After several months of stoppage, I have finally found inspiration again, in this compilation of letters.
* * * * *
I don’t believe in love at first sight. I think it is trite and unrealistic. How on earth could I know that I’ve found love with just one look? Love isn’t based on nothing, it’s built on trust and loyalty. Perhaps my cynicism stems from my own inherent nature; I am slow to trust and thus slow to love. But, you İstanbul, were different.
With you, it was unequivocal love at first sight. From my first tram ride, I was hopeless. I sat wedged between two suitcases and a very large man who smelled of cigarettes, sweat, and burnt çay, watching the cityscape speed by, and I was enthralled by your vibrancy. Your kinetic energy carried everyone with you.
It’s an overplayed trope, I know, but my love for you was cemented with a ferry ride. It was my first night, and as the ferry cut through the water from the Haliç into the Boğaz proper, my heart overflowed. I was struck by the beauty of the city, with the history spilling from the banks of the old city on one side, the energy of Pera emanating from the other, and the heart and soul of the city thumping straight ahead. I thought you couldn’t be any more romantic than you were that night, my dear city, as the ferry glided noiselessly through the black water, the ezan wailing in the background.
But you have proved me wrong on countless occasions, İstanbul. As my love for you has deepened and matured, I’ve gotten to see you in more lights and through the seasons and you have proven that you only get more beautiful. As the sun sets at the end of a long, arduous day. As the frosty air bites at exposed skin on a grey mid-morning in January. As carousing groups stumble arm-in-arm down the cobblestone streets at 3 in the morning, heads clouded by rakı and the air perfumed with nargile. As the sea breeze sweeps off the Marmara, cooling the whole city on a sweltering August day. As the rain lashes at the windows, bends pedestrians in half, and turns every hill into a waterfall. But, I love you most, İstanbul, in the wee hours of the morning, as the sun rises over Tophane and the fishermen set up shop on the Galata Bridge and the streets are deserted, save the odd simit seller.
Yet, as our relationship has grown, I’ve come to recognize and acknowledge your faults. Your labyrinthine streets and lack of clear direction make me want to scream sometimes. Why can’t you ever give clear directions? Your politics are divisive and debilitating, and I fear the path of ‘development’ that you are traveling. Can’t you see that this ‘development’ is at the expense of your infrastructure, your architecture, your history, your people?
I have never felt like more of an outsider than in Turkey. The man on the street corner who only knows enough English to hiss derogatory sentiments about my body. The people who reject me for having the wrong beliefs, for being the wrong type of person. The fury I’ve felt at being ignored, misunderstood, ripped off, for being a foreign woman. You’ve made me cry on countless occasions, İstanbul. You’ve stomped on me, chewed me up, and spit me out. You’ve brought me to my knees.
And for this, for the pain you have caused and the frustration you have wrought, I thank you, my dear city. Because of what you have taught me and the ways in which you have challenged me, I have become a more patient, resilient, and humble human being. In experiencing prejudice at your hand, I’ve learned to confront my own prejudices, to measure my words, and to look critically at my decisions. In you, I’ve witnessed the beauty of outrage and in fighting for your beliefs. You’ve awoken my sense of adventure and have taught me to revel in absurdity. You’ve shown me the kindness of strangers and the infinite depths of friendship. Sometimes you’re horrible and confusing and incoherent, but I’ve learned to communicate and adapt. Without you, sevgili İstanbul, I would not be half the woman I am today.
Most love is like ayran. At first it is too salty and too thick. Only after repeated exposure do you find that the frothy, yogurt-y drink is a delicious and refreshing complement to any meal. İstanbul, you are not like ayran. For me, it really was weak-at-the-knees, pulse-quickening love at first sight. You’ve made a jaded skeptic a lover, and I don’t ever want to lose how you make me feel.
Sevgili İstanbul, seni özledim, seni sevdim.