The building at the shoreline, the Dolmabahçe Saray, was the last home of the Sultans, and the last home of Kemal Atatürk, too; the palace clocks remain stopped at the time of his death in 1938. Here one can find, I'm told, the largest chandelier in the world.
The building at the top of the hill, the Istanbul Swissotel, will be our address for a week, beginning on Saturday evening when we finally arrive. Here's hoping for smooth Internet connections.
Ah, just what I wanted to read on my way out the door...
Ah, the splendor of it all...perhaps I should rent "Topkapi!" to absorb some of the atmosphere. Enjoy the visit, and come back to us safely, please.
The Bosphorus Swissotel has an East Wing and a West Wing. Kathleen and I are in the West Wing, which is the one without Ethernet connections in every room. This means that I am going to get to know the Business Center, open round the clock but, still... One hates to grouse, because the view from our room is extraordinary, even if we haven't seen it by daylight. That's Asia over there.
Turkish lesson for the day: the accent falls on the second syllable: I-stan-bul. There's an old Hollywood movie called Stamboul, a knock-off of Macao that's not particularly worth watching, but the title is a useful clue. "Stumble" would not be far off. Say "Hosh gheldiniz" and you've said "Welcome."
Getting here was not fun, but then I'm not a traveler. Kathleen's itineraries are ruled by an allegiance to American Airlines that, while it certainly pays off in terms of overall convenience, often precludes direct flights. Getting anywhere in Europe beyond London involves unpleasant stays at Heathrow and longer journeys. I did not have a good time on the trip, particularly on the first, longer leg. Sleep was out of the question, and over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (as I couldn't help noticing - there we were, way out there beyond all Points of No Return), the plane ran into some disagreeable chop. The second flight was much more pleasant, but it also seemed endless, and I was not amused by the visa hang-up when we reached our destination. (All I could think of was Terminal, which I watched, without sound, on the flight to San Juan in November.) The minute we were through customs, however, we we greeted by a driver, and all has been smooth sailing since then.
It's the middle of the night, naturally, and I ought to be asleep. We have a big day tomorrow; Kathleen's client will meet us for breakfast at ten (here at the hotel, mercifully), escort us on a day of sightseeing, and then, after a break for resting and dressing, take us to what Kathleen's colleague calls "Istanbul's most exclusive restaurant." Even if that is what it turns out to be, I won't have any way of knowing, but superlatives seem to be part of the package. I'm not going to discuss the business that has brought us here, thinking it better to wait until the deal has been launched and there's a write-up in the financial press to which I can refer the few of interested readers. I have, in fact, just deleted a series of seven attempts to tell you why this one is a big deal.
On the transatlantic flight, I flipped desultorily through Teach Yourself Turkish, a book that I actually had on hand before the prospect of this junket ever arose. I have always loved getting to know the preliminaries of a new language, and even though I am not very good at working hard at mastery, or even competence, I buy books like Teach Yourself Romanian with a keen optimism. That is, I used to do so. Having spent much of the last year trying to turn forty years' familiarity with French into an ability to speak it, I can't take such pipe dreams seriously anymore. But the flipping paid off. I learned that the 'g' in "Beyoğlu" - the adjacent neighborhood, known for its somewhat Bohemian sophistication - is silent, and I could surmise that the phrase inscribed on the carpets as we deboarded meant "Welcome."
What will daylight bring?
Our host arranged for a guided tour of Istanbul's three top sights yesterday: the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque. Our guide's English was not perfect, but we always knew what he was talking about, and it was clear that he had passed the tests required of professional ciceroni. We will certainly hire him again, if we can only foretell our free time a day in advance. There are complications with The Deal that, while not ominous, are going to keep us here an extra day.
My pictures of the interior of the the Blue Mosque, to which I shall henceforth refer by its proper name, the Sultanahmet Camii (see today's Turkish tip below), did not come out; something was wrong with the flash, and my hand is too unsteady for interior exposures in natural light. I'm sad about that, because it is one of the most beautiful spaces I've ever been in, a sea of Iznik tiles in various but harmonious patterns, mostly with a green or soft red background. In this regard it is quite different from the inside of Hagia Sophia, which has been configured to respect its successive uses, as Christian church and as mosque, and which is in any case about a thousand years older. The Sultanahmet Camii was built by the new conquerors of Constantinople in the early sixteenth century, deliberately to rival the older pile about a football field or two to the north. I was surprised by the beauty of the mosque, and by the gravity of the former church. It's hard to tell from photographs - which focus, of course, on the architectural feel of the space - that the walls of Hagia Sophia are covered with a severely understated arrangement of marble panels, many of them in symmetrical pairs that highlight unusual veining, in green and malachite tones. The riotous opulence of mosaic is confined to the domes, closer to the floor, the look is almost smart. For the first time, I could conceive of Hagia Sophia as a late-classical building. Ironically, and with no small thanks to the Sultanahmet Camii and all the other Ottoman mosques that drew inspiration from it, Hagia Sophia has never looked quite Christian to me.
Today's Turkish tip: almost all of the letters in the romanized Turkish alphabet are pronounced just as they are in English. The major exception is "c", which is pronounced like the "J" in John. The letters "ç" and "ş" are pronounced, unsurprisingly, as "ch" and "sh" respectively. The letter 'i' comes in two forms, dotted (in both cases) and undotted. The latter is, effectively, a "schwa," or toneless vowel. When I asked about the "yalı," a type of pleasure villa along the Bosphorus farther out of town, my host helped me out: the pronunciation is "yahla."
