28 May 2008


I have to say something I am loathe to say lest I disappoint my readers and insult my new Turkish friends, should they possibly be reading this: I am somewhat disappointed with Istanbul. I was looking forward to visiting this city as almost nowhere else on my trip, but it has, I think, fallen off from its heyday as a pen of antiquity and den of iniquity. Potential EU membership must be the death knell responsible for the sanitization of the historic quarter, Sultanahmet, which seems to me as hideously fake and touristic--in that overpriced restaurant, no student discount, hordes of fatuglypoorlydressed Europeans way--as Florence, Cuzco, and Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco. The "new" part of the city, Taksim, looks like every other capitalism-molested downtown strip on Earth: rows of high-end designer boutiques, piles of cafes (but no good coffee), American chain establishments, and stupid theme bars. I wonder sometimes why I even visit them anyway because, like in Paul Kelly's song, every fucking city looks the same.

But despair not, readers! I *am* having a good time here, even if my critical gaze gets the better of me always. My friends Michael and Jessica happened to be here for their vacation, and I had the opportunity to meet up with them. The 26th was Michael's birthday, too, and they celebrated by paying for my dinner (thanks, guys!). We also spent three days tooling around the city, visiting the sites, wandering the neighborhoods, and absolutely failing to locate a cinema where we could watch the new Indiana Jones movie in English (it's dubbed everywhere, groan). The Blue Mosque, which turned out to be the first mosque either of them had ever visited, was sublime. Topkapı Palace was, I don't know, sort of boring I guess (note my noncommittal non-enthusiasm), but that harem was interesting (worth an extra $8 I can't say). Aya Sofia, which I'd been waiting my whole life to see, did not disappoint: a giant heap of Roman basilica whose origins and original Christian grandeur no amount of Ottoman Muslim repurposing could obscure--and you could go up to the mezzanine level! I love that! There were other things, but none as fun as our attempts to eat the pişmaniye I bought--after one bite, the little strands of candy floss fell everywhere, at least one half of every piece *I* tried to eat ended up in my beard.

On their last day before returning to America, yesterday, we took a day-long trip up the Bosporus by boat to a small town near the Black Sea. The coast is stunning all the way, with old villas and rich people's houses providing much of the scenery, the up-poking cypress trees adding that inimitable Mediterranean ambiance. On arrival at small town, we immediately sauntered (yes, sauntered) uphill to the broken Venetian fortress, from where we got a view all the way back to the city. Just below there, we collapsed into a restaurant with hammocks and beanbag chairs for several hours before making the return trip. I ate calamari.

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