I am now flying back home to Chicago from snow to snow, actually. The morning I left Istanbul, it had started to snow....
Upon reflection, what that means, really, is that I appreciate the art in the ad.
I am now flying back home to
It just was.
I went to
The reason the title of this blog entry is "
I really didn't want to pack up and move to a different room. Instead, I went online and found www.sleepingsounds.com. I paid $2.99 for a 68 minute MP3 file titled "by the sea". Wonderful, soothing sounds of the surf. Covered up the clanging and allowed me to easily and enjoyably drift off to sleep. I recommend it highly and you sure can't beat the price.
So I got to sleep, but imagine my dismay when I woke up at 8 AM on Sunday to pouring rain. Not a hint on sunlight. And none too warm, either. Ugh. Well, there was nothing for it, but to get out there and do what you do when you come to
1. Visit Hagi Sofia (actually spelled and pronounced Ayasofia in
2. Visit Sultanahmet, otherwise known as the Blue Mosque, a very old and massive and beautiful mosque. This is the largest mosque in
3. Descend into the Basilica Cistern, an underground water reserve built in the 6th century (the water was collected from the Belgrad forest 19KM from the city). Consists of 336 large marble columns (two of which have Medusa heads at their base for unknown reasons). Marvelous, mysterious, very soothing. Check out my photos.
4. Walk up to the
5. Stroll down Istiklal (
6. Visit a carpet store (more or less against my intention, if not against my will): ah, yes. Turkish carpets. I had no plans to visit a carpet store. For one thing, several years ago we bought two beautiful, fair trade carpets from Ten Thousand Villages, so we were all carpeted-out. Second of all, with plans to relocate to
At that point, I decided, well, they dragged me in here. I could either just leave or I could engage and perhaps have an interesting conversation. So once again I told him that I wasn't going to buy a carpet. He dismissed that. I then told him I was not very impressed with the carpet. It was an uninteresting repetition of a dull pattern. Have you heard of Christopher Alexander? I asked. Yes! he said excitedly. Of course!
Alexander is a very interesting guy. An architect by profession, he developed a powerful and deep critique of modern architecture, and in the process came up with a "pattern language" to describe how to create meaningful, high quality structures. His ideas on patterns were taken up by software architects (the so-called Gang of Four) who established a whole movement in software called Design Patterns. Alexander also collected and studied very old carpets to try to understand what them so remarkable and powerful and moving, compared to the sort of things that are for the most part done today. He published a book about it, which I bought and read (most of). It is a beautiful book and his theories about the carpet designs really struck home with me.
Well...now the carpet fellow must have been very excited. They pull some American off the street and he actually knows something about our carpets! So he immediately gestured to his assistant to pull out certain carpets and...yes...there they were, the kinds of carpets that Alexander found so powerful (they generally feature a central "medallion" or shape that seems to have life to it, plus complex interlocking "centers"). So we talked about them, compared several, and he soon realized which of them was my favorite.
Throughout this whole time, I am reminding him: I am not going to buy a carpet.
Finally, he starts to talk about prices. "I am not going to get into bargaining with you. I am going to offer you a very good price for this carpet. $3800." I was impressed. Given what I spent in Chicago, that was not a lot of money for the quality and beauty of carpet he was showing me. I said so, but reminded him "I am not going to buy a carpet."
So he talked lots more, he asked me why I am not buying. I explained in full detail. He talked more and then because he said he had not yet sold a carpet that day and very much wanted to sell this carpet to me, who could greatly appreciate it, that he would sell it to me for $1700. Now, that was a good price. But no, I sadly shook my head....and a few minutes later he was down to $1200. I really felt torn. At this point, I was sure that he was more or less giving it away, that this was a very good price, that he really did not want me to walk out the door empty-handed. And I did like it a lot. But I stuck to my principles and eventually walked away. I bet he was quite upset. But hey - I didn't come in there on my own volition. I didn't insist on being served multiple cups of tea.
Like I said to him: "Bad luck, man! Your brother actually finds somebody who has studied carpets, who can appreciate what you are selling....but he just wasn't going to buy a carpet. No matter what."
And that is my Turkish carpet story. I do feel some regret. I could probably have sold it locally for more than that. But I really am trying to get into the habit of not buying more stuff. So...I visited Istanbul and came back with nothing but a refrigerator magnet. And photos.
Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of my trip was the evening I spent with fellow Oracle technologists, H. Tonguc Yilmaz. Tonguc, who had helped spread the word of my training and is well-known in the Turkish Oracle community, arranged an evening out to authentic places that local Turks visit, not the big (though remarkable) tourist spots. We had dinner at the Aga Restaurant, across the street from the Aga Mosque, right off Istiklal Street. It was Turkish "fast food". All the food is sitting in trays at the counter. You pick out what you want, they fill up your plate, you sit down and dig in. Delicious! Stuffed grape leaves, lamb (I don't usually eat it, but had to try it. They forced me. :-) ), all sorts of different stuff. Then we enjoyed a platter of various desserts, most honey-soaked and all quite wonderful.
From Aga, we walked down Istiklal, I bought my refrigerator magnet, and then we down a rather dark, almost empty side street (more like an alley) and stepped in through a non-descript doorway, went up an elevator and ended up in the Leb-i Derya bar, which offered a truly wonderful view over the city, from the Anatolia side (Asia) to the Eminou side (old city, palace, Ayasofia, etc. - Europe). After a drink and a soaking in of the view, they then took me to the Dolmabahçe Palace for a traditional cup of hot sahlep, right by the water.
That was a really nice evening. Thanks again, Tonguc, Husnu and Ozgur for taking the time out to help me enjoy a side of Istanbul I would otherwise never have seen.
Istanbul was probably the most security conscious place I have ever visited. Almost every building I entered (hotel, office building, historical site, mall), plus the metro, had metal detectors. No one enters the airport, much less gets on a plane without going through a metal detector. My friends felt that it was a bit much. The rationale for it is to protect against possible terror attacks by Kurdish groups, but so far as I know there haven't ever been any in these kinds of public places. So they felt that its purpose was more to keep people scared, on edge, and willing to accept a heavy military presence and role in society. Gee, sounds kind of familiar.
The metro was interesting. According to my friends, Istanbul had the second subway in the world, after the one installed in Paris. And it is still in operation! But it is very small. And besides that one, there is a new metro line build in the last ten years (which I took) but it is only 8 KM long and with six stops. Traffic is awful in Istanbul and there is a great need for public transport and an extensive subway network. But in a city as old as Istanbul, it is virtually impossible to dig anywhere and not run into architectural treasures that must be preserved.
On the flight from Istanbul to Heathrow, we flew right over the Alps. Beautiful, snow-covered mountains, photos here.
On the flight from Heathrow to Chicago, we of course flew over Greenland and then the northeastern corner of Canada, right near Ungava Bay, photos here.
Only 1500 miles to go!
See the rest of my Istanbul photos here.