Since we last talked, virtual audience, I've been to Venice, the Peloponnese, Rhodes, and Istanbul. I got back yesterday. So it's been pretty whirlwind but here are some excerpts about my trip to the Peloponnese and Istanbul.
"I must have sounded super down on the Peloponnese, whıch I kınd of was I guess, but forget all of that. I`d hate to be thought pessımıstıc and I really dıd enjoy myself. I must have assumed I had seen all of the beautıes of Greece to be so haughty about only seeıng the Greek maınland countrysıde but I was- and am glad to be proven- wrong.
We weaved our way through the lower mountaın range of the Peloponnese- the taılend of the Alps and they really were just breathtakıng. I remember someone once asked me whether Id prefer to go lıve off the ocean or ın the mountaıns and for me ıt was hands down the ocean. But once ın those mountaıns, I realızed the error of my ways and swıtched to the mountaıns. And then when we agaın hıt the coast and I swıtched back agaın. And now Im torn- there seems to be too many beautıful sıghts to confıne myself to just one. And the sıghts! How relevant, how romantıc, how vıbrant! We went to Nafplıa, Pylos, Mycenae, Messenae, Mystra, Sparta, and Olympıa. And every sıght was such a pıvotal area of culture and hıstory, each one helped complete the ıdea I have of Greek cıvılızatıon. And how ıs ıt that every Greek settlement was placed on the sıde of some mountaın overlookıng a fertıle, lush valley or overlookıng the sea and clıffs? How dıd not one trıbe or whathaveyou decıde to settle down ın the dry dusty borıng plaın equıvalent. Even the one sıte that bored me out of my mınd (mostly because we had a guest tour guıde who, try as she mıght, could not speak enough Englısh to explaın the hıstorıcal relevance of Messenae), had spectacular vıew of the mountaıns. . If I had more tıme, I would go ınto more detaıl about the sıtes but also about the wonderful ındıvıdual moments that made the trıp specıal such as watchıng shootıng stars ın the ımpossıbly clear sky at Pylos or playıng Kıngs at an Ouzerı wıth some Greeks at Olympıa. The trıp to the Peloponnese was much better than Crete (although I lıked Crete as well) and Im really glad I went. If only because,should the subject of the Olympıcs ever arıse at a cocktaıl party, I wıll totally own that conversatıon."
"...Anyway, I promised to tell you about Istanbul- and I even have notes to support it! How academic of me! Across the street from our hotel (which was really nice and whose staff was really friendly and social) was the Mosque of Sultanahmet and across from that was the Hagia Sophia and we had a perfect view of it, which was lucky because it gave my mom something to look at it when she couldn't sleep for most of the first two nights that we were there. Jet lag is the worst. But it gave us an excuse, on the third night, to watch some Turkish television. We found two channels in English (although there could've been hundreds but we are basically both technophobic geezers unable to figure out that 'g.d. TV box'. But, as an interesting side note, most of the channels were just pay-per-view Arabic porn). One was an hour long (at least) infomercial for Wings of Eagles. Have you heard of this? They couldn't possibly air this in the US because it would be a joke and the fact that they aired it in the Istanbul makes me think its a conspiracy by some wily politician to make Turks hate and fear Americans. Wings of Eagles is a program advertised as a relief charity to "airlift" as many Russian jews from Russia to Israel before any action is made to curb Israeli settlements. And that's controversial enough to air in an Islamic country but the commercial itself is what was so ridiculous. It featured every inflammatory fundamentalist mega-Pastor from the US who all said something along the lines of 'As Christians, we have to join together with our Jewish brethren to stop Arab aggressors'. Not a commentary on the politics of it, but a comic aside- they specified that if you pay $350, you save one Russian Jew. But if you pay $700, you save two. And if you pay $1400, you save a family of four. Thank you, Wings of Eagles, addition eludes me. Save from what? From "persecution," "oppression" and "antisemitism"- which is an understandable point- but also "current ethnic cleansing." The ONLY reason I can think for airing this commercial in Istanbul is to get everyone to hate Americans, Jews, and Christians and to prove that there is literally a conspiracy against Muslims. I mean, I'm an American Christian dating a Jew, and it kind of convinced me.
