The route to happiness is filled with potholes that are deep and treacherous and traffic jams that are six lanes wide and wind and stretch around the clock; stupidly steep hill and seemingly unimaginable routes through twisting, vertiginous back streets that open up, suddenly, onto the most magnificent vistas, a spreading view of the sea, creating tiny moments of joy on the even the most grueling journey.
So, here I am, Chris Coco DJ, representing London, in one of the great cities of cities, Istanbul, 22 million and counting, playing some music, talking about the world, trying to make sense of it all and waiting for my soul to arrive after a slightly epic plane journey and car ride. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
And just like Helsinki, this place feels fine, except for the jams and the smog, it’s fine; a totally good time. And I spin and I love it, being here, playing music, being here.
No Guide Book
My policy is still not to read a tourist guide book to a city. Ok, you miss the obvious, but every turn becomes an adventure.
The story of the stadium and the shopping mall or how one kind of ‘hell’ is replaced by another
On the way from the airport, in deep traffic, we pass a hole, a lack, a gap in the slow progress of medium-rise apartment blocks, packed back to back to back on either side of the elevated crawl-way.
You know Galatasaray, the football club, their stadium, affectionately named ‘the hell’ by various English clubs, used to stand right there. Till about a month ago. Now there are just a couple of steps, a concrete walkway and half an old advert left, about to sucked into a bottomless gravel pit. The club has moved up the road to somewhere bigger and more lucrative, leaving a hole where hell used to be.
It’s going to be a shopping mall, Emrah, my guide, tells me.
Everywhere is going to be a shopping mall as soon as we get the chance to knock down what’s already here, I quip.
One day the whole of Europe will be one big shopping mall, all the way from sea to shining sea.
The Strange connection between Turkish, Japanese and Finnish.
I am eating sea bass ceviche in Lucca with Yakuza. It’s the kind of place that feels like home as soon as you walk in. We’re drinking some kind of white that is light and delicious. We’re talking empires and the strange connection between Turkish, Japanese and Finnish.
He knows two out of three and he has a theory that a lot of the grammatical construction is the same in each, though of course the words are different. Now, the theory goes that long ago some people living in the heart of Asia spoke the same language, but for reasons of survival, they split up and started walking in different directions, kind of north west, kind of south west and kind of east. Eventually, after many generations they ended up in what would eventually become Japan, Finland and Turkey, by this time speaking different languages, skin adapting to climatic conditions, but the basic construction of the language was still there.
I heard about the inexplicable Finnish – Japanese connection before, when I was in Finland in March, now here it is again.
We Laugh At Traffic
We laugh at traffic, we sigh when our vehicle finally finds a clear road. But really it’s not funny. This city is choking. This city of humans is dominated by screaming metal on rubber wheels.
Ancient Walls, Modern Art (tribute to Cy Twombly)
Art is in the eye of the beholder. There is art everywhere, in the shadows, in the cracks, in the details. It’s not about looking for it. It’s just about seeing it.
Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
According to the Buddha, the art of living that is hardest to learn but most rewarding is the art of letting go. To be in the moment. To live every detail. Because when it’s gone, it’s gone.
In this era of hyperconnectivity, where the moment can be where we are and somewhere else online with someone else talking in one ear and some music in the other and some traffic in the background, it’s hard to find such moments of tranquility. But the combination of much walking in the hot sun creating a fierce thirst, and the purchase from a quayside vendor and consumption of some freshly squeezed orange juice in a small plastic cup makes me feel as happy as I have ever been in my life. Here. Now. In the sun. By the sea. Sipping this juice, amazed at it’s sweetness, savouring it’s viscosity as it runs down my throat. Sugars turning to energy, liquid precious liquid. It feels like I am taking in all the power of the fruit, all it’s time growing, ripening in the sun, hanging on the tree, making me feel so alive, so real, so here, so now. It’s amazing. I guess if you’re really good at this you can do it all the time. I guess if you’re really good at this you don’t really need to do anything because whatever you do is brilliant.
Wind in the Trees – Nature’s Aircon
I am in the gardens of the Topkapi Palace. The sun is beating but it feels cool. There is no aircon. There is no glass box to hide us from the elements but the temperature is just right. The wind blows gently, moving the leaves in the trees. The leaves shade the buildings and the people. It’s nature’s aircon. It’s not burning energy, it’s not pumping out as much hot air as it makes cold air, it doesn’t buzz and whine and hum. It just works. Naturally.
The View from a Window
In this secular republic there are many mosque visit ops. none more special than the mini mosque inside the Topkapi palace. It’s a room with a nice carpet, so you take off your shoes, and nothing much else. What makes it special, and definitely worth a quick prayer, is the view from the window, across the Sea of Marmara and the start of the next continent.
From Europe to Asia by Boat
Here is a place where two continents meet. Istanbul spreads up and inland on either side of the divide. There is no border control, no change of flag or style of uniform, no celebration, no formality, no signpost. There is no colour change from one side to the other with one side pink and the other blue like an old Imperial map. No, it’s easy to travel from Europe to Asia. It costs TL 1.75 for a small metal token that must be inserted into a slot on a gate, then it’s a short walk in the blazing 30s to a roll on roll off ferry, a stand on deck, in the hairdryer breeze, admiring the bridges and boats, then bump, another quayside, the Asian side, under the same fierce sun.
Tea With a Stranger
I seek out shade. A group of men sit on small plastic stools, smoking, outside a cafe. They nurse tiny glasses filled with viscous, scalding, bitter sweet tea. It is the perfect drink in a most excellent location for a too-hot afternoon – under an extremely large tree.
The man who runs the cafe is sleepy-friendly, happy to talk in simple phrases about the things men talk about when they meet – the weather (hot), beer (he likes English beer he says; I can tell by his extended belly that he like English beer a lot), and, of course, Football. He is Fenerbache. He is not happy, though I can’t work out why. I find out later that the club’s officials are accused of match fixing and relegation is a real possibility.
After our brief exchange we fall into an easy silence. He returns to his mobile phone and his life outside his life under the tree. I stare at the tea cup, then up at the port, then back to the tea cup, till the tea is gone, till I realise that a new boat has pulled in, till I think that perhaps I should get up, walk down the hill, into the burning sun, past the bus station, and buy another small metal token for TL 1.75 and get back to Europe.
Sharing Some Music with Friends at Lucca
Thursdays at Lucca, currently one of Istanbul’s must-go destinations, is a family affair. The atmosphere is lively enough to be vibey, relaxed enough to be cool. Resident DJ and musical director Yakuza graciously offers me a turn on the decks and I am pleased to be able to share some of my favourite slomo disco newies and re-edits with my new found friends. It’s the age-old tale of good food, good wine and good music smoothing the edges of international relations.
Calf and Heel
The Girl In The Lift
There’s a girl in the lift. Every time I get in she is here. Sometimes she smiles at me. Sometimes she doesn’t. The soundtrack says always a pleasure. Always a pleasure. By the end of my stay I have sort of fallen in love with her. These hoteliers are so clever.
Somewhere, past a wrong turning, down a back street, I find what everybody in the music business has been searching for. The answer to all our problems. It’s a Superstar Generator. If only it was small enough to fit into my hand luggage.