Ä°stanbul : Fabric and Prayer

Istanbul Travel Blog

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'Aaaaahtıshooo!' My fiftieth sneeze and my first vision of the elegant Blue Mosque as İ arrive early to İstanbul.

Arrival

It’s about 5.00am and I’m rolling into the concrete behemoth of the Istanbul otogar (bus station) accompanied by some mashed up home made sandwiches, a new visa sticker in my passport… and a cold.  After a battle of minds with my first ‘Jeton’ machine (the devices that dispense small coin-like tokens valid for public transport access in Istanbul), my ineptitude calling forth its 27th consecutive screech of ‘PLEASE SELECT YOUR CHOICE BY TOUCHING THE MONITOR!!!’, it’s time to glide away by Metro from the frowns and grins being cast in my direction to the Sultanahmet district to be greeted by a fabulous dawn vision of the Blue Mosque and its profusion of minarets.

Breakfast and politics... my first purchased newspaper in over a year!
  Definitely a sight for increasingly sore eyes. 

After checking in to the Mavi Guesthouse I drag myself to the Elif Café for a plate of breakfast and a slice of politics.  I purchase and try to focus upon the contents of the English language Today’s Zaman, my first newspaper since leaving England.  True.  But the cold is getting a hold, the parade of acronyms that litter the often kaleidoscopic landscape of political commentaries (AKP, MHP, PKK and the KADEP for some) are fogging my mind further.  This and the heat make me beat a retreat back to the 27 bed roof-terrace dormitory where I collapse and draw the curtain of my cotton sheets over both this scene and my cold-dulled form. 

Fabric and Prayer : One

A few days here now.

The vıew from between my toes at the roof top terrace dorm of Mavi Guesthouse! :)
  I have no idea what time it is when I return from chaperoning the girls through their first night out with the first trio of lusty, tail-chasing Turks that bounded after them upon their arrival in Istanbul.  A so-so night out in a sh*tty club and two ultra-expensive beers later and I’m tired yet sober as a judge.  Happy to collapse again between those cotton sheets. 

From this comfortable vantage point the view from the roof-terrace dorm is quite spectacular.  Especially after dark.  The terraces open front facing directly, less than 100 metres away I should say, the night-light bathed grandeur of the Aya Sofia mosque.  It’s gold-lit form sits now between my feet as I lay my head down.  Almost as my head touches the pillow out pours the Muezzin’s call to prayer.

  Imsak, the first of the days five prayers.  It must be around 4.00am then.  The air is slightly muggy.  In the far distance, to the North and to the East, a beautiful electrical storm is playing itself out.  As the Muezzin’s voice rolls through the chambers of the Istanbul night, the lightening flashes and strikes down, seeming to hit the sides and dome of Aya Sofia.  But they are safely many miles away.

As I lay there I recall a conversation with Miro from the Miran Guesthouse in Mostar when I had enquired as to the hard-to-discern presence of the Muezzins there.  ‘Did you know’ he had excitedly commenced ‘that every single minute [he may have said ‘second’, I can’t recall] somewhere in the world the call to prayer is happening.

'Two men and Blue Mosque Reflected' (Abstract)
  Every minute!  Mostar, Jordan, Lebanon, Lisbon… somewhere always it is happening!  All around the world.  All time.’  He had made a circulatory motion in the air.  An interesting idea if in actuality true.  The idea of a universal prayer.  A cry to the skies that will never cease until the end of Man or Islam.  Whichever comes first.  I have grown to like the Muezzin’s call very much.  Though it does not call me, the ambience it creates I appreciate greatly.  Even on the occasions it manages to wake me at what I suppose I must blasphemously refer to as ’some un-Godly hour’ in the morning.

As I lie in my bed, Aya Sofia glowing between my toes, the Muezzin continuing his strange music of the faithful and the lightening continuing to lick the surface of the earth I think ’I’m sure I once heard too that every second somewhere upon the planet lightening is striking the Earth’s surface’ and wonder if each little flash and strike is God’s answer to one of these calls.

Old bot plays the pipe in the streets of Ä°stanbul
  To somebody’s prayer somewhere.  Joined by other ‘acts of every moment’ ; the minute by minute cries of new born babies in a constant duet with the soft exhalations of souls departing we have a constant music of existence playing for our imaginations maybe.  Everything weaving together and being unwoven again forever and over again.  Every minute.  A fabric of life, death and prayer.  We will all participate in at least two of these acts I trust.  And this moment is one of my favourites in Istanbul.  I roll over, wrapping myself in fabric and the sound of prayer.  And I fall asleep.  

Little Pieces

I am finding it somewhat hard to collect and present my thoughts about Istanbul and my times there.

Egyptian 'spice' Market (detail)
  Even now, four weeks on.  And I don’t yet know why.  That’s probably why you have the rather odd ‘snapshot’ rambling start above.  Two moments.  Unconnected.  Both communicating little or nothing of the city itself.  Maybe that’s the way to proceed.  Snapshots.  A profusion of little moments and observations that will necessarily fail to bring you any firm idea or picture of the ’whole’ of Istanbul, as the idea that such an end is achievable in itself contradicts the essence of the city.  As with so many of the worlds great cities (I guess) it is a composition of infinite little pieces.

Yes, both the pleasure and the problem of Istanbul.  My problem.  How to grasp it?  A city filled with so much of everything that should and often does capture one’s imagination but I’m terribly concerned that actually it might have failed to do so with me on the whole.

Flag pride and Ataturk pride are strong parts of Turkeys modern visiual culture.
  On this first outing. 

