Turkish days begin late and this is a wonderful quality in a people, if you ask me. Of course, I am certain there are businessmen, bankers, brokers and other assorted rat-race types who get up like I used to at 5:00am and in the office by 630. But not me. And not the vast majority of Turks. I am sitting in a coffee shop, using the Istaklil Caddesi’s free wireless, drinking coffee better than that of Starbucks by a million years for a fraction of the cost. That being said, there is a Starbuck’s right up the street, by why go there when I can sit here and people watch? It’s almost better than the Rue Saint Michel in Paris, but not quite.
Many men are pushing strange three wheeled flat-topped contraptions, some filled with old electrical equipment, others with waters bottles, knife sharpening equipment and all are yelling something. Hawking their wares or skills I assume. I even saw one man with a 20′s style phonograph, among other assorted curios. The tram, running down the middle of this grand 19th century boulevard, passes by full, although there are no young boys hanging on to the end as they were in the afternoon yesterday. Delivery trucks pass by, spill out their goods and disappear back down a side alley. I see women walking dogs, stray cats amble and prance, depending upon the weight (and I saw a really fat one yesterday) up and down the street, fearing nothing but the occasional out of control moped. School girls walk by in uniforms, but without the veil. This is, after all, a secular country, and proud of it, as I was told several times yesterday when inquiring about Ramadan.
We’re a few days into the Fast and I haven’t seen a sign of it, unlike whilst in Iran when my father and I would have been frog-marched into a religious prison for so much as drinking water in public in the heat of an Iranian day. The great news about Ramadan is that I’ll have several days off at the end of the month when a public holiday of epic proportions ensues. Where will I go?
Something else I see here in Istanbul is men and women interacting and mingling with each other as near equals. Just this morning at breakfast I saw a man touch a female co-worker on the shoulders in camraderie. This would never have happened in Iran, much less in the country of our ‘allies’ Saudi Arabia, as I remember the day I introduced myself to a young woman in Yazd, Iran and offered my hand to shake. She was mortified, but gladly accepted as no one was watching. She told me, “be more careful in the future.”
Working in a gorgeous 19th century mansion on the main avenue of what was once called Pera, the Genoese colony founded in the 11th century, has its benefits. And every night I fall asleep dreaming of the soft red shades of the Hagia Sophia (the greatest church ever built, bar none). It is a sight of sights, my friends and a city of cities.