Relentless, Vibrant, Exciting Istanbul: Where Life Goes On

I constantly feel awed by the immense energy of Istanbul. The full ferries crisscrossing continents, the pulsing pedestrian life on Istiklal Caddesi, the cafes of laughing people spilling out onto the sidewalk in my Kadikoy neighborhood. It’s addictive and exciting and one of my favorite thrills living in this city: it never seems to stop.

I live a life at a pace that suits the city. This Friday, I had morning coffee on a friend’s rooftop patio, shared an oily tantuni wrap with a photojournalist in a local shop, dashed to the European side to meet with visiting Context coworkers, returned to Asia to drink wine with our docents. The next morning, we visited Dolmabahce Palace’s Crown Prince Apartments with an art docent to learn about the late Ottoman and early Republican periods through portraiture.

And then we got news that a bomb had gone off on Istiklal, and everything seemed to stop.

I spend a lot of time responding to emails that ask me whether or not Istanbul is safe. Usually, I look out my window and laugh to myself: there’s Ali, the man who sells vegetables on the sidewalk in front of my apartment; there’s the simitci peddling sesame-encrusted circles of bread piled high on the tray on his head; there’s a group of stylish girls on their way to the patisserie on the corner; there’s one of those leather-jacketed guys revving his motorcycle up the street, again. Turkish pop music plays from passing cars, tea glasses clink, life gets lived, and I respond to my emails: yes, Istanbul is safe.

So when something terrible and out-of-the-ordinary happens in heart of this city, I feel deeply shaken. It feels personal, it feels like an attack on our beautiful Istanbul lives. It’s not normal.

I am from Boston, and three months after I moved to Turkey, the Marathon was bombed. I remember feeling completely shattered, even though I was already living on the other side of the world — someone had committed an act of intense violence in the middle of a place I loved and considered safe. Three years later, it’s happened in Istanbul.

But Boston healed, and Istanbul will too. After the bomb, after the initial shock, we continued on with our day. We went on a food and market tour in Besiktas, tasting organic pomegranate molasses and spicy sour plum pickles. Local football fans met in the square to chant their team songs. Parents walked the sidewalks pushing strollers. Vendors tried to sell umbrellas under the overcast skies. It was quiet, but life kept going. We ate piles of delicious meze at a Turkish meyhane and laughed over wine.

I understand why this attack makes Istanbul seem like a scary place to visit, because this attack is scary. All of us were frightened.

But I still live in Istanbul, and will still live in Istanbul, and life will keep going here, just like it has in Boston, and London, and Paris, and New York, and Mumbai, and Madrid. When I met with the Istanbul docents soon after the attack, we discussed our fears… but we also discussed Turkish soap operas and Orhan Pamuk novels and local cafes and Ottoman history. And Istanbul life goes on.

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Katie Nadworny is our associate product manager for Southeast Europe and is based in Istanbul.

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