The Istanbul in Elja’s Head

Picture by ©Elja Daae

Istanbul tea vendor

After two days of a photography workshop with a world-renowned photographer, I have to acknowledge: Art requires expertise.
A photographer like him manages to look at 450 pictures in 20 minutes and in that time determines: 1) which photos need cropping for a better result; 2) your specific signature, style so to speak, and 3) which ones to add to your portfolio.

So after my 20 minutes, Thatcher Cook hits me right in the core of my heart – after selecting and reorganising a series of my photographs – when he described them as “The Istanbul in my head”. He continued: “A rather heavy place, quite gloomy, but beautiful”.

And so it is. I experience Istanbul as a beautiful city, full of the most amazing things. But at the same time it seems a burdened city, a dirty city, a city where life is hard and gloomy at times.  Americans call it grittyness.

Istanbul is full of entrepreneurs, from shopping malls and bazaars to restaurants. And there is the beautiful Bosphorus.
Istanbul breaths history. From museums and old buildings and lively neighborhoods to mosques and bus boats. Istanbul ís history.

But there also is the dirt, the many homeless people, the Syrian refugees who live on the streets, the many buildings without roofs, where only (partial) walls still stand. Or worse, collapsing while people live inside. Plus tens of thousands of stray cats and dogs. And traffic, lots and lots of traffic.
And a lot of people…

Istanbul grabs you by your throat, pierces your heart. She tires you. Surprises you and sometimes demolishes you. Makes you despair while she captivates you.

The Istanbul in Elja’s head was published earlier in Dutch on Elja’s website: Istanboel in Elja’s hoofd
Elja Daae currently lives in Istanbul.

How safe is Istanbul

On the way to Bakırkoy

On the way to Bakırkoy

– Immensely horrific what happened in Istanbul with Sarai Sierra, the American lady.

When she disappeared and did not show up quickly enough, my heart became heavy of anticipation for a negative outcome. Not so much because it is that unsafe in Istanbul, in general it is quite the opposite, although there is, like in other big cities, the risk to be robbed even by organized mini-gangs, especially in very busy or very poor neighborhoods. And yes, as a tourist, or a touristy type of person, you can absolutely meet little or stronger harassment, intimidation and sometimes worse. And being a woman, especially a woman on her own, there are the gender defined extra risks, apart from the relatively innocent flirting of vendors,  the risk of sexual harassment and worse, is not bound to any city or time.

At the moment I am staying with friends in Tarabya, in Northern-Istanbul and I had an appointment on Sunday to meet up with an old colleague of mine who now lives in Bakırkoy,  so I took the underground from Hacı Osman to Taksim to continue with a bus, but not before having a cappuccino in Café Bookstore Mephisto on Istiklal Avenue.
The guys working there advised me on how to walk to the major bus-stop on Tarlibasi, just 300 meters distance.
As they suggested I took the short-cut and there starts the obviously gender and culture defined difference playing up.
Within exactly one minute I was in a completely different scenery. Is the Istiklal Avenue, a large and lustrous shopping street, the little streets I had to find my way in now, were much more narrow, real back-streets of a poor neighborhood kinda way..

The contrast was immediate and very intense. For Turkish young men not threatening at all but for an elderly absolutely as such recognizable European woman, walking there on her own, a completely different experience.
So yes, I started feeling a little unsure and a little insecure, especially because I could not see through and further, no main road in sight.
Now  I have the luck to speak Turkish fluently and know usually what works best, indeed not only pretend that I belong, but really trying to radiate that in my body-language, indeed with my head up, without at any moment loosing respect for my surroundings and who is in there, sensing where it is better to make eye contact and ask for the right direction in a matter of fact way, or walk on and ignore men standing and sipping tea or sitting and playing backgammon.
So yes I had arrived within the blink of an eye in  Poor but proud Istanbul, at least according to the New York Times in their article about the renovation of Tarlabası
No doubt colored by my anxiety I was a little stubborn and did not wait for the Dolmus or mini-bus mentioned by my friend, which is bringing you faster than the half an hour usual drive (that is if you are lucky) due going a little part of the route on the ring road around Istanbul.
Instead I took the first standard city bus with the right destination on it. Not after checking with the driver though, whether it indeed would bring me to Incirli road, were I wanted to go.

