Saturday, April 12, 2014


I'M BACK FROM ISTANBUL. It's a great city but in many ways, not what I expected. The photo on the left is from the Basilica Cistern. Before I left, a friend pointed out that the cistern was one of the settings found in Dan Brown's Inferno. So this post is about Istanbul, and the next one will be about Inferno (which I've started to read), as well as other 'i' things (like imagination), as they strike me.

I went to Istanbul expecting to be steeped in its history, thinking on some level that I'd be dropped into the middle of Byzantium or onto a caravan heading for its final destination on the Silk Road. This is one of the reasons I write. Part of me believes that I really want to experience these things. In truth, I prefer modern plumbing and the Executive Lounge at the Hilton where I can drink and eat all I want. Istanbul is a crossroads between continents, people, and time. It's also a place where one can indulge one's imagination, as well as have all of one's practicalities met.

Here are a few things that struck me about Istanbul:
  • Swarthy men, stocky and a little imposing, but who didn't hesitate to give up their seats for me on the tram. For them, it wasn't about being chauvinistic: it was about being polite.
  • Veiled women, who covered their faces whenever their scarves slipped. I often wondered what  they thought of naked-cheeked me and what their lives were like.
  • Other veiled women, who talked in cafes, drank coffee, and smoked cigarettes as if foreigners, husbands, and time didn't exist.
  • Gypsies on the sidewalks, selling Kleenex packets (while talking on their cell phones), or setting up balloon shooting galleries, or waiting uncomplainingly to shine someone's shoes. One dropped a brush as he walked past us. Mike returned the brush, which ended up with him getting his shoes cleaned, which made me wonder if the brush was a ploy, which didn't matter, because the gypsy's smile was so genuine.
  • The gypsy boy who played a squeeze box on the tram for coin.
  • The crazy traffic, with taxis making up every fourth car, and learning to jaywalk like a local.
  • The Hagia Sophia, which, in spite her mosaics, made me sad. She felt old, tired, and desecrated.
  • The Blue Mosque which was quite the opposite, full of spirit, and sweet with incense. I loved hearing the call to prayers sung five times a day.
  • The Basilica Cistern, dark, ethereal, and hidden beneath the cobbles, where carp swim among the columns and have done so for centuries.
  • Baklava, dusted with green pistachio, honey-steeped, and pomegranate drizzled. The ex-croupier/turned waiter who served us, with a story of his own which I never learned. He recognized our Canadian accents. Talk about your cultural savvy at a global crossroads.
  • Feral cats, some friendly, some aloof - yowling in the rain, tip-toeing along fences, or snoozing on graveyard posts.
  • Rivers of tulips - red, violet, yellow, rose, white, pink, orange - voluptuous, in waves, flowing along boulevards, running down hillsides, filling the parks. Pansies of every mix, spilling about them like foam. 
  • The Grand Bazaar, where, once the business is done, becomes apple tea hospitality served in a dainty glass.
  • And ships on the Bosphorus, zigging between Asia and Europe as if it's no big thing, while hillside minarets rise golden in the sun.

- Susan.

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