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Thursday, January 05, 2006


Not Constantinople

How do I love thee, Istanbul? Let me count the ways:

Shopping: The Producer and I started coming here in 1992, when it was a little rougher around the edges. Of course, I hadn't been to India or Cairo then, so I didn't know what aggressive touts were, but the carpet dealers in those days had to be beaten off with sticks. Now they greet you pleasantly and accept "No" as your final answer. Anyway, we've stocked up already on carpets (in fact, I bought my first carpets in Turkey), tiles, evil eyes, ceramics and all the other crap on offer. The Grand Bazaar doesn't appeal to me so much anymore. Besides, most of the carpets sold here now are garbage from Iran.

Now, I love Istanbul for its malls. Silvery, bright-white, multi-level malls with shops that sell things I want to buy. I took the subway out to two different malls and I never even saw the what their surrounding neighborhoods look like. They could have been among high-rises or slums. I didn't need the distraction, so I didn't bother to look. The atmosphere was like every other mall you've ever been in, with Starbucks and the food court and hundreds of shoe stores. You don't appreciate a decent mall until you need a winter coat unadorned by rhinestones or dog fur.

Quiet: Turks don't use their horns to communicate their animal urges while behind the wheel. The Producer and I stood beside a busy road in the central city and marveled at how quiet it was. We even got sloppy in crossing the streets, since drivers appear to mostly submit to the authority of traffic lights. I attribute part of this to the fact that a greater proportion of drivers are women. Women sometimes even sit in the front seat and in no way appear to be whores. Women smoke too, with no obvious shame brought to their families, either.


Aya Sofia: No matter how many times I go in it, the Aya Sofia never fails to take my breath away. It's always spider webbed with some manner of scaffolding, but even this doesn't detract much from the interior of one of the world's great buildings.

aya sofia 2

aya sofia 1

Fish: Whether it's a 2TL Balik-Ekmek under the Galata Bridge or a full meal at the Fish Bazaar, you can enjoy fish that doesn't set off metal detectors or taste like petroleum.

fishmarket 2

Istikal Caddesi: This kilometer-long pedestrian street is the cultural heart of modern Istanbul. All manner of people cruise up and down (by "all manner" I mean "people with more than two Lira to rub together,") shopping, eating, drinking, listening to live music, looking at art galleries, browsing bookstores (they have these here!!), drinking coffee and people watching. New Years Eve here was a madhouse, with throngs of thousands of all ages. It's especially gratifying to see men and women interacting normally, to see groups of women in bars (who are not, obviously, whores) and see women sitting alone in cafes, reading books or drinking coffee.

Istanbul rocks.

blue mosque

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