Tales of Istanbul

So we’ve been in Turkey for the last five days. It’s been quite an experience. The call to prayer that echo’s throughout the streets five times a day is really something. I’ve never heard anything like it. At first it was startling and a bit scary, after the first day I was already used to it.

On the first day we visited The Sehzade Mosque, a smaller Mosque built by Mimar Sinan. Then we visited the Serpentine Column which was really not so impressive but after learning about it in Global Studies it meant a lot more. It was stolen from Delphi after the Battle of Thermopoli and is made of melted Persian weapons. We visited the Blue Mosque which has blue tiles lining the interior. Before we entered we had to remove our shoes and cover our heads in respect. I thought the dress code would be a lot more strict then it was. We were prepared to be covered the whole time and if not be scolded in the streets. However, the streets and night life are filled with scantily dressed females. I guess I should have somewhat expected that in a city of 12 million. Seeing women in black burkas walking down the street, the only proof of them being human and not a walking textile was their eyes. I couldn’t imagine in that heat walking around covered head to toe. Especially in black. Was their reasoning to torture women 24/7 or really religious? They should have picked at least a different color. Maybe I’m being culturally insensitive but it seems incredibly unfair. Especially since their husbands decide whether or not they will have to wear that. In my opinion that’s an incredibly selfish husband.

I went inside the Hagia Sophia and the Cistern. The Cistern was incredible, probably my favorite of the sights. Back in the Byzantine Period in Istanbul they created an underground water system to supply water to the palace and residents. It collected water from the rainfall and stored in underground. The put fish inside the water that ate mosquitoes and other bugs that would be attracted to the water. Today, it has walk ways for people to tour and look at the magnificence of it. Some modern artists have put up amazing work inside the Cistern now. Glowing squid hang from the ceiling in one section, another has sea creatures, another section shows the medusa head carved in stone. Its dark but the lights in the water reflect the fish and large pillars reaching to the ceiling. It was probably my favorite sight of the whole tour.

I didn’t go out as much at night in Turkey. The nights I did go out were weird. The whole nightlife scene is much different. Lira is the money used their and drinks were expensive even in little hole in the wall clubs. Nightlife in all the other ports was much more enjoyable. I didn’t dance like we did in other places, instead we relaxed and smoked hookah at Turkish cafes which are on every corner. The hookah is super tasty but makes me really light headed so I can’t sit around for hours like some people smoking this stuff.

The food was alright, nothing spectacular. Being a vegetarian is really difficult in Turkey, especially a picky vegetarian like me that won’t eat things cooked next to greasy big piles of some kind of disgusting looking meat. I drank Turkish coffee which is super strong. It has a pile of mud at the bottom of the cup when you’re done. Omar taught us a trick for telling the future with the mud of the coffee. We put the little espresso coffee cup on the saucer, upside down, and shook it. You wait a few minutes then flip the cup over. The excess mud stays on the saucer and the inside has lines and wrinkles of future written on it. I don’t know how accurate this trick is but it was really fun to look into the cup and see what pictures you could make with the mud sticking to the sides of the cup.

The Grand Bazaar was ridiculous. I honestly hated it. It’s packed full of people and over 5000 shops in a small area. Men yelling, “Lady! Lady! American!?” everywhere. It was quite annoying. You have to bargain with the shop owners and try to get the best prices and really all you have to do is start walking away – then they settle for the price you want. I purchased a really beautiful Turkish quilt to put on my bed and a few other things for friends and family. The Spice Bazaar was a little bit better, not so big and mostly the same stuff but also TONS of fresh spices and teas. All over the bazaar you see mosaic lamps, jewelry, genie lamps, rugs, quilts, gypsy pants, Turkish delights, belly dancing outfits… anything you think you need (but probably don’t) is there. A lot of it seemed to be a bunch of garbage but then if you end up walking in any random alley way you see the real garbage sellers. People on the streets of Istanbul sell used shoes, ratty clothes, Euro-trash rip-off clothes, fake bags, fake sunglasses, glowing toys, and Viagra. For some reason Viagra is sold on every street corner. I don’t understand.

The last day I went to the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. Unlike the MoMA it was all Turkish artists and designers. The whole first floor had amazing paintings, collages, and drawings from all genres. Some told stories of Istanbul’s past, other’s showed the hardship of women there, and many represented the torn country between Western and Eastern culture. Turkey is a very different country because it meets both the West and the East, Istanbul particularly. One part of town is upscale stores and clubs while 10 minutes away is slums and ghettos. The second level of the museum was my favorite. It was a showcase of a Turkish clothing designer. His stuff was incredible but all the stories behind the clothing were even more interesting. Their were videos and special effects that helped bring this point to the surface. He really got into my brain. The videos all depicted the media in a terrible light and urged people not to listen to the media standard of how you should look. It was awesome. Part of it explained how the media is held in such high standards because us, society, reflect right back at it and do what it says. He showed this by having a dark room exhibit with rotating models on this platform with laser beams shooting out of them and reflecting on the glass I was looking at them through then reflecting back off their crystal necklaces and to me once again. The lasers represented the whole system of media -me – media – you – media – society. It was an awesome representation. I stayed on the second floor in awe for two hours while everybody else left. I wish I could explain more the feelings I got there and the impact it had on me.

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