Istanbul–Dubai–India

I’m not done with you yet, Istanbul.

 

We had one more day after the nonsense I wrote this morning—the nonsense about already having left the city, about the fatigue with the pollution and the traffic. Truth is that I’m on the bus that will take us to the airport for a midnight flight to Dubai, and I don’t want to leave. Not for a day or two or three. I want to luxuriate in our fabulous apartment, I want to take another Turkish bath, I want to discover our neighborhood of Cihangir that just today revealed its secrets to us.

 

I’m now in the airport an hour before our flight, surrounded by faces that are no longer Turkish faces. Time for a power write to finish up Istanbul. It’s near midnight and my mind is groggier than usual, so be lenient. Here goes:

 

+ Today we picked up our laundry in a shop run by two young brothers. We were told that self-serve Laundromats don’t exist in Istanbul, or at least in the part of Istanbul that was our home, so for $12 we let two brothers scour our disgusting clothes. They brought out the stack, and there on top were Liam’s underwear, folded. I repeat: Two young men in Istanbul washed and folded my son’s little white underwear. The world is full of miracles.

 

+ We asked one of the laundry brothers for the closest post office. He stepped outside and gathered other men for their advice. One said one direction, another up another street, and after a short debate one of the men pointed the way for us and then, worried we didn’t understand him, led us to the post office itself.

 

+ I’ll say it again, and repeat what Dolora has said a good twenty times: The Turkish men are hot. They’re fit, they have no tattoos or piercings, they nearly all have that three-day growth of beard, their clothes have a Banana-Republic look and quality, their hair is coifed, and most of all, they have an air of kindness and ease. I wonder if Islam deserves some credit here for harnessing man’s natural tendency to be slovenly, violent jerks.

 

+ We saw some of these golden men stoop to pet the stray cats and dogs on the street, and when they did, Dolora let out a deeper sigh.

 

+ The big issue in the Turkish news today was that four women in Parliament wore head scarves to a session today—a first in Turkish history. As I understand it, the mandate from Ataturk in 1923 was to rid the political sphere of all shows of religion, especially with clothes. 90 years later Islam has pushed through. The fear is that this is an early step toward a radical Islamic Turkey.

 

+ Ok, that was boring. But you know what isn’t boring: a Turkish bath. Dolora and I left Liam in the apartment and we indulged ourselves in this famous thing—a Turkish bath—that we knew nothing about. We passed a building with a bronze plaque that declared in English that the bath within was from the year 1500, and even though I suspected the plaque and the bath were really from the year 1992, who cares, let’s pretend. Inside we changed out of our clothes and into sarongs, entered a steamy room with marble floors and marble sinks around the room. We scooped hot water from those sinks over us and then lolled around on the marble with the other bathers like a family of iguanas. To heat up we lay on a central platform, also of marble, that was heated from within. After 20 minutes a man entered and signaled for me to sit by one particular spigot. Then he went to work: washing me with oil, scraping off my skin with salt and a loofa mitt, lathering me up, cracking my knuckles, snapping my neck. It was lovely.

 

+ Does one ever know a city? I think of all the tourists who come to San Francisco and check into a hotel in the Tenderloin, visit Pier 39, ride a cable car, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge—and never walk on Filmore or bicycle Golden Gate Park or fly a kite at Chrissie Field. Multiply that by ten and you get a place like Istanbul, a city whose end I never saw even after driving in a bus for 90 minutes away from the city center. 20 million—that’s the last count I heard. And yet after today I felt I knew one face of the city. We wandered around our neighborhood, the hip and historic Cihangir district, in streets beyond our usual path, and there we found coffee shops with thick upholstered chairs, book shops with vintage postcards, a furniture store with old doors from the Ottoman era turned on their sides and used as tables. My favorite snapshot image: a man pushing a cart of bagel-like circles of bread called out to the neighborhood; a man from above gave a whistle, and down from his 4th floor apartment came a red bucket attached to a rope. The bagel man put some bread in the bucket and took out some coins, gave a tug on the rope and back up it went. Ingenious.

