Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest Blog -- Hubby Remembers Istanbul: It's Not 1975 Anymore

The last time I was here it was the middle of my round-the-world hippie trip. The taxis in Istanbul were American DeSotos and Chevies from the 50s, left behind by US servicemen, and held together with little but ingenuity. "America good!", I recall more than one cabbie saying, with an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Coolies trudged up impossibly steep hills with implausibly heavy loads on their backs, paid a pittance, I surmised, to deliver loads of coal from the docks to smokey blacksmith shops nestled between fabric merchants and utensil vendors on the inclines of Old Istanbul. I bought steaming fish wrapped in newspaper from a boat at the docks. The fisherman gesticulated expansively and flashed me a nearly toothless smile. "Enjoy!" he seemed to say. The Blue Mosque, huge, with the most minarets (6) of any mosque in the world short of Mecca (10), was completely floored with hundreds of antique Turkish rugs, creating a fantastic collage that has stayed fresh in my memory all of these years.

Today the "taksis" bear modern badges from Korea and Japan and Italy. The Blue Mosque has a soulless manufactured carpet spanning the ginormous floor (and yes, "ginormous is a real word). I didn't see any coolies during our 24 hour layover, though I imagine that many coolie-like jobs persist. And my only run-in with fish was a bass pulled from the Bosphorus and dished out at a hillside restaurant.

In the cab on the way back to the airport I quizzed the driver, who's excellent English he credited to his British wife. "Is there still a US base here in Turkey?"
"How do Turks feel about this?"
"It is good. It keeps the Russians out."
"Are you worried about a flood of refugees from Syria?"
"I don't think that will happen."
"What about Iran? It seems that they may be getting desperate."
"Iranians are idiots." (I guess everyone has to have someone to look down on).
"Will there be an Arab Spring there?"
"I don't think so. But in Saudi Arabia -- that's where they need one. It is an oppressive society, especially towards women" (his wife speaking?)
"How's the Turkish economy doing?"
"We are doing very well."
"Glad that you didn't join the EU?"
"Oh, yes!" It was clear that our driver was proud to live in a secular, democratic state.

After spending a week in Istanbul in 1975, I had decided that I wasn't having the kind of adventures that I'd set out to have. I'd decided to walk out of the pension where I was staying. I was pretty self-contained with my backpack. I'd walk out of the neighborhood, walk out of the city, and keep walking until an adventure happened to me. It did, and that is a wonderful story for another time.

I had the feeling that that sense of adventure-about-to-happen is still around in Istanbul. I'll have to check back in another 37 years.

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