December 14, 2010
by Joy E. Stocke
Photo by Joy E. Stocke
(Editor’s Note: Istanbul was chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2010. The Galata Bridge separates the European Side iof istanbul from the Asian or Anatolian side.)
There you are and there it is: Sunset fast approaching.
You are outside Istanbul’s Egyptian Spice Bazaar, part of a crowd of people rearranging packages of Antep pepper, cumin, coffee; sipping glasses of tea, talking on cell phones as you pass through a swirl of more than a hundred pigeons who fight greedily for scraps of bread.
In front of you, Eminönü Station where the ferries line up and bellow a deep collective moan. Rust-covered chains lower gangplanks for the rush hour crowd heading up the Bosphorus past the Sea of Marmara to Üsküdar, Hydarpasa and Kadikoy on the Asian side.
Ahead, your destination, the Galata Bridge, the so-called Milky Way that spans the base of the Golden Horn from Eminonu to the suburb of Galata. Galaktos means milk in Greek and the word Bosphorus means cow ford, and you are about to watch the sun set aflame the estuary known as the cow’s Golden Horn.
The name Istanbul is also said to come from the Greek, “eis tin Polis”; simply, “to the City.” A city of hills surrounded by water intermingling in the Bosphorus Channel – the heavy saline Sea of Marmara, son of the Aegean; and the less salty Black Sea, daughter of the Caucasus.
Below the Golden Horn, at the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara, construction is underway to build the world’s deepest underwater tunnel. There, engineers discovered a gravesite that pushes the city’s first inhabitants back to the 7th millennium when agriculture spread from Anatolia – as Turkey is also called – to the Balkans. The excavation has uncovered pottery fragments, shells, horse skulls, and human remains in fetal positions, poised for rebirth.
And the Golden Horn spanned by the Galata Bridge whose metal steps you are now climbing, gives definition to a city that seems to float on water. Formed by the sweet water of two underground springs flowing toward the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn has protected ships for the Byzantines, Venetians, Genoese, Ottomans; an estuary rich enough to provide nutrients for many species of fish including gray mullet sold in the markets along the its banks.
Water flowing in currents, people flowing in currents, boys selling rings of sesame-topped bread called simits. Along the bridge’s railed expanse, vendors grill mussels and chewy corn on the cob. Girls in peg-leg jeans, some in headscarves, and boys in black T-shirts flirt and tease and tap at the keyboards of their cell phones. Men, young and old in caps with their buckets of bait rest fishing poles against the railing and wait.
Flash of gold, flush of honey over the suburbs that fan out from the Golden Horn in a maze of streets and brick and stone and mortar: Fener, Balat, Galata.
Cries of sea gulls, rocking of pleasure boats, a reddening as if the horn is lit from within. You look up when the muezzin’s call to prayer rises from the minaret of the Süleymaniye Mosque, tinny, distorted, la il’allalh ilallalh – there is no god, but god.
The sun drops, flamingo-red, burning through the atmosphere. Fire meets water and the whole lot of you – commuters, sightseers, fishermen, lovers – breathe in the golden air, breathe in the scent of diesel, brine, muck, fruit blossoms, yeast.
A ferry pulls away from the dock and you think about a Phoenician maiden called Europe who fell in love with a bull; how, on his back he carried her and her culture across the water from Asia Minor to the continent that would bear her name.
There you are. And there it is: Impossible to grasp.
Darkness gathers and with your heart full of wonder you cross the bridge to Galata to a taverna where a beloved friend waits in candlelight at a table on the crescent edge of the Golden Horn.
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October 20, 2009
by Joy E. Stocke
It’s been a few years since West Coast Editor, Angie Brenner, and I have “sailed” toward Byzantium. Friends have gone back and forth, moved there – particularly to Istanbul, or what our Greek friends call (Byzantine ) Constantinople And so, we’ve kept in touch and up to date on the latest news.
The city rests just within our minds’ eyes - Europe/Asia – separated by the Bosphorus. We stand on the Galata Bridge – the bridge of milk (Gala is the Greek word for milk.) spanning the Bosphorus (the word Bosphorus (again Greek) means “cow crossing” metaphorically and literally ) – the great leap of faith from Asia toward Europe and back again – the mythical bull of Mesopotamia leaping and playing on the seas of our minds.
So, stay tuned – we shall surely travel from the lofty to the mundane, especially after our first few rakis – the national drink of Turkey. But is seems appropriate to start our journey with words of the poet, William Butler Yeats:
SAILING TO BYZANTIUM
THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
Joy E. Stocke is editor in chief of Wild River Review. Her book, Anatolian Days and Nights, co-written with Angie Brenner, and based on the travels in Turkey will be published in 2010.
November 10, 2008
by David Rago
I visited a traditional Turkish bath, or haman, on a recent trip to Istanbul mostly because of the relentless prodding of my wife. She had gone the night before to a 400 year old “spa” just behind the Aya Sophia. It was her inability to say she actually enjoyed the experience, and her desire to do it again, one night later, that most aroused my curiosity.
