Generally, leisure time here is very different from in the United States. Back home, people fill their free time with activities, things they want to learn or try. When meeting up with friends, there’s always some reason for the meetup– let’s watch x movie, let’s play squash, let’s try x activity together. But the Mediterranean way of socializing is chatting in cafes or bars. The city is brimming with scenic places to sit and chat. A typical Saturday could involve meeting a friend at a cafe, having a tea and chatting, then walking together to another cafe to have another tea. When you’re done meeting that friend, you may go meet another friend and do the same thing. It’s a wonder I’m not fat yet from all these pastries and sugary teas.
When I got here, I was so puzzled. I thought, what is there to do? When I wanted to invite someone somewhere, I was lost because I couldn’t think of anything we could do. Back home, if you kept suggesting to a person that the two of you get coffee, it would be like, really? Coffee again? We must have nothing in common if we can’t enjoy anything else together. But here, you can, and usually do, sustain a friendship simply by drinking coffee together often. I’m slowly getting more used to the lifestyle of eating and sitting, sitting and eating. You certainly can get right down to the serious stuff, and get to know someone’s mind more quickly if you’re not always distracted by activities. And economizing “get-to-know-you” time sure seems important here, where people’s schedules are filled with social meetings, and you may not have time to see a person more than once a week even if you actually like them. This country is so beautiful, that there’s nothing too bad about sitting and taking in the view all day.
But where I really think that Istanbul shines is in the middle of the night. I think the soul of this city is kind of dark, you can just feel a subtle dark energy running through the streets, the places, and the hearts of people you meet. I feel like a light amidst that darkness here, but my light seems to be welcome.
The center of the nightlife energy is in Taksim, the hub of the city. There’s always a bar or place to relax there. You can listen to live musicians, smoke hookah, talk about serious things, get wasted, dance, drink tea, eat yummy desserts… there’s something there for every mood. Sometimes I go around with a friend to many of these different environments, and end up not realizing how late it is until the sun comes up.
By far my favorite place in Taksim, and the place that I am constantly trying to convince people to go with me, is called Araf. It is a bar at the top of a building overlooking one of the oldest parts of the city. On the top floor, they have live bands and Djs playing world music. To those of you who knew me in college and heard all of the Bulgarian pop and other strange foreign music I would pump up with before going out, you would know how in heaven I am at this place. They have live Turkish and Balkan bands, and also play a lot of salsa, house, bhangra, swing, and gypsy jazz. And outside, there is a perfect panorama of the old buildings of Istanbul, topped with a slice of Mediterranean moon. This place is like something out of a dream to me, and every time I go there I fall more in love with it.
You never know what to expect when you go out here. You may meet a group of people while out dancing, and end up in their apartment that overlooks all of Istanbul, stay up talking until dawn, and then watch the sun come up over this beautiful city. Or you may end up on the street corner, eating as many mussels with lemon as your stomach can fit. All day, I look forward to what these nights will bring. Even the most obnoxious of school days can’t shake my faith in how happy I will be when the night falls!