The Eyes Of Kadiköy, Land Of The Blind

Like Istanbul on the European side of the Bosporus, Kadıköy (ancient Chalcedon) on the Anatolian side was built on seven hills. And the most fashionable of them all is Moda, whose choice location and elegant appearance have endeared it to its residents forever.

Fairy tale, legend, myth - Istanbul is the mother of all stories. For Istanbul was in turn the capital of the most mysterious empires of the East: the Byzantine or Eastern Roman, and the Ottoman. A land of Greek, Anatolian, Roman, Arab, Persian and Turkish traditions. One of those legends, which harks back to ancient Greece, is of special interest to today’s Istanbullu’s. Once upon a time - some 2,680 years ago, let’s say - a soothsayer told a group of homeless Megaran refugees from Caria, “There is on the face of the earth a land of the blind, and opposite it a hill. The hope you seek is there.” He showed them the way, and they came in boats to this splendid spot, which was completely unknown at the time, and, like everybody else, were left spellbound by its beauty. Yes, they had found Istanbul, ‘paradise on earth’. But when the fog lifted on the opposite shore, they noticed some settlements there and were astonished. “When such a paradise as this exists, whoever settled across the water without seeing the beauty here must be blind!” And they named that place ‘the land of the blind’. As a Kadiköy native myself, while I regard the Chalcedonians as my distant ancestors and smile every time I hear their story, with which I have to agree, I always think of the 17th century traveler Evliya Çelebi, who said: “The truly blind are those who settled there, on the opposite shore in other words, without seeing the beauty of Kadıköy.”

MODA IS THE NOSE ON KADIKÖY’S FACE
Moda, which once raised enough fruits and vegetables to supply all Istanbul, is a headland that protrudes from the profile of Kadıköy like a nose. For those who find this description insufficiently romantic, one might also say that Moda is the most fashionable hill of Kadıköy, which sits like Istanbul on seven hills. Personally, since I’ve never run into an Istanbullu - apart from the experts - who can count Istanbul’s seven hills in one breath, I leave for another time the seven hills of Kadıköy and the question of the cave people, who, according to recent archaeological finds at Fikirtepe, apparently inhabited the area long before the original settlement.

A Kadıköy ‘fixture’, Moda was a Phoenician trading post in the 3rd millennium B.C. according to researcher Ebru Özbaran, and I can only take her word for it. The Moda that I know began to modernize only in 1910 - following Beyoğlu (Pera), the Bosporus and the Princes’ Islands - in the post-Tanzimat Ottoman Empire, where eating, drinking and being entertained like Europeans became the mode, or ‘Moda’. Popular with Istanbul’s non-Muslim communities, the district put down foundations where Westernization would not be considered out of place.

Like old established families, settlements with a rich past also have colorful histories, and therefore I will talk a little about some Moda ‘fixtures’: Moda’s first distinguishing characteristic is the Moda Yacht Club (the former English Club), once seen and admired from the sea by Ataturk, who declared, “Let a yacht club be built here!”, and where England’s Prince Edward, the Shah of Iran Reza Pahlavi, and Iraq’s King Faisal once stayed and which in its heyday hosted a string of illustrious guests from Nadir Nadi and Falih Rıfkı Atay to Münir Nurettin Selçük and Nejat Eczacıbaşı.

ICE CREAM VENDORS SQUARE, TEA GARDENS… EVEN LOVE GOES BETTER IN MODA
Its tea gardens and ice cream establishments are what make Moda popular with young people today. And a Moda summer in which they shared young love is definitely among the memories of every young person from Kadıköy. For those who have not experienced it, summer is almost upon us and there’s still time to make a reservation! Moda’s tea gardens are magnificent in summer. Like a bit of paradise salvaged from Istanbul’s mad rat race and traffic panic, with a view that includes the Marmara Sea in front of you, Fenerbahçe lighthouse on the left, a few of the Islands, Haydarpaşa on the right, and even the tip of the Historic Peninsula, the tea gardens offer beauty to make a person faint with joy. If you’re in love, your head is turned in any case, and Moda will do you good. And if you aren’t, well, you might get lucky. It’s not for nothing they say, ‘If places this lovely still exist in the world, then there must be love as well’. Go at your own peril!

