My last three nights were in Kumkapi, a downtown district close to the sea (highway now cuts the district from the fishing boats which provide it with its life) and a kilometre down hill from the historic sites.
The place comes alive at night. Suddenly all these restaurants fill up, with both Turkish and some tourist clients. It seems strange that I did not venture out in the evening. It was not that I felt unsafe. I never felt unsafe in Istanbul, particularly not here where everybody knows where I am staying. I just felt I would be uncomfortable, a woman on my own, in an essentially masculine environment – it reminded me of similar evenings in Greece fifty years ago.
But I did have a bedroom window view. My first evening I could not fathom what was going on down below. Long after I would expect things to close down, in fact all night, there seemed to be people roaming round, some looking suspiciously rough. I wondered if this was about drugs, or maybe the van parked with its doors wide open was feeding the homeless. In the morning I discovered a more mundane truth: the restaurant opposite was being used as the set for a film.
The second evening I was drawn by a different sound: that of musicians, really quite good ones. The restaurants apparently hire bands, who then supplement their earnings by being paid by diners to come and play at their table. Down below there was a singer, clarinet and two drummers playing with skill and energy. The clarinettist in particular was good. As the evening progressed it was clear that the group of businessmen I had seen arrive had now consumed a fair bit of raki, were joining in the singing – and dancing. All this only half under cover, with the rain pouring down.
The third evening, when I needed some sleep before a 3.30 am taxi drive to the airport, the music was elsewhere, with persistent drumming that began to get me down. In fact, much as I appreciated the music that second evening, I think it would be hard to live with this relentless level of noise every night.