Selected Excerpts and Anecdotes from
Istanbul: The Collected Traveler
(Note: Excerpts are written in the first-person voice of the editor, Barrie Kerper, unless otherwise attributed.)
"This is the most mysterious city on earth. I love the houses along the Bosphorus, the dervishes, Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul
, the fortune-teller who told a truth, the raucous greetings of the rug merchants ("I can take your money!"), and the fantastic Topkapý complex that looks like an ideal liberal arts college. But most of all I love the strange call of the muezzin, especially when it splits the air between dark and dawn. The voice begins with a drone, a wobbly shriek, then works up to intensity. It's old, old, primitive—it sounds like something pulled up from a deep fissure. Sometimes it sounds like an otherworldly cry from beyond, sometimes like sawing through cellophane. When I wake up hearing that call, I always get a delicious flash, I am somewhere very far from home
—Frances Mayes, author of A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller
(2007) and Under the Tuscan Sun
(1997), among others
"Every trip is a journey, and a visit to Turkey can quickly come to seem epic. For one thing, there is your entire education spread out before you: Troy, the spot where Leander swam the Hellespont; Nicea (now Iznik), where the Catholic Church convened and produced its famous creed; Miletus, where Greek science and philosophy had their beginnings; Haghia Sofia, whose famous dome was the glory of Byzantine Christianity; and the Blue Mosque, whose equally famous dome and minarets were raised by Ottoman Mehmet II to celebrate Islam. Then there is Istanbul itself, an imperial city set on two continents on both sides of the Sea of Marmara, with a picture book castle, bazaars of all kinds—spice, fish, birds—and the Grand Bazaar with everything under the sun. A place where men in black pants run through the streets carrying slim cups of tea or coffee on brass trays swinging from a tripod of chains. In the midst of this bounty, I was lucky to have a cicerone who was himself magic. John Freely, sometimes joined by his wife, Dolores, old friends, kindly shepherded me and my nephew around the city sharing with us all kinds of historical and cultural facts.
"We stayed at a small, friendly establishment (which John Freely had suggested) at one end of the Hippodrome in the Sultanahmet neighborhood near Topkapý Palace and other delights. The Alzer is a simple hotel, but its location on the Hippodrome—the oval that had been laid down by Constantine for horse- racing—gave it a wonderful advantage, which it exploited by providing a breakfast room, surrounded on three sides by windows, on its top floor, the sixth, just one floor up from our own rooms.
"We discovered this soon-to-be-our-favorite spot on the first evening when the desk clerk suggested we could go up there to watch the sunset. When we stepped into it we realized we were essentially eyeball-to-eyeball with the dome of the Blue Mosque, with the rosy, red-orange dome of the Haghia Sofia floating slightly off in the distance, and the Sea of Marmara and a gorgeous sky behind them. It was a sight of such exoticism and beauty at every hour we saw it that we never tired of it, and we ended up going there at every opportunity—to have breakfast, to write letters, just to absorb all the fascinating new things we had seen during the day. Grand buildings always inspire, but the special gift of the room at the top of the Alzer Hotel was that it gave us an intimacy, a special feeling of ownership, even love, for these two famous landmarks, epic in their importance to art, religion, and history."
