Quiet please, I'm thinking.
As one moseys around any city one sees many interesting, weird and sometimes upsetting sights. On Istiklal Avenue there are ice cream vendors whose trick it is to play with the portion placed in your cone; it’s there, it’s gone, it’s back – that kind of thing. Quite amusing unless you’re parched or starving and in dire need of sugar. On the Bosphorus, which can be seen from any semi-elevated part of the city and constitutes Istanbul’s heart, there is no end of impressive and inspiring vessels, coming in all shapes and sizes as they do. What’s hard to cope with from time to time is the hardship one witnesses so often, though it’s only fair to say that all may not be as it seems.
En route to my place of work is a pedestrian bridge connecting one side of the main Metrobus route to the platform for the Metrobus, the other side of the road and the Metro if necessary. Most days there is a little old chap selling packets of tissues for half a lira at the base of the staircase, these come in handy when pouring with sweat. He seems happy enough plying his ‘trade’ however off-putting his lack of legs may be. Further on there are additional traders selling cigarettes, perfumes, phone cases and all sorts, all of whom seem fairly content eking out their respective livings. After a little while one stops paying much attention to this relentless offering of knickknacks.
And then there are the (I don’t like to use the term but the alternatives aren’t much better) panhandlers. Every city and country has them poverty being universal and non-discriminatory, an equal opportunities employer if you will. For me it’s never easy to pass by and not give something, an unsustainable investment if ever there was one and not one ever likely to achieve much. Whenever I don’t give it’s not because I think their plight a product of their own design, nor do I consider them all drug users, alcoholics or deadbeats. I suppose the sheer weight of numbers is the real deciding factor. How much money would one really need to even make the slightest difference?
Last week I passed a woman on my pedestrian crossing, she had a child in her lap and he was obviously sick. I don’t know what the illness was but polio popped into my mind. He had what seemed to be clubfoot, an arm that I highly doubt he could do much with and he lay back in his mother’s lap, staring into the sky with big empty eyes and a confused expression. He couldn’t have been more than six years old, if that. It was another scorching Turkish day with a deep blue sky and only the occasional cloud. I found myself hoping that whatever he was looking at or thinking about was soothing.
Life is cruel.
Happiness comes in all forms, and at the oddest of times too. Today, several weeks after my birthday and I don’t know how many weeks since I bewailed the lack of uisce beatha, much to my surprise there came a parcel from Devonshire. Even the name of the place produces comforting imagery; elves dancing, gnomes fishing, Hobbits, er, hobbitting. Inside said parcel were three little bottles of Glenfiddich; 12, 15 and 18 years old. Happiness in liquid form.
Now, I wouldn’t like to consider myself one who rejoices at the misfortune of others, nor would I be delighted to think I am one who overplays the good fortune of myself but, well, in a nutshell, tough titties non-whiskey recipient types. There are some little bottles of soda in my fridge which I shall mix with the heretofore celebrated whiskey (taking some time to feel like a giant holding miniature bottles of both) and I can’t think of a better way to spend my evening. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration, but for the purposes of this post that is certainly as much as I should say.
In conclusion, good friends sending a surprise parcel of three bottles of whiskey make this wandering Mick an all round happy chappy. Now, to finish those potato cakes I was making.
During the month of Ramazan there are guys whose job it is to walk the streets of Istanbul, and other cities too I imagine, banging on drums to wake anyone who wants to attend the morning prayer. I’d been told about them but only actually heard our local drum beater once, and that was because I was up late drinking with my brother-in-law. If I was a Muslim I’d probably have some explaining to do.
Thankfully I am not really an anything; godbasher perhaps, cynic definitely, agnostic, atheist, hedonistic heathen I would say. (Unfortunately if you Google that last one it brings up sites relating to Wicca, and who doesn’t hate Wiccans.) Needless to say one doesn’t have to be an anything to appreciate that some guy is going around at night banging a drum for the benefit of others, better yet though is the guy who wanders about playing the accordion. These guys may be ten a penny in Paris or Brussels but they aren’t so common here. When I first heard the distant strains of the squeezebox I thought I was experiencing some kind of acid flashback, immediately I began to reminisce about cafes, wine bars and dog-shit encrusted pavements. Accordionists may be a blight on the Parisian landscape but it’s not so bad to hear one here when you are on the fourth floor and can’t be hassled for money, though I was tempted to unload a pocketful of coins on his assistant’s little fingers. I am a bad person.
Similarly, when I was sitting in the garden of Viktor Levi’s in Kadikoy, the outdoor space being akin to what the British would call a beer garden but head and shoulders beyond such a thing, I heard the cawing of a crow and for a moment was transported back to the Cimetiere de Montmartre. Whenever we go to Paris we like to take a stroll through Pere Lachaise or Montmartre Cemetery, you know, somewhere to lift the spirits. Nothing confirms joie de vivre like being surrounded by the dead. One year, not so long ago, we were wandering around on what, coincidentally, was Hallowe’en (Samhain in Gaelic). It was as cold and crisp a day as one could ask for, cloud-free and bright. The cemetery was practically empty as it was early and cold when we were there, but there were crows everywhere cawing aloud and fluttering from perch to perch. There’s a reason that horror movies include these chaps when they are trying to make the audience uneasy. Whenever I think of that cemetery, or that day, I always think of the photograph I took of a fantastic miniature of a church erected as someone’s tomb.
Funny where the mind goes when you allow it to wander.
Birthdays are strange. While celebrating another year of life successfully completed we are also deducting one more year from however many we get, and whatever way you weigh it those years are rapidly depleting. Yesterday I turned 38. Both my grandfathers lived to a ripe old age, as did my grandmothers, so there’s a fair chance I’ll squeeze another 50 odd years out of the whole experience. Take away the 10 I’ll probably spend unable to really do a whole lot and that leaves 40 years; more or less my age now. My life is half over.
This could be a depressing thought until you realize we spend the first 10-15 years learning not to crap ourselves or poke things into our own eyes. That takes some of us longer to learn than others. Some of us never learn. Then, just when you’ve got a handle on that, combined with learning to read, eat, wash and dress, along comes the opposite sex (or the same sex, for some) and another 5 years are lost trying to figure them out. Realistically we probably only really start to live by age 20 and then, before you know it, half your mates are dead, the rest have become parents (which is as good as dead at that age), are married, mortgaged, unhappy, depressed, insane, alone, and/or alcoholic. Fortunately, I am neither dead nor a parent, only recently married (which I think was a pretty nifty achievement), and not mortgaged yet. So far I’m either way ahead of the game, or way behind it. Take that, 21st century.
Joking aside, it is worth celebrating the notching up of another year of living. Not everyone manages it. Some fall foul of disease, some have accidents, some just give up and others drag on well past their best years. One way or another the Great Leveler seeks us all out and there’s no escaping that. Spending too long thinking about the inevitable is not wise, to say the least. Life is for living and there are any number of decent movies to be seen, important ideas to consider, good books to be read, and wrongs to be righted, so much so that it is practically a crime for any semi-literate, slightly motivated or interested individual to say they are bored. To quote Betty Draper, of Mad Men fame, ‘only boring people get bored.’