Istanbul Does This Sometimes

It’s around 8:30, and I’ve just gotten off a ferry.

I’m in Istanbul’s Karakoy neighborhood, on the European side.A man is sitting on the ground playing jazzy tunes on the trumpet. I feel as if I’ve seen jazz played over scenes of New York’s waterfront in so many movies, but this is a million times more romantic.

This is where it all meets — all of it.

The Sublime Porte and Hagia Sophia loom in the distance, across the water. And if you turn to look north, you can see the bridge that spans Europe and Asia. The musician’s tunes weave together western and middle eastern sounds. One moment, I think I’m hearing Frank Sinatra. The next, he’s playing in a Turkish scale.

He appears like a silhouette under the light coming from a nearby lamp post. I record a video of him playing, and send it to my girlfriend, who is currently abroad. But then my phone runs out of battery.

And so there I am, with no choice but drink up the coolness of a late summer night, with nowhere to go and no one to meet.

When the call to prayer begins, he promptly wraps up and waits for it to end before playing again.

At one point a woman in a full black covering — likely Saudi — walks behind her husband filming the scene. She captures the musician and his surroundings on her phone. Some of his music has a western sound, if you must classify it. Instrumental music is frowned upon by some Saudis, if you must make a political remark. But forget all of that: Music is universal. It feels right.

Between each short song, he pauses. At one point he bums a cigarette, and coughs.

For what must’ve been a good half hour to 45 minutes, I sit and listen to him play. The plaza is suspended in his performance, and he is guiding us one note at a time, sometimes sloppy, but always immaculate in its essence.

More people join me next to the building behind him, where I am sit with my backpack. You can feel the electricity. I am by myself in this city of 20 million, but I am not alone.

And then, as if nothing happened, he packs up and leaves. His music still lingers in the air, like the rings that form around a drop in a puddle.

“Chai, chai, chai!” the tea seller calls out.

A boat drones down the Bosphorus.

“Chai, chai, chai!”

It doesn’t feel right to leave just yet.

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