I’m home once more after two weeks is Istanbul. I’m too jet lagged to write a coherent narrative, so instead here are a few memories that stand out:
  1. Descending the crowded steps to the tunnel that passes beneath the highway between Galata Bridge and the New Mosque, I hold Grace’s hand so that I don’t lose her in the press. It’s a sea of faces, shoulders pressed tight as thousands move through this confined space, with small toy shops set in the walls filled with whirring, clacking, chirping electronic toys such as animated dogs and birds that fly endlessly in circles at the end of their strings. Ahead of me I espy an older man moving with confidence through the crowd, a golden tray held aloft on which some fifteen tulip glasses sit perfectly balanced, filled with sepia tea.
  2. The rain is falling in a light but constant mist. I’m running along Devon Yolu, the Blue Mosque to my right, darting through locals and tourists alike with a bag of baclava in my hand. Grace is waiting for me in a cafe set within a graveyard, and as I climb the steps to pass through the cemetery’s august entrance and start to run down the path between the tottering headstones shaped like elongated turbans, the call to prayer begins to sound.
  3. It’s past midnight, and the Fish Market is picking up steam. A narrow alley slopes down between dozens of cafes and bars, each spilling their low tables and stools into its cobbles so that people can only squeeze by single file between the seated crowds drinking Efes beer and wine. Music fills the air, the sound of laughter, voices, and Grace and I grab the first available table we find after ten minutes of searching. A roar as everybody around us stands up, pumping their fists into the air. I realize they’re all wearing the same red and yellow soccer jersies – the local team has just scored their third goal on the flatscreens in the bar across from ours. The roar is echoed up and down the Fish Market as other fans erupt with savage joy.
  4. The Galata Tower at night. Set in a cobblestoned square that is enclosed by a five yard high wall made of ancient stone, it fills with jugglers, guitarists, and hundreds of locals who grab an empty spot to sit and drink beer. Grace and I find a space against the tower itself, and lean back against the five hundred year old Genoese building. We look up, and see that a full moon has risen into the sky.
  5. A cat is asleep in a basket of small carpets outside a store. A cat has draped itself over the apex of a sandwich board advertising the mezes for sale within. Another paws at the second floor window of our restaurant, watching us eat. A tired out mother cat lies on astroturf laid down between gravestones fenced off within an acute angle between buildings – beyond her five kittens endless emerge and retreat like the tide from a small cement burrow formed where the buildings meet. They’re everywhere, the well treated communal pets of the city.
  6. One of the spinning dervishes is very young, in his teens perhaps. As he spins to the plaintive music of the band, his white skirt flaring out in an endless ripple, he holds on palm up to God and the other one down to the earth. He seems lost, vulnerable, his arms held closer to his body than those of the other dervishes, his eyes closed but his face open. 
  7. Inside the Blue Mosque I hold my bagged boots and gaze out over the vast open carpet on which Muslim men bow and pray. I turn, and see a small fenced off area at the back. Through the wooden lattice I can see the cloaked and shrouded forms of Muslim women, sitting in silence and praying, hidden away and out of sight.
  8. Out my window I can see six story buildings descending into a slight dip of a valley before rising up to the crest of the hill beyond. A quarter of them are abandoned and in a state of collapse, beams exposed, roofs sunken, windows gaping without glass. Another quarter are freshly painted, smart and clean. The vast majority however exist in a state of sooty functionality, their once august architecture now highlighting how far removed they are from the Ottoman Empire.
  9. We’re walking along Istiklal Caddessi again, heading down toward Galata. A crowd is gathered ahead. We draw closer and hear beautiful music – a small band is seated against the wall playing ethereal, mystical music. A guitarist, a heavy set young man with dreds on a zither, and a young Arabic woman on a drum. She begins to sing, and the crowd presses closer, entranced. One of the endless street dogs insinuates itself behind the band and flops down to doze, ignoring the music. We listen, until the plangent chimes of the Nostalgia Tram awaken us, dispersing the crowd so that it can continue its path along the avenue.
  10. We don’t know what time of night it is. We’re buzzed, alive, happy, wandering the Fish Market district once more. We turn a corner and see a bar filled with dancing people, so we go in. A guitarist is playing raucous local favorites, songs that everybody knows by heart and that draws them to their feet over and over again. We sit in the corner and order the first of many drinks. The energy is infectious and soon we are dancing too, squeezing into the spaces between the tables with everybody else wishing we knew the words that they are singing.