The departure from Europe starts with an escalator. It leads downward on the edge of the Istiklal pedestrian zone. At the end of the escalator is another escalator, and then another. There are many, many escalators. Far below there is a smell like a mix of damp basement and potting soil. It is pleasantly cool. The marble floors reflect the ceiling lights. There is a plaque on the wall of the tunnel with the name of the station embedded in concrete: Sishane. The plaque is adorned with flowers and and flourishes, but the tunnel wall is made of arched concrete and cables hang from it. A rustling wind picks up, followed by a a humming sound. The train stops. A half an hour later, squares of light flicker on the tunnel wall. A man sits next to a tower made of cardboard boxes. Mothers rock babies in their arms. Somewhere above us there are fish, ships, tankers, and seagulls. This Metro route under the Bosporus was personally inaugurated by the President last year – his showpiece. The fun doesn’t last long. Outside it is suddenly bright. The doors of the train slide back. We have left Europe. Asia.
A hungry tour of Istanbul
The political activist has been talking about the upcoming presidential election in Turkey for 45 minutes, shaking his head the entire time. He sits at a table made of untreated wood on the top floor of a hotel in the center of the city. A cool breeze blows through the open windows. Then he says, “Food. You want to have a good meal. Go to Tavan Arasi.” Tavan means “ceiling”, and Arasi means “in between”. Tavan Arasi basically means “up in the attic”. The political activist says that the restaurant is not advertised, but it is identified by a hand-made map of the world. In answer to our question of what a hand-made map of the world might look like, he says that we will know it when we see it. Then the activist gets up and leaves the premises. An L-shaped tear can be seen at the bottom of his pants, which had been mended with blue thread.
On Ikaria in Greece, the people live longer than anywhere else in Europe. A visit to a distant world.
On the Eastern edge of Europe lies an island where the people grow very old. I traveled to the island because I wanted to see what kind of life the people lead. On the boat, an old man sat at a table with a book of crossword puzzles in front of him. The man wore sunglasses, a battered black overall, and a dusty cap. Sometimes he dozed off and sometimes he wrote letters in the squares, and once an hour he stood up to go smoke a cigarette on the open deck. When we arrived at the island, he walked along the pier, got in a white Fiat, and drove off. I would guess that he was about 80 years old.
Five young men place a CD player on the ground on a street filled with shops. The men take a bow. A few pedestrians stop.
One of the men pushes a button on the CD player and music fills the street. The men turn somersaults from a standstill, do handstands and hop up and down on their hands. They become robots and move in staccato motion. A bystander in a red dress starts to nod her head back and forth to the beat. An older woman with a dog on a leash moves her hips. A boy taps his foot while his thumb is poised over his cellphone. The next song is a hip-hop version of the soundtrack from Amélie. Everyone knows Amélie.
The young men twirl around. Passersby begin to sashay as soon as they get near. As the sun slowly sinks behind the houses, it seems as if the entire street is dancing.