I Am Istanbul

Rahul da CunhaSome cities speak to you. Not in a boastful, “come appreciate me, sample my churches, my culture, my cuisine, I have centuries of art, anarchy, architecture” way. Instead, they request dialogue. They demand an immigration requirement beyond an unsmiling official asking, “What is the purpose of your visit”.

They say, “I am not just ‘tourism’ on an immigration form. You do not merely choose me over Bangkok because it’s a more chilled out holiday. I am not just a cover story in National Geographic, or a chapter in the Rough Guide/Lonely Planet.”

Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul

Istanbul is that one city which truly speaks to me. “I will never just be the flavour of the month,” it states emphatically. So, you do not say, frivolously, “Oh yes, we did Istanbul last May.” You never just “do Istanbul”. “You visit me, you cherish me,” it says. “I am an original. I will cause you some jet lag. I am not a destination because your kids have their school break.

I am not a vacation, I am a value system. I am that city you aspire to be, I am not a superior duty-free. I am not a time-difference, I am not a more economical foreign exchange. I will squeeze your rupee, but, God, I am worth it. You long to come to me because I have been invaded, annihilated, excavated.

I have been reborn, resurrected, I have witnessed conversion, torture, trade—navys have sailed on my seas, armies have crossed over my borders. I have risen from the ashes. I may not hold a seat at the Security Council, I may not be part of the EU, but my wares are infinite. I am not just mosques, minarets, museums.

I am not clean, cosmetic, clinical, I have cracks, warts, I will not necessarily show you some fake, artificial side. I am rich, I am poor, I am Asian, I am European. I am 1950, I am 2013. You want to visit me? You better earn it. I am the Gold Standard, the ISI Mark, I raise the bar. I will morph you into Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama, you will discover your own Istanbul. Your kids will be bored, distracted by their hi-tech gadgets, but they will return as adults to explore me, because Istanbul will outlive the iPhone.

You can get my visa. But only I will allow your entry. And exit. I might be a difficult holiday. But I’m a great city. You don’t just tick me off on a bucket list. You enter my shores with a myriad, million questions. But I leave you to find your own answers. You will leave me exhausted, but enchanted.I am medieval, I am mystical, I am modern. I am majestic. I am metropolitan, I am multi-cultural. I am multi-faceted.I am Istanbul.”

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller.  Reach him at rahuldacunha62

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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