Island Invaders

The island of Heybeliada, where we live, is very quiet in the winter but in the summer it feels as if every one of Istanbul's inhabitants (around 15 million live in and around Istanbul) comes for a visit. In summer (unfortunately only then) boats arrive at short intervals tipping on the side closest to the shore as day-trippers cram forward ready to disembark. Heybeliada is actually the second most popular island for a day out and lots of people stay on till the final and biggest: Büyükada. But even so we can feel under invasion. This is exacerbated by living on the street which leads to the two main swimming places and the park.

For all the warm months of the year day-trippers come to picnic and ride bikes. I would not use the term cyclists as I don't want to misguide anyone into thinking there is any proficiency going on. Istanbul is so crowded, with few open, flat areas for the amount of inhabitants, that young people often come here never having ridden a bike before. There are nearly a dozen places to rent bikes, and so with no chance to practice alone, groups set off up to the park. I have taught Anton and Matti to run onto the pavements when they see them coming. I love watching grown men whooping with the thrill of the (very) gradual slope of the road outside our apartment. And sometimes its just too frightening to look and, of course, there are accidents. But the thing that has amused (and riled) me more than anything while sat on my balcony watching bike riders, is the boys explaining to the girls how to ride their bikes. Boys, one foot balanced on a pedal, posing like this isn't their first time, tell their girlfriends how it is done. The girls widen their eyes in concentration as the boy explains gears. I am just longing for the day when a girl steps out of the all too defined gender roles here and says: 'Why the hell would you know more about gears than I do? I've been doing this as long as you have.'

Two minutes down the road from us is Değirmen Burnu, the main park. I love people watching here as the excitement working class Istanbullites show about escaping the city for the day is infectious. Huge family groups come early carrying rugs, huge bottles of water and incredible amounts of food. My favourite is the groups of headscarved girls who cook, dance, climb trees, try the children's swings, whatever delights them. Young couples come to stroll around and sit in the forest together. It can be hard for couples to have anywhere to go to kiss and hold hands until they are married, so the trees above the path give them a chance to sit close. I have had to avert my eyes from some blatant dry humping too! (That's the term we used in school for getting as close to having sex as you can while being fully clothed!!) Being in this park, with its holiday atmosphere, always makes me feel so privileged  to live here. Today we had lunch in the park cafe from which you can watch the bike riders wobbly progress, and the lovers walking up the hill.

On one side of the park is the fenced edge of the Heybeliada Water Sports Club (Heybeliada Su Sporları Kulübü). This is the domain of the White Turk. There is a joining fee of thousands of pounds and an annual fee of hundreds to ensure exclusivity. Once school breaks up for the summer wealthy Istanbullites take up residence in their summer houses and embark on a busy schedule of swimming, sunbathing and sitting on their fragrant balconies. Despite the park and the club being so close geographically they are a class apart, and their clientèle do not mix. The picnickers struggle up the hill laden with groceries, while a White Turk would never carry more than an oversized tote bag that complements this seasons beachwear. There is an army of underpaid porters to ensure this. Whether or not you are a member of 'the club' is the quickest way to make an assessment of class belonging. I have been to the club on occasion, invited by neighbours and for a while because we filled Ruskin's first summer here with a sailing course. It is a lovely place to swim, a bit busy perhaps, and though it was built in 1984 has the feel of a place in which Poirot might have solved a murder. But I wouldn't choose to belong, I just can't get used to the stark divisions in society here.

One observation Ville and I were chatting about today is the formulaic way people tend to have fun here. Many behaviours almost look like parodies of themselves. The elderly well off in the restaurants on the front in the evening, the leftist university students with their guitars, and the barbecue and compulsory bike renting, are all mass patterns. It all complements an image where people from this huge city even choose to do their summer holidays with crowds from the same city in holiday villages on the coast, doing everything collectively and without seeking variation. What girls do and what boys do is also very clearly categorised and people very rarely step outside it. Nobody from the club will be found drinking a beer on the hill in the park, though the view is the same. Even in the photos I include you can see the sociological cliches of different groups.

Oh and there is one invasion I am omitting to mention: the one of the bloody foreigners who want their share of this busy paradise. I am sure the locals could manage without us too.

Boys and girls in the park.


Bikes for hire.

The search for privacy.

Arriving for a picnic.

Gathering in the park.


Girls praying.

Elsa and Ruskin at 'The Club'.
I am happy to say that this photo shows the fabulous Elsa showing Ruskin how to put up the sail. 

Statue of Atatürk at the club.

Heybeliada Su Sporları Kulübü

Heybeliada Su Sporları Kulübü

The club with the park behind.

Visit the Facebook page or the Twitter page of this blog

Leave a Reply

Proudly powered by Blogger
Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.
Converted by