Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

16 April 2015

I am folding my tents here in Istanbul. Tomorrow morning after nearly two years as Monocle’s bureau chief I’ll return home to London via Monocle’s Quality of Life Conference in Lisbon.

It is a wrench to leave. I’ve grown accustomed to living in a city of high drama and intense colour; a place thick with mercantile heritage. Istanbul has the ability to turn the mundane into something artful. Shopping here – for even the most utilitarian product - can be pungent, intense and beautiful. Across the road from our bureau there is a dense area of 15th-century arcades selling brass plumbing of every description. Each shop is its own installation, each shopkeeper or ironmonger has a story to tell.

I have a running joke with a friend about whether Istanbul is a Mediterranean city or a Balkan one. In many ways we are both right. The city has the power to change within minutes: one moment it is a bright, glistening place where dolphins leap alongside jaunty white-and-yellow ferries and terracotta rooftops are warmed by the sun; the next, a cold Russian wind sweeps in bearing grey sloshing water. In these moments, Istanbul assumes its huzun - a particular type of melancholy that Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk has written about – a gnawing, gloomy nostalgia that grips just about everybody and everything when it rains.

In some ways I feel apprehensive about returning home to a world that offers conventional quality of life. Of course, organised civic amenities and the badinage of a free press and a functioning democratic process are both alluring and reassuring. But it’s somehow just a little too straightforward.

Because as I pack my bag and head to Lisbon to discuss the nature of quality of life, I realise that the colour, intensity and the unpredictability of the urban environment is what makes life interesting. The stimulus of a trading hub, where supertankers still chug through on their way to and from the Black Sea and where brass taps and plumbing products can conjure the magic of the old Silk Road is something unique. Even if it’s heady – and a little chaotic - it’s the hum of the real, authentic urban fabric that I will miss most.

Sophie Grove is Monocle’s senior editor.

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