12

Eyup

e intro

 

I’m posting this from Paris, having failed to meet my Friday deadline once again. However, although my body has arrived in the City of Light, my mind is still tramping up the hills of Istanbul. And I have to say, I miss it already.

So I’m glad I chose the neighbourhood that I did – Eyup – because it seems a fitting way to pay my respects to such an amazing city, and to end the Turkish chapter of this project.

Eyup is Istanbul’s Mecca. In fact, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, it’s the fourth holiest Islamic site in the world.

This is because it contains the türbe (tomb) of the Standard-bearer and companion of the Prophet Mohammed no less, Eyüp Sultan, and the adjacent mosque, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, which was built in his honour in 1458. As a result, every other Ottoman bigwig wanted to be buried there too. Hence the place is spilling over with a number of other mosques, countless tombs and one enormous hill-covering cemetery.

Given that Istanbul is so deeply Muslim despite its glitzy bits, and bursting at the seams with history, I thought it sounded like a good place to finish.

By the way, this week’s installment is a little leaner than others – a combination of the choice of neighbourhood and not quite enough time thanks to a rigid exit date.

Right, scarves on, shoes off, let’s go Eyup!

 

Part 1: The women

As a modern Western chick, I can’t help feeling a little cranky that women have to stick to a prescribed section in a mosque. But after hanging out in the ladies area at Eyup Mosque, I kind of enjoyed the enforced segregation. There is a real sense of companionship up there, behind the screens, and the women do seem more relaxed. And not that anyone uses them anymore, but I was intrigued by the little windows in the latticed screen. It’s easy to imagine the women of Ottoman times, resplendent in velvet riches, gingerly opening them to snatch a look at the men downstairs.

 

rush hour at Eyup Mosque

rush hour at Eyup Mosque

 

 

 

a sunny corner

a sunny corner

 

 

 

upstairs, downtairs

men down, women up

 

 

 

dreaming of places far far away?

dreaming of places far far away?

 

 

 

prayer time

prayer time

 

 

 

a veiled life

a veiled life

 

 

 

the prettiness of it

the prettiness of it

 

 

 

climbing the walls - Iznik tiles and kids at prayer time

climbing the walls - Iznik tiles and kids at prayer time

 

 

 

Part 2: The men

Revered as it is, Eyup is the place to be if you’re about to get part of your willy chopped off.

I’d read that it was common to see a family turn up with a young son dressed in a white satin costume just prior to their circumcision ceremony (sünnet). Hat, cape, staff, the full bit. But I was still surprised by the grand outfit when I saw it for real. Of course the kids, anywhere from three or four onwards, are far from regal, tearing around the place, enjoying the attention. But I did wonder, given what they’re about to experience, wouldn’t it turn them off dress-up for life?

 

dress up for a very serious occasion

dress-up for a very serious occasion

 

 

Some time later we met another circumcision candidate, five year old Yusef. Having witnessed Yusef on the threshold to manhood, Coco and I walked up through the cemetery, passing by a group of men silhouetted on the hill as a burial was taking place. One enters, one leaves. That’s life as they say.

 

 

at the beginning and end of a man's life :: 1

at the beginning and end of a man's life :: 1

 

 

 

at the beginning and end of a man's life :: 2

at the beginning and end of a man's life :: 2

 

 

 

On the next visit to Eyup we met a group of school boys, praying outside the mosque in front of the tomb. Just as with the Sufi saint’s shrine in Nizamuddin West, New Delhi, this is where you make your wish and pray it comes true.

 

 

 

I pray I meet a wild haired girl

I pray I meet a wild haired girl

 

 

 

round and round

round and round

 

 

 

Of course it isn’t all about the young at Eyup.

 

 

 

focused

focused

 

 

 

a riot of fawn

a riot of fawn

 

 

 

turbans in tombs

turbans in tombs

 

 

 

Part 3: Religion makes you hungry

A street full of cafes, restaurants and seemingly endless bread, biscuit and sweetie shops serves the local Eyup community as well as those visiting the mosque complex.

 

yum

yum

 

 

 

gorgeous green

the waiter with the gorgeous green

 

 

 

golden softness

golden softness

 

 

 

Seeing as we’re in a religious mode, I should let you know – I have been converted, to the almighty Turkish Delight. Double Pistachio straight up with a chaser of same. Reason being, I discovered that the gluey, gelatinous substance doesn’t have any gluten in it. It’s been five years without sweeties – most have wheat – so I’ve been out of control.

