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Istanbul

August 14, 2010

Istanbul seems staggeringly big and busy. Our first night in town, we had a drink on a rooftop terrace, and I searched for an end to the city but couldn’t find one—it disappeared into the haze, further than I could see.

While Q and I were exploring the streets of the Beyoglu neighborhood, we passed a restaurant lacking customers, and its proprietor was calling out to passers-by, imploring them to come sit down. He talked us into sitting at one of the street-side tables, to sit and have a drink on the house, so that we might attract more customers. After a a bunch of lewd remarks about American girls (looking back, I probably should have made a fuss about this and just left altogether), he brought out some little cups of apple tea, and we wondered if we weren’t about to be victims of some sort of scam—maybe we’d be presented with an enormous bill, or perhaps something involving chloroform, kidnapping, and murder would transpire…The tea was quite nice, and so was the baklava, and a nice couple sat down at a table next to us, and we were on our way.

We saw the Blue Mosque. I was content to sit and take in all the patterns and colors and the curves and arches of the domes, to feel appropriately awed. Q said, “it looks like a bad rug.”

Yesterday, to escape the densely packed alleys, thronged with people and cars, trapping heat and humidity, we caught a ferry for 3 lira each to Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands, a one and a half hour journey beginning in the Straight of Bosphorus and ending in the Sea of Marmara. The islands are called the Princes’ Islands, I think, because they were used as a dumping ground for exiled royalty during the Byzantine period. Leon Trotsky was also exiled here for a while. There are no cars on the island, only phaetons drawn by bony horses. I didn’t swim, because the sea was full of litter and there was no proper beach, but I did enjoy the breeze, and the quiet streets, and the wooden houses and their gardens, and I especially liked coming back across the Bosphorus as the sun was setting.

We went to a bar recommended to me by a friend from Istanbul. The DJ was doing weird things with old disco songs. The bar itself would be at home in Carrboro—shabby and mismatched, the crowd and the furniture. A waiter from the bar struck up a conversation, and when he needed help translating to English, he got it from a friendly local guy, who then invited Q and me to follow him and his friends to the next club, which he said was having a “Balkan night”. And so we downed our last sip of beer and followed them out into the street.

Up five flights of stairs, past apartments, and a tailor, and who knows what else, we found the club, called Araf, with sloping, low ceilings and dark cavey corners. The music veered from sped-up Cake and Fatboy Slim to Turkish rap to the White Stripes to more Turkish music to Gogol Bordello (finally, something a little bit Balkan), and the crowd loved all of it.

I am sticky and mosquito bitten. The weather here is much like the weather at home right now—85-90 by day, 75ish by night. Not to complain, but our hostel has no AC, so we leave the windows open, and the mosquitoes come in while we sleep to feast on our sweaty limbs.  Because of this, and because I’ve only got five days left of my trip, I have started having very American fantasies: getting in my car, turning the AC as high as it will go, driving across town to Harris Teeter, standing in the frozen foods aisle ogling the Di Giornos and the Ben and Jerryses until my skin goes numb yesssss.

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