We’re living on the Asian side.
Our flat is on the fourth (top) floor of an old building. No elevator. Winding stairs that seem to never end. Past shoes outside doors. Once a person sitting smoking. And sometimes rubbish that needs to be thrown away. We know we’re almost there, as the stair well becomes lighter, and the seagulls screech louder. Their claws, tatter-tap-tap on the plastic skylight, and they sound for all the world like crying babies or copulating cats.
Once inside, my gaze is pulled, like iron filings to a magnet, to the outside. But now I have a birds eye view, over roofs, balconies, terraces, and all the paraphernalia of living, to the harbour. To the rooftop terrace over the iskele (ferry dock). To the ferries coming from the other side. To ships in the Sea of Marmara. And if I crane my neck a little and stand on the balcony to the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya in the distance. In the early mornings, the sky is milky, the water moody, and sunlight highlights one side of those container ships and freighters, which seem toy-like on the horizon. As the day progresses commuters stream over the dock, and ferry horns sound. Sometimes merry toots, and sometimes protracted mournful murmurs which make me think of whales communicating in the deep.
We open the balcony door whenever we’re home and the sounds of the city get closer. Yard dogs barking whenever a cat crosses their path. (which in Istanbul is often). Birdsong. The call to prayer; which thankfully, strangely, never wakes us at 04.00, but at other times resonates deeply. And on weekends, the call of the simit man, as he walks the streets with his tray and trestle table. Once I saw a man letting down a basket on a rope from his balcony to collect his Sunday morning breakfast. Voices from balconies, the clatter of cutlery, and radio sounds waft upwards. Also on Sunday mornings, the man opposite washes his terrace floor, water gushing from a hosepipe. The table is then laid with a cloth, and brunch served – sometimes for him and his wife, sometimes for a whole family gathering. I love this simple act of preparing the space, and taking time.
There are no sights in Kadiköy. Just houses and people. Some once grand, turn of the twentieth century buildings, an old German school (for the children of the workers who came to build Haydarpaşa railway station). At the end of a parallel street, there is a cafe in front of leafy green roundabout where we like to sit and drink çay. The owner of a small nearby shop nearly always sits in front of it on a stool. Everyone greets him, sometimes people stop to chat, I suppose sometimes he actually sells something. One evening a man rolled up with a kokoreç street cart (lamb intestine wrapped over sweetbreads, grilled over hot charcoal). He kept lifting the lid to check on it’s progress. A man called down from a window above, but it wasn’t yet time. The roll-top lid was pulled down again. Opposite the grocery shop is a bottled-water supplier. Fat nineteen-litre bottles stacked like wine barrels across the pavement. Men and boys on scooters ride with the containers at their feet, and balanced behind them, delivering door to door. Call and they can replace a bottle in ten minutes. No one drinks tap water in Istanbul apparently.
Kadiköy is cafe heaven. The place teems with them. We love Çiya and go time and time again, but it’s not off the beaten track, and for this reason we love our neighbourhood pide place, where if we’re lucky we can bag one of the handful of pavement tables and people-watch to our hearts content. Another corner shop, a vintage store, dog walkers, delivery ‘boys’ on scooters, the recyclers, men chatting on pavements fingering prayer beads – there’s always something to see. If we sit inside, we watch the men making pizzas, kneading and shaping dough, a man with a long paddle, rows of rounds bubbling in the oven. It’s kind of mesmerising. And looks like very hard work.
LP makes much of the market (fine, but very small) and the street art (also fine). But the so-called sights are often not the noteworthy things. The small stuff is where the real treasure lies.
Çiya Sofrasi, Güneşlibahçe Sokak 43, 11.30-22.00. Plenty of vegetarian choice. No alcohol.
Damla Pide, Rasimpaşa Mahallesi, Karakolhane Cd. 78, 08.00-22.00