Thursday, August 21, 2008

Reflections on Istanbul

The Blue Mosque, from the gardens of Hagia Sophia.
The many domes and arches inside.
Stained glass in the Blue Mosque.
Turks are reknowned for their national pride, and flags seemed to be everywhere.
Inside the Spice Bazaar
The nougat wheel

It's difficult to add anything to what Betsy wrote about Istanbul. When we were eating dinner on the rooftop terrace of our hotel the second night of our stay, she asked me why Istanbul seemed different from Paris or London, two cities we had recently visited. And I wasn't really sure, but it certainly did seem different. Paris and London seemed more like something we did -- we went, we saw, we toured, we posed. Istanbul, on the other hand, was something we were a part of. There was no separation, no observer (us) and observed (the city). There was just an experience, in which we were lucky enough to participate.
The Blue Mosque was probably my favorite place in the city, both for its appearance, and for what it represents. The layers of domes seem to grow out of each other, perfectly framed by slender minarets that somehow give the place a regal look. Yet their purpose is entirely plebeian. The muzzein (singer) stands on the balcony of the minaret five times a day, and broadcasts his ezan to the whole city, inviting everyone to prayer. The muzzein is now often replaced by speakers and a recorded voice, but the effect is the same: an echoing chant that bounces between mosques, inevitably making you stop and reflect for a moment, regardless of what you are doing. The chant itself is haunting -- the first time I heard it, about two hours after we arrived, as we were walking around the mosque -- I got chills. It continued to be a powerful yet calming presence for the duration of our stay, even at 5:30 in the morning or 11:00 at night.
Another of my favorite areas was the Spice Bazaar, a thriving, vivid market that seemed to provide as many smiles and laughs as spices. The merchants knew exactly how to draw you in, and were all as friendly as can be. One of the most bizarre creations was the "nougat wheel," a tower of nut-filled nougats from which the merchants would cut you slices to sample.
Turkey is, of course, being courted by the EU, but my immediate impression was that it would be a shame for Turks to join the EU. It is a thriving culture with a rich history, a relatively stable political infrastructure, and so many traditions that stand outside the European experience, that it would seem a shame to see Turkey suffer the homogenization that must accompany such a move. Istanbul, at least, is a swarm of color and spontaneity, from the carpet merchants inviting you to tea, to the stuffed bazaars hawking everything from jewelry to decorated toenail clippers. There is no way to box Turkey -- you just have to live it. And if you go, you'll have no choice but to do so.

1 comment:

judy baker said...

B & B - I've just been through your newest series of pics and verbage. It's so wonderful to share these things
with you. My favorites this time are the market shots. Keep up the good work!! Love mom & Joe