Friday, June 26, 2009

Visit to Synagogue in Turkey and Adventure in a Traditional Turkish Bath

June 26
Merhaba, dear friends!

Today was filled with many adventures, part of which began with getting lost before the day even began. A couple of us were bringing up the rear as we traveled on foot to one of the synagogues in Istanbul, and as we were talking, we noticed that the group had taken a turn. Must've been more than one turn very quickly, as we lost them at that moment. We spent the next 45 minutes or so trekking up and down cobbled streets that were very steep. The shower I'd just taken was replaced by early morning climbing sweat.

Fortunately, I had the itinerary in my backpack, so we at least had the name of the synagogue to work with. After asking a series of people for directions, we were able to locate the synagogue. Security at the synagogue is very tight, with entrances off the main street, security cameras, and metal detection systems to go through. The fear of attack is apparently very real, as there was a bomb that went off outside the synagogue a few years back. As a result, the inside of the church is fully equipped with hard hat helmets, all of which are attached to the bottom of each seat in the synagogue. This precaution allows the members to protect themselves in the event of an attack.

Two leaders of the synagogue spoke at length with us this morning. The Jewish community has been a presence in Istanbul for over 500 years. Part of the talk today had to do with the influx of Jews from Spain during the Spainish Inquisition. One of the speakers even shared with us the Spanish influence on music in the synagogue. She also shared a Turkish hymn with us, which had 9 tones between every whole step. She had an amazing voice and mezmerized all of us with her beautiful a cappella singing.

Later in the day, we visited a traditional Turkish bath. We all decided that this would be a lovely way to spend every Friday after school let out for the week. We signed on for the "full package," which consisted of a sauna on a room-size block of warm marble, a scrub down with an exfoliating soap, a jacuzzi, and an oil massage. Each step along the way enhanced the relaxation experience to a new level. The jacuzzi was especially memorable because I was actually alone in there for about fifteen minutes. I noticed that the acoustics in there were especially alive, so I of course began singing. I sang "Havah Nagela," partly to commemorate our trip to the synagogue today. Then, I sang "In the Lord I'll be ever thankful," dedicating this prayerful song to Norm Gouin, my dear friend who is our former music director. I am confident that Norm, wherever he happened to be in Philadelphia this evening, heard that song...

Istanbul is so lovely at night. The lighted mosques are an intricate part fo the skyline, reminding everyone that this is very much an islamic city. The city lights are not overwhelming or garrish, and it is easy to find yourself lingering on bridges and overpasses, just taking in the city.

Yet another ritual begun yesterday and continued today: Turkish coffee. This is a thick substance served in a very small teacup. It can be ordered as "sweet" as one likes, and I opted for very little sweetness. As most of you know, I am not a coffee drinker, but I needed to try this famous national treasure of a beverage. I enjoyed it very much, and it certainly helped propel myself through a very busy day with lots of uphill climbing. In order to finish the Turkish coffee, you must add a little water to the bottom of the cup. Even with this modification, it is very hard to drink it to the last drop...

And with that sharing, I will say goodnight. It is almost three a.m., and I am finding myself becoming more and more sleep deprived. We travel to Troy area tomorrow, with an 8 hour bus ride. So, i should be able to catch up on some sleep on the bus...

I'll close with a most appropriate Turkish proverb for today:

"A cup of coffee commits one to forty years of friendship." -Turkish Proverb

Yes, indeed...

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