Postcard From Istanbul: Istiklal

The clouds above Taksim Square are grim. Flocks of pigeons scatter with the wind and children swathed in puffy jackets and scarves give chase as they alight into the melancholic sky.

I cross the trolley tracks and walk down Istiklal Caddesi, past the gilded windows of patisserie shops brimming with baklava that drip honeyed gossamer strands.

Clean shaven men, their cheeks ruddy from the cold, fan charcoal braziers that blast chestnuts with heat, their insides exploded and charred by the embers.

A Syrian refugee, a thousand miles from home, holds her hands open and beseeches passersby in Arabic; an infant bundled in a pink blanket squints out at me, irises the color of chocolate, staring glassy-eyed with hunger. Men in black overcoats and women clutching leather handbags ignore them, walking briskly.

Two dreadlocked musicians playing the didgeridoo and a hand drum sit cross-legged on a Turkish rug, tufts of braided hair trembling in time to the beat.

The tinted windows of a white police sedan reflect a crowd of Indian tourists clustered around a guide, all of them wearing identical neon orange visors. The police car sounds its siren for them to move, and they jump out of its way.

I pass a host of homogenous, sterilized Western store chains: Starbucks, H&M, Nike, McDonalds. Jacketed teenage locals and foreigners carrying cameras with oversized lenses, pointing riflelike prostheses at quotidian objects and lining them up in their sights:

A lashing kebab sign in neon colors—bang
A homeless man wrapped in an asbestos blanket—bang
A seagull perched on a spindly iron balcony—bang

I walk past.

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