Sunday, January 10, 2010

Turks, Tea, and Tickle-Me-Blue (mosque...)

So, those of you who follow my status compulsively on facebook will already know that my hostel (and the hostel that my friend and I are moving to tomorrow) is approximately a three-minute walk from the gloroius Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque (I suggest you wikipedia the thing) is beautiful. And entry is free. Which might be the most beautiful thing about it. Well -- maybe not. But across the street is something I like to call The Red Mosque. It's the Aya *Hagia* Sophia and its OLD. It was originally built as a Church and was turned into a mosque only later. Which makes the mix of Byzantian gold-leaf-tile-Jesus-and-John-the-Baptist art and the huge scrawlings of Allah in calligraphy a bizarre but beautiful combination. Its beautiful, don't get me wrong, but it feels like a cathedral that has - literally - "Gone Turk".

So we moved from these huge mosques down the hill (Istanbul arranges its tourist attractions very convineintly) to the Topkapi Palace. This was the sultan's (Abdlhamid, I believe) stomping grounds and comes complete with - yes - a harem, which is the main attraction, yet took us about an hour and a half to find (a tip to other travelers, its not actually INSIDE the palace...). So we saw some interesting stuff - like a new exhibit on Iran where the claim was that they were displaying Iran and Turkey's common heritage, when, in fact, it seemed to us to be more of a show of Turkish superiority (like, for example, items from the period when the Seljuk Turks conquored much of then-Persia). We saw the treasury, with lots of gifts from the (pardon the anacronims) Kremlin - mostly gaudy brooches in some permutation of snowflakeshape. And some other very pretty things from differnet areas and ages. But the most interesting (aside from the harem, which I will get to in a moment) was the religious artifacts exhibit.

Turns out that the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is home to:
the "Saucepan of Abraham"
the "Turban of Joseph"
the "Rod of Moses" (that was my fav)
the "Sword of David" (and Mohammad and Ali and Abu Bakr and Uthman)
the "Arm and Skull of John the Baptist" (John the Baptist's arm is TINY! My friend says that it makes sense since he spent years being malnourished in the desert eating just wild locusts and honey. I believe her. She's Christian.)
the "tooth, hair, and beard of Mohammad"
the "door of the Kaba'a"
and other items which are too numerous to name here. The description of Biblical history - for those of you interested - was taken from the Quran. It had Joseph buried in Syria, Ishmael sacrificed instead of Isaac, and Hajar (!) as Abraham's wife instead of Sarah.

The Harem was awesome. You have to pay a second time to get in, but - like everyone told us - its worth it. First, its huge. Second, its detailed more like an English country garden than anything you might find in, say, Morocco. Turkish style tends to be more flowery, and their tiles more vegtetable than geometrical. And harem took all of that and just did it -- well. I am aware that any description I give will be essentially useless and fail so I will stop now. It was beautiful. Done.

My friend and I spent the evening listening to Turkish Sephardi music at a concert that we were graciously invited to by my fantastic freind Mandy. The music was great (I recorded the Ein Kelokeinu which was - yesssss - in Ladino! I hope my singing along didn't make it into the tape.....) And then afterwards we went to the "coffee/cocktail hour" (which was spelled - get this - on the program as "Kokteyl"...kind of looks like a Yiddish transliteration, eh?) and I ate dinner. A dinner of free wine and fingerfood. DElish.

I then took Kathryn (previously referred to as "my friend") to dinner at a hipster-French-Jazz-chillout cafe. I had tea. Five cups. Two bags. Really really good tea. The waiter was, to quote Kathyn, "enchanted" by me. He slipped me a note as we left that said "I like you : )" and had his phone number. He looked to be about 15 and 1/2. Cute.

Did I mention that it was pouring rain? Well it was pouring rain. But we made it home nonetheless. Even managing to meet perhaps the dozeneth person I've now met in Istanbul from Seattle. There are SO MANY of them. I met 3 students from Bainbridge Island, a bunch from Tacoma and then this woman from Whidby. I think its something about our extroverted natures.

Well this has been a lovely post. Its the morning now. I'm off to get on a boat and TOUR THE BOSPHORUS STRAIT, a place I found out about in 8th grade when I studied geography but never thought I'd actually get to see. It may be drizzling, but Halleluja its a beautiful day.


  1. Hagia Sophia. OK the other way is accepted too but way less common. I assume you know that Why'dja use it? Is that how they spell it in Turkistan?


  2. Mordechai is always right.
    But there is something to be said for transliterated spellings for those not up on their silent, vowel-enlongating Turkish "g"s. I do it for the people, Mordi, for the children!