Two Israelis out to explore Istanbul’s awakening are joined by two locals, or rather by 200,000 locals, and for a dance, no less. Yet they find themselves lost in memories of home, then simply lost. Photography by May Castelnuovo.
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ISTANBUL — We are at “The Kebap” restaurant, near Taksim square, right where we left off and with a great view of the Bosphorus. Now noises rise from the street outside. Young people are climbing from the ferry port of Kabatas: suburban kids from the Asian side. While at noon the ravaged square played home to a thin gathering of oddballs and hardcore types, the afternoon promises to be different.
When we return to the square, it is already buzzing with festive spirit. Two good friends come to meet us here. Soner and Ebu Zer hosted my girlfriend Ruthie and me on Couchsurfing two years ago. Ebu Zer is a student of mineral processing and Soner just concluded his studies in the field of shipbuilding. They take us down a staircase inscribed with graffiti accusing the ruling party of Zionism, into the garden of Eden – Gezi Park in the afternoon. It is full of handsome young men like themselves and beautiful girls, all of them relaxed, happy, inspired by hope.
One of these girls takes Ebu Zer’s left pinky finger. Another takes my right pinky. Ebu Zer explains that this is how villagers hold hands to dance in the Black Sea region. A circle forms around a man who plays some very strange version of the bag pipe, the Turkish tulum, and another, who films everything on a cellphone. A third man, standing in the circle, sings out cautions and backhanded compliments aimed at Erdoğan. The dancers repeat them cheerfully.
Here, Erdoğan isn’t called Erdoğan. He’s called by his middle name, Tayyip, a choice that reflects lack of respect. I can’t help but thinking of our prime minister, known by his nickname, Bibi. Tayyip and Bibi, foes though they may be, do share a lot, and so do their opposers. When we first stepped back into the square, the sense of déjà vu for Tel Aviv of 2011 was so strong that...Read More