I am currently studying Safiye Erol’s works for my thesis. She was a great writer who lived between 1902 and 1964. You can always find a piece of old Istanbul in her works. Today I realized that every time I read her works, I am filled with a sense of longing. At first I ignored this feeling, but then I realized that it was growing bigger and bigger inside me. What was I missing? After some thought and soul-searching, I realized that what I was missing was the old Istanbul and its people, whom I had never met. So how can one miss someone or something one has never met? This longing is such that I feel as if those memories are my memories, as if I really knew those people and now the weight of their absence has fallen on my heart. How strange…
I miss the rest of the lights, the people with nicknames, the abundance of houses with gardens, the taste of Turkish coffee drunk while watching the sky. I miss Âkif Kaptan and Müyesseri, who used to call Venus the star Zühre, who used to argue over whether this wind was Keshishleme or the sunrise, who used to tell each other stories and sing folk songs. I miss the enchanted love potions, the little ferries that used to mail to the shores, the green and green taxis, the smell of the sea in my nose, students being called students, conversations with the two sides of Istanbul, shoes being called iskarpin, all kinds of appetizers whose names have been forgotten.
I came across it the other day; there were many dead ends in Ottoman neighborhoods. The reason was that the people living in that dead-end street were like a family. Transitional streets were not preferred. The reason was not that our ancestors did not know how to build cities or roads, but that it meant that no one who did not live there, who did not belong to that big family, would enter that dead-end street. It was a control and safety mechanism. I also miss those dead-end streets where everyone knew each other, where neighbors took care of their neighbors’ children, where the front doors were swept.
Yes, I also miss those hats on the letters, writing in cursive and those elegant fountain pens. When we removed those hats from the letters, it was as if a piece of our soul was missing. I feel the elders raising their eyebrows and looking at us with concern, and I miss those beautiful people who taught us manners.
What else? I miss my aunt taking me to the amusement park in Caddebostan, I miss passing through an orchard on the way to the amusement park, I miss swimming in the sea in Kartal, watching crabs in the clear water. As I walk up and down the old Galata bridge, I miss fishing for horse mackerel with an anchor, the bickering of beer drinkers in the background, the smell of fried mussels and French fries.
I think thinking about these things is a bit of a sign that I am getting older. This longing is so real that it brings tears to my eyes. This realization is a very bad thing. Because you don’t only notice the beauty, you also notice what is slipping away. While this is inevitable, it has never been more tangible for me. It is so vivid that I can hear the whistles of the ferries, the cold breeze of the foggy air hitting my face, the smell of seaweed that I love to inhale.
Some of them still exist, others have disappeared, never to return. The number of people who remember is dwindling with each passing day. I don’t know if it is possible to preserve the existing ones and replace them with better ones, but I miss them all very much…