Condoms, jellyfish and a little piece of heaven

Walking to the Arnavutköy bus stop, I have a beautiful stroll. Arnavutköy is situated between Ortaköy and Bebek, two popular neighborhoods for well-monied İstanbulliler, on the European side of the Bosporus. The Bosporus is the straight that runs through the center of Istanbul, splitting the ancient city in two. Today the Bosporus is one of the most important international shipping routes in the region as the mouth from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean and later to Asia via the Suez Canal or west-ward via the Atlantic.

Its also an absolutely breathtaking sight.

On my walk I pass private boats, docked while their owners relax. Some have Kıralık, or “For hire” scrawled on old pieces of scrap wood, others are significantly more upscale, with posh hotel names running down their side. Further up, where the water rushes past a break-water, men are huddled in the cold, fishing. They bring bait, extra layers, bottles of water and patience. Walking by, I have to be careful not to become ensnared by their lines as they line them up to cast into the rushing water.

Arnavutköy has one of my favorite architectural features, a little inlet of water, a little island of houses between the town and the straight. When the city constructed the road running along the sea, they built a small section over the water. Rather than forcing the well-financed, well-lawyered locals to give up their prime water-front property for a strip of tar, they left them several meters of water and built a raised road instead. The effect, one would think, would be a cute, tranquil, Venice-like waterfront home, but reality is different.

An interesting feature of the Bosporus is the presence of an enormous amount of jellyfish. These aren’t dangerous jellyfish, no man-of-wars here, but they’re kind of scary and pretty gross. And, while swimming the Bosporus is illegal, any ideas I had of breaking Turkish law (never a good plan) were quickly eliminated at the thought of swimming through a half-mile of jellyfish-concentrated waters.

While Turks are extremely cleanly people, a cultural attribute with roots deep in both history and religion, its baffling the amount of pollution the country has. Its so sad that even the most beautiful of sights can be marred by empty wrappers, old receipts, plastic bags. I’ve been told they once pulled an entire sofa out of the Bosporus. This littering seems to be ingrained culturally, I have seen individuals of all ages pulling trash out of their pockets, emptying it onto the streets. Grown adults throwing paper cups or discarding of unwanted food wrappers mindlessly as they stroll down the road. Villagers routinely burn their trash rather than deal with its disposal. Bus companies toss their bags of trash out the doors as they speed down the highway. And, unfortunately, this all must end up somewhere.

So, walking by this little island of beautiful homes with their little water-front terraces should, should, be nice. Unfortunately the way the tides flow and the way the water moves, or rather stagnates, large, concentrated pools of dead, shredded jellyfish goo with heaps of city rubbish form. For the past week I have walked by a milky pool of jellyfish guts with three old condoms floating peacefully atop the unpleasantness. On mornings when I am particularly mentally detached, my mind wanders to how the prophylactics wound their way into my peaceful corner of the city, then I shiver, cringe, and run for the bus.

Arnavutköy is a beautiful, quiet section of a bustling international city, but as with any place, it has its downfalls. As long as you don’t look into the water, but rather admire it from afar I think you’d be pleased. And really, with the stunning views surrounding this little, old Armenian vineyard, its easy to miss the discarded condoms.

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