Just as I was ready to kick my new habit, Coco and I had a box of the stuff shoved in our faces on exiting the mosque. I don’t know why but we noticed it several times – women offering either sugar cubes or Turkish Delight to anyone who walked past. What was I to do? It would’ve been rude to refuse.

 

 

Turkish Delight, bringing the genders and generations together like no prayer can

there should be a warning on the box

 

 

 

Part 4: Coco in Eyup

Speaking of dress-up…

 

written on the face

written on the face

 

 

 

floating worlds

floating worlds

 

 

 

whirling like a dervish

whirling like a dervish

 

 

 

Having seen the women at the mosque hand out Turkish Delight, Coco decided she wanted to do it too, as a parting gesture to both Eyup and Istanbul. We must have looked a sight – Western girl dressed in old fashioned Turkish gear handing out sweeties while her sugared up mother looked on feverishly, desperate for them to be gone.

 

 

 

warning - Turkish Delight is addictive and may result in an enlarged torso

warning - Turkish Delight is addictive and may result in an enlarged torso

 

 

 

The Wrap

Aside from an overabundance of the sweet stuff at Eyup, I enjoyed it. While the mosques and tombs are the main draw card, I loved getting lost around their back alleys, trying to imagine what it would’ve been like in Ottoman times. Made easier when you have a richly attired Whirling Dervish-like daughter by your side.

 

 

Coco whirled her way right over to the Bosphorus

Coco whirled her way right over to the Bosphorus

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Last week’s neighbourhood was tough going for Coco especially. So I loved that this week she had a couple of opportunities to let loose and do pretty much her favourite thing – dancing. Both in the back alleys of Eyup and alongside the Bosphorus, in front of the beautiful Ciragan Palace (excellent if you’re like me and don’t like crowds – there was barely a soul there).

So goodbye Istanbul, I really do miss you already. The warmth of your people (but not your cranky taxi-drivers). Your east-west mix. The beautiful Bosphorus. And how could you not miss a city where you can dance wild and free in the midst of history? Now if I can just kick this sugar problem…

 This suburb has been brought to you by Julie Phillis

 See you on Friday with the first Paris installment.

 

11

Tarlabasi

intro T

 

Last week we wandered down one side of the hill from Taksim to hip and happening Cihangir. This week I thought we’d head down the other side of the hill, to Tarlabasi (Tar-luh-BAH-shuh).

A mere ten minute walk separates these two neighbourhoods, but they may as well be on different planets. While Cihangir is Istanbul’s boho darling, Tarlabasi is the black sheep. No hotel concierge is about to recommend you take a stroll through the place. Quite the opposite – he’d give you a funny look if you asked about it and tell you to steer clear. Drugs, crime, you name it, it was all there.

But I was curious to explore it, intrigued by its history and current circumstances. So I decided, one quick glance – and if it seemed really dodgy, retreat.

Ready?

 

Part 1: From Greek to grotty

Tarlabasi is within spitting distance of glamourous Istiklal street, upmarket hotels and some of Istanbul’s major cultural institutions. So it’s definitely a shock when you step off the main road and descend into the neighbourhood.

Like Balat and Fener it was once happily Greek with charming row houses but is now poor and struggling, a mixed community of Kurds, Roma and Africans. However, Tarlabasi is much closer to ruin than its friends across the Golden Horn. The government has started to demolish large chunks in a so called ‘renovation’ plan that will see old replaced by faux old. Yuck in other words.

Only they seem to have got half way through that process and downed tools. They’ve gutted entire streets of buildings then just left them completely exposed, a windfall for desperate scavengers who have ripped out everything they can to burn or sell. Floorboards, windows, doors, security bars, all gone. What were once lovely bay fronted homes are now devoured, rubbish filled, stinky wrecks.

In the midst of the mess, however, is the neighbourhood’s original Greek Orthodox Church that still stands tall and proud.

So that’s the first impression you get. Pristine Greek church in the middle of an area that wouldn’t look out of place in a war zone. A war zone with lots of clothes hanging out to dry that is.

