Moda Havuz: a Vignette

Posted on September 21, 2014


Sunday morning was coming down gently as I walked my dogs up to the park at the end of Bahariye street. You know, the one that now has a mangled metal sculpture of an abstract fish? Or perhaps you know it by the local name, the Moda Havuz. Havuz means pool or fountain. Although Istanbul is a mega city, it shares a surprising number of characteristics with many rural towns I remember growing up in. Identifying places by what used to be there was commonplace in Elberton, Georgia (The Granite Capital of the World) pop. 4,499. ‘Turn left where the Wendy’s used to be.’ Well, the same peculiarity takes place in Istanbul, Turkey pop. 14,000,000. Ask any taxi driver to drop you off at the Moda Havuz (fountain), and you will end up in a fountainless circular park guarded by a giant, tortured fish.

Moda Havuz

Moda Havuz

On this lazy Sunday, the park was being patronized by usual suspects: the elderly (old monied and early rising) on one side of the circle, and a clutch of glue-sniffing youths on the other. The close proximity and juxtaposition of these two elements might create alarm or some kind of chemical reaction in other places, but I’ve learned it is just part of the fabric of society here.

The old folks sit contentedly on park benches, not taking up much space or oxygen for that matter. Their counterparts  on the other hand are only four youths strong but carelessly scattered over their side of the roundabout, draped across benches and sprawled out on the grass where my dogs usually relieve themselves. Alas, we will have to find another spot for them today.

These are not glue-sniffers to be technically accurate; they are paint thinner sniffers. They can be identified by their soiled clothing, their habit of holding a fist up to their mouth and nostrils, and their ‘water bottle’ filled with clear paint thinner. Clever guys. Very clever.

Luckily, one of the gang seemed to have a tiny grasp of reality still left in him. I could tell by the way his eyes seemed to look around as if he could still see things. He slowly walked plodded across no man’s land to the old folks side and gestured for a cigarette. A hard and fast rule here is, if someone asks for a cigarette, you give it to them.  Without any judgement or hesitation, the old man hands him a smoke. I don’t know if the sniffer had planned this far in advance because it would still be awhile before it occurred to him to smoke the darn thing. First, he stumbled over to his friend who was somewhere in the Beta Quadrant of the galazy at the time. He seemed to offer the newly acquiring object to him, but the friend’s reflexive muscle memory took over in the absence of his mind and slowly assumed the comical stance of an old-timey boxer. Realizing he was in grave danger of being cold-cocked by his friend’s extremely slow and gentle right hook, he decided to formulate a new plan of what to do with the cylindrical object of mysterious origin he now found in his possession. If only he knew of its history and where it came from, it might give him a clue as to its use. But, at this point, he’d had it so long, it seemed the memory was as lost to him as the fountain he knew used to be around here somewhere.

My dogs and I continued on around a couple of more blocks. On our way back to the house, we again passed by the little park, and not much had changed. Except, I was shocked to see that the most enterprising sniffer had somehow acquired a tomato and a large leaf of bright green lettuce. Not sure how he managed to accomplish this in such a short amount of time, but there he was crunching into the tomato. In spite of the fact that he was cognoscente enough to realize that people need to eat food, he was still not in complete control of his body. He was unsteadily hunched over holding the tomato up high in his right hand and dangling the leaf of lettuce almost to the ground with his left. He began to make the rounds to his fallen comrades and wave the lettuce in front of their faces in an apparent attempt to revive them. Too bad lettuce does not have much of a smell.

I’ve been living in Istanbul for 6 years now, and there has never been a fountain in that little park. Perhaps, the old folks that go there remember what it looks like. Maybe that’s what they are seeing every Sunday when they stare at the big red fish and the huffers hobbling beneath it, dragging their bright green lettuce leaves over the cobblestones.

Time is a fountainless circle

Time is a fountainless circle.