It’s not every day someone offers to buy you something for your home – especially your boss – and as newlyweds, we really didn’t want to miss the opportunity. My director, wanting to get us a wedding gift, had insisted Özge and I could pick out something we wanted, and let her know so that she would go and buy it. We decided on a lamp for the flat.
My wife, Özge, met me in Kadıköy after she finished work. It was early evening, and most of the shops were still open. The cafes and bars were already starting to get busy. We stopped at the first furniture shop we saw, peered in the windows. There were beds, sofas, chairs, but not much in the way of abajurlar.
We did spot a lone candidate, with a plain white shade, crouched modestly behind some decorous candles. But the proprietor, an old man sitting outside having a cup of tea, said it was not for sale.
“Do you remember that one shop?” Özge asked, back out on the busy street. We’d seen a model we liked several nights before, on display in the window of some shop, returning from a walk in Moda, but of course now we couldn’t remember exactly where this particular shop was.
“I’m starving!” Özge said, despair and hunger suddenly taking hold at once. She walked languidly, her shoulders slumping. She had been working all day, after all. I suggested we grab something to eat. Nearby was a Subway, and so we went and ordered tuna sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and hot tea. Afterward, fortified, we were ready again for the business of the lamp-hunting.
“There it is!” Özge cried suddenly, pointing down the street. It was the shop we’d been racking our brains over. I made a note of the shop name: Karizma Home. Right there in the window was our lamp. Price: 450 liras (about 200 dollars). The owner recognized us, and said good evening.
“Are you sure that’s the one?” I asked Özge, for she had passed by it with only a quick glance, and continued on through the shop. There were lamps of all shapes and sizes; modest lamps, exotic lamps; long, angular lamps; short, fat lamps; bored lamps, sassy lamps.
“I just want to see what else they have,” she said. “What do you think of this blue one?” Özge pointed it out. It was similar to the first one, the one on display in the window. Both had a kind of dark brass frame, old-school design. They looked like mini gas lamps, which suited our retro taste. The difference was that the second one was a cool blue colour, instead of white. We could put it either in the living room, or in the bed room. It could be transported, back and forth, according to our dictates. I pictured some lonesome night in January, when the streets of the city are covered in snow, while the two of us lay snug in bed, and under that friendly lamplight, reading some Tanpınar or Kundera.
The blue lamp also cost about 450 lira. There were some cheaper ones, but they looked it, small and lacking in many ways.
“What should we do?” I asked, seeing our dilemma. “Should I call my director?”
“Good idea,” Özge said.
My director seemed surprised at me calling at that hour. “I just wanted to know what kind of budget we were looking at,” I said.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said. “As long as it’s not, like, a thousand lira or something.”
“OK,” I said. “The one we like is 450.”
I could hear the director sucking in her breath. “Well, I’m not sure I’ll be able to get that much collected from the teachers …”
We had to have this lamp.
“Özge and I can make up the difference,” I offered.
“No! No!” my director protested. “Just get what you want. We’ll find some way to sort it out. Just take a photo of it on your phone, and make sure to get a card for the store, and then I’ll go and pick it up.”
Özge surmised most of this, and by the time I rang off was already snapping photos from several angles on her Samsung. We took a card from the store owner, thanked him and headed out. We felt like – not bad for a Tuesday.
“The blue lamp is nice,” my wife said, conjuring up its azure charm as we walked. “Can you imagine – blue light in the room?”
“It would be nice, relaxing,” I concurred.
Seven o’clock. We walked down the street toward the fish markets, the busy cafes, bars and restaurants. As always, you felt good walking, the rhythms, colors and kinetic vibe of Istanbul all around. Even the vendurous glooms, the ramshackle areas, with their shadows and surprises, invited you to stay out a bit longer.
We couldn’t resist. Feeling these things, along with our lamp triumph, Özge suggested we stop for a drink. We found an open table at a café that offered a plain view of the street we liked, where cool ivy hangs like a canopy over the intersections of the narrow streets.
The garcon brought us two pints of Bomonte, and we enjoyed watching the people pass, and looking up at the pleasant old apartment buildings above the shops. Most of them had balconies with lots of green plants and flowers. The aesthetic reminded me a little of New Orleans, and while we drank I talked a little bit of the French Quarter, and its narrow streets and fern hanging from the balconies.
