Photo: Tressler.

The train from Ankara to Istanbul takes about four hours. It’s always a smooth journey, first traversing the broad, rolling tablelands of Anatolia, passing through a series of tunnels as you enter the mountains, emerging onto verdant green hills. Suddenly the sea appears, running alongside the route, waving like an old friend, as nostalgic and familiar as children’s voices at sunset.

My mother-in-law Nefise (“Anne,” or mama) and I were meeting a potential buyer for our apartment in Istanbul. We’ve had the apartment on the market a few months, and this buyer promised to meet our listed offer and pay in cash – in this market, an offer too good to sit on. So there we were – in separate cars, a slight inconvenience caused by last-minute online ticket purchase – on a Monday morning, when most people were stuck at work, bound for Istanbul by train. I enjoyed my role as the husband entrusted with this important mission, accompanying Anne to meet the buyers in the great city. We even brought along a suitcase in the event that they paid literally in cash. The morning took on the aspect of a caper – a Monday morning caper at that! – as I imagined clutching the suitcase stuffed with millions of liras, glancing nervously from side to side, wary of sudden ambush.


Actually I had mixed feelings about the journey, for in fact the sale had about it an air of finality.

Our life in the great city was finally coming to an end. For 15 years, the city had been home and in that time the thought of living anywhere else had never occurred to me. The sweep and majesty of the city by the Bosphorus, the imperial past and megalopolitan present seemed tailor-made for me, and was the inspiration for a decade of stories. It was where I had met my wife and where our son had been born.

But last year’s catastrophic earthquake, which claimed more than 50,000 lives in Turkiye, was the final straw for my wife Özge. The fact that Istanbul itself was not affected by the earthquake was no reassurance. The 1999 Istanbul earthquake killed tens of thousands, and experts warn that another deadly quake, The Big One, could hit any time. And a neighbor had our building checked by the municipality, which listed our building as unsafe in the event of an earthquake. The decision was made to relocate to Ankara, the safest part of the country in terms of seismic matters.

Over the past year, I’ve slowly adjusted to our new life. Ankara, the nation’s capital, is about as far from Istanbul as you can get. It is a land-locked city, surrounded by the lonely plains of the interior. Forget the sea, which surrounds and breathes through Istanbul – in Ankara, not even the whisper of a river passes through it. It is a city of spanking new skyscrapers, political structures, universities and shopping centers. The culture, like the air itself, is decidedly dry, political and academic. Of course, Ankara is not without certain charms: people are friendly as people are friendly in a typical American Midwestern town, the young people healthy and attractive, and there are many parks, trees, and in the central neighborhood of Tunus sit several streets lined with decent bars.

We live on the campus of the university where I work as a teacher. That is also a benefit, for the lojman is quiet and comfortable, sequestered by groves of tree-lined streets, and we need not worry about our boy Leo going out on his own to play in the nearby park with the other children. The nights are deep and tranquil, and our sleep untroubled by sirens and the other ceaseless din of Istanbul life. We look forward to Leo starting kindergarten at the school located conveniently across the street from the university preparatory building where I teach. I could walk my son to school each morning and pick him up in the afternoons. “A great place to raise a family,” if you will (a phrase I’ve always felt provincial folk employ as a euphemism for “dull.”).

I chide myself, remembering that the move was a practical one, the decision lined with benefits on all sides, especially for our son, his future. And yet, as the train approached Istanbul, I felt wistful, the old excitement stirring. The air as moist, fragrant, the sunlight groomed by the faint mist looming over the sails of the ships offshore. There was that feeling of weighing security versus excitement, with excitement winning every time, at least in the imagination. And arriving in Istanbul itself, feeling as one does in all great cities, from New York to Paris to Rome, why would one want to live anywhere else? A curious despair hovered: were we really, finally, trading it all in? And for what, a bit of security in some dust-blown provincial town? Where was the mystery in that? The frailty of life, the misgivings of romance, the chaotic nature of urban philosophy as transient as a silent street, the marketplace of people and ideas? The city I had fallen in love with … But we were not on holiday, I reminded myself as the train came to a stop at the Solutlucesme stop. We were there on family business and for one day only. We needed to complete all the matters related to the sale and be back on the train to Ankara by six p.m. Not much time to even see the city, let alone be sentimental about it.


