Monday, June 17, 2013

The Streets


There's a scene in Taken 2, where Liam Neeson's character is blindfolded in the back of a van as it winds and twists through the streets of Istanbul's old city. He uses his training to pinpoint his location by counting off the distance, marking distinctive sounds, and remembering the number and direction of the turns. Then he is able to relay this information to his daughter and she locates him.

Hollywood at it's finest, I know. But Hollywood has been fascinated with Istanbul of late - from Taken 2 to James Bond Skyfall, this has become THE place to film exciting car sequences, due to its unique topography and East meets West sensibilities. For me, it's simply the land where I started experiencing  car sickness.

I never had this issue before moving here. But these streets are a beast of a different variety. After years living, riding, and driving in New York, I guess my body has developed some sort of delicate equilibrium that has been disrupted by the curving, winding, cobbled streets of Istanbul.

The first time I felt it, I was in a van, not dissimilar to the one Liam is placed in during the kidnapping scene, driving into Cihangir with my friend who'd just moved there. Cihangir (pronounced Gee-hang-ear), located in the Beyo─člu district, is the home of happy hipsters, intellectuals, Turkish celebrities and artists – well-off artists that is, who can afford the not inconsiderable rents. The streets look like they were designed by Salvador Dali, in that there are impossible dimensions at work here. Parked cars desperately hug the curbs leaving only a whisper of space for moving vehicles to pass through. There are precipitous curves, tight loops, climbs, and drops.

As we made our way to his home, I began to feel a little light headed and closed my eyes tight to rid myself of the sensation. The van hit a hard right and felt like it might go over on its side, the curve was so tight. All of this was great for my burgeoning sickness. Finally, we arrived and I felt like kissing the ground when I descended from the van.

I decided to learn more about the city planners who designed a city fit for horse drawn carriages, but not motor vehicles. I gathered this from a report entitled The morphological history of Istanbul, published in 1999. From the period of Constantine the Great onwards, the main skeleton of the street network inside its fortifications has not changed greatly. At the beginning of the twentieth century, gridiron street patterns and an organized traffic system began to replace the organic configuration and the cul-de-sac of Islamic tradition. The streets of Ottoman Istanbul showed an organic pattern; their orientations and widths frequently changed and cul-de-sacs were common. This organic pattern reflected a hidden, yet ever-present political concern for internal security. During the nineteenth century, streets were widened, the street facades of buildings were increased in height, and culs-de-sac were transformed into thoroughfares. The traditional street pattern was replaced by a more rigid, geometrical grid pattern, without a clear fit between functions and the arrangement of buildings and spaces. Roads were widened again during the 1950's, however, many irregular streets still exist.

Although Hollywood might be crazy for these "irregular streets", your friendly neighborhood author would like to kindly request another street widening project SOON! My poor stomach thanks you in advance...


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