Cobblestones and Urban Resilience

They dug up my street the other day to repair a water pipe. In cobblestoned Galata, such work requires the removal of dozens of sizable stones, which must be set aside for post-job replacement. But while the work is ongoing, the yawning hole is jarring -- the work-a-day life of the city has little respect for enchanting street scenes.

And yet it does. Istanbul's Nobel-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk noticed this, in the book he wrote about his beloved hometown: "When they dug up a street, the cobblestones had to be pulled up one by one and this made the work drag on for ever -- particularly if they found a Byzantine corridor underneath. When the repairs were done, I loved watching the workmen replacing the cobblestones one by one -- with a bewitching rhythmic skill."

I missed the bewitching rhythm of replacement, but the next day when I passed by the dug-up area I found the stones roughly back in place, though somewhat haphazardly -- too much space between stones here, one slightly askew there. A few days later, the morning after a hard rain, the stones had begun settling into place.

It's probably safe to assume that over the past half millennium or so each and every street in Galata has been similarly dug up. In a month or two, my street will look as if it hadn't been touched in centuries, the disturbance gone and forgotten, like the thousands that have come before.

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