Monday, March 8, 2010

In the World Of Strugglemon the Great

Well, here I am, reporting on the struggle from downtown Istanbul, or rather, from crosstown Istanbul, as the case may be. You see, when we travel, my family prefers to live in a country the way we imagine or would like to imagine the people of that country actually exist. To that end rather then stay in a hotel in the heart of the tourist quarter, we tend to rent apartments in various interesting parts of cities (because who visits ANYWHERE other then a city, you know? We just don't see the point). We buy our groceries and make our morning coffee and grit our teeth through the inevitable schlep (check your Yiddish to English dictionaries for that one, goyim) over to wherever all the action is because at the end of the day, all of the famous stuff is all well and good to see, but we go for where the food lives, and our bellies always thank us, if not our figures.

And this trip is no exception. Here in the land formerly known as the Ottoman Empire, my parents, let's call them Padre Struggle and Mama Struggs, and my brother, Strugglemano, and I are staying in Belgoylu, one of the unpronouncable neighborhoods across the section of the Bosphorus river known as the Golden Horn, a channel of water away from all of the main attractions of this wild and wonderful town.  So each morning that we have been here we have arose, still jetlagged (thank you, United Airlines, always the opposite of a pleasure) and taken a tram across the river, using a token or jeton that feels more appropriate to an arcade game at Chuck E Cheese, to some of the amazing things that Istanbul has to offer, like a mosque, or another mosque, or maybe a third mosque, if you are feeling crazy.

In seriousness, one of the most interesting things about this city is that despite the fact that you can't turn a corner without seeing a minaret here, most of the population seems to be basically secular in nature. Some women wear headscarves, some burquas are visible, but for a country that has spent the last several thousand years teetering between Europe and the Middle East this place is surprisingly secular and, dare I say it, well adjusted. To be fair, I speak approximately no Turkish (and honestly, who the hell does? This language is like Russian and Arabic had a child and then abused it to the point that it became an insane sociopath and decided to punish the world with silly sounding words), so this could all be speculation, but the Turkish people, or at least the Turkish people residing here in Istanbul, seem to be doing okay.

So this morning, after our intensly crowded tramride across the river, which made me consider once again the many virtues of deodorant (though to be fair, all public transport outside of the United States reminds of that, come ON, rest of the universe, step UP!) my family and I found ourselves, after a 15 minute walk of confusion (steet signs are apperently out of fashion in Turkey these days) at the gates of the Topkapi Palace. This palace was the home of the Turkish Sultans for four hundred years, which, given how poor the majority of the Turkish population is and has been, makes you wonder why these people never picked up a copy of Marx. As a tourist I can't be sad that they didn't, because while the palace itself is no Versailles, the Harem of the palace is rather amazing. Wandering through the clean marble and tile halls which this time of year are unheated and windy, it's hard to imagine this space as a sultry sex palace filled with nubile young women and stern eunichs, but it's not hard to see that this is where the imperial treasury lost a significant amount of it's earnings. Luxurious and spacious, I suppose if I personally had some 100 ladies (apart from the four wives allowed to the Sultan by Islamic law, can we say it's good to be the king?) I didn't want anyone else to get a glimse of, I would certainly shut them up in a pretty ceramic cage. After all, you never KNOW what women will get up to when unattended...

The rest of our day was a blur of fish and Turkish string cheese and shops selling evil eye icons. These Turks will try and sell you your own shirt if they can, all while smiling and insisting they are your best friend in the world. After the fifth shopkeeper started following us down the street, claiming to have everything we could ever want or need, all I could think was, honestly, the harem's not looking so bad. At least it's pretty, right?

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