Yesterday Dave and I spent several hours in Tarlabasi, a neighborhood in Istanbul's Beyoglu district. It's a part of Istanbul generally thought of as 'dodgy' and sometimes described as 'Istanbul's Harlem' -- home to prostitutes and drug dealers yes, but also families -- Roma and Kurds and migrants from other parts of eastern Turkey. Tarlabasi is currently undergoing redevelopment under Istanbul's breathtakingly wide-sweeping -- and hotly contested -- Urban Transformation project.
We went to Tarlabasi for its huge Sunday market. Arriving at 930am, we found only a third of the stalls set up (Istanbullus like to sleep in on Sunday, apparently). We hung around for a couple hours, then left and returned around 4pm. We'll have more on this wonderful market, and urban transformation in Istanbul, later.
After leaving the market around noon we wandered the neighborhood, gaping at its beautiful but crumbling old buildings. Tarlabasi must have been something to see in its heyday. Before the middle of the last century it was mostly home to Greeks and Armenians.
There aren't many proper restaurants in the 'hood, but there are more than a few pide and lahmacun shops, most of which can be identified (if not by the words 'pide salonu' etched on their windows) by the giant piles of wood - destined for the oven -- outside their doors.
We stopped into one and ordered a kaymali pide ('stuffed' pide), specifying egg and cheese to top a spicy lamb mince.
The oven made the shop horribly hot, so while Dave photographed the pide maker I stepped outside to await our lunch. A group of older men sittting across the street waved me over. One of the men, with typical Turkish generosity, offered me his stool. After exchanging greetings I conversed with another, to the extent that my limited Turkish would allow.
I asked him if he lived in the neighborhood. No, but his business is there, he said, and has been for a long time. I asked him about the renewal of Tarlabasi. It's good, he said, because the municipality will make the place new and clean.
Then he went on to talk about the people who used to live in Tarlabasi and the ones who live there now. He told me why it's better for Istanbul if those sorts aren't part of the city fabric.
'Look at the place, it's like a koy (village),' he said, gesturing at the scrum of kids kicking around a soccer ball on the next block and the scarved women sitting on their stoops holding babies and chatting.
'Send them away.They shouldn't be here.'
I didn't quite know how to respond to that, so I just nodded.
When Dave signalled from inside the pide shop. I thanked the gentleman for the seat, bid him 'Iyi gunler', and went in to eat. (It was a good pide, by the way.)