Day 3, Istanbul
Here is my report on the third and final day in Istanbul.
Upon completing the visit to the obligatory sights, we headed off to
the residential neighborhoods. After taking a funicular to the top of
the mountain on the Asian side of the city, we emerged into Taksim
Square (Times Square equiv). We arrived on time for a military parade
featuring new air force recruits. Boys and girls marched shoulder to
shoulder with their machine guns across their chests. Having made a
circle around the square, they stopped and broke into a military song.
The crowd exploded with a loud applause.
After having watched this spectacle, we plunged into the side streets
radiating from the central square. This was a different Istanbul, an
Istanbul of Orhan Pamuk. The Asian side had all the signs of the
former Ottoman glory – ugly cinderblock buildings intermingled with
once glorious and now dilapidated houses covered with loud billboards
and looking out at the world with cheap window displays. Overall,
this area definitely had more character: narrow alleys, outdoor cafes,
19th century mansions. One hands down stunning place was a 19th
century passage done in the Rococo style and decked out with flowers.
The buildings on either side of the passage were once home to the
Russian aristocracy fleeing the revolution.
A funny story: Kenny told me a cautionary tale straight out of The
Book of Evelyn on how there is a scam in Istanbul, where a shoe shiner
walks past an American tourist and drops one of his brushes. The
polite tourist picks up the brush and runs after the shoe shiner. The
grateful shoe shiner begs to shine the person’s shoes completely free of charge
in gratitude for saving his precious tool, and in the end manages to
swindle the tourist. Idiotic and improbable, right? As I was walking
one of the narrow streets, a loud thump attracted my attention. I
turned around and saw a shoe brush on the ground and a man walking
away from it. My instinct was faster than my thinking and I called
the man to alert him to his fallen object. As soon as he turned
around, my mind caught up with my heart and I knew. His eyes fell
onto my dirty sneakers then moved on to Kenny’s new ones. Damn sneakers
could not be polished! We took advantage of the pause created by his bewilderment and fled the crime scene. Later, we walked by
the same spot and saw him sitting on the steps awaiting other victims.
Damn sneakers-wearing Americans!
So is Istanbul beautiful? Not at all. Charming? It isn’t.
Interesting? Somewhat, but sooner peculiar.
Kenny gets some points for the last stop of the day – a pastry shop
he found on the internet. From an ugly street we entered a magical
place done in the Art Nouveau style where behind the beveled glass lay
a display of Turkish delights. We enlisted the help of another
shopper – a modern-looking Turkish girl, with whose assistance we paid
the cashier for some sweets she recommended for us, obtained a
receipt, presented it to the man behind the counter, and in exchange
received two plates laden with baklava and other such sweets. We ate
them standing up at one of the round bar tables where, feeling
intoxicated from the sweet taste in my mouth and gazing up at the Art
Nouveau fixtures over my head, I thought that Istanbul, right there
and then, completely and totally redeemed itself.