Istanbul – A Game of Two Halves

Istanbul has had the dubious pleasure of hosting me in previous years, but this time it serves only as a starting point. I will leave the richly layered descriptions of the incessant activity of the city to the likes of Pamuk and others. Also I will dispense with the perennial introductions, “where east meets west”, “bridge across the continents” etc. I will only mention in passing the hurried patter of tourist feet onto the rickety boats crossing the soupy Bosphorus onto the Anatolian shores, in search of that elusive glimpse of “Asia”. I can say that the Asian side is worth a visit, maybe for the boat trip alone, but in reality it is no different from the other side, save a refreshing lack of traffic (on the Princes’ Islands, horse and cart is on show for the gawping masses) and a paucity of nightlife. It is, predictably, not the veiled mystique that people crave.

I only have 24 hours here, but still time enough to sniff the local scandal. I arrived in Turkey, 11 July, into a full-blown, code red, footballing cause celebre. It shockingly seems that, rather than an inspirational and exciting spectacle of sporting prowess and team solidarity, the beautiful game is actually driven by greed and chicanery. On the day I flew in, 19 different matches were being investigated following allegations of bribery, fixing and intimidation. Over 60 lagubrious characters were sitting in jail, and, judging by my view from a fish restaurant across to the courthouse in Beskitas, with lines of police and platoons of press, Turkey was that day awaiting yet more sinners to the gallows.

Following Napoleon’s remark that Istanbul would be the capital of a world state, Prime Minister Erdogan (a former mayor of the city) has taken this to heart, and decided that the megalopolis should be cut into two. Nobody I spoke to quite understood why, or how this would be acheived, but Turkish people are healthy eaters when it comes to being fed a daily diet of populism, and respond to the proposal in the same way as one might respond to a patricularly gassy meal.

For now, when locals ask my travel itinerary (Pamukkale, Fethiye, Kabak, Olympus – shamelessly relaxed visits to natural springs and beaches before the real trip starts) they nod and smile and wish me a pleasant journey. A week later, the smiles quickly switch to frowns as I inform them of the rest of the plan, to the Kurdish south east. And it is somewhere between these two facial expressions that I hope to find the root of Turkey’s real issues.

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