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Bosphorus ferries
2003 / April

Where water and Istanbul are concerned, the 20th-century Turkish novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar is your best companion. He tells of the postman who takes his annual leave and sets out to explore, beginning with his own neighbourhood, and declaring, 'In their daily lives everyone in Istanbul yearns for somewhere else.' Then Tanpınar cannot resist adding, 'They chiselled Istanbul like a precious stone in the hands of a skilled gem cutter.' This description fits Istanbul perfectly. So who were those people who chiselled Istanbul like a precious stone? The 16th century architect Sinan, the miniature painter Matrakçi Nasuh, Sah Kulu of Baghdad, Mercan Usta, Veli Can, Nigârî, Seyh Hamdullah, Karahisari, Levni, Hafiz Post, Itrî, Neyzen Tevfik and many many more artists, architects, poets and musicians. Istanbul is concealed in details. In backstreets, in pots of geraniums, in Judas tree blossom, in mimosa and in magnolia flowers. And we should not forget the ancient plane trees. Then there are the details of the Bosphorus, which opens its arms to every shade of love.

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Bosphorus ferries
2003 / April

It should not be exaggerated; narcissi bloom even on Istanbul's rubbish heaps the moment the scent of spring fills the air of the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus is constantly changing colour, sometimes crimson, sometimes dark blue with sparkling phosphorescence, sometimes silver, sometimes turquoise... whether you are alone or with a crowd, when you next visit the Covered Bazaar or the Egyptian Bazaar, take one of the Bosphorus ferries that depart from Eminönü. But on one condition; you must not let the unkempt state of the quay and the ferries disconcert you. The pigeons and gulls that resemble the narcissus on its rubbish heap follow the boat from the Imperial Gallery of Yeni Mosque on its outward journey along the Bosphorus. Find a window seat, and do not miss the waiter when he brings around his circular tray filled with glasses of glowing dark red tea. Savour its sharp flavour on your palate as you sip it. Can you hear the sound of the wash breaking against the stern? Or are you hard of hearing? But it doen’tn matter. If the sound does not reach you, then you can go nearer to the sound.

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Bosphorus ferries
2003 / April
If you have finished your tea, place the empty glass carefully on the long wooden shelf behind your seat, not forgetting to leave the money in the saucer. You cannot run away of course. You are on the ferry. If you are absent-minded, do not worry, no tea waiter lets a customer get away! Proceeding across the deck, descend the small companionway. When you see the great rudder wheel, which is usually covered over, do not be surprised. I have never seen it being used. Perhaps it has been used in emergencies. And what is it to you? You are not on the open sea. The best thing is to lean against this rudder wheel. My own favourite place on the boat is where the flag flies, its shadow wafting on the surface of the water. Gulls are attracted by the foaming sounds from the propeller. If they are lucky they will dive into the water and emerge grasping a horse mackerel, then sweep up in a great arc to mingle with the clouds. Topkapi Palace, Haghia Sophia, Kariye Mosque, Sultanahmet Mosque and Sinan's Süleymaniye Mosque are the landmarks which shape Istanbul's skyline.
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Bosphorus ferries
2003 / April
There lies the secret of the city! How strange that everyone plays hide and seek in Istanbul. Yes, every old city is a mystery. Among the shores which Tanpınar missed were Cihangir, Kiz Kulesi (the Maiden's Tower), Salacak, Üsküdar and Beşiktas. Not one resembles another. So even when they are neighbours, going from one to another counts as a journey. A single day's travelling cannot cover them all. Ortaköy, Arnavutköy, Bebek, Anadoluhisari, Emirgan, Çubuklu, Yeniköy, Beykoz and Sariyer... believe me when I say they are all quite different. The way they view the Bosphorus is different, their waters different. Forgive me for passing over so many places in between. It is partly excitement and partly because the ferry company has cold-shouldered the Bosphorus. Yet it is impossible that even one of its employees should have taken offence. I remember a time when, until quite recently, hawsers were thrown onto the quay, and if the sea was rough tied with difficulty to the bollard.
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Bosphorus ferries
2003 / April
Then the passengers swayed as they disembarked from the rolling ship, watched by the captain as he smoked a cigarette. Alas, the Bosphorus ferries were enjoying their last days of glory. Nevertheless, let us accept our adventure, our trip, as a gift, and set out on the ferries that remain. Our travell'see heart is beating exuberantly. If we wander up and down the ferry, and from one side to the other, there is a good reason. Every halt presents its own way of life: Tea houses, fish restaurants, flower sellers, taverns toasting you with their glass, elderly people watching the sea from their windows, and children tossing crusts of bread to the gulls. The ship's horn pierces the air resoundingly, a sound that can be heard from two miles away. Another thing I love about the ferries is their funnels. Whoever designed that double anchor emblem on the slanting funnel has my eternal gratitude!
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Bosphorus ferries
2003 / April

And a last note to readers from my log: Whatever the ferry's destination, whether winter or summer, buy a ticket and set out on a voyage down the Bosphorus. When you lay your head on the pillow that night, you will see such a dream, that even the heroes of fairytale will envy you!

* Gürol Sözen is a writer and painter

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