What could be more natural for a woman originally from the North Shore of Vancouver, BC than to go out for a walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon on the seawall. Spring is arriving in Istanbul and I had some time to myself so out I went to get some exercise and enjoy the warmth on the seawall in Kadikoy in on Istanbul’s Asian shore.
As I shared the public space with so many others I reflected on the commonalities of a walk on the seawall in Kadikoy or in West Vancouver. I also could not help but notice some details that are unique to a walk on the seawall in Istanbul. In common on the seawalls was the diversity of people of all ages. Benches along the way here were well used as people basked in the sun, eyes closed and the therapeutic heat erasing some of life’s cares. There were super playgrounds for the kids, lots of parents with strollers, elderly couples arm in arm, and young couples sitting on the rocks overlooking the Bosphorus enjoying some privacy away from their parents. There were cyclists, skate boarders and inline skaters weaving amongst both those meandering along and the serious walkers. Lots and lots of people posing with family and friends for photos recording a beautiful day and their time together.
Some of the differences from a walk on the seawall in West Vancouver included a man with a thermos and a stack of plastic glasses selling tea and calling out as he made his way amongst the throngs. He was not the only person taking advantage of potential sales. Stacks of Turkish bagels called simit were being sold from a cart, cotton candy was being produced in the back of a car (brisk sales judging from the people I had passed with their pink confection). A man with a portable grill was preparing and selling hot fish sandwiches which smelled very tempting.
Sales were going well at several areas where entrepreneurs had set up balloons strung on the rocks overlooking the Bosphorus. For a few lira one could shoot (with a rifle or handgun) at the balloons which blow erratically in the sea wind. On a previous visit to Istanbul my daughter-in-law who grew up on a farm in Alberta broke the gender barrier and wowed the men on the seawall with her skills with a rifle. One of the enduring traditions that I have seen before over the years is the cart with the fortune telling bunny. Yes, indeed the rabbit chooses your particular fortune from an array of tightly rolled papers . Why I have not parted with a few lira to have this insight into what lies ahead remains a mystery to me. Today was no different, no foretelling of the future for me from the bunny.
Another group of an avid sales force are the Roma women who walk the seawall with their bouquets of roses. Of course their preferred customer are the young couples. The young men are heartily encouraged to buy a rose as a romantic gift for their companion. Great marketing and seemingly a successful strategy.
I came across a group of young people doing a traditional dance. They had some amplified music from a car parked nearby and were doing a step dance as the semi circle slowly rotated around. As I headed off the seawall through the market, restaurants and cafes there were crowds of people. A soccer/football match was scheduled at a nearby stadium and there was a sea of people dressed in their team colours. The yellow and blue jerseys of Fenerbache were everywhere.
Close to the flat I passed a man with his hand cart who was recycling plastics and I was reminded that not all of the city residents were able to enjoy the leisure of a beautiful Sunday afternoon. He was working in the shadow of a beautiful tree loaded with blossoms. Istanbul a city of complexities and a vitality of life being lived in shared public spaces by people of so many varied backgrounds. There remains an allure in this city for me – a place that has a feeling of home. I don’t even blink anymore when I come across the fortune telling bunny.