We arrived at dawn and the airport’s bustle belied the sleepiness of the city. Istanbul strikes immediately as a crossroads city. Dumpy tenements worthy of Eastern Europe mesh awkwardly with luxury condos, all eventually fading away into the city’s more ancient districts.
The airport’s international arrivals board shows the city’s true nature, too. Flights were coming in from Ashgabat, Sanaa, Lagos, Shanghai, Krasnodar, Tblisi, Addis Ababa and, almost incongruously amid such exotic company, Nürnberg. I’m familiar with Turkic people from my travels in Uzbekistan and Xinjiang, but these Turks are without the dominant colonial influences and geographic isolation. Indeed the Sea of Marmara that leads into the Bosporus is littered with cargo ships, indicating the city’s position as a crossroads of trade. It feels a bit like a seaport, too. You can’t be a serious port without being a little bit dirty, as the world’s gritty business gets done in places like this, bringing people and ideas and culture from all around. The point at which Europe meets Asia has been a place for trade since there have been people to conduct it.
The city is slowly awakening as I write this, the sun inching its way into the sky. The air is sea-fresh and pollution-dirty at the same time. We’re tired from the red eye, and catching rest on rooftop hammocks in advance of our morning coffee. That, too, of course, is famously different, as I’m sure just about everything else will be for the coming days. Stayed tuned.