» CUSTOMARY İSTANBULIA (AND BONZAI PANIC)

Photo Essay

View of Eminonu, Istanbul, from the water. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

There are several sites almost every tourist in Istanbul visits, even if they’re the type of tourist who prefers to be called a “traveler.” Here’s a photographic whirl through some of these sites.

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Carsii)

Tourist at The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Carsii), (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Woman at Blue Mosque, (c) 2016 Brian AwehaliOnce you take your shoes off and give them to your appropriately covered partner to carry in her backpack, you can walk through and appreciate the 400-year-old Blue Mosque‘s majestic lapiz lazuli-lined interior design, or the sight of Muslims from all parts of the world coming to appreciate its grandeur and feel closer to their god. Ceiling of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian AwehaliThough it’s not the point of the place, it’s also amazing to see how much personal style can be expressed in the modest yet highly varied dress of Muslim women.

Or, if you’re like the guy in the picture above, maybe you can get just the right selfie or check your text messages.

Tourists at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

 

The Grand & Spice Bazaars (Kapali & Mısır Çarşısı)

The Grand & Spice Bazaars (Kapali & Mısır Çarşısı), (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Aphrodisiacs at The Grand & Spice Bazaars (Kapali & Mısır Çarşısı), (c) 2016 Brian AwehaliHere, and especially at the Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Çarşı(since 1461!), both in the vicinity of the old walled city of Constantinople, vendors will aggressively try to fish foreigners in by using some stock phrases in what they guess to be your native tongue.

One vendor, hearing I was an American from California, immediately warned me about how bad and dangerous the marijuana is in İstanbul, and seemed to be saying, if I understood correctly, that a friend of his had bought some that had been laced with something that caused his heart to stop. I do not think marijuana has ever stopped someone’s heart function. It’s more likely that his friend smoked a synthetic drug called bonzai that’s been growing in popularity among Turkish youth, and which apparently bears some resemblance to cannabis, if something synthetic and something natural that produce entirely different results can be said to resemble each other. Local media have widely reported on a growing epidemic among youth, and about a rash of Bonzai-related hospitalizations and “schizophrenic-type behavior,” but it’s almost impossible, anywhere, to separate scientific fact from drug hysteria and moral panic when it comes to popular media coverage. I couldn’t even find out what bonzai is made of, so it could be lots of different things being peddled under the same name. It could be complete crap distributed by the government itself to promote drug hysteria, and that’s not garden variety, unsubstantiated conspiracy theorist paranoia, either: The U.S. government poisoned lots of its own people during Prohibition.

Returning to the spice bazaar: There was a dizzying array of spice-specific shops, of course. One of the more varied shops offered lokum (“Turkish Delight”) and, among other things, “Viagra Tea” (below, center), and a product called “Aprodisiaque,” which I avoided, on grounds that its logo depicted an absurdly turgid monkey who’d obviously have no blood left for brain activity.

Teas at The Grand & Spice Bazaars (Kapali & Mısır Çarşısı), (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Yet another shop was offering a deal for bundles of decent-looking counterfeit U.S. dollars and Chinese yuan: only 5Turkish lira symbol 8x10px.png!

Play money at The Grand & Spice Bazaars (Kapali & Mısır Çarşısı), (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

 

The Galata Bridge

Muslim women in Nike footwear on the Galata Bridge, Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

“Just Do It!” (shoe): These three women were actually looking at a woman photographing them, out of frame to the left. If you take pictures on the Galata Bridge, especially at the golden hour, you immediately feel like a lemming or herd animal, because it seems like every other person walking on it is also taking pictures.

Anti-Israel graffiti in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali
Istanbul is one of the most popular destinations for visitors from all over the world, but consider the findings of a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center (Hurriyet Daily News, Nov. 8, 2014), showing that 73% of Turks dislike both the U.S. and Russia, though Israel is the country Turks hate most, at 86%. 75% dislike Iran; 70% dislike NATO; 66% dislike the EU, though the report also notes that 53% of Turks want Turkey to join it. The country Turks like most, at just 26%, according to the Pew poll, is Saudi Arabia, though over half of those polled also expressed dislike for it. Turkish dislike of others is broadly distributed: 85% of those polled held a negative opinion of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah; 80% disliked Hamas. 53% of Muslims polled (Turkey is 98% Muslim) said “suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are never justified.”

The Pew report included a humorous side note about how their polling confirmed the motto, “the Turk has no friend but the Turk.”

“It is hard to find any country or organization the Turkish people really like, except, of course, Turkey itself,” the report noted. “According to our spring 2012 poll, 78% of Turks said they had a favorable view of their country.”

Polls like these seem as obfuscating as they are illuminating, though. If someone asked you “Do you like China?” would you answer thinking of the Chinese people, the Chinese government, Chinese businesses or all three?  And in terms of the U.S., would your answer vary depending on whether you were thinking of the people on the coasts or the people in the Midwestern or Southern states? The government and its policies? Democratic or Republican President/Congress? Currently at war or presently in-between armed conflicts? What’s really meant by the category of “a country” in polls like these?

Despite hordes of tourists and travelers, there’s still local life happening on the Galata Bridge, of course, as in the photo below of a couple arguing on the lower level of the bridge. I didn’t realize the woman had seen me taking this until I zoomed in and saw her resentful look. This image doesn’t adequately capture how striking she was, because the man’s shadow obscures it.

Couple arguing in the lower level of the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

That’s the Galata Tower in the lower left of the picture, where panoramic views of the city can be taken in, and where, around 1630, an Ottoman named Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi reportedly flew 6km, from Europe to Asia, using artificial wings. Upon completing this momentous flight, he was given a sack of gold coins by then-Sultan Murad IV, who said “This is a scary man. He is capable of doing anything he wishes. It is not right to keep such people,” before banishing Çelebi to Algeria, where he died.

hezarfen11

 

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