Ä°stanbul : Fabric and Prayer
Istanbul Travel Blog› entry 195 of 268 › view all entries
Itâ€™s about 5.00am and Iâ€™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 passportâ€¦ and a cold. After a battle of minds with my first â€˜Jetonâ€™ 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 â€˜PLEASE SELECT YOUR CHOICE BY TOUCHING THE MONITOR!!!â€™, itâ€™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.
After checking in to the Mavi Guesthouse I drag myself to the Elif CafÃ© for a plate of breakfast and a slice of politics. I purchase and try to focus upon the contents of the English language Todayâ€™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.
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. Itâ€™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 Muezzinâ€™s call to prayer.
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. â€˜Did you knowâ€™ he had excitedly commenced â€˜that every single minute [he may have said â€˜secondâ€™, I canâ€™t recall] somewhere in the world the call to prayer is happening.
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 â€™Iâ€™m sure I once heard too that every second somewhere upon the planet lightening is striking the Earthâ€™s surfaceâ€™ and wonder if each little flash and strike is Godâ€™s answer to one of these calls.
I am finding it somewhat hard to collect and present my thoughts about Istanbul and my times there.
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 oneâ€™s imagination but Iâ€™m terribly concerned that actually it might have failed to do so with me on the whole.
One of the worlds great cities. The romanticised â€™Gateway to the Orientâ€™ 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 PÃ©cs in Hungary). A city whose foundations drill so deep through the fossilised remains of so many of Historyâ€™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 itâ€™s my own fault. Itâ€™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.
But whether it fails to â€˜puncture my soulâ€™ 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 Iâ€™ve collected on this journey so far. Time will tell.
Fabric and Prayer : Two
Itâ€™s still Day One in Istanbul. Itâ€™s wasnâ€™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 (Itâ€™s not quite as bad as it sounds). Still, I have Aya Sofia for company before me.
The Muezzin drew me from my slumber at sometime after 13.00 I think. The second call of the day. Ã–gle. Not enough to keep me awake though. How do I know the names of the prayers? A function on Aliciaâ€™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.
Yes, today I have taken curious comfort from the Muezzinâ€™s marking of the passage of time. Itâ€™s all Iâ€™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. Itâ€™s gone nine oâ€™clock now. Yatsi. The Muezzinâ€™s final call to the faithful for the day.