 

next door neighbours

next door neighbours

 

 

 

death row

death row

 

 

 

oh dear

oh dear

 

 

 

not quite what Ataturk had pictured

not quite what Ataturk had pictured

 

 

 

we will say a prayer for you little ones

we will say a prayer for you little ones

 

 

 

Apparently 400,000 people arrive in Istanbul each year in search of work. Kurds from eastern Turkey, Armenians as well as those from further afield, Africa. We met Abdul from Nigeria catching his breath on the side of a road in Tarlabasi. His impressions of Istanbul are a million miles from any tourist’s. While they are busy marvelling at the views and the mosques, he’s scratching around desperately trying to make a living. A uni graduate, he’s now in the recycling trade, collecting valuable trash to sell. I call it garbage and he says, no, go take a look in his cart. I open it to see a muddle of used plastic bags – gold not garbage.

 

Abdul from Nigeria, graduate turned garbage scavanger

Abdul from Nigeria, graduate turned garbage scavenger

 

 

 

Part 2: Next impressions

Holding Coco’s hand more tightly than usual, we continued to explore the streets of Tarlabasi. And slowly, things seemed to improve. There are large areas of the neighbourhood where the houses are still intact and occupied, where life seems pretty normal. Women putting out the washing (I finally discovered how they get their clothes across those lines, using a pulley system), men playing cards and kids playing on the streets.

 

the washing line explained

the washing line explained

 

 

 

the rug seller

the rug seller

 

 

 

grandeur amongst the rubble

grandeur amongst the rubble

 

 

 

a little lace goes a long way

a little lace goes a long way

 

 

 

home comforts, no matter what state your home is in

home comforts, no matter what state your home is in

 

 

 

they're fed, clothed, loved - what more?

they're fed, clothed, loved - what more?

 

 

 

In fact, Tarlabasi, the much maligned neighbourhood of Istanbul, is where Coco had her first play with local kids. The delightful soccer mad Sait, his little sister Semanur and a couple of mates.

 

they all speak soccer

they all speak soccer

 

 

 

Serhat and Sait, soccer stars of tomorrow?

Serhat and Sait, soccer stars of tomorrow?

 

 

 

Sait's sister, Semanur - did her future just walk right by her?

Sait's sister, Semanur - did her future just walk right by her?

 

 

 

happiness is his No 53

happiness is his No 53

 

 

 

taking Semanur for a spin

taking Semanur for a spin

 

 

 

Part 3: Men at work, not

Many of the men in Tarlabasi are very busy sitting inside the local cafes playing cards or a game called ‘Okey’. Unusually they were welcoming when they saw us with noses pressed up on the window, trying to peer in. Come, sit, have some cay (tea). Perhaps they miss female company as the women seem to hang out at home, where I assume they do their socialising as well as domestic chores.

 

poker face

poker face

 

 

 

a couple of hearts

a couple of hearts

 

 

 

cay and cards

cay and cards

 

 

 

a good day at the card table?

a good day at the card table?

 

 

 

the men play, the boy works

the men play, the boy works

 

 

 

welcome, come play our game, 'Okey'

welcome, come play our game, 'Okey'

 

 

 

men's and women's business

men's and women's business

 

 

 

Part 3: But then…

After the uplifting soccer game and cafe hopping the day grew colder and more grey, both literally and metaphorically.

We passed by Sait again who was now busy doing chores with his older sister, Bahar. I don’t know, it was something about the way they were clumsily wielding axes and other tools around, trying desperately to break up the floorboards that lay scattered on the road that disturbed me.

 

Bahar, chopping up floorboards

Bahar, chopping up floorboards

 

 

 

around the corner from struggle street, opulent furniture is being made

around the corner from struggle street, opulent furniture is being made

 

 

 

Sait, in particular, seems like such a good kid. But weighed down by a long list of responsibilities I imagine.

 

Sait has many crosses to bear

Sait has many crosses to bear

 

 

 

Saying goodbye to them, we made our way back up the steep street, passing by other locals doing the same thing -  it was floorboard chopping time in Tarlabasi.

 

the kebab seller and the wood collectors

the kebab seller and the wood choppers

 

 

 

'recycling'

'recycling'

 

 

 

just trying to keep warm

just trying to keep warm

 

 

 

Part 4: Kid’s playground

The next day we visited the sun had finally decided to make an appearance – and all the energy the kids of Tarlabasi had stored for the last few days stuck inside their tiny homes seemed to explode onto the streets. They ran wild, darting in and out of all the gutted houses, kicking, throwing, screaming. Sure, there are no swings or brightly coloured plastic play equipment in this kid’s playground but I suspect it’s more fun. Especially when there doesn’t seem to be a single parent around to rein you in.

