Turkey- August 1999
Intro to Istanbul
Our luggage was at the bus before we had the chance to look around. And this airport's curb didn't look much different than the one in New York. We dragged our bags past three expressionless older Turks leaning on taxis, and on toward the busses. "We made it! We made it!" I beamed on tiptoes, reaching over to give excited smoochie kisses to Vic. "We're not there yet." He reminded me in a pessimistic voice. "...but we're in Turkey." he admitted with a smile. There was no hope for order here. I glanced around at the clamorous mob and worried about getting everyone on our select few busses.
"Look, look!" I whispered with a shy finger pointing to the picturesque site of one foreign man's activities. Vic dropped his enormous backpack mid stampede, unzipped it and drew out pieces to a camera. The faces were foreign and the voices were foreign, but something about the place just felt like some other big city you'd find in the US.
"Did ya' get a load of those crates the NASA guys brought?" whispered Chris, dangling her arm over the seat to see us.
"Was that whose those were?" said Vic. "We saw all those cases, but I didn't know NASA was along."
"Yeah. I hear they had over 400 pounds in excess baggage!"
"Holy Cow!" Vic shook his head and peered out the glass to get a glimpse of the giant aluminum crates. There was no way that all of our passengers could have boarded by the time our bus began pulling away. It felt like the bars had just gone down on our amusement park ride. We even had the park worker at the front of the car with a microphone explaining the tour. Her name was Sarap, which I thought would be easy enough to remember. I was completely exhausted and so was Vic. The twenty minute nap on the floor in Frankfurt did not suffice for a nights' sleep. Still, I sat perched on the edge of my seat. With hand on the seatback in front of me, I crooked my neck peering to each side as a potential point of interest whisked by. It never quite felt like we were seeing some mystical and exotic foreign land, though. We were just in a very big and overcrowded city that had ancient landmarks pressed tightly between the lean-to's and cinderblock houses. But the stories were interesting and it kept us occupied for the ride there.
A muffled beeping came from Sarap's satchel on the seat. I noticed that the electronic blips of noise were playing the tune of Fur Elise. So, she ceased talking in the microphone and commenced in jumbles of Turkish into the phone. She'd left her microphone on and we could hear a word or two here and there and Vic asked "What's she saying?" I just looked at him and stared. I suppose he was tired enough to actually believe that with the smattering of Turkish words and phrases I had picked up, that I could now automatically translate one side of a conversation into English instantly.
So the cars all drove on the same side of the street. The hostess spoke very good english and carried a cell phone. Turkey wasn't looking too terribly exotic at that moment. But soon as our progress through town slowed and the landmarks pointed out smudged closer and closer together, so did the streets. Through some acrobatic maneuvering stunt by the driver, our bus wedged itself tightly in past double-parked cars and pushcart vendors to our hotel. Now, I'm sure that Sarap made some kind of polite note through embarrassed pursed lips about the shoeshine boys. But nothing could have warned us for what was to follow. With only one foot out onto the street, the boys slurped in like a pack of hungry dogs. They crowded us and each other wrestling their way to each passenger's arm. Not one single word of their banter sticks in my mind, but the clamor of their banging coffee cans and monotone demanding whines blended for a very memorable sound. So, hassled, overburdened and exhausted we all dragged with as much excitement as we could muster into the hotel lobby for our next set of directions. Our bags were unloaded within sight, so we stood comfortably in the air-conditioned lobby watching the cat and mouse of the valet and shoeshiners. Three young boys would crouch together, sitting for a moment on an empty can, until the attendant wasn't looking. Then one by one, each would make a dash behind his back toward the hotel guests. Then, like an angry animal, the old man would bolt out, waving his arms to shoo or catch one. The game continued while we received our room keys and secured our precious cargo of equipment. But this meant that after only one sort ride in an undersized and overloaded elevator, we were free.
We flung open the door to our room and wandered around for a moment. It would be our base camp now, so we flipped all the switches, adjusted the temperature and flopped on the beds. Vic disappeared into the bathroom while I tried in vain to operate the television remote. After a good ten minutes, he emerged with hands on his hips, "Ok, I give. How do you flush the toilet?" I smirked quietly and headed toward the bath. It was a first class bathroom with fresh tile and big towels, but he was right. There was no discernible way to flush the toilet. I peeked around this way and that. I found a valve below on the floor. "Ooops!" I jolted as water shot over my shoulder. "That's the bidet." I noted to myself. This was ridiculous, I said to myself as I stood and stared head-on at the toilet. It was some kind of mental challenge, I could see. I reached for the stainless steel kleenex box on the wall over the unit, to see what it held. "FWOOOSH!" I pretended not to be surprised and walked confidently back out of the bathroom. "I found it" I boasted and explained the device. Since Vic had called the desk to wake us for dinner, we scratched concerns over operation of the TV and collapsed one each onto our beds.
