Istanbul 004/016
WORDS: Beliz Urkmez
PHOTOS: Lou Baya Ould Rouis
I don’t remember how many times it has been. Oscillating between two cities has become a pattern in my life. During one of my flights back to Istanbul, I remember glancing out the window. It was dark, pitch dark. But the city glowed, piercing the darkness with tiny lights. I am pretty sure I even saw the sea in that darkness, little glimpses of waves dancing between flickers of city lights. Looking down from above felt... It felt so oceanic, a moment Freud describes as “a sensation of eternity, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded.” The grandeur of Istanbul captivated me. Images of the narrow streets, the hidden corners ornate with unwanted buildings and the small markets scattered around every block flashed through my memory. It was all there, sucked and stuck inside the black hole that is Istanbul. It’s tiny and astronomical at the same time and that is exactly how I feel when I’m in my hometown.

I always wanted to escape that same gravity pulling me. Looking down during those last thirty minutes of my plane ride though, I think I never will. I have to admit, my comforting Los Angeles life heartens me. The abundance of sun with the laid back attitude everyone seems to internalize makes me want to stay here forever. Istanbul, on the contrary, breeds stress and anxiety from the never-ending traffic, the crowdedness and the metropolitan fast life. Every sidewalk is an absurd portrait of life. Outside an affluent neighbourhood cafe, an old man sells toilet cleaners. Another man walks alone on the freeway. It is frustrating, all of these lives meshed together in this small space, all of them passing by on their own without any interaction. No order. No time to think about how you feel. Time just passes by and every little facet of Istanbul, including its people, passes through with it.

Yet, I will never escape the nebulous charm or the poetic chaos of Istanbul that I still crave here. It is an attachment, a familiarity of some sort, that binds me to it. My memory tricks me into fantasizing about the city as if I am in control, as if I know every little detail and every road that surrounds it. Even if I leave for a very long time, when I return, I’ll still know this place like the back of my hand. The excitement, the thrill, the strange, the absurd, all find a home there and stay, forever orbiting. I am conquered by this intense desire to be acknowledged and valued by this city at the same time that I detest it to the point where I want to leave and move on. Whatever my mind instills in me, I realize that I have no control over Istanbul, it has a trajectory of its own.

I seem to never find the right words to describe it, even now, when I am writing this. Probably never will. Not that good at describing feelings that fill my heart with nostalgia, wonder and melancholy. The dilemma of existing in two places at once excites and overwhelms me both at the same time. I lead two different lives in two different cities with conflicting natures, and I feel like two different persons. My emotions and thoughts are in constant flux because so am I, perhaps because I do not know which one I belong to. I feel the same sense of comfort and strangeness in both places and I end up a stranger to myself. The idea of starting new lives in new cities thrills me, but in the end, I think I will never get Istanbul out of my system. Not because it’s my home but because it’ll always be a part of my memory, history and character. I would like to be okay with that someday. I will let you know when I do.