Topkapi Sarayi - now you know where "seraglio" comes from - is a collection of buildings dispersed over a broad, walled space. There is almost no sense of out-and-out grandeur here; clearly, anybody lucky to pass through the Sublime Porte (to which ambassadors were accredited in much the same way that, for all I know, they still are to the "Court of St James") would be feeling sufficient exhilaration and awe not to require architectural amplification. I hope to say more about how Topkapi and, say, Versailles tell us about very different notions of power and grandeur, because that's what interested me about the place, but for most visitors, of course, the galleries are the draw. About these I have little more to say than they have more to do with pots and pans and signs and symbols than they have to do with beauty. Well, perhaps not pots and pans - but the Ming bowls and gaudy jewels tell of a somewhat unreconstructed appreciation of loot, as for the portraits of the Sultans! That will have to wait until I'm out of Turkish jurisdiction. Perhaps because I'm reading Orhan Pamuk's Smoke, I was keenly aware that the many observant Muslim visitors - the women covered from head to toe in scarves, coats, skirts and stockings, especially - were looking at the displays with eyes very, very different from my own, and on two occasions I felt that I was intruding on religious experiences.
Sleeping continues to be a problem. I was asleep for most of the night (if you figure that "night" begins shortly after one in the morning), but I was up to hear the muezzin at (presumably) the nearby Dolmabahçe Camii calling the faithful to morning prayers; it was just past six and the sky was in the very first blush of rosy-fingered dawn. There was never a moment when a ship of some kind was not passing in one direction or another on the water below. Istanbul felt like the oldest city in the world.
This is part of the view from our room. As I had guessed, it is pretty much the same view that graces the cover of our copy of Istanbul, the Dorling-Kindersley Eyewitness Travel Guide. That photograph was clearly taken during the summer, and the lighting is much better. We're lucky to have sun at all, we're told. Shortly after sunrise this morning, a thick haze concealed almost everything terrestrial from view, but that has since burned off.
In the distance, you can just make out the minarets of the Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet Camii. Topkapi Palace lies on the slope between those monuments and the water. The body of water in the middle is technically, I believe, the Sea of Marmara, but it makes better sense to call it the junction of the Marmara (near the Old City in the background), the Bosphorus (in the foreground), and the Golden Horn (stretching off to the right). The Golden Horn, or Haliç, is a river separating the Old City from the former suburbs that have now grown into Istanbul's downtown. In a minute, I'll show you what the this looks like from Topkapi.
In the foreground is the Dolmabahçe Camii. It is no part of the adjacent palace, but its proper name is so inconveniently long that the nickname has become established. As its two minarets indicate, it was built by a family, in this case the wealthy Balyans. The old man with the money chose a young member of the family who nourished architectural ambitions to design the building, and nobody thinks very much of it. Here is the Blue Guide:
Nikoğos Balyan came at a bad time in the development in late Ottoman architecture and it is only with difficulty that one can admire any of his buildings. The great cartwheel arches of this mosque seem particularly disagreeable, but the two very slender Corinthian minarets, one at each end of the little palace-like structure that precedes the mosque, have a certain charm.
I happen to love those cartwheel arches. They look like the insides of a Victorian power plant, and the mosque's waterside siting brings waterwheels, not cartwheels, to mind. In short, I expect the Dolmabahçe Camii to sail off at any moment, steam puffing from the minarets and the windows rotating like a bicycle chain. I know I'm not supposed to think such things, but I'm help/hopeless.
Our central view, straight across the Bosphorus to Asia-side, is beyond my photographic competence. If we have a cloudy day, I'll try to take a shot or two (otherwise, I'm shooting into the sun), but I know that I'll never capture the point of such a picture, which is the sublime pleasure of lying in bed in the dark and watching ships of all sizes plough imperturbably across the scene.
Here is downtown Istanbul, seen from Topkapi.
Our hotel happens to be the large whitish building halfway up the hillside.
Seventh Century BC: Byzantium is founded by Greek colonists. "Reputedly."
320's CE: Constantine claims to be the the Roman Emperor. Following victory over a rival claimant, Constantine promulgates the toleration of Christianity. He summons a council of bishops to Nicaea (Iznik) to settle theological disputes, and although the settlement takes the better part of a century to achieve acceptance (and then only in the West), Roman Catholic orthodoxy comes to be dated from the formulation of the "Nicene" Creed. Meanwhile, Constantine shifts the Empire's capital from Rome, which has become contentious and peripheral (Milan will become a far more important Italian city in coming decades), to Byzantium, renaming the city after himself: The City of Constantine, or Constantinopolis - our "Constantinople."
537: Emperor Justinian consecrates the third, and more-or-less present, Church of the Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia.
1054: Christianity splits into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. There are several bones of contention, among them an Augustinian refinement of the Nicene Creed (the "filioque" clause - don't ask). Most important, perhaps, is the refusal of the Eastern bishops (who spoke Greek) to recognize the Bishop of Rome as Supreme Enchilada. The split leads to a cooling of relations between East and West that degenerates into fratricidal dislike under the stress of the Crusades.
1204: the Fourth Crusaders stop off in Constantinople on their way the Holy Land, but they never leave. Instead, they sack the city (Venice loots most of its choice Byzantine tidbits at this time) and establish a "Latin Empire," which lasts for almost sixty years. The rightful basileus sets up shop at nearby Iznik, but even after he's back in possession it's clear that the Eastern Empire faces a deadly threat in the advancing Ottoman Empire.
