Waiting, doing nothing, sitting, listening. I was wasting time on the barstool by the wooden table on the corner of the street. Looking at how people’s movements changed when they walked onto this street, I sipped my glass of water. I thought it strange that they would immediately develop an awareness of themselves; their movements; their voices. I felt myself doing the same at times. Especially at night, when the bars and cafes spilled humans onto and over the sidewalks, I constantly felt a sense of being observed.
Yusuf walked up to me, amused.
“Do you know what she calls you?” he asked. He was talking about the cook, who just sent a plate of bulgur and vegetables – the food made for the waiters but that which they would never eat -- for me.
“No.”, I replied.
“Siyah Fasülye -- black bean”, he said, laughing.
It amused me, the name. I was, after all, a black bean. No wonder I felt this constant gaze. I began eating. Fresh parsley and finely cut tomatoes accenting the slightly spicy bulgur. It was filling, simple and fresh--perfect for the warm, late summer evenings we found ourselves in. I wasn’t even that hungry but it was a reason to sit outside. One of the young Syrian boys who sold packets of tissues each evening came by to ask for a cola -- the waiters indulged him. Moroccan Yusuf was talking to a customer from the street, asking them for money so he could buy drugs while Kurdish Yusuf was pouring a glass of wine for some women at a table. Indian Zuri kept eating and watching.
I do look forward to spending moments alone in Istanbul, at home, standing by the window, observing movements on the water and land. The melancholy, soft, stimulating, persistent slowness of the Bosphorus flowing made me fall in love unwillingly and often with the sprawling city unfurling before me. The sky -- as dynamic and fascinating as the water reflecting it -- balancing the intricate, modulating architectural forms covering the hills on the Asian side.
I would watch the cats sitting on the stairs beneath the apartment and on the plush cushioned seat of the large, ugly scooter that is always parked by the cafe. My gaze shifting between their comfortable forms and the ships patiently moving in front of me, I often wonder what it would be like to live on the water.
The reassuring rhythm of daily temporal patterns pleases me. Returning after three months and hearing the same sounds; watching the same people and existing within the same physical, architectural environment made me feel both happy and immensely shy -- the familiarity at once comforting and naked. It is as though I am never alone.
From the same window, I have heard and seen:
1. A man selling simit and other fresh bread on a wooden cart -- he comes by everyday in the late morning.
2. A man screaming the name of the current president in sadness, anger and terror.
3. An old woman looking at the schoolchildren through her window in the opposite building – every day, early evening, drinking her tea.
4. A submarine in the Bosphorus -- one a winter morning whilst we were eating a beautiful, delicious brunch of tomatoes, rucola, cucumber, avocado, bread, cheese, cream, honey, tahini, chocolate and apple molasses.
5. A snowstorm.
6. A blind man selling lighters every afternoon -- “çakmak, çakmak”
7. The call of the truck selling gas -- “aygaz” sung over a melody akin to that of an ice cream truck.
8. Yusuf, the Moroccan man who spends his money on heroin, and his faithful dog -- Bon jour, sister, kardesh, merhaba, do you have one lira for me. Okay, no problem.
9. A couple restraining their drunk friend after he pushed a table over at the bar below my balcony.
10. Cars filled with ultranationalist men playing rude, celebratory music the night after the supposed coup.
11. A jet that shook our building the night of the supposed coup -- making us fall to the floor, thinking we would die soon.
12. A fig tree and ivy creeper that were bare the last time I was in Istanbul in winter.
The beauty of this environment is its simultaneous stability, impermanence and dynamism. Whilst the social, physical and botanical ecology are repeated in a daily pattern and implanted onto one another, each temporal movement is unique in its qualities. From this window, I have seen atmospheres that made me cry; colours, shapes and instances of spontaneous growth, movement and interaction between people, architecture and botany. Sometimes it was just boring.
Still, it was hard to look away -- the potentiality of something interesting happening appealed to me. It is this nervous promise of spectacle that would make me wake up earlier than usual just to stand on the balcony -- I would check the colour of the water, look at the sunlight, watch a massive barge sail heavily next to a fishing boat; it was the same amusement that would make me lean over the marble window ledge with my friend laughing at an inebriated man taking his happy golden-haired dog for a walk one night; it was the same shock that drew me to run outside when a massive blast rang through the fresh winter morning as I was peeling a pomegranate -- I later found out there had been an explosion at Sultanahmet.
This photo-series -- a result of standing aimlessly and watching -- is one small depiction of life within an architectonic environment that was, is and will-be at the same time. The quality of passing-through present within the urban fabric is as relevant as its stable and static nature; as it moves, changes, deforms and reforms itself--architecturally, socially, politically, ecologically and culturally -- so it re-affirms the presence of temporality.
Looking at each photograph in retrospect, I noticed my attempt to preserve a state of motion instead depicted a state of temporal stasis -- one that might even seem mundane, even when the reality might be one of tension, paradox and violence. Whilst this is discomforting and perhaps even false, it relays the continual dialogue between suppression and awareness regarding the turbulent sociopolitical undercurrents of the city at this time. Today, the organic, unassuming movement and anarchic dynamism in the creation of simple history is of utmost importance, given the social and geopolitical cultural engineering currently taking place within Istanbul.
It is through such spaces and actions that the idea of passage regains its value and relevance in the creation of collective and individual memory. Acknowledging the existence of a vivid and inclusive representational space within the public and private urban ecologies of the city, it further reinforces the lived concept of democracy not just as political structure, but as a tangible, experiential framework within which a multitude of narratives -- perhaps conflicting, perhaps symbiotic -- have the possibility to engage with one another in a manner that is neither violent nor oppressive.
Zuri Camille de Souza is an spatial designer, curator and illustrator, working on the themes of urban ecology, botany and food as a resource within cities. Her works are available at http://cargocollective.com/zuricamilledesouza