The beauty of a landscape resides in its melancholy.
— Ahmet Rasim
Walking the backstreets of Beyoğlu my second night in Istanbul, I admired how a city of more than ten million people could still feel so intimate. At night, it’s an intimacy created partly by the alchemy of old, compressed space and low streetlight, the brushing of shoulders with strangers on narrow stone sidewalks, and the sauntering of many semi-feral cats.
Cats are an interesting symbol of İstanbul, capable as they are of both intimacy and extreme violence. A day earlier, I’d listened to the serendipitous duet of a furious shrieking cat-fight and the Islamic call to prayer that envelops the city five times each day (Allah is Most Great, Allah is Most Great / There is no god but Allah).
Beginning after 10pm, groups of mostly boys and men in Turkish flag-draped cars began driving through these same streets honking, yelling, and blasting their music. Many of them were hanging out of the windows, pumping their arms in the air. Not speaking Turkish, I don’t know what they were on about, but one local told me it was the tail-end of that day’s “fascist rally,” and that they were driving through the neighborhood of Beyoğlu because it was the historic site of “the resistance.” Another local explained that they were “military.”
These vehicular displays of bellicose patriotic youth have continued nightly.