1453: Having eaten up the entire Byzantine Empire but for Constantinople itself, the Ottomans, led by Mehmet II, vanquish the city's Christian defenders; the last Emperor dies in battle. End of Constantinopolis, beginning of Istanbul. On the bright side, scholarly refugees pouring into Italy with their manuscripts give the burgeoning Renaissance a shot in the arm of steroidal impact.
Wishing to pay for my own lunch, I used my American Express card instead of charging it to the room. To calculate the tip, I had to look at the bill, and I was genuinely shocked to discover that a club sandwich and two martinis came to eighty-four lira. The new lira worth not quite a dollar, so - yikes. The secret is the way of making martinis here. It takes two of them to fill a perfectly ordinary martini glass, and each single costs twenty-one lira. This is a way, perhaps, of implementing the disapproval of the Prophet.
Intercontinental variations on the club sandwich never fail to amuse. The weirdest of all time will - I hope - be the version served at the Park Hyatt in Paris. It omits some of the key ingredients, which is bad enough, but to add fava beans and sprouts is strictly mad-scientist. So what I had downstairs was really quite agreeable by comparison. In addition to the meats and cheese, the sandwich was fashioned with curried fried egg whites. Not bad at all!
At a nearby table were two ladies of a certain age with appetites as big as mine if not bigger. They split a club sandwich and a chef's salad. They were Turkish, but I soon realized that they were speaking French. The number cinquante-cinquante-cinq came up more than a few times, and I'm sure that it had something to do with shopping. I do not think that either lady learned the language in France.
There's no getting around the feeling of being a guest here. It's not a feeling that I would ever have in Paris, Amsterdam or London; those cities feel too much like New York: like home. Sharing the local outlook, I don't worry about giving inadvertent offense - no more than I would in a Yorkville elevator. Here in Istanbul I'm not even tempted to presume that I know what the local outlook is. I know that, for all the sophistication and fond admiration for my home town that one encounters here, there are items on the agenda that I wouldn't know how to deal with. And I don't have to deal with them! But it is being on that footing that makes me watch what I say, even here. It's the classic writer's conflict: how to be frank about people who have let you into their home. It's not that being frank would land me in the soup, not yet. I'm very much in the preliminary puzzling out phase. But I feel like a guest. As in being a senior in college and spending a long weekend with at your girlfriends' parents' house - while the parents are there. I'm sure that hasn't changed much since my senior year.
I've been paying particular attention to the men I meet. Which is good, because it is not really possible to pay attention to the women. The two wives whom I've met were not nearly as proficient or as comfortable in English as their husbands, something that makes perfect sense in a society whose language is so radically different not only from English but from all the Indo-European languages. You learn English here because you have to, because it's a prerequisite of a given professional success. It also makes sense in a society so many of whose women are walking around all covered up. Women are relatively unlikely to be seen out and about. Kathleen noticed that a small group of women waiting at a bus stop were all turned away from the street. Turkey takes me back to a world in which "people" means "men" and "children" means "boys."
Not that any country, even the United States, even Nederland or the Scandinavian countries, has entirely and irreversibly dumped the two-tier system of gender worth. In the context of Islamic nations - and secular Turks would be all over me for putting their country in such a context - Turkey is a seriously and genuinely enlightened place. Its efforts at Western assimilation exceed those of all other Islamic sovereignties aside. It has worked furiously, if not always successfully, to bury its reputation for military brutality that made "Turk" a synonym for "bogey man" until after the First World War. If Orhan Pamuk's Smoke is reliable testimony, wife-beating is a serious, endemic problem.
But I was talking about men. The men whom I've gotten to talk to may be cheerful and even playful - playfulness, I think, is a sign of intelligence here - but they never set a certain conscientious gravity entirely aside. They seem burdened with a mild tristesse ("sadness" is too flat-footed for what I'm getting at), as if they had made a complete recovery from a truly awful personal experience but were both fearful about having to go through it all over again and too savvy to believe that they could keep a recurrence from happening. I'm concocting a gross generalization, I know, from a handful of examples quite imperfectly known, but then that's what we do.
If American men may be said to have a default mood of cheerfully assertive bonhomie, then I would venture that the default here is one of disciplined, not unsmiling melancholy.
I am having the best time reading your journals and think you should assemble them and send them to The New Yorker as "Istanbul Journals" or "Letters from Istanbul."
I second PPOQ. This particular cultural-gender study is fascinating. Are you sure you're not conjuring up a novel and that is actually "the deal?" Kathleen, are you in on this red herring? (kidding, kidding, but seriously, this is solid stuff)
I love this. It's interesting to hear Kathleen's perspective of this world, too, so please continue to include it whenever she's willing.
Our host and his colleagues took us out to dinner last night to a Kebab restaurant called Develi. There are three branches of this institution in Istanbul, but the original, founded in 1912, was in our host's home town, Gazi Antep, near the Turkish Riviera (which borders Syria). Walking into the restaurant, I knew at once, and with a sickening anxiety, that I was in for some authentic cuisine, and the fact that the table was already set with several mezeler (today's Turkish tip coming up) suggested that we were not going to order from the menu. I do have a menu, right here with me; I asked for one so that I'd be sure to get the spell the names of dishes properly. But before I describe any of the many fine platters that were presented to us, let me make it clear that toilers in the field of Turkish finance have nothing to learn from Wall Street cutups: our host and his friends were throwing down the gauntlet in a way that could not be sidestepped. We were all going to be dared - the six of us from Europe and America - to eat a bewildering array of things we'd never heard of.
Could they manage a decent martini?
DAMN, that sounds good. Goddamn.
