Saturday, 17 November 2007

STEPH Istanbul 15-17/11/07

I am surrounded by pink women, scrubbed clean and shiny as the marble walls around us. I close my eyes and lie back against the warm rock. The voices of the women swirl around the chamber, like a great wheel spinning so fast it is impossible to pin your eyes on any one point. They rise and spill into the cavern of the ceiling dome above us. If these voices were a picture they would be a meringue.

I am in the Cagaloglu Hamimi. Don't try to pronounce it because I don't have the necessary Turkish squiggles to sit on the g and give it its legs; if I did, phonetically it would become something like Ca-a-lo-lu. And yes, give it rhythm.

Famous Turkish baths. It's beautiful watching women allow the soft animal of their bodies love what they love.*

I chose these particular ones for their historical value. Forked out the full €40 for the whole shebang. This meant I got two 'massages', which really are rough body scrubs, and my hair washed (meaning head slapped around).

It was okay. The baths were filled with blonde women - a first for me since arriving in Rome in September with my shorn blonde locks. Americans and Germans. And me. Tourist baths. Which is fine. As with the Hagia Sophia, we were all watchers. I try to imagine the baths in their own time and place. It was easier at Sophia. It's like dancing with a beautiful woman and treading on her toes. She's tired. We keep demanding she dance when she seeks only to sit down and read a good book.

So too the palace, Topkapi palace with its famed Harem and treasury. I am Australian, daughter of a new world. Even though I knew these worlds existed - I didn't know they existed. The first thing I spy in the palace, in the darkness behind dirty glass, are Cinderella carriages. Cinderella carriages! I thought the pictures in fairy tales were pictures in fairy tales.

I experienced the same sensation atop the city walls at Dubrovnik, fairy tale castles with pointy caps and flags. In the Topkapi palace treasury I see Open Sesame treasures, replete with jewelled daggers and giant ruby pendants. I giggle to myself as the Sultan and his lissom guards spring to life.

I wander around empty tiled rooms, doing my level best to birth images of this apparently wondrous world as it was. I am a little embarrassed, because it's all a bit tired and tacky. And I am surprised at the smallness of the rooms.

The harem contains its own little hum, perhaps because of the raised level of interest in the watchers, which in turn lends it to an additional entry fee. I wonder what it is about an enclave of captive women in knife-edge luxury that excites us.

Phew, I think, lucky that doesn't happen any more.

A friend of my husband's drives me to the carpark of his old apartment. From there, by night, we look across the Bosphorous at the old city. The Ayasofya, the Blue Mosque, many mosques - they are surreal, as if they have just arrived from another world and hover low to the ground, unsure about whether or not to land.

Five times a day the call to Allah rides the wind over the city, shooting arrow straight from loudspeakers on the minarets. It's beautiful. And it reminds me of my children's father when he is trying to make a decision.

I wonder about the Turkish flag, with its crescent moon. Why a dying moon, I wonder? Why not a new moon? In the Topkapi palace, inscribed into an intricate book cover, the crescent is a new moon . . .

Istanbul the Magnificent.

I have the strong sense that, from humanity's perspective, Istanbul is our whole. All other empires, no matter how full and rich and contained in themselves, are pieces of our puzzle. Istanbul is the picture complete, the point where we make sense of ourselves in relation to each other.

Istanbul is the mystery proclaimed.

*Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

2 comments:

Brunette said...

Steph, I want to go to Istanbul immediately! Have enjoyed stepping the journey with you & Ben and glad you had mostly good experiences in Croatia. Would have felt somehow responsible if you hadn't.

Ben, what a fun travel companion you make - even virtually. Look forward to the doco. More power to your feet & your fabulous spirit.

Ciao! B

Ben :) said...

hi brunette

thanks for the support...

and i think most people find it more fun hearing about my adventures rather than actually being a part of them ;)

whch is probably why i spend so much time traveling alone...

ben :)