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Ancient friends of Balat
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 31 May 2008 Sat 01:03 am

Narrow streets, houses, synagogues, Uncle David, drapery shopowner Uncle Leon,Mrs Korin and others... They are ancient friends of Balat, from the abyss of the past to the future...

Balat is trying to preserve its İstanbul memories with narrow streets opening to Haliç (Golden Horn), wooden houses, and steep uphills with cobblestone pavements. Every single day something else disappears from the ancient pale photograph. But this old Halic suburb is still alive and loyal.

I am taking careful steps to observe the history in streets of Balat but observation requires to taking a closer look. To feel the historical spirit it requires touching. In every step you take you find yourself expecting to hear Madame Ester’s laughter or the tunes played in Agora Bistro.

I want to wander having forgotten everything I read about Balat and everything I learnt about. I want to see with my bare eyes its situation of being old, its town like spirit, its children, churches, synagogues, houses.

I start the tour with the marketplace. Coffee houses, groceries, green groceries, drapery shops are aligned on left and right and are spending the day. Shopowners standing on their tresholds chatting about the daily news. The rush of living has been exchanged with calm life here. Agora Bistro is in this marketplace but it is ruined, old and alone. Hristaki and his famous draft wine don’t exist any more.… Full of memories the Bistro is also waiting.

And the narrow streets…
Narrow streets of Balat coming from the good old days going to meet the sea embrodieried with cobblestone pavements hosted Armenians Jews and Turks. Every one of the streets is exhausted with the burden of houses,people,cars and history.

Women are walking in the streets and sitting in the tresholds, the children are playing games. Voices form a mixture. Freshly washed clothes are hanged on ropes, dried under the bare sunlight and collected again. With their tiny display stands street sellers are passing.

And houses…Synagogues,churches , mosques
Bow windowed houses aligned on left and right sides spread on the narrow streets that meet the pure blue colored sea. Against the passing years that caused them to be old, they are stubbornly standing.. Blue , yellow, green and pink houses… Each of them experienced a lot of human lives pass by. Most of the synagogues and churches are open for service in special worshiping days. Some of them are off the duty. Once upon a time church bell sounds mixed with hymns and hymns mixed with ezan, the muslim call for praying. Old and young generation, whoever you ask to, remember this harmony.

And the people……Children
This suburb where the time swept a lot out of has been a host for multi religious and multi cultured group of people. The differences among them never bothered them, on the contrary they have been extremely happy. Turks, Jews, East Romans, Armenians have been neighbors. They have celebrated each other’s religious festivals. In the meantime they have prayed in mosques, synagogues and churches. They greeted each other in the same streets. Though most of them have already left Balat today , the ones that insisted on staying are witnessing the change happening quitely.

The ones that left Balat were replaced by newcomers. Balat received a lot of immigrants. The newcomers are for sure not aware of where they have come to. Most of them know each other and greet each other when they meet. If you are not Balat oriented , you are easily recognised. Because being Balat oriented has its own spirit. It causes you to be dignified and self respected. They recognise you and ask ‘Who are you looking for?’ or ‘Are you a journalist? They direct you to where you aim to go.

Women greet you while they are sweeping the windows,doing handicrafts, hanging fresly washed clothes on the rope attached to two houses on both sides respectively; men greet you while searching for the joker piece of marble card to win the OKEY game in the coffee houses, shopowners in their shops…

If you go to Balat alone, you won’t feel lonesome. Children are always observing and following you. While they are playing games they always have their eyes on you. They pass from your right side, they stand on your left side and they face you. They greet you cheering ‘’Take my photo,take my photo’’. Then they return to their games and forget about you. Children are being dragged with their hands grabbed by their mothers. Children are competing with each other to be able to play football.

Words told disappear but the written ones survive
Balat pretends to be an ancient Byzantian city where a single visit will not be enough. Every step I take, I experience an animation. But I am not satisfied, I need to go there and talk to them. They are not eager to talk fearing that the memories will disappear. Aspiration is the main preserved value in Balat which is watched over by UNESCO sine 1997. Greengrocer Uncle David, Madame Korin, drapery shopowner and the grocer are missing the good old days. They are lessened by their leaving friends. Against all loss, they stil go on living Balat.

Everyone and everything is waiting for something. Cobblestone pavements are longing to be walked on, houses to be restored,old ones miss their friend,children are longing to be mature,doors are longing to be opened. While I am leaving Balat, the impressive history and the streets full of stories stay in between the freshly washed clothes hanging on the ropes.

To leave or to stay, which one is harder?
Visitors of this attractive suburb with every detail it has are quite a lot. Madame Korin that has an atelier next to Yanbol Synagogue is not eager for a conversation. Being a true İstanbul lady by all means Madame Korin is famous as a volunteer guard of Balat synagogues.

80 years old David Behar ,a greengrocer in marketplace center , is born in Balat. He is living in a rental flat close to his shop. He tells with deep aspiration: “I miss the past a lot , doesn’t a human being do so?” With love and respect we were all pure. I’m 80 years old. I grew up here and I’ll die here. You can find everything you want here. I sometimes go to Goztepe on the Asian side and at the very first moment I want to return to Balat. In the good old days when a housewife did not appear for sometime other housewives used to call her out by telling ‘hu huuu’ to see her. That used to mean a question whether she was ill or not. They wouldn’t pronounce her name. Around 20 to 30 greengrocers 10 offal sellers 10 fishsellers used to be in Balat. Now we have become rare. Sometimes some of our old friends visit us, drink a glass of tea and they go away. They just visit us for news.

Fener-Balat Club Chairman Kadri Gozaydın is born in Balat. ’’When we were children, in every school class there were Armenian , East Roman and Jewish kids.We were all educated in the same classes played the same games.We were great together.My mother’s closest friends were Aunt Sara and Sister Ester.When they left , we were diminished.We want to see these people again who were born here.Most of them went back to their own countries or they moved to other places in İstanbul.’’

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