Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where the (Turkish) Sidewalk Ends

As a mom with a baby and therefore a pram, I have recently taken an interest in sidewalks. Who knew that there were so many ways they could go so very wrong.

As a child, the title of Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends captured my imagination, and I wondered what that would look like. It was an improbable notion, and I filed it away in my mind along with mythical images of Narnia and Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree characters. But a few years ago, quite literally dazed and confused having newly arrived in Turkey, Silverstein's phrase came back to me as I stood a good three feet above the road beside me. The sidewalk had ended.

I was living in my future mother-in-law's house in the old mahalle, or neighbourhood. No apartment buildings, just one and two-storey concrete homes, some new, some old; some with modern kitchens and others with dirt floors and outhouses; some with new Pimapen PVC windows, some with nothing more than large square holes in the concrete walls. Occasionally the clopping of horse hooves would mix with the traffic sounds, and at night I'd awaken to the sound of a flock of sheep being quietly led down the street past our house to its next pasture.

The mahalle of Turkey follow their own laws of order and appear chaotic to outsiders. (Or perhaps I should say they appear chaotic to anyone except insiders?) The winding streets don't have names, only numbers; yet the numbers themselves seem random, bearing no relation to each other. There don't seem to be any zoning laws either, and our neighbours were an ironsmith and a marble cutter. Needless to say, the mahalle was a visual and aural cacophony. Going out into the city alone was something I had to push myself to do; it was tempting to stay safely shut in behind the high stone walls surrounding the family home.

It was on one of these early ventures into the wild that I found myself in midair, unable to continue forwards nor able to step off the sidewalk and onto the road beside me. I should interject here that no one except me seemed to use the sidewalks; however, walking in the road seemed too frightening. So there I'd been, walking along the sidewalk, not realizing it was on a slight incline. From the relative ''safety'' of the sidewalk, I'd been looking at the hubbub around me and so I also hadn't been looking at what lay ahead of me. And then, suddenly, the sidewalk just ended. I wish I had a picture to show you; it was really quite shocking.

After recovering from my surprise, I had no choice but to backtrack ten feet to where the road and sidewalk were still more or less level, and then walk on the road.

Fast forward three years. I've learned to look ahead and anticipate sidewalk anomalies. Still, it is surprising at the impediments I encounter. There's 'the sudden drop off' (located bottom center of the picture below; notice I'm walking in the middle of the road. Notice too the way the sidewalk runs into a wall a few metres beyond the drop off):

Then there's the 'too narrow' sidewalk. Notice the pedestrians again walking in the middle of the road:
Sometimes the sidewalks are ridiculously wide, but I won't complain about that. That's not a bad thing, just an odd thing.
The street where we currently live has a sidewalk that slowly narrows until it disappears into a wall; the usable parts are rendered unusable because cars park on it.

I wonder, did Shel Silverstein get inspired by a trip to Turkey?


  1. I love your introduction and conclusion, they made me smile! You could totally use this post for writing class!

  2. Cecile -- Your mother told me about your blog, and I intended to read every post before commenting. However, your sidewalk ending in midair brought back memories of the little town in Mexico where my parents spent 25 winters. I got used to sidewalks that went up and down, apparently following nothing more than the whim of the business owners whose buildings they fronted. More than one friend visiting with me was shocked by all the upping and downing we had to do while "strolling" on a sidewalk. But it seems negligible compared with your experience in Turkey. What a great blog post. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to spending a few days with your mom at the end of the month, when I'm sure you and your handsome young son will be topics of conversation.

  3. Kay -- glad to hear it's not just Turkey! I guess we really do have it good in Canada!

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