Incapacitated in İstanbul, Day 1.5

My mother has relayed to me that my Uncle told her “I guess Terrence is more of the creative kind (and not the science kind).” Accordingly, with my music taken from me by way of my destroyed voice and illness, I began to draw more and more. I’d taken a long hiatus from the visual arts after graduating before finally doing a couple of drawings in Stamsund, and then nothing until Poland. In Turkey I’d draw quite a bit.

I spent the entirety of my first full day (9.4.10) in İstanbul on the Asian side, simply walking about and relaxing. I bought stationary, found groceries, walked by the gorgeous sea-side. It’s pretty incredible that the city spans two continents. The wind blows strongly upon the rocks by the ferry stop, but luckily it blew Eastwardly, and thus kept my hair out of my face when I faced the historical sprawl of the European side. I finished a song back at Murat’s place – singing in my head and mostly succeeding in remaining silent all day.

On the following day I ventured across the Bosphorus by ferry. The public transit was much easier to navigate when I simply ignored it – I never mind walking and I’ve been averaging about ten kilometers per day. Store and hotel owners were wonderfully friendly as I passed and let me use their restrooms – probably as I asked politely in Turkish :). I planned to hit up the main tourist attractions that day. İstanbul’s attractions coincided for once with my own interests as they’re all fabulous buildings (that are actually fabulous and not just built up to be so). I figured I’d visit the Aya Sofya, Sultan Ahmet Cami, Topkapı Sarayı, Nuruosmaniye Cami and the Kapalı Çarsi today and wander about the Western bits and the Golden Horn the next day.

I spent all eight hours at the Topkapı Sarayı. Now, there are two reasons. Firstly, they charged twenty lira for admission and didn’t accept student cards or whatever, which is absolutely absurd. Secondly, it’s pretty cool.

I wısh I could take level photographs.

The place swarmed with tourists, many of whom were Asians – I thought to myself at one point “I didn’t know this palace was in Japan.” Now, one of the main reasons I tend to avoid tourist attractions is precisely these crowds. Not merely the numbers but the quality of their “sightseeing.” I feel somehow implicated and dumbed down in their presence. (Forgive this small, elitist rant.) Just as the many Louvre-goers in Paris rush to La Jaconde to snap a photo, the vast majority of those wandering the grounds of the Topkapı Sarayı in large herds had the package-tourist head-bob:

1. Stare at the tour guide (if present)
2. Gaze around dumbly
3. Find a placard. Read it without looking at what’s being described.
4. Consult the paper map/guide, still without looking at the object at hand.
5. If either description boasts a magical word like “ancient” or “unique,” glance passingly up.
6. Turn to companion and regurgitate what was read, gesturing at object but not looking.
7. Continue on, looking bored.

People are in such a rush! One Japanese tour group stopped outside the entrance to the Audience Chamber to mill around half-listening to their English speaking Turkish guide. This took about fifteen minutes. They then hustled through, single file, in bunches – once the first in line reached the other doorway they turned as one, held cameras above their heads (with flash, of course) snapped a photo, sighed, and shuffled on, all forty-so of them making it through in two minutes.

A quiet alleyway in Topkapı Sarayı.

The various guards within the kiosks and halls of the buildings all took note of me for staying and actually looking. From looking bored and lounging against a fabulous mother-of-pearl inlaid screen they’d come awake and smile ever so broadly, asking me where I’m from, or what I study, or why I’m so interested. In the first of these kiosks, the library, the guard very kindly told me to watch my wallet and bring it to my front pocket – something that proved to a Turkish way of saying “I care about you” and actually not reflective of the places safety.

Inside the Baghdad Kiosk.

Imperial Council Hall.

I had horrid timing, however, sitting down to draw the Baghdad Kiosk not long before they closed off the area for a television broadcast, or starting one of the Imperial Council Hall just before the whole palace closed. After about four the place quieted down immensely and by the evening only I remained with a few locals. Every passerby made some positive comment about my drawing except one, the rather amusing story with which I’ll finish.

While I had a go creating a likeness of the Imperial Treasury, a man stopped behind me to watch for a while. I thought nothing of it. He smiled when I looked up and after a few long minutes sat down beside me, still watching. Perhaps he tired of my slow progress, because he soon tapped me on the shoulder, motioning to me (as if mute) as to why I was drawing. He began to repeatedly mime taking a photo interspersed with open handed gestures at my drawing. When we finally spoke (in Turkish) he went on at length trying to understand why I was wasting my time drawing when I could just photograph it and move on. I found it impossible to explain, my Turkish only sufficing for “I like to draw” and “Why not?” and shrugs. We shared an amiable smile before he took his leave, shaking his head in wonderment as he walked away.

Sultan Ahmet Fountain.

Epic Fish Restaurant/Boat.

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