Mario Levi’s Istanbul

We asked writer Mario Levi about Istanbul, the city he says he can’t live without.

You always say that you can’t live without Istanbul. Why?
I believe with all my heart that the cultural climate into which he was born and in which he was formed shapes not only the themes that a writer chooses to treat, or is fated to share with others, but also his emotional world, even his style. Istanbul has given me a long story, a story I will perhaps never be able to finish.

The Istanbul of your childhood and present-day Istanbul... How are they different?
You could swim on its coasts, now you can’t, or if you do, it’s just not the same. There was no television, no internet, there were no cell phones. There were no bridges over the Bosphorus, but people were much closer to each other for exactly that reason. I think this is the fate of all big cities that grow the way Istanbul has.

What does autumn in Istanbul mean to you?
The fish markets start to fill up with fish after the middle of September. The smell of fish in the markets is perhaps the city’s oldest smell, going all the way back to Byzantine times. You can’t find this smell in any other city, because the scent of the Bosphorus is also mingled with it. Bluefish, bonito, sea bass, red mullet, turbot... Autumn in Istanbul means the smell of fish.

What do you regard as not to be missed in Istanbul?
If I took you around the city, I would take you to the Kadıköy Market one day. First we would have a lunch of authentic Ottoman-Turkish dishes. Another day I would take you up the Anatolian shore of the Bosphorus, to Kuzguncuk, Beylerbeyi, Çengelköy and Kandilli. If you were up to it, I’d take you all the way up to Anadolu Hisarı, Kanlıca and Beykoz... On yet another day I would take you to Beyoğlu.