11 October 2009

First Sights

Looking out from my hotel room, this is what I saw. Those are all commercial buildings which could be on the Lower east Side of New York City as much as Istanbul. Off to the right out of the picture and up hill about 50 meters is the local mosque, originally built in the 1480s, but recently restored. Also out of view on the right, directly across the cross street are other commercial buildings. I am on the third floor and can see into them because of the large windows. Every night men work large sewing machines for the clothing manufacturers around here.

This part of town is the old commercial center of town, less than a 1/4 mile from the fabled Grand Bazaar. A warren of narrow streets, small trucks block the streets, and men push hand carts along the narrow sidewalks. Others smoke and drink tea from little tulip shaped glasses. Men deliver the tea on platters, walking from a galley kitchen on every block whose sole task is to make tea. What New Yorkers call bodegas, tiny stores that sell soda and candy and cigarettes, are on each block. Each block also has a small eatery of some kind, usually a 'locanta' which is a simple restaurant. There is often a tourist hotel as well. In other words, every block is a complete community.

My first evening, after a desultory sandwich and glass of beer, I take a stroll on the Ordu Caddesi, the main avenue since Byzantine times. These ruins are of an arch set there by the emperor Theodosius in the fifth or sixth century. It was enormous, a double arch that spanned the wide road back then. It fell many many years later, I am not sure exactly when. The collapsed columns are so large and heavy that instead of moving them, the city simply rolled them to one side. For all I know they have been in this position for 1000 years. The tram and the traffic fill the old street where chariots and horses once went, people choke the sidewalks as they must have 1500 years ago, but now they all flow around these broken bits of glory. Oddly, I find it consoling at not at all sad. Even crumbling grandeur still has a place in this town.
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