During my most recent trip to Istanbul this past winter, it seemed to me that the outside noise never sleeps. The sounds of the cars, trams, foghorns. The city is alive and one with the waters that lap its shores. From my friend’s window I had a firsthand view of the Bosphorus, the boats up and down, carrying passengers from one end of the Strait to another, to the Princes’ islands, to the Anatolian shores. Freighters transporting merchandise, goods from all over the world to the locked-in Black Sea ports, and back down again to the rest of the world. The magnificent view took in not only the Bosphorus, but the old cities of the Asian shores, Leander’s Tower at the very mouth of the Strait, and on the other side the beginning of the Sea of Marmara. At night the bridges are lit bright red and blue. What a sight!
My Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium remains the jewel on the Bosphorus: the waterway whose journey begins at the Aegean Sea, whose waters flow into the Straits of the Dardanelles, which pierce the maidenhead of the Sea of Marmara, its life blood flowing north to the Bosphorus and farther ultimately to the Black Sea.
The Bosphorus never ceases to amaze, surprise, fill one with awe: its shores proffer a wondrous panoply of sights heralding from centuries past to the now. One need not even close one’s eyes to envisage wondrous sights, allow the imagination to soar to the Byzantine Harbor of Boukoleon and palace of Justinian’s city, to Topkapi Saray and the mysteries of the Sublime Port. It’s all there from my friend’s living room windows to the world.
This last trip began at the end of December. The excitement of being there, the 11 hour time difference did not lend to sleep. Instead, 4 am became my rising time. The house was quietly dark as I crept into the living room with my laptop and began to write by its light. From where I was sitting, the only outside lights were from the far-off shore and the boats that seemed never to slumber. As the minutes, then two hours passed, there was a transformation: the sky was no longer black but became a slate hovering over an abyss that was the water, demanding the depths to acknowledge the sea change: the metamorphosis that accompanies the dawn of a new day, another life. And with that meandering acceptance of the waters arrive the brilliant pink, yellow, blue bursts: the sun as it scythes a path over Asia and the Strait with a flush of colors that only nature is able to gift the world, a world held captive, though briefly, by this magnificence, which fades into the hopeful blue of the day.
When we first moved to Istanbul in the early sixties, prior to moving into the city proper, my mother and I lived in one of its many suburbs, the village of Bebek. Our apartment was high up on a hill, and to get there on foot one needed to climb what appeared to be zillions of steps. Oh! How I detested that climb, especially with heavy school books in my arms. But once home, within the refuge of my pink and white room, I settled at my desk in front of the huge window that overlooked the Bosphorus. From there I would spend hours watching ships sail by, fantasizing on where they were coming from, where they were going, and who was on them. Seeing the hammer and sickle of the former Soviet Union always had me in awe: this was about as close as I would come to the then USSR. And there were my walks to Robert College, my school and now Bosphorus University, from our Bebek apartment. German classes were at 7am. My walk along the water took me past fishermen preparing their nets for the day’s catch. But what was fabulous was the sky, a mixture of pink and blue that reflected off the water. Even then I would say to myself, "Cherish these moments and remember them for when you are no longer here."
Today I hold that wonderful memory and my mind’s eye continues to capture that beauty.
Yes, I treasure those memories, to travel to the past, to enjoy what once was once again, and what continues to be.