Istanbul, Part 1

It’s been almost a week since I landed in Istanbul, and I’m already making plans to come back here for a long stay with my dogs. I’m sure part of that is the place I’m staying – the Kybele is a family run hotel with over 4000 handmade glass lamps hanging from the ceiling throughout.

The entrance to the Kybele cafe next to the hotel lobby

It’s not just the cafe and the lobby – the lamps extend into all the rooms too! Kelly (one of the workshop leaders), tells me that they’re all recycled glass from tea glasses, bowls and tops of pots, and that the same person made all of them. I kind of want to photograph all of them, except I have no idea what I would do with all the pictures after I finished! These are about half of the ones in my room:

My hotel room, taken from the tiny balcony overlooking the garden.

I spent my first morning in Istanbul working at the top of a gorgeous building near the hotel, just enjoying the sunshine and letting myself work through all the little tasks that have built up over the past several weeks. I think I’ve finally worked through them now, since my mind has stopped popping up with random, “Oh, you wanted to do that, remember?” thoughts. This is a panoramic shot of the view from the roof – and yes, that’s the Ayasofia in the background!

Panoramic shot of the view from the top of the Celal Sultan.

The Kybele is central to almost everything in Sultanahmet – the Ayasofia, the Blue Mosque, the Cistern, the Grand Bazaar… and I’m sure there’s more. It’s within walking distance of the water, and I can hear the seagulls when I leave my windows and balcony door open. I keep switching between leaving things open and turning on the AC, because it’s just humid enough to be hot when you’ve been moving (or after you’ve just drunk one of the ever present glasses of Turkish tea). Despite having been here a week, I really haven’t been able to get out to many of the big ticket locations. I went with the workshop group to the Grand Bazaar today, but most of my first two days were spent babysitting a workshop participant who seems to be having some serious mental hang-ups. We tried to accomodate her at first, but as her demands got more and more ridiculous we moved the workshop on without her and simply explained what her options were. For the past two days, at least, she’s opted not to participate, despite flying from San Francisco to do so. Her loss, because we’re doing some amazing things.

Our workshop space is a room in the hotel off the garden, which everyone calls Mike’s Museum. Mike is one of the three brothers who owns the hotel, and he’s a textile expert who collects antiques and interesting things, most of which he stores in his studio space. In the evenings the room hosts Mike and an ever rotating cast of his sons, friends, and hotel guests that he’s taken an interest in. We all drink wine, eat whatever is around, watch the epic backgammon tournaments and learn about each other. I’ve literally spent hours here, just talking, writing, and learning. It’s the most amazing space I’ve ever been in, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back.

The view from the giant pile of pillows along the wall of Mike’s Museum.
Mike, taking a moment from the backgammon board to converse in one of the many languages he speaks.

Yesterday, Mike gave us his carpet lecture – the clean version of which is entitled, “What You Need to Know About Carpets So You Don’t Buy Crap.” It was fascinating (and, being Mike, hilariously funny), but the best part was being able to see and touch examples from his store under the Museum. We saw natural and synthetic dyes, learned the difference between wool and cotton (wool doesn’t burn), and learned that the number of knots per inch is completely irrelevant. We also saw some absolutely eye popping pieces that took months or years to make. When I get to the point of renovating my condo, I will be coming back here to get carpets from Mike. :)

Today we went to the Grand Bazaar and met with Nick Merdenyan, an artist who does calligraphy on dried plant leaves. They’re intricately detailed and absolutely amazing, with themes from Islam, Christianity and Judaism that promote peace and tranquility. The drying process for the leaves takes more than a year, and the designs are painted using cat hair brushes.

We also met with a Turkish shadow puppet seller – not the maker, unfortunately, but we still learned a lot about the art and stories of Karagoz. The puppets are made of leather and intricately cut and colored, and the stories are some of the most ancient – the original comedy duo stars in each, with a rotating cast of other established characters. This is one of the main characters – I don’t remember the name, but I think he’s the smart one of the two.

Tomorrow is a free afternoon, and I’m going out with another workshop participant to visit the Ayasofia. I’d also like to sit in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque and just write and observe during the call to prayer. The call to prayer infuses life in Istanbul, but it also (somewhat surprisingly) doesn’t grind the city to a halt. If anything, the majority of Turks go on with their business during the call and it’s the tourists who stop to gawk and block up the sidewalks. I’ve been recording the calls here and there when I can get them on my cell phone, though what I record isn’t anything akin to hearing it come at you in all directions from a central location. When there’s a good muezzin, it’s breathtakingly beautiful, and it’s still very cool even when the voice is simply average. When there are multiple mosques in an area, sometimes they’ll seem to coordinate and do a call and response.

Call to Prayer from multiple mosques, recorded in Faith Belediyesi park.

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