Rosalyn D'mello: A place beyond my touristic grasp

Jul 07, 2017, 06:09 IST | Rosalyn D'mello

The sights, sounds and smells of Istanbul beg multiple visits; even a lifetime seems insufficient to absorb all that the city has to offer

The Golden Horn, as seen from the Fatih Mosque. PIC/Rosalyn D'mello
The Golden Horn, as seen from the Fatih Mosque. PIC/Rosalyn D'mello

I wasn't ready to leave Istanbul, possibly because I knew the six-month e-visa offered the undeniably irresistible option of staying. I hadn't had enough of the turquoise swell of the Bosphorus - the narrow strait that forms a liquid boundary between the continents of Asia and Europe - despite dedicating at least six hours on a boat ride past the three bridges that connect the land masses towards the Black Sea, thoroughly amazed by the sheer number of Dolphin sightings.

I even half-encountered my deep-rooted fear of the boundlessness of the sea by clutching onto the diving ladder at the edge of our boat and immersing myself in the water's embrace, not letting go, but floating in a measured, guarded way. I know this is the final frontier for me, overcoming my fear of oceanic depths, my need to feel the sureness of the ground beneath my feet when not on land. My presence in Istanbul was the premise for the boat ride.

My friend Asli's friend Bilgen bandied together a large enough group so we could hire our own boat. It was a moment of privilege; being cast among a bunch of amazing people, all Turkish, all with a penchant towards celebration, all eager to sip on rosé, white wine, and every other liquor we had carried on us while posing for photo-ops. The conversations, when not intellectually stimulating, were rife with laughter. We even bore witness to the rare spectacle of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's boat with its accompanying parade of coast guard vessels spewing water non-stop to ward off the paparazzi, or so we imagined.

Bilgen, whom I'd met along with Roberto and Byron when they'd come over to the island of Buyukada the evening I was cooking dinner, had concocted the perfect alibi for me to stay. I was to open an Indo-Turkish fusion bistro called "Namaste Inshallah". I loved the sound of it. I imagine I'd locate it somewhere near the Galata Tower, close to my friend Mehul's apartment building, just so I could drop in every other day to soak in the insanely spectacular view of the golden horn from his balcony.

Between the four countries I visited in the 30-day span of my trip, I had given myself the most time in Istanbul, and yet the city seemed beyond my touristic grasp. I didn't expect to be outdone by its many-layered histories. I couldn't have fathomed how much there was to see and experience. Even a lifetime could prove insufficient. Having said this, when Bilgen, Byron and I emerged from our visit to the Hagia Sophia, Bilgen said something quite pertinent, that even if you were to fly in to Istanbul just to have some baklava and see the Hagia Sophia, it would be a worthwhile trip. He was not wrong, and his statement made me feel blessed about being able to see much more. In fact, because my coming to Istanbul was the result of an invitation by Asli, whom I'd met during the Khoj International Residency in Goa, you could argue that I saw a different side of the city. I was compelled to witness it through the lens of the other artists I encountered, thanks to her. Had it not been for Hera Buy­uktaÅŸçıyan's recommendation, for instance, I'd have probably miss­ed se­e­ing the impressive mosaics at Chora Monastery, outside which I met an Armenian shopkeeper who told me about the Fatih Mosque poised on the hill upon which is the historic Balat neighborhood, through which I walked until I came upon the promenade of the Golden Horn and watched Turkish families delighting in early evening barbecues and itinerant fishermen plunging their rods into the water, hopeful for a catch.

The evening before, after our boat ride, when Asli and I got onto the ferry to return to Buyukada, we learned about a longtime tradition called the Fish Lottery. A man went from passenger to passenger with a sheet of paper and a cold storage unit full of freshly caught fish. For 10 Lira, you could book up to four numbers. When it was time, the man in question would use a deck of playing cards to draw out the winning number. If you were lucky, you would be handed all his fish.

Having been to Istanbul, I can now comprehend why Orhan Pamuk engineered the Museum of Innocence as a grand gesture to his eponymous novel. Objects are things of historic import, and upon their inanimate souls are imprinted the weight of collective memory. I'm still absorbing everything I saw and heard and ate and smelled and felt during my ten days in Istanbul. I know I must find ways of returning. One lifetime is not enough.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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