Well Happy Birthday to myself. How odd to celebrate it half a world away from anyone who knew me in years 0-26 1/2. The Turks like to celebrate and they definitely did their best to make me feel at home. I got presents, chocolates, songs, and a cake. My students were adorable and wrote me notes, bought me candy, and generally just fawned over my fine foreign self.
But back to the weekend! Hurry, before another one approaches with all new stories and songs that I’ll dul(l)y report and repeat (I just finished reading all three LOTR and what stuck with me this time was the amazing woven quality of J.R.R.’s tales, a chief facet of which is the songs, chants, and poems that interlace the story of the Ring itself).
But really, back to Istanbul. After the Hagia Sofia, I went to the Basilica Cisterns. I could go back to the guide book and look up lots of fascinating things, but I’m tired. Lets just settle for this: it was built in the 6th century by Justinian. It could store 100,000 tons of water and many of the columns were pilfered from nearby temples. It lapsed into forgotten memory for many centuries and was only restored in the late 20th century. It was probably my favorite part of sight-seeing in Istanbul:
After the cisterns, I meandered through rug and spice shops, trying to make my way towards Topkapi Palace- the residency of the Ottoman Sultans. Honestly, I wasn’t too pumped about the palace, but it was a “must-see” in all the guide books. I wasn’t that interested since all descriptions focused on the expansive collections of jewels, furniture, and other royal finery. But, I’ll admit, the place was extremely impressive. The most fascinating area was the hall of relics, also called the Privy Chamber. The relic collection was impressive, as was the aura of reverence that was created by the breathless crowds of visitors shuffling in slow, open-mouthed wonder past the staff of Moses, Joseph’s turban, and Muhammed’s beard hair. Who knows where these relics came from or who collected them, but they were potent reminders of the shared history of the 3 strands of these religious traditions.
In addition to the Privy Chamber:
And onwards to the night. I spent a few more hours just wandering around Istiklal and Taksim before meeting with Lisa for a delicious, traditional Turkish dinner of Shake Shack. Then it was off to our hostel for a night of hostel life which I’ll have to write about some other time. Its a world unto itself.
Sunday morning, we got up around 6 and ate a breakfast of spinach pastry before heading to the race grounds. By the time we got there, I was definitely wishing that I’d signed up for a longer run! The weather was chilly and a bit damp, but perfect for running. And the energy was infectious. Signs said that 30,000 people had signed up for the 10k, 15k, Marathon, or Fun Run. I haven’t checked the time logs, but from the size of the crowd and the the incredible line of buses, I believe it.
About 2 minutes before the race began, the mayor of Istanbul stood up on a platform no more than 20 feet from where we were poised. He began to speak into a megaphone, smiling and waving. Almost as soon as I could pinpoint the source of the voice, everyone around me started booing, shouting, whistling, and raising their fists. The energy of the crowd changed drastically in only seconds. A woman next to us whispered in my ear that he wasn’t Erdogan, but that he might as well be. While I’ll only speculate internally on the exact meaning of her comment, the truth is that the mayor was booed off the stage. As soon as he walked down the steps, the starting gun went off and the crowds energy shifted to the Bosphorus. It was immediately as if nothing had happened. We were off!
The course was lovely and I felt great. 10k no longer feels like a chore, I admit. I never thought I’d feel that way- especially after how much I hated cross-country in high-school. But truly, running is now a source of peaceful joy. And Istanbul was no exception.
And now, perhaps the most “Rachael” part of the day. After I finished running, I felt way more energized. I convinced Lisa to walk another 1.5 miles from the race finish to the Chora church, which I’d written about in my MA thesis. So we trekked along, exclusively uphill and soon through a steady drizzle, till we reached the space, the place, the dwelling, the land, the womb, and all the other things that chora can and has meant. I’ll admit that I’ve not always enjoyed my time here in Turkey, but walking into that church was a reminder of all the curiosity, wonder, and complexities that brought me here. And while it doesn’t make up for the frustration, home-sickness, or displacement, this chora did what Plato said it would: the chora rests between the sensible and the intelligible, through which everything passes but in which nothing is retained
Thus concludes this chapter of my adventure. Ah, with one adendum. Istanbul street food is incredible: