Monday, December 31, 2012

Another year almost passé—güle güle, 2012!

View across the Bosporus toward the Asian part of Istanbul
OK, so my Turkish is a bit rusty since it's been exactly 35 years since my last visit here in the only capital of the world spanning two continents: Istanbul. Amazing what 35 years can do to a city that's closing in on three millennia. (Byzantion was founded in 658 B.C.) When I visited here the last time, in 1977, the city was a Moloch of honking and fume-spewing cars and especially cargo trucks, throngs of beggars, and outlandish (i.e., oriental) looking denizens. And now, it is a cosmopolitan metropolis that resembles many cities in the West, even while the labyrinthine bazaar, it's mosques, and all those itinerant street vendors hark back to the Istanbul that I learned to love back in the mid-70s.
Inside the magnificent Suleymaniye Mosque
Don't get me wrong: This is still a magnificently foreign place. But it's no longer alien, as it was when I came here the first time, in 1975. Those were the hippie days, when you hung out at the Pudding Shop not only for hashish but also to score a ride on the overland bus route to Kabul. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I never visited that mystic place that was later reduced to rubble first by the Ruskies, then our GIs. Istanbul back then was the point where West became East, where reason was replaced by the oriental dream.
Fishing from the Galata Bridge is still en vogue for the locals
Thirty-five years later, I find myself looking at progress: A vastly better public transportation system, the Galata Bridge no longer floating at the entrance of the Golden Horn but rather pillared in concrete, QR-codes in the Topkapi Sarayı so you can use your iPhone to instantly get information on the digressions of the late sultans.... Progress is also in how I arrived here—via aeroplane instead of a 50-hour train trip—and where Sabine and I are staying—the Double Tree Old Town versus a $10 flop-house down the street back in 1977 when my old girlfriend Dées and I spent three days and nights watching liters of rain water run down the walls of our love nest. How the times change.
Spices and teas ....
... and beheaded mannequins in the bazaar
It is New year's Eve, and after a second full day of sightseeing we are taking a break in our room before we go out to ring in the New Year among the hordes of tourists and those locals who undoubtedly will try to cause yet another great fire in the conflagration-prone history of the former Constantinople. We're here for a total of six nights, and this will be number three. It's still an amazing place, just very different from what it was like 35 years ago, and yet so much alike, too. Who knows what sights, sounds, smells, and emotions tonight's celebrations will offer us. What I DO know, though, is that I am mightily glad to have returned to one of my favorite cities in the world, after all those years. Yes, it is different, but I have changed, too.
The New Mosque, pre-fireworks on New Year's Eve
Happy New Year, to all of you who may read this!


1 comment:

  1. Amazing photos, thanks for sharing and for the nice overall entry!