Skycity I Urban Animal Series-2

Anybody, who even spends short time visiting Istanbul, agrees that it's a city of cats. They own and rule our streets. But then again,once in a while especially on an early summer day like this, one gets the urge to look up. And there, one discovers a whole other world in existence above our heads, a kingdom of it's own, cruising the skies, defying gravity. Watching them fly, I cannot help but think, that freedom is NOT just another word for nothing's left to loose, but so much more...

Like lives of cats have been transforming our street-scape, roof-scapes of the city are altered with dynamic lives of seagulls. Among the invisible waves of media between endless satellite dishes and old antennas, on top of cracked chimneys and broken tiles, they make their home. They fly off to far distances, dive into many adventures, but they do keep territory, like we do.They come back every night. Some "lucky" city dwellers with rooftop terraces can differentiate between seagulls by their early morning chatter..Thus the coexistence of street life takes a whole new shape on rooftops..It's less dependence on one another, more cohabiting same special altitude, when they have the need to touch ground, that is. But those shared moments are mostly about bird being bird and flying away, man watching behind urging for the same. We tend to associate flying with freedom, as if it is the earth's pull holding us back. Remember what Peter Pan used to say " Think of happy thoughts  and then you can fly !"..May be it is rooted in our childhood tales and dreams that flying inspires happiness..And there, in happiness, lies one's freedom!

As magical as the seagulls are, they are not the only ones dominating our skies and roofs. A city away from water will be without seagulls, but there isn't any urban center that doesn't host flocks of pigeons and crows. Crows are the smartest and most effective in their survival - they hardly need us around. They observe, they learn, they move on. 

Pigeons on the other hand seem to be more social. Both among themselves and with us somehow. They hang out on our balconies, terraces, window sills, roof eaves, walls and public plazas. There are many famous spots for their gathering, which in their own right have even become tourist attractions around the city. You pay the old man a lira and you get to feed the pigeons by hand. They show no fear, they swarm you.

What defines Istanbul isn't only it's seven hills and the busy skies they touch, but mostly the sea that runs through it. The Bosphorus, the amazing strait connecting Blacksea to Marmara, has not only been offering a passage for city-size-cruises and cargo ships of varying sizes, but also a unique habitat for a diversity of fish and birds who hunt them. The fish and the fishing culture of this city is an entire topic for another post, but  this post about the urban-city-birds won't be complete without the mention of cormorants. The cormorants of Istanbul are the true citizens of it's seas. They spend most of their time in the water, diving in and out. When they are not, they are to be seen on floats or wave-breakers watching life go by and drying out their wings. As long as we see them going on with their rituals, we'll know the life in our waters are somehow still holding up despite all the urban waste we are flushing in it. All that nature we are lucky to have live in the city is here to remind us that we need to pay more attention, admire their resilience and be inspired by their co-existence. 


City of Cats & Dogs I Urban Animal Series-1

A very good friend of mine came to visit Istanbul last summer. She said: "Chile was dogs, Istanbul is cats". It's true. The sight of street animals in Istanbul is pretty striking, especially of cats. We claim to live among the crowd of 15 million people, but in fact there are more than us we share this city with. Cats most likely would take the lead in the league of extraordinary urban survivors populating the streets of Istanbul. They are anywhere and everywhere. They move into the abandoned buildings or take refuge in the back yards of them. They solicit vitrines of clothing shops posing with mannequins or take over book-full-of-stands at the second-hand-stores. They are active participants of our daily urban lives. They help with sorting through the trash and repurpose our left over food from waste stream to their stomachs. They live in centuries-old cemeteries, take walks in millenia-old historic monuments.

As they have adapted to us, we have adapted to them. In some neighborhoods it's almost second nature for some people to have dry cat food in their purses, almost every apartment building has a cup full with water for cats. In a city where people are tested constantly for their tolerance for each other, I believe, having to coexist in it with animals is causing a cultural shift in our urban experiences. 

And that's just about cats. Then there are the many stories of stray dogs in the city. They are as persistent survivors as cats, however they are much more meditative in the way they inhabit the streets. They are calmer. If cats were the young generation with wit and energy, dogs would be the old, with pride and wisdom in their eyes.

They fascinate me with their silent acceptance of rules for living in an urban city. They know to stop at traffic lights, you can even meet them on the footbridges crossing to the other side of the street. They are as loyal as they're known for. Watching for each other, for you and for the city.

They are uncounted citizens we share this city with. They have made our streets home and can only survive with our compassion. I did not mention the dark side of their lives, but there are some great blogs, groups or organizations who have made their first priority to help our city-animals to escape that dark side. Here are some I have come across - please feel free to add to the list:


Urban Sign Language

Istanbul, a city of 15 million people, resonates with a lot of talk, that is usually with not much melody. Listening isn't as popular, so words quickly turn into chatter, which then combined turn into noise, added to taxi honks and motor roars. Messages loose meaning, sounds of you and me get lost in the sounds of the city. This chatter becomes yet another invisible barrier in our daily lives while navigating through the city. In this crowded sound-scape, urban sign language rises quickly, at times even poetically, to the foreground of our metropolitan communications.

"Sign Language is a language, which instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning." as explained by wiki-authors. Inspired by the performative silent quality of the sign language, it's not hard to imagine "graffiti" as a language, made up by paint and signs blown up to an urban scale. Graffiti is silent. Sometimes it's silly, sometimes meaningful, some say it's crime, some find it cheerfully colorful and even beautiful. 

Instead of having moving-hands in the foreground of this language, they are kept anonymous. The gesture is the image left on the wall. A guerilla art form using the city as it's canvas. Leaving behind it's message and a sense of wonder  for when and how it got there. So whether everyone agrees on it or not, we end up having street walls with customized wallpapers framing urban experiences. We wait in front of flying white creatures, we fall asleep by bright yellow fists, we buy cheap antique or used LP's leaning against sprayed propaganda.