Our first full day in istanbul, Hale brought us to Ulus Park.
It overlooks the Bosphorus, and is laid out in a series of tiers, joined long curving downhill pathways that finish in a large play area.
There was lots of familiar fixed play equipment, and an outdoor gym, but what struck me was how many people were there and how many ways they were using the space.
Mothers cooked over open fires, with real saucepans. A granny sat alone, reading a large picture book. Families sat in little groups under trees, establishing base camps which the children ran between so fluidly that we couldn’t tell who belonged with whom.
Meynell nudged me, and pointed out two boys with tiny chicks in a box. Having shown them off to the other children, the boys and the chicks posed for a series of pictures taken by a father. As I watched, the taller boy carefully set the chicks in the open box, then watched them as he jumped from a wall. His father shouted “Musta-FA” in the international way of parents, and a girl watched while eating a fistful of bread.
I’m never certain of taking pictures of people – particularly when I’m in another country. If it can’t be done either inconspicuously through the sneaky use of zoom or with the clear enthusiasm of the people being photographed, I get quite uncomfortable. Meynell took a series of pictures, holding up his camera to Mustafa’s father at one point and asking “OK?”. He received a nod in return, and there seemed an understanding there that we were a groups of adults watching the children with some sort of purpose. I looked around, and felt some of the mothers gazes on us but couldn’t gauge the mood behind them.
Meynell and I perched on a high curving stone wall, while the boys played with their chickens beneath us. One boy looked up at Meynell, grinned and shook his fist. Meynell grinned back and snapped his camera at him, the rapid fire shutter going like a toy gun. The boy turned back to his friend, his chicks, and I took this one picture quickly.
Beyond this was a broad expanse of play and gym equipment, encircled by families who all seemed settled in for a full day’s camping, as if this was their sunny Sunday routine. They sat on blankets, surrounded by baskets and cook pots. No one sat on the benches provided.
Farther back were these cement caves, deep and cool. They’d be miraculously refreshing in the summer.
I loved that recent and big budget park renovations had let these caves remain, with all their graffiti and crumbling surfaces intact. They provide so many opportunities for hiding, clambering, spying – for exploring changes in texture and age, temperature and mood, for scratching and recording your life upon them, over a series of sunny afternoons.