can’t tell how, but suddenly, I was back on the path again. And Newquay was just 2 miles away. (People on the road had told me it was an hour’s walk!) I now knew I had made it before the dark. And I walked towards the bottom of the valley – only to see that I was actually very far from the river’s end. However, where the river should have been, was just sand. The tide had gone out. And for the second time within one hour, I untied my sneakers and started walking barefoot. Straight towards the other shore, across the river bed. And there it was, the bridge that stayed under water, surrounded by sleeping boats and the golden hour. A lonely surfer carried his board across the bridge and I tried hard not to slip on the algae when our paths crossed. There was still a bit of water under the bridge, the deepest part of the river.

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The magic realm came to a sudden yet unnoticed end on the opposite shore. Everything was done now, everything was safe. It was just the walk back to my abode for the night. Quite nostalgic, for some reason. I think Cornwall had started crawling under my skin a bit.

PS. On my way back to the hostel, I visited another cemetery. Once again I saw proof of health and safety regulations just really keeping the population levels artificially high. There was a sign on the cemetery gate advising to pay attention whilst walking – due to the ground being uneven. I….just…well… nothing.

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