Up until last year I was a happy man, a contented man, living in that commercial-hub-come-residential suburb of Bakırköy. Bakırköy’s unique charm lies in its calm side streets, its busy shopping areas, its plethora of restaurants and its easy access to the coast, and transport across the city. My life there consisted of chay, shopping, reading and working diligently on my writing whilst busying myself with extra work. Bakırköy, it can be said, brings out the best in me.
However, something was stirring within. I can relate to the Vietnam veteren in Tropic Thunder, when he grimmly whispers ‘beds give me nightmares’. The life experience I have garnered since post adolescence has been a bumpy ride, and my brain cells have somehow drawn a clear connection between happiness and bedlam.
Thus, I ended up in Beyoğlu. I was attracted by the madness there, the hussle and bussle of Istiklal Caddesi, the crazy night life, the music, the smells and the sounds. I also feel more at home in older areas with real houses as opposed to the standard five floor apartment complexes that litter Turkish cities.
After six months though, I’ve decided that maybe it is not for me. As I sit here, at four in the morning, having been abruptly woken up by an enraged transvestite banging on the door of my downstairs neighbour (I thought it was an earthquake and ran onto the balcony) I’m focusing all my rage into an internet-friendly list of pet hates. I hope it exorcizes some of my negative energy
It’s really busy. I love the atmosphere of Istiklal Caddesi. There is music, shopping and anything you need for a great time on your own or with friends. However, my left shin is battered and bruised from the amount of times someone with an armful of shopping bags has whacked it while trying to shove past me at rush hour.
Noise. Again, as I said, I love the sounds of the city. The music, the cars, the streets sellers. I love it all. The people, the mating cats, the planes overhead – seriously, I love it. The İGDAŞ jingle, the guys below me singing Arabesk and throwing out their friends at 4am, the family below them having screaming contests over diner. It’s all great. The police sirens, helicopters, street weddings, live bands, garbage men, builders, more builders and whatever the guys drilling the road every day are doing. I seriously, love the constant buzz of the city, don’t you?
Sleeze. One of the reasons I came to live in my hood of Tarlabaşı, just adjacent to Taksim proper, is that it was a little on the wild side. However, it’s a bit grim coming-face-to-face with the dark side of Taksim’s commercial life. Curb-crawlers walk up and down the back streets with leery possessed eyes, trying to get the attention of the travestis poking out of their windows. The travestis themselves cause no trouble, but the insidious whispering of ‘şşş, bi şey ister misin?’ does grate a little.
Prices. Everything from housing to food to coffee is more expensive in Taksim. How much blame lies in tourists and foreigners like me for being here, and land lords and emlak guys looking for a quick buck is contested. But I know who I’m blaming. I have a one bedroom apartment here. In Bakırköy, for the same price I had a garden in a nice two-bedroom close to the meydan.
Cihangir. ‘You don’t want to live around there, this area is a lot more cultured’ is the response I got from an Emlak in Cihangir, when I suggested I might rather live on the Tarlabaşı side – which is half the price of anywhere he was offering and, funnily enough, offers an ethnic and cultural mix far superior to Cihangir’s wine-sipping upper middle class lot. Of course, Cihangir fully deserves to be one of the Guardian’s selected best places to live on the planet. It is cute, old-fashioned and charming, and has a lot to offer a new-comer to the city. I just wish they wouldn’t go on about it.
The po-po.The police have always been present in Taksim, and they have always been rude and agressive. The fact that now they have gas cannisters and water cannons just makes it even more depressing and some weekends it feels like you’re living under martial law.
Going out all the time. When I was living in Bakırköy it was all ‘Liam, come here’ and ‘Liam, let’s go there’. Although constantly making the journey was a small annoyance – as a closet introvert, I much prefer the power to move around and leave in my own time on the excuse that I live conveniently, some distance away. Now I am already situated where people go out, and it’s not so much ‘Liam, come here’ as ‘I know you are a five minute distance away, so get out of your house’. What’s so annoying is that because it’s so close, I don’t even have the will-power to say, ‘I would love to see you, but I have to play Age of Empires, call my girlfriend and enjoy a nice home-made curry’, which at any other time, would make a smashing start to the weekend.
There are no supermarkets. This is quite a contentous subject, as it naturally veers into the subject of shopping centres. Make no mistake, Taksim doesn’t need a mega-mall. It does, however need somewhere that sells fresh milk – the kind that goes on cornflakes. Oh, but I have to g oto Mecidiyeköy for both of those if one runs out because the mini-markets around here (hidden on backstreets) sell ayran, cheese, water and, inexplicably, Coco Pops. Neither does Taksim have anywhere that sells cheap bits-and-bobs, my beloved tuhafiyes are scattered far and wide in Mecidiyeköy and Beşiktaş, so if you need a shoe rack, flower pot or Ottoman insignia to hang on your wall, you are going to have haul that bad boy up here yourself.
Paint Thinner Sniffers. I don’t really know where this craze came from, but it looks rather addictive. Kids, teens young adults, sit around sniffing baggies of uninviting green-yellow paint thinner to get high. Their care-free, glazed expression has a certain charm when accompanied with a vacant smile or on top of a burnt out police vehicle, however the down side is that they don’t often have the financial assets to secure a regular high anda re always asking for ‘just one lira’. It’s kind of depressing.
Yemek Sepeti is awful. Yes, yes, why don’t you just cook then, you lazy bum, you would be quite correct in responding. But we all know the pace of life in Istanbul means that yemeksepeti.com’s online food delivery service is a sheer God-send. In Beyoğlu though, there is nothing you can order at a decent price, and when it does come, it is cold and an hour late. I have no explanation for this, and pine fort he days I could get a nice fajita and waffle from Bakırköy’s Abbas restaurant within twenty minutes of ordering.
Maybe I’m being a misery guts. Yes, life in Taksim, especially this year, has given me a plethora of tales and stories to relate for years to come, and I am more than grateful. But no-one wants to live in an anecdote, and it is oft-times I crave for the quiet tranquility of the sub-urbs once again.