I always said that the only good food in Germany was the Turkish food. But it sounds better in Turkey.
I love Turkish food but also, sadly, fear the nut-laden-ness of it, as I'm allergic. (Really. It's not some weird phobia. I loved nuts, but can't eat 'em.) The wife says that we should go there anyway and just get some nut-warning notices translated into the local language, like we did for Hungary.
Martinis? Don't even ask. I drank a six-pack of Efes Pilsner.
Imagine our surprise yesterday afternoon when, in response to something I said, our guide whipped his own special çiğ köfte recipe out of his wallet!
It was one of those overbooking things. Even though we knew that we'd be sightseeing and shopping in the afternoon, and getting ready for a launch party in the evening, we agreed with our friends from New York to tour Dolmabahçe Palace this morning. It's just down the hill from the hotel, and it doesn't look too big from the outside. After breakfast, though, Kathleen was feeling both queasy and tired, so she went back to bed. I told our friends that I'd meet them at ten if I wanted to keep our date, and not to wait for me if I didn't show. I was so discouraging that they didn't show, either. But I'm the one who got inside. I saw only the Selamlik, or "administrative," half of the palace, not the harem, so there's something to live for, but that was enough for one day. Dolmabahçe Palace is a monument to the decline of a regime.
Picture this: it's the 1850's, and France and England, allies for the first time in history, are going to bat for Turkey, against Russia's insolences and encroachments. (See "Crimean War.") Florence Nightingale is changing the face of medicine with her open windows and clean sheets, and the allies are mining a rich vein of rich marketing opportunities in their protégé, the Sultan. (O, the humiliation of it!) Just whose idea it was to move the Sublime Porte from Topkapi Sarayi to something more up-to-date, I can't say, but I can't believe that it was all the Sultan's own idea, because if it had been the Sultan's own idea, then the new palace would not have flaunted two Baccarat chandeliers (clocking in at one and two tons respectively) and an "Irish crystal" (Waterford?) number weighing four tons: the largest chandelier in creation. And the heaviest. The Sultan would probably not have dreamed up the tin-plate Trianon that would, in 1922, become the former home of the Sultans.
There are flashes of Great Western Power here and there at Dolmabahçe, but like most flashes they are illusions. The marble columns are trompe-l'oeil, the "crystal staircase" (more baccarat) has been successfully imitated, and possibly outclassed, by countless Vegas-style ritzodromes, and what ought to be the crowning glory of the building, the Ceremonial Hall - lighted by the yada yada largest chandelier in the world, it is rightfully the largest room in Europe, although of course it isn't. It is true that Dolmabahçe Palace was not built to be seen from Room 1252 of the Bosphorus Swissôtel, but our view nonetheless reveals an approach to architecture that, in calling it "theatrical," I mean that it is an affair of trick perspectives. The bulk of the two-storey palace is half the height of the pavilion housing the Ceremonial Hall, and before today's visit I concluded that the storeys in the ceremonial hall were simply twice as high, each, as those in the rest of the building. But for all intents and purposes there is only one storey in this central block. The Ceremonial Hall is a railway terminus, or, if you like, an old-fashioned plutocratic bank (and 55 Wall Street's hall is far larger). I will not say that the Hall is misshapen, but it is little more than a rather boxy public concourse. They did circumcisions here?
The grandeur at Dolmabahçe is undercut by the backstairs aspect of all the connective tissue. Corridors, schoolrooms, even the Sultan's "private" library in the Selamlik are all as musty as the home of a very old lady, and as soulless as the wards of an asylum. Indeed, these parts of the palace creak with the same Mitteleuropäisch doubt and déséspoir that "animate" (not the right word) Saul Steinberg's drawings. Radiators, loose doorframes, shaded windows and torn, aged upholstery recreate on the spot the interwar malaise of decayed nobility. The palace's problem is twofold. First of all, its contents and interiors would not be intrinsically valuable even if they were in top condition. It's true that tastes change, and someday the style Dolma may reign in cool cultural capitals. I looked at most of the objects in the cringe-making galleries with precisely that possibility in mind, searching for cues to the next big thing. But a craze for the look of this palace will require so many changes in contemporary outlook that I know I can't prefigure it. Second, the contents are not in top condition. Everything needs a freshening at least; a makeover would be more like it. With last year's eye-opening Costume Exhibit show in the Wrightsman Rooms at the Metropolitan Museum fresh in memory, I would suggest that well-executed mannequins frequent a few of the palace's rooms. But even they might tell us no more than that the Sultan and his family, already bound by the circumscribing kudzu of ritual and protocol, had also to endure Victorian stuffiness at its most expensive. Dolmabahçe Palace is in the end a mausoleum of respectability, an attempt to establish the Sultan as a genuine peer of Victoria and her German grandson. Given the fact that the women who lived in this house were never seen in the Selamlik rooms that I visited, but were confined to a harem, the attempt could never have been anything but doomed. Victorian parlors without ladies?
The exterior of Dolmabahçe Palace is actually rather pleasant, if seen from ground level as it was meant to be seen. The gravel walks along the Bosphorus, between façade and iron embankment, are perfect for a stroll in the morning sunlight. was agreeable in the extreme; I was ready to move in. The watergates are handsome, in a Pont Alexandre III way. But perhaps the garden's greatest asset, after a tour of the palace at least, is their access to fresh air.
