[Sigh… okay, where was I before the hotel’s flakey internet connection ate my post? Sorry, but this whole Anne LaMott thing of “s***y first drafts” (yes, it’s a family blog) never worked for me. I sit down, the words come out of my head, and unless my hands are attached to something that gets them written down, they’re gone. Good or bad, they’re here for me to take or let go. I can’t play “How did that song go?” and get them back. So when I lose a chunk of text that I like and have to try to recreate it, it feels more like forensics than authorship. And what I do get back reads a lot like the transcript of your best friend trying to get you to sing along with that bad song from the 70’s that he doesn’t quite remember.
But let’s have a go – where was I?]
Oh yes, the bazaar. I got there early, as the giant metal gates were still being opened. I like places like this at times like this. It’s a peek backstage, before the players are in character. Floors being lazily scrubbed, stern old men playing backgammon on low tables at store front. Younger men striding here and there with swinging brass trays of steaming Turkish coffee, thicker than crude oil and hotter than the earth it came from. Kids teetering on ladders, meticulously rearranging shirthangers along the awnings. Cobblestones and inlaid tile, pipesmoke and morning dew.
Once the bazaar got rolling, I didn’t find myself actually wanting to buy anything. Oh, except for pretty much everything in that one shop of antique scientific instruments. Could’ve bought the whole damn store if I’d let myself go.
Back at the hotel, after rousing the troops, we repeated our trek into Sultanahmet. This time, into the Blue Mosque just ahead of noon prayers, then across the flower gardens and into the square.
Ahead, we noticed two men in Ottoman garb carrying elaborate metal jars on their backs, and follow for a closer look. D recognizes them as traditional cherry juice sellers, which she’s read about. They notice our kids and turn on the charm (the Turks do love children!) – we tip them inordinately for their efforts and continue on our way, refreshed and amused.
Next stop is the Basilica Cistern, built under the center of the city by Justinian to hold water for the royal gardens. It’s a vast underground plaza of fired brick arch roof supported by columns scavenged from even earlier ruins. We find the entrance after circling around a time or two, but we’re not the only ones who had trouble finding it. It had apparently lain forgotten for centuries, and was rediscovered only in the past 50 years, when city dwellers began dropping lines through holes in their basement and pulling up fish. Now, you pay your 7 lira, wait a few minutes while J plays the “steal my hat” game with the ticket taker, and clamber down modern stone steps into another world.
It’s dark and cool, with something that sounds vaguely like Vivaldi playing from somewhere – everywhere. A lattice of wooden boardwalks lets you stroll among the columns, over the floor of the endless pool, tracing ripples left by schools of carp that haven’t seen sunlight in generations.
The summer heat is turned up to “11” by the time we get back out, so D and the kids retreat to air-conditioned safety of the hotel room while I set out for the archeological museum. As I noted yesterday – lots of good stuff there. Artifacts from Troy I through IX (but not the forgettable “Return of the Curse of Troy”), Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian votive figures (left in a master’s grave in place of his grateful servants) and vivid reproductions of what the Athenian marbles looked like before they were sanded clean of paint by the centuries.
As the sun finally calls it a day, we decide to brave the trek to Kumkapi, a tourist street by the old fishmarket, where D and I had eaten on our last trip. We venture through parts of Istanbul that are clear strangers to the tourist trade, stopping for an adventure or two on the way. J needs a bathroom; we stop in what turns out to be a gamehouse of card tables and I make the international gesture for “Number Two”. They do like kids here – immediately the entire room is mobilized to find us a lavatory. We end up in the mosque across the street working out the plumbing of a traditional Turkish can. J’s a trooper and an adventurer, and we’re soon on our way again.
A few more odd turns and we find ourselves on the crowded street of noise and lights. Music spills from restaurants that have in turn spilled from their own walls out to make the street almost impassable. Barkers call us in to look at their menus, smoke swirls past, and a river of people carry us along. We select a second floor seat from which to watch the spectacle and treat ourselves to a blissfully slow dinner, with wine, while the kids plug themselves into Nintendo and bliss themselves out. So what if they’ve only had ice cream for lunch and dinner – they’re resilient.
On the subject of resilient, we catch the corner ice cream guy selling that elastic chewy ice cream, and buy the kids another hit of sucrose. Then a cab back to the hotel, strap the now-ballistic kids into bed, and retire to a quiet corner to play an unsuccessful game of hide-and-seek with the day’s blog post. And here we are. Er, were.