The emlak, or estate agent, was a woman named Gül. She was a people person, greeting us outside her office with blousy familiarity, as if she had known us for years. While we waited for the buyers to arrive, Gül invited us to have Turkish coffee at a table outside the office, chatting in Turkish with my mother-in-law about the apartment, about the sale details, the couple buying the place, about Istanbul, Ankara, about me and my new job, etc, our new life.

Presently, a car pulled up, and we were introduced to Hakan, a young man, early thirties, thin, amiable. He spoke English and offered to give us all a lift to the bank. He and Gül both had made jokes about the suitcase Anne and I were lugging around. Realizing that the transaction was going to be done online, Anne and I both felt a bit silly, and the empty suitcase was left in Gül’s office while we went to the bank. The transaction itself was quick, and we were in and out of the bank in less than half an hour, the bank app on my phone suddenly registering a sum of money I never thought I would ever see in my life.

By this time Hakan’s wife, Meltem, had joined us. She was an attractive, bright-eyed woman, a physician at a nearby hospital. She and her Hakan had that eager excitement of a young married couple looking to score the home in which they hoped to settle down and start a family. On the drive to the deed registry office, we talked about the apartment. I told them about the neighborhood, recommending certain restaurants, cafes. We talked about how great, how convenient everything was, with the metro and the Bosphorus and Kadıköy close by. I felt happy for the young couple, knowing that they would be happy in the apartment as we had been happy, but also bittersweet, remembering when we had first moved there in summer 2022, and I had looked from the balcony out to the sea and felt that we had found our home. It was like those Russian priests mentioned in “Tender is the Night,” the ones who always went to their retreat on the Mediterranean coast each summer prior to the First World War. “’See you next summer,’” they said. But this was premature, for they were never coming back anymore.”


By 3 o’clock, the deal was done. Hakan and Meltem received the keys, and we watched as they took a joyous selfie, sent immediately on WhatsApp to anxious family and friends. We all thanked Gül for making the day so efficient and hassle-free. We all wished each other well and parted. Anne and I went up the street for a late lunch. We’d been on the road since half past four in the morning and were starved, so we greedily snapped up the Adana kebab served at the restaurant we used to visit so often. Afterward, we still had a couple hours left. Anne understood that I wished to have a beer in Kadıköy, while she wanted to have a coffee and rest in a nearby park. We arranged to meet at the train station.

On the short walk to Kadıköy, I reflected on how comfortable I felt on these streets. All those years ago, it was Kadıköy that had taken me in. The neighborhood was called Yeldeğirmeni, or “Windmill,” and it was there I had lived for several years before meeting Özge. I passed the bakery, the liquor store, or “tekel,” owned by two Kurdish brothers who used to give me beer and cigarettes on credit before payday. The markets and small shops that I used to pass every day on my way to get a bus to the school. The narrow, cobbled streets alive now as they were then, the young men hauling the garbage wagons on their shoulders, the young people, the young women with a faint perspiration making their skin glisten in the late afternoon.

I had beer at the small tavern where I’d always gone on a spare afternoon, when the work was done and Anne was looking after Leo. The bar owner expressed no big surprise at not having seen me in a long while. I mentioned that we had moved to Ankara, but he just placed the cold bottle of Tuborg in front of me and retired to the bar, leaving me to my thoughts. It was still quiet, the place would get busy in the evening, after people got off work and the Erasmus students were done with their classes.

Drinking the beer, looking out at the streets, I thought about how the day had started off as a “Monday morning caper,” and had ended up as this, a reflection on the city, on the life we’d had, and how that life was now over. But at least our balance ended up in the plus. I had another beer, and another, and soon it was time to get to the station. I paid and wished the barman well. “See you next time,” I said.

It was only a five-minute walk. I felt good, knowing exactly where I was headed despite the crowded streets and busy hour. There would always be Kadıköy, and Istanbul, it wasn’t going to float away. And we still had our summer house down on the coast, ready for our return in the summer holidays, so we still had the sea in our lives.

Along the way to the station, looking out at the Fenerbahçe stadium silhouetted by the approach of evening, I stopped and got Leo the local team’s famous gold and blue football jersey from a street vendor. When I arrived at the station passengers were beginning to board the train. Anne was already there and we stood together with the empty suitcase, relieved of duty, both of us tired from a very long and eventful day. It was time to get back to Ankara, where my wife and son, and our new lives, were waiting.


James Tressler, a former Lost Coast resident, is a writer and teacher now living in Ankara.