How I missed the Istanbul bomb by a day - Janet Christie's Mum's the Word

An actor spoke to me recently about sliding doors moments – hers was not getting into drama school but instead landing a job on which she learnt from the best in the business – but for me nothing came to mind. Until now.

Mum's the Word: Istiklal Caddesi (Avenune), Beyoğlu, Istanbul, 12 November, 2022, Pic: J Christie
Mum's the Word: Istiklal Caddesi (Avenune), Beyoğlu, Istanbul, 12 November, 2022, Pic: J Christie

My sliding doors moment arrived when a bomb exploded on Sunday 13 November 2022, on Istiklal Avenue in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, Turkey, at 4:20 pm local time. Regarded as a terrorist attack it killed six people and injured 81 on the street known as the beating heart of the city. Its busiest, Istiklal embodies the unique energy and flavours of Istanbul and is at once contemporary and historic, a pedestrianised artery of tenement flats above shops, cafes and restaurants, with multiple offshoot arcades and alleys, always alive with locals and tourists enjoying the buzz and sights.

I’d spent several hours dawdling along Istiklal the day before the explosion, weaving in and out of its historic passages and offshoots, eating fresh baklava and drinking coffee, window shopping, people watching and pausing at its historic sites: the Flower Arcade with glass domes illuminating cafes where Bolsheviks sold flowers during the Russian revolution to raise funds; the silent interiors of the historic church of St Anthony; the Museum of the Whirling Dervishes where dancers spin ever faster over polished wooden floors while outside indolent cats lolled around their graveyard; the stunning cityscape viewed nine floors up at the top of the 14th century Galata Tower.

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The next day at the time of the explosion I was half a kilometre away in the shadow of the football mad city’s Vodafone stadium among tens of thousands of fans arriving to watch Beşiktaş (the Black Eagles) play an evening home game. It was a pre-match atmosphere fizzing with anticipation and noise, the streets and cafes crammed with fans of all ages sporting football tops and chanting, singing and laughing as they struck eagle poses for group selfies. Then in a moment everything changed as news filtered through, the tide turned and thousands streamed in the opposite direction, away from the cancelled game, marching in a stunned silence only broken by the wail of emergency vehicles speeding past, their flashing lights illuminating the darkness that had fallen. And among them me, one of the lucky ones who wasn’t on Istiklal Avenue that day, and got to go home.

Mum's the Word: Istanbul, Turkey. Pic: J Christie
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