—Ann Close, longtime senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf, and editor of John Freely's Aladdin's Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World
• Great Reads for Kids
The Turks extend a warm welcome to children and include them in nearly every event or gathering—so bring them along! The way I see it, parents can make the decision never to go anywhere and deprive both children and adults of a priceless experience, or they can plan an itinerary with kids in mind and take off on a new journey. I haven't yet found a source exclusively devoted to traveling with kids in Turkey, but parents will find some useful tips and words of advice in guidebooks. Some good tips can also be gathered from Web sites: mylifeguard-forhealth.com and travelwithyourkids.com. And for a really
ambitious account, read One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round- the- World Journey with Our Children
, by David Elliott Cohen (Simon & Schuster, 1999). It's always a good idea to build excitement in advance of the trip by involving kids in the planning, showing them maps and books and talking about the things you'll see and do. Below are some recommended books for reading in advance or bringing along: And to Think That We Thought That We'd Never Be Friends
, by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Dragonfly, 2003). Nothing whatsoever to do with Turkey, but I love it for its underlying message of learning about other people and celebrating the world's diversity. Cybele's Secret
, by Juliet Marillier (Knopf, 2008). A companion volume to Marillier's Wildwood Dancing
, this book takes place in Istanbul. For ages twelve and up. The Most Incredible, Outrageous, Packed-to-the-Gills, Bulging-at-the-Seams Sticker Book You've Ever Seen
(Klutz Press, 1997). For ages four and up, and winner of a Parents' Choice Award, this is a lifesaver for those in- between moments in travel—at an airport, on a plane, in a hotel room, in a car. Klutz publishes many unique, fun activity packages that are also great for traveling, including Road Trip Trivia
, Kids Travel
, and A Super- Sneaky, Double- Crossing, Up, Down, Round & Round Maze Book
; browse many more cool titles at klutz.com. The Odyssey
, by Adrian Mitchell and illustrated by Stuart Robertson (A Retelling for Young Readers, DK Classics, 2000). As much of the Odyssey
takes place in present-day Turkey, this is a great, fully illustrated volume to bring along (and it's perfectly fine for adults, too). People
, by Peter Spier (Doubleday, 1988). Caldecott Medalist Spier created this wonderful picture book with a global view, depicting people in their habitats and cities on all four continents. Required reading for every American. The Trojan Horse: How the Greeks Won the War
, by Emily Little (Step-Into-Reading, Random House, 1988). For young kids who are reading chapter books. What You Will See Inside a Mosque
, by Aisha Karen Khan (Skylight Paths, 2003). Though Skylight published this for children—it follows What You Will See Inside a Synagogue
(2002)—it's actually a book that is great for adults, too. (Plus, it's written by a fellow Hollins University alumna.)
In addition to books to read, a blank journal is great for kids of all ages, boys and girls. Let them pick out some colored pencils, pens, crayons, markers, or paints and they can begin creating a record of their trip on the first day. Encourage them to collect postcards, ticket stubs, receipts, stamps, and all kinds of paper ephemera to paste inside the journal. Give them a disposable camera and they can add their own photographs, too.
Lastly, it's worth mentioning a letter to the editor I read a few years ago in the travel section of The New York Times
. The writer stated she felt that the author of a previously published essay underestimated the impact of a five-year-old child's first trip to Europe. She emphasized that twenty years after her
first trip to Italy, she became an art student, earned her master's degree in art history, and worked as a museum curator. My personal experiences in traveling with children have taught me that one should never underestimate how much children will absorb and retain and what will inspire and enthuse them.
Orhan Pamuk's two works of nonfiction are also essential reading. He might disagree (perhaps preferring that one read his fiction first) but these books, to my mind, go hand in hand with his fiction. Other Colors: Essays and a Story
(translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely; Knopf, 2007) is, as he describes, "a book made of ideas, images, and fragments of life that have still not found their way into one of my novels. . . . Sometimes it surprises me that I have not been able to fit into my fiction all the thoughts I've deemed worth exploring: life's odd moments, the little everyday scenes I've wanted to share with others, and the words that issue from me with power and joy when there is an occasion of enchantment." I love that description, and I feel certain many other writers would say the same thing. Some of these essays are very personal and autobiographical; others are about books, reading, and art; still more are devoted to Europe, Turkey, and Istanbul; two are about his time in New York.
The last three in the book are my favorites: "To Look Out the Window," an unforgettable story; "My Father's Suitcase," the lecture he gave for his Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded in 2006; and the Paris Review
interview, conducted in two sustained sessions in London and by correspondence in 2004 and 2005, two months after his arrest. He had been charged under Article 301.1 of the Turkish penal code, which states that "a person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be imposed to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years." Additionally, Article 301.3 states, "Where insulting being a Turk is committed by a Turkish citizen in a foreign country, the penalty to be imposed shall be increased by one-third." As this charge came about after an interview he had with a Swiss newspaper, when he'd said, "Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it," he would face an additional penalty for having made the comment abroad. In September 2005, Pamuk was officially indicted for having "blatantly belittled Turkishness." As Salman Rushdie noted at the time (timesonline.co.uk, October 14, 2005), "On both sides of the Bosphorus, the Pamuk case matters." The charges were dropped after intense international pressure and vigorous protests by European Parliament members and International PEN, but at the time of the Paris Review
interview, Pamuk was still slated to stand trial on December 16, 2005. Istanbul: Memories and the City
(translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely; Knopf, 2005) is Pamuk's tribute to the city where he's lived nearly all his life. He begins the book with a quote by Ahmet Rasim, a newspaper columnist from the early 1900s: "The beauty of a landscape resides in its melancholy." The quote is quite apt, as Pamuk's overall summary of Istanbul is indeed melancholy—this is not a bright and sunny memoir. Hüzün
is the Turkish word for "melancholy," and the word appears often throughout the book. By the next-to-last chapter, when we find him at a crucial moment in 1972, the point at which he has come to the realization that he will not pursue a career in painting, he says: If I had come to feel deeply connected to my city, it was because it offered me a deeper wisdom and understanding than any I could acquire in a classroom. . . . Here amid the old stones and the old wooden houses, history made peace with its ruins; ruins nourished life and gave new life to history. If my fast-extinguishing love of painting could no longer save me, the city's poor neighborhoods seemed prepared, in any event, to become my second world. How I longed to be part of this poetic confusion! Just as I had lost myself in my imagination to escape my grandmother's house and the boredom of school, now, having grown bored with studying architecture, I lost myself in Istanbul. So it was that I finally came to relax and accept the
hüzün that gives Istanbul its grave beauty, the
hüzün that is its fate.
