Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Istanbul: Joining the Swirl

The Hagia Sophia seen through a blooming tree

Fishermen on the Galata Bridge in front of the New Mosque

Ceramics for Sale below the Blue Mosque

A Pretzel vendor feeds the Pigeons at 7 am

Textiles for Sale at the Grand Bazaar

Hookahs at the Grand Bazaar

Interior Domes of the Blue Mosque

Cafe Scene

Cookies on Display

A Stall in the Egyptian Bazaar

Walnut Stuffed Figs

People washing before Prayer at the New Mosque

A Rug mid-weave

Istanbul is a swirl. It is the taste of pistachio produced in every texture - whipped with almond into a cookie cone, resting whole as the eggs in a pastry bird's nest, dripping with honey in a golden brown turnover. It is a kitten walking across a wall early in the morning. If it looked left it would see the pink dome of the Hagia Sophia; right, the grey domes of the Blue Mosque, but it is too focused on its next step to care.

It is the hotelier demanding to see which kind of apricots you have purchased, and nodding approvingly when he sees they are the dark Turkish ones. It is the men glued to every stand in the Egyptian Bazaar, swooping scoops of tea under your nose before you can blink, cutting off bites of nutty turron or turkish delight for you to try, exhibiting rust orange piles of saffron and green curry powders, trying to make you laugh by pointing out the walnut stuffed dates labeled "Turkish Viagra." It is the roast corn stands on every corner, the pretzel man feeding doves with his leftovers, older and younger men alike gathering around sunset for games of street backgammon, watching you go by vaguely, as if to say people come and go, but backgammon is forever.

It is the heat slowly melting your defences while you are not paying attention and joy in a steady breeze. It is alleys filled with a skittles rainbow of colored cushions, waiters beckoning you in to drink your Turkish tea or smoke your hookah at their establishment. It is mosque courtyards full of people in all levels of respectful dress - some washing hands and feet at ablution fountains before prayer, others covering bare shoulders and legs with blue drape skirts and inventing head scarves so they can go in cameras at the ready.

It is spires on every horizon, the call to prayer sliding out from the Muezzins as you lay in bed early in the morning and late into the evening, each caller's call echoing through the city and bouncing off the others in a kind of sacred discordant harmony. It is sour cherry jelly on your toast, pillowy flat bread on your chicken, and warm milk on your cocoa puffs. It is a young boy eager to sell you bottled water, the corners of his mouth rising up to meet his ears as you approach and commit to his sale. It is taking pictures in a bakery jammed with neatly arranged trays of a dozen kinds of cookies you've never seen, and being given one on the house out of pure sweetness. It is a white piece of Turkish delight with chocolate nuts on top, urged insistently on you by its vendor, that tastes like Peeps. Except you like it.

It is being more densely packed in a beautifully constructed air-conditioned tram than you ever thought possible, making physical contact with four other people at the same time as they connect to four others, and so on through perhaps three hundred people as you all race in a body down from the hills of the Mosques to the waters of the Bosphorus's Golden Horn. It is running your hand over rough woolen rugs, munching on sesame circles, and trying to learn to tie a scarf over your hair, then regretting your success as the sweat dribbles down your forehead. It is the lights of the Blue Mosque turning gradually on behind you as you write; flicking a green bug off your leg, and then turning to push aside the curtain and see freshly golden towers and domes behind you as a cool breeze floats into the rooftop bar where you sit.

It is new to my experience. As I eat, wander, talk to Brett, read, watch the Olympics, walk through the streets, sleep - the normal details of life - Istanbul swirls, mixing me in as part of itself for our few days here. Somehow I feel it would take more than a few hundred thousand visitors each day to affect its solidity. It is Istanbul, and its roots go far deeper than any little 21st century issues or personalities that might arise. More than any city I've ever visited, I imagine Istanbul, the city, as a living thing with its own ancient soul and its own dreams.

There is the last call to prayer of the night, curving down from the now light-flooded minarets behind me, mixing with the "romantic" Spanish music coming from the corner stereo of the rooftop bar. Millions across the city are taking out prayer rugs one last time, or pausing in their work to listen and connect with something larger. Goodnight Istanbul.


Tanya said...

Can quit reading and admiring the beautiful photos. Love how you're journaling your adventure through your blog.

Everyone's well at the farm. Felix and Oscar now eat in peace in line with the other cats on the back porch. Still like to get their tummies rubbed. Play with Clousseau and Cato like brothers.

Love to you both...T.

Bruce Mork said...

I loved the commentaries on Istanbul by both you and Brett. It sounds as if being there put you both into a different consciousness. I ended up feeling as if I might really like those calls to prayer all through the day, and I may want to use your descriptions in my sociology of religion class next year (or call on you for treatment of the public face of Islam). Thanks.