Going to Dolmabahçe was a triumph in one way: I got there on my own. Walking down a hill and across the street is not a great accomplishment, but having been ferried, fed and coddled for several days now, I found a museum expedition that took me beyond the pale of spoken English to be an occasionally fearful challenge. In fact, I had expected to meet up with the other New Yorkers on this trip, but I never did, and they, for their part, no longer had the time for a guided tour by the time they found out that they had no choice. It gave us something to laugh about later.
Have loved the postings from Istanbul and the pictures are a source of envy -- one of those trips on the "some day..." list.
At the risk of appearing to turn up my nose at a large world-historical monument in favor of a small out-of-the-way masterpiece, I - wait. I am not going to say that, if I could only see one, I'd choose St Saviour over the Hagia Sophia. No, world-historical significance always trumps beauty on travels. I speak as a New Yorker: there is plenty of beauty at home. But there are no Hagia Sophias. End of discussion.
So I can say that St Saviour is much, much more beautiful than the Hagia Sophia. Because flashes are quite rightly not allowed, I asked Kathleen to take the pictures, but even she had trouble holding steady for the prolonged exposures. Still, we got one or two good shots.
What I'm calling "St Saviour" is properly known as the Koriye Camii. Like the Hagia Sophia, the Koriye has been deconsecrated, and is no longer a mosque. During its centuries of use as a mosque, mercifully, its magnificent frescoes and mosaics were covered over, not removed. The faces of angels on capitals in the narthex were chipped away, and two marble portal reliefs were rendered rather interesting in a contemporary way by dexterous chiseling, but when the authorities were persuaded to restore the building to its original splendor, what is probably the most beautiful Christian artifact in Istanbul was revealed. Why is it kept quiet? For several reasons. It's not easy to get to. (I'll be frank: if we hadn't had a driver and a guide, I'm not sure that I would have braved the trip to the Old City's outer walls.) Like the now-notorious Barnes in Merion, Pennsylvania, it could not accommodate crowds or the parking that crowds would require. But I'll let you know my real guess if I ever get to Ravenna.
Ravenna's mosaics may be intact, but St Saviour's are simply incredible. And whereas San Vitale trumpets the glory of Justinian, St Saviour is totally spiritual. St Saviour's decoration is also much more recent, dating back to the early fourteenth century. The church was attached to a monastery at the time, and the design of the mosaics at least is thought to have been the work of one man. Dating from the building's construction centuries earlier, however, is the same beautiful marble panelling that one finds at the Hagia Sophia. If the inverted pairs of stone panels (produced by cutting two slabs from the marble block and showing the cut sides en face) look like Rorschach tests, the impression is not altogether anachronistic, and they were meant to evoke devils, witches, and even forest scenes. This is an understatement of which I hadn't thought the late classical era capable.
Of the four parts of the church - outer narthex, inner narthex, nave and parecclesion, the last is the most extraordinary, and of all the images in this burial place the most extraordinary is the Anastasis, or Resurrection (shown above). An uncommonly muscular Christ tugs Adam and Eve from their graves with an energy that believers of the time must have found sublime. Another treasure among treasures is the miraculously preserved Dormition of the Virgin, a mosaic opposite the apse in the nave. The vitality of these Byzantine remains is a tribute to Ottoman respect for another culture's sense of beauty, however interdict. More material proof of that respect can be found in the painstakingly matched marbles of the apse's mihrab.
It was almost comical that the next religious edifice that I should encounter was the massive Nuruosmaniye Camii, an eighteenth-century mosque on the edge of the Grand Bazaar so clearly inspired by the Italian baroque that I found myself looking for statues in niches.
We hardly penetrated the Bazaar; we didn't have time for more than a cursory spin. This is not to say that purchases were not made however, or that prices were not haggled over by our guide (who was in fact the employee of a vast luxury-goods emporium the part owner of which was the father of one of our host's associates - you get the picture). Kathleen came away with a haul of scarves. She was, as always, discriminating but not dithering, and once she decided that instead of searching out just the right scarf for each of her friends she should simply buy would she liked and make allocations later, there was no stopping her. At the aforementioned emporium, our last stop for the day, we were offered a great many items at cost. I didn't know this until later, and I left the store ashamed that, after all that had been done for us, we hadn't done more in return. When I found out about the extent of the bargains, however, I decided that they must have been grateful that we didn't buy more.
Kathleen and our new grandmother were agog: here we were in a palace, not as museum visitors but as bone fide guests. Kathleen herself had a speaking role. It was a financial launch party at which about five hundred people, a few of them reporters but most of them exponents of Istanbul's financial elite. The buffets stretched for miles, and the jazz band was cool. The men were trim in their dark suits and conservative ties. The women were on the young side, very svelte, and - who knows what they did for day jobs. Everything was spruce.
But it was not a palace the way our ladies wanted it to be. Yes, Çirağan Palace was built by the Ottomans. Its first resident was murdered shortly after moving in, and his successor, having been hastily deposed, spent years of house arrest there. Then the palace burned down. For a century, it stood as a burnt-out hulk on the Bosphorus. Kempinski to the rescue! Building a nice new hotel tower right next door, the Kempinski people reconstructed the palace, adding a few lively touches, to serve its banqueting needs. Kathleen had an interview with Hürriyet, Turkey's major newspaper, in the hamam, which, being stone, survived the fire - it was one of the few small, quiet rooms in the place - and she told me that it's very fine. But the grand reception halls probably wouldn't look much different if a good architect had started from scratch, and, needless to say, the ballroom in which the party was located did not replicate an original configuration. Çirağan Palace Hotel Kempinski is, after all, just another palace hotel.
