Here & There &…
Having been in Istanbul for ten continuous weeks without leaving (Heybeliada being technically part of the city)—a condition involving living downhill (and downwind) of an open-pit mine of a construction project, never seeing trees, sharing a space with fifteen million other people—I desperately needed to get out. Yet, when my alarm went off at an early six a.m. on Saturday, I wondered if I couldn’t just hit snooze 45 times and willingly commit myself to doing nothing. The weather didn’t look promising, anyway.
A sleepy subway, bus, second subway, and second bus ride (totaling about two hours) later, the flight attendant—I mean, bus attendant—is offering me a selection of not-quite-Hostess cupcakes and asking if I would like water, tea, juice, or coffee. We speed through increasingly green spaces—save a LeCorbusier housing project gone terribly awry and several cookie-cutter mansions surrounded by barbed wire fences—and before I can put my empty drink cup down, “Before the Earth was Round” puts me to sleep practically on the shoulder of the businessman next to me.
Still sleepy and dreaming I’m a fluxus artist or whatever, a recording comes on—waking me from a now half-sleep—welcoming us to Edirne. People grab their things from the overhead bins. (You really would think we were on a plane). We park, and the door opens. We get off the bus…and onto a smaller bus, which drives down the main drag, with the elderly driver yelling out stops. Eight such cries go by before someone says, “I’ll get off there.” Ok Go is still going, turning to track forty-something; it’s a remix of “This Too Shall Pass.”
We reach the end of the line, and me and the lone other passenger get off.
Just the day before, we had been talking about the Selimiye Mosque in my (four person) art history class. Presenting itself now to me, just behind the bus office, I head straight for it.
Passing through the bazaar selling fruit-shaped soap and plain-shaped marzipan (the opposite of what I might expect), up through the stairwell populated by beggars, and past the 10-year-old boys in the courtyard selling trinkets they insist will go toward mosque repairs, I take off my shoes, pass through the curtain, and swoon under the dome.
Passing through the back gate, I descend through a quiet neighborhood and up a hill, on which the modestly-sized Muradiye Mosque is perched, with horses out front. Three boys who had been chasing the horses around followed me through the gate, insisting on money; their father, waiting for the mosque to be unlocked for prayer, told them off and we started chatting. At the end of our conversation he mentioned that prayer-time was still an hour away, so rather than waiting I went back down the hill toward the oil-wrestling stadium at the edge of town, and paused to sit for a few minutes on the scant ruins of a former Ottoman palace before turning down a dirt road (sneezing all the way) toward the Bayezid Mosque, just as the ezzan began.
When I arrived the men (and a couple of young women) were filing out, and the imam went into his office with a man to work on the latter’s Qur’anic recitation. Except for the man’s son, who was quietly playing with a rack of prayer beads next to a window, the room was empty—which made the necessary evil of picture-taking a little less awful.
The adjacent complex was the Museum of Health, which formerly housed a mental hospital (where patients were calmed with incense and music, rather than killed, as was common in the rest of Europe at that time). On my way back into town, a man made a point of stopping me in the street to comment on how handsome I was—reminding me of my visit to the police station the other week (to pick up my residence permit), where the officers debated what actor I most resembled. Back in the main part of town, I visited the last two mosques on my list—the Üç Şerefli Mosque (which has four minarets of completely different styles) and the Old Mosque, with over-sized calligraphy adorning the walls. Walking down the one busy street in the city, I popped into a restaurant for the local specialty, Edirne Ciğeri—fried liver and peppers. (Having once had some raw buffalo liver, though, this was rather tame).
Coming back to Istanbul, it began to storm—rain, thunder, lightning. I had just read a part of Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet a few days before that describes a thunderstorm, and made me realize how much more unsettling they must have once been. Taking the service bus from the Otogar we hit traffic, and the (other) lone other passenger and I got off short of Taksim; the metro station was quiet, and the ride back to Gayrettepe was the same as every other ride I’ve taken on a Saturday night back to Gayrettepe; the walk back to my apartment was cold (unexpected April cold) the same as every other cold.