12 August 2009

In the wake of a week at ‘the still point’

My last two nights in Istanbul were spent at the Tan Hotel, which serves breakfast on the fifth-floor terrace overlooking the Blue Mosque (right), Aya Sofya, and the port of what T.S. Eliot called "the still point of the turning world." The Tan was modern but lacked the character and friendly service of the Sultan Saray, two blocks away, which has only three rooms, each of which was on its own floor off a steep spiral staircase. The Tan, considerably more expensive, had a dozen single rooms and a few suites, all with Jacuzzis, and unlike the Sultan Saray, everything at the Tan works.

The terrace view above at dusk is fittingly without people because, unfortunately, what I will most remember about my vacation, which included three weeks on the Mediterranean coast, was that it was spent without my sweetheart who has been unable to renew her passport from her native Turkmenistan.

My return to Kabul yesterday after more than two months away was stamped in the first hour walking from the airport terminal to the parking lot and being driven to my residence in a locked, late-model pick-up with an escort and the windows rolled tight. Outside was a wasted and exhausted infrastructure of crumbled buildings, potholed and unpaved roads, piles of garbage, neighborhood water pumps in lieu of indoor plumbing, and open sewage ditches. Inside, my eyes were burning from the airborne dust and pollution. Later in the afternoon, I set up my laptop and after some work obtained internet access that was slower than dial-up, occasionally breaking up.

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