A big hug of thanks to everyone who has been visiting the Daily Blague since I stopped blogging last week. While I've been posting from Istanbul, blogging is more than the publication of one's travel diary. If our room had an Ethernet connection, I might have spent somewhat more time checking out other blogs, posting comments, weighing in on the news (of which I've seen hardly anything here - not that I'm complaining about the respite), looking for cheap entertainment, and so on. Perhaps. There hasn't really been a lot of time. Our new grandmother, having checked out her husband's picture in yesterday's last post, asked me where I found the time to write "all that." Writing, though, is never a problem; I find that I can write in little cracks and crannies of time, so long as I can stretch out from time to time. But uploading requires visits to the Business Center. Now, the Business Center is as nice as it can be, but it still feels like detention. (Do they still have detention? I fear not.) I make notes of what I've got to do while I'm there (a list of images to upload, for example), because I can't really think in an oddly shaped room (and Business Centers are always fashioned from odds and ends of square footage) with other people coming and going (I can't even write clearly when Kathleen is at home and not asleep) and gentlemen of my age whining to perky staff members about being unable to print documents. When I visit the Business Center, it's in Private Secretary mode, following a written plan. Efficient private secretaries don't blog. They don't even thank commenters.
So: a big thanks.
Here is a picture of an apartment building on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu. (It has probably been given over to offices these days.) Assuming that you can make it out, does the name over the door seem hard to read? If it does, then let me tell you that you already know how say it, for it is simply the Turkish transliteration of Louvre. When this building was erected, Istanbul was in a very French mood, and Istiklal Caddesi, then known as Grande Rue de Pera, was the heart of the cosmopolitan city. Pera, as the hilly suburb across the Golden Horn from Constantinople had been known since Italians arrived in the Middle Ages, remained the foreigners' quarter through the Ottoman period, and when the new Republic legalized liquor and outlawed the fez, it quickly became a center for artists and intellectuals, and their irregular modes of life. Pera already looked something like Paris.
As Turkey's liberal elite has pushed the country toward Europe, Beyoğlu has begun a renewal that will no doubt make it the most desirable old neighborhood in the city within twenty years. As I say, it already looks like Paris, and like the many swatches of European cities that also look like Paris. It does not, as more recent developments do, look like the United States. Aside from the Galata Tower, built centuries ago by the Genoese and raised higher by the Ottomans, there are no tall buildings. And the spirit of the neighborhood, from the Galata Bridge to Taksim Square, is tolerant and secular.
We spent several hours on Istiklal Street yesterday, once again guided by Akif Karakoç, who shepherded us last Sunday (Mosques and Museums, below). Afterwards, we flew in and out of Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, which was closing, and then we went shopping at a place opposite the Sultanahmet Camii that sells new pottery made in traditional styles (they haven't got the Iznik red down yet, I'm afraid). And the traffic on the way back to the hotel was brutal; I was ready to get out and walk. It is possible that my memory of the day will cleave in two, with our promenade down Istiklal Caddesi standing alone.
It was a relaxed walk. We made two refreshment stops, both on the impromptu, during which we got to know Akif a little better. We dropped into Robinson Crusoe, one of the several Beyoğlu bookstores that specializes in books in English; here I found two Turkish histories that I hope will round out my education, but I what I was really looking for was the original text of Orhan Pamuk's Snow, and happily that was available as well. We ploughed through an art gallery where the displays consisted of placards detailing the Armenian presence in various Turkish cities before the First World War; we have gotten to know the collector whose old postcards formed an illustrative counterpoint to the statistics. The gallery was full, suggesting that the Armenian issue is anything but dead, especially now that Turkey is presenting its best self to Europe. (I am not going to discuss the matter here.) We went into Sant Antuan's Church, and saw that imitation Gothic is no better here than it is at home. I took a lot of pictures that now seem roughly identical, not only to one another but to snaps that I've taken in other European cities.
It is possible, in Istiklal Caddesi, to forget that there are Islamists in Turkey who want no part of Europe. Reading about them in Snow, I feel that I'm in on a secret that tourists aren't supposed to know, and, frankly, it is not the sort of secret that adds a frisson of pleasure of my visit. I come from a country that is also full of people who want no part of Europe. "Europe" here means not the millions of people who live in the European Union but an idea of civilization that artists and intellectuals - also feared and disliked by Red State Americas and Islamists alike - have been polishing, on the bourgeoisie's dime, for about three hundred years. Istiklal Caddesi is an embodiment of this idea of Europe, built on the hope that looking like Paris will induce forward-looking thought. Manhattan, while less overtly Parisian, is also an embodiment of this hope.
But to move forward, one must leave some things behind, religious practices among them. What major religion today countenances the sacrifice of animals? What major religion of the next century will countenance the disparagement of women? In Istiklal Caddesi, one walks from one of these vantages toward the other. Most of the time, the transformation occurs slowly and incrementally, as one by one the old folks die off and take their ways with them. But the world is perhaps too self-conscious, or self-aware, for that now. Every minute alteration is reported in the news as the stuff of sensation. In moving toward the idea of Europe - which, if Turkey is admitted to the EU, Turks will inevitably alter - the people in Istiklal Street are being asked to consider what it is about being Turkish that they might be asked to give up. Half a millennium ago, "Turk" and "European" formed a virtual dichotomy; no man could be both. If Mr Pamuk's novels are an indication, there are sophisticated Turks who have cobbled out a truce between their ethnos and their yearning to belong to the wider human community. There are others who have tried and failed, but merely having tried dooms these unfortunates to life as the walking wounded. There are others - how many? how influential? - who would rather die than try, who might rather see the world come to an end than allow the victory (however temporary, however guaranteed the catastrophe of Armageddon) of "Europe." Things are much the same at home.
