Thursday, October 1, 2009

Istanbul I

For the week-long break we got for 'Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, all three of us decided to go to Istanbul.

We arrived in the city around 6 am on Friday morning and somehow managed to figure out the tram system well enough to get ourselves to our hostel in Sultanahmet, a neighborhood full of hostels and tourist traps but also situated perfectly with the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya less than 5 minutes' walk away. After a nap, the group of about 12 of us split and we went our separate ways for the day, with myself, Sean, and Clarence choosing to simply wander around the area until that evening. We ended up wandering down to the waterfront, walking through Gulshane Park and around the Topkapi Palace area, down almost to the area where the next day we would find the Grand Bazaar. Returning to Sultanahmet in the early evening, I went to the Blue Mosque for maghrib and did namaz with other women in the women's section, with whom I had some interesting Turkish-English-Arabic conversation and played with their children. The Blue Mosque itself was beautiful, with all the colored tiles that give it its name as well as circles of hanging lamps illuminating the vast inner space. It had an ethereal glow to it that was peaceful and elegant.

Saturday saw us exploring the Grand Bazaar, a massive labyrinth of stalls offering everything you could ever want all in a covered space that has been operating for centuries. Wandering through the maze of jewelry, leather, carpets, antiquities, spices, sunglasses, clothing, and argeelas eventually brought me to the small courtyard of the Book Bazaar, where I could find second hand books as well as old illuminated manuscripts and calligraphers at work. After sitting, chatting, and having tea with one shopkeeper who was a restoration artist of illuminated manuscripts as well as a calligrapher (we talked about My Name is Red!), I caved in and bought a page from a Persian book that depicts two astronomers at work and, as far as my limited knowledge of Persian takes me, describes some of the celestial bodies in rhymed verse.

The first thing I thought of upon seeing it was the following Walt Whitman poem:

"When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars."

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