One day later I read two articles worth reading about the murder on Sarai Sierra.
n With your head up high by Frederieke Geerdink, I reckognize a lot of my own experiences although as mentioned I do not always feel safe and sound here and also try to trust my gut-feeling as much as possible in those cases, as in the past my naivety brought me in various dangerous situations.
I had my share of gender defined difficulties and try to stay more tuned with my inner antennas.  Which includes the walking like I belong bit, like the Turkish women do, with my head up. As well trying to get information about neighborhoods upfront, preferably from different sources, as there is a different story from, for example, a Dutch correspondent living here since 5 years, male, and a Turkish modern woman who lives here all her life. Compare notes, and learn, is my device.
But what Alyson Neel is experiencing on a day to day basis, or so it seems, I cannot reckognize in the least.
She feels harassed every single day in Istanbul. I would love to spend one of those days together with her, and again, compare notes in the end, and analyze.
I meet and that is the case for 99,9% of the time, only helpful, friendly people. A barber who I go and ask for directions comes out of his shop to show me on the street where to go. Street vendors go out of there way to point out where the specific corner is where I have to go right. tattood ladies with a fag in there mouth nod when I ask if this is the right way to Tarlabsi. The one exception being one bus-driver yesterday who did not even take the effort to understand what I was asking him. I don’t romanisize but this is my experience so far and not Neels In Istanbul street harrasment is a constant.

KircicegiSo yes, speaking the language is an extreme advantage, but also the combination of  attitude and a healthy portion of common sense all are quite valuable and important, and like in every big city, staying aware of your surroundings.
Even a couple of spoken words, especially the ‘No, thank you’  in combination sometimes with a polite but resolute ‘tesekurler’ when you are invited in a shop, guarantees more personal space than walking along and passing with a stiff face pretending you do not see or hear what is being said to you.
And I can only say: if you have to travel from Taksim, meaning Tarlabasi,  to Bakirkoy, do take the big city bus and let the Dolmus pass, because I old fashionately feared for my life on the way back, as the driver of the mini-van was indeed making a totally irresponsible effort to get there faster than lightning.

So much may be clear,  Sarai Sierra met the worst case scenario and yes it is a tight line of common sense, being well prepared and keep your eyes open.

I got out of the dolmus and walked the last 500 meters to the underground / Metro entrance of Taksim, as the traffic prevented him and us to move, and I continued my way.

I can’t seem to get away from you – Istanbul

6 2 12_sm
I like nothing as much as slowly starting to find my way in an unfamiliar environment. To recognize shops, restaurants, street-vendors or even skylines where I have passed by before, gives a great sense of getting used to and gaining more confidence to actually find my way around.
It is not so much about really feeling in control and knowing all details of the place but rather starting to relax that much that I trust I will be okay, ending up sooner or later where I want to be. And so it seems that time is stretching and gives me the space to look around, take photographs and talk with people I meet on the way.

When I was just leaving the Füniküler – an Underground connecting Kabatas, where my Ferry from Üsküdar arrives, with Taksim Square – I realized ‘I was suddenly there’ and for the impatient me I know myself to be, this was quite a revelation.
I got rather philosophical and thought: Time is really passing quickly when you are not waiting, and that struck me all of a sudden as rather comforting an insight.

I know myself as a very impatient person when I have to wait, either to get somewhere or for somebody else to arrive, but it seems that my burn-out really had an unexpected positive side-effect on me: My inner understanding of ‘time’ seems to have changed. Maybe at first only to survive the high stress levels but now seemingly integrating into something new altogether.
Not very practical at times, for sure not if I have an appointment that matters, (and don’t they all), but these days there is hardly an occasion where I ‘wait‘ in the sense of focusing on that what is meant to happen in the near future instead of  ‘spending’ my time with something else while it is passing away. . (are you still with me?).

It also means I can lose track of time very very easily, even if I am actually up and prepared hours before the act of leaving the house for that matter, because I get easily side-tracked. And like the example of this morning in that underground means of transport I will call the F-word, I arrived on my stop all of a sudden and was ever so happy the vehicle wouldn’t go any further.
Because yes, I could easily forget to get out, while watching people, or reading, etcetera.

