In one sense the Prophet Muhammad had it easy. When the Archangel Jibril (Gabriel) told him “Recite!” Muhammad recited. That was possibly his first act of islam, surrender of his human will to that of the Almighty. It’s blog time. I’m here in Marrakech, at the base of the High Atlas Mountains separating Morocco’s coastal plain from the Sahara. (By the way, Sahara, the word, stems from the Arabic sahra, which means desert. So when we Westerners speak of the Sahara Desert, we’re actually saying the Desert Desert.) Anyway, I hope there’s some angel trainee available to help me put thousands of impressions into a few hundred words. Let’s see!
Per my promise, this week’s blog is about our 15 days in Turkey. First of all, I am about a third of the way through culling 100 photos or less from the 2,100 I took there. Once on Facebook, this selection will speak louder and more eloquently than anything I can write about our trip here. As a result I feel free not to list all the places we visited with the relevant oohs, ahs, or boos but to give my impressions as they arise. So let’s start talking Turkey.
First there’s the West to East transfer. In our case starting out in Barcelona, a lovely Western European city of a million, and arriving a few hours later in Istanbul, with 13 million one of the ten largest metropolises in the world. But urban sprawl is not the only factor. Though its main part lies in the 20% of Turkey technically in Europe, Istanbul is a mere 20-minute ferry ride across the Bosporus to its Asian section. As a matter of fact, the whole city feels like a hybrid of Avrupa and Asiya, Europe and Asia in Turkish. Bazaars; kebaps (Turkish spelling); hammams (Turkish baths); covered women from stylish to, well, not so stylish; Muslim-themed design elements everywhere; street hawkers; ubiquitous mosques and minarets; and the recorded azans chanting their call to prayer five times a day throughout the city. We stayed a mere three blocks away from Istanbul’s European Gare, the end and beginning point of the Orient Express. The third evening of our two-week tour, however, we crossed to the Asian station to take the Ankara Express. Our guide, Latif Bolat, had booked a whole sleeping car for the fourteen of us. We left at 10:30 pm and arrived in the Turkish capital at 7:30 the next morning. But let’s get back to Istanbul.
All the world’s a market there, it seems, and we Westerners mere customers. “Monsieur. Look. Genuine leather wallet. Five Turkish lira” (around $3.50). “Madam. Beautiful scarves. Looking is free.” If you don’t want to be constantly hassled and jostled, stay away from Turkey and especially Istanbul. When not in full-court-press mode, however, Turks are delightful and charming. Let me tell you about “George Clooney.” No, obviously not the real one, but a swarthy Turkish look-alike who worked the street in front of a large restaurant near our Istanbul Hotel. Our first night in town, several days before the official tour began, we discovered him, or rather he us, as we explored our neighborhood. “Come, have dinner here,” he said. “We just ate,” we replied. “No problem. I buy you a glass of tea to drink in our roof garden,” he continued, leading us toward some stairs. Live Turkish folk music met us. Two flights later, we were comfortably ensconced in pillows and drinking our free tea. We had a lovely time with the music, the tea, and chatting with our neighbors on the next cushions, two young women from Lithuania. As we were leaving, George checked in with us: “Did you get free tea? Did you have a nice time? Okay, next time come back for dinner.” We did twice more, including on our last night in Turkey. George took good care of us. Each time he took us to another section of the large Oezler Restaurant. The food was good too, which was exceptional in our tour of Turkey.
In contrast to Barcelona, where we were before and after, and Morocco, where we are now, the food in Turkey—at least, what we got of it—was too sweet, too bready, and too eggplant-dependent for my taste. In terms of sweet, think Turkish Delight. It’s enough to keep a squadron of dentists smiling for a month. Our breakfasts and lunches were typically buffets. The daily challenge was deciding what of this vast array we could actually eat. Latif, our guide, swears he could lead a culinary tour of Turkey. It would have to cost two or three times what we paid and include top restaurants. Moreover, have you ever heard of a Turkish restaurant near you? I rest my case.
Fortunately, the real food of Turkey consisted of the natural beauty of the various land- and seascapes and of an area with 9,000+ years of history and culture—Neolithic, Greek, Roman, Christian, Mongolian, Turkic, Islamic (including Sufi), and Turkish. Here there was too much good food. The impressions of one day rolled into those of the next like the colors in the tray of a Turkish marbling artist. It was, and remains, hard to remember one ancient site from the next; the underground Hellenistic city from the Christian monastic caves of Kapadokya (Cappadocia). Was that Ephesus or Troy we visited yesterday? My photos will have to speak here.
Uh oh! My Muse has just signaled it’s time, per the stipulations of the Union of Celestial Workers, to wrap it up for today. So, as after Thanksgiving, we’ll get out the aluminum foil—Reynolds Wrap, of course—and save the leftovers for another day. Next time I’ll tell you a bit about the ubiquitous, forever-living Ataturk, Turkish patriotism, Haji Bektash Weli, the one-lira massage chair, and a few more peak experiences. It’s time to dress for dinner here at “our” Moroccan Sultan’s Palace, once owned by the King’s family. But that’s another story. For now, farewell from Marrakech.
Love from Cedar and me,
Reynold (Ren) Ruslan