Precious Time in Istanbul

A back street in the Karaköy neighborhood, Istanbul

Ever since we moved to Urla, Izmir, I go to Istanbul only for work. We left Istanbul because the city has become difficult to live in. Too many buildings, too many cars and a lot of people. A lot. Nearly one fourth of the country’s population lives in Istanbul. I know from looking at very old footage of the city that, Istanbul has always been densely populated. A city, which, due to its historical context has enough data to shed light on and even alter the known history of western civilisations, this is no surprise perhaps.

A record shop next to Galaktion, the beautiful Georgian restuarant

My own story with Istanbul goes back to 1973 when my parents moved from Ankara. It was mostly for professional reasons. Like many other people, dad had better options in Istanbul. It was also because Ankara was very polluted. My sister Oya suffered from terrible coughs there. As soon as we moved mom started working. I was 5 and my sister 2. Mom had to travel great distances to go to work, from Etiler to Topkapı, where she worked as a translator for a western pharmaceutical company. She did that by bus. Oya had to be looked after at home for a while still. My paternal grandma and paternal auntie would take turns to be at home caring for us. They would come from Ankara which was their home. I was just one year short of officially being allowed to enroll at elementary school, which was a minor problem to fix since age could be altered by court decision. I was born on December 30th, 1967, but officially registered January 1, 1968 (they used to do this to allow young men born at the end of December to enlist one year later to the mandatory military service). With a court decision, the date was taken back to December 1967 and I started elementary school as soon as we arrived to Istanbul as one of the youngest kids in my class of 60 some students!

Our association in Ortaköy is a great place to gather. Here I am with old students, years later. From left to right Meriç, Pelin, İpek, and Zeynep

To make a long story short for this post in particular, my time in Istanbul lasted until 1980 when after a lot of political restlesness and a military coup, dad accepted a job in Indonesia to which he had applied to many many years ago. So my Istanbul time came to end then. I returned many years later, as a young single woman in her thirties in 1999 and spent 18 years until 2017. It was 18 years of hard work, getting used to the ways of the city and of the country, to the intricacies of marriage. Then came the birth of our son, the establishment of our harp association with ups and downs striking enough that could easily turn into chapters of a novel.

Dad at home, enjoying a happy moment after breakfast

Now when I go, I stay with my parents who will soon move to Urla as well. I go to our harp association in Ortaköy which we founded and lead with a lot of challenges. I see the faces of our wonderful volunteers and feel so happy to be a team with them. I see some friends. I see wise people I trust. Usually I have work but at the end of January, we went by car as a family and not for work, but to spend time in the city. When getting around was easy in Istanbul, things were smooth and the familiarty was lovely. There were some discoveries too.

With Fahrettin at Galaktion, the beautiful Georgian restaurant in Istanbul

As a country not terribly interested in “other” culinary cultures, the few international kitchens one can find are of course in Istanbul only. One late afternoon my brother-in-law, Fahrettin (my sister’s husband) who is of Georgian descent invited us to “Galaktion”, a tiny Georgian restaurant in the back streets of Taksim. The place is unique. More like a literary cafe, it offers something that most restaurants do not. The place doesn’t feature a “decorated backdrop” in which to dine. Rather, it is a living place that hosts literary and cultural gatherings that are connected to Georgia and this makes for a very special atmosphere. Its cook and owner, Irakli Kakabadze is a poet who had lost his job in Georgia as a teacher due to political reasons. He then moved to Istanbul and dedicated his place to the famous Georgian poet, Galaktion Tabidze. The food is superb. We had supkharco, khachapuri, khinkali, badrijani nigvzit! And the house made wine is beautiful. We stayed there for hours, not wanting to leave at all, having toasts in the Georgian style, not only eating but paying respect to everything / everybody that made the moment possible and precious. I was joined by my parents, Oya, Fahrettin, Utku and of course Mengü.

Mengü at Beta Tea House, in Tahtakale, Istanbul

On another day Mengü and I went to one of my favourite places, the Beta Tea House in Tahtakale. Needless to say I am a big tea fan. Tahtakale is a very busy shopping neighborhood in old Istanbul style. Beta Tea, which is a Turkish tea brand operating internationally has recently renovated a “han”, a historical large commercial buiding, featuring a wonderful courtyard. The “han” goes back to Byzantine Istanbul! Their tea house tucked in the back of the courtyard is a gem. Mengü and I spent hours there, playing mastermind and sipping wonderfully fragrant teas. A must to see.

A cheerful moment riding the metro with Oya and Dad, on the way to the dentist!

And there were moments, simple things of daily life turned into memories even as they happen. Dad had to have a tooth extracted. My sister and Oya took him to the dentist. Even riding the metro with him was so special…and fun.

Our house help between 2007-2011, Serpil Hanım

Last but not least, we met up our house help of four years, Serpil Hanım, who helped me raise Mengü. We visited her at her house, joined by her family for a lovely after dinner chat as Turks love it. Sipping tea and savouring sweets and “börek” (filled pastry). We owe Serpil so much.

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