Don’t be deceived by the diminutive size of ice cream vendors’ square. Not only can you find every flavor here, you should also know that people even come from out of town to taste ‘Dondurmacı’ Ali Usta’s concoctions. You can drink good sahlep (a hot milk drink flavored with cinnamon) here in winter too.  I can’t vouch for the boza (a fermented millet drink also drunk in winter) since I’m not fond of it.

Neglected for many years and abandoned to its fate, the historic Moda ferry landing was restored in 2001 by the Chamber of Maritime Commerce, with the support of the Kadıköy Municipality, the Moda Volunteers (STK) and Moda’s most famous native son, musician Barış Manço. Today it has again taken its place as an important part of the Kadıköy scene and rejoined the city’s maritime transport system with two ferries a day. Its terrace, built in 1917 by the well-known architect Vedat Tek, served in those days as a rooftop nightclub. Like a decorative ornament with its exquisite architecture, the Moda ferry landing is an icon of the district today, and when you go up to the top level to sip your tea you can’t help but feel you’re riding atop a ferry. As a Moda native myself, I regret to point out that the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has for a year now banned the sale of alcoholic beverages at the cafe on this magnificent landing in a way completely out of keeping with Istanbul’s millennia-old climate of tolerance, in which I have always taken such pride.

Speaking of food, it is imperative that I mention Koço Restaurant, whose name is synonymous with Moda, because without Koço there would definitely be something missing here. Even though its original Istanbul Greek owners sold their ‘meyhane’ years ago and emigrated to Greece, the new owners strive to maintain the Koço tradition as it was handed down to them. And the experience of the venue is enriched by knowing that Turkish literary greats from Haldun Taner and Cemal Süreyya to Mina Urgan and Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca all made merry here in their day. For my generation, however, who were too late for all that, the mezzes are the most appealing aspect of the authentic Mediterranean-style dinners served in the Koço garden, where the conversation flourishes until midnight in summer. 

MODA’S ILLUSTRIOUS
Once lined with row houses with jutting cantilevered balconies and vast truck gardens, Moda strikes those who miss that old airiness and vegetation as a trifle sad today.  But even tough I have to agree, its children’s playground, bursting with the sounds of little voices, where young people selling baubles and beads line up under the stately ancient trees, still makes me happy. Maybe it’s due to a good feeling left from the days when my son was growing up in that park and I was trying to write while lying on the grass, but the children’s playground in front of the Moda tennis courts, with a bust at the entrance of Turkey’s sixth president, Fahri Korutürk, himself a Moda native, has always put me in a good mood.

MODA’S CEVDET BEY AND HIS SONS
Turkey’s first and only certified pastry chef and the owner of the Elif Pastry Shop, Uncle Cevdet Bey of Moda was a man of whom it was said, ‘His life is a novel!’ Were they suggesting that Orhan Pamuk write a sequel, Cevdet Bey and his Pastry Shop, to his novel about Cevdet Bey of Nişantaşı? Who knows? But I do know another character in Moda just waiting to have a novel written about him. The owner of the Yeni Moda Eczanesi (New Moda Pharmacy), Melih Ziya Bey. To start with, all the furnishings and accessories in this pharmacy date back to before 1902, and most of them are still in working order. In other words, his place is a virtual museum-pharmacy.
While it may have lost a little of its former greenery, cultural richness and unique flavor, Moda is still Moda. And exacerbated by the red tram that was recently reintroduced with a whiff of nostalgia, Moda too, naturally suffers its share of the growing parking problem and traffic congestion that plague every part of Istanbul. Yet the old Istanbul Moda, where ‘neighborhood culture’ still survives and many residents still know each and greet each other by name, is still ‘in mode’. If you don’t know it, come on over. We’ll be expecting you. And if you do, then stop by for a cup of coffee so we can renew our friendship.