 

it's a child's playground now

it's a kid's playground now

 

 

 

kids rule

kids rule

 

 

 

play equipment

play equipment

 

 

 

until that grandma comes down with her stick

until that grandma comes down with her stick

 

 

 

is that a Pythagorean triangle?

is that a Pythagorean triangle?

 

 

 

learning life lessons - but not Greek

learning life lessons - but not Greek

 

 

But of course the crumbling environment also poses many hazards, especially for the younger kids. If the thick smoke from the coal burning doesn’t get them, the half demolished buildings with exposed staircases and windows just might.

 

child proofing required

child proofing required

 

 

There’s so much that’s wrong about the government’s ‘renovation’ plans in Tarlabasi.

They’re not just getting rid of the old buildings – they’re getting rid of a community, one that seems to function well despite the challenges they face. How do you rebuild that?

It felt as if Tarlabasi was disappearing as we walked, that if I looked back there’d be nothing – or worse, fake ‘old’ buildings filled with new shiny people. I know it’s more expensive to restore old buildings than build new ones, but at what cost? The loss of a city’s history, its communities, the things that make it ‘it’.

Getting late, I decided it was time to leave so we said goodbye to Sait and his sisters and made our way out. Of all the kids I’ve met so far on this project, I warmed to them the most. Almost zero conversation but such a strong connection. So it felt wrong to just up and go, leaving them to such an uncertain future.

 

 

goodbye Sait and Semanur

goodbye Sait and Semanur

 

 

 

goodbye Bahar, another bright spark amongst the grey

goodbye Bahar, another bright spark amongst the grey

 

 

 

The Wrap

It would be naive to think that nothing bad happens in Tarlabasi. And in its current state, much of the neighbourhood looks as desperate as some of its people. But once you get over the initial shock, the place grows on you – largely thanks to the kids. Years into the future I may not remember the stench of rotting garbage or coal burning. Or the gutted wood and plaster carcases. But I will remember the mad energy of those boys chasing their shadows down the hills. And I doubt I’ll forget Sait and his sisters. I’m not religious but I pray they grow into happy, healthy adults. With maybe a soccer star between them for good measure.

 

what hand will they be dealt next?

what hand will they be dealt next?

 

 

It’s taken me a while to get a bigger picture of what’s happening in Istanbul but at week three, I’ve got some idea. While all the tourists are oohing and ahhing over the Top Ten sights, the rest of old Istanbul is crumbling - especially if an earthquake strikes. The fear of that happening combined with the current real estate boom is proving disastrous for neighbourhoods such as Tarlabasi – the government is gloves off with the whole heritage thing and is demolishing large chunks of historic areas all under the guise of ‘renovation’ and building ‘new old’. Now that is what I call scary – dodgy – dangerous.

 

 

smoke and rubble but at least the washing's done

smoke and rubble but at least the washing's done

 

 

 

seeing Tarlabasi in a good light

seeing Tarlabasi in a good light

 

 

On the ‘home front

Coco’s not a huge fan of exploring and photographing, something she calls ‘blogging’. She puts up with it at the best of times. But this week was a doozy. Sure, the soccer bit was fun but then it all got a little hairy. To be fair, the mood in Tarlabasi was at times pretty dark. But it was the jerk who kept finding us and honing in on Coco that was the real deal breaker. He was harmless enough but on the last visit he freaked Coco out and we had to leave. And yet today I asked her:

‘Coco, did you enjoy Tarlabasi?’

‘Well, I liked the soccer boys. But the buildings and that guy, they were not good.’

But when I asked Coco if she thought it would be a good place to live she said absolutely, yes. Why? Because there was lots of kids to play with and lots of things to do.

So the poorest, most desperate neighbourhood we’ve explored so far is apparently the best, even with that evil jerk guy thrown in. Sometimes I think kids really should rule the world.

 —

This suburb was brought to you by Fiona Ryan-Clark

 —

We’re leaving for Paris on Saturday so the next and last post from Istanbul will be on Friday. See you then – hopefully…

 

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