One of the worlds great cities.  The romanticised ’Gateway to the Orient’ of old.  The city that literally straddles both Europe and Asia.  Busying itself in preparation to be a European Capital of Culture in 2010 (along with little Pécs in Hungary).  A city whose foundations drill so deep through the fossilised remains of so many of History’s great empires and movements of humanity that one expects to strike lucky and rich with the priceless oil of inspiration with almost every step one plants upon its streets.  Maybe if after a week a passion for the place has not firmly taken root in my mind it’s my own fault.  It’s fair to say the only thing here possibly larger, more colourful and sprawling than the mighty former capital of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empire itself were the pile of hopes and expectations I dragged along to it following my bid to escape from the familiarities of mainland Europe.

Heading to prayer inside the Yeni Camii (New Mosque)

But whether it fails to ‘puncture my soul’ or not cannot detract from the fact that Istanbul is a city of small and great riches unbounded.  A feast for the tour groups and Guidebook clutching holiday makers and backpackers who descend upon it in July and August in giddying waves.  90% of them or more French it sometimes seems.  It is a city I had decided to give a lot of time to.  One week to start and I now know I have to end my time in Turkey with another week here as I sit out an Indian visa application.  Maybe by then all the little pieces that I discover and enjoy about the city will coalesce into a picture I find as pleasing to hang and admire in the gallery of my mind as any others of the many I’ve collected on this journey so far.  Time will tell.

(Blue Mosque) Muju (www.mujuworld.co.uk)
 
           
Fabric and Prayer : Two

It’s still Day One in Istanbul.  It’s wasn’t a blockbuster of a day for me.  Having failed to capture any sleep on the night bus from Sofia and having managed to succumb to a cold en route I have spent most of my day drifting in and out of daylight sleep.  I really do not like sleeping during the day.  Heat on top of drowsiness.  Swooning around in cotton sheets as if drugged.  Muggy headed.  Watching the comings and goings of the phenomenally large number of people who share this 27 bed dorm and its one toilet and shower with me (It’s not quite as bad as it sounds).  Still, I have Aya Sofia for company before me.

One of my absolute favourite Turkey activities. Reading and cay (tea)
  Not a bad vision to convalesce with. 

The Muezzin drew me from my slumber at sometime after 13.00 I think.  The second call of the day.  Ögle.  Not enough to keep me awake though.  How do I know the names of the prayers?  A function on Alicia’s Apple iTouch gizmo thingamyjig called - wait for it - iPrayer.  Seriously.  You need never miss your call to fall to the floor ever again.  Your iPod is unfailingly connected to God.  iGod perhaps?

I am still lounging about at around 17.00 when Ikindi - prayer three - is announced.  Later in the evening I am feeling recuperated enough to struggle out briefly to the bustling communal area between the two great mosques and chew my first cheap (disappointing) Turkish kebap.

  I sit on a stone wall watching as the families sit on the grassy area around the water feature set before the Blue Mosque and as the colours of said structure subtly shift with the drawing down of the day.  The scene accompanied by the wailings of the days penultimate call to prayer.  The post sunset strains of Aksam.

Yes, today I have taken curious comfort from the Muezzin’s marking of the passage of time.  It’s all I’ve had by way of an introduction to Istanbul really.  And now you too reading this.  I return to my bed and throw myself down happy to do little more than pass out, wrapping myself up in fabric and the sound of prayer.  It’s gone nine o’clock now.  Yatsi.  The Muezzin’s final call to the faithful for the day.

Stevie & his accordian apple :)
  I hope he wakes me early tomorrow.  I’ve lost a day here to illness and shall have to start early collecting all those little pieces of this great city tomorrow. 

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Aaaaahtıshooo!  My fiftieth sne…
'Aaaaahtıshooo!' My fiftieth sn…
Breakfast and politics... my first…
Breakfast and politics... my firs…
The vıew from between my toes at …
The vıew from between my toes at…
Two men and Blue Mosque Reflected…
'Two men and Blue Mosque Reflecte…
Old bot plays the pipe in the stre…
Old bot plays the pipe in the str…
Egyptian spice Market (detail)
Egyptian 'spice' Market (detail)
Flag pride and Ataturk pride are s…
Flag pride and Ataturk pride are …
Heading to prayer inside the Yeni …
Heading to prayer inside the Yeni…
(Blue Mosque) Muju (www.mujuworld.…
(Blue Mosque) Muju (www.mujuworld…
One of my absolute favourite Turke…
One of my absolute favourite Turk…
Stevie & his accordian apple :)
Stevie & his accordian apple :)
Antique carpet in the Museum of Tu…
Antique carpet in the Museum of T…
Fabulous carpet collection in the …
Fabulous carpet collection in the…
Ceramic & Fabric
Ceramic & Fabric
Evıl Eye given me for donating …
'Evıl Eye' given me for donating…
The pıgeon feed sellers of Eminonu
The pıgeon feed sellers of Eminonu
Scarf
'Scarf'
Galata Tower.
Galata Tower.
The Blue Mosque by sundown
The Blue Mosque by sundown
The Blue Mosque by night.
The Blue Mosque by night.
Waiting for custom at the Arasta B…
Waiting for custom at the Arasta …
Smokin! - how flippin beetroot…
'Smokin'!' - how flippin' beetroo…
Tree Print  Ä°stanbul
'Tree Print' Ä°stanbul
View of Aya Sofia mosque from my b…
View of Aya Sofia mosque from my …
Istanbul
photo by: Memo