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MarioninTurkey 27 Mar 2009

Sights and Sounds of Istanbul

Istanbul has come alive after the dreariness of winter, with political Spring celebrations, accompanied by some beautiful nature!

This week I was struck by the sights and sounds of Istanbul.


First the sights. If someone got off the plane today from the UK and drove through the streets of Istanbul they could be forgiven for thinking there was one big street party going on. For every major thoroughfare and square, and even most side streets are festooned with bunting. Flags strung across the street from lamppost to lamppost or from tree to tree are usually the sign in the UK of a village festival, a summer fair, a carnival, or a major royal event.

It is impossible to see the sky from the square around the ferry-landings at Beşiktaş. As you get off the boat, you see literally hundreds of pieces of material fluttering in the air. One stream of flags is white, orange, blue, then white and orange again. The white ones have a light-bulb on them. Another stream is red and white, with white crescents on the red flags. Criss-crossing these is a row of blue flags, some of them with a white dove. These have got tangled up with some white and yellow ones, which have a bee and honeycomb symbol. Yet more red and white, this time with arrows on them, then back to more orange and white. What a celebration!


The last time I saw streets so colorful was when we decorated the streets for parties for the royal wedding between Charles and Diana. Before that it was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 – I was here in Turkey while she had her Golden Jubilee, and guess I missed the streets of London decorated like the ones in Istanbul this week.


But this is not a celebration of some national day. The flags are the symbols of the different political parties. They contain slogans such as “You are Istanbul: think big!”, “Time for honesty, time for a change”, “Kadıköy is not changing its rhythym” etc.


The emotions evoked by the bunting are election fever! For this Sunday, March 29th, we will be voting in local government elections, to chose who will be responsible for services such as town planning, transport, street-cleaning etc.


The advertisements of the political parties canvassing for our support are not just limited to these banners. Huge posters adorn the sides of office buildings. All of them have the smiling face of a would-be local mayor. Many of these posed for their photograph with the party leader who has his arm around them in a recommending way (yes, his arm – although some of the mayoral candidates are female, all of the party leaders are male.)


Then there are the sounds. Every party has a fleet of vehicles with loud-speakers mounted on their rooves. Some parties are more strapped for cash, and have old vans, with a small loud-speaker on top. For other parties money is no object, and so their smart campaign buses with large pop concert style speakers blare out their message to the surrounding neighbourhood.


Every party has chosen a different pop song as their theme tune. Now, I have counted so far at least ten different parties each driving round Kadıköy. You can imagine the noise when I am stopped at the traffic lights with an Ak Party bus in the lane on my right, an MHP minibus behind me, and a DSP vehicle on the opposite side of the road. All of them are competing with the track being played on Joy FM that I am listenign to on my car radio.


The last few days it seems as if nature is joining in the festive atmosphere. I love Istanbul in the spring! The nut trees in our garden are filled with delicate white blossom. A garden I drive past on my way to work at the bookstore has three magnificent magnolia trees, all putting on a fine display of pink tulip-shaped blooms. The verges of the E5 motorway are like white and yellow carpets, as the daisies and buttercups have sprung into life. Not long now until the tulips planted everywhere by the local authority spring up: the daffodils are waving their pretty heads along Bağdat Caddesi near the BP at Feneryolu. They cheer me up as I am stuck in traffic.


So who should I vote for on Sunday? Maybe the party who will do the most to keep the spring flowers blooming in our city …..!

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