Before dinner, we had discovered the view out the window. Without much squinting, I could easily make out at least two typical looking mosques across the water. "The Golden Horn." I repeated in my head trying to simulate the accent of our guide. Turkish spoken English has a beautiful accent with softly rolled 'r's and shortened consonants and no contractions. The city below was almost as noisy as I had imagined by descriptions in the travel guide. Car horns, vendors and pedestrians were easy to hear from the 12th floor up. Little did I know how quiet this would be in comparison to the Istanbul nights. With a few minutes to spare, we dug through the bags and smoothed on some less rumpled clothes and made an appearance for dinner.
The M button on the elevator was for the Mezzanine level. It took us to the dining hall, a small piano bar and a bulging gift shop. Vic was plenty pleased to find it closed as I was pulled magnetically toward the colorful trinkets through the glass. "This way" he tugged and led me to dinner. So we dined without remark reacquainting ourselves with good friends over good food. I went into this experience of foreign dining with very mixed feelings. As fussy an eater as I am, I am reluctant in my own country to try new dishes. But I had read so much about the delicious menu found in Turkey that I was wholeheartedly looking forward to sampling the interesting dishes. I was not disappointed. As if the staff already knew my fears, they didn't serve anything unidentifiable, or with legs extruding from the soup. The staff made some announcements about the next day's schedule and we were all dismissed again like children at recess.
I had heard that the roof held quite a view, so we went to strait upstairs. The elevator let us off into a noisy, narrow hall. We quickly glanced each way in indecision. To the right appeared to the door to a private spa, but to the left was about the noisiest cramped nightclub I'd heard in years. The band started up again with the traditional Turkish dumbek drum and exotic wandering flute. I heard a violin join in before another began to 'sing'. I would really not call it song, but more a vocalization. I listened for a moment in curiosity and appreciation, trying to make out where one word ended and another began.
Not only was this a private enough looking affair to butt in, but peeking around the corner, I spotted a bride and groom seated mid reception. We turned the other way and wandered the tight hallway to discover the door outside. "Aha! The pool." It was instantly obvious that this building addition was an afterthought as we tiptoed around the mismatched edges of the triangular pool. Then I found a dangerous looking stairway that headed even higher up. Here we found what we had hoped to see. This upper, rooftop terrace was the highest spot in the entire district. Across the Golden Horn, was the haunted look of four glowing mosques. "The cameras!" we each started, simultaneously. We danced quickly back to our room to collect the gear. Strangers around us would find us a very curious couple at times like this. "The 20?" I asked. "Too wide." He blurted, without looking up. "Take the 35." "You know I hate that one." "You just don't know how to push that button right when you take it off" he darted as he rifled through film bag number one. "Where's the slow stuff?" he complained. "It should be in the separate zip-lock with the eclipse film. Don't you think it's too dark for that?" The banter continued as we swiftly checked, opened, sorted, and selected our tools like a preflight check. It was back to the roof with clattering cameras, packs and tripods. "Would you look at that." we each said to the other at least twice. I tried desperately to operate my antique toy camera. "If it's good for anything, it ought to be this shot." I said. "If I can only get it to work."
The sky was clear and crisp as sounds from the street below began to rise and drown out our conversation. This was my first call-to-prayer. I had expected the moslem church-cry to sound more, I don't know, church-like. Instead, this noise sounded like a haunted, primitive forlorn dream-cry. It seemed to echo from every wall in the town and come from every direction simultaneously. It wasn't loud. It was just everywhere. Were it not so prominent, I would have sworn it was only some distant, ancient memory of a sound echoing only in my sleepy brain. The call would wander in and out as other street party noise from the bands below grew to match it's volume. We wandered blissfully around on the rooftop, encountering friends and strangers, soaking up the exotic pleasure of sights and sounds under precious clear skies.
~ ©1999 Jennifer Dudley Winter