As I write this it is late afternoon in Istanbul. Meanwhile back in Canada, polls have barely opened and Canadians will spend the day deciding the fate of their country for the next four years. It seems odd not to be there, watching the results flow in with friends but I’m sure they will flow in without me.
Arriving in Istanbul after a 10 hour flight was, as you might expect, disorienting. The long hours combined with the dramatic time shift – seven hours – is only compounded by the distinctly different nature of the city. There was fog at our arrival obscuring the land around the airport, but almost immediately one senses a difference quite unlike the various European or Mexican cities I have visited. The combination of old and new is dramatic as is the massive amount of construction that seems to be going on everywhere.
As we drove in from the airport I was struck by the size of the city’s port – dozens of ships filled the waters of the bay – and by the importance water must play in the life of the city and its citizens. As I’ve been reading – and despite the joys of books they only take you so far – Istanbul is intricately linked to the life of the waters that surround it and divide it.
Our hotel in is in one of the oldest districts and from the small balcony where I write this I can see the dome of one of the many mosques of Istanbul. During our lunch on a sunny rooftop terrace, the call to prayer began to reverberate from the many minarets – now all equipped with loudspeakers – that rise above the rooftops all over the city. The echoing and ululating cries truly marked our entrance into a different world. Liz and I found it quite beautiful, but from the way many Turks responded, I suppose it is possible to become quickly blasé in a mostly secular city. Still, as we left the restaurant we did come across one the waiters praying to Mecca as is his obligation five times a day.
Istanbul has already begun to capture my deepest imagination. The range of people, both local and foreign that fill its streets, the way two great religions face each other often from across the square, the mix of old and new architecture, traditional and modern dress – and everywhere you look stray dogs and cats slinking or strutting along the sidewalks and across the patches of grass – will undoubtedly fuel my thoughts for months to come.
So, vote my Canadian friends and give me something to come back to or I might just stay here.
And that’s ten minutes.