Thursday, 22 October 2015

Insanebul or gates to Valhalla

Istanbul is an ancient giant stretching his body over Bosphorus swallowing neighboring lands like Chronos devouring its children. Enormous, wild body still full of energy and tension makes you feel like you have just stepped into a middle of a bee hive or ant nest, Pandora ’s Box opened long ago by Roman emperors and left unrestrained. Pulsating energy, aggression level 9 (out of 10), cars and people in a crazy, chaotic dance accompanied by equally disturbing sound of muezzins calling for pray from minarets towering over city like moral lighthouses. Daily buzz watched indifferently by ancient monuments which seem to have secret deal with time – they’ve seen triumph of Christianity, fall of Eternal Empire, ignition of Byzantium, invasion of barbarians and civilized Crusaders, conquest of Ottomans who swarmed already bleeding city like a cloud of locust and this persistent march of human folly, ambition, vanity and stupidity over eons.

Metusalemic eminence of this place is like a mist you can smell and almost taste on every corner of a Golden Horn. With enough respect and focus you can almost hear echoes of chaotic past, disturbed only by nagging sellers, hyenas trying to lure you to their market-caves or other tourist traps and deafening religious free styling coming out from towers of Sauron planted all over city shortly after noble Constantinople was turned into an Arabic fortress on some lovely Tuesday 29 May 1453. Hagia Sophia covered in rust of history looking almost like stains of blood was a patient witness of this unnecessary drama, spared by Mehmed II himself only to be adapted to serve as a mosque, dressed for a new religious party for the next 500 years. Lone survivor, as Hippodrome was soon abandoned, basilicas plundered or transformed into stables and other memories of extravagant Byzantine/Roman past covered in dust or, if lucky, adapted to serve new masters.
Violent, uneasy history is somehow reflected in city life even today. Nearly 15 million people struggle with insane traffic on a daily basis, run in front of passing trams like it’s a municipal mating show or natural selection system in overcrowded space (over 7500 people per km2 – 3 times more than Dublin which feels like a chicken farm at times). There is no time for hesitation or politeness - you snooze, you loose as they say. You either force your way through the crowd, get used to being pushed and bumped, jump in front of other people in the queue or don't hang around in public places at all. Complicated, multilayered culture expressed in ethnic groups, extravagant and crazy nigh-life you wouldn’t expect from a conservative, Sunni society is served with kebab and orient spices. Latin-Greek, Christian-Muslim, ancient – modern, Asian – European: all these contradictions mixed in one boiling pot of unstoppable living drive and energy that makes you think you’ve been living in a countryside all your life without ever visiting down-town. It’s a Manhattan of the East but also a fire-wall from the dark forces forming on the Syrian border like army of Orcs, possible guardian of the European dream already dissolved in Asian mentality. Maybe that’s why this Golem never seems to sleep, always on high alert with eyes wide open and ears fine-tuned to any sound of incoming storm. If Huntington was right proclaiming clash of civilizations in 1992, first battle of this war will take place in Istanbul. We may witness full swing of history which likes to repeat itself (usually without understanding or even consciousness of its subjects) and another eternal empire may crumble – it’s already enfeebled and wounded, barely holding to its proud principles just like decaying but still keeping straight face Roman Empire 550 years ago.