Monday, November 10, 2008

Istanbullu Kediler

So, basically I should be working but I have been so terribly distracted by everything. I need to be kept away from book shops – I went and bought Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil when I should actually have been reading about Ziya Gökalp and Turkish nationalism. Oh well. I have been reading about Islam and secularism today and this whole bit about the celebration of the conquest of Istanbul day – not a public holiday, but celebrated with huge fanfare in Islamist circles, though also open to the public, and creating an alternate to the national narrative of history – got me all distracted. Anyway, all this is beside the point. I am now procrastinating and writing this post that I had wanted to eons back. But I am lazy and so this has taken a few months. This post, by the way, is about Istanbullu cats - Istanbullu kediler.






Cats are everywhere in Istanbul. They literally run riot in the city, probably an equivalent to the mice in Hamlin. They walk lazily into the mosque court yards, sun themselves in the public squares, at the Sahaflar Çarşısı they laze on top of the books and amongst the prayer beads that are on sale. Istanbul is, like many very old cities, a city of the dead – graveyards keep popping up especially in the old city and of course, in the mosque complexes. Cats abound there too – sleeping on elaborate tombs, stretching and yawning and showing an utter lack of respect for the poor souls resting in the leafy compounds. Last year I was having çay at the open and airy Kaffeehaus at Tünel (sadly no longer there – it’s been replaced by another café place which I didn’t visit) only to have a big black ball of fur come and jump into my lap. Perhaps it’s because Istanbul is a sea city with an abundance of fish that the cats like walking its streets so much.







This overabundance of cats is in a way curious – Constantinople through history was always known as the city of dogs. Apparently mongrels used to rule the streets, barking into the night and being a general pain for the city’s municipality. They ate up the garbage but then equaled that out by littering the city with their droppings. Efforts were made to get rid of the dogs under a latter day Ottoman Sultan but the dogs were considered lucky by the residents and they were brought back from the island they had been shipped off to. Once the Young Turks came to power though, their brutality didn’t spare even the city’s dogs. A failure at providing the country a constitutional government -their main aim – they did manage to clean up the city’s streets and drains. In 1910, the packs of dogs that had for centuries been a feature of Constantinople’s streets were collected and shipped to a waterless island once again – this time to perish. Apparently, the whines and barks of the dying canines echoed across the Marmara for moths.





You do see dogs sometimes – but they are rare and usually domestic. With the dogs gone it’s perhaps no wonder that cats rule the streets. They also seemingly rule the hearts of the kind Istanbullus, who do go out of their way to feed and often pet them and happily share with them the streets of their city. I have to say here that I have always been a dog person – I don’t have any great liking for cats – but the ones in Istanbul seem to have grown on me, too.



10 comments:

Lekhni said...

Lovely pictures. I have never been much of a cat lover, but I'd be tempted to adopt some of these (starting with #2) :)

km said...

Delightful, this entire post. Esp. that pic of the sleeping man (and the wakeful cat).

Szerelem said...

lekhni: Thanks! I know they are all kinds of adorable no?

km: That man actually had two kittens sleeping on his lap as well - I just couldn't manage to get them in the picture, except their ears, and when I got closer they ran away :(

elizabeth said...

awww. I miss these cats (and love that photo of the border collie? in the window) This reminds me of a story about a particular Istanbul kedisi, which I'll have to tell sometime soon.

though, I recall plenty of street dogs--rough fleabitten curs--on the hillside in Etiler and gathered around the plaza at the base of the Galata Külesi. They used to growl at me at night.

Space Bar said...

so gorgeous these cats are. i love the black one!

wv: until

amruta patil said...

the archness of glance of the black one...

Szerelem said...

e: I saw some dogs - esp around Istiklal - but not too many. Maybe I was too preoccupied with the cats...

amruta: that was a very sassy cat. Also, I am very thrilled to have you comment on my blog!

Twilight Fairy said...

loved this :). must get back to writing my travelogues.

I am also a dogs person, not a cat one. BTW u were to come to Delhi, non?

Zuleme said...

as a major cat lover, I would like wandering around Istanbul and seeing these.

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