10 July, 2010

Ankara: Separation anxiety

I spent two days in Ankara feeling increasing pangs of some unidentified malaise. In search of a new keeper for contact lenses, i found myself on Tunali Hilmi Caddesi where i had walked with Emin and Arda my first night in town. Buildings and landmarks i passed were no longer just buildings; they were the cues to memories.

At the dinner hour on Friday, live music drifts streetward from restaurant courtyards; i know i will miss passing on the crowded street as a violinist plays those plaintive Anatolian melodies. It wasn't just the ear infection fueled by two flights the prior week that had me feeling under the weather. Despite a dear friend's company, my whole being issued a complaint - a complaint at being torn from a new home, from a place i felt truly free.

At three o'clock Sunday morning morning Can's brother drove us to the airport shuttle where we shared a parting embrace. On the shuttle i awoke outside the International Departures terminal of Esenboğa as if the forty-minute ride had been the flash of a transporter beam. Socked with a fifty-euro fee for my second piece of baggage, i sought refuge between the headphones trailing in a tangle to my iPod. Craig Minowa's lyrics reminded me that "i give thanks to the present day / it just arrived, so please don't go away/ i fin'ly see it's what i choose to make / and i choose to make it into gold…" (Cloud Cult: "thanks", from The Meaning of 8) It was in hues of gold that the sun rose as we walked the gangway to board. The plane lifted off ahead of schedule and by the time we passed Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, the cabin crew was serving a delicious Lufthansa breakfast - with a seven hour layover awaiting me in Munich.

09 July, 2010

Istanbul - a fourth encounter of the closing kind

Delivering dad to the airport for his return flight, we had one more night in Istanbul; thankfully my last-minute CouchSurfing request found an answer. Our host Yucel already had two guests, Portuguese women on holiday, and we spent the evening in enjoyable conversation. Then at seven a.m. i saw dad off. 

Returning to travel in solitude was a comfortable feeling. I walked the streets of Rami, a neighborhood near Eyup, near Pierre Loti where friend Osman took me for coffee that first day in Istanbul. It's only been a cumulative eleven days, three months and four visits later, but i feel at home here. Watching buildings slide by on the tram, the city's anonymity is attractive. In four visits i have stayed in six different neighborhoods, in a city that can take hours to traverse by bus. Today it begins to rain, but the grey sky is welcome.

"Bewilderbeast" (from the band Badly Drawn Boy) on the iPod. At a tram stop, the train doors are streaked with raindrops, and as people pour forth one man's smile echoes the music's uninhibited joy at life. Istanbul wears a new hue. Fishermen stand on the Galata Bridge in yellow slickers; in Taksim square and along Istiklal Cad, young men and boys sell clear-plastic umbrellas on the street. The sea of pedestrians is broken by their translucent domes.

Istanbul, what can i say? You have seduced me. City of stories and songs, city of empires, or tragedies and joys. In the final scene of "Anlat Istanbul" (Istanbul Tales, an interwoven narrative of twisted, modernized threads borrowed from the Brothers Grimm), the old clarinetist says:

"Wake up, you whore of an Istanbul, wake up! We were taken in by your fairytales. We wasted our …lives! Wake up, everyone, wake up. The fairytale's over!"

At six, morning light suffuses the rainclouds, giving the sky a warm and faded sepia tone. Trying to reproduce the effect in a photograph, the result (below) shows one reason why Istanbul is known as the Timeless city.   

one last shot: fishermen on Galata Bridge

I don't care if you are a fairytale any more. Today your spell is a different one. I resisted every time, but you are loveliest in the rain. 


For some reason, it's always early in the morning. I've eaten soup plenty during my stay in Turkiye, and invariably those mornings when, on a night of dancing, i barely slept or never slept at all - the day began with hot soup. Two soups that will stick with me are Mercimek (lentil) and Ezogelin… and at long last, after another of those lively nights, i have a picture of Ezogelin çorba. The perfect fare when clouds roll, raw and drizzling, over Istanbul. This bowl cost two lira at a small cafeteria in Rami. 

Istanbul: buy an umbrella?

Taksim is the place for entrepreneurs. When a morning rainstorm turns the Istanbul streets to rivers, men and boys alike appear along Istanbul Caddesi with an armload of umbrellas for sale. 

05 July, 2010

Büyükada: an Istanbul oasis

An hour and a half by ferry from the epicenter of Istanbul, the largest island in the Prince's Islands, collectively known as the Adalar municipality, sees the arrival of crowded boats every ninety minutes. The crowds thin quickly leaving the dock and its knot of fish restaurants, as people disperse on rented bicycle and horse carriage into the island's quiet interior. 

On the Friday morning i took dad to Buyukada, the ferry was full enough, but carriage drivers were mostly idle. We walked a couple kilometers uphill to the famous Aya Yorghi monastery - which turned out to be one of the less interesting religious spots i've seen, but with the finest view of any. Istanbul sprawled along the far shoreline, while strips of cloth fluttered from nearby pines. 

Büyükada: naptime

a phaeton driver makes the most of a slow afternoon

Traveling with dad

Whatever reservations i had about a 71-year young father traveling overseas for the first time in his life were soon assuaged. He settled into our hostel near Sultanahmet effortlessly: woken by the 5 a.m. call to prayer from a nearby mosque, he made the best of it by chatting with student travelers from Czech Republic still awake in the street. The next morning, upon meeting an Argentine woman, dad launched into a bit of rusty Spanish - rusty because he'd learned it in 1952.