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Turkish Adventure Part One

It all began on Tuesday March 31st.  I got to the airport way early for my flight.  I share my father’s habit of trying to go to the airport the day before the plane leaves so I won’t be late.  Anyway, there I am waiting for my flight to Chicago to make the connection to an international flight to Heathrow when American announces that the American Eagle plane has a flat tire and it has to be changed.  It will only be a delay of a thirty minutes or so.  No problem.  I had plenty of time to make my connection.  Twenty minutes later they come back on the P.A. to announce that they don’t have a spare tire for an American Eagle in Albuquerque, and they’re going to have to fly one in.  Now I won’t be leaving until 6:00 pm, and I’ll miss my flight.

I grab out the IPhone, and call the American 800 number.  I get a great guy who when he hears what has happened, and where it happened just sighs, and says in tones of long suffering, “Ah Albuquerque, Albuquerque, Albuquerque.”  He then books me in business class on a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, and then to Heathrow.  Turns out if the flight that Pat and Walter were on.  Score.  And score for business class since I’d only paid for an upgrade on the over-the-water part of the trip.

We get to Dallas, I check my phone and have a message from my mortgage company that is trying to set up my refinance on my house.  The bank needs my 2006 tax return, and the closing documents from my original mortgage.  Why I do not know.  I call my old accountants.  They won’t release my tax return unless I come in and physically sign a document allowing them to.  Turns out the bank only needs a copy of my K-1 from Western.  I call the Western office in Farmington and they make a copy of the 2006 K-1 and fax it to the lender.

Walter, Pat and I settle in a bar and drink margaritas.  Time to go to London.  Because I was now on a different plane I had lost my window seat, and was in that middle row of seats.  A nice British lady asks if I’ll trade with her husband who has a window seat so they could sit together.  Score!

Turns out that if you’re not traveling with a friend or a lover you don’t want a window seat.  I had the unconscious English woman next to me.  When you’re in business class they offer you orange juice and champagne before take-off.  I availed myself of both and made a mimosa.  English lady had two champagnes.  We get into the air, and the stewardess asks if we want a drink.  I have water.  English lady goes with a gin and tonic.

We’re presented with our menus and select our dinner choice.  The cart comes by loaded with different kinds of wine.  I have a shiraz, drink about half, and eat my appetizer of warmed nuts.  English lady has three glass of wine.  She takes a sleeping pill, and goes unconscious.  Dinner arrives.  I get a refill on my wine.  English lady is snoring away.  The stewards get worried, and are discussing how she seems to have taken something.  They shake her awake and tell her her food is getting cold.  She eats and has a few more glasses of wine.  I make a desperate run for the bathroom before she goes prone.   She lays her chair all the way back and becomes unconscious again.

I cruise through the movie choices.  A romance with Richard Gere.  Stuff I’ve already seen.  In desperation I watch Beverly Hills Chihuahua.  Oh my god, Jamie Lee Curtis, how far you have fallen.

I put in my earplugs (thanks Janice for the tip.   The World’s Finest Ear Plugs — yes, that’s really the name — are the best)  grab my pillow and fluffy blanket and go to sleep, and pray I don’t need to use the bathroom before they wake us for breakfast.  The sleeping English woman is like a bulwark ready to repel all borders.  Eventually the hell of travel was over, and we landed at Heathrow.  
Walter had contacted the spectacular Pat Cadigan and she and her husband Chris were going to meet us at Heathrow for lunch since we had a seven hour lay-over before our flight to Istanbul.  We had a merry time, took photos, and caught about about our lives, the state of publishing (dismal in Britain too).  Granted it was an airport, but I was shocked at the cost of our lunch.  I don’t know how ordinary people leave in London.  Here’s a photo of the gang.

Finally it was time to catch our three hour flight to Istanbul.  British airways treated us to a full, hot, and damn good meal accompanied by free drinks — free drinks — as in beer and wine as well as soft drinks, coffee, tea, etc.  On an American flight there would have been no food or an overpriced “snack” that would have been inedible and you’d pay for your drinks.  There is even talk of making us pay for the soft drinks on flights on U.S. carriers.  

And now, if George Bush were still president I’d end up on list.  The European model for airlines — way better than the American.  These countries have one national airline.  Yes, there is no competition, but the service is so much better.  I travelled on British air twice.  Always on time, always full meals.  I travelled on Turkish airways three times while I was there.  Always on time.  Always with meals, and the Turkish flights were one hour in duration.  If you want to fly an economy airline, you can, but as one English gentlemen told us “it’s almost like being on bus, but a bus would be more comfortable.”
There is a two hour time difference between London and Istanbul so my my internal clock I wasn’t all that tired, but I was glad to reach our hotel at midnight.  We were sharing a triple in the Hotel Spectre, and we fell into bed.  Somewhere between four and five am I was awakened by the call of the muezzin.  It’s a lyric, but eerie sound in the dark hour before dawn.  A man’s voice like a lyric tenor rising and falling in cadences that are just enough removed from western vocal tradition to offer this sense of a new world, if not an alien world.