Hamams, or at least this one, aren’t very much like the spas we’re used to back in the States, which was immediately evidenced by the cluster of men sitting in the waiting area smoking cigarettes. No Four Seasons mint-scented icy towels women shuffling quietly in white outfits, the gentle trickle of a faux waterfall, or even the soothing strains of the Sirius Radio Spa Channel. Just some brusque locals smoking Turkish tobacco.
Directed upstairs to the men’s “dressing room”, I was met by a brooding gentleman I’ll call Kemal. Kemal’s job consisted of mostly rising halfway from his iron stool and, with a nodding grunt, indicating the location of my “dressing room.” It was quite clear that Kemal was not being underemployed this incarnation.
I keep using quotation marks around the words “dressing room” because it more resembled a tiny cell for a prisoner who’d been very bad. There were a few hooks to hang my stuff, a tiny bed made of a sheet of plywood and a layer of padding the thickness of a slice of ham, and a room-sized window through which Kemal, hunched on his stool, could watch me undress. Sitting on the bed with my back to one wall, my knees nearly touched the other. I wrapped myself in a paper thin cloth towel with a surfeit of faded stripes which looked strikingly like the flag of one of the Caribbean islands.
Walking down the stairs to the main floor, I realized that for an Islamic country, I was scantily clad in the main foyer through which people of both sexes waited, some still smoking cigarettes. I was shortly directed through an old, large, brown door into an antechamber where I was met by a skinny, elderly, bearded man in faded jeans and even more faded plaid shirt. It took a moment or two before I was certain he wasn’t the panhandler who’d accosted me earlier that evening in the Hippodrome. He appraised me for a few seconds before pointing left saying “Toilet!”, and pointed right saying “Heat!” He turned away and disappeared. Since he said “Toilet!” first, I moved to my left.
In a flash of insight and premonition I thought emptying my bladder was a pretty good idea and then showered off because, well, it seemed like it was better to err on the side of conservative. I then moved towards the Heat!
To be continued…
David Rago is a founding partner of Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey. He appears as an appraiser on the popular PBS series, Antiques Roadshow.
October 20, 2008
By Angie Brenner
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry, Santa Anas that comes down through the mountain passes and curls your hair and makes your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks. Anything can happen.”
- Raymond Chandler
The winds have finally stilled this morning. For five days they blew, relentlessly, from the east. They are the dreaded desert winds that form in the cold California deserts between October and March and clear pollution and more often fan fiery flames. In France, they are the Mistral; Italy has the Sirocco winds and Egypt the Khamsin. Australia is more straightforward and simply calls them The Desert Winds. A natural phenomena that we learn to live with, or do we?
With air humidity in single digits, skin dries, it seems, from the inside out. I only have to look at a piece of paper caught in the air and watch the edges curl and brown to understand how moisture is sucked slowly out of my pores. Fingers and feet crack and bleed, noses can be blown with a chisel, hair crackles with electricity. There’s not enough Lubriderm in the world to soothe the skin during a full Santa Ana.
The wind whips the oak branches and scrapes against the roof keeping sleep at bay – day after day. This unceasing monster is what must have helped to create myths of underworld spirits. By day three, I felt like the goddess Medea ready for revenge and death. My hair wildly unmanageable, every face crease deepened, REM sleep deprived, I could only throw covers over my head – my version of the underworld – and wait out the beast. I’ve read accounts of people experiencing the 1930s dust bowl and never being the same. These witchy winds carry positive ions that cause and enhance depression, anxiety, and exhaustion.
On day four I thought I was dying. My stomach churned, head pounded, chest burned and clenched. Earlier, I was asked whether the wind drove me crazy because of the eminent, and very real, threat of fires. I passed it off. “No,” I said. “I really don’t think about this unless it actually happens.” I’m not one to worry in advance. But at 11:00pm, I searched the Internet for clues as to my remarkable, unpredictable condition. Indigestion? Heartburn? These seemed unlikely considering my bland diet of yogurt and soup that day.
Then there was the word that popped up as a possible cause to my symptoms: stress. Maybe I wasn’t so immune to anticipated disaster as I thought. After several evacuations from my home during past Santa Ana wind fires, and watching friend’s and neighbor’s homes burn to the ground, perhaps my subconscious is more in tune with reality than my mind.
When everything around you is crashing and blowing, denial is often a lovely place in which to dwell. Yet, my body is asking for more out of me. Perhaps it is time to get together my emergency disaster kit – just in case. Maybe being prepared for the worst would calm unknown fears that harbor in the body. And maybe, I need to high-tail it to the Pacific Coast for a quick dose of negative ions.
Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for Wild River Review. She is completing a book about Turkey where she finds relief in the local hamams.
The Steamy Side of Istanbul
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