We Have Beautiful Rugs!

I suspect I heard that boast 7000 times a day in Turkey. “Turkish rug merchants” could be the succinct definition of “persistant”. The rugs were exquisite – made of fine silk, they changed colors as you walked around them – but I was not in the market, although that fact was impossible to impress upon the sellers. They used clever tactics to get my attention: “Hey, are you a supermodel?” or “If those men [read: other salesmen] hassle you, I will protect you – I am your Turkish brother!” It was fun, until it wasn’t.

I was drawn to Turkey the first time I read the words Hagia Sophia and saw pictures of its domes and minarets, most likely in a National Geographic (I was probably eight years old; thanks Mom and Dad). My journal entry of the first day of my actual adult visit reads “I can’t tell you how sweet it is to send an email that includes the phrase ‘I’m in Istanbul now.’”

Besides finally making it to this beautiful cobblestoned city straddling East and West, literally and figuratively, there, sitting at a rooftop bar, I made an important discovery about myself: being near moving water makes me very, very happy. The narrow Bosporus Strait connects the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, creating a mighty flow; it is a prime example of “moving water”! It is also an extremely busy waterway, and witnessing tankers flying along due to the super current and the tiny boats that darted between them took my breath away.

I took ferries out to the Princes’ Islands on Anzac Day, with somber Australians as ferry-mates; I visited the Palace of Beylerbeyi, where I was told croissants were invented. I noted signage: “Ocretiz yazima,” “Kres ve cocuk, Kulubu (Stud Merkezi), and “Hem hezmit, hem pani.” I ate Lahmacun, Turkey’s version of pizza. I conversed with the many street cats, said to be reincarnated İstanbullular.

Here are some photos from my first days in Turkey for your consideration. I hope you enjoy them.

Live all you can. It’s wise to do so.

What is it about Cairo?

The experience of Cairo: where – how – to begin? She is a place that can effortlessly embrace diametrically opposed elements, and then ask you why you are looking at her like that? See the hijab-wearing woman enjoying the bellydance show; see the galabiya-clad men answering phones with James Brown ringtones. See the mosque; see the MacDonald’s. See the pyramids, although you’ll have to move a bit to see around the “Coke: Quenching an Ancient Thirst” billboard. See the artificial limbs for sale, displayed on blankets on the street. See the filth; see the man galloping down the street, riding bareback on a majestic white horse, mane and tail flowing in the wind (what a missed shot that was!); see the pockmarked freeways that suddenly just end; buy a delicious, refreshing fresh mango drink from a guy on the corner. Enter the bar where patrons shout at the soccer match on the telly; see the aversion to Western culture; hear the constant request for baksheesh. See the contempt for women; feel the policemen grab your ass; meet spectacularly gorgeous men who are not horrified that you’re a woman. Meet the school girls thrilled to try and talk to you; then meet their teachers who are so angry that they are.  “Hire” a private hour inside the pyramid of Cheops, where weird things most certainly happen, but don’t enter if you’re claustrophobic (note: crawling required). Visit the elegant Pink Lady – the Egyptian Museum – to stare at really spooky artifacts, but only if you dare cross the murderous-seeming streets where drivers are incapable of not honking their horns. And definitely don’t miss the policemen astride camels.

See – and hear – it all. These photos offer only a tiny glimpse into this noisy, dirty, fast, shocking, surprising, astonishing, mysterious, confusing, discomforting, inscrutable settlement on the famous river that 20 million Cairenes call home. But don’t take my word – I was in Egypt for less than two months, and it wasn’t last week. If you’ve been or when you go, I’d love to hear how it went for you.

Live all you can. It’s a huge mistake not to.

NILE SMILE

This day, spent on the Nile, in the tiny Nile Smile, was spectacular for me, although my eager photo snapping greatly irritated the captain, who, it appeared, greatly resented making a living ferrying a white westerner woman on his home surf. But for me, it was magic.

His dislike blasted through his impenetrable Arabic, but, oh, I did not care one bit. An avid chainsmoker, he suddenly started shouting at a boat headed directly at us, ordering his underling to steer the boat directly towards them. At the last second, the boats deftly cleared within inches of each other, allowing just enough time for the second boat to pass several cigarettes to our captain, providing him more fuel to complain. His boat was covered with Bob Marley and Rolling Stones stickers, but when I handed him a “Live Aloha” sticker in an attempt at reconciliation, it had no meaning for him, and he tossed it on the deck of his boat. Oh well.

Back on land, I visited an evening market, where the likes of black paper, ment tea, kary, and hot tchele were sold, while prayers trumpeted out of minarets, and Egyptian shopkeepers professed their love for me, if only I would buy what they were selling.

Egypt. It wasn’t until I returned home from my second visit and read Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy that I finally began to begin to understand the place.

Hope you’re not already over Egypt, cuz there’s more.

Shukraan!

Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.

Luxor

I’m finding it difficult to describe Luxor. Measly words are inadequate, but here are a few to try: majestic, magnificent, mind-boggling, mysterious, merciless. Please, please know that the images presented here do nothing to convey its amazing self. You really need to go for yourself.

Live all you can, right now, in this very life.

Up, Up, and Away Over The Storied Nile

A hot air balloon from the Valley of the Kings up and over the Nile: this was a day not to be forgotten. The pre-launch drama, the thrill of the lift-off, the terror of looking over the side . . . and then there was the semi-crash landing. Plus dancing, and camels in the backyard. Yeah, not a typical day at all. Enjoy these photos from the safety of your chair.

Live all you can, and maybe try a hot air balloon ride.