Sat 7 Jun 2008 68 °F
I am in a simple room with a bed, a chair, a desk, and a wardrobe; in a four-bedroom flat on the sixth floor of a Greek apartment building constructed 150 years ago; in the alley street of Hocazade Sokak, southeast of Taksim Square; in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul; at the eastern-most edge of Europe; nearly half-way around the world from my Oregon home.
My view from the room is limited: the varied backsides of a dozen similar apartment buildings, each one streaked with the stains of the city and the years. Peeling paint, mildewed stucco, rotting window frames, cracked and sliding roof tiles, overgrown locust trees — it is the beauty of imperfection, the wabi sabi of modern life in an ancient city.
Through the day, sounds escape the neighboring flats and rise from the streets, entering my open window. In the dawn, the city is nearly noiseless; only the dove who’s made her nest above the drainpipe on my balcony, and a few rumbles from far-off delivery trucks. As the sun rises, various hums and murmurs flow through the air. A ship on the Bosphorus calls with its long, deep horn.
The streets wake up, suffused periodically with car alarms and horns. Boys whistle sharply to a friend, the men across the street at the car park gossip, someone laughs, cellphone ringtones emit tiny songs. Fast-voiced DJs speak a their patter of radio-talk, while television cartoons issue their own aural chaos. My flatmate George flicks his lighter on the first of many cigarettes.
Late in the afternoon, the city seems to switch to its musical mode: neighbors practice their violins and clarinets, learn scales on a recorder; the bars and dance clubs test their sound systems, and their musical acts prepare for the evening’s show. A girls’ chorus slowly chants their songs.
Before dinner, across the courtyard, a man and a woman have sex, her small moans and his grunts combine and intensify to a rhythmic peak, then diminish.
All through this the calls of the muezzins at the five daily prayer times, their distorted drones wafting from the loudspeakers on the minarets.
And last night, the rain: a thunderous roar so loud it woke me from my still-jetlagged sleep.
[dateline Istanbul, Turkey]