I was planning on spending a lazy afternoon on Istiklal, lingering in the street's two English book stores, Pandora and Robinson Crusoe, maybe buying a book, then sitting down with a coffee and reading that book. As luck would have it, Robinson Crusoe had a copy of The Master and Margarita— a book I have been searching every book store with an English section in Istanbul for. Looking around to make sure no one saw its blue spine on the shelf, I grabbed the book and rushed over to the cashier, still in disbelief that I actually had it in my hands. I was so happy, I practically skipped my way down the street to Starbucks. I sat down with my soy latte ("Sabanta" scrawled on the cup), opened the book and breathed in that wonderful new book smell.
After reaching page 72, I decided to wander around in search of a cocoa butter moisturiser, and remembered there was a Body Shop on the street somewhere. As I came around the bend I noticed a crowd of policemen, some with machine guns, waiting for something to happen.
Well it is Istiklal after all, there are protests on this street practically every other day! I thought.
I snapped a couple of pictures of the bored cops and carried on, still dreamily lost in the world Bulgakov built out of words. Suddenly, it seemed, a noise like thunder was boiling up ahead. The thunder became voices, shouting "Allahu Akbar" in unison. Men with Palestinian flags, signs and fists in the air, were flooding down the street. I squeezed myself against shop windows, slowly making my way in the opposite direction, like a fish swimming upstream. I ducked into a clothing store to watch the peaceful protest march on. An older tourist couple with expressions somewhere between fear and concern were standing nearby, unsure of what to do. I guessed they were either American or British.
"Come inside this store!" I beckoned with a wave of my arm. The expressions turned to relief, and they joined me in the doorway. They were British. "Don't worry, this is a perfectly natural occurrence on this particular street." I explained. I told them about Istiklal's notorious reputation for protests and riots, and how most of them are totally peaceful. We watched the crowd eventually taper off, followed slowly by scores of police in full riot gear, and parted ways. I continued on my cocoa butter mission. Not only was I lucky enough to find a great book that I had long been searching for, I found my cocoa butter— two large tubs for the price of one.