Sunday, June 21, 2009

Arrived in Istanbul

"I see my path, but I don't know where it leads... Not knowing where I'm going inspires me to travel it..." -Rosalia de Castro

June 22, 2009

I would like to begin this journey by dedicating this Turkey blog to Paul Maxim, a young man very familiar with the joy that adventure can bring to one's life. Paul is the son of Sandy, a beloved friend of mine. Sadly, Paul is no longer with us. He lost his life in a skateboarding accident, engaged in the passion that most propelled his life. He leaves behind a legacy of a free spirit and a family that loves him dearly. A special embrace goes out to Pete, Paul's twin, who is finding the world to be a strange and lonely place without Paul. My heart to Sandy and her whole family in this time of such sadness. There will be a funeral service for Paul at St. John Student Parish in East Lansing on Thursday afternoon. I thank both Father Joe and Father Mark, in advance, for the guidance and the comfort that they will offer to family and friends. I am sorry I will not be able to be there to sing Paul into the heavens...

Dear Sandy... my heart to you.

"Life is either a great adventure or nothing..." -Helen Keller


With less than four hours sleep the last 48 hours, I am going to begin with images of Istanbul thus far. I'm not sure my mind is awake enough to connect them, but I don't want to wait to post because wifi access here at the Troya Hotel is somewhat sporadic. A few folks on this Turkey Fulbright have spent time in China, too, and it would be appropriate to say that internet access is "ma ma hoo hoo" (not great, not awful) at this point.

First impression...
Driving along what I think was the Bosphorous yesterday, Sunday afternoon, as we left the airport. Clusters of people gathered along the water, many with small grills, preparing a picnic lunch for themselves and their family and friends. For miles and miles, people everywhere, with cars parked in somewhat mangled bunches along the road. And everywhere, there are hammocks... some permanant in the park area, perhaps, but most seemed to be set up by each group of people. Small children swinging one another in the hammocks. Adults reclining, sleeping or just gently swinging. Lovers leaning against trees, just cuddling, not necessarily looking at the water, but each other.

Nothing seems to be "straight" here in Istanbul. The roads are curved, the streets are curved, there are inclines everywhere, and even the flower plantings are in "s" curves along the median and along the sides of the road. There are marigolds, which reminded me of the women in Nepal who greeted us with lias created from hours of sewing blossoms into a circle of flowers with a needle and thread. There seem to be geraniums, too, planted along the road, but I'll need to get a closer look before knowing for sure.

Eggplant, kabobs, walnuts, and all types of fish line the alley marketplaces. We were treated to a dinner with a most spectacular terrace view last night at 360 Istanbul Istiklal restaurant. The restaurant was on the 8th floor of a building, with a terrace setting that overlooked the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. Some very aggressive birds perched around us, one even swooping inside the restaurant. Much larger than pigeons.... We even saw some kind of birds hovering outside the hotel, a beautiful luminescent white bird, dancing in the sky right in front of the hotel.

Jeff, one of the members on this trip, called his first taste of one of the appetizers served an "explosion of flavors in the mouth." Olives and eggplant and walnuts all wrapped in a shell, and it truly did explode in your mouth. Several baskets of bread, too, were replenished on the table. My family knows that I most certainly could live and thrive on bread alone. The most delicious was the double layer of carmelized onions and olives baked onto a soft white bread. As many of you know, I love to experiment with new tastes, so I tried a summer shish kabob along with a thyme salad and an eggplant puree nested in a stiff phllo dough surrounded by sesame seeds. The thyme salad was almost entirely thyme, mixed with tomatoes and a balsamic vinegar. Delicious... I will move on from the culinary exploits so that I do not become fixated...

After dinner, Patricia, my roommate and I , explored the area. We were told to always take a left out of the hotel door, as going down to the right would lead us to a rather "seedy" area where drugs are exchanged. Shop owners are in competition for business, and many own terrace restaurants. There are many tables along the street, and it was a thriving Sunday evening filled with people of all ages walking and talking. Patricia told me that she had read an article that the Turkish people are the 4th most social in the world, devoting much time to socializing and simply walking and talking with friends. Men and women are very affectionate with same sex, too, and it is not unusual to see men and women walking along holding hands or with arms connected as they walk along with their same sex friends. There is a casualness and friendliness here that is vibrant, alive, and very palpable.

Back to shop owners... many will approach you along the walkway, which has been redesigned to be free of cars. There is a trolly/streetcar sort of vehicle in the center... an embrace to you, dear Blanche DuBois! The quote of the evening has to be this one: "I have a lovely chair that is waiting for your bottom," a Turkish man said to me as he tried to get us to sit down at his establishment. Patricia and I supposedly have our entire "dance card" full for tomorrow evening, as we made many promises of "tomorrow." Because we had just eaten a full dinner, we weren't hungry. However, many of the shop owners gave us their business cards and said, "You promise to come back tomorrow? Yes?"

We did finally get escorted to one of the terrace restaurants by a very friendly gentleman who offered a round of drinks on the house. There was a traveling trio of musicians... and my daughter Annelise will be excited to hear that one of them was a clarinet player. Another played guitar, and a third played a stringed instrument that resembled a Russian belalaika. They had very much a klezmer kind of sound as they strolled from table to table serenading customers. Across the alley there was a disco club, which opened at ten. We also saw a Salsa/hip hop dance club along one of the avenues.

We need to get downstairs for the hotel breakfast. So, I will close for now, knowing that I will have many new images to report when we chat again... We are going to meet with the Armenian Patriarchate , His Excellency MesropII, this morning. We will also be visiting the Hagia Sofia, Hippodrom, Cistern, and Blue Mosque today. An ambitious day, as they all will be, I think...

I wish you a day filled with the easy friendliness of the Turkish people...

Tekrar gorusuruz...


1 comment:

  1. Okay, so I'm already jealous. The food alone sounds worth the trip. The atmosphere reminds me of our trip to Paris --- the shop owners, the couples out and about, people sipping coffee and talking at cafes. A very European scene.

    How do you rate? A meeting with His Excellency Mesrop II? And somehow, I believe you're up to the audience. I hope you don't wow him too much. I feel like warning him somehow.
    Go Girl!