A black cat nestled up to Özge’s leg, and she played with it for a while. The cat had a collar around its neck, so we supposed it lived in one of the places nearby. For the thousandth time, we imagined living somewhere like here, in the center of Kadıköy, where our own cat, Ginger, would be able to wander around freely, fighting with other cats, nibbling at scraps from the fish market.
We ordered another beer, and talked for awhile about the trip to America we were planning for Christmas. We were to spend a few days in New York, then visit my family in Pittsburgh.
“My mom texted today wanting to know what colours they should have for the party,” I said.
“They always have a party at Christmas, right?” Özge asked. “Just tell them to do whatever they normally do.”
We were both burned out from the wedding and reception, and really weren’t in the mood for another wedding bash. But we also reasoned that December was a long way off, and that we might feel differently by then. Plus, my mother had never had a chance to organize a wedding…
Our talk was interrupted by a column of policemen. They strode past, strongly and with purpose. They all carried riot shields and batons. They passed in twos, their faces frozen, their steps heavy and in unison. They marched past and past.
Everyone looked up from their drinks, their conversations, their dinner. We watched tensely, knowingly.
“Are they going down to the iskele?” I asked.
“Probably,” Özge said. There appeared to be at least twenty or thirty. More would be coming from other directions. The ones we saw finished filing past. They marched on past the fish markets. Bewildered tourists stared for a moment, and got out of their way. The column rounded the corner and disappeared.
“Is it about Suruç?” I asked.
“Yes, probably,” my wife said.
In Suruç there had been a suicide bomb explosion, killing at least 30 and wounding another 100. The people were all mostly student activitists who had gathered to organize assistance for Kobane, just over the border in Syria. ISIL and the Kurds have been battling for control of the town, the region, for months.
As many had expected, there were demonstrations gathering down near the waterfront, here on the Asian side. Over on the European side, there might be demonstrations in Taksim. They would most likely be mourning the victims in Suruç, criticizing the Turkish government for its policies regarding Syria and the ISIL threat.
We heard a warbling roar, and looked up. High above, helicopters were passing, the Doppler ripple, getting louder, softer, louder again. They appeared to be circling. I looked up again, but saw only a few birds, passing between the buildings. You could only hear the helicopters from where we were sitting, you couldn’t see them because of the rooftops. The birds were like a kind of ghostly watermark, shadows of their larger, mechanical cousins.
We paid the bill, then walked through the streets, down toward the main avenue that looked out at the waterfront. There was lots of traffic as always, people criss-crossing. The sun was going down so that you had to squint, but all you saw were the crowds, the cars and buses gleaming, while high above the helicopter sounds buzzed in your ears. It all went by in hostile, dreamy silhouette.
But as we squinted in the twilight, we couldn’t see any particular demonstrations. Nothing seemed to be happening – yet.
We decided to avoid any hassles down there, and instead took some back streets that I knew that went away from the waterfront. It was my old neighborhood.
Holding hands, my wife and I crossed the main avenue, staying close to each other. We walked through some back streets I knew. It was my old neighborhood and it felt good to be back here, away from what was happening down near the waterfront, and the other places.
We went uphill, where the streets were even quieter, and we were soon in Yeldeğirmeni. The neighborhood was alive with activity, people sitting outside in the twilight, having tea and coffee. It was reassuring, calm, to be away from the waterfront and to hear the helicopters only in the distance.
We stopped by my old local market, which is run by two Kurdish brothers. I said hello to one of them, Bulent, who was sitting outside under a tree next to the market. I introduced him to my wife, Özge. They chatted for a moment about what we had seen and heard down near the waterfront.
Bulent seemed upset by the bombing in Suruç. “The Western leaders don’t seem to care that much about it,” he told Özge. “They don’t seem to be paying that much attention.”
We wished Bulent good evening, and kept walking until we got all the way down the hill to the other side of busy thoroughfare, away from the waterfront. We got a taxi and headed home. It felt good to be getting off the streets, and heading home.
James Tressler, a former Eureka resident, is a writer who believes that the Lost Coast is a state of mind and soul. He lives with his wife and cat in Istanbul.