May Day in Istanbul

This May Day in Istanbul, we woke up to the sound of helicopters flying over our neighborhood. The preparations for the protests and marches that happened that day started the day before, when police blocked off whole streets leading to Taksim Square, the center of the action. Because of all the commotion, there was no real hurry to get out of the house, so we made it a lazy Sunday and I only ventured out for my jewelry class at 3:00 pm. Until last year, Taksim Square was not open for May Day rallies and had not been since 1977, when protesters were shot on the square. Thankfully, this year's rallies  were completely peaceful, although the helicopters and police in riot gear gave the unsettling feeling that anything could happen and danger was imminent, the day passed without any big incident. In a city as overpopulated as Istanbul, any massive gathering seems a frightening affair, and it is great (and reassuring) to see that it can happen safely. 
Some of the 40,000 police officers out that day. (Tophane)

Helicopter hovering over Sultanhamet

Riot Police officers crossing the Galata Bridge
While on my way to class, I crossed the Galata Bridge at the same time as a squad of police officers in riot gear. Their uniforms looked very futuristic and surreal, and rang a bell in the childhood corner of my mind, from the days of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoons. Their bulletproof armor resembled that of a certain metal clad villain. It was quite a parade and caused quite a few startled gazes from fishermen and awestruck looks from little boys. I used my best Istiklal walking moves to weave through the crowd and get to the other side. Being in Istanbul has taught me a whole new way of walking!

In jewelry class, I learned how to make a "karpuz yüzük," or "watermelon ring." It gets its name from its plump dome and is essentially a domed ring with a stone set on top. Since the family, who takes the class with me, wasn't there, and the two other people in class were new students, who were working on sawing, it felt like I was getting a private lesson. Throughout class, I felt that I had a better grasp of the process and could anticipate the upcoming steps, which gave me a sense of independence in completing projects and being able to do so in the future outside of class. It is still awe-inspiring to see a ring take shape and a flat piece of metal take on organic curves. It is also amazing how something so dainty and delicate grows from the rough edges and screeching of sawing, filing, and drilling.

After shaping the ring with the doming block, it was time for to choose a stone. Whenever we do a project that requires a stone, my teacher gets out the stores of semi-precious stones from his satchel and the choosing process takes on a drawn out and ritualistic tone, as he unfolds pieces of paper one after the other, containing shining multicolored gems, to a series of "oooooh"s and "aaaaaaaah"s from the class. Some of the stones are enormous and we take turns passing them around and balancing them between our fingers and moving them in the light- imagining rings fit for queens and sultans. For my watermelon ring, I chose a green tourmaline stone. My teacher also had a number of stones that he cuts himself, including beautiful chalcedony, which comes from Turkey, and I hope to use one day in a piece.
Two ferry boats at sunset, gossiping like old friends
Since it felt like spring, I decided to walk home. On evenings like last night, when there is a warm breeze and Istanbul radiates in all its splendor, I know that some day I will miss these views and miss this city. When I think this, I take a minute to watch the Bosphorus and the skyline and take it all in.
Istanbul's Dolores Park! 
Walking back up to Cihangir, I stopped by the park that overlooks the Tophane Mosque. Many more people were out than there usually are- lots of groups of friends eating, drinking, chatting, playing the guitar, and juggling soccer balls. I immediately thought of Dolores Park, in San Francisco, although it was still a far cry from the "Where's Waldo?" scene of samba dancer, hula hoopers, and tight-rope walkers that is the norm there. The views are pretty stunning at both, however, and I can't wait to grab a few brews and some friends and go plop myself down there on a sunny day. Walking up the last stairway back to the street, I had to squeeze past groups of people hanging out on the steps. They were singing traditional sounding Turkish songs. Leftist songs in honor of May Day, I wondered? Alas, my Turkish was still too rough to know.

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