I’m going to just ignore everything I wrote in the previous post like it never happened, since it didn’t. I’ll have to start two sub-blogs…One for travel-writing, the exciting-stuff..And another for stream of consciousness stuff, which can sometimes be stuffy and depressive.
So here’s to a travel-writing piece.
Istanbul! A city within a country that’s been on my radar for quite some time now. I can’t specify quite what it is about Turkey that attracts my attention so much…Well okay, yes I can. Turkey is situated at a very strategic point in Eurasia; it is a country with a city (Istanbul) that straddles two continents. We’ll ignore the fact that Europe and Asia are, in fact, one continent geologically speaking – the convention is purely political/cultural. My Chinese students always laugh when I explain this, but the smiles fade when I tell them therefore Russia is the largest country in Eurasia. “NoOoOoO! Russia is Europe!” Fine.
Istanbul! Which translates to “City of burly men sipping from dainty teacups, two sugars please, while I raise my hairy pinky in salute.” I desperately wanted to take this photo but I’m still too shy to take pictures of random strangers, even in a touristic country. I absolutely love candid photos but I fear getting caught in an awkward “yes, not only am I staring at you, I’m immortalizing you in digital memory to look at when you’re never around But your ear will twitch and then you’ll know I’m doing unspeakable things to your captured soul.” Like karma-whoring you on Reddit, or something…Time for that zoom lens.
Istanbul! What history…A constant tug-of-war between Greeks, Turks and Arabs that still exists today. If I had to describe it, I’d call it the Melting Pot of Europe and the Middle East. In two days, I had fascinating conversations with people from Russia, Iran, Turkey, Dubai, Lebanon and Syria and they were all united in their criticism of US politics. I take that back — my Iranian companions had the least criticism and even praise while a Turkish tour guide who had nothing better to do (since I kept refusing his attempts to guide me) told a vivid story over bitter turnip juice about his rant at the US embassy in Istanbul that got him expelled by the police. An entirely nice guy, even if he refused my suggestion to see the country he criticizes so strongly. He said they’d get him on the plane only to ship him to Guantanamo after his little outburst – I’m always amazed by tour guides. They’re the bards of the real world — multilingual, charismatic and generally hilarious whether you pay for their services or not.
Also: Israel. No one seems to like the Arabs but people genuinely fear Zionism and call the US a puppet being controlled by Israel for various nefarious goals. I always consent to listen and draw people out in these sort of discussions to see how they think — sometimes, something inside burns and insists I defend as if I’m being personally attacked though. I think there’s a general sense of “Americans are all right but we really don’t get why you let your government get away so much if you have so much peace and freedom.” And I wasn’t really sure how to answer that beyond “most of your problems are only on our TV screen and the worst our neighbors do are steal jobs no one wants and thrash us in hockey. It’d be different if there were rockets on our borders.” Harsh but honest, I think.
Istanbul! What beautiful people! I’m not sure if this is the famed “olive skin” one reads in books, but so many of the people have a rich, golden hue reminiscent of some Italians and Spaniards I’ve met that it must surely be so. It may be that I’m not used to being surrounded by so many light eyes, but I find their gaze very frank but distant, if that makes sense. Even the children. Not intimidatingly so, just confidently unimpressed by you, even when they say they’re impressed by you (-r height). Men and women, when they talk to you, don’t really light up in expressions the way the Chinese I’ve lived with seem to. At the airport, which will be a blog unto itself, watching the ticket agents deal with infuriating passengers, their expressions never seemed to match their words in my mind. Turks seem to speak with their eyes more than their features but take that with a huge grain of salt — two days is hardly any real time getting to know a people. More likely, their expressions are just different from the ones I was looking for. Such is the mind.
Istanbul! Land of…So-so food? I have to say I was mildly disappointed but again, I’m not being fair. Only two days…The Turkish desserts..Baklava…Turkish delights in infinite variety (pomegranate-pistachio was amazing)…Toe-curling strong tea with sugar cubes…I managed to somehow NOT get any shish-kebab but did eat quite a bit of doner-kebab since it was literally everywhere. Doner-kebab is the shwarma we all know and love back in the USA, only a real meat version instead of the weird pressed lamb loaf one sees at the local mall. Interestingly, doner-kebab is usually served in a thin wrap with tomatoes and french fries soaked in meat-juice. And its really good. Also Turkey loves weird juice. Pure cherry juice, which is usually found in the aisle of overpriced health items in the USA, is the standard juice of choice here, for only ~3TL (~ 1.5 USD) a can or even a liter bottle in stores. The beer is beer; wasn’t overly impressed but only had a couple local brews. Turnip juice with pickles and cabbage is a healthy street drink – if only because the salesperson will emphatically gesture to your heart and body with such enthusiasm one assumes he’s working in some cardio with his sales pitch. I’d recommend it only to say you’ve tried it and/or its supposed medicinal value as it’s generally room temperature and rather bitter. Even so, I take back my vote. I had a few things that were “meh,” but actually I had a lot that was pleasing too for such a short trip. The expensive restaurant food was surprisingly bland for my palate — hummus, pasta, stuffed grapes and other typically Mediterranean fare I always ended up salting, but that could just be me being an American. The street food and a la carte options were much tastier. There are great eats to be found here, and a lot more things noted for a future trip.
Let’s save the architecture and music for Part II, shall we? Elveda!