There are places one wants to visit and others one is obliged to pass by on his way to somewhere else. Places that take the reluctant traveller out of his itinerary, forcing him to walk the big streets in search of one embassy or the other. Cities, dull and grey and boring – this is how they are often labeled. With streets suffocated by people on suits that stream at rush hour down to their jobs in government and corporate buildings.
And it’s obvious that the waters of the Bosphorus do not wash the streets of Ankara, and its stray cats are mere miniature versions of the mighty ones in Istanbul ; and its true that the bars in this city look with healthy envy at their pretty Mediterranean sisters in Izmir; its castle does not hoard the heaps of buses queuing at the doors of Efes, and German grandmas on their cruise tours seem to be here a rare species. But none of this matters anyway, when you are visiting a friend.
And it’s not warm and cozy like Antalya, neither cold and distant like Erzurum. It lies neither east, nor west, and it’s tallest mounts are made of steel and concrete. It is also true indeed that we met Ahmet with a tidy haircut, well shaved and in a suit. But we should have suspected, by the nature of our encounter with him in Istanbul, that this place was not really gonna be the boring “Brussels of Asia” that we were told.
Night walks cast a light upon a city of corridors, with witches lurking in the corners, and unexpected stories hiding in the dark rooms of its elusive markets, smoky bars and tiny neighbourhood shops. We enjoy the sweetness of street stalls and tea rooms in the company of Asise and Ismail, and the warm touch of wine in the favourite bars of Ahmet. Comfortable, warm and munching tones of delicious quince dessert we look at the setting sun from Gulay’s living-room and, under the spell of our “night wandering regime”, we only get explore Ankara in the shadows.
“Asise… free” – says Gulay with the worried smile of a mother. She is free when she dances alone, free when she roams around the house without claiming a territory, free when she travels inside the city, flying in between her friends, making it all around her roving home. Ismail dreams, he dreams the way we all would like to do, and enchants the reality of his everyday. And Ahmet works, works for a better world outside his office windows, and flies away on his remote-controlled helicopter in between one meeting and the next. He finds joy in this city of shadows, in his travels up and down, and when the day is gone and his tie falls off he drafts the plan of a hippy travel in the paper napkin of the bar we sit at.
The city’s bureaucracy reflects on the pretty face of Rıza – our friend from Konya, clouded by the worries of visa hunters, but friends make one forget his worries. And we walk, we dance and conversations come and go in between tavla maratons and solo-tests. Ankara is a place we travel not. It’s the city where our wanderings were put on-hold and we arrived to a place that felt as home.