28 October, 2007

I went to a marathon and a demonstration broke out...or maybe it was the other way around...

Make no mistake, Aicha Qandisha does not run marathons. At least not this year. And having only recently arrived in Istanbul I've not yet tapped into timely, reliable news of what's happening in the city. Add to this the fact that I've been ill the last few days. Saturday afternoon I laid down to rest and read after teaching only to fall asleep and not wake up until 7am Sunday, a clear sign you're not well. I was awakened from a slightly feverish haze by a persistent seagull that had parked itself in such a position beneath my window as to maximize the volume of its call, which sounded a bit like "Hey!" I was able to ignore the bird for awhile and doze on, but gave up around 7 when a helicopter decided to hover atop our building. This aroused my curiosity enough to get me out of bed.

I shuffled into the living room and leaned out the window to try to grasp why my much-needed sleep was under siege by all things airborne this morning. To my surprise I turned my head towards Cumhurriyet Avenue in time to see a pack of runners in full competition kits - brightly colored techno-fabric short-shorts and tank-tops, entry numbers, and faces of pure intensity and seriousness - run by the opening of our little sokak. The rotors on the helicopter whined on while more clusters of runners trotted by. Today, I realized, is the annual bi-continental Eurasia marathon.

Still feeling a bit ill and looking a more than a bit worse for wear, I decided to stay in and not join the one police officer at the end of our street, whose main purpose seemed to be keeping two young boys from running into the midst of the larger packs and causing mischief. Having watched some of the IMG marathon while in Atlanta, I noted there seem to be differences in how the average person views such an event. The packs were occasionally joined by bystanders returning from morning errands. Stray runners dodged pedestrians who took advantage of the shutdown of the normally busy thoroughfare. As the lead packs moved by, I began to see the real heroes in marathoning, those everyday folks who for countless personal reasons decided to test themselves this way. Sleek running kits gave way to jogging and exercise clothes, which then gave way to whatever people thought would be a good idea to run 23 miles in. Not all of their choices looked like good ones to me, but I was second guessing from my living room with a mug of tea in my hand. The lines between runner and pedestrian were extremely blurry at this point. The crowds on the route included walkers, people with strollers, women in long jilbab coats, parents running with young children trotting along, people with full shopping bags. It was near impossible to tell who was running this and who just happened to be caught up in it. I turned on the tv, but the coverage on TRT had shifted to the lead pack, moving quickly through a part of town I couldn't identify from the overhead shot.

Many of the runners wore the Turkish flag in one form or another. There were lots of capes, flags tied about necks, trailing gently and the wearer moved along. Some carried the flag on the pole, which I imagine gets rather annoying after several kilometers, even for the most dedicated Turkophile. Some turned the flags into headscarves, tied them to hats, or simply wore flag tshirts. Most people on the sidelines, people going about their business of the day, didn't seem to notice.

Then I started hearing the chanting, which seemed odd in an endurance race. Leaning out the window again I saw a group of marchers, in the midst of the runners and walkers, chanting their slogans of national pride and carrying a giant Turkish flag. The anniversary of the founding of the Republic is Monday, so the last few days have been full of marches. My teaching was interrupted yesterday by first, a procession of marching bands up Istiklal and then a huge procession of boy and girl scouts, who were adorable in their excitement at being part of the festivities. So the marathon/independence day march has been the highlight of today. I suspect, hope, all those running, walking, or crawling the marathon have passed. Groups of marchers continue to make their way towards Taksim. Again, it's hard to tell who is who.

The stragglers have me inspired to try this next year. I'm just not sure if I'll be marching or running.


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