Friday, April 16, 2010

Of Bells, Smells and Calls to Prayer

I was lying in bed this morning at 5:20, listening to the call to prayer. It's different in the morning since the call tells you that praying is better than sleep. For the traveler, it is a constant reminder that you are in a different place, just as the church bells in Venice remind you of that difference. Auditory differences are just as important as the visual ones.

Istanbul is a colorful mixture for the senses. It can be noisy, especially in the bazaars and it is colorful everywhere. This time of year, when the tulips are in bloom, early just for us, and the flowers were in riotous profusion yesterday, the colors were even more pronounced. We had an exceptionally warm, sunny day, unlike the chilly days we had been experiencing up this point. And we made the most of it.

In the morning, the whole group went to the Archeological Museum in G├╝lhane Park, just next to Topkapi Palace. It is a wonderful museum, with many excellent exhibits, including a sarcophagus from Sidon, Lebanon, supposedly that of Alexander the Great but really that of a king of Sidon. It is still a fantastic piece, with some bits of paint left on it.

The one thing I really wanted to see was the piece of the chain that went across the Golden Horn, to keep out the Ottoman ships, when Constantinople was under siege in 1453. Unfortunately it is on exhibit in Paris at the moment. We did see it when we were here in 2006/07, but I was hoping to see it again on this trip. Here is a painting that shows it, but you can't see it too well in this photograph.

In the afternoon, we had doner for lunch, followed by really good Turkish ice cream from Mado. What makes ice cream Turkish? For one thing, they use goat's milk. Also, they put a little mastic into it, which changes the texture from the ice cream we are used to. It is a bit different, but still very nice. I had chocolate and almond. Peter had chocolate chip and walnut. Then we tried to go the the Museum of Calligraphy, but it is closed for restoration, as so much is right now. As the 2010 European City of Culture, Istanbul received a lot of funds to restore buildings and so a lot of restoration work is being carried out. Walking back, we found an interesting bookshop where Peter bought a textbook on Ottoman Turkish. Then we looked at "antique" prints. The sellers told me that the ones I was interested in were from the 17th and 18th centuries. But at another shop, the owner told me that the paper was old but the paintings were new and that most of the prints we would see were like that. I was happy to find out that information before spending any substantial amount of money of money for an "authentic" print.

In the end I bought a necklace and earrings in sterling silver. They were made in Istanbul and are an Ottoman pattern.

For a change I bought something different from my usual type of jewelry, very Turkish and very beautiful, at least I think so. Then we just continued walking and enjoying the sun.

And the smells? I love the food smells--the bread, the grilled meats, the chestnuts and roasted corn. But the flowers are making my allergies come out in full force. So, while they add color and beauty, I kind of wish they were scent-free.

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