After three days, it has finally stopped raining and with the sun, Istanbul is transfomed into the enchanting city once again. It is less enchanting though, than it would be if you were here. There are so many things I would like to show you.
First, the Grand Bazaar, Kapalı Çarşı. Here I always have to orient myself by way of “Ali Baba” which is the place to buy hip scarves, dancing shoes, zills, pottery, cashmere shawls, brocade slippers, kaftans, inlaid chess sets; you get the picture. It is a cave of delight for your favorite magpie. Erkan would greet us at the door and we would be served çay or apple tea before we begin shopping and haggling over the price. I don’t haggle well, it must be my working class roots. From here we would delve into the bazaar proper. The colors, light, noise, busy-ness, the heady scent of spices from all the corners of the earth lay claim to all the senses. I am afraid you might find it overwhelming at first, but if you held onto my arm tightly, the feeling would become more pleasant. Time loses significance here. It is a maze worthy of King Minos himself. I would bring you to shops where all the sweetmeats of the world can be found, feed you real Turkish fruit and let you kiss the sugar from my fingers. We would walk to where the goldsmiths are and let ourselves go dizzy with all the glitter. I would let you buy me an awful bracelet with talismans against the evil-eye and wear it forever, or until it broke. I would find a seller of cashmere scarves and buy you a bright one to keep you warm in the winter. I would drench it in patchouli so that every time you tie it around your neck, you would think of me.
Walking is the best way to see Istanbul, so we would walk of a morning to the Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmet Camii. “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.” Once we pass into the courtyard, it is clear that we are on holy ground. This is the home of God, Allah most gracious, most compassionate. In Istanbul I always carry something to use as a hijab. Today, it is a pashmina, the color of an April sky and with my hair suitably covered, we would remove our shoes and go inside. If you would wonder why the ceiling is so richly decorated, I would be able to tell you, because I’ve thought about this: When in the house of God, one may search for evidence of the divine. What better direction to look for this than toward the heavens?
But before the Ottomans, Istanbul was called Constantinople and the gorgeous Haiga Sophia (Church of Wisdom) was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch. It is a stone’s throw from the Blue Mosque. Nothing remains of the original structure. What we see today is the basilica dating from 537 A.D. Under leadership of Sultan Mehmet in 1453, the Ottomans seized power. The Haiga Sophia converted too. Minarets were added to the structure and between 1453 and 1922, the Haiga Sophia became Aya Sofya and was an Imperial mosque. Since 1935 it has been a museum. I would show you the face of a fresco angel, centuries hidden behind an Ottoman ceiling ornament newly revealed and restored to glory. We would walk along the upper gallery and if there aren’t too many people around, I would pull you behind a pillar and give you a kiss so luscious you’d never forget it.. Apparently this was common practise during the reign of the Byzantine Empress Theodesia. There were edicts issued against this and other public displays of affection in church at the time.
We would hop on the tramline: Sultan Ahmet, Sirkeci, Eminönü, crossing the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn to Karaköy, Tophane to Kabataş. The Bosporus would spread out before us, glittering like the coins on a belly-dancer’s belt. From there we would take the ferry to Heybeliada, one of the Princes’ Islands.
I like the ferry. From here you have the best view of the city: A skyline including the Blue Mosque, the Haiga Sophia, Topkapı Sarayı, and Dolombache Palace, which looks like it is made of confectioners’ sugar. As we enter the Sea of Marmara, the sky goes from blue to nacre, the sea from light emerald to deep jade green. With Asia on the left coast and Europe on the right, it is a magical in-between place where anything might happen. It was on this very sea, called Propontis by the ancient Greeks, that Jason encountered many adventures on his quest for the golden fleece.You could believe that he may have landed on Heybeliada.
Heybeliada is a hilly-piney island retreat where the main mode of transportation requires either shoeleather or (real) horsepower. You know I am dreadfully allergic to horses, so we would walk. We would buy supplies for a picnic: simit with goat cheese and tomato, fresh pomegranate juice, and sticky baklava for desert. Then we would make our way slightly inland, to the pine forest that smells like nowhere else on earth. I would warn you to beware of the wood-nymphs and you would remark that the warning is 26 years too late. It would be too cold to swim so we would sit in the sun and watch the boats go by. In the warm afternoon, on a bed of pine needles, I would fall asleep in your arms. If we were lucky, we would wake before the last ferry back to the city. The return trip would be colder and would seem longer. The other boats would be less jaunty on the water and I would probably feel slightly seasick. But the lights of the city are a beautiful distraction and we would take them in, no need for conversation, just enjoying being together in the quiet of an Istanbul twilight.
Stepping off the ferry, we would hear the call to evening prayer. As the stars begin to shine over the city, I would know that they have come out just for you.
* Both photos are my own. Please ask permission if you want to use them.