It was our final day in Istanbul.
We had been on a guided tour for nine days. Now, as at the start of our trip, we were back on our own. Ready to sally forth into the Unknown that was this teeming metropolis with its winding streets and its challenging geography, a single thought percolated prominently in our brains!
(WHINILY) “We need Sar-han!”
Actually, we didn’t.
We were no longer the nervous neophytes of two weeks before, unable to negotiate the tram ticket machines and find our way to our destinations. There were still things we wanted to see in Istanbul. And we were convinced we could find them.
Besides, Sarhan had provided us directions to them before we parted.
Not that we couldn’t have found them ourselves; we just didn’t have to. (It was also easier to find places in the Sultanahmet (“Old City”) section of Istanbul because, unlike the Sumahan, our European hotel, the Armada, was located in the Sultanahmet. The “Sites of Interest” were almost exclusively within walking distance. (That is easier, isn’t it. Of course, if we’d have stayed at the Armada from the get-go, we would have entirely missed Asia.)
The Blue Mosque is a cinch to find. Because it’s a blue mosque. (More gray, actually. The “blue” refers to the blue tile adorning the walls of its interior.)
The Blue Mosque’s unique coloration and its towering dome and minarets make it spottable from virtually anywhere. (We could see it in the distance from the other continent.) Built in the early 1600’s, the Blue Mosque was constructed on the site where the palace of the rulers of the (thousand year-old) Byzantine Empire once stood.
With its multi-layered history, you continually run into this, what network television calls, “repurposing” – using the same entity for multiple purposes. And you can readily detect the transformations – the identical structure, once a Greek theater (recognizable by the columns) becomes a Roman theater (identifiable by the arches, an innovation introduced by the Romans), becomes a Byzantine fortification (you can see where they built the surrounding walls higher for greater protection.)
What floats to mind is my Great-Uncle Benny who was reputedly the first Jewish architect in Toronto. Among other noteworthy originations, Uncle Benny designed a synagogue, which three generations or so later, as the neighborhood demographically altered, transmogrified into a Buddhist Temple. This seemed naturally fitting.
God’s House – “Now Under New Management.”
It was the same thing in Turkey, only it took substantially longer. Every five hundred or a thousand years, the country’s rulership changed hands, and, instead of erecting entirely new structures, they took what was already there and gave it an ecclesiastical makeover. (In mosques that were once churches, Muslim religious requirements led the new owners to plaster over the building’s ubiquitous, Christian-themed murals. (At the risk of being blasphemous, this reminded me of the Lakers championship banners being draped over at the Staples Center during “home” games played in the same venue by the Clippers.)
Our next stop was Istanbul’s Archeological Museum, which was as spectacular as Istanbul’s Science and Technology Museum was disappointing. And then some. We saw some of the oldest exhibits of our trip in that museum, some offerings dating back numerous millennia.
Most memorable for me were the nine separate glassed-in displays, each containing recovered artifacts from the nine distinctly different incarnations of fabled city of Troy. Of course, being totally ignorant, I can be easily fooled about that.
SCOFFING ARCHEOLOGICAL EXPERT: “You see that shard of pottery they placed in ‘The Seventh Level of Troy’? Please. It’s so obviously the Ninth!”
Having sufficiently sated ourselves with these accumulated artifacts of antiquity, it was now off to the Grand Bazaar. Where a virtually impossible assignment awaited us.
Earlier in the trip, we had purchased numerous items – towels and various other textiles – from two different places, which we had arranged to have packed together (by the towels vendor) and subsequently shipped back to Santa Monica (to be delivered after our return home.)
During the boat trip, however, Dr. M had received an e-mail from FedEx screaming, “Delivery Error!” We immediately wondered if something had gone awry with our shipment. Understandably concerned, we decided that when we returned to Istanbul, we would seek out the towels vendor, hoping for a clarification of what exactly was going on.
The problem was,
There are thirty thousand stalls in the Grand Bazaar.
And we had no idea where the towels vendor was.
Undaunted and determined, we stepped into the Grand Bazaar, and we started to walk. Down one aisle and up another, scrupulously scouring the bustling terrain.
Finding a needle in an emporial haystack.
The Grand Bazaar is a baffling agglomeration of quality merchandise side by side with self-described Genuine Fake Watches. Two problems arise here. You have to be able to distinguish the genuine article from the junk. And then, you have to bargain skillfully for an acceptable price.
Which brings us to this memorable encounter.
During our (seemingly fruitless) search for the towels vendor, I spotted a t-shirt that I wanted. I said,
“Twenty Turkish lira.”
We had been there for two weeks. We were determined to dicker.
Dr. M: “Oh, come on. We saw the same t-shirt for fifteen.”
“Not this one. I am the only one who sells them. Twenty lire is my best price.”
I immediately jump in, utilizing an idiosyncratic haggling technique.
“Twenty-five,” I offer.
The guy stares at me.
“Okay, thirty. But that’s as high as I go.”
I can sense the man’s confusion. Incredulity flickers in his eyes.
“Thirty-five,” I call out. “But that is definitely my final offer.”
At this point, the vendor is convulsed with uncontrollable laughter. I have made his day. Possibly his entire year.
And I get the t-shirt for eighteen.
The best thing that happened in the Grand Bazaar that day?
Not even close.
We found the towels vendor we were looking for!
Out of thirty thousand stalls! Dr. M has uncanny directional abilities. (As it turns out, the worrisome e-mail was unrelated to our shipment, which, as yet, had not even been dispatched.)
I now request your indulgence for a final blog post of scattered but hopefully interesting odds and ends.
Then I’ll be done.
And I can move on to other things.