As Charles Atlas would have it, Istanbul is a place of dynamic tensions.
For the visitor of course, these contrasts are both exciting and challenging. We have been intrigued by traditional Istanbul, hugely impressed by ancient Istanbul, and quite confronted by religious and conservative Istanbul. Not surprisingly, we are most comfortable with modern Istanbul, even though that’s not without its challenges.
After almost two weeks here, some recurring themes are appearing. Eating and restaurants of course, and the Taksim protests, but an unexpected theme of considerable importance has turned out to be roads.
Before the Taksim protests showed just how differently the government and their supporters were thinking, most would have said that Turkey was roaring down the road to modern Turkey, European Turkey, and certainly modern Istanbul.
Just how on earth Erdogan thinks he can put that genie back in the bottle defies all logic. While the crushing of the protests, which he has all but achieved, will slow things down a bit, nothing will stop the path that Istanbul is on.
There is of course a short-term cost, and the European media are suggesting that the violent and duplicitous way that the PM has reacted to the Taksim protests has finally killed off Turkey’s desire to join the European Union. However, if they manage to get the Olympics in 2020, Istanbul will move even further away from Erdogan’s Turkey.
Our road to modern Istanbul has of course been a little more pedestrian (heh heh).
Being quite literal, the actual roads are crazy, like the small one-way street we are staying in, where cars just ignore the rules and drive straight at each other. The really steep streets falling away from Beyoğlu and Istiklal Street are also a wonder to behold.
Back in the metaphorical, while we have loved the uber-cheap street cafes and old fashioned shops and markets, we have also really enjoyed the upmarket restaurants and fashionable neighbourhoods that are an equal to any modern city.
We had a superb meal at Lokanta Maya (Kemankeş Cd, Karaköy) run by New York trained Istanbul chef Didem Şenol (though she is off having a baby at the moment). We breakfasted on the Bosphorus at The House Café at Ortaköy (Salhane Sk), surrounded by wealthy and very modern locals.
But we probably had the most modern fun on our visit to the Istanbul Modern, which turned out to be a very telling metaphor for modern Istanbul.
The road to the Istanbul Modern is in fact an ugly driveway into a carpark, with no dedicated space for pedestrians. The entrance is at the end of said carpark, and looks like the sign-on shed for crew for the nearby docks. The museum building itself fares no better, sandwhiched between a machinery storage yard and the docks. On a good day, the docks provide a spectacular view of the Bosphorus and the Asian side from the museum café; problem is, on most days, there is a huge cruise ship docked there, totally blocking the view.
Once inside, the Istanbul Modern is the very model of a modern major art museum, and fortunately the current exhibitions included a major retrospective of their collection, Past and Future. Populist at one level, but a great opportunity for the one-time visitor.
There was also a very strong retrospective of local artist Erol Akyavaş.
But to prove that Art Imitates Life just as often as the other way around, our favourite piece in the Istanbul Modern retrospective was a video piece by two Istanbul artists titled …….
[It’s only 6:41 long but you can skip to 4:55 and get the gist]