(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Feeling Istanbullish

(اسطنبولية (لعبة الكالمات بلغة الانجليزية

Vast swaths of light race towards the city as the plane descends, over something that looks more like a game of Tron than a human settlement. At night, it appears as the sprawling metropoleis of an alien planet. This is the way to Istanbul.

Really, though, underneath the streetlights and after the sunrise, Istanbul is anything but alien: it is a layering of so many things human, bolstered by a settled history a dozen times longer than that of Sharjah — the Emirate I’d flown out of, conservative, but stamped with its own space-age mosque-like Airport.

I found my own history there as well, in friends that have known me for longer than the seven months I’ve been in the Emirates. Not to say that new friends aren’t important — they are. Oh, how much they are. (Not least of all because a desert offers little but the companionship of other desert-dwellers.) But old friends have a history that fuels itself, that needs no input to give back, that runs as a hybrid of trust and shared stories. And as someone who forgets his own stories (hint: why blog?), it often takes other people to remind me who I is. I just counted — I’ve been here eight months.

Carrying all my bags, I surprised a dear friend in a bar of Istanbul’s trendy Tunel neighborhood, where drinks are somehow even more expensive than in Abu Dhabi hotels. But you can’t carry beers back onto the street in Abu Dhabi. Turkey is a very different Muslim nation.

In the morning, it was cold (“hey! cold!”). There was rain (“look! rain!”). There were women, not only present but with heads uncovered (“hello, ladies”). When it was wet or nighttime, we ate “wet burgers” (Islak Burgers); when it was any time, we ate dürüm, spinning like my local shawarma but meatier and sliced with samurai artistry.

It was still expensive, but I insulated myself from the realities of liberal spending with a mantle of homespun comfort — a comfort I’ve never found high up in the air-conditioned glass of my twenty-third floor apartment, no matter how many pillows I put on the couch. The Turks, it seems, have totally mastered this art of chilling. Nargile burn for hours like a perverted (and infinitely more fun) Hanukkah lamp, tended to by a fleet of men with pots of burning coals. Cafes with cushions on raised platforms (like in Japan?) are the battlegrounds for day-long backgammon series where Turkish men play for hours uninterrupted, and where the tea flows into little cups on big trays. In our five hours at one cafe (next to two near identical, but lesser cafes) by the Istanbul Modern, four men sat playing two separate games, without pause, until long after we were gone.

The top floor of the Modern boasts an array of the past hundred years of mostly Turkish painting of various schools, a couple mildly vagina-inspired animations, and a large security cohort to make damn sure you don’t take any photos. Surrounded by glass walls marred with mock bullet holes, a staircase supported by cast iron chains winds to the basement: projectors screen colorful and psychedelic imaging on bare walls, or ceilings, or clouds hanging on strings.

I took a picture.

And back by the exit, a window looks out onto the sea of Marmara. In the foreground: Europe and Asia in a permanent staring match, not seeming to mind it much, looking out at each other across the Bosphorous.*

*Written from the InterContinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi. Fitting, no?

More pictures from Turkey right here.


  soni holman fink wrote @

Oh, what a slide show! Filled with memories of my own time in this constantly surprising city and filled with photos that make me ache for what I missed. And who else would show me those cups with the decorative coffee dregs?

  Ari wrote @

This is one of my favorites.

  Moo wrote @

I bloody damn well (worried that profanities would get censored on your family orientated blog) love ingulfed. All there needs now is a video called “don’t ffff me huh?!” or “happy birthday to someone named Chalia” or “how to please Chen’s mum.”

Get on it but “pc” it somewhat in case I want to become saviour of the Kurds aka Atakurd. Don’t ffff me huh?!

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