Thursday, July 31, 2008

A few thousand words

... is what I am supposed to produce within midnight today. I'm still short by about half.

Meantime, on Kaushik's suggestion, here's the equivalent of a few thousand -

Cafe by the Bosphorus in Ortakoy.
Lazy Sunday morning.

Hagia Sophia dome. Built as a basilica in the 6th century, converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmet 900 years later (nine HUNDRED years, and that's nearly 700 years ago!), now a museum.

Lese majeste. Peeping into the bathing chambers of the Queen in the seraglio of the Topkapi Palace. (If you've seen me you know I do not have blonde hair)
The palace apparently was not just a pleasure dome. It was the administrative headquarters of the Ottoman empire, where bright young men were trained in the skills of war and politics. They were supposed to lay down their lives for the Sultan, hence jaan nisaari, a term whose Anglicised corruption I first came across in Basil Copper's story The Janissaries of Emilion.
Oh, and the women - we were told it was actually like a prestigious finishing school for the daughters of the nobility. I'll wager there were SOME courses you wouldn't find at Vassar. And I'm not thinking just Belly Dancing 101 either.

Display of preserves in Haci Abdallah. Down the fourth alley on your right as you walk down Istiklal Street from Taksem Square. Quite amazing food, even better when you have an appetite because you can just point to what you want and it's on your table in less than a minute.

on sale in the Spice Bazaar by the Golden Horn. I wish I could have brought one back to set beside my rocking chair, but even if I can get omburi tamaak from Chitpur, who on earth is going to set it up and get it going for me every evening? Besides, while it goes very well with raqi (the local aniseed liquour), it may not gel with vodka & tonic.

Against the afternoon sun, a minaret of the Blue Mosque looks anything but blue. A moment of magic ... As we entered the mosque, the muezzin struck up his azaan. More melodious than anything I've heard in India. And from the Hagia Sophia across the road came an echo from the muezzin there. For a quarter of an hour, like our musical sawaal jawaab, they kept us entranced. (I should learn how to post a video clip)

A tray of mezze. According to my friend T*, only the tourists ask for the menu. The locals (and the coolios) ask to see the tray and pick up what they want. I did. And was happy. Pastermi for the main course. Very good, but can't post the picture of that one. If I showed you I'd have to kill you and all that sort of thing.
Most wonderful honey-sweet melons for dessert. (They kept that extra helping in reserve for me, I suspect.)

I already posted the view from my balcony? Did I mention that it's rather wonderful at night too?

Comments invited, I do so want to be a photographer when I grow up ...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Get a fix ...

... on a theme for a 3500 word article on "India - the land and the people". Any ideas?

Please, folks. Comment, mail, call even.
This is desperate. (How I hate deadlines.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

'ey 'o!

Three weeks ago - AlleppEY

Five days ago - AleppO

Friday, July 18, 2008

Stamboul ramboul (last Monday)

You know, I HATE a lot of things about the Brits. Especially the Victorian Brits, the ones who were oh-so-cool and WE-run-the-world-dincherknow, the kind who went to Rugby and took up the white man's burden. The very thought of those guys gets my back up. (White man's burden! Aaaagghh.) But once in a while I wish they had really done what they set out to do and taken over THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD. You know why? Then EVERYBODY would bloody well have some idea of English.

Two days. Two bloody days before they get around to telling me oh, we DO so have wi-fi, what WERE you thinking of ha ha ha (tinkling laughter that makes me want to suture their tonsils to their earlobes), of COURSE you can have it but we will charge you approximately as much as Donald Trump pays for each of his divorces. So here I am, typing away at the keyboard so that I can get-connected-log-on-and-upload-mail like Speedy Gonzales hitting a line of willing chicas.

The first full day here was rather nice. A café in Ortakoy beside the Bosphorus, under a bridge that links two continents. Sun glinting bright on blue water, sailboats, villas, gay umbrellas, a band tuning up. Great ships steaming under the bridge, wind whipping the wave-caps white and mad, woods on the far shore alternately green and dark.

Sunday coffee. In Istanbul.

Then on to the Hagia Sofia and then the Topkapi Palace. Both are impressive, but we Indians are spoilt because we've already SEEN the biggest highest richest horriblest wonderfullest ad infinitum. Still and all, as they say in that neck o' the woods, pretty darn neat. Last night the youngest member of the delegation landed up and took us out to Reina, which is the most happening place in this city. Past Ortakoy, lights on the river, their own sexy mini-yacht that they use as a water-taxi, five restaurants around a cabana and a wooden dance floor, tres chic. So I sat there with my vodka tonic and checked out the antipasti, and I thought, it’s nice to be old so nobody pulls ME onto that floor. Drunk dancing is so wearisome.

An upgrade at the Hilton, so not only do I have a room with a glass wall facing the Bosphorus, I also have a nice wide verandah where I can sip my sundowner and draw on my cigarillo as the sun descends.

A weather-worn tanker lets out a low moan, sedately easing down the tide from the Black Sea to the eastern corner of the Mediterranean, the Sea of Marmara. My balcony faces east, but the room behind me is lit up second-hand with the mellow glow of a summer sunset as the sun reflects off the steel-and-glass façade of the Ritz Carlton across the park. Bloody monstrosity cuts off half my view of the Bosphorus.

Not that I have cause for complaint. A flotilla of peach and grey cloudlets sweeps south across an egg-shell sky. The horizon hills dip and rise behind the white and red-tile sprawl of the Asian half of Istanbul. That lies across the Bosphorus, whose unreal blue is now turning to grey as the shades of evening stretch across the water. From behind a white hotel an orange ship appears upon the blue, its wake a scar across the water. The sun settles lower behind me, miles of windows glint one last time before the lights come on. Far to my left, a span of the Bosphorus Bridge rises behind the mass of the Dolmabahce Palace. Near the water's edge a bus switches on its headlights as it swings around a bend in the road. Flycatchers flit across the growing gloaming, half a moon appears in the south, a seagull mews somewhere above me as it arcs towards the sea.

Half past eight, and Stamboul slips towards the night.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Learning to

It’s been so long. His feet seem far away, at the other end of a transcontinental phone line. He has to wait each time he tries to take a step, has to make sure he’s getting through, that he hasn’t been cut off, marooned here atop the mass of his body while his feet wait at the other end of a line gone dead. He tries again and with the sudden fear of falling, his hands fly out for balance.

The first step is not the hardest. It’s the ones that come after.

He wills himself to keep moving. Damn it all, it’s just too MUCH. Come one, FEET – do your thing. No, I’m not the one goofing off here, YOU are the ones who … what’s that? Yeah right, I know WHERE the buck stops. Now shut up and walk. Or I’ll … cut you off from your inheritance? Whatever. Just DO it.

The momentum picks up. Balance – still uncertain. Direction – erratic. Speed – uneven, but who the hell cares, dammit, we’re back in business again, we’re MOVING. Don’t cut the amp, boys, Elvis has NOT left the building.

He keeps walking. Staggers, recovers. Grins. Hits “Publish Post”.

Right, then, this show is back on the road.