Baha invites me to Captain’s Table for breakfast, which he promptly covers with an extensive array of dishes. We are joined by an Australian woman who is also leaving today. Baha offers to take us to the bazaar to buy suzani (the embroidered bedspreads) and ceramics. I don’t think I can cram anything more into my suitcases but the offer is more than the Australian and I can resist.
The Australian finishes breakfast and heads upstairs to pack. Baha shows me YouTube clips of Turkish tulum, and a traditional Turkish men’s line dance called Horon. He then asks me if I know what this is called, as he pulls up another line dance. “Riverdance” I respond, and tell him it’s Irish clogging. This cultural exchange would continue between us by phone and Facebook for rest of the summer.
At the Bazaar, Baha takes us to the vendor who sells the suzani for his hotel. We are offered tea and seats. We make our selections and are each gifted with a suzani pillow case. The embroidery on mine is incomplete, which makes me smile. Baha also notices and pantomimes with needle and thread, indicating that I could finish the embroidery on it myself. I am also gifted with a silk ikat headscarf.
I photograph a framed goldworked section of an Ottoman robe that is leaning against a wall behind a pile of other things. The Australian takes off to join her friends, and Baha takes me to Iznik Ceramic, managed by Tolga Neidim. I sort through stacks of handmade tiles, and select a few in traditional Turkish motifs. A blue and white Turkish cup rounds out my purchase there.
We stop for lunch at a sidewalk cafe: a kebab roll, with a huge mound of pickled cucumbers, grilled peppers, and cilantro onto a plastic placemat at a table that reminded me of a lunch counter at Woolworths. A beverage called ayran which reminded me of kiefer. There are no circles on my map today, so I decide to keep my sightseeing to within a few blocks of the hotel.
I find the Ibrahim Pasa Palace, a building that dates back to the Ottoman period which houses the Islamic Art and Ethnology Museum. It’s a treasure trove that would make my friends Sunjan and Khalja want to move here. A nomads tent, called a kara cadir in Turkish, woven from black goat hair with center pole supports, much like a Bedouin tent. Home interiors and women’s clothing from the end of the Ottoman period. A lantern built around a Chinese dragon pattern blue and white porcelain drum. Wood and copper doors and 13th century stone reliefs. Sarcophagi in carved wood and stone. Kor’ans that I could not bring myself to photograph. Anatolian kilims that were woven in one piece, a rare find as they are traditionally woven in two or three sections and then stitched together.
It has grown chilly and overcast, just like my first day in Istanbul. I try to play the “What’s for dinner” game with Cihan, who embarks on a lengthy conversation with Baha before departing for the kitchen. Baha shares with me that there had been a recent death in his social circle. I had also lost several friends and family recently, and we talked about that a little. I repeated what he had told me earlier, “that only Allah knows when weddings and funerals will occur.” There was little else to be said.
Dinner arrives: potatoes, carrots, and lamb ribs in broth, with a side dish of rice. A nice, simple comfort food. Baha will catch up with me later this evening for a final evening out. I finish packing, settle up my bill and drop my suitcase off at the concierge desk.
Oh look, there’s Cihan! It’s like he never leaves …We engage in an incredibly topic-varied conversation, which I step away from whenever he needed to attend to customers. He is a very articulate and intelligent young man. Near 9 PM, he ducks into the Barbecue House, and emerges with a single plate, two pieces of baklava and two forks. These guys! There is no end to the hospitality here…
Baha arrives and we catch the tram across the Galata Bridge, then climb a very steep winding alley of stairs to the base of the Galata Tower in the Beyoglu district. I point out buildings with facades that look like the ones I saw in Genoa. He shows me his favorite church, Sant’Antonio di Padova Church which is locked behind an iron gate. It is the largest Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul, built by the Italian community in 1905 on the site of the original church which had been built in 1725, but later demolished.
We spend the evening walking around and looking at architecture. We thread through crowded streets to an alley and up to the Asmali Mescid, and later the Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage) where we listen to musicians as they roam from one table to the next, one of which is playing something that looks like a hammer dulcimer.
We hail a cab back to the Sultanahmet, just after midnight. I am the last guest in his hotel, and since he can sleep the day tomorrow, he sits up with me in the dining area. So we talk… about my Facebook albums that he looked at the other night. The route my plane would take over the North Pole and Canada on its return to Seattle. If there are sharks in Puget Sound. Cars, and sports, and music. Whatever small talk our tired brains could manage…
The shuttle arrives, and Baha loads my book-heavy luggage into the van. He gives me a warm European-style send-off and promise to keep in touch. It has been a most remarkable trip, and I will never, ever forget this place…