We’re back in Istanbul!
We started off the morning by visiting The Jewish Museum of Turkey. Turkey is the only predominantly Muslim country in the world to have a Jewish museum, so Natalie and I excitedly trooped inside to take everything in. I learned that sultans took in Jews who were fleeing from persecution during the Spanish Inquisition; 95% of the Jewish population here consists of Sephardic Jews. Former President Ataturk (who, admittedly, had his shifty moments) also invited Jewish doctors and scientists to come to Turkey during World War II to seek asylum and continue their education. Pictures weren’t allowed inside (although I took some, anyway) but Natalie and I had to get a picture together outside of the former synagogue turned museum.
After buying some souvenirs in the gift shop, we gathered in the alley to wait for the others. As we stood there, I suddenly had the feeling that someone was watching me; I whirled around to find a displeased looking German Shepherd hiding in the shadows. As someone who’s not a huge fan of dogs anyway, I looked around cautiously to see what I should do. The owner appeared, smiling and speaking Turkish in a pleasant tone, so both the dog and I relaxed. “Nice? My dog,” he told me, and I nodded, able to agree now that the intimidating animal was wagging his tail at me. He said a Turkish word and pointed to the dog, and, determined to add more Turkish words to my dictionary, I pulled out my journal and wrote down what (I thought) he had said, pleased with myself and my use of Turkish accents and odd g’s that are pronounced as w’s. Looking at my writing, he furrowed his brow and shrugged. “Dog?” I asked, pointing first at the word and then at his dog.
He hid a smile, shook his head, took my pen, and scratched out my word, rewriting a completely different one. I’m not sure that I left a lasting impression about the intelligence of Americans on him, but he was gracious nonetheless.
After the Jewish museum, we went to Taxim Square, the site where all of the protests last year occurred, resulting in tear gas, water cannons, and the famous woman in the red dress photo. The protests started after it was announced by Prime Minister Erdogan that Gezi Park was going to be renovated into a mosque and shopping mall. Although the people’s objections were more about Erdogan wielding his power than conserving the park’s natural landscape, these protests went on for over a month, increasing further with the police brutality. Dr. B told us that the situation was more like the Occupy Wall Street protests here rather than the atrocities going on in Syria, the country right next door, but it was still sobering for me, a sheltered, protected American, as Salih pointed out the many police officers standing by tanks with water cannons. He told us that the park gets closed down on the weekends because people will come protest again when they don’t have work or school.
After Taxim Square, Salih left us and we headed off to find St. Anthony’s church. Taking in the tall, old buildings and wonderful cobblestone streets (why don’t we have these in America?) I actually wasn’t paying that much attention to how long we had been walking until Dr. B asked, “Doesn’t it feel like we’ve walked more than half a mile?” I paused, considering this, and he stopped and asked a street vendor for directions. “Oh, yes, St. Anthony’s, St. Anthony’s,” he smiled, waving us forward, so we continued on in the warm sunshine. After several blocks downhill, however, Dr. B shook his head and stopped to ask someone again. The first man didn’t speak English, so he called his business partner, who apparently didn’t speak enough English to understand us completely. He went across the street to get his friend, who repeated incredulously, “St. Antoine?!” and then turned around, pointed sadly back up the steep hill we had just descended and said, “So, so far.” We had passed it almost right at the entrance to the city, but the day was so beautiful that none of us minded. And the gorgeous church was well worth the wait.
When we finally got to the church, Salih said he had been waiting there for quite some time and wanted to know what took us so long. Dr. B sheepishly told him what had happened, which resulted in quite a bit of teasing from our translator about how he couldn’t even leave us alone for one afternoon. He even got the men serving us lunch to join in the laughter. As we were leaving the restaurant, however, he said to me, “Want to know a secret?” Intrigued, I nodded. Salih leaned in and whispered, “I, too, walked much farther past St. Antoine’s church than I was supposed to because I couldn’t find it, either. I hadn’t even been there for five minutes before you all showed up because it took me so long to double back.” As I stared at him in delighted horror, he grinned and said, “Don’t tell John!”
Some of the girls had been complaining of tummy troubles since Ephesus, so I had assumed that maybe it was the chicken or rice that they had had there (since I was fine and I had had lamb and spinach.) After lunch today, though, it hit me, too, and I felt rather green as we walked to the Turkish military museum. Ultimately, since we had only eaten in nice restaurants where food contamination wouldn’t be an issue, we all decided that it wasn’t the quality of the food, but rather the quantity, that we had been consuming, particularly all of the beef, lamb, and chicken served to us at lunch and dinner.
Once we arrived at the museum, we settled in among several elementary schools who were on a field trip to wait for the military orchestra to begin playing, and we again were held in awe as the kids ran around us, shouting, “Hello, goodbye, I love you!” in English. I called, “Merhaba!” back and they stopped, stared at me warily for a moment, and then ran off, shouting, “Hello, goodbye, I love you!” again.
After the concert, we had some free time, so we headed back to Midtown Istanbul on the Bosphorus. Caleb, Allyson and I walked through the alleys, made friends with some cats, and eventually joined back up with Natalie, Beth, Brynn, and Bayleigh, where we found, much to our delight, that jellyfish had washed up on the cobblestones from the waves crashing against them. We just had to poke their squishy bodies.
We got lost (a habit of the day, it seems) on our way to our host dinner, so it was late and dark by the time we finally arrived, but that didn’t hide the fact that we were pulling up to a mansion on a sprawling estate right on the Bosphorus with an amazing view of Istanbul’s Asian skyline. Our host, a wealthy, single man, was understandably very proud of his house and property and promised to give us a grand tour after dinner.
As we sat down to eat the abundance of delicious looking and smelling food, my stomach still rebelled. Bayleigh nudged me and whispered, “Bread. Water. Maybe some rice. That’s all you and I are eating tonight. Sit next to Dramell and sneak all of the meat you’re served onto his plate; he promised me that he would eat our portions since we’re both so sick and he isn’t.”
As I slid into my chair next to Dramell, I gave him a questioning look, and he responded by stealthily removing the chicken kabob off of my plate and placing it on his own without missing a beat. Relieved, I made it through the dinner eating only a piece of bread and a few bites of rice without notice (I assume, anyway, since no one said anything), although I did drink a glass of a cool, refreshing citrus juice in addition to the water that I sipped. I don’t know how Dramell ate my and Bayleigh’s portions of meat in additions to his own (and then he asked for and received a second helping) but apparently all of the boys have escaped unscathed, since I noticed Beth slip some of her beef onto Marv’s plate, too. Natalie and I have both decided that it will be a long time, if ever, before we eat meat again.
Our host wanted to have us back to eat breakfast with him tomorrow morning, but it’s looking like we have to be at the Journalist and Writers Foundation too early to stop by before. It’s hard to believe tomorrow is our last full day here. I’m not ready to return home.
If you missed previous entries: