Books & Lit,  Photography,  Places

Gothic beauty … in the eye of the beholder.


Perhaps it’s the constant threat of snow the last couple weeks, but I’ve started to notice the cracks in this city, through which both the icy wind and my imagination can howl. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of snow. Where I grew up the snow and dark could last for months. As a child it sometimes seemed my only refuge was the world of books and the fiery corners of my imagination.


More often than not the tales I disappeared into were of a dark, gothic nature. So, thanks to the snow, my imagination has started to shade the city a touch gothic lately. I mean this in the literary sense — and not the medieval architectural sense. I mean in the details, in the strange slanted light, the clacking shutters of empty casements, and the creaking of floorboards.

Istanbul is full of abandoned shambling old konaklar. Once upon a time these were splendid, sometimes stately homes, but now because of land disputes, dispossession or bad debts have been left to moulder and rot until they collapse into wreckage. It always strikes me that they must have been difficult to live in even when brand new, as they seem proportioned with improbably high-ceilings and comparatively narrow floor spaces, such that you could almost imagine they were dreamed up and then fled from by some noble race of incredibly tall, slender beings. 

Perhaps even the wood these konaklar are built from possesses a certain haunted aspect. Trees are marked by such longevity and resilience that there’s something ironic/tragic about their impermanence when used as a building material. Still, wood, growing or dead, more than any other static material seems to have a voice. It contracts like creaking bones in the cold, and pops, crackles and reveals its fiery spirit when exposed to dry heat.


Which brings me to they city’s trees. Of all the city’s abundant species, it’s the sycamore/plane trees that speak the loudest to me with their incredible variegated, chipped bark. It’s easy to see patterns, and imagine a story or three buried in the cores of these majestic sentinels which line Istanbul’s grand boulevards. They are fantastic looking trees with big broad leaves which look like those of a maple. Wet, their bark produces incredible deep saturated hues from green to reddish brown and reveal all sorts of interesting patterns. Can you see the skull in the image immediately above?

I love to glimpse things that may or not be there, that may or not exist. Whether it’s in the bark of a tree, through the broken casement of an old konak, or the distortion in a piece of colored glass. It’s entertaining to ask yourself whether what you see is real, or simply a trick of the light. In any case, a single glimpse can haunt you for days.