This Dutch song is rather appropriate: “I can’t seem to get away from this place”, it is called – and so it is with me, already since 5 hours reading and writing and processing pictures, with the regular talk in between with a seat next to the window so direct view on Istiklal Avenue.
I am a happy girl.

More photographs | 



Istanbul Asian side – with Marc Guillet

kadikoy Istanbul


From Üsküdar to Kadiköy

Back now to wandering in a city I don’t know that well in a relaxed state of mind. A perfect example of trusting which some would maybe call dangerously naïve: Yesterday evening, after a meeting with Marc Guillet , I more or less know where the Dolmus (minibus) to Üsküdar will be departing, at least I am told it is, and I ask the last one in a cue in Turkish if it is indeed the right one for Üsküdar. After a yes, I stand in line for 3 minutes and get in the little mini-van without actually looking on the window shield where destinations usually are written. I realise another 3 minutes later that I might as well be on my way to infinity or to the airport but I decide to try my luck, and, that is where the trust comes in, without any tension at all. I prefer to go with the flow, even when it will bring me somewhere else than intended. In that same spirit I decided to get out of the bus when it was not moving either way because of heavy evening traffic and, even though it was dark already, I tried my luck and hoped I wouldn’t have to walk miles to get at my temporarily home.Where this might sound like a perfect sane thing to do for someone familiar in that area, for me, who is not, it is a rather new quality, a zen-like state of mind I really love to experience.

Enjoy Istanbul

Marc Guillet is a freelance correspondent here in Istanbul who decided to take up residence in what he calls the capital of Europe, about 7 years ago. Moving from New York where he worked 7 years for a Dutch newspaper, there was no other chance than to start as a free lancer if he wanted to fulfil his dreams for his near future residence. Finding a place to live in a rather short time, as his furniture was waiting, was a challenge indeed, and together with his wife they decided to go for a house in Kadiköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. So that is where we decided to meet. He sent me this message on Twitter: Next to the Old pinkish building of the conservatory close tot the harbour, there where the Roma women sell there flowers. Perfectly clear if you know your way around, which I did not, so that really got me curious. Before take-off I let myself be explained whereabouts the Dolmus (mini-bus) would leave for the Kadiköy harbour and off I was. Of course the fact that I do speak the language that helps a lot.

Social Media connects although our Queen thinks differently

We know each other from Twitter, Marc and me. Him tweeting about Turkey and Istanbul, me having a close connection with Turkey – I lived there for more then ten years, so hey, nice to be kept informed. With only a vague Ava (mini-picture on Twitter profile) as a means of recognizing, and although there were tens op people on the meant square, I knew immediately who was who: An apparent European looking man, who was standing there waiting while not-waiting, being busy with his phone. We looked in each others eyes, mentioned each others name at the same moment and simultaneously started laughing, which set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Apart from writing for several news agencies, Marc is busy with informing people about Istanbul in general, with reviews of restaurants and great places to visit or good walks to walk while you are here.
Enjoy-Istanbul is his website and it breaths his knowledge of history and culture of  Turkey and especially Istanbul, so it was a joy to walk with him through the streets and the Bazar (street market) of the Kadiköy district. Every now and then he was shaking hands, tasting bites or having a quick chat, while at the same time pouring out all those details about our whereabouts. Thé example of a storyteller pur sang. Look up, he said, otherwise you will miss the real history of the place, and of course he was right.

Raki and Red Wine

This was the chance to check with him what information I got so far about the Asian side of Istanbul.
Some members of the Photography Storytelling Workshop from Thatcher Cook I attended last weekend were trying to assure me that ‘the other side’ is by far more religious and traditional in its population mixture and atmosphere and therefore less ‘friendly’ for foreigners to either live or dwell.
No offense of course but I wondered whether they really knew what they were talking about, as they are all ex-pats living on the European side.
Nonsense, Marc cried out loud, absolute nonsense, when i asked him for his oppinion. The CHP is in charge here (the oldest political party of Turkey, the Republican People’s Party, and therefore secular) as you can see here there is alcohol being served in all the restaurants
Which for insiders is an absolute clue, where on the European side in some districts many a restaurant took alcohol off their menu in the last couple of years, with the AKP Prime Minister Erdogan smiling in the background, or at least so is my personal impression..

