Sultan’s window, Topkapi Palace
Please come in. Pull up your chair. Yes, sit here beside us. What can I offer you? Coffee?
Do come in, help yourself to the baklava.
When I go places, I try not to think about how it will be in advance, and conjure an idea of a place before I’m even there. I try to leave my mind open and get to know a place the way it really is, discover its ways and let it surprise me. I could not do this with Istanbul.
Ist- an-bul. Etc. How musical and magical it sounds. She’s always captured my imagination; I’ve always felt drawn to her. My grandmother’s stories featured Ottoman Turks. Books, stories I’ve read as a child also. ‘Carigrad’ – the Emperor’s city, in Croatian.
Lamp, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art
When I finally got to go, my excitement was immense.
We arrived in Istanbul one late afternoon in early July 2010. I saw its concrete towers and elegant minarets through the haze of the afternoon sun. This haze seemed never to lift. It was always somewhere in the distance, except on the days when the rain cleared it. Like one would wipe a window glass clean with a moist cloth.
We boarded a light railway at the airport, and then changed to the tram, cool, new, air-conditioned, which took us to our destination in the city, meandering through many suburbs, through streets, under road bridges, amongst tall buildings and shops. Rivers of humanity spilling in and out of vehicle – decanting from train to street and vice versa. The tram was slightly crowded, but not unpleasant.
I needn’t have worried about bringing sensible, sombre clothes. There were girls in shorter skirts than any that I owned. To be fair, they looked better in them, too. One of them tall with narrow shoulders and long limbs, a laptop bag across her chest. She had long dark wavy hair and large eyes. White T-shirt and light orange mini skirt. Not what everyone would call a beauty, but certainly attractive, calmly confident and with an air of intelligence. She was standing next to a bald man with a moustache, of about 50 to 60 years of age; a woman was sitting in next to them. They were talking with familiarity, though not intimacy. Hard to say whether they really were, but I imagined they might be related. I’m not sure why I remember them. Perhaps because they looked at the girl with interest, and perhaps a hint of admiration. She certainly looked like a girl one might admire. An epitome of youth, clever. Not showy, but perhaps knowing her worth.
I remember we passed shops, schools, mosques, ruins of the old city walls. More shops, cafes, restaurants, and then we were at our destination – Sultanahmet. The Old City, the centre of the old imperial Istanbul.
View of Sultanahment from Uskudar, in Asian Istanbul
To be continued…