Friday, January 18, 2013

a final word

I have no splendid views for you today. No renowned sights, no pretty displays of food. In the photos that I'll soon load, the colors may appear muted. The people? Well, you wont see anyone setting fashion trends. There are plenty in Istanbul who do, but you wont see them in this post.

It's not that Ed and I hibernated in our lovely little hotel room on our last day in Turkey. The weather was (at least initially) terrific, we were set for exploring (after a hearty breakfast -- though the only photo of that is of the honey -- they like to serve it with the comb still intact and I thought that was interesting).

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The thing is, we decided to walk over to Fener. We were told that this is the neighborhood (in the past) of Turkish Jews. That there would be evidence of older synagogues dating to the Byzantine period and the Ottoman Empire. And that there would be an authentic feel to the streets and homes as they remain for the most part "ungentrified."

A fine plan. The Fener neighborhood is a good hour's walk from where we are. We'll see a lot along the way.

Let me summarize what follows for you now and you can decide if you want to read further. For us, the whole day was a very real juxtaposition to the first night in Istanbul. Whereas that was glitzy and in many ways western, fast-paced and cosmopolitan, today's destination turns out to be very ordinary and very tradition bound. You probably know that I am immensely interested in the ordinary, as it plays out in other countries. So for us, the day was terrific.

From the point of view of Ocean, perhaps less so.

Still reading? Let me tell you a little more then. Initially, I thought we could walk along the coast of the Golden Horn. Where the ferries land, the streets are vibrant, interesting, fun to observe.

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But as you progress further up the coast, the pavement narrows. The road, with many many noisy cars honking their way through congestion, soon becomes dull. True, there is the occasional curious sight. What the heck is a rooster (and a hen, though she is out camera range) doing in the center of this noisy strip?

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Anyway, rooster notwithstanding, we turn in, away from the coast. And of course, we come across the Selling People. Selling the beloved Turkish bagel, selling clothes, kitchen items, services - knife sharpening, shoe mending, selling anything at all.

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And of course, with all that selling going on, there need to be spaces for the men to take a pause. One common spot will be a small cafe, though the preferred beverage here is always tea. Or watered down yogurt. (I cannot understand why, so often, the chairs and tables are very very short. Child-sized. Ed could never sit at one of them.)

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One more thing that we continue to see: cats. The ones you see here are perched high enough so that Ed can't reach them:

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I'm thinking we're lost now. I have a very rough map, but the little streets here are not on it. Are we near Fener? In Fener? I cannot tell.

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Most certainly, we are in a neighborhood of older homes. Some of them are barely together. Others are fine, though in need of paint. The type of homes that a real estate person will tell you need a little TLC.

We ask a woman clad all in black for directions. Actually, let me reword that: I ask. Ed hates to ask. He views it as a mark of personal failure to not work problems out on your own. But, I'm trying to navigate with a crummy map, trying to take the occasional photo, trying to understand where I went wrong and so I ask. The woman is veiled to the nose. She looks like she lives here (she carries bundles). And she speaks a few words of English. We follow her billowing cloaks up, down, around and then she points a finger in some vague direction and disappears.

So we still do not know where we are and whether this is indeed Fener. In fact, during the entire walk, we see many many many mosques. We listen to the call for prayer in dense cacaphony of chants, coming from seemingly every block. But we find not a single old synagogue.

Which is okay. Sometimes I wonder if people send us in search of Jewish things because they look at Ed and think --  surely he must want to explore the history of 'his people.' And since Ed likes history, it's usually not a bad guess, though I can't imagine him chasing down some thread of history merely because it had to do with 'his people.'

So, no synagogues, but most certainly we have stumbled upon a neighborhood that is like no other that I've seen in Istanbul. It's as if we've crossed the border to another city, where modernity and western influence have been checked at the entrance.

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We're on a busy street now with the usual shops, sellers, etc., but the vibe is different here.

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Very different.

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So we walk along on these narrow strips of sidewalk, trying not to bump into people and especially cars and now I've given up on scanning the map -- Ed takes over the navigating part -- I just take things in, pausing for the occasional photo.


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Eventually we meander back to our neighborhood -- the Sultanahmet. We've been walking a long, long while, but I still want another look at the Grand Bazaar. I can let go of visits to major sights, but I feel like we shot through this colorful place erratically and without great depth the other day. I want more of it.

And so we plunge into the maize of stalls and once again the clerks try so hard to get us to consider their very best carpets and shawls,  but we are not in the shopping mode. Just looking, just looking.

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I do want to pause for a tea though. Back at the carpet store, I was reminded how much I like apple tea. So, we have a minute  to sit back in a tiny cafe now at the Bazaar and drink tea and eat ... bahlava.

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And I speculate how warming it would be to drink apple tea back home. In the cafe, they use a French Press to brew the bits of dried apple. I can do that! And to get me started, we surely could pick up a half a kilo of apple tea from our favorite spice guy by the hotel (he gains the status of favorite by virtue of selling us also our beloved pomegranate pistachio Turkish delights late in the evenings).

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And now it's time for our final dinner of the trip. Ed has been hinting ever so deliberately and insistently that he would love to just eat street food.
Define street food.
You know, what regular people eat everyday on the run.
Here, that typically means bits of meat wrapped in bread. You're not a meat eater.
Each time he points to a place (and there are many), I note the presence of meat. And still he is tempted. He'll tell me -- I'm all restauranted-out and even though lately we've been eating smaller meals, most often sharing a portion of a dish, still, he's really craving something even less complicated.

And so we poke around our neighborhood and we find a joint that looks clean and sort of fresh and honest and we agree that this will be our last meal of the trip.

Except that when we set out, after 8, the place is just closing. There's a lesson here: never assume! The eat and run places don't keep the same late hours as the restaurants. At least this one doesn't.

And now we are a mere six or seven hours before we have to ready ourselves to leave the hotel and we haven't a clue as to what to do for dinner. We pass so many eateries, beckoning us to come in, come in and because they beckon so hard, we resist. They all seem the same -- with long menus of similar foods, foods that will surely be microwaved for us if we just come in, come in.

We wander back and forth, up one block, down the next and now the rain is coming down again -- an evening rain that falls at a time when it no longer matters to us -- rain or shine, we've seen everything, we're done, we're out of here soon. soon as we find a place that seems agreeable to both of us. It is, in fact, the one place that did not send out a waiter to chase us in.

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We order just three appetizers -- a salad, a warm tiny shrimp stew and a spinach with spices.

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[The flower is plucked from the table vase by Ed, in a "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it" gesture. I had asked which part of our travels he'd liked best and he first had to remind me that all of it had the same elements of hiking, eating, and sleeping in comfortable beds.  For the rest of our traveling days together, he will be reminding me that when I plan a trip, there is no apprehension, no terror to manage, no great obstacle to overcome. Of course, I tell him that there's plenty of terror for the passenger riding with him up in the mountains of Crete, but I know that he will always want more challenge and I will always want just a moderate amount.]

And I'll end this post as we end our trip -- with a dish of baklava. Because it really does end there. Later, at 3:30 at night, we are whisked to the airport and our complicated travels home begin.

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