 

+ On our way back from the bath, Dolora and I stopped at a street vendor selling fresh juice and ordered a mix of apple and carrot juice. These vendors are everywhere, as are the men selling corn and chestnuts and tea. In other words, the food for the common man is healthy.

 

Now two days later. That last entry on Istanbul was shut down by a zealous stewardess. In short, we left Istanbul on a very good note, then flew to Dubai for a one-day layover in Dubai. This too will be brief because I am now in India with a thick knot in my stomach, worried over what I’ve brought my wife and son to here in India. Also in a hurry because my electrical outlet isn’t working, so my battery time on this computer is limited. So Dubai in brief: I kept my promise to Liam and went to a water park with him in a luxurious location near the sea. That was a blast—but the rest of our Dubai experience was unpleasant. Why is this place here, right here in the desert? Like Las Vegas, what does it take to build and to sustain and to water a place like this. We rented a car and it was a nightmare to get around. Ok, have to leave Dubai at that because it’s India time.

 

All went smoothly entering the country at 4am. As promised, a man met us holding up a sign “Jim Toner,” and drove us through the deserted streets of Jaipur to our hotel. The scenes at this hour were shocking to Dolora and a half-asleep Liam: the garbage, the dogs, the homeless on the street. Turns out that our hotel is in a gritty part of town, and when we arrived it was as if we weren’t expected. The staff awoke bleary eyed, had us wait in a side room for a half hour while something was done, and then led us to our room with one small dirty towel and two narrow beds. Liam and Dolora fell asleep right away but I lay there with my head full of worries: what water will we drink, do ATMs work, how will I get my phone up and running, we’re doomed if I can’t get an electrical connection. Those worries have intensified from my walk outside to find an ATM. This is India in full display: pollution so thick that the yellow haze hangs in the air, bedlam on the streets of cars and bikes and scooters all blaring their horns, small dark shops with cracked windows, garbage everywhere on the streets for the mangy dogs to root through.

 

That’s it for now. I’ll go awake my family and see if I can rescue them for one more day. They need one full day of recuperation after our last two nights of flying at 2am, one full night before we move in with a family for four nights to celebrate the festival of Diwale. I don’t want them to see what’s outside the gates of this “boutique” hotel. It’s shocking, and I’m not ready to watch this shock collide with sweet Liam and Dolora.

 

What have I done?

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Caroline

    I’m so glad you enjoyed Turkey! I have only been there for three days to fix a submarine while in the Navy, but it was amazing. Loved the shopping, the tea, and the men! Now I want to go back.

    India…well, guess we will learn more as you do…thanks for keeping it real.

    Caroline

  2. Allen

    India…never been on my list, but now..well, I’m still not sure. Guess I’ll have to wait and see what you see/experience/feel.

    Turkey though!! I’ve always wanted to go there. When in Greece, I felt this pull to the east and still feel it today.

    Safe travels my friends. Nothing has changed back home and all is well. You are missed, and we anxiously await the opportunity hear about your travels over wine and good food.

  3. Susan Day

    Missing your writings — it has been a few days now. Hope everything is OK for you three in India — and that you are able to find electricity.

  4. sheila

    Hello
    Sounds like the ‘holiday’ is over and the ‘travel’has begun !
    I too,consider Dubai my idea of a certain kind of Dante’s inferno . The conspicuous wealth and the fact that money and only money,is what would induce anyone to want to live there .
    The worst scene for me was the gold souk .Mega rich Arabs adorning themselves with that peculiar yellow gold and their impoverished shoeless Phillipino servants waiting palefaced outside to carry their bags and their children back home .
    Although India has terrible extremes ,there is a different feel to the place .Spiritual and well mannered and amongst the dogshit ,there will be moments that will make your hearts open wide .P S The drive from the airport in Jaipur is particularly horrendous, as if to prepare you for the worst and so everything that comes later will be a smashing bonus .
    Don’t forget that tipping for a service or kindness can make such a huge difference to some lives .I hope you all enjoy Diwali .I wish I was there !
    Good luck

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*