Sunday, April 7, 2013

Impressions of Istanbul

I love history. Istanbul is a living history tableau, a mosaic of the past and present. Istanbul is a modern city built on a 9,000 year old foundation, following the footsteps of the Greeks, Romans, early Christians, Byzantines and Ottomans, walking in the steps of Jason and the Argonauts, Marc Anthony, Constantine, Justinian and Theodora, Sultan Mehmet II, Suleyman the Great, Sinan, the emperors and sultans, Ataturk, Trotsky, James Bond and Barbara Nadel, stepping on their cobblestone streets, entering their classic buildings, churches, and mosques, riding the fabled Orient Express, all that in a booming city of 16 – 20 million, a soaring feral cat population and wandering dogs. The crossroads of the ancient world, much of its history, including the Early Church, is Turkey. It's preserved for all to see, visit, marvel, and spend at great historic structures and museums. Marc Anthony did not go through passport control or drive in Istanbul. The palace tours - do the harems; visualize the intrigues and schemes as each wife and concubine attempted by hook or crook, or poison, to anoint her son as the heir to the sultan. Imagine the castrated eunuchs finding other ways of satisfying the Sultan’s women. Ottoman Architecture is more than Mosques and Palaces. If Paris is the City of Light, then Istanbul is the City of Universities, 36 in all. The Sultans advanced the arts and sciences. The world ranked Istanbul Institute of Technology opened its doors in 1773, making it older than almost all American universities. Turkey believes in educating women. They in turn have become highly successful professionals in the country, including a female prime minister. Some other Islamic countries could learn from Turkey. The Hagia Sophia and the mosques reached up to God and Allah. They are now dwarfed by the soaring skyscapers, except in the Old City, reaching for manna from Heaven. If England is the land of shopkeepers, then Istanbul is the city of a million entrepreneurs, large and small. The Turks are a proud, hardy, resilient, driven people, always rushing even while walking. Istanbul is a massive gridlock, but it moves. The speed limit is the flow of traffic. The city has a large, efficient but crowded mass transit system of light rail, busses, and ferries. Americans could survive, but barely, on American brands: CitiBank, Dominos and Pizza Hut, and even Papa Johns, Arby’s, Burger King and McDonalds, KFC, Krispy Crème (Yes, Krispy Crème), Coke and Pepsi, Doritos, Ruffles, Lays and Pringles, Avis, Budget and Hertz, Ford, Chevrolet and Jeep, Goodyear, Gray Lines, Kodak, Levi's, Tommy Hilfiger, the Gap, Nine West, Johnson & Johnson Baby Wipes, Sealy and Serta, and Victoria Secrets, Best Western, Marriott, Hilton, Renaissance, Sheraton, Wyndham, Miller Beer and Johnny Walker, and a galleria with a ice skating rink. And a Trump Tower. Autos alien to America are Citroen, Dacia, Fiat, Opel, Peugeot, Renault, and Mercedes trucks and busses. Vehicles alien to Turkey are pickup trucks and SUV's. Look out for the Gypsy cab or cabbie. We gave a 50 and a 20 lira to a cabbie for a fare. He claimed we weren’t paying him enough and showed us a 5 and 20. He had palmed our 50 replacing it with his 5. He’s good. He looked like one of the Balkan thugs in a James bond Movie. Istanbul is 20% of Turkey’s population, but is responsible for 40% of the GDP. Construction is the big industry. 70% of the population live in residences built in the past 30 years, not all designed for seismic safety. The fabled LA Sprawl is minor compared to the tentacles reaching out from the city center and climbing the hills, especially into ASIA with commutes of 2 hours becoming the norm. One new development will have almost 5,000 units Istanbul is a clean city, except for the ubiquitous cigarette butts, with its share of air and water pollution issues, and carbonic acid falling in the rain. Hovels are surrounded by high rises, but you don’t see the abject poverty present in other countries. The city has streets and boulevards, miles long, that echo the Lower East Side of a century ago and the modern Rodeo Drive. The Princes' Islands Archipelago Chain bans cars, just like Catalina and Mackinac Islands in the states. Long stretches of public recreation, beaches and parks line the Asian coastline, but not so much the European side and the Bosporus. The proud Turks are competing for the 2020 Olympics. Best wishes. American football has the Turk, but the Besiktas Football Club is over 100 years old. Istanbul is a city where the locals say you can easily get everything you don’t need. We have Turkish belly dancers, Turkish coffee, Turkish culture, Turkish cuisine, Turkish Delights, Turkish baths and spas, Turkish Tea, Turkish tobacco, and the Grand Bazaar. Above all, we have Turkish Hospitality.

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