In retrospect, it was a pretty standard Pro-Israel line, but it was different for me to be in a place with such overt religious tensions. Let me preface an explanation of that by saying that my mom called Istanbul 'the most international city' she's ever been to. We heard in one night, sitting in one open air restaraunt- French, Spanish, English, Italian, Greek (your usual) but also Swedish, Farsi, Arabic, Turkish (well, duh) and Japanese. Istanbul is literally split between Europe and Asia- half of the city is on the European continent and the other half, separated by the Bospherous Canal, is on Asia. Although Istanbul definitely feels like a European city and has the ethos of one, much of the architecture, customs, and habits of the city belie its Middle Eastern roots and, at times, even East Asian influence. But anyway, the fundamental difference between the two halves of its identity (namely, religion) is veyr pronounced. Take the Hagia Sophia for example. The Hagia Sophia is a world wonder (I know this mostly because I used to play Civilization III a lot and the Hagia Sophia was literally a "wonder" that you could build). It's about 1500 years old and was built by the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire as a glory and testament to the Christian god and for a thousand years it stood at the largest Cathedral in the world. There are countless testaments to its beauty and grandeur throughout literature. But soonafter the Ottoman Turks conquered what was Constantinople (but which they renamed Istanbul- why they changed it I can't say. Guess they liked it better that way) they changed it into a mosque and plastered over all the Christian mosaics with typically Islamic geometric designs. Unsatisfied with just that symbolic victory, they built the Sultanahmet mosque directly across from it, which is hands down more externally impressive (although inside it doesn't compare, and is actually relatively crudely done). And even today, even after being partially excavated to show the old, famous mosaics from its use as a Church, there are still these giant, modern circular placards that cover the walls with excerpts from the Qur'an in Arabic.
On a side note, the Greeks still call Istanbul "Constantinople." And I'm pretty sure it's just because they hate the Turks, especially the Ottoman Empire so so much. There's a lot of history there. Can't those two crazy kids just get it together and realize they love each other? But really, venomous hatred.
The other notable (apparently and literally) thing about Turkey was Turkish hospitality/commerce. My god. That shorts incident did not have anything to do with religious anything- it was a combination of inappropriate weather gear and the very aggressive, sociable quality of Turkish society. Going down the street in the Grand Bazaar, you will be accosted by every shop owner who will do everything they can to trick you to get into their shops. The standard lines are to ask where you're from and/or compliment on your appearance but that's child play. They'll say "Come, I need to show you this" and then walk into their shop and many walk in after them if only to tell them they're not interested. But once you're in, you're caught! Then they sit you down, give you tea, pull out carpet after carpet (or scarf after scarf or lamp after lamp or what have you) and ask which you want. And if you insist, no, I'm just looking they'll say "Yeah, I'm just talking" or say "yes, look. You don't have to buy, but you must look." Ultimately they work on your guilt, all they want to do is show you a scarf, why would you deny them this simple pleasure? They never take "no" for an answer so after awhile we wouldn't bother, we'd just walk away. It really is the friendliest city imagineable. Well, I'm not sure "friendly" is the right term, maybe "social" or "in-your-face." Also, they must have just got the memo on business cards because everyone had one and gave them, as a last resort I suppose when you refused their services. But sometimes, I don't think it was just market banter but a genuinely social culture that we were engaging with. On our first night, my mom and I went into this pretty standard tourist shop and I pointed an active hookah to my mom in the corner. Within three minutes, he had me sitting on the couch, drinking tea, smoking hookah, and working on what he called the "puzzle ring," this series of four intertwined rings that make one ring if you move it around correctly. At first, I thought he was trying to get me to do the ring so that I'd buy it. But after a half an hour of really pushing me to learn it, I realized he was just enjoying the company. I literally worked on that ring for maybe an hour and a half. And he gave me a free bracelet as a reward. He then took a picture with both me and my mom, had me sign a guest book, and got down my facebook information, demanding that we visit him again the next day and we'd all have turkish coffee (which is actually "Greek coffee" too- those crazy kids) and we didn't buy a thing."