On the last Saturday of winter I decided to go for a walk. Nothing urgent to do, internet was down and my phone had no airtime left. It would just be me, the sun and Üsküdar. Inspired by this sudden taste of freedom, I would walk the 4km up to Çamlıca hill, the city’s highest point, with a compass, camera and some çay money. The plan was simple: to keep track of the telecom antennas surmounting my destination like the shepherd’s star.
Simple in design. Only I didn’t expect the road up to Çamlıca to be a busy dual carriageway. I took a break from the noise and fumes at a small truck stop cafe on the side of a car park. They served the stalest simit in the East, which somehow fit into the picture. The place looked like everything, from aprons to patrons, had been double baked by the sun, the dust and the smoulder of passing time.
I walked back down the highway, deciding the first side road I’d stumble on would do, wherever it lead to. I was now heading west rather than north, closing in on my circuit sooner than expected. A fortunate change of plans that took me through what I learnt later was called Beylerbeyi, a neighbourhood of Üsküdar under extensive development. The charming old wooden houses are not being restored here, but left to crumble or bulldozed down, replaced by soulless, high value estates.
The sun was setting, making the air fresher and the sky colourful. I wondered happily downhill, out of the traffic, until I reached the sea. Surprise. I ended up at the foot of Bosphorus bridge, another hour from home, meaning I’d walked farther north than I thought and not closed in. On the bus back to central Üsküdar I was pensive. A word came to mind, gentrification, and a song by the great Gil Scott Heron, New York City.
No there ain’t nothin’ wrong with the city,
Just some people been runnin’ it
Runnin’ it to death.