Atatürk loved his raki

At last, after a lot more of shacking hands and me taking a picture of a lovely photograph from Ataturk, one of the rare ones where he is holding a glass of Raki in his hands, as the current public domain is not too keen on the association, we sit down in a café which is called ‘the Hidden Café’ and order a Red wine and a Raki to continue our talk with.
This pub is a lovely, easy-going place, which according to Marc deserves this name as it is not known in any of the tourist guides, in order to safeguard it for the locals, whether Turkish or Import. I of course wonder if this is really the case as I do not know any business which would not want to have more customers than it has.
The place is maybe a tidbit more cozy as the Mephisto Café where I do my usual writing, and for sure I will return at both places in the coming days. With a: you go right here, all the way down and then to the left, we said goodbye, knowing we would most probably see each other that same night at Bar Montreal near Istiklal Avenue, which I already call Holland House Istanbul.
It is the monthly meeting residence of the many Dutch people who live here. And we would celebrate his birthday that night!

Congratulations Marc.
Great to meet you and let’s keep doing that!
Marc Guillet is @Turkeyreport on Twitter

The beginning of Turkey as we know it – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Hagia Sophia_96_large
Being interested in history in general and in Turkeys history in particular, I have to fully admit that I am still learning and studying on facts and figures from its past.
Being a pacifist myself, or I think I am until proven otherwise, I was ever so surprised by myself not being totally able to condemn the coups which have taken place in Turkeys history.
Coups for various reasons in detail, and with objectives not always that sincere as intended, but that is absolutely not for me to judge.
In my understanding they were to insure that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s main objective, a secular state, with equal rights for men and women, would be adhered to in the future.
I am aware that in any war there are more often than not only losers and no winners and try always and always to see both or sometimes more than the two sides concerned, so when a little movie like this one (aprox 25 minutes) about the funding of the Republic of Turkey passes me by, I am immediately mesmerized.

Having said this, I think there are as many true versions of history in general as people living who can remember the facts concerned, and pictures, books or films surviving the events, because all memories are cluttered with personal looking glasses and unintended and sometimes very intended propaganda.

For me, Turkey seems as far away as ever from a secular democratic state at the moment, but then, I am an outsider now, a visitor, and not really a ‘local’ anymore as I used to be.

But Hey…This is my Church, this is where I heal my hurts and God is the DJ.
Where to have a good dance in Istanbul?

Original version from “Sunday 8PM” album.

This is my church
This is where I heal my hurts
This is my church
This is where I heal my hurts
This is my church
This is where I heal my hurts

It’s a natural grace
Of watching young life shape
It’s in minor keys
Solutions and remedies
Enemies becoming friends
When bitterness ends

This is my church (2x)
This is where I heal my hurts
For tonight

And live at Alexandra Palace

God is a DJ from Faithless – Nr 1911  Top 2000 2012

More pictures on Istanbul

As Wiki as you can get on Turkey

There is a way to San Jose – Istanbul via Thatcher Cook

You know, sometimes its enough. After so many useful and significant words on a day its great to come home to a surprise dinner being ready, sip a glass of wine, have a great chat and go over your pictures before watching a movie together.
So no extra words to share today.

Really an extra ordinary good master-teacher, that Thatcher Hullerman Cook.

Someone who can make me forget to text my son before he is taking of  to London on the other side of this continent, yes… Chapeaux!
And I am in general not that easily pleased where it is concerning Masters.
But yes Thatcher, I learned so much from you and hope to do so in the future!
Só pleased to meet you!

© Carolien geurtsen




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Here are no sufficient words and body and brain are tired after a day of theory and practice on Storytelling and framing moods, and a lot of fun, with Thatcher Hullerman Cook, plus selecting/editing the 380 pictures I made today and downsizing them to a favorite 30+ >

I did not kill my darlings but most certainly put them in the orphanage for now.
So the veil  lifts here, but only a little bit.

Of course later more. First tomorrow, day 2.


Thatcher Hullerman Cook | Telling the Story – Thatcher Cook  | Pictographers |

1594 Bill Withers – A lovely day –