Many black-and-white photographs by Ara Güler are showcased in this book, reason alone to pick it up. Pamuk says of Güler's archive that it is first and foremost a tribute to his art and "also a superb record of Istanbul life from 1950 to the present day and will leave anyone who knew the city during those years drunk with memories." I briefly considered including some of Güler's photographs in my own book, but I didn't want to be a copycat, and his work (rightly) comes at a price that is well beyond what I can afford.
"The first time I went to Istanbul was in 1957. I was the only woman visible on the street and in restaurants. Istanbul was only three million people at that time. I returned thirty-five years later to a city with twelve million people, a three-hour 'rush hour,' and women driving tractors in the countryside, wearing the head scarf and veil. Quite a change!
"There is great food in Istanbul—I loved eating fried mussels with tarator
sauce served from street carts, and I loved the meze
joints on the Çiçek Pasajý. . . . What meze
, pastries! I will never forget those flavors. I love the Spice Market, walking through the bazaar (I am wearing a necklace today that I haggled for and still love). Seeing those amazing kitchens at Topkapý was also memorable. What feasts they must have served. And those magnificent mosques!
"The skyline at night in 1957 was magic. The lights shimmered at night when you looked at the Princes' Islands. The skyline is still quite wonderful with minarets and bridges and modern buildings. I'm looking forward to going back with my grandson."
—Joyce Goldstein, a food writer, chef, and owner of the former Square One restaurant in San Francisco, and author of over a dozen cookbooks, including The Mediterranean Kitchen
(Morrow, 1998), Italian Slow and Savory
(Chronicle, 2004), and, most recently, Mediterranean Fresh
David Rosengarten, in his book Taste: One Palate's Journey Through the World's Greatest Dishes
, shares some words of advice about eating while traveling that could easily have been written by me, and as I feel they are worth repeating, I will share some of them with you. Rosengarten acknowledges that travelers may have to try hard to create what he refers to as a "meaningful and authentic brush with the local food." He mentions he knows some dedicated foodies who have resorted to McDonald's in other countries on occasion. Sometimes even adventurous eaters, when traveling, start craving hamburgers and bacon and eggs because nostalgia and desire for familiar creature comforts get the better of them. Rosengarten admonishes us to put these temptations out of our minds, and says (and I completely agree), "If you want to eat as you do at home . . . stay at home! Travel is your single greatest chance to understand the food of another country—but you will squander your chance if you don't completely dedicate yourself to the food of that country while you're there!"
He recommends throwing yourself into the gastronomic reality of a country: "Eat the breakfast they eat. Eat the lunch they eat. Eat the dinner they eat. Eat these meals at the times they eat them. Eat between meals only as they do. Drink what they drink, when they drink it. . . . After a week of following their schedule and habits, you will begin to have insights into that country's food that you would never have had otherwise."
Among his list of ten tips (which, again, you may consider my own as well) are: read everything you can about the food of the country in advance—include cookbooks, travel and restaurant guides, and food dictionaries; talk to people who are gastronomically knowledgeable before you leave; be an investigative reporter when you arrive, asking questions, taking notes, listening; take cooking classes; even if you're not staying in accommodations with a kitchen; don't fail to walk around the local food markets—you can always buy some things for a picnic and you'll see what's local; and don't eat exclusively at the famous-name restaurants if you want to experience a country's most authentic food.
Copyright © 2009 by Barrie Kerper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.