Travel in music: Chapter 12 - 2000, Turkey

2020, the world is in confinement because of a corona virus. I have used this time to reminisce on my past through a musical blog series. They will take you through my peregrinations on this tiny, unique earth, in chronological order. Click on the song, use it as soundtrack, and enjoy!


2000 - Chapter 12 | That summer I spent in Turkey was going to have lasting effects. A couple of years later, I would work for another agency, based in Istanbul, run by friends I met then. I would also meet my wife and the mother of our three gorgeous children in its lively alleys. Those are stories for another chapter, however. This one will focus on the insanely electrifying atmosphere of that particular summer.


Istanbul is a city like no other, blessed by geography and history both. Geographically, it straddles two continents and a magnificent body of water splits its two personalities like two sides of a same brain. For the Bosphorus is not just the city’s life sap, whence all traffic flows and all eyes are drawn, it is also the boundary that separates what the West and the East symbolize: modernity and tradition. Granted, this is a slight cliché but the city’s mild location schizophrenia radiates undeniable charm. As for History, unlike a tree, that requires you to cut it to see its growth rings and witness its path through the ages, Istanbul proudly displays all its layers to any willing observer. Boy, are those layers glorious! All periods of human history have somehow graced the city with a feature or another, be it architectural or cultural. Thus grooved by time, the city’s features are as the wrinkles and scars on your great-grandmother’s face: ancient but gentle, kind and wise.


For an insatiable traveler like myself, there was no greater pleasure than being dazzled daily by roaming its streets and alleyways, staircases and plazas, docks and palaces, souks and cafés, tramways and taxis, tourist spots and parks, coves and hill tops in search of some connection to a distant or less distant piece of humanity’s story. Even when you stand still, the city infuses you with its atmosphere. I do not know how many hours I spent idling in terraces, playing ‘tavla’, smoking ‘nargile’ and sipping ‘çay’, with Gilles Valentin. All I know is I did not waste those hours for they were part of the taming process. I now feel like the fox in The Little Prince, bound to the city forever and capable of seeing it with my heart, not just my eyes.


Though we spent most of our time in Istanbul, we did manage to see some other spots on the southwestern coast and combine a business trip to Ankara – to interview Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then Prime Minister – with a memorable weekend in Cappadocia. We watched the sunrise from a hot air balloon over the eerie, lunar landscape, where wind and water carved strange giant ‘fairy chimneys’ in the ash deposits of long-forgotten volcanoes. In these sandy formations, entire underground cities are carved, complete with multi-story dwellings, fortresses and places of worship. Our hostel welcomed its guests in the bowels of one of those ‘chimneys’. We watched the sunset, with mezze and rakı, on the parapet of the highest, widest cave, feeling at peace with man and nature.


At the height of summer, in a place as lively as Istanbul, music poured from everywhere. Trendy beats bounced on the water from the posh clubs on the Bosphorus’ edge. Infectious ska heaved the sweaty bodies pressed like sardines in “Riddim”, the tiny Taksim bar where we used to start (or end) our evenings. Mevlevi Sufi dancers spun to the sound of ney in divine trance. Live melodies, escaping the Açıkhava Tiyatrosu, filled the Harbiye nights… We kept going back to that particular venue: an open-air amphitheater built on a sea-facing slope where, among many other bands, we saw Kardeş Türküler drive the crowd wild!

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