The photographer in me could see Istiklal's many charms. But what I saw was the fragility of earthly hopefulness.
As a Turk and a colleague of Mr. Lane's, I'm reading your memoirs with great pleasure. Keep up your wonderful work!
Dolmabahçe Palace closed today: holiday. (Oh, really?) Notwithstanding his automatic weapon, the boyish guard was very happy to take our picture with our cameras.
Left to right: the new grandparents, Bob and Donna Tull; the author; and the Spider Woman of Wall Street. I assure that I wouldn't look so grim if I could raise my head to level.
Is this the end of our Dolmabahçe saga? Will Donna get to see the fabled Ceremonial Hall? Bob and Kathleen won't; they're working tomorrow ("Palace open tomorrow," the nice guard murmured.).
Curious about why we're all here? Well, this ought to make everything crystal clear.
Well, my Turkish is a bit rusty BUT it would seem that the Spider Woman has struck again, and that she has masterminded an exchange traded fund for 20 of Turkey's I presume best companies. And it starts trading tomorrow, Friday the 14th.
At this time tomorrow, we will be at Atatürk Airport, getting ready to board a BA flight to London on our way home. (There is a direct flight, on Delta.) With good fortune behind us, we will arrive in New York late Saturday night, thanks to Martin Luther King Day (Monday), we'll still have a weekend in which to decompress. I'll need it. I feel like a python who has just swallowed an elephant. I have too many impressions and experiences to digest to absorb any more. I hope to be back some day with an empty stomach.
Our weather has been lucky. Morning fogs have burned off into sunny days, and there has not been a drop of precipitation. The air has been cool to cold, but not bitter. Pressing our luck would be foolish; snow is actually expected to fall over the weekend. And the fog has been thicker every day. For more than a day, no large ships have passed through the Bosphorus. This morning, we cannot even see the rooftops of Dolmabahçe Palace, and I worry that we might be fogged in tomorrow. Fog defeats the purpose of tourism.
It's time to see my doctors. For some time now, I've been suffering from rhinitis and from nasty itchy rashes that I, for lack of evidence to the contrary, attribute to my wonder drug, Remicade. After all, Remicade is supposed to weaken my immune system; what's more, it's still somewhat experimental. I want my doctors, each of whom treats either a piece of the core immunicological diseases or a (my opinion) side-effect, to have a confab. Yesterday, the latest rash took off, and, at Kathleen's insistence, I called the dermatologist in New York. He was certainly concerned, and he assured me that he would authorize a local pharmacist to give me Cipro and Tetracycline. This turned out not to be necessary; a call to the concierge brought a bellboy to the room within ten minutes, drugs in hand. It's too early to tell if the medication is working, but I think that it is. Nevertheless, I'd rather be a little closer to Dr Kline's office.
Finally, I'm eager to begin the overhaul of our household that I've been meditating for the better part of a year. As someone who lives and works in the same place, I've always had to make compromises between the kitchen-and-linens part of the house (a small two-bedroom apartment) and the library part. Because Kathleen and I have a number pictures that we think are interesting, bookshelf space is never what it might be. Because the room in which I do most of my work has until recently served as a guest room, I've had to juggle my projects and make room for a pull-out couch where I'd really like to have a book table. But the compromises have never difficult to live with, because I've never been more committed to one side of my life than I've been to the other.
That has changed. I have become fortunate enough to live and work at the same time, and my outlook is as simple as a yeast spore's. My sustenance is the interesting world around me, my digestive system is my library and what little learning it has produced, and my product is this chain of postings. Now I've got to reconfigure our apartment to suit this astonishing new simplicity.
And then there's Brahms's Opus 26, the second of his piano quartets. This has been much in my mind, or in my mind's ears, since a new recording arrived in the middle of December, and I'm tired of "hearing" it in silence.
RJ - I have loved every one of your postings from Istanbul; you've been the next best thing to being there but I know how it is to be far away from home and have health concerns, so travel safely and I'll look forward to reflections on a digested elephant.
Many thanks, Flather, for your kind words. I promise to elicit at least a paragraph from Kathleen about her experiences here, insofar as she can discuss them!
She does tell me that today's launch of the DJIST, Turkey's first Exchange-Traded Fund, has been a roaring success, and that her clients are very happy indeed.
Have a nice trip home! It's been a great privilege to meet you, a person with "gigantic" (you know what I mean) intellectual capacity and the ability to use it. Zafer...
I've loved the daily diary from Istabul. This weekend we are at Ellen E's house in New Hampshire skiing so I showed her the photo's from several of your posting and she loved them.
Safe trip to you both and take care of your health.
We are home safe, and we are savoring a remarkable trip even though it's now five o'clock in the morning where we got up. Or is it six?
If it weren't for airports, I'd travel a lot more. We were on the road for sixteen or seventeen hours yesterday, airports included; we may, in fact, have spent more time in airports than we did in the air. In Istanbul, we were taken aside after check-in so that our bags could be examined. The inspection was cursory, and we didn't even ask what prompted it. We had plenty of time; you might say that it gave us something to do. Heathrow wasn't too bad; aside from the usual connecting-flight security check in Terminal 1, it was smooth sailing. It was here that Kathleen sprung a nice little surprise on me. We were heading for the Admiral's Club in Terminal 3 (from which American Airlines operates) when Kathleen diverted me to the Flagship Club. Encouraged by her hairdresser of all people, she had upgraded from the Business Class seats that had been provided to First Class. For all her travels over the years, Kathleen had never been in First Class before, and I'd only been in First once. It was a very nice treat, but First Class still involves flying, and our flight was pretty bumpy just beyond Ireland and over Nova Scotia. Because of headwinds, our ground speed was about 420 MPH, and it took about a week to approach and leave the neighborhood of Halifax. JFK was near-nightmare, partly because I was feeling sick and partly because American's terminal there is under complete reconstruction, and the International Arrivals/Customs and Immigration complex is a maze of poorly-lighted corridors.