I went back to sleep, and none of us moved until 9:00 am.  I hopped up, showered in the _tiny_ shower and headed up to the roof terrace for breakfast, and froze, with my breath catching in my throat.  The glassed-in area looked out across the Roman Hippodrome that is now a park, the Egyptian obelisk and the Crusader obelisk, the Blue Mosque and Highia Sophia beyond. 

Off to the right was the Sea of Mermer.  It was a grey day with rain threatening.  Here are some photos over a couple of days of the view from the breakfast terrace.  I also realized the Muezzin’s call was coming from the Blue Mosque.

There was a breakfast buffet.  It was a lot like other European hotel breakfasts — cheese, a baloney-like cold cut, bread, jelly, butter, hard boiled eggs, but there were some interesting additions.  Sliced fresh tomatoes and cucumber, plain yogurt, and Turkish pancakes called gozelame.  They have different fillings and they are delicious.  The oddest thing is the juice.  Cherry trees originated in Asia Minor so the jelly/jam is always cherry, and one juice choice is cherry.  They also offer orange juice, but it’s Tang.  I tried the cherry juice, but it was very, very sweet, so I settled on Tang.  Boy, did I get tired of Tang after two and half weeks.

The young girl who kept the buffet table stocked also kept our tea cups filled, and I was struck again by the superior flavor of tea at sea level.  Water boils at a lower temp up here in Santa Fe, and the tea just doesn’t get that rich flavor.
But back to cherry trees.  It was the Roman general Lucullus who brought cherry trees back to Italy after his campaign against Mithradates, and Turkey is the origin of other plants as well, but more on that later.

Fortified by food and sleep we set out to explore.  We walked the length of the Hippodrome and I imagined the roar of the crowds watching the chariot races.  Screams of Blue!  Red!  Green!  Or bets being exchanged on the discus throw, or the wrestling.  Constantinople was founded as a Christian city so there never was a Colosseum where men and beasts fought to the death.
In the center of the park is the Egyptian obelisk.  It broke off back in antiquity so it is quite small, and it has been excavated down fifteen feet to display the base.  Fifteen feet is how much dirt and garbage has accumulated over the centuries.  The other sandstone obelisk is pitted with holes because the Crusader knights used to climb it in full armor for bets.

There is so much to see in a city with this much history so we made our choice.  First stop, the archeological museum in the Topkapi Palace.  We entered through the blackened stone walls through a side gate and found ourselves in a spectacular garden filled with beds of blossoming flowers.  We walked up a steep, cobbled driveway past the man who would tell your fortune using either a cock or a rabbit.  (I was sorely tempted to have my fortune read by two beasts as dumb as chickens and rabbits), past people selling scarves and key chains and bracelets that showed the blue eye that warded you against evil, and finally found the ticket kiosk.

This is the first courtyard of the palace complex.  Overall the palace is designed like a nesting doll.  In the outer rings are the more modern buildings in the classical style that house artifacts, and apparently the buildings were always used for displays of various kinds.  There is one older building that dates from the 16th century that housed glassware, but the others look to be late eighteenth to nineteenth century buildings.  In the courtyard you first notice all the cats.  Istanbul is filled with cats, some of them feral, most of them used to being fed by tourists.  I became such a tourist as our trip continued.

We entered the building and began looking at the Hittite, Greek and Roman statuary.  There was so much that eventually I hit brain overload.  Here were some of my favorites.  The Sidon Alexander tomb which showed the king of Sidon hanging out with his buddy Alexander.  What were really interesting were the remnants of paint on the marble figures.  You always think about Greek and Roman statuary as being pristine and white, but the ancients loved color, and these statues were usually painted.

I took photos of a statue of a Hemaphroditus in honor of Noel,


two cherubs betting on a cock fight,


and many pictures of the reliefs of horses.  Notice in this figure how the man is gripping the skin of the horse’s neck.  This is how we control a panicking horse.  Obviously the knowledge goes back a long way.


Here are the end pieces on the Sidon tomb.  Battling centaurs, sphinx and griffins, what’s not to like.


In the sixteenth century building I tried for a photo of these beautiful peacock tiles, but there just wasn’t enough light.  Peacocks are a very common motif, and it led to my first purchase in Istanbul.  More on that later.  The Ottoman ceramics are breathtaking, and used in lieu of tapestries or the paintings you would see in European buildings of this period.

Wow, I’ve written six pages and I haven’t finished our first full day.  More tomorrow.

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