For Orkun’s birthday Harriet and I took him to the breakfast place TaaVan in Yeldegirmeni and Orkun taught me that Taa is old turkish for “way over there,” as in, “My mom lives taa in Canada”. The last time we were there they had butter-fried golden mulberries, and I was crushed to learn it was out of season, so we opted for the regular basket breakfast, modestly priced at 20 lira, and a few menemen. TaaVan gives you the standard Turkish Breakfast portfolio of tomatoes and cukes and cheeses and bal and kaymak, but also a few odd sweet things that we couldn’t figure out, like a sandy honey paste and mashed-up walnuts with sugar and semolina, which is less good than it may sound.
We took the Marmaray to Kazlıçeşme (“goosey fountain”) and there was a guard with an AK-fucking-47 just chilling in the train station by the metal detectors. I mean at this point we were used to Polis with smaller guns just hanging out in public areas and giving everyone the willies, but yeeeesh. We skedaddled. Our destination was Yedikule castle, the fortress with seven towers. It was super close to the station so we walked through an old Islamic graveyard arguing about brains and personal identity until we got to the old city walls.
Yedikule was closed. We peered in between the towering iron doors and saw two ticket offices built against the stone, deserted and dusty. A marble plaque identifying the site and containing necessary municipal text sat sideways and unused on the ground. The castle grounds were enormous, stone-green, and empty. It looked like it hadn’t been open in ten years. Harriet said that one of her friends had been let in for a photography class only six months ago, so we kept circling the castle walls.
We got to a gypsy encampment near a highway and a man walked all the way to the end of the road where we were standing and told us to buzz off. He looked both very accustomed to telling people that you couldn’t get into Yedikule this way, and stupid. We walked across the highway and wound up at an abandoned train station. The guard at first told us it was yasak to go in, but Orkun told him he was showing his friends around, and the guard saw that we were harmless and so let us in. “He told us that there’s dogs and to be careful,” Orkun said.
“I love that about Turkey,” Harriet said. “A No turns into a Yes after you talk to them for two minutes.”
Heaps of asphalt were piled around the shells of two brick buildings, and twin iron towers rose from the middle. A massive cylindrical cage, perhaps the skeleton of a forgotten chemicals tank, stood nearby. The air smelled like industry. The barking of hundreds of dogs could be heard echoing in the distance. We got close and the ceiling-less and window-less brick buildings were filled with broken car detritus. On a torn parcel of red bumper we saw the I.E.T.T. logo of Istanbul’s public transit.
We got closer to the towers. Three trash-picking gypsies were hanging out nearby and staring at the towers too. One guy was smoking and looking up at it.
“It’s really interesting,” he said. “It’s really old. What’s written on the side?” he asked Orkun.
“Dortmund, 1898. I guess that’s where it was made.”
“It’s really interesting,” he said, and fell silent. Later, when we were wandering in one of the other cathedral-like ceilingless brick shell buildings, we caught sight of the trash-picking gypsies using a fire hose to rappel up the side of the Dortmund towers. Orkun mentioned that he’d love to live that kind of explorer’s life — just exploring all the time. The gypsy paused halfway up the tower to put a cigarette in his mouth and take a pull.
We wandered around some more and eventually left, thanking the guard for his kindness. Orkun found a beveled gear in a pile of rubble and I carried it for him as a birthday souvenir. We followed the sound of the barking dogs and it was a dog shelter, but it was a too sad because a lot of them were underfed or sick or injured, so we had to leave.
We popped down to Sultanahmet because Orkun had never been to see the Basilica Cistern so we negotiated with the ticket office for lower locals’ prices and looked at the fat carp and listened to the weird broadcast flute music and admired the goofy pink lighting at the base of the columns and took a picture of the derpy medusa. It was all full of garbage misinformation, Harriet said. “Like there’s all sorts of conspiracy theories as to why the medusa’s head is upside down underneath the column when it’s just because it fit best that way. Everything was made out of recycled materials back then. If you walk a hundred meters down the street to the archaeological museum they’ve got a column on a medusa head on display exactly the same.”
For dinner, I made a Dad Food classic — chicken marinated in soy sauce and scallions, and veggie lo mein. We were in a food coma by seven pm and ready for bed by nine.
These kinds of days are my favorite days in Istanbul. The neighborhood around Yedikule is utterly different from the kinds of things you’d see in Kadikoy and it was a fifteen-minute train ride away. I don’t have these days often much anymore because I’m always doing something — either going to a private lesson to hustle, or to the theatre for rehearsal, or to meet some friends for beers. I get a huge kick out of just wandering around a place with friends, picking up trash, making jokes, climbing stuff, taking some pictures.