ECE ÜNER | TV presenter
“Istanbul is the ‘checkpoint’ where history and mystery meet”
Ece Üner, journalist and television presenter, and our Passenger6A in Istanbul, tells us how to continue practising ‘keyif’ in her city despite its modern pace, its chaotic nature and its unstoppable rate of expansion.
Text: David López | Photos: Carlos Luján | Video: Juan Rayos
In the middle of the interview we tell her: “You should be in television”. She laughs and replies: “Who knows? Perhaps one day I could present the news…”Ece Üner (Istanbul, 1981) is one of the most popular journalists in Turkey. Every day she presents a three-hour news programme on the channel Habertürk. She became a journalist after studying sociology and history because, she says, journalism was the perfect combination. So, who better to be our guide in Istanbul, the city where tradition and modernity live side-by-side every day? As she’s a journalist, we asked her for a headline to describe Istanbul. “It’s a good soulmate”, she replies, “but it’s also a sacred city”, she adds mysteriously.
You were born here. What do you remember about the city from your childhood?
Above all I remember there being more green spaces, more parks and gardens. There were even areas where you could swim. I also remember that relationships with your neighbours were closer. Since then the city has grown dramatically to house almost 15 million people.
Asian Istanbul or European Istanbul?
It’s really hard to choose. Could you separate your heart from your soul?
This city is always associated with chaos, with the crossing of paths, the clash of two worlds… Which of these do you think is the most accurate?
All of them. Istanbul is a city of paradoxes. The chaos is real, because of its population and because the traffic never stops. If you look at it as a clash of civilisations, that’s also real, but at the same time it’s a great chance for both sides to meet. Sociologically and historically we have a lot to learn from this city, from how the people have lived together and from how people have inspired and learned from each other.
What’s your perfect way of practising ‘keyif’?
I myself am ‘keyif’! My perception of life is all about eating and discovering new flavours…I like taking the ferry between the two continents and feeding the seagulls, which are a great symbol of this city. I like going to the terrace bars in the Taksim and Beyoglu area to enjoy a drink, like in club 360. But I also like visiting the historic peninsula, because that’s where mystery and history meet. Or visiting the Princes’ Islands, because they are a unique part of Istanbul. She has lived in Istanbul all her life, although she confesses that if she hadn’t, she would have lived on an island, like Sicily, Corsica or Kefalonia. That’s why the views she admires most are those that can be enjoyed through the peaceful window of the bedroom in the house-museum of the writer Tevfik Fikret, in the Bebek area. The peace and the distance, compared to the Mediterranean rhythm and noisy pace of life of the city, as she defines it, “can become your best friend, because it listens to you 24 hours a day and you can listen to it”. Furthermore, this city “knows how to keep secrets very well” she reveals.
What’s the biggest secret about Istanbul that you can share?
There are lots…the seagulls, the textures and vibrant colours are the best. But there’s more. The fast food for example, which has existed since the Ottoman empire, including the ‘simit”, a kind of bagel covered with sesame seeds. But there are also places…Çırağan Palace for example, which is now a luxury hotel but that used to be a stadium for the Besiktas football team and even once a shelter for homeless people. Another secret is that here, when someone buys a house or a factory, they always find a cemetery or part of a palace hidden in the foundations.
You’ve just published a collection of poems, ‘Olduğu Gibi’. To what extent is this city part of your poetry, or are your poems a way of escaping the city?
Both. Writing poetry is a direct way of challenging the world as we know it and what we are told is the right way. It’s a form of protest, so it’s a kind of escape. But words also have something magical about them. The world can be changed through ideas or through words, so there’s always this component of magic and transformation. In this sense, Istanbul is a great inspiration for me, as it has been for many other poets, because it’s the ‘checkpoint’ where history and mystery meet.