In the spirit of awesome global cities, here are a few photos from a week spent in Istanbul this spring.
As my neighbor on the flight there said: Paris is a beautiful city. Istanbul is an ugly city with beautiful places.
I might have to agree, to a point: Istanbul still feels like a developing country, even in Taksim (a lively neighborhood near where we stayed)–but the beauty of the mosques on every other corner and the ability to cross over to another continent [Asia] on a 30-minute ferry more than make up for it.
There’s so much I can say about Istanbul and my time there–equal parts getting ripped off and finding many warm, hospitable people; eating great kebabs and shaking my head in disbelief at how popular fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice is in Istanbul (in case you’ve never tried it, it’s the most sour taste I’ve ever encountered); the mix of secular European and religious Middle Eastern influences, possibly skewed by the many Saudi tourists with their women in full head-to-toe burqas and hijabs [some with no eye openings]… I could go on for days.
Following a weekend in cold, cloudy Edinburgh, I spent the next weekend in Milan and Genoa (Genova in Italian). Expecting cold stone buildings reminiscent of Paris in another “world capital of fashion,” Milan instead surprised me with its color, warmth, and friendly people, and a distinctly more relaxed charm than Paris. I still associate it with walking by the business district and seeing a 50-60 year old man, well-groomed, in a well-fitting black suit and crisp white shirt–and a neon orange silk tie.
As a little girl, I had this whimsical idea that Paris was like Disneyland, except for grown-ups–particularly, grown-ups who loved romance and passion, culture and art, and were fairly creative and open-minded.
After the seven weeks I’ve now spent here, I can say without a doubt that this is at most 5 % true. I share the same streets as men who think it’s perfectly fine to urinate against a wall in public (and have been doing so for centuries without fail); as men who think it’s perfectly fine to shout sexual slurs at women walking down a street alone, as if that automatically makes her a prostitute; as men who step on you or push you while dancing and never think to apologize. Forgive me for having expected to live amongst an advanced civilization. No, instead I find people living in Paris who’ve never heard of Moldova, even though this is just past the edge of the European Union; people who unabashedly make assumptions about Americans and the British without having ever visited either country; people who call themselves socialists living in a country of “liberté, egalité, fraternité” while still holding onto extremely xenophobic views.
As for creative and open-minded: if there’s one thing that my class on Parisian architecture taught me, it’s that the French resist change, and hate foreign influence even more. Throughout Paris’s history, many of its most influential architects, ministers, and kings have pushed for a “French” style. The result: homogenous (“harmonious”), colorless (mostly limestone and blue roof tiles), classical and neo-classical style, no matter the arrondissement or its history. When architects like Hector Guimard tried something different and innovative, the French thought it was over-the-top. The result is a city that is far from romantic, even in the springtime (which just means rain and/or clouds 90% of the time.) It’s saying something that Paris is more romantic and colorful at night–the yellow street lamps and black surroundings result in more color than you’d see in the daytime.
(Further examples of non-open-mindedness: Music? French music must be on radio airwaves at least 40% of the time during prime hours. Wine? Nothing but French will do. (It’s also usually cheaper, possibly because of government subsidies.))
Yes, I still have pretty pictures from my time in Paris so far. Some hidden gems are the interior of the Opera Garnier, the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, the Musée du Monde Arabe… and of course, the inside of Notre Dame. But will these spots of beauty overshadow the unpleasantries enough for me to want to live here? Probably not in the long term, though I’ll wait one month more to be certain.