Up until last Thursday, I was traveling with three dear friends. We had a great time together, got along unbelievably well. We called ourselves the Zuiderdam Dykes, after the HollandAmerica cruise ship we were on. Here's Bobbi, Cecelia and Judy -- the ZuiderDykyes -- in a cafe in Venice.
But they all went home last Thursday,so I've been on my own in Istanbul. Emre, who manages the condo/hotel I'm staying in, just told me that the four of us were very "popular" on the block! This is a tiny street where a lot of people hang out. He says people were always asking him how the "omas" were doing. I'm the only oma left. It seems I've reached the point in my life where just being alive and moving around endears me to people.
Last night I dreamed about all the ZuiderDykes. We were flying around together, like birds in the air -- the only medium we HAVEN'T traveled together on!
Yesterday I spent hours in the pouring rain trying to track down the two lesbian places in Istanbul, a bar and a cafe. It's not easy in these warrens of tiny streets, where there sometimes are no street signs and streets change their names every block. Anyhow, I succeeded in finding both places. They're both out of business. Oh well. Today the weather is better.
Today I got a very late start. Talked long with Emre, about the political situation here. For those who don't follow the news, a peace demonstration in Ankara, the capital, was disrupted by two bombs that killed 100 people and injured 200 more. The demonstrators were gathering to demand that the Turkish government stop bombing the Kurds. The Turkish people are devastated and grieving, although it's not something I can observe unless I talk with people.
I've talked to several people besides Emre. I try to understand. It's so complicated. One Kurdish man, who was our guide at Aya Sophia, said the current president of Turkey, Erdogan,who has chosen to bomb the Kurds, is the Kurd's FRIEND. He said, "It's really the U.S. that's bombing the Kurds!" Remember, Istanbul IS the former capital of the Byzantine empire, which gave its NAME to convoluted politics. I see that confusion is very bad for democracy. At least in the U.S., I have some understanding of what's going on. The Republicans are evil and insane and the Democrats need quite a bit more backbone and we need more political voices on the left -- my brief analysis. This understanding allows me to hope and engage in the political process.
Liberals see the Ankara bombing, which is the worst terrorist act in Turkish history, as another excuse for President Erdogan to tighten his grip. They've got an early election that Erdogan called on Nov. 1, and Erdogan is now calling everyone to rally around him, so Turkey can have solidarity against "the enemy." But who IS the enemy? Many think the greatest threat is Erdogan himself, and they don't put it past him to have arranged/encouraged the bombing. In any case, he has created an atmosphere of division and hatred for the "other." This is a country that shares borders with Russia and Syria, among others. However difficult things are in the U.S., it is so much more difficult here. Very shameful to think of our contributions to the current mess -- the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq -- which have such huge consequences for all the countries of the region, and a very indirect effect on us in our giant rich country surrounded by ocean and two friendly nations.
I have no sense of the politial turmoil here, just from walking around. People are jolly, enjoying life. Everything seems OK, and people are very friendly. I've definitely fallen in love with Istanbul. There was a demonstration here, which I only saw pictures of in the paper. I don't think I'm brave enough to seek out any protests. My friend Laura says I shouldn't feel guilty about being a good tourist. She says that, too, is a contribution to the cause of Turkish democracy. I can't quite remember her reasoning.
The only visual sign of the political crisis I've seen is this mourning banner, black with red carnations (the national and native flower), hanging from a political party office on Istiklal Boulevard, the hip shopping, eating and cafe-sitting street:
Today, I went on a Bosporus cruise -- 2 hours, which was plenty. Very pleasant. Saw some castles and fortresses and mosques.
Talked to a nice Danish woman on the boat. She's the headmaster of a boarding school in the north of Denmark. There, the government pays for the education in private boarding schools, and the parents pay room and board.
Then went to the spice market and the Suliemanye Mosque, which isn't so near the other big attractions. I had to walk quite a way from the tram stop.
The mosque was closed for prayer and was going to open in an hour. I decided to hang out on one of the rooftop cafe terraces I could see from the Mosque courtyard that overlooks the whole city. This area is NOT developed for tourism, to put it mildly. I entered a dark dirty hall and climbed five flights of colorful and very funky stairs.
But when I reached the roof, the VIEW was Four Stars, at LEAST…
And then, the muezzins started calling people to prayer. I was above the city and I could hear them ALL. It was the most amazing experience. A glorious cacophony rising from the whole city -- and dominated by the Meuzzin closest to me in the Suliemanye Mosque. Astonishing.
Then back to the beautiful Suliemanye, built by the greatest Ottoman architect, Sanan. Just a tiny detail of the courtyard here:
And then home, buying a big suitcase along the way for all my tons of stuff. I'm going to pack tonight to see how much room I have. Maybe I can BUY MORE STUFF tomorrow! Shopping in Istanbul is the most fun ever! I'm even learning how to bargain.
Tomorrow's my last day. I'm having a great time but also can't wait to get back -- although I always have a hard time with re-entry.