It's noisy. Of course it's noisy. You can't wedge thirteen million people into a space without the volume going up a little. Especially if many of those people like to pray in their mosques, and need to be reminded of when to do so. The call to prayer sounds bizarre through the loudspeakers - artificial yet earnest, tradition utilising modernity to keep apace of a place that moves at a breakneck speed that it seems entirely comfortable with.
When the praying and the honking and the ringing and the shouting and the bartering and the invitations to eat all get too much, we take a ferry out to one of the Prince's Islands, Büyükada, some ten kilometres off the coast of Istanbul. There are no cars on the island, but there are packs of friendly wild dogs. We meet an American girl who lives up a hill with her boyfriend and dog, with ten more hounds staking a claim to the hill that rises up behind their little house. They are aloof, those dogs, inbred as all heck with ears pointing bizarrely at all sorts of unexpected angles, and as charming as could possibly be.
We pack up some beers and take off up the hill. The dogs follow and lead. Our own personal protection unit, constantly revolving around us, occasionally coming close for a scratch around those crazy ears. We pass through another pack's territory, and there are some growls from both the invadees and invaders. Two wild ponies appear from nowhere and gallop away, looking for a different type of tranquility to the one we've found.
We pass a sixth century monastery and arrive at the top of a cliff. Behind us, Istanbul lies like a lazy great beast, snoozing in the dusk. In front of us, the ground disappears and drops into the Sea of Marmara, stretching further than we can see. We sit, and the dogs lie all around us. In two hours we've moved from the epitome of bustling action to the most remarkable and unexpected peacefulness I've ever experienced. The power of the juxtaposition leaves us sitting in silence, reverential. The dogs lie there, occassionally nibbling at each other, probably thinking that these people are pretty big idiots from deriving so much joy from something so banal.
Reality returns and we have to get back down for the last ferry back to Istanbul. I consider just staying. Maybe for one night. If the dogs can sleep in the bushes, why can't I? But then, I might never leave, because only a fool would leave Utopia. Or would only a fool stay, allowing daily life to rudely invade a moment so extraordinary? I decide upon the latter.
As we hike down, the call to prayer begins in the small town at the bottom of the hill. As one, the dogs sit down and begin to howl. To Allah, perhaps, or maybe they're annoyed at the breaking of the silence. Maybe just for our benefit. Either way, we leave them to it. We've invaded their routine enough for one day, and they have been the most remarkable of hosts.
The ululations and howling merge into one as we move on, making it seem all the more as though this place has somehow managed to synchronise the rhythms of man and beast, of urbanity and nature. On the ferry back, Istanbul twinkles in the darkness, mosques and skyscrapers standing together.
I can't help but idly search for a metaphor. They're like scales of a disinterested snake, I think, happy to stick around on this part of the Bosphorous for a while.
No. No, they're not.
They're like the talons of a majestic bird of prey.
No, they're not that either. No, it's more like something completely different, something I haven't ever seen before. Some life form that is happy to let us parasite along with it, equally as ambivalent to our presence as our absence, until some day it stands up with a great shuddering yawn, buildings and people falling from its vast, broad back, and just moves somewhere else. It's far too full of life to just lie there in the same place forever.
Now that I am back in Berlin, I have Wanderlust on a scale not seen in many, many years. I feel reactivated after a couple of years of uninspiring back and forth between Ireland, Italy and Germany. I feel like I need a great deal more than that now.