06 August 2009

Istanbul delivers its cosmopolitan promises

On the Galata Bridge looking toward the Asian side of Istanbul.

I am sure there are worse places to be despondent than Istanbul, this ancient cultural crossroads, which is as vibrant and cosmopolitan as I had expected.

Much of my time has been spent walking its streets, often narrow and twisting up and down steep hillsides; visiting palatial buildings, some of which were Christian churches before becoming Islamic mosques, marveling at their massive stone walls, extraordinary tile work, stained-glass windows, and intricately designed domed ceilings; and simply becoming a conscious part of the remarkable flow of diverse faces and fashion in which, for instance, fully veiled Muslim women clad in billowing black from head to toe walk alongside plump, Western women stuffed into thin, gauzy pants that reveal their bikini underwear, label and all.

Having spent most of my recent years in land-locked places, I especially enjoy being around and having a view of the open water of the Sea of Marmara, which is linked by the Bosporus strait to the Black Sea. I haven’t enjoyed the local food as much as I had hoped because I can’t seem to venture into a good restaurant by myself. I had hoped to be in Turkey with my friend Oksana, who is still stranded outside Ashgabat waiting for the Turkmen government to renew her passport. This was to be our long-awaited vacation together and I don’t want to be in situations that remind me of our separation.

Yesterday I ventured into the Beyo─člu district on the Asian side of the city and discovered the Catholic Church of St. Anthony di Padua, where I spent half an hour or so enjoying the silence and the occasional breeze that moved the humid air. I attempted to pray, but I only pretend to talk to God because I’m not sure there is anyone or anything listening, yet I think the act is still helpful because it acknowledges my powerlessness and reminds me of my brokenness, two good antidotes for my overinflated ego. My intentions were for my elderly mother, that her prayers, which are made with great conviction, would be answered. I prayed that Oksana be granted the passport she is entitled to so she can attend graduate school in Germany.

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