Articles By Gord
As I see it... Istanbul

November 2008 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

As I see it... Istanbul

On one of our trips, Catherine spotted a rather peculiar, but interesting lamp. “One of us will have to lug it around for the entire trip,” said Cath.

“Yeah, one of us will have to lug it around,” said Gord. I hoisted the lamp. It was awkward, but not too heavy. Carry the stupid thing I could, but I wondered what sort of dork I'd look like parading around Europe with a lamp.

“Let's think about it,” said Catherine.

“Yeah, let's think about it,” thought Gord.

“We can always come back,” added Catherine.

“We can always come back.” It seems we never go back.

We have kicked ourselves ever since for not buying that stupid lamp. And so now when we travel we do not hesitate to buy something that catches our fancy. These things hold fond memories for us. And it was all triggered by the lamp that never was.

Where East meets West, it is a shopping Mecca. No, no, not Thunder Bay. This is where the real East meets the real West.

Istanbul. Not Constantinople. (If you know the song, sing along. Then take a few moments to explain it to the grandkids.)

Separated by the Bospherus Strait, Istanbul straddles the continents of Asia and Europe. The cultural markings of both continents are intertwined in this magnificent city. Modern high-rise condos and streams of traffic seem to comfortably blend with the chaos of crowded market stalls, the allure of the Blue Mosque and the Muslim call to prayer.

It was in Istanbul that I first heard the call to prayer, the Adham. I froze on the spot. I found the Meuzzin's call hypnotic. The sound triggered a memory from deep within of a scene from some old movie where from high atop the minaret tower the call to prayer went out over the city. And there I was experiencing it firsthand. Five times a day the call occurred and five times I stood transfixed by it. I marveled that the sound could be produced at such length by a human voice.

The Blue Mosque, it stands majestically. Before entering we were asked to remove our shoes. This struck me as odd. In the past when entering a place of worship, I have removed my cap, my jacket and a pair of gloves, but my shoes? Never. Kicking them off, I breathed a sigh of relief. Clean socks.

It was unlike any church I had ever visited. There were no pews, altar or organ pipes, just a huge carpeted open area beneath an enormous dome. Catherine described the countless images of prayer mats imprinted on the carpet. My image was of the mats arranged side by side, row after row stretching on and on. The image disturbed me, because I thought of the mats as extremely personal and sacred. I felt this urge to tip toe around them. I didn't understand. I sensed the massiveness of the Blue Mosque and I felt as small as an ant. I felt like I was being watched from above. I did not want to pause and reflect, but rather I had this inexplicable desire to escape, to feel the sun and to breathe.

The museum of Saint Sophia was another stop on our tour. It was at one time the largest cathedral in the world, but had been turned into a museum decades ago. I knew squat about this museum. I knew less than squat about Saint Sophia, but in the James Bond flick ‘To Russia With Love', Sean Connery had a Bondonian scene in that very same museum. And I was there. There with my Johnny Quest spy ring and my Man From Uncle communicator pen. And I was there.

The Museum of Saint Sophia was the end of our time with the tour group. We broke away. Rebels. We were fed up. Most of the tour guides we've encountered seem to be unprepared to deal with individuals with a disability. Our guide was no different. The guides appear unaware that discovering things through blind eyes takes longer. It just takes longer. Within an organized tour group, Catherine spends the bulk of her time telling me to hurry up. “We're falling further and further back.” We end up latching onto any tour group passing by in a hope of gleaning something about the site. That's how Catherine and I became so fluent in Japanese, Italian and Russian.

Having made the split, Cath and I stood like two lost orphans on a crowded sidewalk in downtown Istanbul. Well, we'd really gone and done it now. We had no idea which way to go or what to do. And so we continued to stand.

“That smells good,” said Cath.

It was a restaurant. And as it was nearly lunchtime, our ‘what to do' had been solved.

A menu was dropped into Catherine's hands.

There was no English.

Our waiter spoke no English. No one in this Turkish restaurant in downtown Istanbul or Constantinople spoke English. Catherine pointed at items that other diners seemed to be enjoying. Lunch arrived and lunch was enjoyed. Nothing was crawling, nothing was snapping. Who knew what the hell we'd eaten. We were full and satisfied and as this sense of calm and belonging began to settle over us, Catherine tenderly took my hand in hers and whispered, “We don't have any money.”

My mind flashed back to a scene in a crowded market place where the hand of a thief was about to be lopped off for stealing. I wondered if such a fate awaited me for nonpayment. And at that moment I was glad we hadn't entered a sex shop. Cath will probably get off with a playful smack on her bottom. Me? For me it would likely be Midnight Express all over again.

Credit cards were not an option in that restaurant. We sweated. The waiter waited. And then I remembered I had tucked away in my shoe an American twenty. God Bless America.

We wandered through The Grand Bazaar; it was like a Wal-Mart on steroids. Everything was available; everything was to be bartered for. The vendors pursued us doggedly. Almost annoyingly. Almost amusingly. Their pursuit was unlike our standard retail employee who couldn't care less if the sale was made or not. Each step we took away from any stall, the price of the item dropped. We were miles away from one guy's stall before a bargain was struck. And that was how Catherine and I became the proud owners of a very, very heavy carpetbag. And just what is a carpetbag? Well, without getting too technical, a carpetbag is a bag made from a carpet. Has a handle and everything. A real thing of beauty. Every home should have one. Our purchase of a handmade Turkish carpet was an entirely different shopping experience.

We had entered a store. A store like we would have found back home, four walls, ceiling, floor, the whole works. And once Catherine and I had declared our interest in possibly purchasing a rug, then the pressure came to bear.

The salesman ushered us into a private salon, we were invited to sit down, offered Turkish tea and with a clap of his hands the show began. Two thugs threw spectacular carpet after carpet before our feet. Every combination of colours and sizes. We were invited to touch them. I ran my open hand over and over fantastic carpets that I could only describe as delicious. We were encouraged to kick off our shoes and walk on them, lie down on them or roll about on them. Encouraged to do all of this by our salesman, who had led off our entrapment by saying, “You are my friends. I am your friend. Together we are friends. What size carpet do you think you'd like to buy, friends?”

“Nine by twelve,” blurted out Catherine. Then the two of them spent the next fifteen minutes reviving me. Our eventual purchase was a beautiful two-by-three foot carpet and the placing of the sacred rug upon our floor at home was marred by our dog Chelsea. She was so excited by our return she immediately vomited on it.

Fond memories and terrific stories come to life with each step we place upon that rug, our shoes on or off and all because of a lamp that never was.

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