It's great to have all of that behind me.
I don't like to wait at airports either, and I don't like to fly, especially in second class. JFK is really in need of a good refurbishing! Thanks for your posts on Istanbul, very interesting.
JR: By "second class," do you mean "economy" (i.e., third class)?
I have always been astounded by how disorienting and awful arriving at JFK from overseas is, though I haven't arrived there in a number of years. I must admit, much to my shock, that the INS processing at Atlanta is the smoothest I've ever seen in the US.
Yes I'm wrong, "second class" is for trains here in France, the right word is "economy", you know, the sardine tin class!
Welcome home, and thanks for a fascinating travelogue - now I must needs seek out "Topkapi!" for another viewing...
Anyone interested in reading all the Istanbul postings together need only click on the "Istanbul 2005" entry in the Categories index, lower left-hand column. For a Permalink, simply copy the following link into an email and tell all your friends! (Istanbul 2005) This miscellany will be the last of them.
¶ As the picture above suggests, it got pretty hazy in Istanbul. This happens in the winter, but during our visit the haze got so thick that the Bosphorus was closed for two or three days. (For an oil tanker, that's sixty to seventy thousand dollars in added shipping costs per day.) There were said to be about two hundred ships, either in the Sea of Marmara or the Black Sea, unable to get through.
¶ The traffic in Central Istanbul is pretty bad. Public transportation, where there is any, reminds me of Houston: it's for folks without options. There's an ambitious Metro program underway, but where routes parallel existing roads the construction is making traffic worse in the short run. Happily, there's nothing to compete, in the Old City (Sultanahmet, Topkapi, Bazaar), with the famous sites themselves, and the traffic there is all tourist vans and buses.
¶ When I read of the "Nine Hills" of Constantinople, I thought that it was just a bit of copy-catting after Rome. Ha! Istanbul is all hills, and sometimes hills big enough to be thought of us mountains. In this regard, it is the opposite of (largely) level Paris, New York, or London. Think San Francisco. Think San Francisco on a rather larger scale. (The population of the city's metropolitan area is about the same as that of New York.) Istiklal Street probably got to be the street that it is because it's fairly flat.
¶ Don't even think of traveling far from your hotel without someone who speaks Turkish, at least the first time, unless you're the sort of person who, without any Chinese, can take on Beijing by yourself. French is not the second language that I had hoped it would be; everybody's too busy learning a few words of English.
¶ Extraordinary restaurants come and go these days, and G by Karaf, the most incredible fish restaurant that I've ever been to, is so extraordinary that, well, it's Web site isn't working, and its chef may move to Tokyo or Los Angeles or some other city where top dollar is paid for the best in fish. (New York, I'm sure, would be too cold not to be too distant from freshissimo supplies.) But it's still there, in Ortaköy, just beneath the Bosphorus Bridge, and it ought to be on every gourmet's itinerary. I don't have a menu to refer to; I didn't even see cards, and if it hadn't been for Kathleen's coat check, which I do have, I wouldn't know about the phantom Web site. Dinner was prearranged by our host, Zefar Onat (who is twice as brilliant as he says I am), and it consisted of nothing but fish. No vegetables, no salads, no-nothing-but-fish. The repast was in two parts, first, a series of mezeler - although that seems too casual a word for the surprising creations that poured out of the kitchen. Who knew that smoked tuna would taste like anchovy? Really good anchovy? (If you've only had tinned, no sniffing!) I can't even remember what most of the morsels were, partly because of the artful presentation, but mostly because although they were all delicious in the extreme, the second part of the meal blasted every other thought to the moon. It was a grouper, roast in a salt crust and then flamed. The flesh as it was served seemed like no other fish that I've ever seen. It looked something like pulled pork, but was as tender as scrambled eggs. It managed to be both light and complex at the same time, and I wish I'd had room for more of it. G by Karaf's coat check announces "Extreme Seafood." That's rather off-putting, I think. I'd settle for extraordinary: for once, it fits.
¶ Where, in the Northern Hemisphere, is this not the case: they say that April and May are the loveliest times to visit.
Great travel blog. Love the photos and commentary. I've always wanted to travel to Turkey, not least because I had to study Islamic History for my A-Levels.
Raw lamb! I was in London before I met you that time in New York, and was at dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. The cold mezes (mezeler??) included "raw lamb", and feeling particularly adventurous, I ordered it. Oh well, it didn't look that great (a bowl-shaped lump of finely minced eat of seemingly indeterminate origin upturned onto a white plate didn't make for great visuals). Poor Omar (remember him?) had to sample it as well. It tasted ok actually.
--- Su Ling (2005.03.28)
While I was surfing, I suddenly wanted to type my restaurants name and wanted to see if there is anything regarding G by Karaf and luckly found this page. You can not imagine how nice it is to read such good commands about something that you've created. To be a nice memory in somebodies life is also a wonderful feeling. I wanted to thank you for liking us.
Gül Etker Demirer
(G of the restaurant)(2005.04.07)
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