This Melancholy Summer
Istanbul summer is supposed to be full of joy. At this time last year, I was working two freelance jobs and taking intensive Turkish classes, and yet still found time for late night swing-dancing on the seaside, lazy Sunday morning breakfasts under shaded leaves, cheeky midday beers.
These days, every conversation is infused with melancholy. We talk about Istanbul like a lover we must leave, with all the longing and nostalgia of a time that has already passed. But it hasn’t passed, not yet; many of my friends have concrete plans to go, but not all of them and not me. I socialize to catch that fleeting summer joy, but all we can talk about are politics and exit plans and residual fear. We murmur about PTSD, which feels like too serious a diagnosis but probably afflicts many of us. We try to convince ourselves that we can move to Belgrade or New York or Athens or Amman and continue on as ever; we’re all actively avoiding the fact that these places are not Istanbul and those lives will be new creations, whether we like it or not.
We tell each other stories about how we found ourselves in Istanbul in the first place. This city is unlike others, this country captivates in a way few others do. Why else would we spend the time to curl our tongues around Turkish with its inside-out grammar and flowery formalities? Why else would we subject ourselves to the yearly misery of Turkish bureaucracy just to stay a bit longer in this crowded city? Why would we remain through Gezi and Soma and May 1 and terrorist attacks and all the other scary and earth-shaking events that affect our lives here, when we can live somewhere charming and calm and comfortable?
Because Istanbul is unlike other places. Because, when it comes down to it, we’ll do anything for love. Even–or perhaps especially– for a city that doesn’t love us back. The Bosphorus sparkles at us in the summer sun and we think the city loves us as much as we love it.
It doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean we can quit it. Like love, Istanbul is never easy; I don’t think we’d really have it any other way.